Sep 4, 2008

A Bunch of Mini-Reviews - Part 1

My Life With the Chimpanzees by Jane Goodall

Dewey asked: Why only 4/10? Is it poorly written? Do you hate chimps? ;) What inspired the low score?

Ken asked: What's up with the chimps' low rating (I haven't actually read it, but...)?

Debi said: I'm really surprised about the low rating for Jane Goodall as well. I don't question it for a second, of course, I'm sure you've got great reasons. I haven't read any of her books, so I have no clue what they're like. And I just asked Rich if he'd read it...he hasn't, but he said he really enjoyed her book In the Shadow of Man. This really has me quite intrigued!

asked: What about the book made you give it a 4/10? The writing? Organization? Style?

I see that you were all surprised that I disliked Jane Goodall's book. Well, I was surprised myself. And let me start by assuring you that I do like chimps! My Life With the Chimpanzees is an autobiography for young readers. I picked it up because I wanted to read one of her books, and this was the only one the library had.

The first problem was that the book would have been more aptly titled My Life, Featuring a Few Chimps. It's much more about Goodall's life than about her work. That in itself wouldn't have necessarily made it a bad book, but then there's the writing. I'm not sure what age group she had in mind when she wrote this, but the book is far too simplistic. And yes, I expected it to be simple, but what I didn't expect was the constant condescending tone. She sounds like she's addressing a two-year-old. She strikes me as one of those adults that don't quite know how to address children and are all awkward around them.

There was something else that really rubbed me the wrong way. Jane Goodall keeps saying things like "As long as you really want something, it'll happen!" And sure, telling children to be confident and persistent is a good thing, but she often sounds like she's saying that as long as you want something, a chance to get it will miraculously drop out of the sky. She also really downplayed the role her education played in fulfilling her dream of working with animals. She was lucky enough to have had the chance to work with animals in Africa before she had a university degree, but honestly, what are the odds of something like that happening? And would her career have been what it is if she hadn't gone back home to study? She makes her education sound really unimportant, much less important than the fact that she really really wanted to work with animals. And while being passionate is a great thing, I'm not sure if this is a message we want to be sending out to kids. Personally, I'd take education over luck any day.

However, I still think that Jane Goodall's work in itself is very interesting, and it's a shame that there wasn't more about it in this book. And I still want to read her books for adults. I know that there are writers who write great books for adults and yet are completely incapable of writing for children. Maybe that's the case with her.

Jazz by Toni Morrison

Dewey asked: If you've read any other Morrison, how did this book compare?

I've also read Beloved, and while it had a greater impact on me, I think Jazz was a more pleasant read. Beloved is almost suffocatingly painful. Not that the subject matter of Jazz is cheerful - for those wondering, it's set in Harlem in the 1920's, and it's about a middle-aged man who shoots and kills his eighteen-year-old mistress when she threatens to leave him. His wife then goes to the funeral and attempts to disfigure the corpse. What I liked the most about Jazz was how despite all the hurt and tragedy, it was full of energy, full of passion, full of life. I loved all the flashbacks to the time of slavery, and the fact that she showed the characters' struggled to build new lives and identities for themselves once they became free men and women. And of course, I loved the writing itself. I look forward to reading more Morrison.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, vol. 1 by Alan Moore

Dewey asked: If you saw the movie, how did it compare to the book? What did they leave out that you felt was important?

Susan asked: Is this good a good comic book to begin reading with? How does it compare to the movie (I know already asked, but we really want to know!) As good as or equal to The Watchmen?

Rhinoa said: Damnit I want more information on 300 and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.

Lightheaded said: As for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, please tell me you've seen the movie and it's nothing, nothing like the graphic novel to restore my faith in Alan Moore :)

I haven't seen the movie, so I can't answer most of these, sorry! But I've heard from several Alan Moore fans that it has nothing to do with the book. In fact, Alan Moore himself is said to have hated the movie.

This was my first Alan Moore, so I can't compare it to Watchmen or any of his other works. I will say this, though: while I enjoyed the book, I suspect it doesn't fully display his talent. I had heard a lot about how great his writing and how sophisticated his storytelling are, and so I expected to enjoy this book more than I did. Not that it's not well-written or sophisticated, I just expected more. However, this doesn't make me think any less of Alan Moore, it just makes me suspect that The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is not up there with his best books. For this reason, Susan, I don't think this would be the ideal book to start with.

Now for some more info: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is about a group of Victorian superheroes, all taken from late nineteenth and early twentieth century works: Mina Murray from Dracula, Captain Nemo, H.G. Wells' Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Ridder Haggard's Allan Quatermain. All the literary allusions were definitely my favourite thing about the book. And I think I would have enjoyed it even more if it wasn't for the fact that I've only brushed the surface of the work the main villain turns out to be from. And more I cannot say. I think that fans of Victorian literature will get a kick out of this book. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Dewey said: Did you know I've seen the original scroll? Since you gave the book a 9.5, maybe you'd like to check out my post!

Rhinoa said: Alex can't remember if he has a copy of On The Road as he is itching to read it. I think I will just get him a copy. Glad to see you enjoyed it so much.

Lightheaded said: Gee, you've reread On The Road and it still rates a high 9.5? Oh dear! Can't wait for your thoughts on them and see what I missed :) I liked the idea of the story but it never pulled me.

Is anyone else totally jealous that Dewey got to see the original scroll?

I think On the Road is one of those love it or hate it books, and I stand firmly on the love it field. It has been one of my favourite books for a long time, and every time I re-read it I find new reasons to love it. I love it not so much for the story, which is a bit all over the place, but for Kerouac's writing, for the energy, for the enthusiasm, for the passion for life, for the earnestness, for the complete lack of cynicism, for the sadness, for the tenderness, for the unapologetic ways in which the characters live their lives, for the yellow roman candles passage that so many Kerouac fans know by heart and that I will now post here just because:
...And I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a common place thing but burn, burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see a blue centerlight pop and everyone goes "awwww!"
On the Road is probably the most passionate book I have ever read. It depicts a kind of life that is completely unlike anything I've ever lived, that isn't like anything I'd even want to live, but it's peopled with such interesting characters (they truly do burn) and it feels so genuine that I never tire of it.

And as I'm blabbing far too much for what are supposed to be mini-reviews, I will leave 300, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, The Road to Wigan Pier, The Firework Marker's Daughter and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul for next time. Check back soon for those!


  1. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics are NOTHING like the movie. I enjoyed the movie because I saw it before I read the graphic novel, but going back now, it just makes me so angry to watch it. They added Tom Sawyer to the movie because they wanted an American literary character, and it was totally unnecessary to the plot. Hope you get to read more of Alan Moore's stuff. :)

  2. ...and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear?...

    The last sentence of On the Road alone makes it one of the best books every in American lit.

    I first read in a train ride to California. I will always love it.

    And I'm totally jealous of Dewey!!!

  3. Court: Most of the time, when filmmakers add something to a story in the hopes of making it more appealing to a particular audience, they end up ruining it. It sounds like this was the case. I love Tom Sawyer, but he just doesn't fit the story I read at all.

    Jennie: I LOVE the last sentence. The whole last paragraph, actually. Better make that the whole book :P

  4. You know, I read a Jane Goodall book awhile ago too, but I can't remember what it was, and had the same thoughts on it! It may have been this one. I was really disappointed because I've always been a big fan of hers. I studied her quite a bit in an anthropology class I took and then the book was just such a let down. Totally agree with you there on her writing abilities.

    As for Kerouac, yet another one that I've been wanting to read and still haven't! You've been reviewing all of these books lately that I've been wanting to read but never have, lol. I'm dying to read it now though after your thoughts. I have a feeling I'd be in the "love it" category.

    Oh, and by the way...skip the League's god awful...

  5. I knew there was a good reason for the low rating on the Goodall, now I can happily not feel bad for not reading it!
    ...Chris is right, skip the movie (despite the fact that Connery was MADE to play Quatermain)

  6. You know, sounds like you might have been generous with the 4/10 rating there. I absolutely knew there had to be a compelling reason...and it sounds like there were actually several compelling reasons. That truly is a shame, as she's done so much good, and it would have been wonderful for kids to have an inspirational book from her.

  7. The more I blog the more difficult I find it be write really short concise blurbs--there are just too many thoughts and opinions!! I've only seen League the movie, but I liked the literary allusions as well. After your passionate thoughts about On the Road I'll definitely have to check it out! Thanks for the minis!

  8. You make me want to read Kerouac! Is there an award for most influential blogger? Cause that would be you!! I actually want to read On the Road now!!! and I've avoided everything he wrote, mostly because i was sick of hearing about him when I got to university (and he was the book to read all through the 80's). sometimes I avoid what's popular just because it are dangerous to my books to read, my friend in Portugal!!! Great review, by the way, I love it. and sorry about the movie question, of course you wouldn't know yet, none of us do. I'll start with Watchmen then.

  9. I enjoyed reading your mini reviews, Nymeth. I'm not familiar with the books mentioned since they're not my usual reads but you had made them sounds very interesting!

    I'm looking forward to reading your other mini reviews soon!

  10. I totally understand what you thought of Goodall's writing. I read In the Shadow of Man a few years ago, and it was interesting, but by no means as scientific or factual as, say, Dian Fossey's Gorillas in the Mist (a fantastic book!). Like you said, a person's life can be interesting, but it is her work that people want to hear more about. It has always felt to me, in her writing and public appearances, that she is aiming at a young audience, but I always fear that she underestimates people's intelligence, even that of children.

    I had the privilege of attending the Great Ape Event in London a few years ago, where I heard Goodall speak, among many naturalists including David Attenborough, Birute Galdikas and Ian Redmond. They were all inspirational, but as with her writing, Jane Goodall was the least scientific, giving an anecdotal story instead of information on current research or conservation. She was interesting, but I didn't learn anything new from her. I see her more as an inspirational figure rather than an informative educator. If you are interested in such work, try reading Birute Galdikas. She was my heroine when I was a child and upon meeting her, I was not disappointed. She is also the only one of Louis Leakey's ladies still working in the field!

  11. a small change of subject:
    I was over at Chris's blog and read this comment by you..

    Nymeth, on September 5th, 2008 at 4:45 am Said:
    A feel similar to The Witching Hour? I’m totally sold. Why must you do this to me, Chris? I ordered Gossamer, btw….I hope you’re happy

    Just wanted to thank you for the best laugh I had today! You do have a way with words! LOL LOL

  12. That's disappointing about Goodall. I read several of her books about chimp when I was younger and thought they were great. I just acquired a book of hers called Reason for Hope which reflects on her life and inspirations. I'm feeling rather dubious about it now.

  13. Chris: I'm glad I'm not alone. It's too bad her books are so disappointing...I had really high expectations for them. I hope you enjoy On the Road! It's one of those books that I always hesitate to recommend because people react to it so differently. But you know, I do think you'll probably end up in the "love it" category.

    Ken: I think I will :P It sounds like Sean Connery might be the movie's only redeeming feature.

    Debi: Those 4 points were earned by the few chapters that actually dealt with chimps :P It really is too bad.

    Trish: lol, I'm glad I'm not alone :P I hope you enjoy On the Road!

    Susan: lol! You really are too sweet. The thing about On the Road is that it's been one of those trendy books for SO long! I can understand why you'd get sick of it without ever having read it, I truly do. But it's a book that's never once been out of print for more than half a century now, and it never lost its cult following. I think it's great that so many generations of people keep being drawn to it. I really hope you enjoy it when you pick it up!

    Melody, thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the mini-reviews!

    Mariel: Yes, that's another thing about it: it completely lacked any sort of scientific rigour. I understand that it's for kids, but she should give them an accurate idea of what the work of a scientist is like. I think you're absolutely right that she underestimates people's intelligence. I plan on reading Gorillas in the Mist soon, and thanks for recommending Birute Galdikas!

    Deslily: Glad to gave made you laugh :D

    Jeane: I hope that one turns out to be better!

  14. Cool thanks for the extra information. I can't remember if you have read the Promethea series of graphic novels by Alan Moore. They are beautiful, mystical and fantastic if you find copies.

  15. Can't wait to see what you have to say about Teatime! It's one of my favorite Douglas Adams.

  16. Rhinoa, I haven't yet, but you've recommended them to me before and I definitely plan to!

    Kate: I really enjoyed it. He was so great. More soon!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.