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review 2017-11-09 12:44
'The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas' by Gertrude Stein
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas - Gertrude Stein

If you start thinking too deep about Gertrude Stein's motivation and headspace in writing this book it's easy to lose yourself in a hall of mirrors. Stein — noted, notable, an influencer before #influencers were a thing — wrote this book "largely to amuse herself" [according to the back cover] in the persona of her partner Alice Toklas, but largely about herself. It is easy to find ways throughout the book that she seems to play with the form, frustrate expecatations, amuse herself, which makes it fun but can also feel like an inside joke, especially if you're not in on the game.

 

I was expecting to get away from the popular vision of Stein into the actual writing. I was knew little more than what I had seen read in Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, which was written much later, and seen in the movie Midnight in Paris, which presents a fan-fiction version of Stein, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and others in the Paris social circles of the time. Stein, played by Kathy Bates, comes across as a kind of oracle, a sought after voice of guidance who dashes off short, enigmatic quips to her cadre of famous artists and writers.

 

To my surprise, my image hasn't changed that much after reading this book. I imagine this is at least in part an effect of the playfulness, playing into the image that had been built of her. She shows us the same ultra-cool group around her, they all come to 27 rue de Fleurus for advice which is always more quizzical than practical. But when you expect intimacy, she changes the subject, when you expect to hear about art she cuts you off with a neologism, you're ready for more Picasso but she has already drifted to Picabia. 

 

The story constantly jumps from anecdote to anecdote, following thread forward through the years and back so that you lose track of the fact that the chapter that started 40 pages ago is supposed to be about 1907-1914. All her famous friends appear but rather than a revealing look, we get a glimpse and a quip. About Bebe Berard's paintings, she says, "they are almost something and then they are not." And Picabia, "although he has in a sense not a painter's gift he has an idea that has been and will be of immense value to all time." [I'll note that both these instances appear in the book attributed to Stein by Toklas.]

 

At the heart of my issue with this book, and the way it most conforms to the tell-all, is the assumption of a deep familiarity with the subject. Many things that are entirely uninteresting if it's some guy on the bus are suddenly newsworthy if it's done by Anne Hathaway. TMZ owes it's whole existance to this phenomenon and goofy sound effects. In more narrative stories, where the people are fictional or unknown, you would establish that connection between the reader and the principle characters, but in tell-alls and memoirs you can trade off the reader's existing connections to public figures.

 

Going back to Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson [the only name I will ever use for any character he portrays] meets a man at the party who introduces himself as Scott Fitzgerald. He is dumbstruck and the audience is expected to be as well because it's assumed we all know who F. Scott Fitzgerald is. If we had given the name Charles Boyle it would have been a very strange scene, no person watching would have any reason to know why meeting this Charles guy was exciting.

 

So it is here at points. There are so many artists and wives and personalities that flit in and out and we get no characterization. Of course I was very interested in the Hemingway part not only because I like his work but because I know something of his biography. Picasso's work I really enjoy but I know little of his life so I didn't really know what to make of the events that happened to him. He is with Fernande, then he is with Eve and neither mean much to me. I am told Stein and Toklas like Fernande but that's about as high as the stakes get. I know almost nothing of Cezanne's biography though I love his painting, same with Matisse. Juan Gris and Braque, I know their names and a few pieces, and many I don't know at all. 

 

That is why the writing feels so unconnected and why it dragged so much at moments, it sometimes felt like random pages torn out of a notebook and mixed up, there is a story there but I don't have all the pieces to make sense of it. 

 

Adding to the slowness, Stein uses a conversational style, which here means following loose trains of thought and bouncing around between subjects and time periods. In my mind I could picture Toklas professionally lit for a documentary and just speaking for hours straight running through the notable events of her life with Stein. But it doesn't build to anything and the chapters run to about 50 pages so staying focused took some doing. 

 

That is a lot of complaining for a book I enjoyed fine and may revisit someday, probably when I have learned more about Picasso and the art scene in early 20th century Paris. If that is your focus, this is surely a must-read, but if not, I'm hoping there are other routes into Stein that are more inviting.

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text 2017-10-30 00:51
Books I Read in October 2017
The Diamond Empire (A Diamonds Novel) - K'wan
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel - Jesmyn Ward
Brazen - Katherine Longshore
The Longest Memory - Fred D'Aguiar
The Tragedy of Brady Sims (Vintage Contemporaries) - Ernest J. Gaines
The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah

I read 6 books in October and am pleasantly surprised. I thought I'd only read 2 or 3. Has that ever happened to you? My highly anticipated read was The Tragedy of Brady Sims by Earnest J. Gaines. It was also my biggest disappointment. I was not wowed by it and the interest I had for the build up in this short novellla wasn't and was what I thought it would be. The other shocker was Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. I connected with only one of the characters (the son Jojo) and the story was a bit of multiple stories I'd read before. I didn't enjoy Salvage the Bones by her either. I think I stopped 75% through. I don't think her style of writing is for me. However, she is well regarded, loved and accoladed. 

 

The Nightingale and The Longest Memory were the "show stoppers" this month. These stories gutted me. Oh, the pain I felt. These two books I would highly recommend to anyone. It doesn't matter if you pick them up today, next month or years from now. Put them on your tbr or wishlist and read them! You won't regret it, I promise. I'm clearing out my YA shelves and have donated hundreds to date. This last purge I decided to keep some series that I started and loved, but didn't finish. Brazen (Royal Circle) is one of those I decided to keep. I had already read Guilt and Tarnish and enjoyed them. Brazen didn't disappoint. I do love historical fiction. Longshore wrote these in a style I could enjoy as well as her intended audience. 

 

 

 

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text 2017-10-28 17:19
Ready Player One: The Movie March 30, 2018
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

I'd heard rumors Ready Player One was going to be made into a movie. Now I see there is a release date and a trailer.  Yay! I cannot wait to see it. I hope they do the book justice. It's being made by Stephen Spielberg, so I have some confidence it will.

 

Trailer: http://readyplayeronemovie.com/

 

My advice, if this looks interesting to you and you haven't done so, read the book first!  The audio version narrated by Wil Wheaton is also excellent, if you like audio books.  No matter how good a job they do with the movie, it won't be able to be as good as the book.

 

READ THE BOOK! You know you wanna!

 

Review:

There are already very good and helpful reviews for this one, all I can really add is to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

In case any think they might be lost with the 80's cultural references and gaming, I don't think there's much to worry about.  For the most part things referenced are given enough information to be able to follow. 

 

Since a large portion of the action does take place within a mega online multiplayer computer game a reader would need to find that interesting in order to enjoy this, but don't assume you need to be a huge gamer to enjoy it.

 

I thought this was interesting, well-written, action packed and enjoyed it completely!

 

 

And in case this book made you want to play Atari's Adventure again, here ya go:

http://chrome.atari.com/adventure

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text 2017-10-08 22:41
Detection Club Bingo: My Progress So Far
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books - Martin Edwards
The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards
Murder of a Lady (British Library Crime Classics) - Anthony Wynne
The Tales of Max Carrados - Ernest Bramah,Stephen Fry
Pietr Le Letton - Georges Simenon

 

1. A New Era Dawns: Ernest Bramah - The Tales of Max Carrados

2. The Birth of the Golden Age
3. The Great Detectives
4. 'Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game!'
5. Miraculous Murders:
Anthony Wynne - Murder of a Lady
6. Serpents in Eden
7. Murder at the Manor
8. Capital Crimes
9. Resorting to Murder
10. Making Fun of Murder
11. Education, Education, Education
12. Playing Politics
13. Scientific Enquiries
14. The Long Arm of the Law
15. The Justice Game
16. Multiplying Murders
17. The Psychology of Crime
18. Inverted Mysteries
19. The Ironists
20. Fiction from Fact
21. Singletons
22. Across the Atlantic
23. Cosmopolitan Crimes:
Georges Simenon - Pietr le Letton (Pietr the Latvian)
24. The Way Ahead

 

Free Square / Eric the Skull: Martin Edwards - The Golden Age of Murder

 

The book that started it all:

Martin Edwards - The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books

 

The Detection Club Reading Lists:
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: The "100 Books" Presented
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 1-5

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 6 & 7
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 8-10
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 11-15
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 16-20
The story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 21-24

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review 2017-10-08 22:21
A Blind Sherlock Holmes
The Tales of Max Carrados - Ernest Bramah,Stephen Fry

 

Ernest Bramah's tales of the independently wealthy, blind amateur detective Max Carrados were once featured in Strand Magazine alongside Arthur Conan Dolye's Sherlock Holmes stories, and jointly with those and R. Austin Freeman's Dr. Thorndyke narratives they carried the distinction of having been singled out by George Orwell as "the only detective stories since Poe that are worth rereading."  Yet, like so much of Golden Age crime fiction their reputation didn't survive their own time, and once more it is thanks to Martin Edwards that I have discovered them ... though a resounding shout-out is due to Person of Interest for pointing me to this delicious audio version narrated by Stephen Fry.

 

Carrados has lost his eyesight as a consequence of a riding accident; he is suffering from the type of blindness known as amaurosis, i.e., vision loss that occurs without an apparent lesion affecting the eye.  (And yes, I looked that one up.)  Due to this fact, and also because he has since trained his other senses to replace his lost visual faculties, Carrados's blindness is not always immediately spotted by his interlocutors, and Bramah has great fun setting up these types of situations over and over -- a bit too much fun for the sake of credibility, in fact:  Martin Edwards quotes Bramah as having intended to highlight the "extraordinary achievements of blind people over the years," making special note of the fact that "many of the realities of fact have been deemed too improbable to be transferred to fiction."  Yet, Bramah's intent was quite obviously also to create a blind "great detective" in the same league as Sherlock Holmes -- whose methods of detection and sudden pronouncements of a solution that has been obvious to him alone while everybody else is still (figuratively) groping about in the dark are strikingly similar to Carrados's ... or rather, vice versa -- and in his intent to combine detective superpowers with an apparently severely crippling impairment Bramah overshoots the mark occasionally.  Only rarely do we  experience Carrados as much at the mercy of his seeing opponents as in the last story contained in this collection, "The Missing Witness Sensation."

 

Nevertheless, Bramah's style is engaging and the stories, which in this collection range from 1914 -- the year of Carrados's first appearance -- into the 1920s, are great fun to follow along, particularly of course when narrated by the one and only Stephen Fry.  (If it hadn't been for him I'd have given this collection a 4-star rating, but that just simply wouldn't have done justice to Fry's reading.  So only a half-star reduction remains to mark the fact that Carrados's faculties on occasion strain credibility.)  Not all of the mysteries concern murder; again like Sherlock Holmes, Carrados -- who in addition to being a detective is also an expert in numismatics -- is also called upon in particularly devious instances of theft and fraud.  And once more like the denizen of 221b Baker Street, Carrados has his Watson, a disbarred-lawyer-turned-professional-private-detective named Carlyle (a former school fellow of Carrados's; they meet again in their respective changed circumstances in the very first story, "The Coin of Dionysus," where Carlyle consults Carrados in his numismatic capacity, only to briskly unveil the would-be-detective), as well as a valet and driver named Parkinson, who very helpfully has a photographic memory. -- The stories are told from a third person narrative perspective, however, and neither Carlyle nor Parkinson appear in every single one of them.

 

In the context of the Detection Club bingo based on Martin Edwards's Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, this fulfills chapter / square 1, "A New Era Dawns."

 

In the context of the Halloween bingo, this would match the "Amateur Sleuth," "Murder Most Foul" and "Darkest London" squares; some of the stories would also qualify as "Locked Room Mysteries."

 

The Detection Club bingo card:

 

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