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J M has commented on (3) products.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
The Woman Upstairs

J M, October 25, 2013

I really wanted to like this novel based on reviews I've read, and found it beautifully written...but ultimately it failed for me.

The protagonist is struggling with an incredibly self-indulgent mid-life crisis, and spends a truly phenomenal portion of the book simply dissecting her own emotions. Paragraph after paragraph, page after page, she muses on her own thoughts and feelings. And most of the time her observations -- again, very well written -- are dull and mind-numbingly obvious. Her actions are....well, frankly, she does almost nothing and very little happens to her at all. I had to force myself to get through this to the end, in the hopes that there would be character development. But she does little, learns less, and develops almost not at all until the last few pages (and this painfully delayed denouement fell very flat, for me).

When Messud describes things -- people, places, voices -- the book is terrific, almost lyrical. And some people enjoy purely introspective books, but I don't care for a narrator who spends hundreds of pages wallowing in self-inflicted, largely imagined angst. There are well written books that actually *go* somewhere.
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The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

J M, October 18, 2010

I started this book with high expectations, but was ultimately disappointed. The author starts with a vivid premise: that our use of the Internet is changing the way we think. However, in reading the book it really felt as if the author only had the material for a brief paper, and the chapters were heavily padded out to bring this to book length.

The meticulously-cited and detailed history chapters contrast starkly with the sections that deal most directly with the premise, where the logic and details leading to the conclusions are sketchy and weakly supported.

Though the author frequently disavows whether the changes are good or bad, the reader has no doubts which he thinks it is -- though the ramifications of this change (where might the shallows take us?) are only alluded to in vague yet sinister ways. A more in depth discussion of "what does this mean?" would have been good.

In short: thoroughly researched window-dressing on a very interesting but weakly constructed premise.
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(7 of 10 readers found this comment helpful)

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (P.S.) by Simon Winchester
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (P.S.)

J M, April 20, 2010

"The Professor and the Madman" is a very interesting tale, centering on the contributions and relationships of two remarkable men to the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). James Murray is the Professor of the title, and William Minor is Madman. The story of their lives and how they came to be involved with the OED (and each other) is remarkable.

The book is very well-written and wonderfully researched. The depth of detail is fascinating, and the central people in the book are presented in a complete way -- no two-dimensional character sketches here!

The one problem with the book is that it felt like the material was not really sufficient to fill an entire book, so some sections are basically restatements of previous chapters. Thus the story had a bit of a 'stretched out' feel. Also, the post-mortem psychoanalysis of Minor comes off as a bit forced -- some rather obvious possible causes or factors in his illness are never mentioned, and some rather implausible speculations are made, but this isn't a major point.

The central character of the book is really, as the author states, the dictionary itself. The book really has at its heart the love of words and of language, and this is presented clearly in a very accessible way.
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