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Showing posts from December, 2011

"Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens

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Of the few classics I've read over the years, not all deserved the label. So I didn’t automatically expect Oliver Twist to be great. In fact, I’m reminded of that scene in Candide by Voltaire when a guy explains that most of the great celebrated masterpieces are merely models of mediocrity.
This time, however, I struck gold. Oliver Twist is both a classic and a masterpiece. Keep in mind that the book was written 170 years ago, so the grammar is pretty formal by today’s standards. However, the style, if not the vocabulary, grows on you, and you’re soon caught up in a riveting story chock-full of chases and abductions, villains and pick-pockets, deception and murder. Being transported to a time and a place of disease and dishonest toil may not be your idea of time well spent, but if you enjoy irony, sarcasm, and drama, overcoming terrible odds amid squalor and criminality, you’ll love this book.
Dickens criticizes early 19th century English society’s assertion that bad people are ju…

The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, from the Winchester Manuscripts of Thomas Malory, By John Steinbeck

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The King Arthur cycle has always held a special place in my heart. Those gallant knights in shining armor, their code of chivalry, and their everlasting conquests, recall an age unspoiled by our more modern concerns. I, for one, savor a time when a knight’s word was his oath and when the chaste surpassed puberty. Give me banners flapping in the wind, animal horns sounding over the rolling green, and warriors charging into battle – their tragic ends remembered long after their dragons have been slain and their kingdoms lay in ruins.
Everyone is familiar with the tale and the primary characters involved. Reviewing the plot isn’t important here anyway. What matters is Steinbeck’s ability to draw you into an ancient world, make you believe in events both dubious and extraordinary, allowing you to see beyond the words to the pristine pastures, the mysterious forests. But more important still are the convincing relationships – a knight’s steadfast devotion to his king, the sorrow of unrequit…

Character Sketches with Paul

Paul publishes a monthly newsletter railing against successful business. He distributes these colorful works of rage to his friends. In it, he accuses CEOs of every conceivable ill – from the plight of our fragile environment to the homeless on our streets. According to Paul, it’s not media or society or government, but rather evil greedy men like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who are entirely to blame for the decline of Western Civilization. Rather than single out indiscretions or scandals, Paul’s newsletter paints a broad brush that essentially indicts every capitalist ever to walk the earth. As far as Paul is concerned (at least according to his newsletter), these evil business tycoons are going to Hell.
Unlike his other friends, I was introduced to his newsletter first. So my impressions were shaped entirely by his prose, not his handshake or his eyes.
All his articles are in upper case, the literary form of shouting, and every sentence is punctuated by at least six exclamation points.…

Stephen King’s Bag of Bones

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When I first began this blog, I promised myself I wouldn’t post negative book reviews. But what if you're inspired by the storyteller, captivated by the characters, the development of the plot – the pace, the attention to detail – what if you love all those things but just hate the story itself? Should you abstain from saying so? Probably. Still, there are so many things to celebrate about this book. I’m torn.
I tend to prefer prose so well crafted that they inspire me to call a friend and say, “Listen to this.” Granted, those kinds of books are few and far between, but I like to set high standards for others. Not for me, you understand. Just for others. Yet I didn’t find many lines I wanted to quote from Bag of Bones. Although this one I liked:
“Humor is almost always anger with its makeup on …”
In his novel, Welcome to Fred, Brad Whittington’s character Mark Cloud, now an adult, reflects on when, during his adolescence, his family moved from “metropolitan America” to the culturall…