Sunday, February 26, 2006
The book and the movie succeed differently. It is appropriate that they both tell the same story with almost entirely different events.
Edward Bloom has a lust for life that exceeds the bounds of reality. Big Fish tells stories from his life, tall tales that rewrite the facts in (comforting?) myth. Let us leave the quick summary at that. The chapter "In Which He Buys a Town, And More" is the story in brief, a fictionalized narrative of an episode in his life in which people make up stories about his life.
The film is about Edward, following his adventures as his son William tries to get to know him before he dies. The book is about William's father. The difference is perhaps subtle, but it shifts the focus.
The book is more of a collection of vignettes than a single coherent plot line. It is disjointed, but then so are these kind of stories. You must know someone who always has jokes and stories to tell. They have some connection to what is going on, but they extend tangentially into who knows where.
Having seen the film first, the contrast between that and the book is what sticks out for me. The book has a slower pace, moves gently, has less flash. There are no werewolf carnival ringmasters. The sense of whimsy is there, perhaps a bit more spiritual. Darker, too.
It's good. The book is a mix of times and places and events. Do they fit perfectly together? Does life? One piece connects to the ones next to it, although not in any straight line from A through B on its way to Z. They cohere together as the life of Edward Bloom.
Friday, February 24, 2006
Oh goody, my first chance for a truly unfair review. I read the first 5% of the book before setting it aside. I would need a rather good recommendation to go any further, especially since I read similarly far into White Teeth without finding anything interesting there either, and that is her more highly recommended title.
Perhaps I have known too many useless academics, or I have read too many variations on the same dysfunctional family, or I just found nothing appealing about any of the characters presented. If I get this far without anything likeable happening or seeing the prospect for improvement, I have better reading options.
Maybe the book jacket has something encouraging...no, that is worse. Okay, check Amazon reviews: the positive ones indicate something I would not want to read ("a story for the 21st century, told with a perfect ear for everything: gangsta street talk; academic posturing, both British and American; down-home black Floridian straight talk; and sassy, profane kids, both black and white. "), and the negative ones suggest that she is doing it badly.
No hope left. I have better prospects. So do you.
PTN book club discussion of On Beauty
Friday, February 17, 2006
Rating - 1: not worth considering (burn it)
Horrible. If someone gives this book to your child, stab him and leave him in a pool of his own blood. If he recommends that you read it, go back and finish the job.
Sardine is a mischievous child on a outer space pirate ship full of naughty children. The forces of order want to stop them from having fun. The story takes occasional breaks from incoherence to become simply not funny. It is a graphic novel, and the art is consistently bad.
This title is recommended for children who might enjoy the Captain Underpants books but are too stupid to understand them. Also, if your child is hideously ugly, the drawings may make him feel better because of how atrocious everyone looks.
There are three things I can say in the book's favor. First, the villain looks like Captain Marvel as a Mexican wrestler, which is amusing. Second, it is translated from French, so perhaps someone maliciously mis-translated the entire thing. Third, it is technically possible that the book became better after I gave it up, though I have no reason to believe this.
Amazon link (please do not click it)
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Benjamin Franklin was a great American. His personality is America. He has that archetypical combination of idealism, cynicism, independence, love of commerce, vanity, and aspiration to virtue. You can find paeans to Franklins elsewhere, so I will move along.
The writing is a study in indirect characterization. Franklin tells about himself to some degree, but our sense of his character comes from what he describes himself doing and how he describes it. We see his priorities and pretensions, successes and "errata," his unique voice and emphasis.
Some of his emphases are probably just the style of the time in which he wrote and his intent in writing. Modern autobiographical works frequently focus on one's internal experiences and emotions: this is what happened, and this is how I reacted to it. Franklin is all about activity. The death of a child is relegated to a single paragraph, used to implore readers to inoculate their children. His wife appears for a few pages. Mostly, Franklin wants to talk about business, followed by public service. This is how this business went, this is how an investment turned out, this is how he got something through the legislature. The focus is on how to be successfully industrious.
Franklin never did master humility. "For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome [pride], I should probably be proud of my humility." (emphasis in original) There is a subdued sense of pride in almost everything, a quiet little "and that turned out rather well" after most ventures, or perhaps "and I met with the acclaim of the assembly." I suppose one is entitled to a bit of preening in one's autobiography, especially for such a figure. His obviously failed attempts to conceal his pride are endearing.
As a book, I must admit that it is flawed. There is an obvious break where he left the project and returned to it. The ending point seems entirely arbitrary, with the resolve to build a lighthouse. There is no attempt to make an arc out of the tale, no unifying theme. It is a history, a collection of vignettes on the general themes of "this is how to be successfully industrious" and "Franklin was a cool guy." My copy lacks two rather important words, the opening of the book: "Dear son." The idea that he is writing directly to his son might change some of how you interpret things, I would think. Franklin's writing style is that of another age, which I find comfortable, but which may not be appealing to some. As I said, I like his voice.
Will the scattered advice about specifics be useful to you? Unlikely. You will not be installing gas lanterns in your town anytime soon, nor will you be running a printing press by hand. But you will have a job and you will be active in the world, so approach the little stories as examples of how to deal with the world. In whatever you do, there are worse things you could be than a Franklin.
One of many online links