Saturday, May 31, 2014

Book Review: The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey

Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts and I go way back. But I wasn't sure that a book (albeit a short book) written by Handey in that same style would sustain the sublime silliness of those snippets. The answer is that yes he could. (Also, it's a delight to hear Handey himself reading the book to you on the audiobook.) It's a Deep Thoughts novel, and I had heard a few of these before, but they don't get old so even that's not a problem. A nice little story to cleanse the palette between other novels.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: Life After Life

I tried to like this book. The premise is intruiging: a character born in England in the early 20th century lives her life repeatedly, with faint memories of her previous go-rounds. It surprised me by having her assassinate Hitler in one of the first scenes. But after that, it didn't seem to know what to do with its intriguing premise. This is not really a book about time travel or second chances -- it's a book about life as a woman in the early 20th century of Britain. Some scenes are expertly done, especially some of the deaths of the main character and some of the World War II scenes, although personally I'm getting a little bit of Blitz fatigue. The scenes (lives?) that take place in Germany are potentially intriguing windows into ordinary life under the Third Reich, but the insights are not particularly memorable. At the end the story fragments rather than coheres. Great pitch, weak follow-through.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Best Stained-Glass Pictures are Not All Glass

glory window spiral stained glass window

This link has some stunning pictures of stained glass from across the world. I've seen a few of these and hope to see more someday.

I'm struck by how the best pictures are not of the glass by itself, but also include the walls nearby. The light from the glass paints the walls in a diffuse reproduction of the original, stamping the surface with color. The real power of stained glass is in its context and how it changes the entire space, its secondary effect rather than its primary effect. The point is not the glass, the medium is not the message. The point is the light.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Book Review: The Green Mile by Stephen King

The Green Mile follows the rules for finding my favorite Stephen King: 1.) It's historical; 2.) It's light on the (non-human) monsters; 3.) It has a theological side to it. It lived up to what I expected and had some very meaningful moments in it. Yet it wasn't more than I expected and it didn't surprise me in a good way, the way Joyland or 11-22-63 did. As usual, Stephen King packs the story with the maximum amount of suspense and thrill possible (for a story confined to a Death Row cell block) and also sets up a very nice modern-day narrative flashforward. I appreciate some of what he has to say about healing and pain here, but it just doesn't add up to be one of his best. The seams show in a few ways. King's theology of healing makes for a great story but wouldn't actually work, I don't think -- still, it's very much worth thinking about, about why it wouldn't work, and the ways in which the character with the initials J.C. is both like and unlike his obvious religious allusion. It worked very well as an audiobook, too, like the radio dramas that the characters listen to. In the end, the serialized nature of its publication worked against it rather than for it, I think, because the themes he develops at the end aren't foreshadowed the same way as they usually are. Still, this is why I read Stephen King, and it was well worth it.