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Guardian of the Scales "Anubis"

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Oblivion: Stories
Oblivion: Stories
by David Foster Wallace
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good collection of stories, 25 Sep 2008
This review is from: Oblivion: Stories (Paperback)
Oblivion is a short story collection by the recently-deceased author David Foster Wallace comprising 8 stories and 329 pages. These stories are difficult of description and, not infrequently, of comprehension.
The difficulty lies in Wallace's attraction to excessive verbosity, complex sentence structures, extensive use of parentheses and parentheses within parentheses and difficult logical and philosophical ideas.
Arguably, Wallace can seem to be indulging in intellectual games or verbal showboating. This hinders the narrative at times. Perhaps he is simply too intelligent to be a wholly successful exponent of narrative fiction, or too conscious of his intelligence, at least.
Nevertheless, I found this book generally very enjoyable. The humour and tone was to me reminiscent of Flann o'Brien and also with echoes of Thomas Pynchon. The story Good Old Neon is an extremely interesting and substantial exploration of the problems of excessive consciousness of one's self, one's actions and one's impressions on others. In this story, Wallace's characteristic irony is discarded for a more serious tone. Though Wallace is a master of the ironic tone, there are times when a bit of variation is needed. Good Old Neon is, I think, the best and most memorable story in the collection.
Overall, I enjoyed this book for the undeniable intelligence and wit displayed therein. I feel it would appeal to fans of the aforementioned Flann o'Brien or Thomas Pynchon. I would not recommend this book to persons of low intelligence.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 11, 2011 12:07 PM GMT

Gateway To Hell
Gateway To Hell
by Dennis Wheatley
Edition: Paperback

10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars At his worst, 18 Sep 2008
This review is from: Gateway To Hell (Paperback)
This is another of Wheatley's "Black Magic" stories featuring the Duc de Richleau, Simon, Richard and Rex. Wheatley is at his most tired and formulaic, leading up to a tedious conclusion part swashbuckler, part supernatural.
Wheatley's politics are at their most questionable here, given that the plot centres on the notion that the Black Power movement was run by satanists and followed by gullible cretins(and zombies). The satanic leaders of the movement are of various nationalities, none English of course, principally a dapper Spanish gentleman and a German ex-Nazi general with sadistic tendencies and an improbably poor grasp of English sentence structure.
Plot developments also go beyond the limits of credibility, especially the ridiculous method the Duc uses to free his friends from police custody and suspicion of murder in the early part of the book.

From my reading of Dennis Wheatley he was far more prolific than was good for his quality control, though he wrote a few first-class thrillers(the first Wheatley book I read, The Shadow of Tyburn Tree, is still a personal favourite). My initial enthusiasm for his novels has waned and I think I'll give him a miss for a while. Gateway to Hell is one of the weakest, most irritating and plain stupid of all his books.

Charles Dickens (Penguin Critical Anthologies)
Charles Dickens (Penguin Critical Anthologies)
by Stephen Wall
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good overview, 24 Aug 2008
Published in 1970, this 500+ page volume contains dozens of excerpts ranging from short paragraphs from letters or articles mentioning Dickens in passing to 10-15 page critical discussion on various aspects of Dickens.
There are three sections, the first comprising contemporary views of Dickens, including his own, and also those of Trollope, Emerson, George Eliot, Dostoyevsky and others. Dostoyevsky was a great admirer, while Eliot was somewhat dismissive and patronising.
The next section covers 1880-1940, roughly, and includes an excerpt from George Orwell's excellent and highly appreciative essay on Dickens and also G.B. Shaw's essay in which he became one of the first to emphasize the importance of Dicken's later novels for their social criticism, singling out Little Dorrit as a "masterpiece among masterpieces."
The final section covers 1940-1970 and most of the pieces here deal exclusively with Dickens later works, showing how attitudes had changed from the author's own day, when his readers valued above all the humour of his early output.

For a fan of Dickens this is an excellent bedside book, as most of the pieces are quite short. Personally, I was less interested in the works of literary criticism than in the opinions of Dickens' fellow writers(Aldous Huxley, for example, considered Dickens guilty of "monstrous emotional vulgarity") and in the accounts of his effect on the public of his day, which was quite remarkable. Most of the critical work is interesting too, though, except a few of the more modern pieces which are too arcane for the general reader.

The Witchcraft of Salem Village (Landmark Books)
The Witchcraft of Salem Village (Landmark Books)
by Shirley Jackson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.53

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the Madness of Crowds, 19 Aug 2008
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I read this because I am a big fan of Shirley Jackson's fiction, for its psychological insight and dark and sinister world view. This book, however, gives a factual account of the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century. It was written for children and at 130-odd pages of fairly large print can be read in a single sitting.
The Salem witch trials constituted a dark and disturbing episode in American history, and as they were quite well documented we can see just how irrational, hysterical and cruel a human community can be, with no apparent provocation. This element of a heartless, vindictive society turning on its weakest members or the outsiders is a constant in Shirley Jackson's fiction as well, and presumably is part of her interest in this occurence.
There are a few occasions in the book where the author presumes to reveal the thoughts of those involved, a risky ploy in a work of history, but probably necessary to make sense of the events for young readers and she doesn't take any excessive liberties in doing this.
Mostly this is just a factual retelling of these events, strange and gruesome enough to require no embellishment. Though aimed at children, this book is suitable for anyone seeking an overview of the Salem witch trials as unlike some children's authors, Shirley Jackson does not talk down to her readers, moralise excessively, or adopt language particularly suited to children she just gives the facts clearly and simply. For a really detailed look at the events in question, this is not the answer but readers of any age will be spellbound and rather disturbed by this account of man's inhumanity to man and the ease with which mass hysteria can take hold, with devastating consequences.

Bleak House (Wordsworth Classics)
Bleak House (Wordsworth Classics)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: 1.89

9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Because it's always good to have a dissenting view, 8 Aug 2008
I've been a big fan of Dickens since reading David Copperfield about six years ago. Bleak House, which was the immediate follow-up to Copperfield, is not one of his best books.

One thing that struck me about this book is that Dickens' sense of humour seems to have completely failed him here. Another problem is that half of the book is narrated by Esther, an annoying character more given to protestations of humility than Uriah Heep himself, except we are supposed to accept Esther as sincere. Dickens' portrayal of young maidenhood has often been criticized, and Esther is one of the worst. The scenes between Esther and her "love" Ada make for queasy reading, for me at least. The part that is not narrated by Esther is told in the present tense, for some reason, and the prose is very stilted and unnatural, very unlike the lightness of touch of Dickens at his best. The whole book seems laboured.

There are a few mildly interesting minor characters in the book, such as Harold Skimpole, but none of the main characters are more than cardboard cutouts. The overall impression I got from this book was that Dickens' heart wasn't in it in the same way as in Copperfield or Great Expectations. The current critical vogue this book enjoys is probably down to its dealing with BIG SOCIAL ISSUES, and the fact that it is more carefully plotted than other Dickens novels, but the casual reader should not introduce himself to Dickens via this plodding and uninvolving work, it could put you off Dickens for life. Check out David Copperfield or Great Expectations instead.

I also felt that, contrary to popular opinion, the recent BBC adaptation was tedious in the extreme.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 10, 2012 11:39 PM BST

Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes
Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes
by Greil Marcus
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tape with Roots, 28 July 2008
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"Invisible Republic" studies Bob Dylan and the Band's Basement Tapes, recorded 40 years ago and still largely unreleased. Those selections that have been released include such oft-covered classics as "I Shall be Released", "This Wheel's on Fire", "Quinn the Eskimo(The Mighty Quinn)" and "You Aint goin' Nowhere".
The complete basement tapes, available only on bootleg, comprise over 100 recordings, some covers, most Dylan compositions. In the main body of this book, Marcus is not concerned with a laborious description of the making of each song, he takes a more impressionistic approach, focusing on certain songs to illustrate general points. Songs that are discussed in depth include "Lo and Behold!", "Clothesline Saga", "I'm Not There" and "Tears of Rage".
Almost half of the book is given to describing the folk music that Marcus sees as the roots of the basement tapes. The weirdness and deliberate illogicity of Dylan's lyrics has precedent in 19th and early 20th century folk, a good selection of which was collected on the Harry Smith Anthology in the early 50's. Marcus gives an interesting account of Smith's life; the man was eccentric, to say the least. Marcus also pays particular attention to "The Coo Coo Bird" by Clarence Ashley, as well as the life and music of Dock Boggs.

Though the main body of the book is only 220 pages, this is a wide ranging work, much is omitted so that what is contained gives the most complete feeling of the subject, as opposed to being academic or encyclopedic. This approach works here because Marcus is an excellent writer with a deep appreciation for his subject. On the other hand, there is an complete index of the basement recordings appended to the book, the songs listed in alphabetical order with running times, composer credits, and track listing on "the Genuine Basement Tapes" bootleg, as well as a short note containing information on compositon performance or other interesting facts. Some songs only get a few words; "Santa Fe" is unfairly dismissed in two: "A riff"
Overall, an excellent companion to the great music of the Basement Tapes, unorthodox in structure but very well-written and a compelling read.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 17, 2010 2:44 PM GMT

Sanctuary (Modern Classics)
Sanctuary (Modern Classics)
by William Faulkner
Edition: Paperback

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read, 20 July 2008
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Sanctuary was written by William Faulkner in 1931, purely for money, according to Faulkner himself. It came in the wake of the commercial failure of The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, and was markedly more popular, though much criticised for violence and immorality.
Sanctuary, unlike its predecessors, has a linear narrative which is easy to follow, for the most part. The plot is set in motion when rich kids Gowan Stevens and Temple Drake crash their car and seek help in a bootlegger's house, where they are given accomodation for the night.
This house is inhabited not only by the bootlegger Goodwin and his wife but also by various acquaintances of his including the shadowy and threatening Popeye. The scenario at this point is somewhat reminiscent of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or other such movies. There is an atmosphere of simmering violence but the actual violence is never openly described.
Following the commission of a crime at the bootlegger's house, the focus widens to include local lawyer Horace Benbow, a mild and decent everyman who becomes involved in the case because he believes that the wrong man has been arrested( and the reader knows that he is correct in this) and possibly also because he has feelings for the defendant's wife. The action later moves to a brothel(the "sanctuary" of the title?) where members of the Snopes family, recurring characters in Faulkner, appear, and serve primarily as comic relief.
Overall this is a somewhat lurid and sensationalist tale, by 1930's standards, at least. The violence is not accompanied by any moral judgement by the author. As with most of Faulkner's books, he gives no clue as to where his sympathies lie; this is one of his great strengths, imo. This is a very readable book, suspenseful, sometimes funny, set in a dark, cruel and unsentimental world( most similar to Light in August). Though no masterpiece, this book is sure to appeal to all devotees of Faulkner and his particular worldview, and is also an accessible starting-point for those unfamiliar with this great writer.

Delta Blues
Delta Blues
Price: 9.72

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best Delta Blues singer, 13 July 2008
This review is from: Delta Blues (Audio CD)
This collection includes most of Son House's early recordings from 1930, 1941 and 1942, and excludes his post-rediscovery 1960's recordings. Some believe that these later recordings do not compare favourably with those from his younger days. Personally, I think some of these are among his best: Death Letter, Grinnin' in your Face, John the Revelator.

According to the sleeve notes, the first seven tracks are from 1930. Though no expert, I'm almost positive that track 1 "Walkin' Blues" is actually the 1941 version. It's Son with backing band and backing vocals. I have read that there is a 1930 version, but I don't think this is it. The next six tracks are from 1930, parts one and two of: My Black Mama, Preachin' the Blues and Dry Spell blues. Part one of these tracks are on many compilations but part two are less common. They are based around the same guitar parts but have different lyrics. My Black Mama part 2 has many of the lyrics that were later used in Death Letter. The 1930 tracks are uniformly excellent, though that word hardly does them justice.
The next five tracks are all from 1941, all with backing band.
The last eight tracks are from 1942, and are solo recordings.
Being already familiar with quite a few of these songs, I was somewhat disappointed with the other, lesser-known ones. For one thing, lyrics and riffs are recycled endlessly, that's just the nature of the music, I guess, but it means you don't need to hear all the songs. The 1942 material is weak in comparison with the rest, as well. There's just some energy missing from these performances that is present in the earlier ones.

As an introduction to Son House, I think a compilation that also includes 60's recordings would be best. That said, and though I think some of the stuff on this cd is inessential, it also contains some of the greatest blues performances you are ever going to hear: My Black Mama, Preachin' Blues and Walkin' Blues, for example.

"The Blues aint nothing but a lowdown aching chill,
If you aint had 'em, I hope you never will."
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 20, 2011 12:07 PM BST

Children Of The Revolution: An Introduction To Marc Bolan
Children Of The Revolution: An Introduction To Marc Bolan
Offered by positivenoise
Price: 2.97

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Moments of Greatness, 28 Jun 2008
This compilation provides a generous selection of songs from the latter half of Marc Bolan's career. It does not include any material from the several albums released in the late sixties, early seventies under the name Tyrannosaurus Rex, which are more psychedelic folk, influenced by Donovan. Then Bolan realized that Donovan wasn't cool anymore and changed to T.Rex and to an electric rockier sound and spent a year and a half or so as the biggest act in Britain. The earlier hits from this period are NOT included here: that is, no Get it on, Hot Love, Jeepster or their breakthrough hit, the insanely infectious Ride a White Swan. Cosmic Dancer is also missing.

What is here is the best from 1972 to Bolan's death in 1977. Starting with the big hits from the second half of their golden period: Children of the Revolution, Twentieth Century Boy, Metal Guru, Telegram Sam and Solid Gold Easy Action. Then the hits dried up but Bolan continued writing to pretty much the same formula: repetitive lyrics that made little sense and simple blues based progressions. T-Rex had one minor hit before Bolan's death with the extremely formulaic, moderately catchy I Love to Boogie. The final two songs on the collection, City Port and Pain and Love, showcase a much more mature sound, definitely among the better songs here.

There are a lot of songs on this collection, some are boring, some are fun, a few are great. It's not ideal as an introduction to Bolan because it misses out on many of his greatest songs. There are a multitude of T-Rex compilations available, some of which include all of the hits. If you get this one, though, you probably have all the late-period Bolan you need(not having the original albums, I can't say for sure, but it feels like enough to me). And it's probably worth the price for Metal Guru and Telegram Sam alone.

Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: Son House
Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: Son House
Price: 6.99

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars King of the Blues, 17 Jun 2008
This collection covers Son's entire recording career, which consists of sessions from 1930, 1941, 1942 and 1965.
Opener "My Black Mama" is from 1930, a stunning performance, one of Son's most compelling tracks. "Preachin' Blues" is from the same session, very crackly recording but a great song, with great lyrics:
"I'm gonna get me religion, I'm gonna join the baptist church,
Gonna be a baptist preacher and I sure won't have to work."
"Dry Spell Blues" is also from that session, and the sound quality is again not great.
"Walkin' blues" and "Levee Camp Blues" are from 1941, Son joined by backing band including long time playing partner Willie Brown. These are excellent tracks with a real flavour of the barrelhouse about them complete with random vocal asides from someone identified as Fiddlin' Joe Williams.
Then there's two from 1942, these are slightly more subdued tracks, Son is solo this time.
The final seven are all from 1965, after Son's rediscovery, when he picked up the guitar again after many years. This period is overrepresented as some of the tracks are relatively forgettable but highlights are the a cappella songs "John the Revelator" and "Grinnin' in your Face", a considerably different but equally compelling "Preachin Blues"("I'm gonna preach these blues, choose my seat and sit down, but when the spirit comes, I'm gonna surely jump straight up and down") and, of course, Death Letter. The studio version of this incredibly intense song is arguably not as powerful as some of the live performances from this period, especially if you see video of them as well, showing Son's monumental presence and extremely forceful guitar style.
This is an excellent introduction to the man who is, in my opinion, the most compelling of all blues singers and a great influence on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, though Howlin' Wolf had probably the most similar approach.

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