A book review, of sorts.
For my first foray into Yuletide this year, I took a bit of a risk: I requested a book that I hadn’t actually managed to read yet. I’d been looking for a copy for more than two years, after falling utterly in love with an old TVB adaptation of the story
. But finding a complete copy in English was impossible. My library did have the first volume, but the other two I could only find at online bookstores for outrageously high prices. Finding it in Chinese was easy enough, but it’s set in the 17th century and hence full of archaic and literary language, and besides that, it’s extremely long
. (How long? Well, the English version1
spans almost 1,600 pages, and according to Wikipedia, this War and Peace
-length translation is “highly abridged.” o_o )
I’m generally a book person, though, or at least a primary-source person, so when I decided to nominate the TV adaptation for Yuletide, I really wanted to include the original novel as well. So I did. And then I sort of panicked about having not actually read it, and went looking for a copy again—and found one
So I’ve now finally read the whole book. Or the whole “highly abridged” English version of the book, at any rate. And needless to say, I have thoughts. A lot of them are thoughts about how the book measured up to my expectations, based on what I knew from the TVB series. Aaaand a lot of them are also just "slash goggles: on."
In brief, The Deer and the Cauldron
traces the adventures of a street-urchin trickster anti-hero, Wai Siu-bou,2
as he (in one reviewer’s words) “traipses all around the countryside avoiding problems and creating even more of them.” Much of the drama stems from his increasingly hopeless efforts to navigate a lot of very contradictory loyalties—in particular, his close friendship with the young Emperor of China, and his simultaneous membership in a secret society whose aim is to overthrow the empire.
The relationship between Wai Siu-bou and the Emperor Hong Hei anchors the rest of the story, and it was what I loved about the TVB series and was hoping to see more of in the novel. And there is
more of it in the novel. Actually a lot more. But... also sort of less? I’ll come to that in a bit. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.
One thing can be said, though: if you're looking for subtext, the novel is most accommodating. “Several of the officers and courtiers noticed—with surprise, for he was normally so grave and mature in public and never showed any sign of emotion—that Hong Hei’s eyes were red and swollen with weeping. When they saw Wai Siu-bou’s tear-stained face as well, they assumed that he was responsible and wondered of exactly what nature the boy-Emperor’s relationship with his young favorite might be.
” ( All the subtext.Collapse )( Character dynamics: book vs. showCollapse )( Other pointsCollapse )
So. I don’t have a good place to end this post, but those are my extremely long-winded thoughts about The Deer and the Cauldron
(as relentlessly juxtaposed to the TVB adaptation that induced me to read it). I liked it—I really did, even in spite of the very mediocre translation and other assorted faults. But it does sort of bother me that there are things I still like better about the TV version, because I feel like the original book canon is the “real thing” and deserves according priority.
This is why I always try to read books first. It makes sense to complain about changes made in adaptations, but it’s sort of a problem when you want to complain about the original text having not been more like the way it was later adapted. :P( Footnotes!Collapse )
[This entry was originally posted at https://grayswandir.dreamwidth.org/285318.html.]
Heh, I love how everybody is already making posts about how they feel about 2011 so far. As for me, I am definitely not off to a terribly productive start. So far, I have slept a lot and read a lot of Dinosaur Comics. And also my sister and I sat around and watched like two hours' worth of Flight of the Conchords stuff on YouTube. Oy. Though I did watch Becket
on New Year's, so that was at least something. (It was very good. Strange, though, seeing O'Toole play Henry II again
, but play him as such a completely different character. And once again, I have so much trouble picturing Peter O'Toole as not gay
. WHY IS HE ALWAYS SO GAY?)
Also, I've noticed that I suddenly seem to have started saying "twenty" when talking about the year, as in "twenty-eleven" instead of "two-thousand-ten." Maybe because "eleven" is just too many syllables already.
Anyway, to follow up my last post, which was about the books I read in 2010... Here's a 2010 book meme post! ( Book meme.Collapse )
...Okay, enough book posts for a while. Though somehow I made a lot fewer book-related posts than usual in 2010, in spite of reading more books than usual. So I guess I'm just making up for it after the fact.
, saving that Milton essay until the last minute was seriously not a good idea. Jesus Christ. I spent last week reading a couple of hundred pages of literary criticism, then on Friday spent probably five hours typing randomly about the poem until I finally arrived at something that looked like a viable argument for a paper, spent some twelve hours yesterday writing a truly horrible first draft, and then spent literally another twelve straight hours today turning it into something I was not too embarrassed to send to my professor. Seriously, I went to bed at 7:00 PM last night when I absolutely could not look at the thing anymore, got up at 3:00 AM and started writing again, and finally, just now, at quarter to 4:00 PM have at last emailed the file to the teacher. I thought about asking one of you guys to go over the draft, but... I was afraid there would be things wrong with it, and I'm not sure I could have stood going over the thing again. EGADS.
On the bright side, I think I can say I now know Paradise Lost
pretty damn well. I mean, there are like three bookcases worth of books about how to interpret PL at the university library, so I'd be kidding myself if I thought I "understood" the poem. But I at least understand it in a few different and probably relatively valid ways.
I was surprised, actually, to find that although I understand the text much better now, and appreciate the art and precision with which Milton composed it, my impression of it still hasn't significantly changed. I spent the whole semester making a point to read the poem, as far as possible, the way I thought Milton would have wanted it read, taking God's goodness and righteousness pretty much for granted, and avoiding the temptation to sympathize with Satan. But now that the class is over, I find that I feel pretty much the same way about Milton's treatment of Christianity as I felt the first time I read it -- I think, first of all, that the task of "justifying the ways of God to men" was hopeless from the get-go, given the text of Genesis and the Christian doctrine that Milton had to work with; and I think Milton made some severe errors of calculation in deciding just how sympathetic to make Satan and just how odious to make God. 'Cause his Satan is pretty much a perfect Byronic hero, aristocratic, arrogant, tormented, flawed and petty and even somewhat despicable, but a lot less ugly even than, say, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights
. God, on the other hand, goes about doing a lot of the same damn things Satan does, only they're supposed to be viewed as completely different and good merely because it was God and not Satan who did them. Which reminds me of something Milton himself said in his De Doctrina Christiana
In short, many visible proofs, the verification of numberless predictions, a multitude of wonderful works have compelled all nations to believe, either that God, or that some evil power whose name was unknown, presided over the affairs of the world.
...Yeah. He then concludes that it must be God, not He-Who-
-Cannot-Be-Named, who rules the world, because "that evil should prevail over good, and be the true supreme power, is as unmeet as it is incredible." That's the whole strength of his argument for why all the evil in the world has to somehow ultimately be explained as the divine and beautiful will of a benevolent God.
Oh religion. What can one possibly do with you.
(LOLWTF, 24 hours of essay-writing and apparently I wasn't tired of talking about Milton after all. Sheez.)
One more exam to go. There's no food in the house except for like ten zillion tamales, so I think I'll go buy some Little Caesar's breadsticks for $1.50 to celebrate the completion of the Essay of Doom. And then start studying for the most boring linguistics test ever.
...AND THEN FREEDOM OH MY GOD.
: ( a short book meme.Collapse )
On another topic: last night I finally sat down and watched an episode (on YouTube) of the Russian "Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson" series. :) It took forever for the videos to load, which turned out to be kind of neat, because I'd just keep watching the beginning over and over while waiting for the end to load, and I picked up more of the Russian each time. I was rather surprised, actually, how many of the words I recognized, given that we never exactly studied police/crime-related vocabulary in my Russian classes. I really ought to get my hands on some Russian movies/shows to watch. Except that first I need to get my hands on a Region 5 compatible DVD player. :P
I've got to ask, though... is it just me, or is it kind of strange that Holmes and Watson use the formal mode of address with each other? Maybe I have the wrong idea about how these things work, but I would have imagined Holmes and Watson would be close enough to talk to one another на ты
, if not at the beginning of the series then at least by the time of, say, "Hound of the Baskervilles." But it looks like they never switch over. Strange? Not strange?
1. Today, I climbed up on the roof and cut down about 60 pounds worth of branches that were lying on it, and swept away a great mountain of leaves. :) Felt much more productive than going to the gym (which I seem to have stopped doing as of several weeks ago).
2. Monday, as tilly_stratford
reminded me, was Talk Like William Shatner Day, in honor of which my sister and I paused dramatically at each other a great deal, and watched two episodes of Star Trek. Since then we've watched four more episodes, and I'm now endeavoring not to relapse into an obsession, because I really don't have time for that... but god
. That show. I have never in my life been exposed to anything, anything
more addictive and consuming than that show. I can handle drugs, you guys, but one hit of Star Trek and it's all over for me.
3. ( Here, have a book meme.Collapse )EDIT: And now (the 26th) I discover that it is Leonard Nimoy's birthday, and that he is also now 79. I had no idea he and Shatner were born, like, four days apart. o_O
I am very confused, because I've just finished reading a Philip K. Dick novel so mind-numbingly bad that I'm now wondering whether I've been delusional all these years that I've liked him.
Admittedly, I don't read much sci-fi, but I'd read quite a number of Dick's short stories and three (now four) of his novels, and I'd always considered him one of my favorites, maybe second after Wells. But the book I've just read... I mean, it did not have one single redeeming quality. The plot was stupid, but a good author can generally carry a bad plot for at least some distance. The writing was awful. There were so many adverbs and bad dialogue tags that I could barely read a line without groaning. 'Yes,' he decided regretfully, or she reminded him sweetly or he opined vociferously -- stuff like that, I swear to god. And then all these one-word sentences that were supposed to come off as dramatic or jarring or god knows what, but just looked childish. "He looked at her and shuddered. Violently." What the hell is that violently doing out there all by itself? There are places for jarring sentence fragments, but come on. He can't violently AFTER he shudders. What the devil is going on?
And what's even worse is that he keeps sending his characters off into multi-page pseudo-philosophical digressions about topics that have nothing even remotely to do with the story. Topics that contribute nothing to the theme, and don't even help to develop the characters. There was an entire chapter in which an extremely minor character met another character who was never to be seen again, so that they could discuss whether certain sexual practices were disgusting or not. Sexual practices which had nothing to do with anything that happened in the book. And in the middle of their conversations, people would suddenly change their opinions, presumably to give Dick a better platform for making some argument, or telling some random tragic story about a rabbit, that didn't mesh with the characters' original opinions. Jesus god. I have MSTed Mary Sue fics that made more sense.
I just... I don't see how this can be. Flipping back through some of my other Dick novels, I see that he's always been too fond of adverbs and fancy dialogue tags, though I never noticed it before. I know he likes philosophical digressions, but in books like The Man in the High Castle, that was what I liked about him -- he was good at it. I thought. His topics were relevant and interesting. But after the mind-blowing badness of this book I've just read, I'm half wondering whether he was bad all along and just had me fooled somehow. But I can't see how that can be, either. I mean, this book was like... Dean Koontz bad. James Patterson bad. That's how bad it was. There's no way I could have missed that much badness before now.
But neither does it seem possible that a good author could, without some phenomenal effort of deliberate will, succeed in writing at that level of badness.
Anyway, I have now finally picked up American Gods. I've been hesitant to read it, because to be perfectly honest, as much as I loved The Sandman, I haven't yet liked any of Neil Gaiman's novels; but surely nothing Neil Gaiman can write could be much worse than what I just read, even if American Gods does appear to continue in the Neil Gaiman tradition of stopping to explain himself whenever he says anything he worries might be too smart for his audience. At least I can count on him, I think, to go somewhere with his books. Maybe?
Lord, fiction these days! I'm actually starting to miss China Mieville. The guy bored me half to death, but at least his writing was good.
I'm becoming one of those awful pretentious people who won't read anything but "literature," aren't I?
Well, instead of studying for my Old English exam, I wound up reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I italicize the title because I suppose the story is long enough to be considered a novella, but really it felt more like a short story to me. Far shorter than I was expecting.
I've never read any Robert Louis Stevenson before. He reminds me a little of Doyle and a lot of Wells -- of The Invisible Man, in particular. And maybe of Hawthorne, too, at least thematically.
It's difficult, I'm afraid, to appreciate Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde these days the way it was meant to be appreciated, since the entire story is just a suspenseful build-up to the reveal in the final two chapters, which any modern-day reader already knows about before he picks up the book. It's almost a detective story, the only difference being that there's a moral, or at least a moral dilemma, in the resolution. But sci-fi elements aside, the last couple of chapters read almost exactly like the confessional monologue at the end of your typical Sherlock Holmes story.
It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but it was good, in that vaguely impersonal turn-of-the-century English way. Good enough that I'm sorry I didn't somehow manage to read it without knowing the twist. I'm interested to read more of Stevenson's stories now, anyway.
And I'm reminded that I really need to get back to reading classics and avoiding modern fiction, which tends to have approximately the same effect on me that television has -- that is, to leave me with this numbly placid feeling of "life is sure sparkly but what the fuck is the point" as opposed to "life is one long bloody tragedy, but I hope it lasts."
Finished To Reign in Hell
. The premise was really interesting, but I'm not so sure about the execution... I'm afraid Brust has rather reminded me why I don't generally read sci-fi or fantasy novels. Like so many of them, this one came off more like a really excellent fanfic than like a professional work, I thought. I found it particularly jarring in this case because of how blatantly similar Brust's style is to Zelazny's, yet without being anywhere near as polished or natural as Zelazny is. But besides that, his writing just felt very rushed to me, a bit haphazard, a bit heavyhanded... I mean, I realize it's hard to deal with messiahs and gods and damnation without
being heavyhanded, and Brust sure as hell could easily have done much, much worse. But --
Well, enough skirting around spoilers. ( On to the review.Collapse )
This turned out a bit rantier than I intended. I didn't actually hate the book or anything -- I'm just disappointed because it had so much potential, and I feel like Brust could have done a lot better with such rich material. I'd be willing to try another of his books sometime, though. This one was certainly a quick read, in any case.
Okay, and on a (mostly) totally different topic, I also just read Lord Byron's Cain, a Mystery
. ( In which I ramble about Byron, Satan, Cain, and Steinbeck.Collapse )
I've now seen Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
. I had very little idea what to expect, since the last HP movie I saw was Prisoner of Azkaban
; I've been a little afraid to see any of the films since then, since the actors just look all wrong to me. But this one actually was not bad. I mean, it was about as convoluted and dragging as the novel, in spite of the fact that they left out a ton of stuff (including nearly everything pertaining to the Half-Blood Prince!), but for all that, I enjoyed it, and it actually inspired me to finally go to Blockbuster and rent the previous two films.( Mostly, the movie reminded me how much I still love Snape.Collapse )
So my English Lit class is over, and what's the first thing I do? Decide it's time to finally read Gulliver's Travels
It was actually far more entertaining than I had expected. Swift's style is very prosaic and straightforward, which is probably why every time I've tried to read the book in the past, I was bored within the first couple of pages. But having gotten accustomed to his dry sarcasm from the excerpts in my Lit textbook, I was ready to give him another try. He's... quite a character, that Swift.
Mainly, I find myself astonished at how I can have ever imagined 1700 was a long time ago. I mean, I never thought 1800
seemed all that far in the past, but 1700 was another matter. The wigs and stockings had me confused, I guess. Diderot and Voltaire set me straight about the later part of the century, but I was still a bit wary of Swift. I see now that I was being an idiot. Gulliver's Travels
begins in 1699, and is scarcely any less relevant now than it was three hundred years ago.( Some random observations. With spoilers.Collapse )
What's really funny is that the whole book reminded me, more than anything, of Star Trek
. Okay, I know, I know. But in an age when the idea of interstellar travel was beyond any reasonable conjecture, Gulliver was nevertheless making the same kind of journeys the Enterprise makes, to strange new worlds where no man has gone before
; and in most cases, the beings he discovers there are even less like his own people than the aliens on Star Trek
are like earthlings. And, most importantly, in every case, by observing the behaviors and cultures of other creatures, he learns something about humanity, for better or worse. Only I'm afraid Swift was much less optimistic, and much less forgiving, than Roddenberry was.
Anyway. I should stop, because I have to go buy another computer monitor, since the one in my room has died again. God, I'd almost forgotten how preposterously long my posts get when I don't have a zillion more urgent things to be doing. You can all see how profitably I spend my free time. Whee.
Ah yes -- yet another great, rambling book review post.
This time, the topic is ( Brave New World.Collapse )
Now then, I also recently read another utopian/distopian novel, Skinner's ( Walden TwoCollapse ) ( On with some general reactions to all this -- both Huxley and Skinner.Collapse )
But in any case, I have one objection that concerns both Huxley's and Skinner's utopias, and it is simply this: ( I really don't believe Man is capable of existing without conflict.Collapse )
Anyway. I was going to try to write some kind of actual conclusion for this ramble, but as usual it's quite long enough without that, so...
I notice that today's "Writer's Block" thingy asks what five books one would bring along to a desert island. I'm going to use this question to distract me from the fact that the house smells like fucking cat spray, and the much more infuriating fact that the reason
it smells like cat spray is because the Demon broke into the pony room
(he has a knack for opening doors, EVEN WHEN THEY HAVE BEEN JAMMED SHUT WITH A STOOL) and sprayed, for no reason, in spite of being neutered
, on the one
pony card that my sister and I still have from when we were kids. (We had about a hundred different ones as kids. We managed to save only this one. THANK YOU, Demon, for proving once again the aptness of your epithet.)
Ahem. Anyway. Books.
I'm going to assume that my exile to this desert island is permanent, so that I'd better take along books I already know I like, and not books I've simply been meaning to read but might not want to spend the rest of my solitary life with. Realistically, I would want some bloody enormous books -- probably the Complete Works of Shakespeare, Complete Works of Melville, Hugo, Marquez... that sort of thing. And probably The Bible, since whether one believes a word of it or not, it certainly contains enough material to keep one occupied for several lifetimes.
But assuming I have to actually pick five individual works, and not collections of books or stories -- I'll take Moby Dick, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, The Idiot, and Les Miserables. (Er. Except, again, realistically
, I'd probably replace the latter two with Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Amber, because I'm not actually sure how much I'd care about Dostoevsky's philosophizing, or the socio-political climate of post-revolution France, if I were stuck with them on an island. Whereas quests and heirs and ancient kingdoms will always have some sort of Jungian appeal.)( ...God, what a smug little creep.Collapse )
People recommend books to me. I read other books. Fail? Yes, sort of fail. But not entirely fail, since at least I can cross something
off my reading list...
Anyway, this time the book is Steinbeck's East of Eden
. I think I started reading it ten years ago. I made it through the first three hundred pages or so, and then gave it up, bored to death of both the plot and the characters, and thinking that everything about it felt too contrived -- far too contrived for Steinbeck, especially. I felt like he was stepping out of his league.
I don't know if it's just because my expectations have changed, or whether the second half of the book was really so much better than the first half (it did get better as it progressed, even within the second half), but having finished it, I can say that I underestimated Steinbeck, and that although East of Eden
could probably have been better, it was very good. It did what it was meant to do.( Some general thoughts on Steinbeck.Collapse )
Last post on this subject for a while. I promise.
I said yesterday that Tolstoy was a mediocre philosopher. He is. I also said he was a good writer. That was an understatement. ( So here's a more balanced report. No spoilers.Collapse )
I don't know what I'll be reading next. The reason it occurred to me how far I'd underestimated Tolstoy is because I've been trying to start on some other book, but nothing I pick up comes anywhere close to Tolstoy's eloquence, and I find myself doing more criticising than reading. So far, King Lear
is the only thing I've tried that I haven't been able to find fault with. ...So much for lighter reading. :P
Well, I've finally finished reading War and Peace. It turned out to be, at bottom, a 1400-page treatise on determinism. I feel it only fair to warn those of you who may be interested in reading it. The characters are good, the writing is good, it's easy to read, and there are some interesting ideas along the way. But ultimately, the point is that free will exists only as a kind of necessary unknown factor without which we could not call ourselves human, but has no meaning; ultimately the point is that everything done by anybody was predestined by God from the dawn of time (or rather outside of time), and no one could ever have acted any differently than they did. Especially not Napoleon, which is what makes him the most odious of all. Apparently.
I will also add, though of course this is entirely my own opinion, that Tolstoy is a thoroughly mediocre philosopher. His arguments, when they aren't the same ones that have been advanced for centuries, are almost irrelevant; his metaphors are mostly complete nonsense; and even when he makes a valid point, he often does so by proofs which are completely inscrutable. Dostoevsky made a better argument for determinism in five or ten pages of Notes From Underground -- and Dostoevsky didn't even believe in it.
I think it may be time for some lighter reading.
Well! Book-buying went ( fairly well.Collapse )
I was a little surprised by how many books they didn't
have, though. Nothing by Tom Stoppard except the plays I've already got, for instance. Copenhagen
was also nowhere to be found. And each store I visited had at most two books on Napoleon, which really surprised me since, if I recall, Napoleon is the second most extensively biographized man in the world -- the first being Jesus. No biographies of Wellington at all, though I did find (and buy) a book about Napoleon and
Wellington, which is at least something.
(I also didn't find anything by C.S. Lewis, but it now occurs to me that that's probably because I was looking for him in Fiction and Literature rather than Children's...)
I also finally ( signed up for next semester's classes.Collapse )
Every time I realize how excited I am about taking literature classes, I start wondering if I'm an idiot for going after a Physics degree instead of something in the arts. There are so many wonderful things I could major in. How the hell do people choose just one thing to do with a lifetime?
1) The Spirit
has reminded me why I never go to the theater. ( Ten dollars for *that*?Collapse )
2) I'm a bit over 300 pages into War and Peace
. I was worried that it would be slow reading, and 1400 pages of it, at that -- but it's actually surprisingly fast-paced; more so than a lot of other authors of the period, anyway. My only difficulty with the book so far is in keeping track of its ( typical Russian superabundance of characters.Collapse )
Oddly, War and Peace
is also having the unexpected side-effect of making me ( really excited about Napoleon.Collapse )
3) I guess this post would be the place to tell me what books I should buy with my gift cards. ;) Of course, I've already got a list; foremost among the books I'm planning to buy are ( these.Collapse )
But anyway, I'm shopping at Bookman's, where everything is used and cheap, so if I have any money left over, I'll want to know what I should spend it on. And it's always nice to have options! :)
At long last, finals are over. I have no idea how I did on my College Algebra final, and luckily I don't have to care, because unless I utterly failed it, I should still get a B in the class. And if I did
utterly fail it -- I'll still get a C.
So. It's time once again for my embarrassingly short list-of-books-I-read-this year. I'm still a hell of a long way from "read your height in books," but I did better than last year
, anyway. (And as usual, I'm not including stories and plays from collections -- just whole novels.)
Here, then, are the books, complete with commentary of great prolixity and spoileriness.( Toilers of the SeaCollapse )( er, here, have some extended rambling about Hugo and MelvilleCollapse )( Brief LivesCollapse )( FrankensteinCollapse )( CoralineCollapse )( Nineteen Eighty-FourCollapse )( reread: The Man in the High CastleCollapse )( V for VendettaCollapse )( Atlas ShruggedCollapse )( Tao Te ChingCollapse )( The StrangerCollapse )( Big FishCollapse )( Lots of Batman stuff...Collapse )( WatchmenCollapse )( The Golden CompassCollapse )( The Valley of FearCollapse )( The General in His LabyrinthCollapse )( DraculaCollapse )( This Side of ParadiseCollapse )( War of the WorldsCollapse )
Aaaand there you have it. I may not read much, but I sure do make long posts about it...
- Tags:alan moore, albert camus, ayn rand, batman, booklist, books, dracula, f scott fitzgerald, frank miller, frankenstein, gabriel garcía márquez, george orwell, h g wells, herman melville, literature, neil gaiman, philip k dick, sandman, sherlock holmes, v for vendetta, victor hugo
I finally watched "The Crooked Man," after waiting as long as I could (and watching "The Naval Treaty" a second time with my sister). Not bad. I mean, it wasn't much of a mystery
, like, at all
-- but that's Doyle's fault.
Watson was better in this one, on the whole, although he had a few moments of headdesk-inducing idiocy right in the middle. I'm starting to get the impression that Watson is just there to keep people from getting too irritated at Holmes' utter disregard for social etiquette. Holmes almost never greets anyone, shakes hands, acknowledges gratitude, or anything of the kind. Luckily, Watson is there to be polite for him.
Anyway, the last scene was pretty adorable. :D
And from hamsterwoman
: ( another book meme.Collapse )
Finished The Valley of Fear. The plot was better than those of the other Sherlock Holmes novels, I thought, although as usual I found the gigantic block of backstory a bit tedious. It did help that the backstory was ultimately kind of a pseudo-mystery in itself, with a twist at the end. Still, the whole problem ultimately felt pretty unresolved to me. I mean, the mystery was solved, which was enough for Holmes, I guess -- but a lot of good that did. :P The epilogue didn't help much, either. It was kind of just a footnote, like, "For actual resolution, see The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes."
Actually, I really liked the first part of The Valley of Fear, which read to me like a completely separate novella from the second part. By itself, it would have made for one of the best of the Sherlock Holmes stories. The second part turned out pretty interesting by the end, too, and I can't say it should have been omitted. But it wasn't as strong; it had nothing to do with Holmes, yet it needed Holmes for an introduction, or there wouldn't have been enough to hold a reader's interest. I guess it's partly just a problem of narration. Watson's first-hand accounts are always interesting, and often amusing; but when he gives second-hand accounts he's much more sober and removed, and just not as much fun to read.
So: a good story, but definitely not my favorite of the Holmes novels. (For that I'm torn between The Hound of the Baskervilles -- which is probably technically the best one, but is somewhat lacking in Holmes himself -- and The Sign of Four -- which is ridiculously far-fetched and weird, but has no shortage of Holmes and features several of my favorite scenes, and certainly my favorite opening and closing paragraphs.)
Anyway. Other than reading, I've not gotten much done today. I ought to be ticked off, because my sister, after staying out all last night with friends, decided this morning to back out of plans she and I had made more than two weeks ago. Which... on principle, it annoys me that she chose to blow off plans we'd made well in advance, in favor of partying with her friends... but I'm not actually annoyed, because it means I've got the day to myself, and don't have to go anywhere or talk to anyone, which suits me fine. If I could just stop thinking like Watson, in convoluted parentheticals, I'd try to write something.
...Or, wait. Maybe that's me, not Watson. :/
After more than a month, I finally finished reading Gabriel García Márquez's The General in His Labyrinth
. (Not that it's long -- it isn't. I just haven't had much time for reading lately.)
It was very good. It's a historical novel -- a fictionalized account of the last months of the life of General Simón Bolívar
, "The Liberator," who secured independence from Spain for a number of Latin American countries. But the story isn't about heroics, conquests, or successes of any kind. The General is mentally and physically exhausted, and indeed almost an invalid, at the age of 47. The themes are much like those of One Hundred Years of Solitude
-- decline and disillusionment and destitution. And, well... solitude.
I'm not sure what to say about it except that it's Márquez: simple and vivid, bleak, sincere, unforgivingly human, at once profound and mundane. I can't even put spoilers behind a cut, because there are no spoilers. It's not that kind of novel. There isn't climax or resolution or twists or surprising revelations... there's just this meandering account of the General's final journey, interwoven with memories and reflections on his former glory, successes tainted with the growing realization of futility.
Needless to say, I enjoyed it a great deal. I need to find more books like this one.
(ETA: Oh, hey. I just found this One Hundred Years of Solitude
icon I made for a roleplay sockpuppet
, like, two years ago. *keeps it*)
Been reading a lot of Batman comics lately. I didn't read many comic books when I was a kid, because the few that I picked up were so bad
(apart from Sandman
-- for a while I really thought Gaiman was the only good comic writer ever). But now that I have access to stuff that wasn't published circa 1960, the genre feels much more respectable, and really pretty awesome. :D
There will be lots of spoilers
by Jeph Loeb. ( Pretty, but not amazing.Collapse )The Killing Joke
by Alan Moore. ( Nice.Collapse )Dark Victory
by Jeph Loeb. ( Meh.Collapse )Arkham Asylum
by Grant Morrison. ( Holy shit, man.Collapse )Batman: Year One
by Frank Miller. ( Entirely excellent.Collapse )The Dark Knight Returns
by Frank Miller. ( o_OCollapse )
Also, ( some thoughts on the comics versus The Dark Knight.Collapse )
I'm also reading Gabriel Garcia Marquéz's The General In His Labyrinth
. So I haven't abandoned real literature or anything, I promise. ;) Oh, and if anyone is comparing this to my post about Watchmen
-- well, Watchmen
is better than any of these comics (bar maybe Arkham Asylum
, which is like a whole different genre, anyway); I was just more critical of it because I had set such high standards. I appreciate it a lot more now that I've got in in proper perspective.
I really, really wish the cover of Alan Moore's Watchmen
was not plastered all over with "Groundbreaking!", "The greatest piece of popular fiction ever produced!", "Peerless!", "A landmark!", "Staggeringly complex!" I really wish it wasn't.
Because I'm positive that if I'd come to it expecting nothing more than a graphic novel
, with superheroes in capes and stuff, I'd have been very, very impressed. Overwhelmingly impressed, no doubt. But instead -- in spite of my best efforts to ignore the reviewers and banish all preconceptions -- I came to it expecting the greatest graphic novel ever written
. And hell, maybe it is
the greatest graphic novel ever written. But when something has been praised that
highly, what you bring to it is mostly judgment, and unfortunately most of what I've ended up thinking about it is simply, "Well, it wasn't that
Which, like I said, is almost certainly purely a consequence of having been told -- by the blurbs on the book itself, by the reviewers on Amazon when I bought it, by the previews for the upcoming film -- that I would be, you know, completely blown away by its epicness
. I really wish that I had somehow stumbled across it by accident, because then I could have actually been
blown away. Why the devil are we so incapable of seeing past our own preconceptions, and appreciating something for what it is
and what it was intended to be
, rather than some shapeless anticipation of the impossible?
It seems to me that if people were able to judge things -- including each other -- for what they are and what they're intended
to be, half the world's bloody problems would be solved right there. But hell, that's a whole other topic. ( Beware of MAJOR SPOILERS.Collapse )
Relatedly, and yet not: I've been rather depressed about how much publicity and hype The Dark Knight
has gotten, and I guess now I realize why
. Because it's like all the hype surrounding Watchmen
, which made it so hard for me to appreciate it, so inclined to judge every little thing about it. I went to see The Dark Knight
expecting your typical superhero flick (more respectable than, like, Spiderman
or something, but still inevitably silly); I figured the best thing about it would be Bale in his batsuit looking pretty. I was blown away because
I had no expectations. If I'd been looking for something revolutionary, profound, nuanced... hell, maybe I'd have been utterly disappointed. I don't even know. I hate that I keep hearing people saying they're not interested in seeing the Batman movie, and I can't tell them how good it is, becuase if I do, they're bound to be disappointed when/if they see it, because its greatness... is relative to what it's intended to be
. Relative to its genre and what is demanded of that genre, and relative to the preconceptions you have about it before you walk into the theater. Or pick up the book. Or whatever.
I just wish we could see things as they're meant to be seen, and judge them as they're meant to be judged. But look, here I am quoting Pope again. "Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see, thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be. In every work regard the writer's end, since none can compass more than they intend; and if the means be just, the conduct true, applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due."
Amen to that.ETA: I'm pretty excited about the Watchmen film now, though. I was skeptical before, and I'm still a bit worried about how much they'll leave out, but it has the potential to be very neat. Hopefully they'll do like they did with V for Vendetta and make the chick not suck in the movie version...
Following several people's recommendations, I've started reading His Dark Materials
. I finished the first book yesterday. It was... very much not what I was expecting.( Spoilers.Collapse )
(Someday I will learn how to write a review that's actually shorter than the thing I'm reviewing. But... not today, apparently.)