June 15, 2006

Book 19: A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I think that I would like to read more Hemingway, though I had to adjust to his very terse style. The plot is where this book really shines, starting slowly and picking up steam until the reader realizes they are in the middle of quite an interesting story, not quite the typical Florence Nightingale effect story. The only complaint I have plot-wise is that the ending is very abrupt. It's just about as abrupt as you can get. You've got the climax and falling action, and then whap! And the book ends. After absorbing the shock, though, I was able to sit and think about it a little bit, realizing that this kind of sudden stop could actually be quite powerful. After all, it perfectly mirrors the emotion it literally conveys.

I feel that a weak point here was the dialogue, which was really contrived and completely unbelievable. It made the characters, especially Ms. Barkley, one-dimensional and flat. The passages that were only prose soared and the insights offered were qutie amusing, Hemingway's wry sense of humor shining through and giving the book itself personality.

All told, the book wasn't at all what I was expecting, which was a hard core war novel along the lines of All Quiet on the Western Front. It is, instead, romantic in more ways than one (though not to be confused with trashy novels- it is never pornographic and at least in my edition all the swear words are blanked out). It engages the reader, though trailing off when the dialogue is prevalent, and overall makes for a good read.

Grade: A-

June 6, 2006

Book 18: 1776

David McCullough

Ah, the day of Satan and here I am reading about American independence. I should say, however, that my review here might be tainted by the fact that the last book about the Revolution that I read was a Shaara work. This book, unlike the previous, is purely nonfiction, making it seem more distant than the novel, though it has its benefits (mostly believability).

All told, though, this book was a bit of a letdown. I expected a soaring, gripping narrative that could unite all Americans under a badge of patriotism. After all, the book is a bestseller and its author highly regarded. The book was not bad by any means, and I appreciated the lack of super-patriotic fluff. Its main flaw was that it was so hard to get into. I didn't really get interested until the seige of New York had begun, as the Americans were retreating from Brooklyn.

Also, the book seems to be somewhat incomplete. It focuses mainly on the military aspect of the year, with only passing references to the Declaration of Independence, undoubtedly one of the most pivotal events of the year, second or third maybe to the battle of New York and the crossing of the Delaware. Even the Christmas crossing is dealt with in passing. All told, the narrative seems to lack a theme, other than "it was the year that was."

I didn't sense many connections between sections, and while the flow was good within sections, the transitions between American and British points of view were completely scattered and often left me very confused. In fact, it took me a good 30 pages or so to realize that the book itself began in 1775 (although I'm still not clear). McCullough does a good job of tying in accounts of people who were present at the events, but unfortunately he occasionally takes the practice a bit too far when including absolutely unnecessary information that leaves the reader questioning its greater importance.

Things like this draw attention away from the main narrative, and though the book is a good work for those interested in a very general understanding of the military events of the year, it comes off as quite disjointed and limited in scope. It begins and ends too suddenly, even for a book confined to the events of a single year. I was hoping for more from the celebrated author.

Grade: B