REVIEW: Moll Flanders

Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (which really has an obnoxiously long title I don’t feel like typing out, but would have taken the same out of time as this parenthetical did. Actually it really would’ve taken twice as long) was, of course, on my “Classics I Should Read” portion of my list. Now, as we know, I’m not head over heals in love with many of the standard 19th classics, but, what makes Moll Flanders pretty awesome is that it was written in the early 18th century. Consequently, making Defoe a man well ahead of his time. Thus, he gets credit where credit is due.

Defoe receives major points with Moll Flanders for creating a pretty ballsy female character, literally centuries before you would think some such a character would be acceptable to the literary world. He also gets kudos for his brilliant humor. Our heroine is like a bawdier Austen chick, with the drive of Becky Thatcher (actually this is far less depressing Vanity Fair); so, a hilarious and winning combination. However, towards the end, I was like “enough with the shenanigans, Dan, they are getting overplayed.”

On the whole, therefore, I give a round of applause for Defoe and Moll. But, I might have knocked down the number of men and babies in her life by about half.

 

Rating: 3.5 Affairs

 

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REVIEW: Dracula

So, I was pretty stoked to finally read Bram Stoker’s (see what I did there) Dracula. From what I knew of the tale, and from what others told me, it seemed like exactly the kind of dark twisted beauty I’d be into. But, once again I am let down, much as I was with Frankenstein last year.

While, Stoker’s motives for making Dracula an epistolary novel is understandable, being a clever way to represent the intertwining characters and plots before they all come together, I don’t understand why there had to be such a wide variety of sources. Between the letters to and from various characters, the journal entries of various characters, and newspaper articles it got to be too much. TOO MUCH, BRAM. This tactic distracted from the story for me, (a story I was actually quite invested in) and toyed with the pacing.

That being said, it was an intriguing tale; Dracula himself has become an iconic character for good reason. While a clear antagonist, his multiple layers, as well as true human emotion, ensure that Dracula is a character who will continue to hold society’s interest.

Overall, fairly even pros and cons, though definitely not a favorite. But, the creation of Dracula brought us the genius that is Jason Segel’s Dracula musical and that is all that matters – see below:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kd5lMDkvzvI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5ZtwbzUFZE

 

Rating: 3 Drops of Blood

REVIEW: Invisible Cities

As we know, Italo Calvino is one of my all-time favorites (evidence seen here). A huge attribute, making him a standout, is that while his books are so wildly varied in their subject matter, genre, and format – each has a certain je ne sais quoi that gives them the Calvino stamp which transcends the general novel art form.

Invisible Cities is an exquisite example of this. Pieced together as conversations between Kubla Khan and Marco Polo (because…of course), detailing the travels of the latter, Invisible Cities takes the shape of meditation in novel form.

To be honest, Invisible Cities, is not a work whose details will remain with me. Additionally, it isn’t a favorite Calvino work, but its impact while I was reading it was a distinctive one. I effortlessly slipped into the dreamlike world Marco Polo creates; reading for an hour without realizing time had passed by. When I use the word “meditation” I mean it. Calvino’s ability to execute the environments he creates makes for a fully involved experience. When reading him – you’re either in or out, there is no in between. 

Invisible Cities may not be popular among the masses; Calvino’s works are an acquired taste. But, I certainly recommend giving it a spin, if, for nothing else, to let your mind take a break for an hour or two.

 

Rating: 3.5 Meditations on an Ancient City

REVIEW: Of Love and Other Demons

Gabriel García Márquez. An author who has continuously entranced me with his vibrancy and ability to balance the surreal and real. An author I have committed myself to because he had me at “hello” (I reviewed him last year as well: The Story of a Ship-Wrecked Sailor). But, as with all relationships, the honeymoon phase had to end at some point and now we get down to the nitty gritty.

Don’t get me wrong, Of Love and Other Demons exhibited many of the qualities which led me to fall for Márquez: an air of mystery, passion, ­­­and fluid writing. Yet, I was not fully invested in the plot. I started Of Love and Other Demons about 3 times in an attempt to determine if my current mood was the factor deterring me from becoming engaged. However, as it transpired, the novel never grasped me.

Much like my feelings towards The Sound of Things Falling (legit spent about 10 minutes coming up with that title because it left such a little impression on me), I can’t quite put my finger on why I couldn’t connect with this novel. I find this to be frustrating. As I hope I have made obvious, I like to be able to support and express my opinions with clarity. I believe my discontent was a mixture of a few things:

  • The balance Márquez generally creates was off; typically, the fantasy Márquez adds never detracts from the ability of the reader to accept that his stories are capable of existing in reality, it merely enhances them. The fantasy Of Love and Other Demons enhanced the narrative a bit too much for my taste. 
  • I was disinterested in the characters. They are well constructed, but I was apathetic to their fates. I can’t work out why.
    • As a result I was indifferent to their relationships. And since the novel’s main focus is on the relationship between a young girl and a priest, this was an issue.
  • You know I’m seriously struggling sorting through something when I start making lists. (Holy alliteration, batman)

So for now I will go with: well written book, still a fan of the author, the general concept just wasn’t my cup of tea.

 

Rating: 3.5 Rabid Exorcisms

 

REVIEW: Invisible Monsters

Last year I did not tackle any of Chuck Palahniuk’s collection, though I did mention my constant struggle with him in my review of Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction as follows:

“I absolutely adored Fight Club, but none of his other novels has met that bar. Yet, I keep reading him. While I do enjoy most of his works, I am frequently left with a less favorable aftertaste, as they are not as well executed as Fight Club. My extreme love for Fight Club possibly warped my ability to fully enjoy the rest of Chuck’s collection.”

 Invisible Monsters is the closest I have come in my Palahniuk adventures to thoroughly applauding his genius as I did with Fight Club. Closest but still no cigar.

The heart of Invisible Monsters is a beautiful one; an exploration (albeit a twisted, graphic, and gory one) on the struggles of self-identity and body image and the difficult (Tarantinoesque) journey to becoming the person you want to be. The characters, though beyond heightened, evince kernels of universal truths. The overall plot line, engaging and quirky. But. But. But. It just gets to be too much, Chuck. Chunks of the novel involve road trip like expeditions with 3 of our main characters, and after a certain number of these excursions I was done with them. Yet, they kept trucking along. Similar in essence to the road tripping adventures of Humbert Humbert and Lolita, but instead with a newly disfigured former model going through an existential crisis, a pill-popping transgender woman who is the glue holding it all together, and a fairly unnecessary jerk of a guy. 

When the Prozac Nation tour isn’t occurring, we are jumping back and forth in a convoluted time line of our mutilated model. While this backstory ultimately ties some loose ends together, it is once again, TOO MUCH, and hindered my empathy towards our anti-heroine as opposed to enhancing it.

All of that being said, Palahniuk executed the ending of Invisible Monsters masterfully (a trait he often lacks), and, as mentioned before, the overall arch and concept is strong. 

Though this wasn’t quite kissing another Palahniuk frog, it still wasn’t the prince I’ve been hoping for.

Rating: 3.5 Brandy Alexanders

REVIEW: Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury is an incredibly talented writer who touches on important life and cultural themes with empathy, poise, and unique style, which was ahead of his time. Knowing these aforementioned qualities to be true, I had an inkling Fahrenheit 451, a book I missed out on during my schooling, was going to leave a deep impression on me (especially in today’s political climate.) Unfortunately, my gut was a tad off on this one.

This is not to say I renege on the praise and appreciation I have for Bradbury; or that I don’t applaud his tackling a daring subject. Fahrenheit 451 simply didn’t leave as deep a mark on me as other dystopian novels of its kind (1984, Brave New World). I considered the possibility that this was a result of the order in which I happened to read these novels; perhaps had I read Bradbury’s  451 first, it would have left a more profound imprint. However, while the reading chronology may have been a contributing factor in my attitude, I don’t think it is the main issue. It is the execution of the ending that disappointed.

Though I don’t have a general preference as to whether novels have uplifting or bleak endings, I do have strong feelings on the manner in which conflicts are resolved. Bradbury nailed it for about 2/3s of Fahrenheit 451, but the last third is a smidge too contrived compared with all that came before.

I fully comprehend why this is a frequently read and beloved novel. I appreciate the themes and take aways from the work (man’s ability to learn from his mistakes is always one that gets me). Although I think Bradbury is a national treasure, Fahrenheit 451 simply wasn’t the hit to the heart I was searching for, so my rating is on a more personal level not a technical one.

Rating: 3.5 Taboos

REVIEW: Tribe

The subject matter of Sebastian Junger’s Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging is risky, enticing, and captivating. Junger approaches the issues returning Vets face (PTSD, assimilating back into society, etc.) from the viewpoint of “how has society failed them?” rather than “what has war done to them?”

Junger takes you on a journey through civilization starting with the American Indians up to present day; exploring the flaws in modern society as a result of the lacking sense of community in the modern western world.

Junger poses many fascinating theories, and writes with beautiful sensitivity on the topic; one he clearly feels strongly about on a personal level.

I took issue with Tribe (brace yourselves now) for the following reason: it should have been 150-200 pages longer. Yes. I just said that.

As great as it is to find a non-fiction book on a heavy subject to be a quick paced, short read, a lot of specificity is sacrificed.  The theories Junger poses and explores are presented in generalities. It is obvious he could have included more compelling evidence (which I’m sure he has, since he is clearly well-versed on the topic).

Restructuring the piece (I, of course, have thoughts on how this could be accomplished) in a way that allowed for more details would have made it meatier without losing its accessibility.

I have been struggling with how to rate Tribe; Junger is a stunning writer who definitely knows his s**t, it’s a subject matter I personally think is vastly important and Junger poses an innovative viewpoint, but the weakness in structure is a huge issue. Tribe would serve well as a jumping off point for further investigative reading.

So, please be aware that I have reserved the right to change the rating below.

 

Rating: 3.5 Heroes