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asphlex "asphlex" (Philadelphia, PA USA)

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Why Lincoln Matters: Wise Answers to Today`s Tough Political Questions
Why Lincoln Matters: Wise Answers to Today`s Tough Political Questions
by Mario M. Cuomo
Edition: Hardcover
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars a valid argument in spite of a clear political bias:, July 16 2004
Call this a good book with a number of obvious problems. The first issue I would take (and my four star review is quite sincere, regardless of the spate of criticisms to follow) is the fact that many of these essays were clearly written at different times. The editorial process, or what there is of it, has managed somewhat admirably to keep the issues up to date (or at least to the time of its publication as so many things are happening so quickly it is impossible to avoid an ensuing irrelevence). What is wrong is the fact that so many points are repeated--endlessly, it seems at times--and this makes the reader sometimes wonder if they hadn't just read or overheard the exact same thing elsewhere. Now there are positives and negatives to this impression. A positive, certainly, would be the implied rational logic of the argument--yeah, I've heard that before so this guy really makes sense. The negative (and this probably affected me more specifically) is that you will read the same idea over and over again.
Now Cuomo has some good things to say, some interesting parallels to make between Lincoln's time and the present moment in history and he argues passionately and forcefully. He didn't necessarily need to convince me as I likely already agreed with much of what he is saying. But as a reader I try to avoid applying my own personal biases and look at the issue at hand objectively (although if I disagreed with his points I bet my review would have dropped a star or two).
What is ultimately at hand, after the eloquent sling shots of President Bush and his supporters, is a minimal hypocrisy on the part of Mr. Cuomo, a man I admire and respect tremendously. He condemns certain politicos of the past for "quoting Lincoln out of context" or for applying his words to their own issues. Unfortunately he does the exact same thing here, assuming Lincoln's opinions regarding issues a mid-19th century politician, a radical or otherwise, could not possibly grasp.
Again, I agree (if not wholeheartedly than essentially) with many of Cuomo's criticisms of the way the Bush administration is running the economy, the 'war on terrorism'--even the murky religious/moral issues at hand throughout the world. This is a worthwhile book if only to get an intelligent man's opinions, stated clearly and persuasively, regardless of what you may actually believe. This is not the angry ranting of some spoiled and frustrated 'liberal' nor the embittered mumblings of a professional contrarian, but a well thought out screed and ideology about how to improve not just America but the very world itself.
This is, in spite of its temporary contemporary relevence, a celebration of Lincoln's brilliance in statesmanship and his greatness as a communicator. It is a history book applied to the present. I would whole-heartedly recommend Cuomo's ideas to anyone--to consider, to talk over, even to debate prior to dismissing. I would just warn that the author is guilty of much of what he seems to disparage in his own political opposition, regardless of his greater ability to communicate his ideas.

by Barry Hannah
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.64
31 used & new from CDN$ 5.61

4.0 out of 5 stars all-in-all very good, yet something irked me . . ., July 7 2004
This review is from: Airships (Paperback)
I admired this collection a lot. It is filled with beautiful, mostly inventive writing that features a collective whoop of good humor. Hannah is a sharp and strong and quite powerful writer and he has an ability to strip away characters until they are a raw,bloody pulp. He sees and knows and condemns these people too well, like he knows too much of this stuff and has spent all his life in contempt. This isn't, necessarily, a bad thing, and in Hannah's able hands many of the stories are legitimate treats, comprehension be damned!
But the sore root of this collection (aside from our individual tastes) is the sometimes clamouring of a drunken voice (probably legitimately drunken and occasionally veering into misunderstanding) that has some great things to say but too often finds itself distracted by an irritating minutiea. Sure, the blood and the sadness give several of these tales a needed visceral edge, the kind of voice that drags you there into the eye of the beast that is man. At other times the figures are too literal parodies, muscousy germs that struggle in the petry dish of the frequently cruel author's imagination.
In the end I would definately recommend Airships for the consistantly far-reaching attempts that these little stories of nobodies set out to explore--four or five of them I thought were absolutely wonderful. I would just offer a casual warning that a certain stretch may come when you're tired of trying so hard and find yourself simply not caring about what happens next. This is a very human reaction and one that is usually offered with the sometime forgiveness of a desire to someday return to such potential. This is a book to look over when in a mood of focused patience when you are willing to spend a week or two starting and stopping through a few pictures of hilarious misery that are warped at the edges by an ambitious refrain.

Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man
Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man
by Hardy & Clarke
Edition: Hardcover
34 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars an encouraging sign:, June 30 2004
It is encouraging to see the equal vehemence with which an opposition mindset can simaultenously challege the other verdict directly, or to pout and whine. Any review of Moore's books and pictures essentially engage in the same sort of absolutist banter that brands the left-wing afficienados (in other words: The Followers) more of a 'cult-like mess fallen victim to one person's version of the truth, in this case an imaginative, serious and fervently self-righteous voice that serves to justify (and impregnate--) the conflicting ideals that range across the sides. On the far side (in those cases . . .) the right-wing luminaries who pocket the anti-Moore rap seem to cling more to a mantra--"liar, Communist, scuzz; Liar, Communist, scuzz"--that rant about this fat kook's comedy sketches, even going so far as to dub them "Obscene" (or some other frivilous individual taste--For example, check out the unnecessary stress over the rating of Fahrenheit 9/11. The content is certainly far more disturbing than our coroporate-sponsered nightly newscasts, but not in the ways in which movies are ordinarily scored. The violence is repeated, in endless refrain, on a nightly newscast and the language--oh the language!--that Moore's fervent rivals are now in a standstill over condemning. Other than that it is a stockpile of footage, cleverly cut and molded into a fascinating story by a talented man with an open jest on his pride ).
Now--here!--in this wonderous tome that market's itself as "a schorching attack!" or some other regionalized definition of "I am right and here is what's wrong with--" In this book we have a wave of accusations (including some that are so obviously true that no one really even cares, any longer) we have a frightful cry of outrage (similar, no doubt, to the early days of Michael Moore's formitive time as a high school trouble-maker, something that, on a personal note, I can easily sympathize with . . .) that is so entirely focused to a single point that it finds itself lapsing into a coma over the furor of a single-minded idea.
Sorry, folks, but this is a miss--this whole trite little book that gives us some interesting facts and some occasionally clear, brief slabs of logic. In the end the true blame must be hatched on the writers--guys who are certainly adept at a cyncial turn of phrase or some violently accute personal admission that makes us understand a trace of where these guys are actually coming from. Other than that, they are lame, they are sodden and repetitious, constantly repeating the same boring facts as though they needed a Rosetta stone to remind them they were on a mission.
The present result is that Mr. Moore is just a whole lot better at this game than these guys. As for the independant reader, for the individual reviewer: Great job folks and keep it up. One of these days a real forceful guy is gonna rise up and reduce Mr. Moore, in the end, to just another rich, left-wing Hollywood star. But for now, for the frieghtening impact, Mr. Moore is still around and is the champion cynical and sometimes heart-shattering fact compiler going, still winning in his home state.
It is encouraging to note that this book arrived so suddenly, as a political fender defense. Come Oscar time (or who knows--MTV Movie Awards time . . .?), something more defensible is going to come out that will slap this murmuring culture war people such as Moore and his fanatical arch-rivals have been yearning for into pure, censorous mania! It will make this hit-or-miss effort something for 'Future Nostalgia', some book the young second generation conspiracy theorists will seek out (knowing there will millions of them!) and laugh at the lack of identity in the much better known story of the future theorist, and that they will actually 'use' to help form their regrettably INACCURATE and FANTASTICAL ideas that will change the future in SOME VERY REAL ways . . .
Almost four stars for the 'future nostalgia', down to three because it is such a half-hearted job.

The Magnificent Ambersons
The Magnificent Ambersons
by Booth Tarkington
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.14
29 used & new from CDN$ 0.66

5.0 out of 5 stars feeling sorry when bad things happen to awful people:, May 18 2004
Here is a fascinating book. We start off essentially empathizing with the scornful people who look on at the main character, root root rooting for his demise. As the story progresses it is difficult to not go on truly hating George Amberson Minifer, if only because of a natural distaste for the self-important and the snobs that roam around unenchanted but clearly not aware of this. However, as the story reaches its end, I found it impossible to not actual feel something for this jerk, for his oblivious family and more all the mistakes they made that were obvious to everyone except for themselves. Perhaps this is the truest merit of this wonderful book: such a capable and compassionate understanding of even the worst people (to my mind) that we cannot help but humanize the villains and grow to understand some part of their desperation and yearning for what could never be.
A wonderful, truly affecting novel that will linger for a very long time--

Sister Carrie
Sister Carrie
by Theodore Dreiser
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.41
63 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars surprisingly engaging and fascinating, May 10 2004
This review is from: Sister Carrie (Paperback)
Sister Carrie is a lovely book. It tells a rather profound story--placed specifically in its time, which was of course the 'Modern Day' for the time it was written. As a result a book that was once a critical document of patterns of behavior of some of the author's contemporaries has become, for better or worse, an important historical chronical of the dangers of selfishness and uninhibited personal ambition. Oh, the story is no longer anything unfamiliar, but the grounding and the character studies make this book very affecting and, true to the ideals of its unfortunate literary designation of 'Naturalism' (a meaningless term which limits instead of explains a readers' expectation, much in the way that science-fiction or horror classify something as not necessisarily what it in fact is), this is a very believable and realistic story.
The writing itself, as other readers and critics throughout the past one hundred years or so have repeated when attempting to find fault with Sister Carrie, isn't the most impressive thing about the book. However, in its defense, the cut and dry, occasionally pasted on moments of philosophical conversation and the rugged and perhaps at times inconsistant speech patterns of the various characters somehow, for me, created an even more believable picture, zoning in on those people who attempt to speak both above and beneath their social class and educational backgrounds for either personal gain or in a futile effort to 'fit in'.
A wonderful book, because of its flaws, in fact, that reads like a quick-paced and absorbing tale always on the verge of tragedy. That tension, that what-will-happen-next feeling pervades throughout the book and concludes by providing quite an impact indeed.

Light in August
Light in August
by William Faulkner
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
122 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars comparatively straight-forward:, Feb. 26 2004
This review is from: Light in August (Paperback)
This is a fine book; a character study of numerous characters and a representation of how the demons of the past can come to consume those living today. I do not wish to rhapsodize on the story of race--that is evident within the text and, honestly, is not the main point or the actual sin of the story. Race is less concept then consciousness in this book and the idea of 'racism', here, is more inbred than an actual physical hatred: a part of tradition and learning than something violent people go crazy about. Joe Christmas is someone torn, who is constantly choosing sides until he can no longer be anything. This, as a result, makes him an actual individual, a person outside such superficial considerations and therefore not really qualified to exist in this world. All of the primary characters are outsiders of one sort--all of them are equal and all are fundementally the same in their yearning.
A very powerful book with a unique vision of the way the world works . . .

The Bridge Of San Luis Rey
The Bridge Of San Luis Rey
by Thornton Wilder
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.54
61 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a quiet study of lives lived, Jan. 18 2004
There is not much to The Bridge at San Luis Rey. In the opening chapter the entire premise is undone, telling of one Brother Juniper and his quest to prove God's motive in a terrible accident that claimed five diverse lives. The narration of this part goes on to tell us that Brother Juniper was unsuccessful in his quest and was eventually charged with heresy for this undertaking and burned at the stake. We then go back in time and learn about the distinctive lives of these five victims, both of their lives and their affect on those around them. It is a quite beautiful story, sweet and hopeful at the end, an enduring picture of lives having meaning and, regardless of the abandonment of the story's initial premise, really quite effective and engaging. Four and a half, rounded down because the book a read immediately prior to it was something held very special in my heart.

Miss Lonely Hearts And The Day Of The Locust
Miss Lonely Hearts And The Day Of The Locust
by Nathanael West
Edition: Paperback
77 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars when tragedy becomes hilarity, Jan. 18 2004
Both Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust are miserable stories about optimism crushed by the heartlessness of the real world. Miss Lonelyhearts sees a good-hearted man overwhelmed by his required, professional commission over the desperate squawks of the truly hopeless. People write anonymous letters outlining their most unspeakable unhappiness and literally plead with the faceless voice writing an entertainment column for a local tabloid to solve the urgent emptiness of their lives, usually with trite, hopeful cliches. Miss Lonelyhearts himself is hardly better off than his readers, a young guy unwilling to commit to anything and therefore mostly confused and unhappy. Here is a brush with the underside of hopeful reality: those despensing advice are often just as wayward as those most in desperate need of any sort of help. As the cries get louder and human outlook become completely mundane Miss Lonelyhearts finds himself both unwilling and unable to muster even the faintest idea of concern. He even suggests suicide to one reader if only to get himself fired from his hateful job. As with everything else, he is unsuccessful.
The Day of the Locust is a different sort of monster. Here is a story so harsh, so utterly hopeless and bleak that it is easy to overlook how grounded in reality it truly is. Take this story out of its 1930s historical context and the face of the tale would not change. Here is a story of the dreamers flocking to Hollywood usually with unrealistic and terrifyingly desperate hopes of their own future success. These dreams are not even well thought out, based solely on the unreal idea of a 'celebrity culture' entertainment press and studio propaganda build around their handful of stars. But here everyone believes in their own superstardom, everyone imagines their buried talents becoming public property and every ranging idea they have is absorbed into the unreality of their increasingly hopeless dreams. Even the parody of Hollywood cults is contemporary, of these flighty ideas that the desperate flock to when things aren't going their way; these opportunistic religions, translated today into Scientology, Kabbalah and several other currently in vogue practices that ravage the West Coast nightlife in a mingle of true faith and a drug-induced party atomosphere. Is The Day of the Locust an exaggeration, exploiting legitimate weaknesses in character in the name of satire? Perhaps, although I tend to think of it as a much truer picture of those not quite making it, of those growing tired from their ceaseless efforts and daily failures and how they rattle apart under the pressure of their dreams. This book is honestly one of my favorite of all books, all its brutality, misery and cruelty notwithstanding. It paints a very delicate picture of the fragile human soul being consumed with reckless abandon by the self-serving greed of all aspirants who need to somehow make themselves greater than they are. There are all sorts of psychological explanations one could give to explain away this horror, but even this becomes sort of cultish at its extreme, some terrible excuse that ignores individual human motive. West has written a masterpiece undermining all of these futile ideologies while at the same time telling a swift-moving, entertaining story about something given birth to by the American cult of celebrity. A very important and perpetually lasting fable, The Day of the Locust is happening every day.

by E Doctorow
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.60
50 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Overlooking bias:, Jan. 14 2004
This review is from: Ragtime (Paperback)
... The first thing I can say about Ragtime, which is a fictionalized story about things that essentially happened in one way or another, is that Doctrow manages to get beyond his clearly socialistic sympathies (evident foremost in the narrative voice) and tell a wonderful and moving story.
Ragtime crisscrosses around east coast America to tell three different interlocking stories about three distinctly American families: Old World white and rich, ambitious immigrant Jews and up-and-coming sophisticated black circa 1902. These three families represent three distinct social classes and, being archetypes to the Nth degree can therefore be used to represent a much larger group of Americans. The story itself, as others readers have stated, is very simply told. Ragtime is quite easy to read and very quickly paced. The urgency of the technological and political advances, the rapid social changes and the human inability to reconcile itself with this too swiftly moving world makes up for the bulk of the narrative, consisting mostly of characters struggling to catch up with the latest play of events. Most of these characters are well-meaning idealistics, constantly disappointed or undermined by the larger, antagonistic world and seeing their great hopes destroyed by the impatience of the world around them. It makes for a wonderful and compelling read, biases be damned!--and, if one can overlook the subtle moralizing of Doctrow, there is a great deal to be learned about the importance of America in the 20th century.

Parade's End
Parade's End
by Ford Madox Ford
Edition: Paperback
14 used & new from CDN$ 21.17

5.0 out of 5 stars quietly sad and fully realized:, Jan. 10 2004
This review is from: Parade's End (Paperback)
Parade's End isn't the swiftest moving of epics. Comprised of what are supposed to be four seperate novels, it appears unlikely that any of the subsequent chapters in the story could stand alone. It is a powerful book, the story an inevitable tragedy, the results more of an afflication than anything truly humbling. The idea is very precise: tell of what could happen to a brutalized, perhaps incestually based feudal family of the ruling sort when confronted with the Modern Horror of the quick-paced, revolutionized ideas of the roving, buzzing, continually at war world.
The Age of the Teitjans is coming to an end--the age of the Old Rich and the Founding Fathers controlling and manipulating everything they come in contact with. The generation of today is gentle and much more soft--Freudian psychology and the threat or embrace of Socialism having done away with the undeniable hope that is the forces of Organized Religion. Women's Liberation, the freedom of serfs and of slaves and the rampant attack of the Colonialists on their governing masters has made a man like Christopher unable to side with anyone other than those most against his past. Parade's End is a story of the future--not just the future in the eyes of the past (this book was published in enstallments from 1924-1928), but the future of any generation of today following the end of a devastating World War. We hear tell of the moral degradation of a nation, of the changing expectations of the populace and the aroused suspicions of everyone, both those who fought in the war and are therefore accustomed to viewing others as hostile and those who remained at home or went abroad to escape the immediate consequences of a world gone mad with rage. Parade's End tells of exactly that: the end of the human celebration and, in the words of Ford's sometime friend and collaborator, seeing "even the most justifiable revolutions (being) prepared by personal impulses disguised into screeds." For, as even the elite wealthy must compete with the common man for sustinance, human nature inevitably takes over, with all its crude biases and sexual fixations, giving blood to politics and fostering a climate simply devouring itself for spite and for fun.
This book is a grand telling of the doom of empires. It is a story forever of the future as those of any age settling into an accustomed life start seeing the next generation foundering and no longer regret their own mistakes. Now they start to live in the memory of some distant and frequently misremembered past triumph. At the end I found myself struggling to remember my own name . . .

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