Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reviews of reviews, hip hip hurrah!

Hey friends! It's time for another instalment of One-Star Review of Books That Are Generally Considered Actually Quite Good!!!

[studio audience: yayyyy]

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories:

Flannery O'Connor has been hailed as a great short story writer and a great Catholic writer. While it's challenging to discern her Catholicism - at least from this collection - it's exceedingly easy to spot her use of racist language. Was she putting this language in the mouths of obviously small, ignorant people, a la Norman Lear and Archie Bunker, to teach lessons against racism? I certainly do not know enough to say.  As reported by J. Bottum in the October 2000 Crisis Magazine, "the bishop of Lafayette, Louisiana, banned the racist texts of Flannery O'Connor from the schools in his diocese....A woman known in her own day for her anti-racism now placed on the forbidden list on the grounds of racism." While O'Connor was hopefully not a racist, the bishop's removal of these works strikes me as having been wise, indeed. '

Yes. Censoring language used by fictional characters in books written fifty years ago is certainly 'wise'. I'm utterly blindsided by its wisdom. In fact...wait, no, 'blindsided' isn't the word I'm looking for; I meant 'I want to fucking throw up', sorry.
Also, 'challenging to discern her Catholicism'? Are we even talking about the same Flannery O'Connor?

The House of the Seven Gables:

'If you're into action, suspense, comedy, humor, violence, excitement, or anything else normal people like, then DO NOT read this book. It has a very slow moving plot, that does not do anything for anyone. This book could have been condensed to 3 pages, instead of its novel size, because the plot has so few events. Perhaps it was a fine novel back when it was written, but it was a bit too "lugubrious" for me. The bottom line is this: if you are suffering from insomnia, I would recommend this book, because it will put you right to sleep. One more thing.. I gave it one star, but if I really had a choice it would receive zero stars.. and even zero would be more than generous.'

>The House of the Seven Gables
>Not suspenseful
>Well that's a big heaping helping of WHY


'Okay, I am NOT the brightest person on this earth. But even I know that murder is not okay. Even if the murder victim was a cruel, twisted person who was going to die anyway; its still not okay to murder them. I can't believe that we, as the reader, are supposed to sympathize with the murderer; and his silly wife. What decent woman would stay with a man after she finds out he's killed someone? I would be worried he might knock me off too. I find I could not even like any of the characters. I was actually rooting for the 'bad' guys in the end.'

Correct that murder is wrong. But maybe you shouldn't be reading Gothic novels.

The Wings of the Dove:

This novel, as is every James' novel I have read, is as dry as a cat's tongue after its been licking sandpaper in a desert sandstorm. Humor? I'm not sure it exists in James' literary world. Action? Again, this may not exist. I read the description on the back of the book- "highly charged love affair"- and am pretty sure that the cover got put on the wrong book. Really? 250 pages of hemming and hawing amounts to "highly charged"? '

Well then. Whatever.
There was another one-star review of this that said that Edith Wharton (of Ethan fucking Frome fame) was a better writer than Henry James, but that made me just so confused and angry that I decided to not even bother. (Side note: Ethan Frome does not have any one-star reviews on Amazon, despite being next to impossible to finish even to someone like me who actually grew up in the cultural milieu of its setting.)

The Great Gatsby:

I fail to see why this book is such a literary rave. It's the story about spoiled rich people with no meaning to their lives.'

That's...yes. Yes, The Great Gatsby is indeed about that. It's nice you noticed. Now if maybe you'd get the point we could be on our way.

Snow Country:

' I'm being generous with the one star rating. I would've given it a zero but a rating that low is impossible. There was no plot to this book. The action is so subtle that it is impossible to follow. And the ending with the observations of the Milky Way, what was that all about? It made absolutely no sense. There was no point to this book and I must say that reading it was the biggest waste of my time. There's several hours of my life I'll never get back... '

The first problem here is that the last paragraph of Snow Country is one of the greatest things ever written. Along with the firefly chapter in The Makioka Sisters it is a third of the reason why I am a Japanese major (the last third, I will admit, is yuri). If you read the whole book and still don't understand what the significance of 'As he caught his footing, his head fell back, and the Milky Way flowed down inside him with a roar' (I admit this is not very powerful at all out of context, but it is for the record the last sentence of the book), that is your fault, not Kawabata's. Very likely it is a symptom of total unfamiliarity with Japanese literature, since the similarity to the poetry of Basho is actually noted in the text itself.
Also noteworthy is the fact that Snow Country succeeds at doing what Ethan Frome tried to do and failed at miserably, yet it has a lower rating on Amazon's reviewing system. Such are the perils of literary-merit-by-popular-vote.


' Naked Lunch crossed with Alice in Wonderland, & the only similarity to Tolkien being that it's freakin' long. Edgar Allen Poe's stories were much better too despite the implication on the back cover. At least Mr. Poe knew how to wrap you up in a suspenseful atmosphere & pull you to the drowning end. Do you like random nonsense? Do you like for characters to die quickly & pointlessly? Do you like chapter assignments to be arbitrary having nothing to do with the subject contained therein? Do you like a book where the 'hero' has no redeeming qualities only spastic moments of self grandiosity that occasionally impress others? Are you willing to overlook hundreds of poorly written pages for a few fascinating beautiful sentences or a couple good chapters? Then you will love this novel. '

'Naked Lunch meets Alice in Wonderland' is in fact a fairly good description of Mervyn Peake's magnum opus, but the main thing I noticed about this review is >He thinks [any character who =/= Dr Prunesquallor] is the 'hero'. Unless he thinks that Prune 'has no redeeming quality only spastic moments of self grandiosity that occasionally impress others', in which case there is nothing I can do for him.

The Dark is Rising:

This is one of the worst books I have ever read. Wil is a two dimensonal character who can't solve any problems for himself. At every challenge, he has to be helped by someone else.'

Gee, might this have anything to do with the fact that Will is like ten at the start of the book? I wonder!

The Bloody Chamber:

'The imagery is dull, cliché, and facile. The stories are predictable and, worst of all, uninteresting. Everything is over-stylized, obvious, and with very little sense of anything novel or surprising. In reality, they are unintelligent and prepubescent. In general, a waste of time. '

WOW!!! It's almost like The Bloody Chamber is stylised in the manner of FAIRY TALES!! Imagine that!
(Side-note: I didn't know Angela Carter had written a monograph on Frida Kahlo. Interesting. I'll have to take a look at that. Though as painters go I love Leonora Carrington even more.)

The Aleph and Other Stories:

' This book seemed more like personal opinions of others' works than anything else. Reading it was like reading a grip of book reviews; it would have been like this site binding together this review and others to make a book. Since I have never read pretty much all the books this book referred to while making comparisons, I was completely lost. I read up to the fourth entry into the first part of the book - "Story of the Warrior and the Captive Maiden" of "The Aleph" - and just couldn't go on. I'm only now getting into books, so my library was insufficient to grasp these works. The cover, the name, the description on the back seemed to make it out as some mind blowing epic. It was mind blowing; like trying to understand a foreign language without knowledge of its existence. '

I feel a little bad about this one, since it's true that somebody who's only just beginning to read seriously probably shouldn't be tackling Borges and the reviewer is clearly perfectly intelligent and in possession of his faculties but simply not (yet?) equipped to understand his style and themes. The apparent ignorance of the fact that books mentioned in Borges have a distinct tendency to not actually be real bears mentioning, though.

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