Thursday, February 29, 1996

The Temple Tiger and More Man-Eaters of Kumaon

by Jim Corbett

An account of Corbett's experiences hunting tigers and in one instance a leopard.  The man personifies the typical pulp hero – utterly without fear, nonchalantly heroic and replete with amusing foibles, like absolutely craving a smoke and a nice hot cuppa tea even while waiting on a tree branch with rifle in hand in the dead of night for the man-eating tiger to come that way.  If these stories hadn't been true, they wouldn't be worth reading, but as it is, I was impressed, to say the least.

four stars

Wednesday, February 28, 1996

The Firm

by John Grisham

Now a major motion picture.  A lawyer is snared in a web of corruption and tries to work his way past both the mob-controlled firm and the feds. I suppose it was suspenseful.  It certainly wasn't boring, derivative or typical in plot or characters.  Just not very well-written.

three stars

Thursday, February 22, 1996

Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot

by Al Franken

A hilarious little time capsule, especially the first chapter that names the book.  Franken – Stuart Smalley on "SNL" – satirizes the breakdown of civility in modern communication brought about by Rush and his ilk (thus the title), and at the same time points out the hypocrisy of major conservative figures by using real facts and figures.  He's kind of an anti-P.J. O'Rourke: very clever, extremely funny, doesn't take himself too seriously.  The index of the book, which is unrelated to its actual material, is merciless and drives the point home like a straw into Rush's Big Gulp.

four stars

Monday, February 19, 1996

India: A Wounded Civilization

by V.S. Naipaul

Naipul explains India, sort of.  A horribly critical book, quite racist (in the sense of making broad, derogatory generalizations about an entire people, using small amounts of evidence or even just hearsay), bordering on the vitriol of a KKK pamphlet.  And yet, a lot of what Naipaul points out seems correct.  He's an extremely sharp observer and doesn't have to make a big production out of how absurd some Indian policies are; he makes their absurdity come across by just describing them.  So he does make his point, and yet he does it so smugly, so self-assured, without reservation, that the criticism comes too hard.  The section where, for example, Naipaul is comparing individual Indians' thought to children's thought, on the basis of what some Uncle Tom of an Indian psychiatrist has reported to him, is repugnant.  But when Naipaul tells about an Indian attempt to "modernize" the bullock-cart or peasants' tools, he makes it clear why he called that chapter "A Defect of Vision."  He must have had a bad time in India.

three stars

Tuesday, February 13, 1996

Slowly Down the Ganges

by Eric Newby

Supposedly a tale of how he and his wife traveled down the Ganges in a variety of boats.  More like how he and his wife traveled along the basic course of the Ganges in a variety of buses and trains.  A very patchily written book, at times it would be fascinating – whether describing ancient history, the author's own reminisces, or the events of the voyage (which were also at times hilarious) – and at times it would just be page after page of pure description of ruined forts or the banks of the Ganges (cliffs, forest, silt, sandbars, ho hum).  The last chapter was particularly boring, being in toto a run-down, a bare litany, of all the landmarks on the Ramganga down to the Bay of Bengal.  Too bad; it had a lot of potential. 

three stars

Friday, February 9, 1996

Uncle Fred In the Springtime

by P.G. Wodehouse

A tale of Uncle Elmsworth, the Efficient Baxter and Uncle Fred. It was brilliant in its execution, but not as funny as the Bertie and Jeeves chemistry. Also, the incredibly complex plot strained even the Wodehousian limit of credulity: a man is convinced he is crazy because three of his friends pretend not to know him (and he accepts their flat denial of their identity). But this type of silliness is best when not looked at too closely and simply enjoyed, eh?

four stars

Monday, February 5, 1996

Myths and Legends of India: An Introduction to the Study of Hinduism

by J.M. Macfie

This book told many tales from the Puranas, the Ramayana and mostly the Mahabarata.  I remembered quite a few from my readings of the two latter, but many were new to me.  The trouble is that, although the author takes a lot of pride in his supposed impartiality and fairness in depicting Hinduism's strengths as well as weaknesses, he takes quite a racist or at least a haughty, pedantic view in his descriptions, calling - for example - the presence of Shiva lingams "revolting and obscene"; calling Indian thought "arrested"; claiming that India's caste system constitutes "the most rigorous and cruel" color bar in history (a dubious claim, perhaps); and just generally adopting a mocking tone when describing inconsistencies in the stories and so on.  But they are told well and I enjoyed the book anyway for the information it contains.

three stars