Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

I finished reading this yesterday. It is the second book in the series. I had read the first one only a few months prior and liked it enough to get to this second book more quickly than I thought I would.

I liked this one, probably a little bit more than the first one. The mystery plot in the first one was better and more interesting, but the first one also had a pretty boring sub-plot and the girl on which the books are titled ended up being more unlikable in the first one than she is in the second one. The plot in this second book makes her a much more sympathetic character.

The story methodically develops and progresses (sometimes a little too slowly or with too much repetition) up until the exciting conclusion. Some of the stuff that happens seems a little too far-fetched, especially at the end, almost as though Larsson realized that the book was dragging on too long and he had to hurry up and get to the conclusion, but it's certainly entertaining and I enjoyed reading this novel (even though Larsson periodically goes into way too much detail about mundane things, like listing off every single item that the girl purchases during her day long shopping trip).

Hopefully I'll finish off the series by reading the third book soon, but I will probably mix in a few books before I eventually get to it. And then, true to form, never actually get to it and fail to finish the series like I do with all series' that I attempt.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

I finished reading this tonight. It sucked a big one. The book was so-so for the majority of the time, but it easily has one of the worst endings of all time. Just laughably stupid. So dumb and ridiculous. The characters are unlikable and their stories are uninteresting for the most part. At least McEwan took pity on his readers and limited this to only 193 pages, thank goodness.

This is my third McEwan. Here are my rankings of his books:

1. Atonement (really good)
2. Saturday (average)
3. Amsterdam (below average)

I wonder if I'll ever read a McEwan book again. Probably not anytime soon. Maybe once it has been long enough that I have forgotten how terrible the ending was in this book.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Bostonians by Henry James

"As for the Bostonians, I would rather be damned to John Bunyan's heaven than read that." - Mark Twain.

I finished reading this book tonight. It is my first Henry James book. I don't think I disliked it as much as Mark Twain appears to dislike it, but I certainly didn't like it. I think I made the mistake of picking Henry James' worst book as my introduction to him. I'm not sure how this one received the "Classic" distinction from Barnes & Noble.

The book started out good and really set the stage for a fine novel. All the pieces were there. A staunch feminist and her staunch anti-feminist, male cousin have an interesting and humorous first encounter. He invites himself to a feminist gathering where they both become mesmerized by a feminist speaker. This setup, along with James' detailed writing, seemed like the perfect recipe for an enjoyable book. Unfortunately, he really dropped the ball and wasted the opportunity. He abandons the male cousin character for far too long and does not really capitalize on the relationship between the cousins that could have led to many great scenes of awkwardness, tension and humor. Also, the anti-feminist guy very easily woos the feminist speaker and does so by brashly and unapologetically voicing his offensive and mocking opinions directly to her. Somehow this isn't a huge turn-off for her despite her own personal convictions. I don't know, just seemed super unrealistic.

The two other things that I really didn't like about the book: (1) Longest paragraphs ever. Seriously. Paragraphs often went longer than two full pages without a break. It's exhausting to read a giant two-page paragraph of a story that is increasingly losing your interest only to turn over the next page and see another giant un-ending paragraph; (2) James would have comments in parentheses in the middle of tons of his sentences. It was awkward how often he did it and it seemed to really interfere with the flow.

I'll still give Henry James a chance by reading some of his other stuff. Hopefully I won't allow this book to prejudice me against him for too long.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

I just finished reading this to Mallory and Trevor last night. I liked it. It was "cute." My kids liked it ok. On most nights I could get a page or two in before they would lose total interest. I think if I read it to Mallory by herself then it would have been better because she would have been able to stay focused longer. But I liked the uplifting story of Charlotte's creative efforts to save an ordinary farm pig. And E.B. White had a fun writing style with this story. I was familiar with the story, obviously, but it was nice to finally read the whole tale.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I just finished reading this yesterday. I had heard about this book series for a while and recently purchased the three books in the series from the local library for 50 cents each. Now I can start another book series and fail to finish it. Good times.

This book was pretty good. I enjoyed the detective-style uncovering of a serial killer plot line. The revenge against business tycoon plot line was less enjoyable, but really only took center stage for the final 100 pages-ish. It felt a lot like The Return of the King where the story peaks when the ring is destroyed and it feels like the book should be over but there are 300 pages more to go somehow. In Larsson's book, the serial killer is discovered and handled but the story goes on. The rest of the story was fine and it does tie up any and all loose ends, but it's just slightly anti-climatic.

Also, I had a hard time liking the girl in this book. I was hoping she would be a quirky and anti-social type that is likable, but mostly she was just a straight up weirdo. I didn't dislike her but was hoping she would be a cooler character to root for.

The book is also pretty racy, a bit too much for my delicate sensabilities. But all in all, it was a fun thriller that I enjoyed reading. It was also a nice change of pace for me since I had read nothing but lengthy Victorian novels for at least a year straight.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

I finished this book last night. It had been ages since I last read a Dickens novel for some reason. I think this is my first since I got married back in '09. It was good as expected because, as the writer of the Intro says of Dickens, "He can do many things with words." True statement.

I must say, I was a little surprised to learn that this is considered by many to be Dickens' best. I liked it for sure, and it has mostly good characters with random idiosyncrasies as usual with Dickens, but this one was a bit tough at times. I think it took me a while to get used to the separate narrators with Esther telling part of the story and the third-person narrator telling other parts. I felt like the book definitely picks up momentum and gets better as the story moves forward as some secrets are unearthed. There was the weird spontaneous combustion part that seemed out of place with such a realistic depiction of England and its people and circumstances they face. I did feel like most of the characters in this one were slightly more realistic than many Dickens characters in other novels.

All in all, it was a good book. I don't think it is possible for me to dislike a Dickens book, he's just too good.

I've decided I want to rank the six Dickens books I've read:

1. David Copperfield
2. A Tale of Two Cities
3. Great Expectations
4. Oliver Twist
5. Bleak House
6. A Christmas Carol

And here are two quotes:

This one is David O. McKay-esque: "[I]t is right to begin with the obligations of home, sir; and that, perhaps, while those are overlooked and neglected, no other duties can possibly be substituted for them."

And here is a funny one of a character with a different take about Bees: "There was honey on the table, and it led him into a discourse about Bees. He had no objection about honey, he said (and I should think he had not, for he seemed to like it), but he protested against the overweening assumptions of Bees. He didn't at all see why the busy Bee should be proposed as a model to him; he supposed the Bee liked to make honey, or he wouldn't do it - nobody asked him. It was not necessary for the Bee to make such a merit of his tastes. If every confectioner went buzzing about the world, banging against everything that came in his way, and egotistically calling upon everybody to take notice that he was going to his work and must not be interrupted, the world would be quite an unsupportable place."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Middlemarch by George Eliot

I finished this book a little less than a week ago. It was a doozy. It's my second George Eliot book and I didn't like it as much as Silas Marner. I liked Middlemarch ok. George Eliot's writing is not quite like the other Victorian writers. It has it's similarities, but there's something about it that makes it less smooth for some reason. The words seem to flow naturally off the quill pens of most other Victorian writers. Her writing is good, and I enjoy it for the most part, but it's just more difficult to read. There are several quotes on Middlemarch from others at the end of the book and Anthony Trollope (another Victorian writer) says quite well what I think is pretty accurate: "I doubt whether any young person can read with pleasure either Felix Holt, Middlemarch, or Daniel Deronda. I know that they are very difficult to many that are not young.... It is, I think, the defect of George Eliot that she struggles too hard to do work that shall be excellent. She lacks ease." Those last three words are perfect. She lacks ease. But she is pretty genius and I still appreciate her writing.

As for the book, the story definitely had moments that were quite interesting, but also had some lengthy dull moments. The last 150-200 pages of this near-800 page novel were the best part of the book. It reminds me of eating barbecue ribs. A lot of work to get to the meat on the bone. It's a lot of work to get to the meat of the story, but by the end of the meal I was sufficiently satisfied and would eat another meal of ribs (i.e. read another Eliot novel) in the future.

Because I feel bad for being somewhat critical of her writing, I will share several quotes that I like to make up for it:

"I can at least offer you...the faithful consecration of a life which, however short in the sequel, has no backward pages whereon, if you choose to turn them, you will find records such as might justly cause you either bitterness or shame."

"We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, 'Oh nothing!' Pride helps; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our hurts - not to hurt others."

"[T]he mistakes that we male and female mortals make when we have our own way might fairly raise some wonder that we are so fond of it."

"I cannot regard wealth as a blessing to those who use it simply as a harvest for this world."

"There are characters which are continually creating collisions and nodes for themselves in dramas which nobody is prepared to act with them. Their susceptibilities will clash against objects that remain innocently quiet."

"The fact is unalterable, that a fellow-mortal with whose nature you are acquainted solely through the brief entrances and exits of a few imaginative weeks called courtship, may, when seen in the continuity of married companionship, be disclosed as something better or worse than what you have preconceived, but will certainly not appear altogether the same."

"[V]ery little achievement is required in order to pity another man's shortcomings."

"There is a sort of jealousy which needs very little fire: it is hardly a passion, but a blight bred in the cloudy, damp despondency of uneasy egoism."

"Failure after long perseverance is much grander than never to have a striving good enough to be called a failure."

"[A] man could choose not only his wife but his wife's husband!"

"[G]oodness is of a modest nature, easily discouraged, and when much elbowed in early life by unabashed vices, is apt to retire into extreme privacy."

"I made up my mind to like sermons, and I set out by liking the end very much. That soon spread to the middle and the beginning, because I couldn't have the end without them."

"Scenes which make vital changes in our neighbors' lot are but the background of our own, yet, like a particular aspect of the fields and trees, they become associated for us with the epochs of our own history, and make a part of that unity which lies in the selection of our keenest consciousness."

"I think we have no right to come forward and urge wider changes for good, until we have tried to alter the evils which lie under our own hands."

"[B]y desiring what is perfectly good, even when we don't quite know what it is and cannot do what we would, we are part of the divine power against evil - widening the skirts of light and making the struggle with darkness narrower."

"[T]he soul of man, when it gets fairly rotten, will bear you all sorts of poisonous toad-stools, and no eye can see whence came the seed thereof."

"Will not a tiny speck very close to our vision blot out the glory of the world, and leave only a margin by which we see the blot? I know no speck so troublesome as self."

"[I]t is in these acts called trivialities that the seeds of joy are forever wasted, until men and women look round with haggard faces at the devastation their own waste has made, and say, the earth bears no harvest of sweetness - calling there denial knowledge."

"Her anger said, as anger is apt to say, that God was with her - that all heaven, though it were crowded with spirits watching them, must be on her side."

"[O]ppositions have the illimitable range of objections at command which need never stop short at the boundary of knowledge, but can draw forever on the casts of ignorance."

"A man conscious of enthusiasm for worthy aims is sustained under petty hostilities by the memory of great workers who had to fight their way not without wounds, and who hover in his mind as patron saints, invisibly helping."

"[T]he little waves make the large ones and are of the same pattern."

"[W]isdom is not his strong point, but rather affection and sincerity. However, wisdom lies more in those two qualities than people are apt to imagine."

"Lydgate was in debt; and he could not succeed in keeping out of his mind for long together that he was every day getting deeper into that swamp, which tempts men towards it with such a pretty covering of flowers and verdure. It is wonderful how soon a man gets up to his chin there - in a condition in which, in spite of himself, he is forced to think chiefly of release, though he had a scheme of the universe in his soul."

"What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult to each other?"

"'[C]haracter is not cut in marble - it is not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing, and may become diseased as our bodies do.' 'Then it may be rescued and healed'"

"[T]he growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."