Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Everything I didn't review in 2020: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Orphan Monster Spy, Devil Darling Spy, and Fear

What? I only skipped reviewing 4 books in 2020? Wow, I did well. I'm impressed with me. 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard is a modern classic play based on Hamlet. And, here's where I stop being impressed with myself. I didn't review the play because I figured I should read its predecessor, Hamlet, and see how I felt about the original story before reviewing both, together. 

I didn't finish Hamlet. It made my head hurt. Plus, I had several other books going and it just fell by the wayside. At any rate, it took me some time to understand what was happening in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but once I got into it and realized what was happening, I thought it immensely clever and even before I "got it", I was entertained by the dialogue. 

I still need to read Hamlet. But, I'm definitely glad I read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen was a reread. Here's my original review: 

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

I reread Orphan Monster Spy because Killeen wrote a second spy novel starring Sarah, the young protagonist, a Jewish orphan who befriends a British spy and undertakes a dangerous mission to save the world from a deadly bomb being created in Germany. 

I enjoyed Orphan Monster Spy even more the second time. The first time I read it, I was uncomfortable with the place Sarah ended up going on her mission but this time I expected the level of harassment she endured and was able to concentrate on the more exciting, dangerous parts of the story. It was edge-of-your-seat the first time and doubly thrilling on the second reading. 

Unfortunately, I have talked to the author and I like him, so I felt awful when I didn't fall in love with Devil Darling Spy. In this follow-up to Orphan Monster Spy, Sarah and her spy friend go to Africa, where someone known as the White Devil is working on creating the ultimate biological weapon. People die painfully but quickly from the disease and the natives are being used as guinea pigs. 

They track down the area in which people are currently dying and masquerade as Germans who have been sent to check on the doctor's progress. 

My problem with Devil Darling Spy was that it tried to be about too many things at once: biological warfare, colonialism . . . I don't remember what else, now. I waited too long to review, not wanting to put anything bad out there. Sarah was not as strong a character in Devil Darling Spy as she was in Orphan Monster Spy, as well. And, I figured out the plot twist quite early in the book. 

Having said all that, if and when Matt Killeen writes another book starring Sarah, I will read it. I felt a little overwhelmed by the companion novel but I like Sarah and I am impressed with Killeen's writing. A lot of research must have gone into Devil Darling Spy. You can sense the effort put into it.

I wrote about Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward on Instagram or I would not have any idea what to say. I remember thinking much of it was not news to me because I've read so much about the president (I've been reading about him since the 80s), but Fear does add to the story. 

First things, first. Bob Woodward is apparently known for his meticulous research and impeccable sourcing but not for his writing. I agree with that. Sometimes it was hard to tell who was speaking. However, I got enough out of Fear that I bought its follow-up, Rage, and hope to get to that soon. 

Woodward talks about the president's unwillingness to listen and learn, his impulsiveness, his demands for loyalty and paranoia about anyone who doesn't pledge to be loyal to him, his refusal to look at anything in a way other than the transactional, the chaos in his administration, and his horrific temper tantrums, as well as how little time he actually spends working (he watches TV 6-8 hours a day; of course, now, he seems to do nothing but golf and tweet . . . and apparently make extortionate phone calls). These things were described in The Mueller Report, which I've read, and every other book I've read about the president except for Mary Trump's book. She's knowledgeable about the person but not the presidency. 

Fear was most interesting to me for the insights about the individuals who worked for the president early in the administration and how and why they ended up leaving. Those stories were quite detailed and interesting. I would not have known without reading Fear that the president was compelled to make a statement criticizing white nationalists after Heather Heyer's death in Charlottesville and then when he said there were "good people on both sides", that was his real thoughts spoken off-the-cuff. His clear dismissal of white nationalism as no big deal was too much for some of the people closest to the president. Several resigned immediately. He has, of course, done this repeatedly. First, people tell him he really has to condemn someone he doesn't want to because he thinks they'll vote for him; then he says what he wants to say and the people in charge of communication spin what he says as misunderstood or a joke, etc., or just give up and resign. Then, he's often forced to make a retraction or "clarifying" statement. The truth is always in the second statement, the one where he goes off-script. 

At any rate, all these books were worth reading and I'm glad I read them. 

That's it for 2020 reviewing! I will post my full list of books read with links to reviews or mini reviews and then I'll move on to 2021. 

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  1. There's a movie version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead! It's hilarious, but I do have to be in the right mood to watch it- because otherwise I don't follow the dialog well, and it's all dialog and wordplay. It does help to know Hamlet, as the whole thing is an inside-out telling of Hamlet in a way.

    1. Yes, I've heard of it. I need to watch it, someday. But, maybe I'll go ahead and read Hamlet, first. I'll get through it, eventually. It's not unusual for me to have several books going at once and then realize I haven't touched one of them for months, so I'll set it aside for later. That's what happened with Hamlet.

  2. You did great in reviewing your books. I'm very hit or miss but oh well. I have to say that while I'm overwhelmed by news I do think Fear would be an interesting read.

    1. Thanks. I think it was as much a factor of not reading as much as it was a matter of keeping on top of things, but whatever. I'm happy to have done so well. Fear was good. The Mueller Report is rough but it has so much of the same stuff about his temper tantrums (in that case, probably testimony made under oath). The subject is tiresome but it was still interesting.

  3. Try watching Hamlet? I think with something so archaic, I can get a better grasp of it visually than just reading. My favorite is the Mel Gibson version.

    1. Oh, I forgot Mel Gibson did a version. I'll watch it someday, maybe when I decide to tackle the play, again. I do have an annotated version but Shakespeare requires heavy annotations so it's a very fragmented reading experience.

    2. Yeah. I haven't read any actual Shakespeare in a long time- and I doubt I would have gotten through the first few I tried if it hadn't been for class discussion and annotations!

    3. Same. I need annotations when reading Shakespeare! The language falls by the wayside and everything makes sense when you see it performed, but otherwise . . . ugh. It's so different from modern English.


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