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Ben E P

Joined 1 year, 4 months ago

Ex-poet, revolutionary communist.

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You are not a stranger here (2003, Anchor Books) 5 stars

A collection of short stories features characters confronting the concerns of both classic literature and …

Review of 'You Are Not a Stranger Here' on 'GoodReads'

5 stars

The stories collected in You Are Not a Stranger Here are striking, often tragic, but never melodramatic. Haslett addresses mental illness with a sensitivity and honesty that is truly impressive. His characters may be morally suspect, or simply conflicted, as many humans are, but the world they inhabit is the one we all experience. The fantastic is contextualized within the vastness and complexity of the human experience. He experiments with form and tailors his writing to his speaker, but manages to keep his even, consistent pace whenever necessary, allowing himself a poetic turn of phrase at the appropriate moments. A thoroughly impressive collection.

Review of 'Fascinating Fungi of New England' on 'GoodReads'

5 stars

I really, really enjoyed this book. Millman has a great, casual, dad-jokes-and-all style that works really well when describing mushrooms that look like scrambled eggs, brain matter, pipecleaners, and phalluses. Plenty of scientific info delivered alongside or wrapped up in personal anecdotes from countless foraging expeditions in the woods of New England. The illustrations by Rick Kollath are very life-like, though they don't portend to be photo-realistic, which I think works well for the subject matter.

This is definitely not a field guide, a guide to edible mushrooms, or a dense scientific text about mycelia and their fruiting bodies. Instead, it's an easy-to-navigate quick reference on regional mushrooms and slime molds, written in a manner that allows the book to be read straight through, like a series of short, funny personal essays.

What I'm trying to say is, Lawrence Millman seems like a real fungi.


The Alchemist (2006, HarperOne) 3 stars

"My Heart Is Afraid that it will have to suffer," the boy told the alchemist …

Review of 'The Alchemist' on 'GoodReads'

3 stars

Recently, I'd seen the title making the rounds (as it had apparently doing for years) as a fiction-cum-self-help book. I figured I'd give it a shot.

This is a short, feel-good book written in a style that recalls the straight-ahead prose of certain Murakami passages (perhaps a result of the translation?) and nearly every paragraph contains a nugget of pithy wisdom from the mind or mouth of a character that could be picked up as a mantra for readers looking for that sort of thing. There's a vague, pan-deist spiritual undercurrent here that comforted the characters, and, I assume, some readers. That said, I couldn't get a grasp on the layout of the book as allegorical, or even find evidence of an overarching conceit, which made me skeptical of each philosophical point. Did Coelho intend to write a book full of enough sloganeering mystics that something thrown at the proverbial …

Invitation to a beheading. (1959, Putnam) 2 stars

A surreal story about a man who has been sentenced to death by beheading for …

Review of 'Invitation to a beheading.' on 'GoodReads'

2 stars

Stymied by his penchant for beautiful descriptive passages, Nabokov's plot development falters and circles back on itself. Despite his attempts to dissuade others from the use of allegorical language, it seems that this whole book hints at an allegory which is never quite rendered clearly. Nabokov's main character, Cincinnatus C., is sentenced to beheading for "gnostical turpitude" (knowledge-related deviance?), though he ironically doesn't seem to have much of a clue about why he should be put to death, or understand any of the details surrounding the execution. The reader soon learns that Cincinnatus has performed a few verifiable miracles of sorts in public, including walking on air and disappearing, perhaps related to a talent for transforming Ally McBeal-style daydreams into reality.

Sounds interesting, right? Unfortunately, repetitive descriptions of his daily schedule during incarceration, and the shifting architecture of the fortress in which he is imprisoned account for perhaps 75% of …