Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Archive for the month “October, 2022”

Review: Tevye the Milkman, by Sholem Aleichem

Tevye the Milkman made me angry.

Like everyone else who saw the play (I saw it with three different Tevyes) or the movie, I missed so much. And I didn’t know how much until I listened to this audiobook.

We learn from the film and the musical that Tevye is a good man, even as he is bewildered by the changes of the times he lived in. Neither shows us his “dark side:” the arrogance, the self-pity, the arrant meanness of how he treats his wife and children because they “are only women.” In fact, Tevye has contempt for pretty much everyone he interacts with — including those he supposedly calls friends.

Neither musical nor film has him forgiving Chava, for example, even though she has — we find in the final Tevye story — left her husband to go into exile with the rest of her family. Instead, in the story — we see Tevye rant on and on about the “trick he played on him.” (She did not, btw, play a trick on him – she and Fyedka tried to talk to him and, only when that failed, did she ask the priest to intervene). I was actually yelling at the audiobook during his last rant about why God is always giving him problems — as if he’s the only person who undergoes the things he has.

His constant bragging about how he was Tevye and wasn’t weak or impatient like a woman really got under my skin, too. He does nothing but put down the women in his life and — in fact — only asks Golde for advice once, then tears her down for not preventing what he sees as Chava’s defection.

I am angry at this series of stories, and I do not see the anger abating. It feels like I have been lied to for decades about the essential character of Tevye. I do not fault Mr. Aleichem for this, btw, but the entertainment industry which seems to have decided that the public could not handle the stories as written.

Sorry folks, but thanks to the entertainment industry, I really feel cheated on this one, and I am very sorry it took me this long to find it out. If, however, you are ready for a very different version of Tevye than has been popularized, this is definitely a book for you.

Updated Review: Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

(2020): Eh.

(2022): It’s very rare for me to change my mind about a book. However, I was moved to pick up Yann Martel’s Life of Pi as an audiobook, and it made a huge difference. Found layers to the story that I had missed the first time around, and found a richness to the story behind the story (so to speak). The young Pi’s search for a religion that could help him express his love for God, for one, is something I missed entirely the first time I read this.

If you have read this before, but been disappointed, please give it another shot. You may find yourself glad you did.

Review: Whispers of the Heart, by Aoi Hiiragi

<i>Whispers of the Heart</i> is the prequel, in some ways to <i>Baron: The Cat Returns</i>, even though there is not a lot of character bleed-through (although we do see the Baron and Muta — well-worth the price of admission).

Again, this is a YA coming-of-age/rom-com kind of graphic novel. The story is lovely – without spoiling it, I can say that it’s about two junior high students with dreams, who learn about the prep work for those dreams, and how it will affect their lives at the same time they are falling for each other.

Again, in addition to the graphic novel, I watched the English-language version of the 1995 film, so I would not miss any nuances. Although not as “star-studded” as <i>Baron: The Cat Returns</i>, it does feature Brittany Snow as Shizuko, with Jean Smart and James Sikking voicing Shizuku’s parents. Again, it tells its love stories (Shizuko and Seiji, Seiya and Asako, the Baronn and Louise, and Nishi and Louise) clearly, with each couple representing different aspects of relationships. This works out very well, storywise, since no one couple has to do all the heavy lifting.

Again, both graphic novels are definitely worth pursuing, and not only because they will be entertaining, but will not take big chunks out of your day.

Further, I cannot really wait to see what other treasures from Studio Ghibli will manage to surprise me along my path. As always, if you have any suggestions along these lines, I’d be happy to hear them.

Review: Baron: The Cat Returns, by Aoi Hiiragi

Sigh. This is the second time Goodreads has eaten a review I was working on. Let me try to reconstruct it.

I found Aoi Hiiragi’s wonderful YA graphic novel, Baron: The Cat Returns after seeing the English film version, with its stellar cast: Anne Hathaway as Haru, Tim Curry as the Cat King, Cary Elwes as the Baron, Peter Boyle as Muta, Elliott Gould as Toto, Rene Auberjonois as Natori, Andy Richter as Natori, and Judy Greer as Yuki.

It is a charming tale, of course, but it also is about the importance of being who you are, and not worrying about “fitting in.”

The book follows from an earlier work of Hiiragi’s: Whisper of the Heart, which I will be looking for next. Honestly, if works like these keep finding me, I can see a big obsession with Studio Ghibli and manga coming down the pike. Details, of course, as development happens. And, although I have no idea if he reads this blog, a huge thank you to my old college buddy, Joe Sullivan, who keeps encouraging me to dip my toes into the manga pool.

Review: Maame, by Jessica George

Note: I received a review copy of this from the wonderful NetGalley. Still and all, the opinions here are mine, and influenced only by my years of reading.

With one small caveat, I loved Maame, Jessica George’s debut novel (and I look forward to seeing a lot more of her work).

To get the small caveat out of the way, I have been noticing a trend among younger writers that I dislike very much. Now, this may just be because I’m a tail-end Boomer, but it still bothers me. When faced with problems that most adults face in life, many younger writers have other protagonists turn to the hive mind of the “Interwebs” or they have the protagonists discuss the issue with everyone except the other person(s) involved. To me, this often seems like a retreat from actually tackling the problem, whatever it is, and either failing or succeeding but growing either way. Maddie does it here a lot, which takes away (for me, anyway) from the idea that Maddie is an actual adult.

Other than that, this is a lovely book. Maddie’s turn as caretaker for her dad, and actual truly responsible caretaker for her widely scattered family strikes true (my sister and I have each had to assume that role in real life). The representations of how much of her life has been eaten by this role, and by her family’s expectations that she will always fill these set, specific roles is heart-breaking. Maddie’s saving grace, however, is that she really is a survivor, with the core of steel she does not see in herself but recognizes in her mother and aunt. She spends the time we are with here growing — sometimes willingly, sometimes unwillingly — with great hopes that things will turn out for the best, even while she acknowledges the possibility they won’t. It’s also interesting to see how the values she has learned in her country of birth mix and blend with the Ghanaian values her parents spent a great deal of time installing, and where those mixed values both propel her forward and hold her back.

Despite the above caveat, I think you will enjoy spending time with Maddie, her family, and the other people in her life. The writing is excellent, which is always a plus for me.

Review: My Uncle Napoleon, by Iraj Pezeshkzad

I finally finished Iraj Pezeshkzad’s My Uncle Napoleon, and my own personal copy should be arriving sometime today! I probably never would have picked it up on my own, which would have been a great tragedy.

I first heard about My Uncle Napoleon while reading Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran. It sounded interesting, so I borrowed an actual physical copy from the library. I don’t usually do back cover blurbs here, but let me quote a little information:

First published in Iran in the 1970s and adapted into a hugely successful television series, this beloved novel is now “Suggested Reading” in Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran. My Uncle Napoleon is a timeless and universal satire of first love and family intrigue.

Sadly, they do not credit this blurb, so I assume it’s from the publisher

The blurbs for the book are from such varied sources as The Atlantic Monthly, The Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post Book World, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Baltimore Sun, Kirkus Reviews, and Middle East Journal.

This is that rare book that I have slowed down my reading for just so I can fully savor each incident. Don’t ask me the plot – it is both too simple and too complex. Just get in the roller coaster car and hang on for the ride of your life. In tone, It’s a bit like Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman without the weird formatting. it somewhat reminds me of Tristam Shandy, especially if that worthy work had been cut into a movie with additions from The Beatles A Hard Days’ Night or Help.

The narrator is never named, but he starts the story when he is 13 and falls in love with his cousin Layli. Mind, this does not bode well, as Layli’s father not only has other plans for his daughter, but is currently trying to destroy the narrator’s father for various silly, petty reasons. Situations keep abounding, pitting various family members and a servant or two against each other, generally with hilarious consequences.

To say the characters are unforgettable would be doing them a great injustice. Even the minor characters are memorable, with significant bits to play in the general family drama.

There is almost no way I could describe this book without using spoilers. The ending is not what I expected, but that’s okay because it is of a whole with the story.

If you want a crazy, wild ride with all sorts of family dysfunctions (and wasn’t there a meme a few years back about all functional families being similar and each dysfunctional family being dysfunctional in a specific, singular way) this is a book for you.

Anyway, I really hope you enjoy this one as much as I did, and that we can have some fun discussions about it!

Review: Night Thoughts, by Wallace Shawn

Night Thoughts is an interesting, if very slim, volume that gives us a glimpse into the thought processes of Wallace Shawn. Shawn for those of you who are not movie or theater buffs, is the actor that brought Vizzini to life in The Princess Bride and co-wrote and performed in My Dinner with Andre, which was pretty popular with the art film crowd when it opened back in the day.

Now, I do not agree with all of Mr. Shawn’s thoughts, by any means, but it is refreshing to see someone in this day and age of shooting one’s mouth off “from the hip,” so to speak, put some actual thinking behind his views.

I don’t think this book is for everyone…Shawn has some shocking and discomfiting ideas behind a lot of his views. However, if you have an open mind, and are patient, you might just enjoy this as much as I did.

Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenberger

Note: I came to this book because it was the first book listed in Sara Nisha Adams’ The Reading List and it turns out to b the key to the whole story there. So I felt I had t read it.

Second, this is actually an unabridged version of The Time Traveler’s Wife according to the information the actual library had on it.

Third, this is a deliciously complex book, in that due to the genetic “quirk” of one of the protagonists, the story cannot be told as a simple, chronological tale.

Still, the characters are interesting, with one of the minor characters (Kimmie) actually turning into the most unforgettable one of the book. Further, the time travel, while demanding some suspension of disbelief on my part was done a hell of a lot better than the time travel in most romances (and even some sf/fantasy). As a writer myself, I can tell you that this is no small accomplishment.

One flaw I noticed is that – in some ways – Clare is a very stereotypical “girl in love at first sight.” This made her character seem more saccharine than necessary in spots but is not the worst crime in a debut novel.

Also, this had a strong flavor of “chick lit” around it, which is a shame, because there are riches there for everyone. Again, this is not the worst flaw you find in a debut novel, so I’m inclined to cut Ms. Niffenberger a good bit of slack.

I definitely think this is worth reading, and — having read it — understand why it was such a key point in The Reading List. If you have the time, definitely give this one a shot.

Review: Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

If there is one thing you can count on Neil Gaiman for, it’s a fun, solid story with a few surreal twists. Coraline is no exception to this. From a little girl who is totally frustrated at the adults around her’s inability to use her right name (something I can identify very strongly with given the beatings my last name has taken over the years) to said little girl’s wish for some attention and her intelligence and curiosity (which is what gets her into trouble, this is one of these books I wish had been around when I was a youngling to keep my Pippi Longstocking books company.

Coraline was a fun listen, especially since Neil Gaiman was the reader. I’ve heard Neil read before, and he is always fun to listen to. So, this is definitely a must if you have kids that like creepy stuff (as many kids do), or if YOU like creepy stuff. Especially if that creepy stuff is based around real fears and issues kids have.

Review: The Muralist, by B.A. Shapiro

Sadly, I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would. I picked it up due to my friend Jan’s recommendation, and her recommendations are usually spot-on for me.

It is a fascinating story- an artist, Danielle, goes searching for her family history, including that of her great-aunt Alizée Benoit, a WPA artist who disappeared after the war. However, what kept me reading, more than the weaving in of prominent historical figures, was the way Danielle’s personality (and that of her family) operated at so many different levels; Aunt Alizée, for example, was mature enough to interrupt a meeting between Eleanor Roosevelt and the owners of the WPA project she is working on, with a goal of getting the current work of her and her contemporaries (the founders, pretty much, of abstract expressionism) included in WPA projects and exhibitions, despite the rule that all WPA art had to be representational rather than abstract. In other areas of her life, Alizée has trouble being quite so forthright. She is also a bit naive regarding getting her relatives out of what is becoming Vichy France. Even as officials are telling her, one after another, that she will not be able to obtain the needed visas, she still keeps attempting the same methods to try and rescue her family, much the way Danielle keeps searching for her great-aunt despite being thwarted at every turn.

It’s not a bad book, and it’s possible that it was just a bit triggery for me – a Russian/Roumanian/Galician Jew whose ancestors emigrated to America in the lead-up years to World War II. It is definitely worth reading, not least for the way real historical figures are woven into the story (the one thing from the times she seems to have missed is the story about Marc Chagall locking his paintings into a Paris attic before evacuating during the war and expecting to find them still there when he went back after the war (they were stolen while he was gone, in fact), but for the multiple layers of maturity Shapiro’s characters show as they move through their lives. These are complex people, with many fears, motivations, and agendas, and that is what kept me reading through a book I might otherwise have put down.

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