Friday, February 25, 2011

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

Rating 3.5/5

This book was a bit strange. Consistency-wise, it was lumpy in some places and watery in others. I'm still not sure what the point of it was, which is pretty hard to take in a tome of this size. All that effort, and all you get at the end is a petering out, like the author just got sick of his story, and a bunch of unanswered questions. That leaves a bad taste in your mouth, though I enjoyed a great deal of this book while I was reading it, and it is certainly memorable.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King

Rating 4/5

I'm giving this 4 stars even though I thought the first story in this collection of four only deserves 2 stars. I almost quit reading this book because of that initial novella, but I'm glad I didn't, because the other three were great. Even the Afterward was amusing. It was part diatribe, part explanation of his story ideas, and somewhat defensive-sounding. It starts off saying that the stories in Full Dark are "harsh". That may be true, but I didn't experience them as harsh while I was reading. And I can't imagine King's other "Constant Readers" being shocked by them either. These stories have perhaps more realism and less supernaturalism than is usual for King, but they are just as horrific, and maybe that equals harsh. Because reality is sometimes a horror story too. I personally prefer King's longer, more heavily populated stories, but then I'm not a big short story fan to begin with. In either format, this author's top skill is his ability to flesh out his characters' personalities and make them extremely real. He does this not by description, but by bringing us into the minutiae of their minds and memories. He makes us know and care about them, thereby assuring that we will share their terror and suffering.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing, and the Science of Suffering by Melanie Thernstrom

Rating: 3/5

I read a few reviews before I started this book, and I thought I would like it more. It has 3 aspects - memoir, history and science/technical - all mashed up together. A lot of people complained about this, but I think it was necessary to make the book readable. The technical/science writing was so dull I found myself spacing out a lot, and needed the memoir and history parts to pull my attention back. As a person with chronic pain, sometimes the information in this book made me feel so hopeless I had to put it down. That's not the author's fault, though. The truth is, we are very far away from effective treatment for most chronic pain cases, and it's possible there is no answer at all. That's pretty depressing. The fact that I finished this book at all proves it has some merit.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Unlimiting Mind: The Radically Experiential Psychology of Buddhism by Andrew Olendzki

Rating 3/5

An extremely intellectual approach to Buddhism. I used to think I liked that sort of thing, but perhaps not to this extreme. I actually found it discouragingingly inaccessible - it gave me the feeling that the "goals" of practice are pretty much unreachable for someone like me. I'm not sure exactly why that is. There is much to be garnered from this book, however, and it will be worthwhile to read it again in the future. Sometimes you're just not in the right place on your path to get a lot out of a certain book, and I think that's what's happened to me here. I look forward to the day when it will speak to me.

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him: The Pilgrimage Of Psychotherapy Patients by Sheldon B. Kopp

Rating 3/5

There are a lot of good ideas in this book, and much of it is compelling reading. Still, I found myself turned off when the author wrote about himself. He seems a bit holier-than-thou at certain points, even though (or perhaps because) he takes pains to repeat that he's just an ordinary guy like everyone else. He says that, but he also seems to try infuse his descriptions of his experience with a mystical quality. Maybe it's just me. Also, it kind of ruins his credibility when he says things like, "Homosexuality is heterosexuality gone astray." I know that was the accepted "diagnosis" at the time the book was written, but it calls into question everything else he has to say. Nonetheless, it's worth reading. Take what you can and discard the rest.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot

Rating 4/5

It took me 400 pages to stop despairing I'd never be able to finish this book, and then the closer I got to the end, the more I didn't ever want it to be finished. I can't rightly say whether this is because the book got better as it went, or whether I just got better at reading it. I was so disappointed in myself for the first half of the book, knowing that this was supposed to be such a great story and not enjoying it. Every fifth (run-on) sentence in the first half had me rereading it several times, and not always successfully divining its meaning. Some of this was due to my complete lack of knowledge about British politics of the era, but sometimes I just couldn't figure out what the hell Eliot was getting at. Which was pretty sad for me since it's not like I'm unfamiliar with classic English literature. But I found things much easier going and indeed engrossing during the second half, and finally (with relief) can say that I "get it" about this book. While I'm still not sure that the effusive amount of detail about what was going on in the characters' minds was all of it necessary (obviously no writer back then had been taught to "show, not tell"), I can see what it - eventually - added to the book. It takes awhile, but at length we become intensely emotionally invested in the characters' fortunes, which for me is the sign of a great story.