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Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

When I was compiling the list of classic books I was going to read, I only marked off books that I was absolutely certain I had read all the way through.  Then there were books like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that I had probably read at some point, but couldn't say for sure.  Although not on my list, I went ahead and read the Adventures of Tom Sawyer first, since it seemed like it would provide at least some context.  I imagine most people have already read and have their own feelings about these books, but I figured I could still post what really stuck out to me.

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Reading books set in the last 19th century can certainly be jarring to a modern reader.  It's not only the language, which it one of the most common objections to the book, though it certainly is appalling.  It was more the utter and complete disregard of black people as, well, people.  A moment that really stuck with me is when Huck is telling a made up story of an explosion on a steamboat.  When asked if anybody was hurt, he responds (in much worse terms): "No’m. Killed a [black person]."  I think this was Twain trying to show how bad the racism in the South was, so it's not clear to me how realistic it is, but it certainly seems like something that could have been said.  I guess it's a sign of progress that this exchange strikes me as fundamentally inhuman, but that doesn't really make it any less galling.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Devil in the White City

I knew pretty much nothing about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair before reading Erik Larsen's The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America.  The titular devil is Herman Webster Mudgett, better known has H. H. Holmes, one of the first documented modern serial killers in America.  The book came highly recommended, so I wasn't surprised that I enjoyed it.  What did surprise me was that I found the logistical nightmares facing someone organizing a world's fair even more engrossing than the the gritty details of a murdering psychopath.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


I fell behind on writing reviews on the books I've read and have been working to catch up.  I'm sure that some of my reviews haven't been as detailed as they would have been if I'd gotten around to some of them sooner.  Some reviews I've skipped altogether because they didn't make much of an impression and I couldn't remember how I felt about them six months later.  That is not an issue I have with Ulysses by James Joyce.  When I saw that was my next book to review, the white hot rage welled up in me like I just finished reading this piece of trash yesterday.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Team of Rivals

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln was the second book I've read by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  The first book was Bully Pulpit, Goodwin's take on Roosevelt, Taft, and the press.  I really enjoyed her approach, which focused on multiple people and, as a result, provided both breadth and depth to her subjects that might have been lost by focusing on a single person.  Team of Rivals takes the same approach and I found it just as enjoyable.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

On the Road

On the Road by Jack Kerouac is a much lauded novel published in 1957 that relates the travels of the protagonist across the United States based, to some degree, on the experiences of the author.  Unfortunately, it's another book that I just couldn't connect with.  To me, On the Road was, first and foremost, a portrayal of the characters.  I might even go so far as to say that it had no plot.  It's not about what happens to the characters, really, but how they respond to those things and develop as individuals.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Brothers Karamazov

Back when I started reading in earnest, I was shocked to find that I really enjoyed Tolstoy's War and Peace.  I also really liked Anna Karenina (despite the fact that the translation I read gave away a major plot element in the introduction).  They weren't without their difficulties.  The many characters seem to be referred to by three or more names, few of which were familiar enough for me to easily remember and there are situations that don't translate well across time and culture.  Now I've read The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, one of the other giants of Russian literature, and I see that these problems weren't unique to Tolstoy.

I didn't like this book as much as either of the works I read by Tolstoy.  I don't even know that I would say that I enjoyed it.  It is certainly a great novel from a technical perspective.  There are scenes from the novel that I will never forget.  But in general, I didn't find the story engaging.  The characters' actions and motivations were, on the whole, alien and unrelatable to me.

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The book primarily revolves around the investigation and prosecution of a murder, generally believed to be patricide.  From my perspective, the more the story makes you actually care about solving the mystery, the more it leads to disappointment.  This is because the ultimate explanations of what happened are based on motivations and decisions by the characters that make no sense.  This is intentional, many of these individuals are clearly deeply disturbed and act accordingly.  But I'd still say, even with that context, that it makes no sense.  Add to that the ludicrous coincidences that do seem somewhat common in Russian literature and I found it impossible to actually feel engaged by the book.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

It's been quite a while since I've done a post about a specific book.  Life got crazy, and now I have quite a backlog.  This post will be about Hillbilly Elegy, a book I finished back in January.  My next posts will be on My Antonia; Mayflower: a Story of Courage, Community, and War; and the Brothers Karamazov.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

2 Years of Reading

Today marks my completion of two years of doing at least one half hour of reading per day. In the past year, I have read 34 more books comprising 15,852 pages. This brings my total for the two years to 61 books comprising 32,085 pages. I have been remiss about putting up reviews of what I've read, and will be trying to get back to that backlog soon. I will say I enjoyed a majority of the books I read, with the notable exceptions of Ulysses and the Sot-Weed Factor.

My year two books were:

The Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov (288 pages)
Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand (528 pages)
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway (251 pages)
The Naked Sun - Isaac Asimov (303 pages)
A World Undone: The Story of the Great War - G.J. Meyer (816 pages)
Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (864 pages)
The Robots of Dawn - Isaac Asimov (449 pages)
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin - Benjamin Franklin (144 pages)
Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie (632 pages)
Robots and Empire - Isaac Asimov (383 pages)
Up from Slavery - Booker T. Washington (176 pages)
Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry (945 pages)
The Stars, Like Dust - Isaac Asimov (240 pages)
Hillbilly Elegy - J.D. Vance (264 pages)
My Antonia - Willa Cather (175 pages)
The Currents of Space - Isaac Asimov (240 pages)
Mayflower - Nathaniel Philbrick (463 pages)
The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoevsky (824 pages)
Elminster: The Making of a Mage - Ed Greenwood (336 pages)
Scrappy Little Nobody - Anna Kendrick (304 pages)
On the Road - Jack Kerouac (293 pages)
Elminster in Myth Drannor - Ed Greenwood (384 pages)
Pebble in the Sky - Isaac Asimov (256 pages)
Lincoln: Team of Rivals - Doris Kearns (944 pages)
The Temptation of Elminster - Ed Greenwood (416 pages)
Ulysses - James Joyce (783 pages)
Devil in the White City - Erik Larson (447 pages)
Homeland - R. A. Salvatore (314 pages)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain (246 pages)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain (366 pages)
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York - Rovert Caro (1344 pages)
Exile - R. A. Salvatore (306 pages)
The Sot-Weed Factor - John Barth (819 pages)
Sojourn - R. A. Salvatore (309 pages)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Lonesome Dove

Here's my review of Lonesome Dove, next on my reading list are The Stars, Like Dust, Hillbilly Elegy, and My Antonia.

I have never been a fan of Western movies; Shane is the subject of a special pool of hatred in my heart.  As such, I approached Lonesome Dove in much the same way that I did War and Peace.  A 945 page novel about mismatched retired Texas Rangers making a cattle drive in the 1870s? I expected it to be a long, tedious slog that would ultimately damage my desire to read.  But like War and Peace, Lonesome Dove turned out to be a wonderful surprise.  This book is fantastic.

Lonesome Dove was originally written as a screenplay, but the production fell through when John Wayne declined.  I think there might have been some regulation requiring his presence in any movie with cowboys.  It might have ended there.  Instead, the author, Larry McMurtry (Terms of Endearment and The Last Picture Show) bought the 75-page screenplay from the studio and expanded it into a novel spanning almost a thousand pages published in 1985.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was ultimately made into a miniseries that was largely credited with revitalizing both the Western genre and miniseries format.  In the end, the Lonesome Dove franchise included four novels, five miniseries, and two television shows (although neither of them made it past the first season).

Lonesome Dove: A Novel by [McMurtry, Larry]