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text 2017-10-16 17:55
The solution to my latest FWP
Memoirs and Selected Letters (Library of America #50) - Mary D. McFeely,William S. McFeely,Ulysses S. Grant

In a few weeks I'm going on a week-long cruise. It's courtesy of my in-laws, who are footing the bill for the family so they can treat their grandkids to some Disney fun. I'm looking forward to it, though I'm wrestling now with the big question every reader faces of what to take.

 

For me the problem with a cruise is the isolation from options should I finish what I'm reading early or find that I don't like it. In the past this was a minor issue, which I resolved by either borrowing an available book or making my way to a bookstore and picking something out from what's available. This is something that I wouldn't have done if I had an e-reader, and it's one of the reasons why I'm glad I don't as the opportunity to read books that I otherwise might not have opened me up to some works that I really enjoyed.

 

Only that's not possible on a cruise. We will spend a week either on the open seas or in a corporate enclave (because that's where they send tourists on these things), which means my reading options will be severely constrained. Basically my only recourse to whatever I bring along will be the library of books other tourists leave behind. If they're anything like the one on my last cruise, my options will be limited to Dan Brown-level garbage and self-help books that were so helpful they were left behind. So I need to think ahead more than I would otherwise.

 

I'm limiting myself to two books. One I've had picked out for months, and while I'm sure I'll like it I may also finish it mid-cruise. So the second one has to be able to sustain me for a few days, both in terms of length and readability, yet not be so large as to clog my limited luggage space.

 

This morning I had an epiphany: why not take Grant's memoirs?

Ulysses Grant's memoirs are generally regarded as one of the great works of American literature. For years I've had a copy on my shelf of the Library of America edition, which is perfect for my needs -- compact, well-bound, and generously supplemented with a selection of his letters. Given the attention Grant is getting right now thanks to Ron Chernow's new biography, it seems an ideal time to take it on and read it for myself.

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text 2017-09-01 15:24
Audible Sale Pile
American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant - Ronald C. White Jr.,Arthur Morey
Secretariat - William Nack,Grover Gardner
The Odessa File - Frederick Forsyth,Frederick Davidson

I love shopping the sale pile. I found a bunch there that I already owned and three more to add to my library. This will keep me going for a while, don't you think. 

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review 2017-01-09 21:36
Books of 1916: Part Three
Light and Darkness - Soseki Natsume
Kusamakura and Kokoro by Soseki NATSUME (Japanese Edition) - kisaragishogo
Grass on the Wayside (Michikusa) - Soseki Natsume,Translated and with an Introduction by Edwin McClellan
The Magic Mountain - Thomas Mann,John E. Woods
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - Seamus Deane,James Joyce
Stephen Hero - James Joyce
Ulysses - James Joyce Ulysses - James Joyce
Exiles - James Joyce

Books of 1916: Part Three: Natsume Soseki and James Joyce

 

Light and Darkness by Natsume Soseki

 

This unfinished novel, which was serialized in a newspaper, was Natsume Soseki’s last work, as he died of an ulcer in 1916. As the story begins, the main character Tsuda is going to have an operation on his intestines that sounds incredibly unsound and unclean. Think of the horrible and bizarre medical care we get today and then imagine it 100 times worse! So I was really worried about what was going to happen to Tsuda and felt that he was putting his head in the sand by worrying about his money troubles and his relationship with his wife, etc. But it turned out that the book really was about those things. Tsuda’s illness and operation ended up seeming more metaphorical than an important plot point.

 

I’m sorry to say that I really struggled to get from one end of this book to the other. I adored Natsume Soseki’s other books Kokoro and Grass on the Wayside. They were so lovely and brilliant. But he didn’t get a chance to edit this book and get it into shape, plus it sounds like he was sick and worried the whole time he was writing it. The afterword said that some critics consider this novel a “postmodern masterpiece” precisely because it is unfinished. But it wasn’t the lack of ending that did me in, it was the whole middle of the book, which dragged and was hard for me to focus on. I liked hearing from the point of view of Tsuda’s wife, O-Nobu, except that it went on and on without resolution. I also liked seeing all the period details of Japanese life, especially now that I’ve actually been to Japan.

 

Tsuda was a little bit like the main character in Grass on the Wayside in that he didn’t have very good social skills and tended to say things that made people feel bad without meaning to. The story really picked up at the end, when we finally learn Tsuda’s secret, that he has never gotten over the woman he used to love, and he goes to see her in a sanatorium, sort of like the one in The Magic Mountain except Japanese of course. His pretext is that he’s recovering from the surgery and he wants to take the waters, but naturally I was wondering if his pretext would turn out to be the truth and he would never leave. This was the section that I enjoyed the most but of course it came to an abrupt end.

 

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

 

When I think of James Joyce, I always think of three people in my life who felt very strongly about him. First was my mother, who was a big James Joyce fan and talked to me a lot about him. Second, a boyfriend I had who was also a big Joyce fan, and we used to read bits of Stephen Hero and Ulysses out loud to each other. Third, my wife Aine, who had been forced to read some Joyce in secondary school in County Clare and absolutely hated him, and all other Irish writers she read in school (except Oscar Wilde.) She said they were all pretentious wankers. Early on, I had to work hard to convince her that James Joyce was not a Protestant, as she had lumped him together in her mind with Synge, Yeats, Shaw etc. In fact, just now when I read her this paragraph to see if she endorsed my characterization of her views, I had to persuade her once again that Joyce was not Anglo-Irish.

 

I read Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man in 2002, sure that I was going to love it as much as I loved everything else I’d read by Joyce. And indeed I was hooked by the opening page (“When you wet the bed, first it is warm and then it gets cold.”) I loved reading about the childhood of this sensitive boy Stephen Dedalus, and how his family argued at the dinner table about Parnell, and all about the scary priests who ran everything. But then I got to the part where Stephen starts going to prostitutes at around the age of fifteen, and I was completely bewildered and grossed out. Then he catches religion and becomes devout. Then he starts rabbiting on about art and aestheticism.

 

I had utterly lost sympathy with the protagonist and the author. Not only that, this Stephen Dedalus character began to remind me incredibly strongly of the Joyce-worshipping boyfriend, whom I had just broken up with weeks earlier. They were both totally pretentious and couldn’t keep it in their pants! (This is the same boyfriend who would get me so angry, the one I mentioned earlier in my review of These Twain. He’s certainly getting a harsh edit in these book reviews. Who knew he was so inextricably linked to 1916? He did have many good qualities, which were not at the forefront of my mind when read Portrait of the Artist.)

 

I ended up despising this novel. I bet if I re-read it now having had more life experience, I would have a more gentle and forgiving eye, but I probably never will. (Also, what kind of person likes Stephen Hero but not this one, when Stephen Hero is just an earlier draft of the same book? I think it’s pretty clear that the problem was mainly me, or mainly the ex-boyfriend.) I do get another chance to give James Joyce a fair shake in 1918 with his play Exiles.

 

I inherited my mom’s copy of this novel. It’s all marked up with notes, including D.H. Lawrence’s assessment of Joyce—“too terribly would-be and done-on-purpose, utterly without spontaneity or real life”—to which I say, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Much more magically, this copy contains photographs of me and my mom and Aine. Look at how happy we all were back then! These were from my birthday, in 2010 or even earlier.

 

 

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review 2016-12-06 00:00
American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant
American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant - Ronald C. White Jr. So this was unapologetically and ragingly partisan, which was pretty charming on the whole. I've heard enough outlines and other sides on Grant to patch in the details, and it's explicitly meant to stand in opposition to anti-Grant books.

In any case, I like Grant, and am happy to read all about him, and the book is detailed and interesting. I hadn't heard much about his later life, and even the war stuff which everyone knows pretty well had some fresh takes, while mostly avoiding getting bogged in details. I think my favourite sections were the presidential campaigns, which were so bananapants back then.

The narrator did a good job, but there a lot of small either reading or copy errors, with the wrong word in places.

I'd be interesting in an bio of Stanton next.
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review 2016-11-27 23:05
Review of American Ulysses by Ronald White
American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant - Ronald C. White Jr.

A new favorite! Ronald White's biography of Abraham Lincoln was one of my favorite reads of the past few years, and I was very excited to see him come out with this book and picked it up right away. I was not disappointed as I find White's writing style and ability to tell a good story to be outstanding. I personally really enjoy reading about Grant the man and this book does a fantastic job looking at all parts of his amazing life. I think White was fair in addressing criticisms of Grant, although I do acknowledge that at times it seemed as if White felt Grant could do no wrong. 

Highly recommended!

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