Middlesex

image The first couple of pages of this novel are spectacular. Full review coming when I have finished the novel…

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Books, Fiction

No Comments 29 December 2011

The Great Gatsby

image What a great book! It is short enough that you can read it in one day. I recommend that you set aside a Sunday and get rapped at in this marvelous piece of American fiction.  F. Scott Fitzgerald is a masterful writer. His prose is a bit reminiscent of Joseph Roth. He sets up a mystery story that makes you crave to find what Jay Gatsby is all about. The novel takes place in 1922. The jazz age is in full swing and the automobile is starting change everyone’s life. Jay Gatsby owns a big house on Long Island where some people are invited for parties and many more show up.  Fitzgerald has a sharp eye for people and the American people in particular and he construct an enthralling mystery. For the entire book I felt like Jazz music was swinging in the background. Some people have called it the best American novel of all time. I have not read enough to make such a grand statement but I can say: You don’t want to miss this book because at the end you will say. “Good Lord, was this story well crafted.”

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Books, Fiction

No Comments 1 August 2011

The Postman

image I received The Postman as a birthday present, fittingly in the mail. I felt obliged to start reading it. After a while it dawned on me that I encountered the plot before in a movie, which I had found terribly disappointing. It walked out of the theatre and wen to dinner early. But the book is better. It is a charming tribute to the writer Pablo Neruda with a love story sprinkled in. But is it a must read? No.

 

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Books, Fiction

No Comments 8 May 2011

The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us about Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life

image Can’t wait until this book arrives in my mailbox. My own review will come later. In the meantime here is what Anthony Gottlieb wrote in the NYTimes: It’s always gratifying to hear a new twist on an old joke. In the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup,” Rufus T. Firefly, played by Groucho, is handed the Freedonia cabinet’s treasury report: “Why, a child of 4 could understand this report. Run out and find me a 4-year-old child—I can’t make head or tail of it.” Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, has run out and found plenty of 4-year-old children. In her new book, she announces that they are in some ways “smarter, more imaginative, more caring and even more conscious than adults are.” Gopnik does not go so far as to propose that we fire Timothy Geithner and march in a phalanx of preschoolers to fix the credit crunch. She does, however, make the bold suggestion that thinking about small children can shed new light on ancient philosophical problems.

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Books, Non-Fiction

No Comments 20 August 2009

Chess Story

imageFor many years, I have been an admirer of Stefan Zweig without knowing it. One of my favorite films during my college days, Secret Burning, flowed out of his pen.  I learned this after I googled Zweig half way into his wonderful Chess Story. He reveals himself as a master of the psychological drama. This one takes place during the Hilter era. Just like Secret Burning, Chess Story pivots around events that largely play in the minds of characters. The story is an allegory for all the different characters that reside in one human being. Zweig writes beautifully. Reading Chess Story is a marvelous treat. I wonder if he has written other pieces that are equally good.

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Books, Fiction

No Comments 9 July 2009

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

image One afternoon of my sophomore year in college my bicycle was stolen. For reasons I no longer can reconstruct, I decided not to buy another used bike, but henceforth to hitchhike to class. I met many interesting people this way: Professors, sex therapists, construction workers, mothers who wanted to recruit boyfriends for their daughters and the like. My goal for these trips to and fro campus was to strike up a conversation with every single person I met. Would I be able to get everyone to tell me a bit of his or her personal story? I did, indeed, manage to strike a conversation with all my lifters except for a man who I came to refer as the unhappiest person in the world. My efforts to get him to talk went nowhere. When I recounted this peculiar hitchhiking experience to a physicist turned psychotherapist, who gave me a lift a few days later, he explained that the man was probably clinically depressed.

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Books, Non-Fiction

No Comments 24 May 2006

The Speckled People: Memoirs of a Half Irish Childhood

image Don Quixote was too heavy a book to haul for a third time across the Atlantic. The taxi already waiting, I quickly grabbed Hugo Hamilton’s childhood autobiography from my bookshelf where it was sitting for the last two years after having received a very good review in one of my favorite news outlets. Having finished the book, it is fair to assume that the reviewer either had special connections to post-World War II Ireland or Germany. These strong emotional ties suspended all critical faculties. The rave review was unwarranted because The Speckled People does not come close to world literature. The book has a few good passages. But unlike the truly pioneering Don Quixote The Speckled People will not withstand the test of time despite having good material to work with.  For one, the narrative perspective it adopts does not work.

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Books, Non-Fiction

No Comments 5 December 2005

Disappointed Peter (Pan)

image I barely finished Peter Pan. The reader of my diary will remember that I was very excited about the first couple of pages of B. F. Berrie’s famous children’s story. The last few pages again were excellent. But in between lay for the adult reader one hundred forty painfully boring pages.  Even as a child I found it was silly when adults spoke in baby talk.  Those who engage in baby talk think it resembles the level of simplicity in the speech of young children although no child ever talks that way. What is so captivating about the Wizard of Oz is that it truly can capture the interest both of child and adult alike. B. F. Berrie, by contrast, writes a lot of baby talk that gets very tiring. Berrie also commits an atrocious crime against adult sensibility: he fundamentally misrepresents what adult life is about to make his young readers feel very special.

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Books, Fiction

No Comments 18 June 2005

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

image Love at first sight may be a romantic illusion. Wild excitement at first sight is certainly real. That’s what I experienced reading the first couple of pages of Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I quickly realized that this collection is a literary event not to be missed. When I was in college, I bought myself a copy of Didion’s Democracy but did not get beyond the first couple of pages. After picking up Slouching Towards Bethlehem I had to force myself to keep appointments because I did not want to put the book down.

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Books, Non-Fiction

No Comments 18 February 2005

The Tale of the 1002nd Night

image This tale is magnificient. Roth became famous for his novels Job and Radetzky March. For the contemporary reader Radetzky March is tedious. The slow decline of the Austrian Empire by itself can no longer hold our attention without connecting it to a larger, more universal story. The Tale of the 1002nd Night, in contrast, feels fresh, fast-paced and contemporary because Roth places into the background the unresolved question of how the Muslim and Christians will coexist in the industrial age.  In the foreground are the stories of individual human beings (the Shah of Persia, an Austrian aristocrat, a working class girl) who struggle to live in their particular place and position, and who become connected through small chance events. I continue to be surprised how sharp an eye Josepth Roth has and how well he can describe what he sees in the world. Roth knows the human heart in all its complications and weaves together astonishingly gripping tales.

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Books, Fiction

No Comments 27 December 2004

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