(copied and pasted from Goodreads, with some edits)
Six down, however many to go. If you find the tone of this review sardonic, more appropriate for panning the book, please believe me that I enjoyed this, even when there were lulls in the plot and emotionally difficult passages. Do not read this title without reading its five predecessors.
Snow and Ashes is, IMHO FWIW, the best-written of the series that I have read thus far. Dr. Gabaldon, fondly known as "Herself," truly solidified her writing style and her sense of narrative space by Book 6 of the Outlander saga. She also ratcheted up the sex and the violence for this one, as well as the sexual violence. The extended Fraser family's kill count increases dramatically—we Ian Murray, for example, has absorbed a shall-we-say very different view of life and death from his brief time as a Mohawk—and there's some wrenching rape and post-rape recovery narrative.
The paperback copy that I read came with a most ironic flaw: In addition to its 1400+ pages, in its middle third it has two clumps of 32 pages each that are repeats of pages already read. It's almost as if someone in the print room said, "Damn, this book just isn't thick enough. I know a way to fix that."
In my mind as I read, the soundtrack to this book consisted entirely of 10cc's "Things We Do for Love" on endless loop. Why did 20th century surgeon Dr. Claire Beauchamp Randall want so badly to return to the 18th century back in Voyager, gambling that she might not become Claire Fraser again, knowing the perils of the times? Oh yeah, that love thing. If it can make people kill, torture, steal, build elaborate webs of lies, and sacrifice themselves the way Gabaldon's characters do, love must indeed be the most powerful force in the universe. If that isn't Gabaldon's intended message, indeed of the entire series, I reckon it should be.
After 7,000 pages of the Outlander saga, I can usually tell shortly after a character's introduction whether that character will survive into the next installment or die in some grisly way. I will not tell you which of these types my two favorite minor characters are:
Easy to overlook, amid all the chaos in the run-up to the American Revolution, is the wickedly Faulknerian subplot involving Jaime's relatives at River Run and their 150-odd slaves who almost never run away. I really didn't want to mention the Starz TV adaptation in this review, but...here goes. If you're watching Seasons 4 and 5 of the miniseries, and you have grown to despise the ever-genteel Aunt Jocasta MacKenzie Cameron Cameron Cameron Innes, prepare to get your hate on even more. Jocasta isn't willfully evil, but she is a most unfortunate product of her times and her family tree.
And then there's the whole Stephen Bonnet mess, about which I'll say only this: The psychopaths and narcissists in this saga always show their human side and gain a smidgeon of sympathy from the reader; nonetheless, the reader still wants them dead.
Gabaldon's real strength is weaving history into the tapestry of bodice-ripper romance and sci-fi trappings. Unless you grow up in the Carolinas, you probably don't get much information in your history classes about how the Revolution went down in the southern colonies. We mostly learn of Boston and Philadelphia, not much else. Just as in the other twelve, North Carolina had its share of nasty colonist-on-colonist violence between the War of Regulation and the siege of Boston. Declaring yourself for one side or the other could be not just a death sentence but a "whole family tortured and killed plus your servants and your livestock stolen" sentence. But staying neutral didn't improve the situation. A group of settlers on a 10,000-acre plot in the Carolina Piedmont in the 1770s could take nothing for granted and had to remain on armed alert. Herself doesn't hit us over the head with a history lesson, but lets the characters interact with the history in intensely believable ways.
I am glad that my wife encouraged me to read this volume while we've been taking in Season 5 of the TV version, mostly because Season 5 borrows rather heavily from Book 6. What it borrows, I'd rather not spoil for you.
As usual, this is a lightly modified version of a review posted on Goodreads.
NOTE: I'm successfully resisting the temptation to read others' reviews before posting this one, although I did see that a Goodreads & Facebook friend also gave this book a full five. Primarily, I wanted to see whether any readers found any problems with Pollan's forays into describing the research protocols or the neuroscience.
FULL DISCLOSURE: To my knowledge, I have never taken any psychedelic substances, but I am currently taking Wellbutrin (bupropion) daily for moderate depression.
So...there's mountains of scientific evidence that tryptamines like LSD, psilocybin, and DMT (found in ayahuasca tea and in your own brain) can be used to help conquer addictions, various mental disorders, and fear of death. Further, these chemicals have shown greater effectiveness than commonly prescribed medications like my current pharmaceutical friend Wellbutrin—and you need only take them occasionally, not every day.
But you don't just eat magic mushrooms at a party and magically quit smoking the next morning: It has to occur in the correct setting, with the correct mindset, and with a trained guide. Despite their well documented efficacy, the US government has made unauthorized possession of these substances a federal crime, and has put the research on hold for most of the last half-century. So science has had to unearth or reinvent parts of the wheel it had in production back in the 1960s.
Whether he knew it or not at the beginning, Prof. Michael Pollan undertook a most ambitious odyssey in producing How to Change Your Mind. His account of that odyssey combines:
This non-review also appears on Goodreads.
The true test of whether you might enjoy Future Sounds—the Story of Electronic Music from Stockhausen to Skrillex is this: Scope the names listed not-quite-chronologically on the back jacket; if a few of them are familiar and beloved, read it. If nothing rings a bell or strikes your fancy, leave it aside. I found several names whose works I have devoured or merely enjoyed, and I loved seeing where in the multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle of electronic sound the author places them.
NOTE: The subtitle is a bit misleading, as the first few chapters explore music that predates Karlheinz Stockhausen significantly.
Future Sounds came into my possession via my wife's book prospecting trip to Brazos Books, my favorite indy bookseller in Houston. She has done this just a few times, sometimes surprising me with new releases in which I have expressed an interest, sometimes bringing home books I would have glanced at and moved on if I had gone myself. Jeff Tweedy's memoir Let's Go (So We Can Get Back) is an example of successful prospecting; the English translation of László Krasznahorkai's The World Goes On...less so (but some day, dammit, I will work through this rather challenging set of shorts, just as I plowed my way through Moby Dick).
This non-review of Ray Raphael's A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence can also be found on Goodreads.
Like most of the "People's History" catalog, Raphael's 2001 dive into the American Revolution is not an easy read, but it's an important one for anyone who knows that history is truly shaped by the masses and only focused through the actions of vanguards and élites. Major spoiler: Working people, women, and non-whites suffer a lot, and the aristocracy mostly benefits.
The legendary Sons of Liberty who planned and executed the Boston Tea Party were mostly upper- and middle-class Bostonians. They and the aristocrats in the Continental Congress and the officer corps, took major gambles to uphold certain principles of freedom and democracy. It took ten years for the gamble to pay off, during which time less fortunate folks in the colonies suffered various forms of privation, violence, and treachery. The People at Large, including millions of darker-skinned people, didn't get their share of the spoils. Freedom and democracy are much nicer if you have adequate food and shelter.
This is yet another sort-of review adapted from my assessment on Goodreads.
My ladyfriend bought me a copy of Let's Go (So We Can Get Back) for my birthday. She knows that I'm fond of thinking person's rock star memoirs and biopics. She told two helpful folks at Brazos Books that I really dig Patti Smith's written work and recently devoured Elvis Costello's autobiography; they both immediately suggested Jeff Tweedy's book, of which they just happened to have a signed copy. Good call. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of memories from Tweedy's 50-plus years on earth.
Jeff Tweedy is not exactly a household name, and I don't foresee Wilco's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame any time soon. Here is the total of what I knew about Tweedy and Wilco before I began reading:
Disclosure/disclaimer: As of this date, I'm not even half-way finished reading this rather thick memoir. But I'm loving every paragraph, and I don't envision it getting any less awesome. I earnestly wish that I had picked up this book when it first appeared in stores three years ago. As it is, I found it on a recent visit to Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City.
It must be said: Elvis is still the King.
Having been a fan since first seeing Elvis & the Attractions on Saturday Night about 40 years ago has certainly boosted my enjoyment of Declan Patrick MacManus's life story. I was just starting to flex my songwriting muscles, with laughable attempts at setting teen-angst lyrics in a prog-rock idiom. Elvis's third album Armed Forces came out shortly thereafter, and it got some airplay on the local AOR stations. Get Happy!! dropped in 1980; when I heard "New Amsterdam" on KTRU one lazy afternoon, I despaired of ever writing a song to top it no matter how long or hard I might try.
The Costello Method has always been about stealing ideas from the best possible influences and improving on them. Elvis injects this tome with numerous examples of how he discovered those influences. It's both disquieting and vindicating to learn that he dug Woodstock-scene bands and songwriters like the Beatles and the Byrds/CSNY/Joni Mitchell axis: it certainly explains how he could sing "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?" with such Springsteen-esque sincerity, making it his own with help from the guy who wrote and sang it first (Nick Lowe, recording with Brinsley Schwarz).
Enough rhapsodizing about the man and his music. Let's talk about...his acting! He delivered my favorite bits in 200 Cigarettes (which I love) and Straight to Hell (which I otherwise loathe, and which I doubt I'll ever watch a second time).
Nah, jk, let's focus on the book itself.
You don't need to be an OG fanboy like me to enjoy the writing. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Elvis Costello manages to place the reader right in the middle of those times and places and experiences, but with the cool detachment. At times he seems to be writing about someone he's never met, even while using first-person pronouns.
If you're put off by memoirs that mess with chronology, you may be less than thrilled with the narrative path here. Elvis's approach is more contextual than chronological. The main thread goes from birth to publication, but there are frequent detours when an event from, say, 1963 reminds him of a similar event from 1982.
One remarkable literary accomplishment is Elvis's detailed illustrations of how remarkably different England in the 1950s-'70s was from today's England, or from the US of that time. Also on full display is how the music business has evolved from the '50s to his hey-day to the present. He doesn't come out and say, "Things were different in the following ways..." The old rule of "show, not tell" is in full effect. The stories of UK hit factories churning out UK versions of US hit records (often sung by his father under various pseudonyms) before the US records reached UK record shelves are pure gold.
Another feature I love is the relentless name-dropping, with anecdotes of catching rock stars, other entertainers, producers, and executives in moments of unvarnished humanity. (Sadly, the paperback edition does not include an index.) Yes some of those people were assholes, or at least acting that way in the moment, and Elvis is usually kind of enough not to drop their names. Even before his career really began, he was able to meet some of the giants of British music, mostly because England is a fairly small place where nobody is more than three degrees of separation from anyone else.
Elvis acknowledges that his own father, philandering dance-hall singer Ross MacManus, could be a bit of an asshole, but he never stoops to deleting the good memories or reducing him to subhuman status. He then acknowledges some of the foibles he inherited from Ross, without dwelling on it too much, such as the infidelities that spoilt his first marriage.
If, in the next 300+ pages, I find any more awesomeness that I absolutely must include in this review, I'll come back and add it. Then I will finally replace my long-lost Costello LPs with CDs and give them all a thorough listen or two—especially Armed Forces, Get Happy!!, Trust, Imperial Bedroom (aka IbMePdErRoIoAmL), and Spike.
Before dbcgreentx.net and I go on a two-week vacation, I feel compelled to copy and paste my latest Goodreads review. Here's my take on Stephanie Wittels Wachs's memoir Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful—a Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love and Loss.
Humblebragging is an art form. It's an art form not practiced widely here in Texas, where we're more skilled in traditional braggartry. Even people from Humble, Texas (the initial H is silent) are more likely to straight-up brag on themselves, their loved ones, and of course their state.
To honor Harris Wittels, the man credited with coining "humblebrag," I wanted to start this review with an example thereof. But I'm a shade humbler than most of my neighbors in Texas, and bragging of any type does not come naturally to me. The closest I can get is to say that I know the author, and that I have adored her since my son introduced her to me about a decade ago. At the time, he was a musical theatre student at Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and Stephanie Wittels, then about 27, was an adjunct acting coach helping out with stage productions.
Or perhaps I can go a step further to say that I know someone who knows some of the hottest names in modern American comedy, someone who can get Aziz Ansari to write (or in this case recycle material for) a foreword.
This entry is adapted from my review of Drums of Autumn on Goodreads. From scanning other reviews there, it appears to me that a sizable percentage of Outlander series consumers hit the wall in the fourth volume. It's not an easy-breezy read, and it doesn't reward the reader sufficiently for the effort, says this non-reviewer. Most likely, I will plow through the remainder of the series, mostly on the strength of Diana Gabaldon's character depictions and development, and watch Season 4 when it drops in November.
One of the benefits of painstaking accuracy in historical fiction is the richness of the imagery that makes the reader feel there. One of the risks of painstaking accuracy in historical fiction is that the interest level of the plot may suffer in sacrifice to that accuracy.
Dr. Gabaldon's Drums of Autumn is big and sweeping enough to provide ample examples of both the benefit and the risk. Despite its size and scope, I don't have a lot more to say about it.
One downside of this large multi-volume saga, now that I'm four volumes in, is that I'm having trouble remembering what happened in which of the volumes. What, you mean I need to have my copy handy in order to review it, or risk moaning about a sub-optimal plot point that actually happens in Voyager? Do tell!
PRELIMINARY NOTE: In this non-review, I spell the composer's name Chaykovskiy, a more accurate English transliteration of the Russian Чайковский than the French Tchaikovsky or German Tschaikowsky.
No, this is not a review. It's a rant. You can also find it on Goodreads. But first, some thanks.
I thank Bob Fazakerly, the long-serving keyboard accompanist at my church, for lending me this not-quite-biography. When I first joined the church, our backup accompanist was Jimmy Mathis, a dear friend of Van Cliburn from their Juilliard days, who is quoted extensively in the book.
I also thank Cliburn himself for recording My Favorite Chopin while still hale and hearty, basking in the afterglow of his inaugural Chaykovskiy Competition victory. His Polonaise in A-flat still gives me spinal shivers of awe. Like Cliburn, Freddy Chopin was a skinny, neurasthenic kid who kept his orientation hidden for years and could get crowds swooning with his playing. Legend has it that, by the time he had finished writing that particular Polonaise, he was too weak from consumption to perform it. (Thanks to you as well, Freddy.)
This is Volume III in the continuing saga of How My GF Convinced Me to Read the Outlander Series without Trying Very Hard. The first two volumes are here and here.
I will freely admit that the video adaptation on Starz played a big part in getting me to dive into the books three whole years after Kayleen first raved about them to me.
For the record, Voyager, the third novel in Diana Gabaldon's series, was first published in 1994, a little before the Star Trek franchise spawned its series that was also entitled Voyager. In the year following its publication, the book won an honor from Entertainment Weekly for Best Opening Line in a novel. Even if the opening doesn't make you chuckle, know that there are chuckles aplenty, and even a few LOLs, in this sweeping tale.
Blogging Sporadically since 2014
Here you will find political campaign-related entries, as well as some about my literature, Houston underground arts, peace & justice, urban cycling, soccer, alt-religion, and other topics.