Extraordinary Coincidences: "The World of Yesterday" by Stefan Zweig

The World of Yesterday - Stefan Zweig, Harry Zohn

(Original Review from the German and English editions, 2002-06-05)

"The World of Yesterday" has its flaws - some of the scenes that Zweig claims to have witnessed, particularly around the outbreak and conclusion of the Great War seem such extraordinary coincidences as to be barely credible. And on the subject of style, it's hard for a non-native German speaker to judge, so the opinion of Michael Hofmann - who's such a magnificent and sympathetic translator of Zweig's far greater contemporary Joseph Roth - has to carry some weight.



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Absence and Silence: "red doc>" by Anne Carson

Red Doc> - Anne Carson

(Original Review, April 10th 2013)

Look at the Pulitzer Prize. For whatever reason, it's highly regarded in America and it chooses novels (among all other kinds of works in its many categories) that are clearly literary, accessible to almost anyone, but infused with a seriousness and thoughtfulness that enriches the experience beyond the lighter pleasures of an airport thriller.



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Rarefied Heights: "Umbrella" by Will Self

Umbrella - Will Self

(Original Review, September 30th 2012)

And people are entertained by different things. Some people are entertained by cat videos. Others are entertained by football or motor racing. Others are entertained by mathematical or philosophical problems. Others are entertained by jigsaw puzzles or their literary equivalents. Others are entertained by sophisticated use of narrative technique. Some people may be entertained by all of these: they have rich mental lives, with varying sources of entertainment.




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Clausewitzing: "A History of Warfare" by John Keegan

A History of Warfare - John Keegan

(Original Review, 2002-06-10)

There is easy rubbish and difficult trash. Of course, a lot of books with high literary merit will be more demanding for/ of the reader than, say, neckbiters, which are all fashioned by formula. But equalling the ease of a read with literary worthlessness would fail to acknowledge e.g., all those wonderful, amazing children's classics, which are as loved by readers as they are praised by critics. 




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Hessian Fable: "The Glass Bead Game" by Hermann Hesse

The Glass Bead Game - Hermann Hesse, Richard Winston, Clara Winston, Theodore Ziolkowski

I read this in German a long time ago (2002-06-15).

I suppose it depends on whether working through the difficulty brings you genuine insights into the human condition. I'm ashamed to say I've only read one book on this list - Ulysses - and enjoyed it. I like modernism, and Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is one of my favourites. Woolf is a bit daunting, but Mrs. Dalloway is superb.
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Quantum Entanglement Radio: "Gate Crashers" by Patrick S. Tomlinson

Gate Crashers - Patrick S. Tomlinson

The Quantum Entanglement Radio is one of the great accomplishments of mankind, although it had so far failed to supplant sliced bread for the top spot in popular colloquialism. The QER operated through the principle of quantum entanglement. At the core of each set of devices sat a pair of neutrons. Once entangled, these neutrons precisely imitated each other’s behavior instantly and over any distance as if by magic - which, if you’re honest, is all quantum mechanics is, minus the hats, rabbits, and bisected lovely assistants, but only because these things don’t exist at subatomic scales. The rest of the device was comprised of an impossibly small gravitational manipulator that controlled the spin directions and speed of the particle, and very sensitive Heisenberg detectors to record the reply. These functioned by surreptitiously observing the entangled particle from behind a nanoscale newspaper and dark sunglasses, so as not to arouse suspicion.”

In “Gate Crashers” by Patrick S. Tomlinson




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Airing Aphorisms: “Night Train to Lisbon” by Pascal Mercier

Night Train to Lisbon: A Novel - Pascal Mercier, Barbara Harshav

(Original Review, December 21st 2007)

NB: Read in German.

Not every difficult book is by definition a good one - not every challenge is worth taking.

A good writer can do both, like Ishiguro. Write a book for the mainstream readers, to pick them up where they stand and travel with them. Or write a book so obscure that only very few will even want to go on that journey, those books are often a sign of arrogance, often more a book for them than for readers. And then you have Eco, who could mix the two.




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Keep On Trying: "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" by Laurence Sterne

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman - Joan New, Melvyn New, Laurence Sterne

(Original Review, 2002-06-20)

Many very good books are not difficult to read--at least for the people who read them and have read them. But books can become difficult when difference of culture, or viewpoint, or language, or elapsed time intervene. Dickens is more difficult now than 150 years ago, and part of the reward of reading Dickens is the learning of how British society has changed. The difficulty of reading Virgil might include learning some Latin; the difficulty of reading Dante might involve at least a parallel text edition.




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Meister Geschichtenerzähler: "The Secret Agent" by Joseph Conrad

The Secret Agent - Joseph Conrad

(Original Review, 2002-06-25)

One of my oldest friends, both female and a graduate in English loathes Lessing, and I could just as easily wonder how Nabokov can offer anything superior to Under Western Eyes, The Secret Agent, Nostromo or Victory, which must have one of the most memorable lines in English literature when the sinister Mr. Jones tells Heyst: "I am the world itself, come to pay you a visit." Nabokov was famous for his dismissive remarks of other writers, from Gogol to Pasternak, and said of Conrad: "I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir-shop style, bottled ships and shell necklaces of romanticist clichés.
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The Eustace Diamonds: "The Palliser Novels" by Anthony Trollope

The Palliser Novels (Six Volumes in 1 slipcase) - Anthony Trollope

(Original Review, 2002-06-28)

I have some fairly handsome volumes on the shelves in my living room. I mentioned elsewhere that there are about 18 Brittanica "Great Books" mostly philosophy which I have read very little of but there is also some Ancient History which I have. They are quite nice looking (faux, I guess) leather bound, but the effect is rather spoiled by them having numbers on them - I guess so the buyers can tell how many of "the great books" they possess. This does mean that they sort of shout "philistine poser!" at visitors but fortunately, I don't get many.



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Modern Meditations: "12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos" by Jordan Peterson

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos - Jordan B. Peterson

OK. Let me put it this way. Peterson decries the rights agenda and the railing against patriarchy, partly with the argument that Western society is the least partiarchal and the most free there has ever been. But he never asks himself why this is so, because the answer of course is that those freedoms have been won by people in the past railing against oppression and proclaiming their own right to a place at the trough - workers, women, minorities. If there hadn't been those 'progressive' moves, for want of a better word, we would still have slavery, we would have less worker representation than we do (though we're heading the wrong way again), women would still be tied to the home, and so on. He doesn't patriarchy because he doesn't suffer from it, only benefits.




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Flexible Belts: "Cosmos" by Carl Sagan

Cosmos - Carl Sagan

(Original Review, 1980-11-17)

A lot of talk has been going on about the flaws in Carl Sagan's COSMOS series. These flaws center on either Sagan's unusual speaking style and acting(?) abilities, or the show's contents. I certainly agree that he looks stupid when displaying the "awed" look; however, the complaints about the content of his shows are not justified. Yes, he is short on reasons and long on visual effects, and, yes, he talks as if the viewer did not know the obvious. What we are all forgetting is this: the average person doesn't know what we would consider "obvious". We should realize that Carl Sagan has his work cut out for him making science digestible for the average person.




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Binary Equivalents: "Starman Jones" by Robert A. Heinlein

Starman Jones - Robert A. Heinlein

(Original Review, 1980-07-24)

Random rumblings on our inability to predict the future.

Pop-up display screens and visual aiming (guiding a missile by looking at the target) for fighter pilots is discussed in the recent fiction paperback "FoxFire.'' The technology for visual aiming is actually quite old. It is derived from the device (I'm not sure what it is called) used by psychologists to measure eye movements.
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Talking a Lot About Cats: "A Door Into Summer" by Robert A. Heinlein

The Door Into Summer - Robert A. Heinlein

(Original Review, 1980-07-28)

Probably the biggest role for a cat outside of Norton is in Heinlein's A DOOR INTO SUMMER --- the hero talks more to his cat than he does to the woman he ends up marrying.

[KK: That doesn't surprise me; Heinlein seems to hate all human females over the age of 12.



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Inexplicable Anomalies: "The Ringworld Throne" by Larry Niven

The Ringworld Throne - Larry Niven

(Original Review, 1980-07-01)

Now we're going to argue the reasons for sequels? It's straightforward here. Niven obviously doesn't need the money (although it can't hurt too badly). It's those damned readers who keep begging for more and pawing after him at every convention, in every fanzine, in all his letters, etc. ad infinitum. He's got to do *something* to shut them up, else go insane, bug-nuts.
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Nuclear Stalemate: "Blowups Happen" by Robert A. Heinlein

Blowups Happen - Robert A. Heinlein

(Original Review, 1980-07-26)

Although Clarke was far ahead of his time in regard to synchronous communications satellites, even here he missed a few beats. Although I have not read his science article detailing the suggestion, his early fiction always had the satellites MANNED. He did not foresee the fantastic reductions in size of electronics (semi-conductors were yet to be invented) or their corresponding increase in reliability.



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