Jim Manis on Most Anything

Jim Manis can formulate an opinion about a good many things, including those about which he has little knowledge. (And some dude named "Lazlo.") Visit The MagicFactory.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A tour de force, Man Booker Prize winner that reminds me of a film script in its presentation. (The Brits like unusual approaches to novel writing; in other words, they like novels to be novel when it comes to awarding prizes.)

As I was reading the book, I was never sure whether I liked the book or not. Ten-year-old Willie dies of a disease that could easily be cured today, and his father, who is the president during a terrible civil war, feels misery beyond words, while everyone around them, including ghosts, find no lack of words.

The reader needs to be aware of "pointillism," which, I think, has caused quite a few readers some discomfort. You might also think of creating a collage. 

It is a quick read.

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Sunday, October 27, 2019

New Voices In American Poetry: An AnthologyNew Voices In American Poetry: An Anthology by David Allan Evans

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Published in 1973, this collection displays the work of young writers born between 1928 through 1944 (as I recall) and publishing their first work in the 1960s. Most of them had published one, two or three books of poetry and a few had published a novel or a book of short stories. Probably half have now since been forgotten, while a few, like Alice Walker and Charles Simic, went on to establish national reputations. Almost all of them were working as writing teachers at the time of the publication of the anthology. In other words, they were part of the explosion of writing programs across the country, and if their poems did not heavily influence the state of poetry, they played a significant role as teachers.

There are 45 poets in this collection, with no more than a handful of poems for each, in 265 pages. Each poet includes a brief statement about one of the poems. Some of these are interesting, some not so much.

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

American Histories: StoriesAmerican Histories: Stories by John Edgar Wideman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A collection of rhapsodic stories that reminded me of Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," especially "Williamsburg Bridge." Most of the stories are quite short and remind me of what people referred to as "voice pieces" forty years ago.

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Saturday, October 05, 2019

The Shakespeare RequirementThe Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun book to read. As a retired English professor, I can vouch for the accurate reporting of academic life illustrated in Julie Schumacher's book (thinly disguised as a novel). The nearly happy ending is the sole fictionalization of the events described. And maybe the names provided the characters. Higher Ed is every bit as dysfunctional as all other areas of life. We're all mad, incompetent, and reliant on wishful thinking and the goodwill (usually of women) of others.

A delightful cast of characters fumble their way through the labyrinth of higher ed. The hairless dog is a hoot.

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Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political IdeaThe Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea by Bill Emmott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bill Emmott thinks the west will survive Trump, Brexit, China, Putin, and the rest of the threats to the west, if the west doesn't shoot itself in the foot so frequently that it bleeds to death. However, he doesn't have much to say about global warming, which at the moment seems to be the greatest threat of all. Emmott's focus is macro economics and politics.

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Thursday, September 05, 2019

Missing MomMissing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not Oates' best novel, but her usual very competent writing. A young woman goes to her mother's house to find out why she's not answering her phone and discovers her brutally murdered. The culprit is soon caught. This all happens early in the novel, and the story we are interested in is how people, primarily the main character, deal with such a horrific incident. The novel is not a thriller, but it is nevertheless a detective novel. As the story proceeds, we witness how our protagonist learns to process what has happened to her and the people around her, including the detective who solves the crime.

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Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Collected StoriesThe Collected Stories by Amy Hempel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of Hempel's first four books. She's still writing and publishing.

Hempel is a master of the minimalist style that Ray Carver (and his editor) popularized in the 1980s, but her stories don't have that raw masculine edge that Carver's do. If you're looking for plot, that's not what pulls you through a Hempel story. She's a master of the light touch, sentences and paragraphs that seem simple but carry more weight upon reflection. As I read through the stories, I felt constantly reminded that I was reading a New Yorker story. The narrator doesn't grab you by the collar and insist on telling her story so much as speaking quietly to the side with perhaps a stealthy glance to see if you are paying attention. Perhaps she'll float away if you are not.

There are more than 50 stories in this collection, of various length, ranging from one page to seventy.

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