July 31, 2009
Even though this book is only 125 pages it could actually be a bit shorter. After the old man gets on the open sea and starts being dragged along by the marlin there is way too much play by play that almost feels like padding. A little summarization would’ve been fine to get me through the two days at sea until the old man catches the fish. Because as nice as it was to know that the old man caught a tuna to eat himself while he stayed with the marlin I didn’t need to have that in excruciating detail. It was a bit too much.
What I would’ve liked a bit more of is an explanation of the fishing technique the old man was using. Because there was much talk of lines dropping to forty fathoms and whatnot and I get what that means and I understand through the story its significance but it would’ve been nice if the mechanics of it had been explicated to me a bit more. It’s not like you didn’t have the room. Cut out the play by play and give me some, “So here’s how this works.” That way I know how important it is when the line goes.
What was done especially well, and this is what kept me going through the book, was the characterization of the old man and the dialogue he had with himself. Even though not a whole lot of him was shown there was enough pieces of him brought forth for him to be endearing. The whole thing with him talking to his left hand and being all, “You’re good for nothing, you know that?” I loved that. Also when he’s talking in his head about going too far out to sea he then says out loud, “You’re always giving me advice that I can’t follow,” or something to that effect. It was perfect. Can’t say I’d struggle through it again, because there’s an awful lot of ocean to cover before you get to any action or to the meat of the story and it seems a lot longer than it is, but it’s worth going through once.
July 29, 2009
Wow, John Steinbeck, wow. How did you manage to make me not care at all about the plight of the people who suffered during the Dust Bowl?
I guess we should start with the most glaring error: the title. Look, I know this is a “Battle Hymn of the Republic” line, but the only reason it doesn’t sound ridiculous there is because it’s got the tune under it, and possibly a great many men in uniform singing it. In print, by itself, it does not look so good. Unless your book is a comedy, don’t personify an object. I don’t care if you’re giving it a super snazzy word like “wrath,” all I end up thinking about is what if grapes were actually wrathful, and what if they wanted to eat me, and that’s kind of cute because…hahaha, they’re too small to eat me! It’s a comedy of errors! It’s a Nick Jr. show! Without the tune and the guys in uniforms with bayonets, there’s no oomph. I don’t care if you are John Steinbeck. So that’s the first thing that takes me out of the tragedy of the situation.
The biggest issue for me was how Steinbeck decided that instead of flat-out telling the story of the Joads he was going to interject every other chapter with a broad overview of what was happening to every Dust Bowl migrant. And you could plainly hear the deep voiced IMAX documentary narration of these chapters and see the sweeping camera angles and shit. Steinbeck is an excellent writer, that’s what got me through this 450 pages, but there was a hell of a lot of peacocking in those chapters, which themselves didn’t seem necessary to me. It ripped me from the story of the Joads, which is what I cared about. Steinbeck’s talking high and mighty about how awful the land owners were in the Plains, and how goddamn bitchtastic the big farm owners were in California and he’s just going on and on and on, and I’m going to be honest, by the end of it I was siding with the big farmers just to spiritually piss Steinbeck off. His method of trying to get sympathy from me was clearly ineffective. I’m not saying going broad once or twice wasn’t a good idea (such as in the first chapter, which was excellent), but when he kept doing it it completely killed the human connection as opposed to when he was writing about the Joads.
However, that’s not to say there weren’t any problems with the Joad scenes. First of all, the pacing of the entire book (but particularly the Joad scenes) was ridiculously slow. Then, Steinbeck decides to start jettisoning characters left and right. I accept that Grandpa died because he couldn’t bare to leave the land, and that Grandma died right after him, but slightly-crazy-didn’t-actually-have-a-line-of-dialogue-before-he-left Noah just up and going, “Well, here’s a river. Peace.”? Uh…did you get tired of writing a crazy guy? Also, Connie, who likewise had barely any lines before he ran off just sort of ran away without any foreshadowing. I have no real issue with the method of Noah and Connie’s leaving, it’s just that you could sort of tell that they were going to go because they were the filler characters in the family. The ones without real personality and therefore the ones easily jettisoned. Which is kind of lazy.
Tom’s leaving was good and justified. Because not only did he have a personality he was leaving to do something.
While I did like the Joads in the beginning, by the end most of them were getting on my nerves. Why Ma didn’t ever lay into Ruthie is beyond me. Also Rosasharn and Uncle John’s preoccupation with sin…guys. You have more important things to worry about. Like your imminent starvation. But I didn’t take points off for that; those are just the characters I didn’t like.
I think this book would’ve been more effective if we’d seen several families instead of just the Joads. That way Steinbeck could’ve done his WITNESS ALL THESE DIFFERENT SCENARIOS thing and the human element would’ve been preserved. God knows Steinbeck can draw a good, three-dimensional character. I really think he could’ve pulled that off. Especially because I knew there was no way there was going to be a definite ending for the Joads (because he was never going to show them starving to death or anything, heavens to Betsy no!) and that the book was going to end in medias res.
…Allow me to tell you how the book ends. You are probably never going to be the same. I know I won’t.
Rosasharn had a stillbirth baby. Right after that the Joads go to a barn where a starving man is and Rosasharn BREAST FEEDS THE MAN. AND THAT IS HOW IT FUCKING ENDS. WITH HER SMILING AND BREAST FEEDING HIM.
…NO. This is like the fucking title. I know that the title is supposed to be representative, just as I know this is supposed to be the last in a long line of human moments between poor people, but just as the title is unintentionally comical, this is ridiculously squicky and awkward and…NO. BAD TOUCH.
Ugh, Steinbeck. This is such a shame. You are such a good writer. Your beautiful prose leaks off every single one of these pages. Why did you do this to me?
So I love William Carlos Williams. No lie. But I love him most when he’s at his most sparse, line wise, (i.e. “The Red Wheelbarrow”) and when he started to do the Paterson poems I’d sort of fade away and it would begin to get hard for me to remember what the hell the poem was even about. But that’s just me and my long-standing relationship with poetry.
As a personal aside, I am so happy to be back with prose after this long foray into a purely poetry book. Because…it got really fucking tedious.
I was happy with the way the book was organized, edited, etc. excepting that I would’ve liked the version of “Paterson” I read in It. But that should be somewhere on the internet or in another book I can just read in Barnes and Noble, so no biggie.
Uh, yeah…I can’t really talk at length about poetry.
July 18, 2009
I was so utterly frustrated by this book. I just know that as soon as I read the last sentence and closed the book I thought, “Well that was stupid.”
Here’s the problem, the big problem anyway. The basic focal point of this novel is how Brett is so hot and so fantastically awesome that all the main dudes except Bill (who is awesome and therefore immune) are either a) in love with her, b) engaged to her, c) have had an affair with her, d) want to have sex with her, or e) some combination of the above. I have absolutely no problem with this as a plot. It’s actually a really fantastic plot. Brett is already married and trying to get a divorce and she’s engaged to Mike, and yet she’s in love with Jake, the narrator, but he’s broken sexually or whatever, and then she goes off and has an affair in San Sebastian with Cohn, who becomes obsessed with Brett and convinced that she’s meant for him. So all of them plus Bill decide to go to Pamplona to see the bull-fights. When is that not a recipe for a good story?
When everyone but the female character has a personality.
Hemingway, Christ, dude, Brett is your center, your axis, and she’s so two-dimensional I think she might blow away in the goddamn wind. I could see Jake, Mike, Cohn, and Bill. Their dialogue sparkled, they were vivid characters. But I don’t know if it’s because Brett was a woman and Hemingway couldn’t write a woman or because he didn’t really have a grasp on what he wanted to do with her character but every time she entered the scene it was like, “Here comes the walking plot point.” This, more than anything else, ruined the book for me.
Another issue I had was the writing style. I know Hemingway is known for this robust “hard, athletic prose” as it says on the back of my book, but I just couldn’t dig the constant random-ass details that had absolutely no bearing on the book that were given to me in these stunted sentences. I really don’t care that you saw a single cockroach outside a hotel you stayed in one night, pointed it out to Bill, killed it, and then assured yourself that it was probably from outside the hotel because the hotel had been very clean, really, Jake, Christ. Enough. At the beginning when they were in Paris it was like that fake 40’s TV show they showed on Family Guy, Fast Talking High Trousers. Except instead of: “Well isn’t this a fine song and dance?” “What are you getting so hot about?” “Keep your shirt on!” It was: “Oh, I’m so miserable, Jake.” “Let’s go to that bar.” “No, the other one.”
Note: I do not believe they were sober for a single scene in this book.
As much as I had a problem with the way Hemingway presented the information I could tell he had complete control over his writing and I liked that. I loved certain subtleties in the writing, like how Montoya, the hotel owner, ignored Jake’s group after Brett took up with the bull-fighter.
However, the single reason that the book gets a 6 instead of a 5 is Bill. Oh my God, Bill. Bill was the last character of the trip introduced and he came completely out of left field. I was totally not expecting a funny character. He was so damn awesome and above all the Brett shenanigans. So much love for Bill.
This is the first Hemingway book I’ve read (I’ve read a few of his short stories before) and I was honestly expecting better.
July 14, 2009
So I’m ashamed to admit that because of my transfer from Regents to AP I missed reading this one in high school. Thus, while I was able to get through the language of the play there were definitely great stretches of it that escaped me and I took that element of it out when considering my rating of th play since that’s entirely my deficiency.
Despite the fact that I’ve never read this one I come to it with prior knowledge (as I imagine everyone comes to all of Shakespeare’s major plays with prior knowledge) of how Macbeth is super ambitious and kills Duncan and gets killed because of the prophecy the weird sisters give him. I should actually be doubly ashamed that I haven’t read this particular play because it’s the one that’s most strongly connected to HP. But I’ve got say, I was kind of unenthused.
It’s (and I realize how this is going to sound) too much talking. Even prior to killing Duncan Macbeth has doubts about doing it and then immediately after he’s wracked with guilt, goes on to kill Banquo and then is immediately guilty about that. There’s no real time to see him as anything other than a really guilty guy except in the very last act where he gets extremely cocksure and starts quoting the prediction right and left. That’s where the play was really awesome for me. Lady Macbeth was what I thought Macbeth was going to be: conniving and wonderfully evil. But then she got a super lame death. Off-stage. What the fuck, Will?
Yeah, yeah, yeah I realize I’m getting pearls here, about how ambition is just terrible and whatnot, but I want to be satisfied, goddammit. I know the Macbeths are going to die, at least make it awesome. Like the weird sister scenes. Those were creepy and terrific.
It’s actually kind of hard for me to retain much of what happened in the play except for the weird sister scenes and Macbeth’s guilt and that last scene. When the play was good it was good, but otherwise it was way too much guilt-tripping.
July 11, 2009
This is not one of my favorite of Dahl’s. It might be because I didn’t read it until very late in my childhood, or maybe it’s just not to my taste. Either way I find that there are a few things lacking about it.
However, what isn’t lacking is some awesome dialogue. Dahl throws around one-liners like nobody’s business and he writes his dialogue with such bright finesse that within a single line spoken by the Earthworm I managed to fall in love with that character. Being able to distinguish characters that quickly? Skills.
Another thing I really liked about this book is that the relationships between the characters were very natural and Dahl didn’t feel the need to do the whole “the moral of this story is” crap that’s so pervasive of children’s books. Another plus was that there wasn’t any wasted sentimentality. The characters liked each other but they weren’t soppy about it.
My problems with this book basically come from its pacing and its direction. Though it was a short book it seemed a lot longer than it was (not good), and though it was a travel type book (the characters referred to as “the travelers” several times) there was very little of them interacting with the environment and more of the environment acting on them. I’m not saying that that’s not a valid way to write the book, but for me it made it drag because every new mini-adventure was always like, “LOOK AT THAT!” and…yeah, I see it. Can you…you know…touch it? Something?
I don’t know if it’s worth it just for the dialogue because afterwards I felt very meh about the book, but dayum that dialogue.
There are a lot of problems with this book. There’s a lot of sloppiness, a lot of laziness, a lot of “I can’t believe they published this” writing.
To start with, instead of describing the intonation of the character’s voice or giving a descriptor for how the character was yelling/screaming (as this was most often the case when it would happen) the writers chose to not only use caps, not only to hold down the vowel keys, but to alternate using caps so it looked like something out of a comic book. Example: “NOOOOOOOOooooooooOOOOOOOOoooooooo.” I shit you not. Now I realize we’re dealing with children, who are difficult to write, and everyone’s entitled to a little fanciness now and again but seriously? I could open up any given page of that book and within five or six pages you could find an example of, if not the alternating on and off caps, at least the stretched out vowels. Uh…no. That’s a lazy bomb you get to drop once. After that you fucking work so I hear the character. Because it ends up where all I see is the keyboard and you holding down the damn keys ad infinitum. And there was one scene in particular (where Nanny is made to leave Grayer in the middle of the night without saying good-bye) that you guys completely blew because of this idiotic technique. The kid goes, “NAAAAAANNY. I NEEEEEEEED YOOOOOOOU.” And she leaves because she’s being forced to and then the last line of that chapter is, “I can still hear him screaming for me.” I can still hear the keyboard crying out in pain is what I fucking hear. That could’ve been a powerful line and you blew it. Use your caps and extended vowels with care, Christ.
Also…I don’t honestly think I’ve ever seen the single word sentence (ie, “Don’t. You. Ever.”) as emphasis outside of fanfiction before, but I may be wrong on that.
Another major problem was the sheer lack of description. Starting with physical description. Until the middle of the book I didn’t know what color hair Mrs. X had. Until the very end of the book I didn’t know that Mr. X was fat. I have no idea what H.H. looks like except that he’s “hot” (hence the second “H” in “Harvard Hottie”) and likewise Nanny’s parents and friends remain complete blanks. Most disarming is that I don’t really know what Nanny or Grayer, the main characters, look like. It’s unnerving not to know. I realize this is chick lit and a lot of what we’re meant to pick up on about the characters is the brands they wear (and man are brand names dropped) but that doesn’t really help me either because the description of the clothes is completely left out in lieu of the brand names except in a rare few cases. Yes, I get that those brands are expensive and that imports some vague image to me, but once again you are being LAZY. Give me the name and then describe it, goddammit.
Character describing wise, they didn’t do so hot either. Aside from Nanny, Grayer, and Mr. and Mrs. X, pretty much every character was a set piece used to facilitate whatever action the authors required of them. H.H., Nanny’s boyfriend, is the one that pisses me off most of all because it seems it’s a standard requirement of chick lit that the girl get with someone, regardless of whether that’s necessary to the plot or not (and it so wasn’t here), and worse than having no real personality he was completely unbelievable. Every time Nanny would start bitching about her job he was totally chill and would be all, “You just get it all out, babe. I’ll get some ice cream for you.” …What the fuck kind of fantasy world is this?
So why the 7 if so many things went so horribly, horribly wrong? Because the simple fact is, is that like most chick lit, this book is satisfying like candy. Delicious, but I can’t make a meal out of it. Entertaining, because the ante is constantly being raised with the ridiculous and insulting things Mrs. X makes Nanny do, but I wouldn’t read it again because there were, as I said, many problems with it. Also the conclusion was ultimately disappointing because Nanny was a weakass character who took everyone’s shit lying down. I knew that ending was coming and it was pathetic. Entertaining, but pathetic.
Basically, it’s readable, but don’t expect a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.