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Larry Feign "writer, cartoonist and disappointment to his mother" RSS Feed (Hong Kong)

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Gone With the Wind
Gone With the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.95
182 used & new from $3.37

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the top 5 books I've ever read, January 6, 2016
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This review is from: Gone With the Wind (Hardcover)
Who would have thought that a 1037-page, 80-year-old novel about a spoiled, petulant teenager in petticoats would completely suck me in, and turn out to be one of the greatest novels of all time?

Everything about this book is beyond superlative--vivid characters, settings that live and breathe, but especially Margaret Mitchell's prose. It would be worthwhile for any writer to study her sentences, every one of which flows with living motion, without a single flowery word. The dialogues between Scarlett and Rhett make sparks fly off the pages!

One could criticize the liberal use of racially offensive terms and the portrayal of happy slaves, but I would disagree. Within the world so meticulously created by the author, a bygone world, for all its faults, that was seen as being in equilibrium before its downfall, to have done otherwise would have been false.

This is truly the Great American Novel, in the top 5 of the greatest books I've ever read, and I suggest that you will thank yourself for reading it. My only regret about finishing Gone With the Wind is that now I can never again read it for the first time.

Russia: Putin's Playground: Empire, Revolution, & the New Tsar
Russia: Putin's Playground: Empire, Revolution, & the New Tsar
by Anastasia Edel
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.99
56 used & new from $4.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent pocket guide to the Russian condition, January 6, 2016
The title might seem misleading at first. It isn’t a book about Vladimir Putin, but instead about his Playground: that is, Russia. Putin, of course, figures prominently, as the latest in a pantheon of autocrats who have ruled Russia for centuries.

As someone of Russian heritage, who is somewhat well-read in its history (post-1900, at least) and literature, I wondered what I’d get out of this relatively short book. But in fact, it’s packed with information, with three or four thought-provoking statements on every page. Russian territorial expansion and contraction, its love-hate relationship with the West, its people’s sense of resignation and predilection for iron-fisted leaders, and other topics, each get separate chapters. Most enlightening was the “Dissidents” chapter, which chronicles dissent from the time of Ivan the Terrible until the present day with chilling effect. Another chapter about the new oligarchy had me fuming.

But back to the title. I picked this up in order to answer the question: what is it about Vladimir Putin that gets him 85 percent approval ratings in Russia, and the grudging admiration of so many people around the world? Even I confess to being charmed by his no-nonsense statements on international affairs, especially compared to the cynically-crafted prevarications of Western politicians. And who wouldn’t like a leader who rides horseback bare-chested and pilots a mini-submarine to a peace conference? The author in certain respects answers the question of Putin’s appeal, by putting it into historical context throughout the book; yet she also leaves it, frustratingly, not completely answered. Though one chapter is about Putin’s life, I wished it had gone into more detail, to give me a bit more insight into the man himself, in the same way the author gave me a fresh insight into the Russian people.

Edel makes no pretense of impartiality when it comes to Putin and the current state of Russian affairs. Nevertheless, she writes matter-of-factly, with just a tint of characteristic Russian melancholy, any anger kept well between the lines, so that you can’t help but come to the inevitable conclusions.

Why should you read this book? If all you know about contemporary Russia is what you read in the headlines, then this quick read will help you process that news with greater depth. I also think it will prepare anyone planning a visit to Russia, to gain a better understanding of the psyche of the place and its people than you’d get from the “history” chapter in your Lonely Planet guide. It’s also a beautifully-designed little book, full of artwork and great photos (like the awesome one on the cover).

I liked it. I learned from it. It packs a lot in, so despite a few minor qualms, I give it full marks.

For the record, I purchased my copy from Book Depository, an Amazon-owned company.

Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula
Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula
by Stuart Horwitz
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.00
36 used & new from $9.76

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fresh and worthwhile guide for storytellers, July 18, 2015
A worthy and useful follow-up to the author's previous title, Blueprint Your Bestseller. Although the earlier book is meant for later in the process, after the first draft, I think it's a better introduction to the author's way of viewing and molding narrative.

First, the disappointment regarding Book Architecture: I'd been hoping for the same sort of detailed exercises as in his first book, a series of brilliantly thought-out questions and sentence-honing to help a writer discover the core theme of a project, and even generate a great logline. By contrast, Book Architecture has a few useful suggestions at the end of each chapter for building what he calls a Series Grid.

I can't vouch for whether he has taken older concepts, such as 'theme' and 'character arc' and rebranded them as 'Series'. But what he does with them is unique and absolutely thought-provoking. Rather than compartmentalizing the elements of a story into character timelines, event timelines, goal timeslines, etc, thinking of each of these as a Series and placing them on the same chart can be quite eye-opening, and lead to new insights into the prevailing storyline. The old adage that plot comes from character and theme, rather than reverse is very much the lesson of this book, especially if you read it at the early stages of a first draft, as I did. I can honestly say that it made me not only see many elements of my story in a whole new manner, but helped me to fix some pacing issues and become much more confident in the story as I was writing it.

I bought the paperback version (elsewhere than Amazon). It has many nice colored diagrams, which may not show up so well in an e-book version. I recommend the paperback, since this is the kind of book you'll want to stick post-it notes all over the place as bookmarks, as I did.

One minor beef before I go. I am so tired of The Great Gatsby being lionized as the Great and Perfect American Novel. I can't stand that book, and wish the author had used a different one to deconstruct in chapter two. Nevertheless, his analysis was intelligent and worth reading.

Vandoren VMC6 Mouthpiece Cushions; Clear; Thin; 0.35mm/.014"; Pack of 6
Vandoren VMC6 Mouthpiece Cushions; Clear; Thin; 0.35mm/.014"; Pack of 6
Price: $9.99
66 used & new from $8.35

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fine, but better without the logo, November 22, 2014
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A pad is a pad, they do the job. I'm unhappy about the V logo now plastered on my non-Vandoren mouthpiece. Wish I'd bought Yamahas or another brand that is a simple, clear patch without advertising. I should have known from the product photo. Will not buy again.

Snark SN-8 Super Tight All Instrument Tuner
Snark SN-8 Super Tight All Instrument Tuner
Offered by Instrumentpro
Price: $14.99
135 used & new from $9.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Falsely described as "all instrument" tuner with transposing, August 7, 2014
Beware of the hype. This may be a fast and accurate chromatic tuner, but the description is absolutely misleading. Promoted as an "all instrument tuner" "with transposing", as compared to other Snark models, which are called "guitar tuners", one would expect it to be ideal for saxophones and other woodwinds and brass instruments. But this is not the case. It does not transpose to B-flat or E-flat tuning. It can be adjusted 4 semitones downward, of limited use for guitar tuning with a capo, but that's it. It's a guitar tuner.

Of course, transposing is not essential if all you want to do is tune your instrument before a gig or practice session--it will still indicate whether your instrument is adjusted to be in reasonably perfect pitch. But if, like me, you're a semi-beginner wind instrument player who wants to occasionally measure whether you're getting every note right as you practice, then forget about it. Seeing the name of a note other than what's in your mind and fingers and then transposing in your head is simply too distracting. I know, it's music, best to practice by ear, not rely on eyes glancing at a tuner, but that is why I bought it, why many sax students buy tuners, to check your ear versus the actual pitch, to help train both your ear and embouchure.

My one-star review is not based on whether this is a good tuner, it's based on whether it is an "all instrument tuner with transposing", as advertised, which in my opinion it definitely is not!

The Butterfly Lovers: The Legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai: Four Versions with Related Texts
The Butterfly Lovers: The Legend of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai: Four Versions with Related Texts
by Wilt L. Idema
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.50
32 used & new from $9.36

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For scholars and fanatics of the world's greatest love story, May 11, 2014
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The Butterfly Lovers, one of the great stories in Chinese tradition, is often compared to Romeo and Juliet, which this story predates by at least 700 years. The tale of Zhu Yingtai, who disguises herself as a young man in order to study, and Liang Shanbo, her "sworn brother" until he learns the truth too late, is one of the world's great tragic love stories, kept alive through the centuries in the most popular forms of Chinese traditional storytelling: ballads and operas.

This scholarly/literary study of the narrative begins with a fascinating survey of the various forms the story has taken, followed by four complete translations of different versions from the 13th Century onwards, followed by another five brief or incomplete versions. It's fascinating to see how many elements remain in common through the various retellings, as well as to compare embellishments. While in every version Shanbo doesn't learn the truth of Yingtai's identity until too late, the circumstances of his arrival in her village and his subsequent death from a broken heart vary from version to version. Later, when Yingtai throws herself into Shanbo's open grave, some tales have shred from her garments transform into butterflies, while in others, the butterflies emerge from the crypt. The most interesting embellishment appears in "The Account of the Peony" in Appendix 4, in which a lengthy epilogue follows the lovers through purgatory and resurrection.

This book is recommended for scholars and those like me, fascinated by the story after having seen full-length opera versions many times. The translations are clear and readable, poetic and occasionally humorous. The main disappointment for me is that all the featured versions are short, around 30 pages each, while the version with the most literary appeal, "The Account of the Peony" is a translation of only the final act. I'm still wishing for a proper translation of a full-length libretto of one of the many Chinese opera versions.

Erasure: A Novel
Erasure: A Novel
by Percival L. Everett
Edition: Paperback
8 used & new from $5.68

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking and hilarious, May 11, 2014
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This review is from: Erasure: A Novel (Paperback)
A great novel, packed with contradictions: page-turner absorbing, yet deeply thought-provoking. Laugh-out-loud funny yet deeply serious. About racial identity while condemning the whole concept of racial identity.

Monk Ellison is a dour academic and Literary (with a capital L) author, born into an affluent, professional African-American family which defines itself by education and intellect rather than by race. Enraged by the success of an exploitative "black" novel, Monk dashes off a farcical "black" novel of his own. Naturally, it becomes the hugest sensation of the year.

But the almost predictable comedy storyline is merely the skeleton which holds together this fine novel about identity--the social pressure to latch onto a racial identity, and the lack, faking and loss of personal identity. Monk's own identity struggles parallel those of his mother, who is gradually losing hers to Alzheimer's.

Everett shows off his virtuosity as a writer by including the full text of his character's novella, as well as a hilariously obtuse scholarly paper that will offend any literature professor, and a goofy short story.

It isn't often that I find a work that blends satire, rage, pathos and just plain great prose. I'm happy to have found a new favorite author.

Price: $0.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Small stories with big heart, May 11, 2014
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This review is from: Snippets (Kindle Edition)
One of the finer collections of Flash fiction I've read. The author imbues each brief story with its own unique voice, capturing nuances of character in just a few gestures and words of dialogue, each rising to a small peak of emotion and then letting go. Many of the stories involve the theme of "second thoughts"--about relationships, marriage, jobs, travel, the bittersweetness of reading old letters.

Two stories in particular stand out, for the impressive complex interplay of personalities expressed so neatly in so few words: "Spag Bol", in which a couple vent their feelings about impending dinner guests, and "Down the Hill", in which a woman helps her quadraplegic husband feel fully alive.

I'd read a few of these on the author's blog, but it's worthwhile to have them all together in this collection.

Things We Set on Fire
Things We Set on Fire
by Deborah Reed
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.02
94 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Thought- and emotion-provoking fiction, January 13, 2014
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This review is from: Things We Set on Fire (Paperback)
A story of three generations of women and girls, so richly told that it drew me in like few novels do: I felt I was sitting inside the living room while real live people fought and cried and played around me.

A 30-year-old murder triggers a series of misunderstandings which lead to lifelong hatred and regret, until a light is shed on its motivation and past events turn out to be not what they seem. While it's essentially a family drama, Reed achieves a depth and complexity of emotion that never comes anywhere close to melodrama.

If you enjoy prose that's as musical and tight as a guitar string, which will move you deeply and inspire you to live mindfully, you will love this book.

I Am Not Sidney Poitier: A Novel
I Am Not Sidney Poitier: A Novel
by Percival L. Everett
Edition: Paperback
47 used & new from $3.23

4.0 out of 5 stars Erudite absurdity, January 6, 2014
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The first novel ever to raise the burning question: "What, exactly, is a smithereen?"

A young man bestowed with an absurd name and a significant shareholding in Turner Broadcasting moves in with Ted Turner, encounters bigoted Southern cops, inbred rednecks, snooty upper-class light-skinned blacks, an oddball community of nuns, and an irritating professor who spouts geysers of meaningless academic jargon and shares the same name as the author himself.

I adored Everett's ERASURE and consider him one of the most brilliant, funny and sadly overlooked American satirists, whose literary style and sensibility should earn him a place as the contemporary, African-American Mark Twain. While his prose in I AM NOT SIDNEY POITIER is pitch-perfect, the characters are wonderful (his amiable, slightly nutty Ted Turner is a hoot!), and the lampooning of different classes of people is often laugh-out-loud funny, I felt that the book was a pastiche of independent scenes, rather than one with a unified, raging agenda as in many of his other works.

You won't regret a moment reading it. But if you're new to Everett, start with Erasure.

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