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Darwin8u

Mesa, AZ, United States
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4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-04-18

Good men trying to do SOMETHING.

"Yet still he could not act. And if he couldn't do it, who would? In that moment, in a flash of clarity, he saw that nobody--not him, not the Army, not a lone assassin--that no German would disrupt their common destiny until it was fulfilled."
- Robert Harris, Munich

I'm a fan of Robert Harris. He writes smart historical ficiton (sometimes, as was the case with, Fatherland alternative-historical fiction). His areas of interest primarily revolve around Nazi Germany and the Roman Empire. I've read several of his books. His prose is never quite at the John le Carré-level of fiction. But, if you like history and are OK with utilizing fictionalized minor characters to tour you around certain times, his books are certainly not a waste of time or money.

'Munich' focuses on Fall of 1938, specifically the time when Hitler and Chamberlain (and France and Italy) are meeting in Munich to appease Hitler by basically giving Germany the Sudetenland. The primary characters are two old friends from Oxford: Hugh Legat works at 10 Downing Street, Paul von Hartmann is a secretary in Germany's foreign ministry. The book ends up being a bit of a bureaucratic cat-and-mouse, while Chamberlain's "Peace at all Costs" basically gives the game away. The book doesn't lead one to walk away with a positive view of Chamberlain, but puts his actions in context (both politically and militarily). It fleshes out the man who will ever be associated with appeasement, political ineptness, timidity, and the phrase: “Peace for our time.”

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1 of 3 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-02-18

By the truth we are undone. Life is a dream.

"The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity."
- Virginia Woolf, Orlando

A beautiful, poetic look at gender, sex, poetry, time, love, living, etc. This gender-studies masterpiece was inspired by Woolf's reltionship with Vita Sackville-West. According to Vita's son: "The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando, the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her."

This is one of the easier Woolf novels to read. Toward the end it gets a bit stream-of-consious (as Modern writers were wont to do), but the narrative of this novel floats and folds through time and gender easily. It was an amazing way of looking at the female experience because Orlando's experience was first fundamentally experienced by Orlando regardless of their gender. So, the novel as biography allowed Woolf to mine the experience from the inside instead of the outside. It also allowed the fluidity of gender to be explored in a way that a less fanciful novel might not have been able to.

It is wild to think this book was published in 1928 AND here we are 90-years-later still working our britches into Puritanical bunches over gender and bathrooms. What a bunch of nonsense. One area of hope does exist. In my lifetime, I have seen a huge increase in the attention paid to the difficulties faced by those who don't fit into the gender norms. Things ARE SLOWLY getting better for my friends and the children of my friends who might not fit easily into the pants or skirts society wants to drop them in. Hopefully, it doesn't take 400 years.

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2 of 3 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-02-18

Probably not long enough for a credit, but...

"She seemed the link that bound me in with dead things on the one hand, and with our pure and pitying God on the other: a thing brutal and divine, and akin at once to the innocence and to the unbridled forces of the earth."
- Robert Louis Stevenson, Olalla

Those Victorians sure loved their Gothic vampire stories. This one was published in 1885 (Dracula was published in 1897). It shares a couple similarities: castle in the mountains, love, blood, lust, crosses. My prior exposure to this story was very limited, but I enjoyed it. Stevenson tied it all down and put it to bed tightly. It isn't my favorite genre, but I do enjoy Stevenson's craft.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-02-18

One Star for Making me Buy (1/3) of a Book

"Even a well-made clock drifts, and must be re-set from time to time."
- Neal Stephenson, Odalisque

An odalisque was a chambermaid or a female attendant in a Turkish haram (seraglio), particularly the ladies in haram of the Ottoman sultan.

So, the book title references Eliza, who in book 2: King of the Vagabonds is rescued by "Half-Cock" Jack (King of the Vagabonds). Eliza in this book enters the world of European economics and spycraft. She rises from broker of the French nobility, eventually earning the title of Countess of Zeur. She also aids William of Orange as he prepares to invade England, gaining the added title of Duchess of Qqghlm. Odalisque also brings us back to Daniel Waterhouse.

I personally missed Jack Shaftoe, but that was partially assisted because we were introduced to his brother Bob Shaftoe.

I've enjoyed Volume one. I'm a big fan of the Age of Enlightenment and was thrilled to experience of fictionalized Pepys, Newton, Leibniz, William of Orange, etc.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-02-18

One Star for Making me Buy (1/3) of a Book

"Jack had been presented with the opportunity to be stupid in some, way that was much more interesting than being shrewed would've been. These moments seemed to come to Jack every few days."
- Neal Stephenson, King of the Vagabonds

Stephenson continues his Quicksilver Volume with Book 2: King of the Vagabonds. Where Book 1: Quicksilver dealt primarily with Isaac Newton and Daniel Waterhouse, King of the Vagabonds centers around the adventures of "Half-Cocked" Jack Shaftoe*, Doctor Leibniz, and Eliza. It seems to have taken stock of Joseph de la Vega's .
'Confusion de Confusiones (1688), and perhaps also Charles Mackay's later Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, and even Frances and Joseph Gies' Life in a Medieval City. Much of the book involves the adventures of two or three of the above Jack, Liebniz, Eliza making their way across many of the markets and cities of Europe. It allows Stephenson to discuss not only the politics of the age of Louis XIV, but also the changing markets (Leipzig, Paris, London, Amsterdam), politics, religion, and birth of the Age of Resaon.

Stephenson has said in Book 1 he was primarily dealing with nobility and the top-end of the economic ladder. So, in Book 2 he wanted to spend a bit of time at the bottom of the ladder (hence Vagabonds).

* "Half-Cocked" Jack Shaftoe, Daniel Waterhouse, and Eliza (of Qwghlm) are all ancestors of characters from Stephenson earlier book, Cryptonomicon. Enoch Root appears in this book as well as in Quicksilver AND Cryptonomicon. He is like a Zelig for science. Always appearing just where he needs to be to give the wheel a turn, the cart a push, the clock of progress a wind.

If you notice with this audiobook, I gave it one-star for performance because I HATE the trend of breaking big books (and Stephenson WRITES big books) into sub-books on audiobook. Charge me more, require me to use two credits, etc., but breaking books into blocks irritates the heck out of me. So, this is my passive response. Meh.

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1 of 2 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-29-18

Hg is the elementary form of all things fusible...

That one man sickens and dies, while another flourishes, are characters in the cryptic message that philosophers seek to decode.
- Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver

Not done, with BIG Quicksilver, just finished internal-Book 1: Quicksilver. It gives a bit of a low-brow SF Pynchon vibe. It works well in parts, and falls a bit flat in parts. I sometimes wish Stephenson wouldn't chase down every last snowflake. I really do, however, enjoy the primary narrator Daniel Waterhouse and his interactions with such figures as Isaac Newton, Samuel Pepys, John Wilkins, etc.

Having already read Cryptonomicon, I was also glad to see Enoch Root (one of my favorite characters from that book). Like Pynchon, Stephenson takes historical fiction and probes the fiction needle into history at funky angles. He thrills at causing his fictional characters to interact in oblique ways to historical characters. Given the large amount of negative space in history (think about how much we DON'T know about people like Newton, or even the consumate diariest Pepys), a creative writer of historical fiction can bend/reflect/refract the light of the past to tell many compelling stories (and they don't even have to be plausable, they just can't completely contradict major historical events).

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-20-18

For Lawyers and Lincoln Lovers

"Talk to the jury as though your client's fate depends on every word you utter. Forget that you have any one to fall back upon, and you will do justice to yourself and your client."
- Abraham Lincoln

There are many levels of biography and history. There are academic books, published by small academic presses. There are popular biographies, written by journalists, etc., that tend to follow a more narrative-style. Obviously, Dan Abram's short history of Abraham Lincoln's last murder trial fits the last category. The "author" Dan Abrams is ABC's chief legal affairs anchor for ABC. Normally, this isn't a book I would have gravitated towards, except for two things: 1) I love Lincoln, and typically read a couple Lincoln books a year. 2) This book's ghost writer (yes Virginia, many books "written by celebrities/politicos/athletes are actually penned by a ghostwriter) is a good friend of mine. I've known David Fisher for years. I've stayed with him and his lovely wife on Fire Island, eaten with them a couple times in Manhatten and Riverdale and enjoyed David's perspective on politics, writing, and reading for years. Anyway, a couple months ago we had dinner at an Upper-Westside restaurant and his wife gave me her well-loved ARC of this book. I'm constantly amazed at how fast and how well Dave writes*. Plus, my kids absolutely adore him.

The highlight of this book, and what sets David's work apart from other Lincoln biographies, was his use of Robert Roberts Hitt's transcript of the Peachy Quinn Harrison murder trial. Hitt was a character himself (and one I knew nothing about previously) and was influential in the development of transcription. I also enjoyed how the book explored the development of the American legal system during the pre-Civil War period. A lot of the legal precedents, values, and practices we take for granted now were being hammered out in frontier courts and circuits all across America. Finally, it was fascinating to learn how far each of the lawyers (and the judge) associated with this trial went. It seemed almost like America in the 1850s and 1860s was a place where someone with exceptonal talent could easily rise to the national stage. Just look at Lincoln.

* Dave has written over 20 New York Times bestsellers.

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9 of 10 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-19-18

You must not forget anything

"Even the bast@rds die. That's about the only good thing you can say about death--it gets the sons of b!tches, too."
- Herman Roth, quoted Philip Roth, Patrimony

One of two memoirs/autobiographical works Roth completed. It seemed appropriate to start reading this on Father's Day the year Roth himself died. It was touching, beautiful. It is something as I get older I'm dealing with in my own family and at work. I have clients with tumors progressing. I have a grandmother (my last surviving grandparent) who is struggling in her 80s. Life starts to both warp as you age and become suddenly VERY clear. There are these moments of mortality when you suddenly GET your father or your mother. Caring for them, you become aware not only of their life, but even more aware of your own. Staring into the void is both scary and thrilling. Dying is hard. Living is hard. And in the end you feel like you can't forget. "You must not forget anything."

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-18-18

Turned Around 17 Times

"A man needs only to be turned around once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost."
- Thoreau

This was John D. MacDonald's 17th novel (I'm not sure how many total novels he had published by 1978), but he had been punching them out about 1 per year since 1964, until 1974. So, The Empty Copper Sea came after the biggest McGee break of all. There was a sense of crisis in this novel, and McGee malaise that was diagnosed by Meyer (economist side kick) and fixed by a woman (almost an inverse of McGee's usual sexual healing).

The book takes place mostly in Timber Bay, FL (fictionalized), inside of Dixie County (real), high up the gulf-side, above Clearwater. The town has been rocked by a business man who faked his death and disappeared leaving everyone (wife, kids, business associates, and the captain of the boat he "fell off" high and dry. McGee and Meyer are trying to salvage the reputation of captain (an old friend) and untangle the ugly knot left behind. Essentially, it seems almost like a man in the midst of a writing crisis (JDMcD) is writing a novel where the hero is sorting through his own mortality crisis (McGee) while trying to solve the mess created by a man who tried to ditch his obligations after having his own crisis (Hub). Oh, and perhaps Florida is also having its own crisis caused by growth, tourism, and environmental issues caused by growth.

It was a solid McGee novel. Some of the same feminist traps as most his other McGee novels, but not so deep. With Philip Roth recently dying it is also interesting to observe what Sir Kingsley Amis once said about John D. MacDonald (and probably gets at the root of why, even when I get frustrated with MacDonald, I keep coming back). According to Amis, MacDonald "is by any standards a better writer than Saul Bellow, only MacDonald writes thrillers and Bellow is a human-heart chap, so guess who wears the top-grade laurels." Now, I'm a big big fan of Saul Bellow, so I'm not sure I would go THAT far, but I think we do a disservice when we dismiss good genre fiction too quickly.

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4 of 5 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-18-18

"The small things are lasting things."

"If innocenec could keep us alive, my friend, we'd all be saints."
- John D. MacDonald, The Lonely Silver Rain

This might not be my favorite, but it is the last and I enjoyed it. It made me cry. That isn't a small thing, but perhaps it isn't a big thing either. I typically cry at the end of every one of Charles Dickens' novels. I cry at commercials. I cry at a good story that isn't too sentimental, but that creates tension and unites a narrative release with a novelist's take on our shared humanity. This novel did that. It was a classic McGee novel and was also almost better than most. The sexual healer hero was downplayed.

I'm sad that I'm done. I still have a bunch more John D. MacDonald to read, but will probably only read Condominium this year. I've read a lot of McGee and while not sick of him. I could probably do with a Johhn D MacDonald break.

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3 of 4 people found this review helpful