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The notorious novel of a Hollywood heel!


What Makes Sammy Run?

Bantam, 1941, 288 pages




Every one of us knows someone who runs. He is one of the symptoms of our times-from the little man who shoves you out of the way on the street to the go-getter who shoves you out of a job in the office to the Fuehrer who shoves you out of the world. And all of us have stopped to wonder, at some time or another, what it is that makes these people tick. What makes them run?

This is the question Schulberg has asked himself, and the answer is the first novel written with the indignation that only a young writer with talent and ideals could concentrate into a manuscript. It is the story of Sammy Glick, the man with a positive genius for being a heel, who runs through New York's East Side, through newspaper ranks and finally through Hollywood, leaving in his wake the wrecked careers of his associates; for this is his tragedy and his chief characteristic-his congenital incapacity for friendship.

An older and more experienced novelist might have tempered his story and, in so doing, destroyed one of its outstanding qualities. Compromise would mar the portrait of Sammy Glick. Schulberg has etched it in pure vitriol, and dissected his victim with a precision that is almost frightening.

When a fragment of this book appeared as a short story in a national magazine, Schulberg was surprised at the number of letters he received from people convinced they knew Sammy Glick's real name. But speculation as to his real identity would be utterly fruitless, for Sammy is a composite picture of a loud and spectacular minority bitterly resented by the many decent and sincere artists who are trying honestly to realize the measureless potentialities of motion pictures. To this group belongs Schulberg himself, who has not only worked as a screen writer since his graduation from Dartmouth College in 1936, but has spent his life, literally, in the heart of the motion-picture colony. In the course of finding out what makes Sammy run (an operation in which the reader is spared none of the gruesome details) Schulberg has poured out everything he has felt about that place. The result is a book which the publishers not only believe to be the most honest ever written about Hollywood, but a penetrating study of one kind of twentieth-century success that is peculiar to no single race of people or walk of life.


The most narcissistic anti-hero ever - Sammy Glick IS Hollywood. )

Verdict: An outstanding, funny, tragic, and entertaining novel about a despicable main character who epitomizes every venal Hollywood stereotype, and an excellent read for the prose and dialog as well as the characters. What Makes Sammy Run? is still appalling and entertaining; it may be about Hollywood in the 30s, but Hollywood is still full of Sammy Glicks. 10/10 and highly recommended!




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An ambitious sociopath works his way through three sisters.


A Kiss Before Dying

Signet, 1954, 191 pages




A Kiss Before Dying not only debuted the talent of best-selling novelist Ira Levin to rave reviews, it also set a new standard in the art of mystery and suspense. Now a modern classic, as gripping in its tautly plotted action as it is penetrating in its exploration of a criminal mind, it tells the shocking tale of a young man who will stop at nothing--not even murder--to get where he wants to go. For he has dreams; plans. He also has charm, good looks, sex appeal, intelligence. And he has a problem. Her name is Dorothy; she loves him, and she's pregnant. The solution may demand desperate measures. But, then, he looks like the kind of guy who could get away with murder. Compellingly, step by determined step, the novel follows this young man in his execution of one plan he had neither dreamed nor foreseen. Nor does he foresee how inexorably he will be enmeshed in the consequences of his own extreme deed.


A good book by the author of 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'The Stepford Wives,' but a horrible movie. )

Verdict: Read the book, skip the movie, at least the more recent version. A Kiss Before Dying is a clever little 1950s thriller, all plot and smart characters, and not too much suspension of disbelief (though the ending is wrapped up a little too neatly). 8/10.




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Never trust a professor who wants you to stay in a haunted house, and watch out for the quiet ones.


The Haunting of Hill House

Penguin Books, 1959, 246 pages




Past the rusted gates and untrimmed hedges, Hill House broods and waits.

Four seekers have come to the ugly, abandoned old mansion: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of the psychic phenomenon called haunting; Theodora, his lovely and lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a lonely, homeless girl well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the adventurous future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable noises and self-closing doors, but Hill House is gathering its powers and will soon choose one of them to make its own.


Inspiration for every haunted house story since. Investigate this, Scoobies! )

Verdict: A bit dated, not the first and maybe not the best haunted house story ever, The Haunting of Hill House remains a creepy tale perfect for Halloween from an American master of understated horror. 9/10

Also by Shirley Jackson: My review of We Have Always Lived in the Castle.




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The sailor she rejected when he was poor is now rich, and she's unmarried at 27.


Persuasion

Originally published in 1817, 236 pages. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.




Anne Elliot has grieved for seven years over the loss of her first love, Captain Frederick Wentworth. But events conspire to unravel the knots of deceit and misunderstanding in this beguiling and gently comic story of love and fidelity.


Perhaps the most outright romantic of Austen's novels, with torches carried for seven years, and an Austenian heroine married off more happily than the author. )

Verdict: Not my favorite Austen, but not my least favorite either. Austen's prose is as flawless as usual, and Persuasion is finely plotted. It loses points for missing the humor and poignancy I found more abundantly in Austen's other novels. 7/10.

Also by Jane Austen: My reviews of Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Emma.




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A post-apocalyptic novel that came at the wrong time, and then got shafted by Kevin Costner.


The Postman

Spectra, 1985, 321 pages




This is the story of a lie that became the most powerful kind of truth. A timeless novel as urgently compelling as War Day or Alas, Babylon, David Brin's The Postman is the dramatically moving saga of a man who rekindled the spirit of America through the power of a dream, from a modern master of science fiction.

He was a survivor--a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war. Fate touches him one chill winter's day when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker to protect himself from the cold. The old, worn uniform still has power as a symbol of hope, and with it he begins to weave his greatest tale, of a nation on the road to recovery


It was better than Waterworld! )

Verdict: A smartly plotted novel with bits of political and scientific philosophy sprinkled into the story, The Postman is a superior TEOTWAKI novel that would probably have sold better if it were published today. And if it weren't wrecked by an awful Kevin Costner movie.





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Movie Review: The Act of Killing

The Act of Killing

This Academy Award-nominated film was strange, surreal, deeply disturbing, and hard to watch. Synopses do not do it justice, but you can watch it on Netflix, or free on YouTube.

It's a documentary about the 1965-66 "purge" of communists in Indonesia, in which somewhere between half a million and a million people were slaughtered by death squads.

Obviously, there is a lot of historical and political baggage surrounding this (the filmmaker, Joshua Oppenheimer, has explicitly called out Western governments for their role in the slaughter), but The Act of Killing is not really a study of geopolitics or ideology. "Communists" was just shorthand for "Anyone in our way" (many of the victims were ethnic Chinese, targeted for that fact alone), and this is quite evident in listening to the former killers talk about them.

Indeed, this is what I found most fascinating about the film. Oppenheimer got former death squad leaders and current government officials to talk, on camera, about what happened. The main figures are Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry, who rose from two-bit gangsters to the most feared men in Indonesia. It's chilling just how blase they and their compatriots are about their crimes — there is no equivocating, moralizing, or tempering. They killed "communists" even though it's clear that they didn't really care whether or not anyone was actually a communist. They speak gleefully, even pridefully, about their killing methods, about their brutality, about profiting. One former gangster talks wistfully about how much he enjoyed finding 14-year-old girls among the villagers to be tortured/killed for being "communists." This provokes spontaneous, knowing sighs of camaraderie around the room from the other men.



As you can see in the above trailer, The Act of Killing is by turns chilling, grotesque, and comical. Horrible men are filmed saying the most horrible things, without remorse. There is another scene where they cruise through the markets and extort money from the Chinese shop owners, bluntly demanding they simply hand over cash from their tills while joking with them as if they are buddies. The frozen smiles on the faces of the shopkeepers, as they are filmed being forced to make nice with murderous thugs, was perhaps not as disturbing as the lurid, loving accounts of rapes and beheadings, but it was the same banal, rapacious evil, displayed with the same proud swagger.

Watching them, I was most interested in trying to determine whether these were men literally without a conscience — psychopaths — or men living under a vastly different moral code in atrocities are justified. It's a question that repeatedly fascinates me — what is "evil"?

Congo, in contrast with Zulkadry, seemed to care about his legacy and whether he would be judged righteous by history. There is a final scene in which he rather melodramatically appears to come to the startling realization that his victims suffered, that maybe, possibly, the things he did were... wrong. o..O

And yet, how can one believe that after all these years, this crisis of conscience was a genuine revelation brought about by thoughts he'd never had before? Does he truly have such a compartmentalized mind? Are we watching cogitive dissonance overwhelm him? Is he an old man now realizing he has regrets? Or is it an act, staged like all his other moments? I'm genuinely unsure, though my cynicism tends to be strong here - there are too many other scenes in the film where he treats the blood on his hands as a matter of pride, or fodder for humor. My suspicion is that we're watching someone as evil as Saddam or Stalin, but who thinks now he can craft his public image for the better without denying or apologizing for anything. But his psychology fascinates me.

To really appreciate the over-the-top batshit surrealism of this documentary, I recommend you watch the culmination of Anwar Congo's "artistic vision." This scene, choreographed to the soundtrack "Born Free," was his idea. Unfortunately this was the only YouTube clip I could find and the subtitles aren't in English, but the two actors playing guillotined victims of Congo are thanking him for killing them and sending them to heaven...



This film is full of images, people, and statements that will mess with your head.
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This is such a 70s movie. I had heard of it but never seen or had any interest in seeing it, and when I read the description, my first reaction was "Ew."

HaroldAndMaude

But I have to admit, after rather reluctantly being talked into Netflixing it, that it was kind of awesome. Okay, actually, it was really awesome. And weird. And disturbing. And so fucking 70s. And ew.

So, our boy Harold is a super-privileged poor little rich boy with a suffocating, emasculating mother who is utterly unfazed by Harold's repeated suicide attempts. Harold has become something of a performance artist.

Harold and Maude - hanging
Harold and Maude - drowning
Harold and Maude - shooting
Harold and Maude - slashing
Harold and Maude - gasoline
Harold and Maude - chopping
Harold and Maude - driving

Besides staging gory suicides, this weird, depressive teenager has a hobby of attending random strangers' funerals, which is where he meets Maude, a free-spirited 79-year-old. Maude introduces Harold to new hobbies, such as joyriding in random vehicles, leading police on chases, and sex with septuagenarians.

harold-with-bubbles

Surprisingly enough, when they actually go there, it's not that "Ew." Harold and Maude manages to be both a darkly humorous satire with pointed 70s-era commentaries on war, conformity, and authority figures, and a light-hearted romcom. There are surprisingly touching moments, though my overall reaction throughout the movie remained "WTF?" From the porn-stached cop with his oh-so-symbolic tiny little gun to Harold's military officer uncle with his pathetic prosthetic saluting arm to Maude's very... interesting "self portrait" sculpted in wood, the movie is full of imagery to make you do a double-take and laugh out loud. And Bud Court's deadpan facial expressions make each scene.

harold and maude

This was an early indie film with more wit and weirdness than comes out of any mainstream Hollywood film then or now. It's like The Graduate meets Heathers and they have a bastard romcom love child with a Cat Stevens soundtrack.

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Gladiator

Would you believe I'd never actually seen this movie?

So, I finally Netflixed it, not expecting much in terms of historical accuracy. While the history is, obviously, Hollywoodized, Ridley Scott did create a grand Roman spectacle with admirable attention to detail. Hey, grand spectacle and battle scenes with a Hans Zimmer soundtrack? I don't know why I never watched it before.

But — guess which part annoyed the bayjeezus out of me?

Commodus vs. Maximums

That's right — the Hollywood-Stupid part: "Hello, I am the fucking Emperor of Rome. I want to prove what a bad-ass I am, so I will stick my enemy with a knife so he's bleeding out, then put armor on him and give him a live blade so we can fight in an arena. He's already proven to be very hard to kill and one of the best gladiators ever, but I'm the fucking Emperor of Rome so how can my clever plan possibly go wrong?"

Yeah, other than that part, good movie.
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Man of Steel

Well, this was not the worst Superman movie ever, but it was not the best.

First of all, I don't know why every superhero has to be "rebooted," origin story and all, every 10-20 years. We all know the Superman story. I'd rather see a movie that does something interesting with him, with the assumption that we all know who he is and what he does, than yet another iteration of death-of-Krypton, donning-the-cape, etc. I mean, James Bond didn't need to be rebooted for almost 50 years. Nobody needs James Bond explained in the first hour of the movie before you get to the plot.

So anyway, in this version, they play up Superman's loneliness and alienation from his adopted planet. They kill Pa Kent in a sequence I found particularly hard to believe (I'm sorry, Clark would never let someone die, especially not his father, to protect his secret identity!), and then General Zod arrives from the Phantom Zone to wreak a huge special effects budget on Earth.

Holy crap, Amy Adams is a lousy actress. Lois Lane almost seemed to be reading from cue cards. And chemistry? Forget about it.

The action sequences were impressive, though I thought the visuals borrowed too much from Alien and Independence Day. I can't recall many other movies with such blatant product placement, though, including the U.S. military.

The ending also annoyed me. Okay, you want to break over 60 years of Superman tradition by having him kill the bad guy? You should at least respect the canon and show it to be something more wrenching than his angst over being the last Kryptonian.

I understand there is a Superman-Wonder Woman movie in the works. I await it with mixed feelings - it might be good, but it has the potential to be very, very bad.
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Nobody Knows

This was a depressing movie, though apparently not as depressing as the real-life events it was based on. Four children are left alone in an apartment by their mother with only a little cash. Their mother is a woman who makes, shall we say, bad life choices — the children are all by different fathers, none of whom are around to help out. She leaves her children for weeks, then months at a time.

Akira, the oldest, does the best he can for a 12-year-old. We see the slowly dawning realization in him and his oldest sister that their mother really doesn't have their best interests at heart, and cannot be relied on to take care of them, but they don't know what to do about it. As their mother's absences become longer, and money runs out, they go from unsupervised children having an extended vacation from school to feral children living in an increasingly filthy apartment. First the electricity, then the water gets shut off. They go barefoot and unwashed. Akira gets a little help from neighborhood kids, but obviously four pre-teens cannot live alone indefinitely without something bad happening.

This is a Japanese film, so it's slower-paced with a lot more "empty spaces" than would be found in a Hollywood movie. There's not much dialog, and hardly anything is spelled out — we just see the gradually deteriorating living conditions, and the flickering of hope in the childrens' eyes slowly dying. There are a lot of lingering camera shots fixed on Akira or his siblings just staring blankly into the distance. The ending gives little closure.

It's kind of like The Cement Garden... minus the incest. A good movie, but definitely a downer.
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Jane Austen's most "unlikable" protagonist, a matchmaking busybody, makes this book more likable and funny than any modern romcom.


Emma

Published in 1815, approximately 160,000 words. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.




Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen's most flawless work.


'I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.' - plus bonus feature: 6 Netflix reviews! )

Verdict: Now my second-favorite Austen novel (after Pride and Prejudice), Emma is a fine example of a flawed protagonist who grows on you, with a supporting cast of endearing, annoying, and comic characters. While there are mild surprises and genteel plot twists, it's hard to spoil an Austen novel, since if you've read one, you know how they all will end. I remain a fan of her dialog and her character development.

Also by Jane Austen: My reviews of Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, and Mansfield Park.




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Victor Hugo's epic saga of plot puppets acting out philosophical and moral arguments. (No, it's not about the French Revolution!)


Les Misérables

Originally published in 1862, approximately 565,500 words. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.




Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, when, owing to a case of mistaken identity, another man is arrested in his place; and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty. A compelling and compassionate view of the victims of early nineteenth-century French society, Les Misérables is a novel on an epic scale, moving inexorably from the eve of the battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.


Look down, look down. You'll always be a slave. Look down, look down. You're standing in your grave. )

Verdict: Big, bloated, epic, brilliant, did I mention big and bloated? The characters are memorable, the story is grand, it's definitely a book that belongs on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list. But it is not enthralling or a page-turner, and call me a heathen, but I'm glad that modern editors don't let authors, even best-selling ones, ramble on at novella length before getting back to the story. Les Miserables is a book you won't regret reading, and it's worth some serious bragging rights to get through it, but I can't honestly say it's my favorite classic work.

Also by Victor Hugo: My review of Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).




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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

I'm not sure I've ever actually watched an entire Marlyn Monroe movie before. Of course I've caught parts of one movie or another flipping channels over the years, but I just never had much interest in sitting down to watch her.

Like my occasional random book picks to step outside my usual reading habits, I've taken to occasional random walks through Netflix. Hence, this cheesy 1953 musical, most famous for Monroe's iconic performance of "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend."

Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is your basic 1950s romcom. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell star as a pair of showgirls on a cruise. Monroe is the mercenary Lorelei Lee, whose fiance's rich father has sent a private detective to dig up dirt on her. Naturally, the detective falls for Lorelei's sharp-tongued best friend, Dorothy Shaw (Russell).

While Lorelei loves diamonds, Dorothy likes hot guys. Of course nothing more sexual than dancing happens in the movie, but this was certainly not a movie just for Marilyn Monroe fans — there's an awful lot of beefcake as well.

Jane Russell and the relay team

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell were gorgeous, but neither of them were great actresses. They weren't too bad as a comic duo, but the musical numbers and the cheesecake/beefcake are really the only reasons to watch this.
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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Ye gads, this was the most painful, two-hour trainwreck I've ever watched. By that I don't mean it was a bad movie: it was a very good movie. Based on the play, this 1966 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton is one of those actionless, plotless character dramas Hollywood used to make back in the day.

To be perfectly honest, I'd heard of the play (just by the title), but really had no idea what it was about. I randomly added it to my Netflix queue when it popped up while I was searching for the movie version of Mrs. Dalloway.

Spoiler: It has absolutely nothing to do with Virginia Woolf.

A New England university professor and his wife have a younger professor and his wife over for dinner. Just a nice little dinner party. The unsuspecting younger couple soon realize that they have walked into the deepest pit of married hell: abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Their hosts hate each other with the kind of hate only a long-married, dysfunctional couple that has been stewing for years in resentment, bitterness, and mutual contempt can feel. Before their horrified audience, they engage in an evening of bloody verbal and emotional knife-fighting so cruel that you begin to wish they'd use real knives and end it.

Of course, it turns out the younger couple is pretty fucked up too.

This is a dark movie: watching it is like being a fly on the wall observing four people come completely unraveled.
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America's most embarrassing political exile until Edward Snowden.


Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness

Crown Publishing, 2011, 416 pages




From Frank Brady, who wrote one of the best-selling books on Bobby Fischer of all time and who was himself a friend of Fischer’s, comes an impressively researched biography that for the first time completely captures the remarkable arc of Bobby Fischer’s life. When Bobby Fischer passed away in January 2008, he left behind a confounding legacy. Everyone knew the basics of his life—he began as a brilliant youngster, then became the pride of American chess, then took a sharp turn, struggling with paranoia and mental illness. But nobody truly understood him.

What motivated Fischer from such a young age, and what was the source of his remarkable intellect? How could a man so ambivalent about money and fame be so driven to succeed? What drew this man of Jewish descent to fulminate against Jews, and how was it that a mind so famously disciplined could unravel so completely? From Fischer’s meteoric rise, to an utterly dominant prime unequaled by any American chess player, to his eventual descent into madness, the book draws upon hundreds of newly discovered documents and recordings and numerous firsthand interviews conducted with those who knew Fischer best. It paints, for the very first time, a complete picture of one of America’s most enigmatic icons. This is the definitive account of a fascinating man and an extraordinary life, one that at last reconciles Fischer’s deeply contradictory legacy and answers the question, who was Bobby Fischer?


Batshit crazy or just a bigoted jerk? How come you never hear about great go players becoming unhinged? )




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Six genres, six centuries, six stories, lives repeated.


Cloud Atlas

Random House, 2004, 509 pages




A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan's California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified "dinery server" on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilization — the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other's echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.

In his captivating third novel, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre and time to offer a meditation on humanity's dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.


A grand tapestry made of shiny threads, a Buddhist sci-fi novel, a matryoshka doll manuscript, a writing stunt. )

Verdict: A great book by a great writer, and while some have dismissed it as a show-offy writing stunt, I thought it worked very well. Some literary authors go slumming in genre fiction, but David Mitchell is more like a genre author who has snuck into the ranks of litfic.

Also by David Mitchell: My review of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.




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The stream-of-consciousness natterings of discontented rich people.


Mrs. Dalloway

1925, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 216 pages




It is a June day in London in 1923, and the lovely Clarissa Dalloway is having a party. Whom will she see? Her friend Peter, back from India, who has never really stopped loving her? What about Sally, with whom Clarissa had her life’s happiest moment?

Meanwhile, the shell-shocked Septimus Smith is struggling with his life on the same London day.

Luminously beautiful, Mrs. Dalloway uses the internal monologues of the characters to tell a story of inter-war England. With this, Virginia Woolf changed the novel forever.


Who's impressed by Virginia Woolf? )

Verdict: Virginia Woolf writes pretty. She's deft and elegant and nuanced. And this book was boring and the prose was annoying. It may have been a landmark of 20th century literature, but I don't care about Mrs. Dalloway's dinner party, her old flame, or the fact that she once kissed a girl and liked it. Sorry, Virginia Woolf fans, but she struck out with me.




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A finely-crafted traditional ghost story best read alone in a big dark house.


The Woman in Black

Vintage, 1983, 164 pages




The classic ghost story by Susan Hill: a chilling tale about a menacing spectre haunting a small English town.

Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford — a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway — to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow's house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images — a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child's scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly woman dressed all in black. Psychologically terrifying and deliciously eerie, The Woman in Black is a remarkable thriller of the first rate.


A vengeful ghost, a haunted house, dead children, it's all been done, but Susan Hill does it well. )

Verdict: Save this one for Halloween. Highly recommended for late night reading alone in a dark house!




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Yawn.

Silver Linings Playbook

I only watched it for Jennifer Lawrence. And she did a fine acting job, though I'm not sure it was really worth an Oscar.

But this was a really dull movie with a really dull story with really good actors.
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Northern manufacturers and southern agrarians in industrialized England.


North and South

Originally published in 1855. Approximately 183,000 words. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.




When Margaret Hale moves with her father from the comfort of the south of England to the industrial north, she is at first repulsed by what she sees; and then when she discovers the conditions under which the workers are forced to live, she is outraged. But this throws her into direct conflict with the powerful young mill-owner, John Thornton. Using personal passions to explore deep social divisions, North and South is a great romance and one of Elizabeth Gaskell's finest works.


Mix Pride and Prejudice, Hard Times, Jane Eyre, and a wee bit of George Eliot. )

Verdict: Elizabeth Gaskell's writing did not knock me over, but her characters were more three-dimensional than most of her contemporaries and the plot wove together a multitude of themes. I find myself thinking of North and South mostly in terms of how it compares to other novels: not quite as grand as Middlemarch or Bleak House, but more human, while also being more down-to-earth than the romances of Austen or Bronte. A fine book and worth reading if you like British social novels, but if that sort of book isn't your cup of tea, this one won't change your mind.




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