Happy Tuesday, fellow bloggers & bibliophiles the world around! I hope this post finds you happy, healthy, and well.
I already posted these reviews on Goodreads. If y’all’re interested in reading any of the synopses, just click the linked titles below. And if you’ve read any of these books, I’d love to hear what you think in my Comments section. You know, way down yonder at the bottom.
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje. I rated it 1 of 5 stars, “did not like it”, and shelved it there as fiction, historical fiction, & literary.
Although I didn’t much care for Warlight, I don’t deny that it’s a monumental feat of weaving copious amounts of research from numerous and varied sources into a coherent narrative. At the level of sentence and paragraph, Ondaatje is a fine writer with an extensive vocabulary custom-tailored to the plot. His prose is lucid and virtually error-free.
I flirted with rating Warlight 2 stars instead of one largely because of Ondaatje’s technical and literary expertise, but what settled it for me in the end was my inability to connect with any of the main characters; there was nothing tethering me to the story’s outcome.
Although protagonist Nathaniel “Stitch” Williams; his Mother Rose Williams aka Viola; guardian Walter aka The Moth; guardian Norman Marshall aka The Pimlico Darter; and a few lesser characters all seem to have desires they attempt to fulfill (Nathaniel’s sister Rachel “Wren” Williams is a disappointing missed opportunity), they pursue them dispassionately, almost devoid of discernible emotion, as if they are compelled to do so and cannot do otherwise.
The novel reads as a well-orchestrated puppet play in which all the wooden characters plod toward a predestined end in service of the as-yet untold and still never fully revealed story of extensive European espionage that sought to terminate the myriad unresolved national conflicts following the official end of World War II. After reading the Acknowledgments, I suspect I would find some of the nonfiction sources underpinning Warlight more interesting.
I caught myself rushing through the book on several occasions because I was hesitant to give up on an acknowledged master like Ondaatje but wanted very badly to be finished with it. With apologies to the author, this one just wasn’t for me.
Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman. I rated it 3 of 5 stars, “liked it”, on Goodreads and shelved it there as American, audiobooks, humor, memoir, & nonfiction.
Even as far as (almost) halfway through this audiobook, I was leaning toward rating Vacationland 2 stars. I couldn’t help but think of Hodgman as a smarmier, snarkier, whinier, rich man’s version of Tom Papa, whose middle-class sensibilities and humor I enjoy.
But a funny thing happened as I continued to listen. Hodgman’s high-pitched voice stopped sounding whiny, and as he gradually moved from talking about his upper-class upbringing and the upper-crust disdain he maintained following his financial success to the evolution of his sympathy for the common people through his journey into parenthood and middle age, I became more well-disposed toward him and his story. The smarm and the snark sounded less like affectation and more like dry, rapier-sharp wit, and I found myself laughing out loud, though often belatedly as it took me a few seconds to get the joke, at his accurate and poignant observations of his own flaws and failings and of the human condition in general.
I’m glad I stuck with Vacationland, and if, as eventually happened with Tom Papa’s Your Dad Stole My Rake, I stumble across a copy of it at McKay’s Used Books, I’ll snatch it up to put on my shelf.
The Dean: The Best Seat in the House, from FDR to Obama by Rep. John D. Dingell with David Bender. I rated it 1 of 5 stars, “did not like it”, on Goodreads and shelved it there as American, autobiography, memoir, nonfiction, politics, & wish I had not read.
I was very disappointed with The Dean mainly because it isn’t at all what I was expecting, which as the book jacket synopsis claims is “the inside story of the greatest legislative achievements in modern American history and of the tough fights that made them possible.” No. It is most certainly not that. Perhaps the overblown hyperbole of that claim should’ve put me on alert, but the rest of the synopsis had me convinced I was going to learn the nitty-gritty details of all the bipartisan wrangling Mr. Dingell accomplished to get his beneficial legislation passed.
The Dean hardly deals with that at all. Yes, Dingell does spend some time writing about some of the laws he got passed and who helped him. But what this book boils down to is nostalgic puffery as an old, privileged, powerful American male (he was 92 when he died just a few months after this book was published) reflects misty-eyed through rose-tinted glasses and with the help of an equally jaded and almost as old coauthor at his long life and career of public service and declares that all he’s lived and done was good. Except for the new breed of young, selfish, greedy lawmakers who have no knowledge of or concern with how to work together to pass good laws to help the poor & underprivileged like Dingell and his daddy before him did.
To his credit, Dingell did a whole lot of good for a whole lot of Americans for a really long time during his 59-year, 11-month career in Congress. I have no doubt that an experienced, competent, unbiased biographer will someday publish an excellent, objective Dingell biography, maybe even with a multi-volume career retrospective to accompany it. But The Dean is neither. I wish I had spent the 5 days it took me to read it on something else.
Have y’all read any of the above? What did you think? Do tell!