Review: Brief Reviews of Earlier Reads

The Fires of Merlin (The Lost Years of Merlin #3) by T.A. Barron

This has been the most disappointing book in the Merlin series, so far. It seemed to lack substance and flair. There are also many repeating themes and events – but not in a subtle way. It’s more like the author has chosen a few stock characters and re-uses them over and over. The story is still interesting and fun, I just hope the final two books will be better.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Truly remarkable. To imagine a world in which law is outlaw and in which priests are hunted down and killed, to the very last one… terribly troubling.

The Seven Songs of Merlin (The Lost Years of Merlin #2) by T.A. Barron

Even better than the first – and makes me truly look forward to the third! The many, many similarities to the Lord of the Rings and to the Harry Potter series are a bit unnerving, though. Dissertation topic? Hmmm.

The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron

This first book in the series of Young Merlin leaves me wanting more – which is why I’m already 100 pages into the second book at the time I’m writing this review for the first! Though classified as “independent reader” books – meaning, for ages 10-14 or so, the book is also mature in nature and prose. Barron is an excellent story-teller and, while it lacks the maturity and complexity of the later books in the Harry Potter series, this first book is quite comparable to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Definitely worth the read – fast paced, fun, interesting, exciting. I’m convinced.

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

Meh. I feel like this would make a pretty excellent movie, but the book (short as it was) dragged on and on. There was so much explanation of the fear, without any actual description of it… I suppose I’m a product of the “show, don’t tell” school of writing, because all Lovecraft did was tell, tell, tell. Even the descriptions -of apparently monstrous and terrifying alien beasts- were mundane and boring. Hard to do. I understand Lovecraft is supposed to be the godfather of terror but after this, my first experience, with his writing, I’m left disappointed. I doubt I’ll pick up another.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

We all know the story; we’ve all seen the movie. What we haven’t done, though, is read the book! And we should. The novella is quaint and brilliant and didactic and rough and everything purely and uniquely Dickensian. My only complaint is that this wasn’t one of Dickens’ longer works – it could have easily been a great novel. But it is still a beautiful little novella. Loved it. And what better time to read it than late December? “Merry Christmas, everyone!”

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Truly wonderful companion to the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The tales in themselves are clever but the addition of the footnotes by J.K.R. herself and by Hermione Granger as translator, compound with the explanatory commentary by Dumbledore after each story, makes this read like a Norton Critical Edition of any classical literary work. Fantastic. The final tale, “The Three Brothers,” is the one which is directly referenced in the final Harry Potter Book (The Deathly Hallows). Reading that last tale, as well as the whole book, really made me want to dive back into the original series. Also, many magical creatures, historical figures, potions, etc. are referenced in the novel, with a footnote to find more information in Rowling’s other two supplementary books, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages. The attention to detail remains fantastic and the series as a whole is beyond superb and is truly inspiring.

The Sluts by Dennis Cooper

Simultaneously the best and worst of Cooper’s novels. The worst because the story-line was a bit trite and the “internet-style” (is there a term for this yet? Web-lit? Blog-book?) is, at this point, outplayed and cliche. Though, to be fair, the book is probably one of the first to use the format, I’m just slow in picking it up. It’s also probably one of his best because the characters, though they all really turn out to be, well.. I don’t want to give anything away. Anyway, probably the most developed characters in any of his novels. The book took me months to read, though I normally fly through his books in a day. I think this is because I had a long-time relationship with a paranoid schizophrenic sociopath, and this book brought back incredibly vivid and unwelcome memories, so I tended to only read a few pages at a time. In any event, I do prefer the George Miles Cycle but Cooper still continues to prove that he’s a freak genius.

The Confusions of Young Torless by Robert Musil

An interestingly philosophical take on the “darker” side of boarding school life. While only one of the characters in the novel (the abused boy) was remotely believable, the idea has merit. Musil’s prose is quite beautiful and I believe he almost accomplished what he meant to – raising questions about youth and sexuality and morality and consciousness. Whether any of the ideas are sound or answered, well, that’s another debate altogether. Intriguing read, though.

Review: Previously Read, Briefly Reviewed

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

This collection of short stories has been sitting on my shelf for about a year. I love J.D. Salinger, but I suppose I was a bit leery of reading his short stories, as I’ve only read his novel The Catcher in the Rye and his dual-novella Franny and Zooey (Both of which I highly recommend). I had nothing to worry about, though. These short stories – admittedly, some more effective than others – are pure Salinger. They’re witty, sarcastic, sad, entertaining, and original. I particularly enjoyed the elliptical stories (the first and last stories in the collection) “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “Teddy.” They were incredibly moving and fantastically written. I will definitely read most of these stories, if not the whole collection, many times over.

Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim

Probably one of the best gay fiction(?) novels of all time. Painful, funny, dangerous, sexy, mature, and playful. Fantastic read.

Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania by Andy Behrman

Nothing special. Behrman tries too hard to be psychotic.

The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes

Absolutely beautiful collection of short stories, chronicling race relations in the American Jazz Age. Hughes writes a stunning anthropological study of the white race, in response to Dubois’s The Souls of Black Folk.

The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson & The Olympians #3) by Rick Riordan

Just another fantastic installment of the great “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series. Each new story is better than the last – the action is getting more intense, the danger more real and more powerful. Plus, Riordan’s knowledge of Classical Greek Mythology is superb. He turns that knowledge into something both useful and entertaining – education can be fun! I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoyed Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or similar fantasy genre series’. It’s not nearly as sophisticated as Lord of the Rings and the narrative construction doesn’t “progress” through time the way that the Harry Potter novels do, but it’s still a worthy, exciting read. Light but fruitful. Can’t wait to get number four!

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s exploration of the human conscience – the meaning of “madness” – is what made this play so revolutionary and it is what has kept the play so popular for over 300 years. Hamlet breaks tradition from previous revenge tragedies of the Jacobean, Elizabethan, and classical tragedies in that Shakespeare provides a “method” for the madness. The purpose of the “ghost” of Hamlet’s father remains debated today. The discussion of protestant vs catholic vs pagan beliefs is exciting.

The Arden edition is especially beneficial to students of literature or of Shakespeare because it provides excellent explanatory notes, appendices, introductions, etc.

Review: Briefer Reviews of Past Reads

Closer by Dennis Cooper

I always promise myself that Dennis Cooper will not be able to shock me again; yet, he somehow manages to do so. For most readers, the majority of this book -start to finish- will be quite shocking, especially to those unfamiliar with Cooper’s work. I was appropriately mortified along the way, but it wasn’t until near the end, in the last chapter, when I was genuinely surprised and disgusted. The story is about a boy, George, who bounces from lover to lover, being used to fulfill others’ needs. Even the “love” that he finds in the end is getting his rocks off on the side, and this, beyond any scatological or blood play, is what disgusted me most.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Very interesting. My first journey into the world of Kafka. He takes the metaphor and turns it into reality. Gregor, described as “verminlike” actually becomes a vermin, something similar to a cockroach. I’m not sure, however, what the point is supposed to be, and like many critics, I am left with more questions than answers. Why does Kafka hate Gregor so much in the first place? Granted, he is just a traveling salesmen – but he is working for a slimy manager in order to pay back his parents’ debts, and he plans on sending his sister to a music school. I found little so “cockroach-esque” or unappealing about Gregor – but he is forced into this vermin body and his family turns away from him. I’m not sure. I suppose I’ll have to read more about Kafka’s intentions and theorists’ interpretations before I settle on one feeling about this novel, if that’s even possible at all. It was good, though. Philosophically interesting – I just wonder why Kafka inserted such an average, generally decent and well-meaning guy to play the role of the vermin. Seems the manager would be more suited for that role.

Maurice by E.M. Forster

This is the first Forster novel I’ve read, but it certainly will not be the last.  Maurice is a painfully real tale about a man torn and despairing over his sexuality. Perhaps only a gay man can relate completely to this novel. Perhaps only a gay man who has attempted to deny his sexuality and “reform,” to become “normal,” can fully understand what Forster has attempted (with great success) in this novel. And, perhaps, only a gay man who has struggled painfully with his own desires, battled for acceptance, and finally found peace with himself and a lover to call his own can absolutely appreciate this beautiful story.

I believe, though, that Forster has written a touching love story, which will be accessible to anyone with an open mind and a caring, seasoned heart. The story of Maurice and Clive has been lived, in one form or another, by every one of us. The victory of Maurice and Alec is almost shout-out-loud joyous.

I have much more to say about this novel, but I suppose the only real suggestion I can make is this: read it.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour, An Introduction by J.D. Salinger

Broke my heart. Salinger stuns me. I wish more than anything that I could find him and spend a day just chatting with him. No interviews. No prying. Just talking about the weather.

Raise High and Seymour my not be my favorite “stories,” but I think these two installments of the Glass family literary legend are wholly necessary, especially Seymour. There is something incredibly moving and almost intolerably painful about Seymour’s story and about Buddy’s inability to concretely express the unique love that these two brothers share.

Salinger just seeps right into my bone marrow, and I can’t ever seem to kick the habit.

The Young Merlin Trilogy (Passager, Hobby, and Merlin) by Jane Yolen

Very interesting re-working of the tale of Merlin’s boyhood. The stories are interesting, exciting, and enjoyable – but they’re so short and fast-paced, it really leaves me craving more. This is good and bad. Good, because the stories obviously have something attractive and engaging about them. Bad, because there’s not enough there to leave me feeling satisfied. I want more! (I will probably end up researching the stories of Merlin for months to come, thanks to this series).

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt

I fear the title, “Possession: A Romance,” might attract a broad audience, one which will likely be unable to process all that goes on in this incredibly complex novel. No doubt, Byatt has created a masterpiece with this work. She weaves creative poetry, prose, essay, and literary scholarship with near flawless precision. Yet, and intentionally so, the novel will successfully serve only a small group of readers – those who are not just literature lovers, but readers with a substantial working understanding of literary theory and criticism. The pace is slow, and the references (both real and imaginary) to literary personages and works are difficult to wade through for a typical reader. As a literature scholar, however, I can honestly say that this is a work of epic proportion. Byatt leaves me stunned and envious.

Harold’s End by J.T. Leroy

Lot’s of editing/surface error problems which can be a bit distracting but, overall, the story is good. I don’t personally find it as disturbing as many reviewers seem to – not as much as, say, Sarah. (For really disturbing and experimental gay fiction, look up Dennis Cooper). However, in spite of myself, Harold’s End moved me quite a bit. More so after I sat down to think about the story and what it meant. A boy hustler, trying to make it on his own, meets one seemingly decent man who weans him from drugs and never forces him into anything. Even gives him a pet, Harold, to love and care for – then suddenly and without warning, he throws the boy back out into the streets. Really quite beautiful.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien has created an incredible universe, with which all future fantasy writers are doomed to compete. Though the dense description and Bible-like lineage lists can get dreary and overwhelming, the overall story, especially its imagery and themes, more than make up for it.

Dibs in Search of Self by Virginia M. Axline

Touching and fascinating story about a young boy whose behaviour is quite unusual. He appears to be intelligent, but he never communicates with anyone – his frustrated parents have given up hope on him but his teachers and one psychologist dare to hope for more. And their hopes possibly save this incredible boy’s life. The editing/proofreading of this printing isn’t exactly up to par, but the story (a true one) is definitely worth reading through the textual errors. Really enjoyed it.

My Loose Thread by Dennis Cooper

One of Dennis Cooper’s most incredible works. Two gay brothers (one who accepts what he is, the other denies it) both fall in love with the same boy – a depressed teenager with no real capacity for love. The boys’ rejection sends them into the arms of one another, fulfilling the sexual/physical desires they imagine having with their disturbed friend. The teen kills himself, which sends the brothers into confusion and insanity. Unbelievably sad, scary, and painful. Cooper is brutally honest in his depiction of gay teenage life, desire, and rejection – and all the psychological turmoil that

Review: Earlier Reads, Reviewed (Briefly)

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

A sad classic. Should be required reading fo all time.

My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier

I read this book in junior high and played the part of “Sam” in a class re-enactment. I remember the book being interesting and a bit sad. Worth the read.

Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman

Extremely moving story about a young man claiming his adulthood. Rudi is determined to fulfill his father’s dream, a dream the man died for – but, while Rudi does turn out to be the man his father would have hoped for, the accomplishment is somewhat unexpected. The story lags a bit at times, sometimes overly descriptive, but in general this is a touching, inspirational coming-of-age-story, stressing the importance of being true to one’s self and to one’s fellow-man.

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden

Very cute story about a lost cricket who is discovered to be a musical prodigy by his two subway friends, a cat and a mouse. A few instances of “humorous” racism (unconscious on the part of the author, I believe, but still present) against Italians and Chinese people can make the sensitive reader a bit uncomfortable, but the story is well intended and entertaining for children.

More Earlier Reads & Light Reviews

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

The Crying of Lot 49 is an apocalyptic narrative which deals with the thermodynamic concept of entropy. Pynchon prophecies the technological age and the lack of genuine communication/conversation between humans will result in the slowing down and eventually destruction of civilization.

Very interesting read, probably one of Pynchon’s more “accessible” novels, though I had to pop on the web a few times to get a better grasp of the thermodynamic concepts.

The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism by Vincent Leitch (Editor)

This is the graduate student in literature’s bible. No joke. The pages are even as thin, or thinner, than those in my Bible. It’s heavy, too. Literally and metaphorically. Essential. Also, probably the reason I now have hunched shoulders.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Incredible work of creative memoir and meta-fiction. Worth the read to anyone, especially those interested in war fiction (“non-fiction”). However, in response to reviews which state that this novel “takes no sides,” I am befuddled. The Things They Carried is every bit the anti-war novel. O’Brien implies and states pointedly that he was entirely against the war. On page 61 he even states that he was a coward for going to the war, because it meant choosing what was forced upon him rather than what he knew to be right.

In any case, great read. Eerily playful and profound.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Very interesting but not very entertaining. This is more a philosophical work than a piece of literature, but it is excellent for what it is. Those who read the back and become interested in the “love story” it touts might walk away a bit confused, if they finish the book at all. However, the very last section, “Karenin’s Smile,” is absolutely breath-taking.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Excellent read. Entertaining, sad, sexy. Great summertime, beach book.

Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de St. Exupery

This is the first book to ever make me wish I spoke French. Extraordinarily beautiful and imaginative. I read the book in one sitting, and look forward to picking it up again, or to sharing it with friends. It was truly wonderful and wondrous – I have far too much to say about it, but far too few words.

>Review: Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence

>Fast-paced, powerful, and engaging story about one of the trials of the century. Based on a true story, Inherit the Wind tells the tale of two “superstar” lawyers, battling over a schoolteacher’s imprisonment for including Evolution and Darwin’s text in his classroom. The trial takes place in rural Tennessee – the Bible Belt’s buckle. Though the play is brief, the drama and tension build, becoming almost alive -inhaling and exhaling as the pages turn. The characters are well-developed and demonstrative of their situations, without being grotesques. I truly believe this is an essential text for any aspiring educator and particularly beneficial for those practicing in less tolerant or progressive areas. A new favorite.

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