You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘3 stars’ tag.

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book was the most recent choice for my campus book group, and the group was overwhelming pleased with the read.  I, however, was more pleased with the listen.

Having recently attended a Gaiman reading in Chicago, I found some of his short stories to be fabulous when he read them.. even though I didn’t like them when I originally read them in print.  So, I downloaded a sample of this on my nook, but ultimately, I decided it’d be much better with his voice and rhythm.  I was right.

The story: When the man Jack sets out to murder an entire family, only the wandering toddler escapes.  He leaves the house, toddles down the hill and through the bars of the graveyard gate.  Happily, a ghostly couple adopt the child, name him Nobody, and he is raised in a cemetary with ghosts for friends, tutors, and guardians.  But why was the man Jack out to kill him anyway?  And why is he still looking for him?

The folks in my book group thought it might be a bit scary for its target audience, but I think they’re underestimating children.  I loved horror books as a child (so much that the school librarian worriedly called my mom, actually), and while this one has a couple of scary scenes, it isn’t really a horror, and it isn’t terribly graphic.

It was cute, well-written, and with Neil Gaiman’s voice, it was just a pleasure to listen to.  And while it was good, and I would recommend it (especially on audiobook), I think it had more potential.

There were so many half-explored ideas that left me wanting more.  The other world.. with the ghouls, what was that like?  How are ghoul gates created?  I want to know more about the night-gaunts.  And the danse macabre.  And the stuff with Jack (being vague to avoid spoilers).  And the Honor Guard.  And the Sleer.  And..

I wonder if there’s fanfic.  A coming sequel?  A book of short stories than Neil Gaiman will write, just for me, to answer all these questions?

Neil Gaiman has created a fascinating world of ideas.  A world that, if fully explored, could fill a Harry Potter length series.  And he shoved it into one short book.

And I want more.

Have you read The Graveyard Book?  Were you left feeling satisfied, or wanting?  Did you think it was too scary for kids?  Know of any good fanfic?  Comment, and let me know!

Show Me 5 Saturday is a meme concept by That’s a Novel Idea.  It is now hosted by Jenners at Find Your Next Book Here.

1 Book you read and/or reviewed this week: The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

2 Words that describe the book: fun, heartwarming

3 Settings where it took place or characters you met:

  • The Dungeon – A maze underneath the castle devoid of light, full of rats.  It is rare that anyone emerges from the dungeon once they enter it.
  • Miggery Sow – A girl named for her father’s favorite pig, and now a pretty-much-orphan.  She longs to be a Princess, but no one ever asks her what she wants.
  • Gregory – The jailor.  He lives in the dungeon, keeping track of the inmates.  Even he doesn’t know all of the windings of the dungeon, and must have a rope tied to his ankle so he doesn’t get lost.  He knows all about the nature of rats.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it: 5 Stars or less for your rating?

  • I like that it’s so darn quoteable.  I found myself dog-earing pages with fantastic lines.  “Reader, you must know than an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.” and “Desperaux marveled at his own bravery.  He admired his own defiance.  And then, reader, he fainted.”
  • I like that the author doesn’t shy away from words children might not know, but encourages her readers to learn them instead.  “At least Lester had the decency to weep at his act of perfidy.  Reader, do you know what ‘perfidy’ means?  I have a feeling you do, based on the little scene that has just unfolded here.  But you should look up the word in your dictionary, just to be sure.”
  • I liked the beginning and middle better than the end.  The ending was rather abrupt and anticlimactic.  But, being a children’s book, there probably wasn’t much else she could do with it.
  • I liked that the author used literary devices, encouraging children to think about the themes of light and dark, the symbolism of the red thread.  She also encouraged readers to celebrate their differences.  Also, she seems to celebrate words, and addresses the reader as ‘reader.’  I wonder if some children, reading this book, are called ‘reader’ for the first time, instilling a sense of bookish identity on them.  I rather like that thought.

5 stars or less for your rating? Three stars.  I didn’t like it as much as the last children’s book I read (of Roald Dahls), but it was a different sort of book and set out to accomplish different sorts of things, which I think it did wonderfully.  I don’t know that the story will stick with me, but I think it is a book that I would really encourage my child to read.

 “As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones.  The shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair.  From the character and turn of the inscription, ‘Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sicky.”  – Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, p. 1

My parents divorced when I was young, and I visited my father on alternate weekends.  I slept on the couch at my father’s, and the few possessions I left there were kept in a laundry room cupboard.  He did not have cable television, but he had a VCR and an acre of land with many trees to sit under and read.  Consequently, I watched one movie and read one book over and over.  There were three movies I could watch, but I found The Color Purple boring and Candyman too frightening for repeated viewings.  Consequently, I came to treasure Beauty and the Beast and it remains one of my favorite movies even now.

The book I read again and again was a children’s abridged and illustrated version of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.  I was rather fond of it as well, but never sought out the unabridged version.

This past Christmas, however, audible offered a free recording of it to members, and I downloaded it without much thought.  It was magnificient.  It was the same story I loved as a child, but all dressed up with added description and a wonderful performance.

So it was with, well.. great expectations that I turned to Great Expectations.  I downloaded an audio version of it, performed by one of my favorite readers: Simon Vance (who I discovered while listening to [marvelous] Frankenstein).

The story: Orphaned Pip, living with his sister and his brother-in-law Joe (who treats him as a treasured friend), seems destined to become a blacksmith.  His childhood is relatively eventful: he meets and assists an escaped convict; he spends time at a rich woman’s house playing with her adopted child (Estella, who he quickly falls in love with).  Then in the years of his apprenticeship, an unknown benefactor offers him wealth, but he must move to London and become an educated gentleman as his part of the bargain.  He sets out to London quickly, makes new friends and explores new opportunities, all while trying to woo Estella and discover the truth behind his newfound wealth.

Sounds promising.  The beginning went swimmingly.  I was fond of Pip, curious about the convict, admired Joe.  But then Pip moves to London, and it all changes.   For about 12 hours of the 16 hour audiobook, Pip is rather unlikeable; Joe and the convict are hardly present.  The only truly likeable character who plays a role in the middle of the book (Mr. Wemmick) only appears, it seems, when needed to swiftly furthur the plot.

You’ve all heard, I’m sure, that Mr. Dickens was paid by the word.  You’ve all heard this used to explain why his books are so mightily long.  Personally, though I believed the first bit, I couldn’t believe that any self-respecting author would purposefully draw out a decent story for more money.  I thought, surely, his books are only so long because he has so much to say.  Or because his stories are so intricate, his characters so elaborate, that this length is required.  Now, though, I’m not so sure.

The beginning masterfully draws the reader in.  The ending leaves the reader with a feeling of justice and satisfaction (when considered separate from the middle).  But in the middle, it all falls apart.  It is no pleasure to read.  It drags the reader through the actions and introspection of an unlikeable, ungrateful brat who recognizes his mistakes as he makes them, makes them anyway, then laments, and repeats.  Dickens can do better.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen it in this very book.

I give it 3 of 5 stars.  Good beginning, good ending, good story.  Terribly plodding middle.  I will try another Dickens, but it’ll be awhile.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men

Rambling

David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men isn’t a book I’d normally pick up.  Honestly, I hadn’t any plans to read Wallace at all in the near future.  I mentioned before that hearing about David Foster Wallace is like hearing a group of friends talk about another friend (who you haven’t met) that is just soooo funny and clever; the more you hear these friends glorify this guy, the more you’re sure you’ll hate him.  That was how I felt about David Foster Wallace.

Then, a few months ago, the Mister convinced me to read a commencement speech given by Wallace.  And it was actually pretty darn good.

“But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line – maybe she’s not usually like this; maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who’s dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible – it just depends on what you want to consider.”

The speech might have actually improved my life a wee bit for the couple of weeks that I kept it in mind.  But I easily convinced myself that, while the guy was obviously a decent public speaker, he was probably still a pretentious hack of a writer.  I don’t know where I got the idea; it was just a natural inclination against whoever everyone else happens to be worshipping – a holdover from my teenage rebel days.

Finally, the president of my book group (whose favorite book is Infinite Jest) convinced the majority of us to vote for Brief Interviews With Hideous Men as our next read.  It was the first book group meeting I’ve missed, and I felt this might have been payback.  Grudgingly, I downloaded the sample of it to my nook, assuming that I’d read the sample, be disappointed enough to be able to justify not actually getting the book, and still be able to explain that I made a honest-ish effort.  (I recognize that I might sound like a terrible person, but this goes to show the extent of my determination not to like Wallace.)

I read the sample: The first story.. “bleh”;  the second story.. “Hmm, okay”; the third story.. “Wow, this is brilliant.”

That third story, I had a definite visceral reaction to.  I felt like I was actually a 13-year-old boy.  I was hooked.  I scoured all the nearby libraries until I emerged, triumphantly, book in hand.

David Foster WallaceReview

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a book of shorts.  They aren’t necessarily stories, but often just a few pages in which Wallace (and you) explores an emotion, an idea – an introspective exploration of a brief, but important moment of someone’s life.  One goodreads reviewer accurately described the stories as “word paintings – unconnected and layered and taxing.” 

They often don’t have proper beginnings or endings.  Mostly, it’s first-person monologue.  Dialogue – which is where Wallace excels.  Wallace has obviously listened to a lot of people talk.  These aren’t tidy little stories, revised and wrapped up for presentation.  All of the speaker’s have clear, unique voices, but they’re authentic.  They repeat themselves, backtrack, interrupt themselves, contradict themselves, excuse themselves, fiddle with things while they’re talking, and just generally make all the mistakes, have all the nuances of actual people telling their stories.

Wallace’s writing is experimental.  He uses repetition to get his point across; in “Adult World” he writes half the story properly, then offers his short-hand notes for the remainder (allowing the reader to see how much thought goes into each word of a story); in the interviews, he leaves out the questions.  Sometimes his experiments are successful; other times, they alienate the reader.

The Good

Forever Overhead” –  Nine pages of a 13-year-old boy trying to jump off of a diving board for the first time.  In second person point-of-view.  That’s right.. Wallace makes you a pubescent boy, puts you into a very scary situation, and elaborates.  But by the third paragraph, I had bought into it.  I was a young boy, mind all scrambled by puberty, aware that today, on my 13th birthday, it was time for me to grow up.  And to do that, I had to jump off the diving board.  Wallace pulls it off masterfully.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men – B.I. #42” – Only four pages, a man describes his father’s career working as an attendant in a 5-star hotel men’s room, standing there for 8 hours a day, offering men towels, cleaning up their messes, listening to their .. sounds.  It was disgusting, like many of Wallace’s stories, but it definitely left an impression.  Many of the stories have a unifying theme: that oftentimes people don’t see people as.. people;  they’re objects, obstacles, there to serve us or get in our way; that they have senses, desires, dreams, and self-value.  This theme is brilliantly explored in this story and in B.I. #20.

“Adult World (I)” and “Adult World (II)” – A self-conscious young wife’s lengthy exploration of why she feels she can’t please her husband in bed.  There wasn’t any particular theme that made this one stand out, but again, the writing was amazing.  The way Wallace can get into a character’s head and really find the exact words they would use to describe a situation or themselves show true talent.  His experimental part two, showing the shorthand notes for the rest of the story rather than writing it out, really highlights this.  Whether the notes are fabricated or are actual notes that he, at one time, planned to use.. they show just how much consideration he gives each word and perspective.

The Bad

“Datum Centurio” – A failed experiment that I can’t even give a synopsis of because I have no idea what is going on it it.  A story(?) told through various, overly technical definitions of the word date. There was certainly no reader immersion.

Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar To Ecko” – The only one I didn’t finish.  At 19 pages, it was one of the longest stories in the book.  Apparently, he’s telling the story of a modern Narcissus (I think?), complete with plastic surgery and corporate battles.  But the writing style makes it almost completely inaccessible, unless I wanted to pore over the story for hours trying to figure out just what he was trying to say.  I didn’t.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I’d give this book 3 stars out of 5.  There was some brilliant material in it, and often Wallace’s mastery of language allows the reader to become fully immersed.  The guy had talent.  Some of the pieces were inaccessable, and some fell flat.  Many will stick with me; others, I hardly recall even now.  It is a book to be read over a few weeks, taken one story at time rather than read with a deadline.  I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t enjoy experimental writing or dislikes graphic, adult language and imagery.  I’d recommend it to writers, to monologue lovers, and to anyone who wants a glimpse of the unpleasant side of real life.  Wallace supposedly said that he wanted to write “stuff about what it feels like to live instead of being a relief from what it feels like to live.”  That, I think, he does quite well.