Thursday, February 28, 2008
Orwell said that he never wrote anything good that was not about politics. He also said, "Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole." Animal Farm was written as a political indictment of the Soviet Union. In the preface to this edition, Russell Baker points out that given the political climate of the time, Orwell had trouble getting this book published. In fact, it was not published until 1945 after the end of World War II. Criticizing the Soviet Union in the early 40s was nearly heretical. After all, the Red Army had just beat back Hitler and his "invincible" army. But Orwell cautioned that the political system that was evolving in the USSR was not really socialism, but a "hierarchical society, in which the rulers would have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class."
This is precisely the type of society that Orwell depicts in Animal Farm. The animals revolt against the farmer who has oppressed them for years. They set up a farm where all animals are equal and they work for the betterment of themselves, not for the prosperity of some despotic ruler. The pigs, who are clearly the smartest animals on the farm lead the rebellion and are instrumental in setting up their utopian farm. Two pigs fall into leadership roles: Snowball and Napoleon. Eventually Napoleon runs Snowball off the farm, and it is not long before Napoleon and his cronies are running the farm in the same fashion that Farmer Jones did.
I really enjoyed this book, especially having recently read Finding George Orwell in Burma. As usual, I saved both the preface and introduction until after I had finished the book, and was a little disappointed to find out that neither of them was written by Orwell. In the preface, Russell Baker alludes on more than one occasion to a preface to Animal Farm written by George Orwell. I wonder why they didn't include that in this edition. It would no doubt have been interesting. While the preface was interesting and worth reading, I found the introduction by C. M. Woodhouse to be rather stuffy and pretentious.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Monday, February 25, 2008
Wood makes some intriguing assertions about colonial America. Here are a few of them:
- Blacks were significantly present in the Americas mere years after Columbus's expedition.
- Originally slavery in America was not based on race.
- Specific state laws were passed in order to make race the controlling factor in slavery.
My favorite chapter was 'Building a Culture', in which Wood shows the ways that blacks, although oppressed, created a unique culture of their own, which had a dramatic impact on overall American society. Some of the vulgate languages that developed in these slave cultures made a lasting mark on American English. Wood also details the effects that blacks had on music and religion (namely Protestant Christianity) during the colonial period of our nation's history. I thought this sentence was amusing, "Europeans, startled by the extent of African drumming and fearful that this skill sometimes provided a secret means of communication, outlawed the use of drums by slaves in various colonies."
It is difficult to write interesting works of history. Often works such as this are informative, but require slogging through less than stellar writing to get the information. Wood's book does not suffer from this all too common problem. Wood has a way of teasing out interesting stories in the history that he writes, and he has a good writing style. For being an academic work of history, this book was fairly easy to read.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Me: Holy crap, this book is boring.
Her: I like it. Doesn't it remind you of your childhood? You know, lightning bugs and milking cows and stuff?
Me: My childhood didn't have a damn thing to do with cows, thank you.
That pretty much sums up what I think about this book. Bobbie Ann Mason is a well-known author of "grit lit" from Kentucky whose work takes a very unadorned approach toward the minutiae of daily life. This is her memoir which recounts her time growing up in rural Clear Springs, Kentucky, through her career as a writer and academic and spends a lot of time detailing the personal lineage and history of her parents. It is well-written in a sort of unassuming way, and certain parts of it are interesting, but as a whole it is rather dull and I'm not sure why I should care, nor am I sure why exactly, out of the thousands upon thousands of novels and memoirs written by Southern authors, I should have to read this one.
That is all.
The synopsis of TBOE is as follows: Jack Spratt (who still eats no fat) is head of the struggling Nursury Crime Division of the Reading Police Department. The NCD is struggling because, in Reading, departments must not only solve cases but also solve them in such a way that they'll make good reading in the various detective periodicals. Enter Mary Mary, the repetitively-monikered writer assigned to the NCD to record Spratt's cases. As soon as she is assigned to the division, Humpty Dumpty dies under suspicious circumstances, and the rest of the book follows Spratt as he works his way through the labyrinthine plot against Humpty.
There was a lot to like about TBOE. It was clever, and several bits made me laugh out loud, especially the bits at the beginning of each chapter from various fictional papers, with headlines such as "Identical Twin Plot Device Outlawed" and "Butler Did Do it Shocker!" The characters have habit fitting with their famed situations (Humpty Dumpty enjoys sitting on walls), and also attributes that are intentionally ludicrous (Humpty was also quite a ladies man, and had an affair with Rapunzel). The plot itself was clever and satirized the twisting narrative of much pulp noir very well, and Jack Spratt was a very likable character.
On the other hand, the writing was sometimes a little sloppy, probably because this is a rewrite of Fforde's first unpublished novel, and the exact setup of the literary universe is a little confusing. What is Prometheus doing in the same story as the three little pigs, for instance? it's also explained that the nursery characters don't really what they are, and, although Jack is aware that his cases are based on nursery rhyme, he seems unaware that he and Mary Mary are also part of that world.
Overall, however, I enjoyed this book and found it pretty funny and a quick read. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes Discworld or Douglas Adams, although the concensus seems to be that it's Forde's weakest book. I guess we'll see. I'm planning on reading The Eyre Affair later this year.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
I always find it hard to review collections of short stories. For one thing, I started this at the very first of the year, reading a story or two in between other books that I read. As a result, some of the stories are a bit fuzzy to me. But some I remember quite vividly, such as 'The Secret Garden', 'The Sins of Prince Saradine' (which reminded me of portions of Thursday), 'The Head of Caesar', and 'The Man in the Passage'. While the stories in this collection were all mostly good, these few were a cut above the rest.
Chesterton's mysteries are not of the two-minute variety. The reader is not intended to solve the mystery on their own, although often the facts are all right there in plain view. As with Thursday, the writing is excellent. Sometimes I would write down passages that jumped out at me, often I would not. Here is one that I noted: "The mind of the little priest was always a rabbit-warren of wild thoughts that jumped too quickly for him to catch them." Another that caught my eye: "I could see the librarian's great legs wavering under him like the shadows of stems in a pool; and I could not banish from my own brain the fancy that the trees all around us were filling softly in the silence with devils instead of birds."
Interestingly enough, Father Brown is really not the main character in any of these stories. In fact, in many of them, he doesn't even show up until over halfway through. Father Brown is normally seen through the eyes of others, and even then, Chesterton does not provide extensive details of his appearance. He is short, has a round face, wears glasses, and of course dresses in the attire of a Catholic priest, but that's about all Chesterton gives by way of description. This is intentional. For, it is not the look of the priest that is important, but his knowledge of the human condition. After all, who better to look into the hearts of men than a priest, to whom men routinely bare their souls?
So far, Chesterton is batting 1.000
Monday, February 18, 2008
Larkin titled her book brilliantly. In the year that she spent in Burma she found Orwell in two ways, she made interesting discoveries about the writer's life in colonial Burma and she also discovered that Orwell's writings were alarmingly applicable to the country of Burma. She points out that some people say that Orwell wrote the history of Burma in three volumes: Burmese Days, Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The book, which is equal parts travelogue, biography, and political exposé, is organized into five main sections: Mandalay, The Delta, Rangoon, Moulmein, and Katha. These are all places where Orwell spent time. Most of them appear in his writings, for example, Burmese Days is set in Katha. Larkin pulls from these writings, dropping quotes throughout the book. At times it is difficult to distinguish the portentous words of Orwell from the political rhetoric of the oppressive Burmese (Myanmarian?) government. I am sure this was intentional.
Finding George Orwell in Burma was extremely interesting. The people and places that Larkin visits are described in vivid detail, and the conversations that she had are enlightening and often humorous. Larkin managed to be informative and entertaining throughout the book.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
(Click to stream, or right-click and select "Save File As")
More interviews with numerous authors are available at:
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
A Farewell to Arms seems to follow Hemingway's typical format for both novels and short stories. All the essential components are present with his stoical and somewhat autobiographical man along with an unreasonable woman struggling to satisfy these same unemotional demands.
Many critics feel that it lacks the emotional punch of its predecessor, Hello to Legs, but I think it was actually better, possibly because arms are easier to relate to than legs. Have you ever known anyone without arms? How about without legs? I rest my case.
Parts of the book do strain credibility. For example, it's hard to believe that a nurse with all four appendages intact would fall for a double-amputee, but when we learn later in the book about (SPOILER) her lack of a pelvis, it explains both her attraction and Hemingway's description of her as "an amorphous blob, beautiful and fragile, a vision of boneless beauty." Hemingway's prose, by the way, is as brief as always, with all of the sentences in the second half being three words long or shorter.
But seriously folks, Hemingway is far too caught up with emotionless undeveloped characters, drinking, women, sex, war, and Americans living in foreign countries. I did think his minimalist style was creative and unique and the frequent dialog told the story well. Obviously Hemingway was obsessed with his own experiences, and although he wrote them simplistically, his attempts to unveil his emotional pain paints a beautiful picture. His story is sad, bitter, and depressing, but it is a story he tells with sincerity.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Fight Club was better than any other Palahniuk book I've read by a long shot. It was his first published book, and while all the elements that annoy me about his writing are in evidence here, none of them had yet become so irritating that they put me off the book entirely. Tyler provides the random "isn't this interesting" factoids, some of which provide the obligatory gross-out bits. The rest of the stomach-turning is provided by unnecessarily explicit descriptions of violence and mutilation, but they're not as overwhelming as in Invisible Monsters.
The main thing Fight Club has that no other Palahniuk book does is a story that's actually interesting and a twist ending that actually makes sense. For the uninitiated, the nameless narrator is dissatisfied with his life. Fortunately for him, his apartment explodes, all his possessions are destroyed, and he meets Tyler Durden, his polar opposite. Tyler is the Superego to Narrator's id, and together, they start a nationwide movement built around Fight Clubs, a way for men to beat the piss out of each other and reclaim their masculinity by purging themselves of all earthly possessions. From this noble goal, the Fight Clubs turn into a nationwide terrorist organization, and, in one of the best known twists in all modern literature (thanks to the David Fincher film, which is better than this book), we learn that, tah-dah, Tyler is the narrator. Your mind has just been blown.
Fight Club has some actual characters and an interesting plot, but Palahniuk just isn't a very good writer and his stream-of-conciousness prose and heavy-handed (but ultimately pointless) commentary drag Fight Club down. If you're forced to read Palahniuk, read this book. If you're not, read something else. The first rule of Fight Club is "Watch the movie instead."
The book opens on a destitute couple. Mr. and Mrs. Bunting have been slowly selling off their furniture and other belongings to remain just above financial ruin. They belong to the serving class, and had run a boarding house for many years, but recently had fallen on bad times. A young police officer, Chandler, checks up on them and helps them out when he can. He is the son of one of Bunting's old friends.
As things seem to be coming to their worst, a lodger arrives, a peculiar man, who wants to rent two rooms and pays quite a lot for both. It is at the same time that horrible murders start taking place in London. Gruesome murders, in which only women are targeted, by a man known as The Avenger. It is not long before Mrs. Bunting begins to suspect their lodger of being The Avenger, but does not know what to do. After all, turning him in would mean certain financial ruin for her and her husband yet again. The casual visits from young Chandler become fraught with tension. And Mrs. Bunting becomes more and more posessive of the lodger, insisting that she be the only one that attend to his needs.
This really was not a murder mystery, as I expected it to be. From the beginning, it is pretty clear who the murderer is. The Lodger is a psychological thriller. With the evidence that The Avenger is in her house becoming clearer and clearer, Mrs. Bunting spirals into a state of near hysteria, trying to keep it together and keep her secret may just be too much for her. A well-written, interesting, quick read.
Burroughs continues on into his adult years. He tells a cautionary tale of a twelve-thousand dollar house keeper from hell, and of his amazing ability to alienate even the most persistent of telemarketers. We can also learn finer points of gender re-assignment, and of course amazing powers of magical thinking.
Some of his stories seem to be reflections of David Sedaris’s work. In The Vanderbilt Genes, Burroughs mulls over the possibility that he was taken at an early age from a life of comfort and luxury. Sedaris wonders along the similar lines, although imagining himself a prince stole from faraway lands. In the story The Rat/Thing Burroughs discuss his annihilation of a Rat/Thing, “This technically wasn’t a rat/thing. It was more specifically, a small white mouse.” In hopes of poisoning it, he hoses this offending rodent with a can of Raid, that does nothing but sear its cornea’s and cause it to go into a blind panic. Eventually Burroughs does mange to dispose of it, but all the while I was thinking, what the name of that essay where Sedaris drowns a mouse in a bucket, while talking to complete strangers?
While some of these stories were amusing there seemed to me to be subtle reoccurrences of loneliness and insecurity. In certain stories I’d come across something and I’d think, ‘this is funny so why am I not laughing?’ Because there’s an element of sadness in them, something that seems to be amusing but in reality it hits too close to a real problem to be really amusing.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Unlike Brent, I felt that Martin really gave the reader an inside look at his comedic process. The time that he spent at Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland was an essential part of his comedic growth. It was while working in the cheap little magic shop at Disneyland that he first learned how to banter with an audience. The Bird Cage Theatre at Knott's gave him his first opportunity to perform consistently on a stage in front of any audience. These early experiences were seminal to the act that Martin created and honed in the years to come. He details his time as an opener for acts such as Sonny and Cher and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and he describes the lonely years spent on the road as a not-quite-famous headliner.
At one point, Martin cogently describes a watershed moment in his comedic thinking. "These notions stayed with me for months, until they formed an idea that revolutionized my comic direction: What if there were no punch lines? What if I created tension and never released it? What would the audience do with all that tension? Theoretically, it would have to come out sometime. But if I kept denying them the formality of a punch line, the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh, essentially out of desperation. This type of laugh seemed stronger to me, as they would be laughing at something they chose, rather than being told exactly when to laugh."
Not only does Martin provide insights into his comedic thought processes, but he lets the reader in just a little on his personal life. Romantic trysts, long-term girlfriends, etc. He does remain rather mum about some aspects of his personal life, but this seems understandable.
Brent and I are on the same page when it comes to some of Martin's more recent films. If he wants to make the case that he stopped doing standup because he felt that his act was stale, that it was no longer original, then how does Martin justify making dreck like, Bringing Down the House, The Pink Panther, and Cheaper by the Dozen? Mr. Martin, if you're reading this, I loved Shopgirl, both the book and the film.
Born Standing Up was interesting and insightful. While it wasn't riotously funny, Martin's writing was clever. Quite often I found myself laughing out loud at his witty turns of phrase. And whenever Martin would quote from his act, it was always funny. Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book.
Friday, February 8, 2008
Ultimately, Francis Collins intended this book to be an apologetic, not for belief in the Christian God, but for his belief that the Christian God used evolution to create the universe. I think he makes a good case for his belief, and considering that he is trying to unite two groups that have long been militantly opposed (Creationists and atheistic evolutionists) I can see the wisdom in the subtle misdirection of the title.
Such is the wisdom of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, a book on writing. It is a very good book; through a strange little quirk of fate it a much more widely read book than any of Lamott's novels, which is an irony I'm sure not lost on her.
I had to read this for my creative writing class, and, while it's fairly short on how to write--style and grammar and plot and shit like that--it is heavy on inspirational material, on why you ought to write and how to make yourself do it and how to get in the right frame of mind for a writer. If you are a writer, chances are it will make you want to write; if you are not a writer you will probably be confused by how little concrete information it offers. But that's not really what it's about. It's really more like a book written by someone enamored with books, who really loves writing and wants to share exactly what writing does for her. People with the same enamoration will relate, and Lamott's prose is simple, fluid, and at times hugely funny.
If you want to write, I recommend it--it took me only a couple of hours to read and it really rejuvenated my desire to write. I leave you with Lamott's advice on writing about your ex-spouse:
Make yourself the first wife or girlfriend, not the third wife, and do not include his offensive children, especially the red-haired twins. If you disguise this person carefully so that he cannot be recognized by the physical or professional facts of his life, you can use him in your work. And the best advice I can give you is to give him a teenie little penis so he will be less likely to come forward.
Yossarian knew what he meant.
"That's not what I meant," Doc Daneeka said, as Yossarian began scratching his back. "I'm talking about co-operation. Favours. You do a favour for me, I'll do one for you. Get it?"
"Do one for me," Yossarian requested.
"Not a chance," Doc Daneeka answered.
Catch-22 is like no book I've ever read and I doubt like any book I'll ever read, and that includes the sequel, Closing Time. It has a certain kind of manic logic that props itself up, a logic that is both its form and its subject matter, that mirrors the absurdity of life and yet is something else entirely. It is sometimes hilarious and sometimes horrible and often both. I must say I am in awe of it.
The hero of Catch-22 is Yossarian, an army bombardier on the island of Pianosa. Yossarian is terrified of dying, and being a bombardier is not a good profession to have if you have a terrible fear of dying. Compounding his problems is the fact that his commanding officer, Colonel Cathcart, keeps raising the number of required missions before Yossarian can be sent home. But, of course, any sane person does have a fear of dying, and that's Yossarian's problem: If he were insane--and he goes to great lengths to prove that he is--he could be grounded and not made to fly any more missions. But if he has to ask to be grounded, and if he does, it's proof of his sanity, and so he won't be grounded. That's a hell of a catch, and in fact, the army has a name for it: Catch-22. It's the perfect example of that "manic logic" on which this novel thrives.
The book is populated with a colorful cast of B-characters, including:
-Major ------ DeCoverly, whose countenance is so frightening no one has asked him his first name. When Yossarian moves the "bomb line" on a map of Bologna so it will seem as if American forces have already triumphed and the squadron won't have to bomb the city, DeCoverly is sent to procure apartments for the enlisted men and "disappears."
-Major Major Major Major, whose name is a particularly unfunny joke perpetrated by his father and whose rank is a joke perpetrated by the military computer.
-Clevinger, who disappears in the middle of a cloud.
-Doc Daneeka, who has Yossarian put his name on flight records so he can get his flight time. When a plane that lists Doc Daneeka on its flight register flies into a mountainside, all the officers refuse to acknowledge Doc Daneeka because he's dead. His wife remarries and moves to Lansing.
-Milo Minderbinder, who volunteers for the position of mess officer. Through a number of capitalist ventures, Milo parlays the position into a national syndicate that dominates world trade. Even the Germans contract with Milo to bomb his own airfield, but he gets out of a court martial by explaining how capitalism is part of the American spirit.
The whole thing is told in a broken order that doubles back on itself over again, which is difficult to read but, ultimately, that makes sense in a novel where causality and reason are such fickle things. To add to the confusion, Heller often switches between scenes without breaking paragraph as a stylistic tool. This is a novel that requires close reading, but is also very, very rewarding. In particular, it has a dark sense of absurd humor that I think many people on this blog would find satisfying. Highly recommended.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
In the much-longer section, 'Zooey', we find out that Franny is the youngest member of the Glass children. The second youngest: Zachary, commonly referred to as Zooey. We find out more about Franny in this section than in the first. Her age. Her feeling about school. Her family life. Both Franny and Zooey feel that their eldest brothers had a detrimental effect on them. They were funnel fed all sort of esoteric knowledge as young kids, leading to their regularly appearing on the radio show, It's a Wise Child. This section take place in the span of a couple of hours at the Glass house. Zooey, a fairly accomplished 25-year-old actor living at home, is getting ready to meet someone for lunch. Franny is lying on the couch, apparently have some sort of spiritual nervous breakdown.
Franny and Zooey has very little plot, but rather driven by its true-to-life dialogue. Salinger's writing is clear, insightful, and organic. I really liked the sentence, "Zooey suddenly, sharply, turned around, without taking his foot off the window seat, and picked up, snatched up, a match folder that was on his mother's writing table."
There is a section where Zooey is talking about possibly going to France for a movie. "But I'd hate like hell to leave New York. If you must know, I hate any kind of so-called creative type who gets on any kind of ship. I don't give a goddam what his reasons are. I was born here. I went to school here. I've been run over here--twice, and on the same damn street. I have no business acting in Europe, for God's sake."
While I like what I have read of Salinger so far, I find it intriguing that he was so good at tapping into 20-something angst. After all he was in his forties when he wrote these stories.
I have been thinking about the ending of this book for quite a while now, and I don't think I am any closer to really grasping it. I have, however, come to the conclusion that my liking the book is not predicated on my fully understanding the ending.
Monday, February 4, 2008
Sunday, February 3, 2008
A Dog about Town is narrated by Randolph, a black lab who lives with his owner, Harry, on the Upper West Side. Randolph realizes that he is much more sentient than other animals that he meets. He doesn't know why this is, and while he may have found it intriguing at some point, he has long since stopped worrying about the origins of his advanced mental faculties. He does not talk, walk on his hind legs, or wear clothes (despite what the cover art may suggest). He does, however, read. The Times, The Post, and various magazines left out on the coffee table are all part of his diet. However, he has a particular affinity for Dante Alighieri. He alludes to, and quotes from Dante's Divine Comedy quite often. The title of one chapter is "A Diversion into Dante". While this is inherently funny, it does not lack insight. Afterall, in dog years, Randolph is somewhere in his mid-fifties.
The book opens with Harry returning from a seance at which someone died. Actually, not just someone, but the well-known writer, Lyell Overton Minskoff-Hardy. The circumstances of Overton's demise hint ever so slightly at foul play. As Harry is absentmindedly relaying details from the evening, Randolph starts to see some connections between Overton's death and the disappearance of Imogen, his first master, and girlfriend of Harry. Using his keen sense of smell, which he describes as being 100,000 times more acute than that of a man, Randolph sets about trying to solve not only the mystery of Overton's death, but of the disappearance of Imogen. Since he is "just a dog," solving this mystery entails leading Harry toward clues and steering his thinking in the right direction. This is where Englert gets especially creative.
For a murder mystery about a dog, the writing was surprisingly good. Englert has meaningful insights about life. Here is a passage where one of Harry's friends is talking about unrequited love:
I was in love. I'm still in love. Where Iris is concerned I can't see too clearly. A note of hers about a radiator leak could end with affectionately yours and I would spin for weeks, imagining a romantic breakthrough. If she forgot to punctuate, I would see something in that. It was hope that got me here. Hope that she would cross the street one day and say that she was mine. Hope that she was keeping an eye on me for all those years. But as time went on, I began to accept that she was indifferent.
Much of the book is predicated on the notion that Randolph's nose is better than Vincent Donofrio's Law & Order character. For example, "My olfactories were overwhelmed by the sharp odor of anxiety, confusion and the subtle, creeping scent of imagined guilt." I have no idea if dogs can smell "imagined guilt". To be honest, I don't really care. It worked for the purposes of the book. Another reason that A Dog about Town worked for me is that despite his detecting skills, Randolph never lost his innate canine qualities -- sleeping twelve hours a day, peeing on the sidewalk, rolling around in filth, etc.
I started reading this book on a plane to New York, and as coincidence would have it, the hotel that I stayed at was right in the midst of the area in which this book was set. I would come home from eating somewhere on Amsterdam Avenue and read about Randolph and Harry walking right past the place I just was. So that was kind of weird.
Saturday, February 2, 2008
At the end of The Golden Compass, Lord Asriel -- whom Lyra discovers is her father -- has opened up a "bridge" between worlds. The idea is that there are many worlds that inhabit the same space -- Earth. While there are similarities among these worlds, they have major differences as well.
Will and Lyra meet in a world that is strange to the both of them, in a town called Cittagaze, a town that appears to be inhabited solely by children. It turns out that the adults have fled the town because of specters that suck the souls out of adults, but pass right over children. Lyra starts to notice some connectivity between her world, this one, and Will's. Her daemon, Pantalaimon, is comparable to what Will would describe as his soul or conscience. The elusive dust, which played such a big part in the first book, closely resembles original sin. Lyra comes to the realization that she must help Will find his father, an arctic explorer who inexplicably disappeared with his group a few years back.
The subtle knife turns out to be a implement that allows one to cut windows into other worlds. However, it chooses its owner in a rather gruesome way. The knife chooses Will, and along with Lyra they set out to find his father. My question is, if there are countless "worlds" on Earth, what controls what world one cuts into? This is never really explained, as Will and Lyra seem to stay within three or four worlds throughout the book.
Compared to the first book, this one is complex. There are many more characters, and the plot is much more complicated. Everyone always says that the Harry Potter series gets more grown-up with each book. This may be true, but the His Dark Materials trilogy easily trumps the Rowling series in this aspect. Will spends the better part of the book bleeding profusely. People die left and right, including principle characters. There is a noticeable degree of sexual tension between Lyra and Will. And it becomes apparent about halfway through the book that many of the main characters are attempting to wage a war against God himself -- referred to as The Authority. It is not clear which side of this battle Will and Lyra will fall on, but I suspect that they will join those fighting The Authority. I find this concept interesting, and rather crazy for a children's novel. I have heard that the next book, The Amber Spyglass is even darker, weirder, and more complex. I am really curious whether Pullman can finished this series in an effective and satisfying way.
Friday, February 1, 2008
I confess to having had some feelings that verged on resentment to Carlton’s totally unfounded claim that the Casefiles are in some way “light” reading. It is entirely out of spite that I have decided to scupper my plan to read the thrilling and often baffling adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy. There’s always next year.
J.B. Phillips spent 14 years working on what eventually became an entire translation on the New Testament in Modern English. He began translating the epistle of Colossians as a way to pass the time spent in the London underground stations during World War II air raids. As a young Anglican pastor working with young people he sensed the need for a version of scripture that was more accessible and relevant to their lives. The effect that his early work had on his youth group, combined with some encouraging words on the translations from C. S. Lewis spurred Phillips to complete his translation in 1958.
I really enjoy reading Phillips’ version. I tell people that his goal was to make scripture read as if it had been written in our time, to people like ourselves. However, he works to achieve this without sacrificing a strong adherence to what the original language text actually reads. I feel that he managed to get the mixture of modern language and literal interpretation just about right. A good translation to pick up if you are bored with the version of scripture you normally use or if you haven’t read the New Testament in awhile.