Review: Lady Susan

Lady Susan
Lady Susan by Jane Austen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d never read an epistolary novel prior to Lady Susan, although I understand it was once a popular format. The he-said she-said back and forth did suit the story well enough, but I missed real narrative prose and the format felt limiting. That said, the characters were compelling and the writing solid.

Lady Susan herself really interested me. She has remarkable depth. I couldn’t stand her, but she’s quite real enough (classic Enneagram type 2 villain). I took issue only with her overly candid letters to her friend. Someone like Lady Susan should be a true believer in all of her own deceits, making it really difficult to come clean, even to a close friend.

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“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

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Rating: The Dharma Bums

The Dharma Bums
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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“I sit down and say, and I run all my friends and relatives and enemies one by one in this, without entertaining any angers or gratitudes or anything, and I say, like ‘Japhy Ryder, equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha,’ then I run on, say to ‘David O. Selznick, equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha’ though I don’t use names like David O. Selznick, just people I know because when I say the words ‘equally a coming Buddha’ I want to be thinking of their eyes, like you take Morley, his blue eyes behind those glasses, when you think ‘equally a coming Buddha’ you think of those eyes and you really do suddenly see the true secret serenity and the truth of his coming Buddhahood. Then you think of your enemy’s eyes.”

― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

 

Rating: Armageddon in Retrospect

Armageddon in Retrospect
Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Review: The Black Pearl

The Black Pearl
The Black Pearl by Scott O’Dell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Black Pearl is a well-written coming of age story, even a bit of a page turner. The book grabbed my attention quickly and then held it by steadily tightening the stakes. Yet somehow I finished the book with a shrug. As with O’Dell’s Sing Down the Moon, there’s no pathos to the prose. You’re incredibly close to the protagonist, but you’re never really in his head. I did my best to fill in the blanks, especially after tragedy struck (as it always does in his books). Just think of this as an emotional DIY project while enjoying the story itself, which I found quite compelling.

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Rating: Raven Girl

Raven Girl
Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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“So disasters come not singly;
But as if they watched and waited,
Scanning one another’s motions,
When the first descends, the others
Follow, follow, gathering flock-wise
Round their victim, sick and wounded,
First a shadow, then a sorrow,
Till the air is dark with anguish.”

― Henry Wadsworth LongfellowThe Song of Hiawatha

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Rating: The Song of Hiawatha

The Song of Hiawatha
The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Review: Everyman

Everyman
Everyman by Philip Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Based on a number of nearly unanimous reviews, I began this book with a few expectations.

I expected the protagonist to be a self-obsessed emotional vampire; Roth’s characters are often needy and broken, cyclically building up their lives, tearing them down, and wounding anyone foolish enough to mistake their emotional pawing for genuine love. The author met that expectation with room to spare.

But I also expected to have my heart broken. Most reviewers mention that this is a truly depressing book. It does indeed catalog the horrors of aging. You will not be spared any of the details. Illness and time do conspire to mentally and physically break down the protagonist, his friends, and his lovers. However, I didn’t feel any of the loss I felt when reading Roth’s The Dying Animal.

Here’s what I think went wrong. Roth shovels the Everyman’s life to you in great big heaps of unbalanced dirt. You learn everything there is to know about his transgressions and his pettiness. You follow every surgery he’s had the pleasure to endure from childhood to the grave. But for some reason, you’re spared all the best moments of his life. All the joy comes to you through the filter of a bitter old self-loathing man.

I’m going to do Roth the kindness of assuming Everyman was intentionally written to be so one-sided. Still, I don’t feel at all depressed — I’m indifferent. I never cared for the guy and the specifics of his life really do not apply to my own or the lives of those I love. The novel sounds one melancholy note and it’s flat.

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“Like every other good thing in this
world, leisure and culture have to be paid for. Fortunately, however,
it is not the leisured and the cultured who have to pay. Let us be
duly thankful for that, my dear Denis–duly thankful.”
― Aldous HuxleyCrome Yellow

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Review: Crome Yellow

Crome Yellow
Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel a little guilty that I so enjoyed Crome Yellow, as if I’d been sitting for hours in a high school cafeteria making fun of nearly everyone else, especially my own friends.

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