Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cannery Row (Book Review)

 In English class, we were assigned a novel by our long haired easy going teacher. I wasn’t that crazy about reading the previous novel (which was Catcher in the Rye, which is why I did not review it here), but after reading the new assigned book by John Steinbeck I have faith restored in good classic literature. There are so many classic novels by John Steinbeck, but the one I read and about to review is the 1945 book called Cannery Row!

Writing Style
If literature was to be divided in to three parts there would be a section for classics (the really good), the well written (the pretty good), and the unique stories (the fairly good). There would be technically a fourth group known as the terrible, but I tend to think that all stories have their own unique parts to them no matter how terrible they are.

This book has me perplexed. I have to say it’s both a unique story and a classic at the same time. I have not read a Steinbeck novel before (though I have Of Mice and Men, Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden on my To Read list), so I don’t know what they are normally like, but Cannery Row is most definitely unique. If you asked me halfway through reading what the point of the story was, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. The story depicts a lot of different people and their lives in little community in Cannery Row, Mantaray. Upon finishing reading this book, however, I realize that this book does have a point: to show life; its struggles and some of the people effected by all of it.

Cannery Row has a very unique plot. When you start reading it, you have no idea what direction Steinbeck is trying to go with the story. Steinbeck, however, was trying to show life, so his plot wasn’t as linear like most stories. There are several mini stories about several different people and all these stories were connected, much in same life is all connected. This is the story of Henri the painter, Lee Chong the grocer, Dora the whore house facilitator, Doc the marine biologist and Mack and his boys the bums. This is the story of Cannery Row. I have to quote the book because only Steinbeck himself can show this community’s variety.

“Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.”
See? That is a perfect example of how Steinbeck shows two sides of the same coin. He shows the good and evil of life and that why Steinbeck is designated as a classic writer.

I wasn’t crazy at the beginning when I was assigned this book, but this grew on me. Steinbeck is an interesting writer. Perhaps not my favorite style, but its still good!

Quote / Picture of Author

“How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise—the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream-be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book—to open the page and let the stores crawl in by themselves.”
--John Steinbeck, Cannery Row pg3

King Solomon’s Mines (Book Review)

If you have watched the movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (or read the comic it was based on by Allen Moore), then you know about Allan Quatermain, who was a prominent figure in both the comic and movie. He was played by Sean Connery, which says something about how powerful a figure this hunter and adventurer is to be played by such a legendary actor. However, where did Mr. Quatermain first appear? Most of the characters in Moore’s League are literary icons, so it makes sense that one of the main protagonists also comes from a book. Well, today, I am going to review an 1885 story by H. Rider Haggard, which is one of Quatermain’s early appearances. The novel is a lovely adventure called King Solomon’s Mines!

Writing style
When I saw that this book was published in 1885, I admittedly thought what most people of my generation think and that is: this book is going to be boring and slow because it was published 126 years ago. However, upon actually reading this book, I can happily say it is far from boring. It is a wonderful adventure. I mean, the plot ran very smoothly. It only took me a month to read it (and that is my usual time it takes to read a novel considering I have a second book for assigned reading).

Based on my three part writing style system, I would say this book is classified in the first section: the classic writing section. This is really well written and just really good. Haggard gave some great metaphors in his work, such as when he compares the color of sunset to a “blush like a cheek of a girl”. This book has some of the key elements of a good adventure which any writer must include if they want to have a good adventure-thriller (think of the Indiana Jones theme when reading this), for example, the story must have:
  • One important character with two or more foil characters
  • A couple deaths if the protagonists are in a group larger than three
  • A cold and heartless antagonist leader (or leaders, depending on their length)
  • A treasure which the protagonist(s) seek
  • At least one place in the book for the villain to do something evil to a unnamed random character to show what they are capable of
  • Two or more battles between the heroes and the villains (one to get the ball rolling, and another being the final battle. More such battles can be added as well, though those can some times be unnecessary)
One element which was not really touched on was the love interest. However, being in Africa, it makes sense we don’t meet someone who connects to Quatermain.

The Story
There are actually two stories in this novel. One story is of Allan Quatermain and his comrades in their search for a long lost brother and King Solomon’s Mines. As I mentioned, the story element of treasure is an important part of an adventure story (whether it’s a movie or book). King Solomon’s Mines are like Eldorado in that it has tones of tales about it enormous supply of diamonds, but no one has ever gone there and lived long enough to enjoy the shiny rocks. At one point when the group actually finds the Mines (not much of a spoiler btw), Quatermain comments, “Monte Cristo is a fool to us,” which is, if you know the tale of Monte Cristo, quite a statement.

The other story is that of their mysterious African guide named Umbopa. I won’t say anything about it, because that would spoil the story, but it’s cool.

The Antagonists
If the treasures hidden from the rays of the sun within King Solomon’s Mines are seemingly infinite, then so is the number of antagonists in this story. Death is an important enemy throughout the novel from the beginning to the end. In fact, at one point there is even a giant statue of a skeleton with a spear which the narrator (Quatermain) refers to as death (which is just a great visual that makes me want to see any movie adaptations just for that scene).

My favorite antagonist from this story would have to be the very old creature named Gagool. She is just fun because she very old and creepy. Throughout the novel, many characters state that they can not remember her being young, so her actual age remains a mystery. Gagool does not help matters by stating that she might or might not be the same woman named Gagool who tricked Quatermain’s treasure-seeking predecessors 10 generations before. She’s described almost like an animal and she has this horrible laugh which “always sent a shiver down [Quatermain’s] back, and which for quite a while took enthuseasium out of [the group].”

Attitude toward Africans
One thing which I am always concerned about when I read older books is their attitude toward specific groups of people. Africans were my main concern given the setting of the book. Many books might have portrayed Africans in not the best of ways in this age of literature, so you can understand my concern. Therefore, I am glad to say this concern is unfounded.  Umbopa is in almost an equal to his European companions. He is not portrayed as a savage and Mr. Haggard (rest his soul) did not discriminate against race when he placed savagery into one of his characters.

Allan Quatermain: Haggard vs. League version
I’ve seen two different versions of Allan Quatermain: the version of him from this book and the one portrayed in 1999 in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (well, actually three if you count the movie as being separate from the comic). In the comic, he is portrayed as the second in compound of the team, which is a bit of a twist on this appearance here in the book where he was the leader of the group (just like the movie adaptation of the League, but then he is portrayed by Sean Connery, so that makes total sense).  At the beginning of the League versions we see a very different Quatermain. In the comic, we see a drug-induced Quatermain. If Haggard’s stories are cannon in the League stories, then it means something happened in one of his other stories in the Quatermain series which drove the adventurer to such a low.

This is a nice book. I wish more people would ignore the publishing date of the book and read this book, because I know of a lot of people who would enjoy this book. This is a very well written story and had me chuckling at several points (not because of cheesyness as there was none, but because of the interactions between Quatermain’s group of white men and the Africans who had not seen white men before). Just an enjoyable read. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes adventure.

Quote / Picture of Author
“The truth is like a sharp spear which flies home and fails not,”
--H. Rider Haggard (as Ignosi, King Solomon’s Mines pg 169)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy 52nd Birthday to Rocky and Bullwinkle!

Fifty-Two Years ago yesterday at 5:30 p.m. ET on the ABC television network, a unique series staring a flying squirrel and a talking moose first aired. As you can guess by the name of this post, that series was the Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends!

Jay Ward & Bill Scott & their impact
 Few know who Jay Ward or Bill Scott were and what their impact to animation was. They created many iconic characters and shows, such as George of the Jungle (yes, there was something before the movies and the new animated tv show!), Cap'n Crunch, and most majorly for me: the Rocky and bullwinkle show! Their comedy style illustrated in their shows has inspired The Simpsons, Darkwing Duck and so many other comedy shows! (in fact, the first episode of Family Guy played homage to the show by having June Foray, the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirel, make a cameo as her iconic character).

"That Voice...Where have I heard that voice?"
Ok, sorry, had to do that title! I just had to! On this show, there were so many talented people! I wish I could name them all! Bill Scott did Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-right (among others). Edward Everett Horton and William Conrad were both narrotors for the show (Horton for Fractured Fairytales and Conrad for R&B). Hans Conried voiced the devilous Snidley Wipelash. Charlie Ruggles voiced Aasop and Daws Butler did Aasop Jr. Walter Tetley played Sherman (from Mr. Peabody). Paul Frees did so many voices including Boris Badenov. Last but not least was June Foray, who was the voice of Rocky the flying Sqirel, Natasha Fatale, and a host of others. If you search any of those names, you will see how much stuff you are familiar with and you might say, "hey, I remember that!"
The Segments
There were so many great segments on the show. There was Dudley Do-right, Mr. Know-it-all, Aasop and Son, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Fractured Fairytales in addition to the Rocky and Bullwinkle segments. All were very funny and enjoyable.

Ponsonby Britt
Hope you didn't mind that I did this one last. Ever wonder where the name of this blog comes from? Well, I can say my name is not Ponsonby Britt (though I wish it was!). Ponsonby Britt was the executive producer of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, George of the Jungle, Hippoty Hopity, and Fractured Flicks. Its an impressive carrier he had. Oh...did I mention he was fictional? That right! Jay Ward and Bill Scott didn't want to take all the credit so they made Britt up!

In honor of Jay Ward and everyone else's impact on my own childhood, I created this blog!


Friday, November 18, 2011

Catch Me if You Can (Novel Review)

A little while ago, I reviewed the musical staring Aaron Tveit, which recently closed on Broadway on September 4, 2011 (after 32 previews and 170 regular performances, one of which I went to) and will next year have a national tour. Today, I will review the actual novel by the actual Frank Abagnale Jr. This book, published in 1980, is, of course, titled Catch Me if You Can!

Writing Style
As I mentioned in my review of Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games, I separate writing styles into 3 groups. The first is the older English (like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie) with its slower pace (for people who had lots of free time). This could be considered the hard reading group for most people, but it’s not that hard for me. The next group is the middle writers, whose styles are well developed and have lots of details (like Tom Clancy or Dan Brown). The last group is the easy writers, whose vocabulary is not as developed and thus are faster to read (at least for me).
Catch Me If You Can seems to fit well in the third group. This non-fiction story is entertaining but it is not loaded with lots of details like descriptions of the people or places. This story could be a great and easy read for anyone. It is not be hard to understand and it's not that challenging detail-wise, but that is not why this story is good. It is good, because it is entertaining and it is a true story.

The story
            If you read my review of the musical, then you know the basic story, but I’ll review it any way. To quote the back of the book, “Frank Abagnale, alias Frank Williams, Robert Conrad, Frank Adams, and Robert Monjo, was one of the most daring con men, forgers, imposters and escape artists in history. During his brief but notorious criminal career, Abagnale donned a pilot’s uniform and copiloted a Pam Am jet, masqueraded as the supervising resident of a hospital, practiced law without a license, passed himself off as a college sociology professor, and cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks—all before he was twenty-one.” So needless to say, it’s a fun read.

The Differences between the Book and the Musical
            As to be expected, there are some differences between the book and the musical I saw. For example, in the musical a nurse is the love interest who he confesses about his real identity, but here in the book, it is a stewardess (though the nurse did appear in the story). who he confesses to. In addition, the whole being a lawyer thing is quite separate from his love interests (though there was a woman involved anyway) and is much more entertaining.
            One significant difference I noticed between the book and musical is the presence of FBI agent O’Riley. Right off the bat is the name of the agent. See, O’Riley is not the real name of the agent. At the time the book was published, the agent was still part of the agency, so Abagnale changed his name to O’Riley. Based on a M*A*S*H* reference during the time he was a doctor in the book, I would guess this name was taken from that great show, but that’s just an assumption on my part.  However, now that he has retired, the musical used his real name which is Carl Hanratty. In the musical, O’Riley is a major star. He’s the co-star of the show and produces a second perspective for the story which is slight one sided in this book. I am not sure how much of Carl’s performance was true, but I did note that in the spots where an FBI agent was present (who was not O’Riley) in the book, the musical placed Carl. I guess it makes sense and makes this more than just a one-man show. In the book, however, we don’t actually see O’Riley, though he is mentioned at last three times.

Who really is Frank Abagnale?
            When you read the book, you will see two images of the same man: one of a suave and debonair con man who masqueraded as a Pam Am pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, a sociology teacher, an FBI agent, a bank guard an investor and so many others. The second image, however, is very different. It is the portrait of a man who is just skin and bones with fleas and feces in his uncut or shaved hair. How did this one man go from having his own crew of stewardesses (at one point in the story) to only having rats and insects to keep him company in a damp waste-infested dungeon? Well, I’m not going to tell you! I’m going to let you read it!

However, that being said, I think I’ll share something more. At the end of the book, there is an interview with the writer (as this edition of the book was released a few months before the movie adaptation came out) and I thought this question was significant and reverent to this section’s title:

This is actually a good book. I’m considering buying myself a copy so I could reread the book after I return the copy I’ve been using to the public library, if that says anything about if I like it or not. I would recommend this book to people who like adventure, thrillers and just a sense of humor. If you are looking for an entertaining easy read, this is the book for you!

I’ll review the movie soon!

Quote / Picture of Author
"A man's alter ego is nothing more than his favorite image of himself,"
--Frank Abagnale Jr.
(Catch Me If You Can, pg 1)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Of Terrorists, teachers and the American Dream

What do you get when you mix terrorism, a vacation in Europe and Tom Clancy? You get the 1987 novel Patriot Games!

Patriot Games was a thriller about a former marine turned history teacher who has worked the CIA unofficially a few times. On a trip to London, he stops an attack upon the Prince of Wales and his wife by Irish terrorists. When he finally recovers from his injuries from his heroics, he believes this is the end of the excitement, but it is only the beginning.

            Tom Clancy’s story is still thrilling even today. Granted, the problems at the time in Ireland, which caused Clancy to pick an Irish antagonist group, is not as prevalent today. However, the theme of terrorism is prevalent. Through the decades since this novel was published, terrorism has moved from Ireland to the Middle East. Even with the cultural changes, the same fear can still be felt in parts of the world where terrorists are active. If one ignores the ethnicity and the mentions of the Soviet Union, this tale of terrorism could fit in the present age. I mean, isn’t it still a fear that the Prince of Wales could be killed? Of course he is much older now, but the idea of someone that important to a culture being threatened by terrorism is frightening.
I can actually picture Prince Harry and Kate Middleton in the role of the prince of the story, which is quite terrifying. If someone threatened them in the same way, I don’t know what the world would be like and how much the people of Europe would work to get the culprit (let alone what they would do to them). I wish there was a time this story would not be prevalent.

Writing Style
            I must regretfully say this is the first book I have read by Tom Clancy. I have read lots of books, but never a Clancy novel. It was thrilling as I expected it would be and quite enjoyable (as I hoped it would be).
When I read a novel published in the 1900s or earlier (like my favorite: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), it is much slower to read that say one which was published in the early 2000s. This is because of the difference in vocabulary. This novel is in the middle. It only took me a month to read (which is slow for me, but had other books I was required to read).

Author Comparison
The author I would compare Clancy to would be Dan Brown, because they both are quite popular thriller writers, though Clancy has definitely written a lot more novels than Brown (my library where I volunteer has resorted to part of a rolling cart so the novel bookshelves don’t overflow).

            The one problem I had reading this novel was there were so many characters. At times for me it is hard to remember who is who, but that might not be as confusing for other people. Oh, another thing is the cover. Look at it. Imagine yourself pulling the trigger of that gun. How would you do that? I mean you have the trigger, but handle which you grip while you pull the trigger is on the wrong side of the trigger (should be in back of it). Other than that, it is a good novel.

            This was an enjoyable novel. Perhaps one day, I’ll read another book by Clancy. I actually wrote this review a little while ago, but I still think the book is cool. When I read this, I was thinking “this should be movie”. I just realized the day of me posting and typing this I found a movie adaptation. I’ll review and watch it soon!

Quote / Picture of Author
“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”
--Tom Clancy