Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway is another book that I read in high school that made little sense to me.  The reason, no contextual knowledge to connect the novel to in any meaningful way. All that I recalled about the book was bull fighting, drinking and the eating of boiled eggs.  Ironically, the book can be summed up, in the most simple terms, as being about bull fighting and imbibing heartily, to say the least.  I’m not sure where the boiled egg imagery came from, although I think the characters do eat chicken embryos once or twice during the course of their adventures. 

Hemingway, like Fitzgerald and Joyce, was an author whose work reflected  life.  He was an expatriate that moved to Paris, after serving in WWI in the early 1920s.   He spent his time with other inteligencia such as Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ezra Pound.  Hemingway spent hours having lively, stimulating discussions in Parisian cafes and logged in many hours wandering the streets of Paris completely intoxicated.  The Sun Also Rises was not a big stretch from his everyday existence. 

The novel focuses on several friends, most of whom served in WWI, who post war spend their time with no real meaningful purpose besides drinking, dancing and traveling about Europe (which, trust me, I have no objection to…..sign me up!)  The band of less than merry characters consists of Jake Barnes (who I think of as Hemingway, minus the impotency), Brett Ashley (the love interest of every male that crosses her path, including Jake Barnes), Bill Gorton (a friend from New York who has come to join Jake on a fishing trip to Spain), Richard Cohn (a novelist, who surprisingly meets with success) and Mike Campbell (surely the chief imbiber of the group and fiancĂ© of Brett Ashley).  They meet with each other in Paris, some stay, some go and they all eventually end up in Pamplona at the “Running of the Bulls”. 
I did like the book, which I didn’t necessarily expect to.  Hemingway, unlike Fitzgerald, is one of those authors people have mixed feeling about.  Some people think he is brilliant and some…. Well…. some people just don’t.  I was emotionally involved with the protagonist, Jake Barnes and wanted to see what would become of him.  The relationship between he and his friend Bill Gorton is by far the highlight of the book, often humorous and very tangible.  The other characters, especially Brett Ashley, are somewhat annoying in their narcissism and self destructiveness, but I suppose are necessary as contrasting personalities, which this novel is heavily based. 

I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone, except maybe recovering alcoholics, it is disturbing how the characters are hell bent on destroying their livers and yet it still makes the reader want to go out and get a drink.  I read it in a couple days and found an appreciation for Hemingway.  I will also be reading  “A Farewell to Arms” next, as I have the tendency to stick with an author before I move on to other books on the list.  I am very interested to see some other opinions on Hemingway, so fire away. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I, Claudius published in 1934

I, Claudius is salacious wicked good reading!! 
English writer Robert Graves needed some cash to pay for his house or foreclosure was knocking (sound familiar?).  So, after long hours in contemplation of his problem, he decided that writing a book and getting rich would be the solution to all of his troubles.  That night when he closed his eyes to go to sleep he was visited by Claudius, the fourth Roman Emperor (41-54 AD), in a dream.  Claudius basically told Graves, you are the man to tell my story!  The story of the Julio-Claudian family, which included such characters as Julius Caesar, Marc Antony and that rascal Caligula.  
The book is written in an auto-biographical style causing the reader to devour the pages.  I couldn't put that thing down!

It was said by Claudius' own family that he should have been abandoned on a mountainside to die.  It was said that he was dimwitted, a gimp, a stammerer and a dullard; however, quite the opposite was true.  Claudius was a scholar and historian and survived a venomous maze of treachery by playing the fool. His own Grandmother Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus, poisoned not only Claudius' real grandfather (Tiberius Nero) but also attributed to the death of some of her own children and grandchildren.  Claudius dishes the dirt on everyone for posterity and spares no details, including many humorous self deprecationing revelations such as his forced marriage to a 6'4" line backer he was compelled to conjugate with to the amusement of his demented family.  Shockingly and to Claudius' great distress, at the age of forty-nine, he was declared Emperor after Caligula and his family were torn to shreds.  
 Surely this description has been enough to tantalize any reader into cracking the spine on this scandalous read!  And, the beauty......there is a sequel!  Claudius The God (1935)

Saturday, March 20, 2010


John Steinbeck
Published 1939

Back sometime ago I proposed the question, “What is the worst book you’ve ever read?” on my book blog site.  Since that time, the list   has developed a life of its own where I periodically check in on it every few weeks.  Surprisingly, some readers reported John Steinbeck novels as an experience they had to suffer through.  I wondered if it was because they had experienced his books when they were younger (that happened to me with “Catcher In The Rye”) and  didn’t have the life experience to appreciate Steinbeck.  But, I know there is also a possibility that some readers just don’t care for Steinbeck’s style or the subject matter of his books (I.e. I’m not a big Forster fan). 
Anyhow…… I love Steinbeck, especially “The Grapes of Wrath”.  This is the third time I’ve read the book and I’ve seen the movie, starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, at least three or four times. The Grapes of Wrath is exceptional in its humanity, humor and history. If you haven’t picked up Steinbeck before read the following excerpt.  It encompasses Steinbeck’s talent for brilliant dialogue. Even if you have read other works by Steinbeck, check out The Grapes of Wrath; you won't regret it. Every time I pick up this book it inspires me to laugh, cry and  to appreciate my life and opportunities.

The Great Depression, a family struggles to leave dust bowl ridden Oklahoma behind and find new opportunities as migrant workers in California. Tom Joad and his ex-preacher friend Casey have to find a new part for their truck which has broken down on the side of a Texan highway en route to California. They have limited supplies, food and money. Finding the part and getting back before dark is going to be a miracle.  They come across a junk yard and encounter a one eyed, self-loathing simpleton who hides and slaves for an abusive opportunist.

A specter of a man came through the dark shed.  Thin, dirty, oily skin tight against stringy muscles.  One eye was gone, and the raw uncovered socket squirmed with eye muscles when his good eye moved. …. The man blew his nose into the palm of his hand and wiped his hand on his trousers. ‘You from hereabouts?’
‘Come from east -goin west.’ replies Tom
‘Look around’ then. Burn the goddamn place down, for all I care.’
‘Looks like you don’t love your boss none.’
The man shambled close, his one eye flaring. ‘I hate im (his boss),” he said softly. ‘I hate the son-of-a-bitch. Got a girl nineteen, purty. Says to me, “How’d ya like ta marry her?” Says that right to me. An’ tonight-says, “They’s  a dance; how’d ya like to go?” Me, he says it to me!’ Tears formed in his eyes and tears dripped from the corner of the red eye socket. ‘Some day, by God-some day I’m gonna have a pipe wrench in my pocket. When he says them things he looks at my eye.  An’ I’m gonna, I’m gonna jus’ take his head right down off his neck with that wrench, little piece at a time.’ He panted with his fury. “Little piece at a time, right down off’n his neck.’
‘Why don’t ya role? Got no guards to keep ya here.’
‘Yeah, that’s easy to say. Ain’t so easy to get a job not for a one-eye’ man.’
Tom turned on him. ‘Now look-a-here, fella. You got that eye wide open. An’ ya dirty, ya stink. Ya jus’ askin’ for it. Ya like it. Lets ya feel sorry for yaself. Course ya can’t get no woman with that empty eye flappin around. Put somepin over it an wash ya face. You ain’t hittin nobody with no pipe wrench.’
‘I tell ya, a one-eye fella got a hard row’ the man said. ‘Can’t see stuff the way other fellas can. Can’t tell how far off a thing is. Ever’things jus flat.’
Tom said, ‘Ya full a crap. Why, I knowed a one-legged whore one time.  Think she was takin’ two bits in a alley? No, by God! She’s getting’ half a dollar extra.  She says, “How many one-legged women you slep with?  None!” she says. “O.K.,” she says. “you got somepin pretty special here, an’ it’s gonna cos’ ya half a buck extry.” An’ by God, she was getting’ em, too, an’ the fellas comin’ out thinkin’ they’re pretty lucky. She says she’s good luck. An’ I knowed a hump-back in a place I was. Make his whole livin’ letting’ folks rub his hump for luck. Jesus Christ, an all you got is one eye gone.’…..
‘Cover it up then, goddamn it. Ya stickin’ out like a cow’s ass. Ya like to feel sorry for yaself. The ain’t nothin’ the matter with you……’
‘Well, ya think a fella like me could get work? Black patch on my eye?’
‘Why not? You ain’t no cripple.’
‘Well could I catch a ride with you fellas?’
‘Christ, no. We’re so goddamn full now we can’t move. You get out some other way. Fix up one a these here wrecks an’ go out by yaself.’
‘Maybe I will, by God,’ said the one-eyed man.’

This is John Steinbeck……..

Saturday, February 27, 2010


American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser published in 1925

Oh, Clyde, what did you do?
If you’re familiar with Theodore Dreiser’s work (Sister Carrie), you may have noticed the foreboding, lurking menace that follows around his characters.  Dreiser‘s novels necessitate  peeking through your fingers while reading; you just know it isn’t going to end well. That being said, tragedy sometimes being clichĂ©d and predictable, Dreiser’s stories are very real, almost inspired from news paper articles that give us that lil’  spark….”this would make a good book!”
American Tragedy is the story of Clyde Griffiths, a wretched young man who from an early age is  schlepped around by his destitute missionary parents to sing and preach  on the street corners of Kansas City.  These  experiences  inspire Clyde to desire a different life and to visions of grandeur that eventually lead to his demise.
As soon as age allows, Clyde escapes the life of religious servitude and becomes a bell-hop at the Green-Davidson, a swanky hotel in Kansas City. As one can surmise, Clyde swan dives into debauchery with his new found freedom, gets drunk, gets laid, chases girls and gets into a serious scrape that requires his leaving Kansas City amid scandal.

After drifting for a couple of years, Clyde finds himself employed at another hotel where he inadvertently meets his wealthy Uncle.  Wealthy Uncle listens to Clyde’s woes and makes provisions for him to move to Lycurgus, New York to be employed at his collar factory. But, alas this is no free ride and upon arrival Clyde is met by his anal cousin Gilbert Griffiths (who incidentally Clyde resembles to a disturbing degree … but of course better looking) who puts Clyde to work at the bottom.  Eventually Clyde crawls out of the basement and is given a department to run.  Here enters poor, sweet, never been kissed, bound for tragedy Roberta Alden who is caught in a magnetic maelstrom with her immediate supervisor Clyde Griffiths.  Needless to say, this is a huge factory/family NO! NO! So, the clandestine lovers meet on the sly and eventually get horizontal despite Roberta’s best efforts to stay upright. The two are genuinely in love, but Clyde’s monster social ladder appetite leads him to Queen Bee Sondra Finchley. 
Now at this juncture, even if not familiar with this novel or “A Place In The Sun”….the foreboding starts to creep in, does it not?  Oh Gee, what’s going to happen to poor ol’ down trodden Roberta? Breaking up would just be too simple because…..yup, she’s pregnant! And going further into the story (if you haven’t read it) would ruin the whole ending….but keep in mind, the novel is entitled “American Tragedy”.

Coincidentally, it is Turner Classic Movie Oscar month and “A Place In The Sun” was featured about a week ago (when I was ¾ of the way through this almost 900 page leviathan).  I had seen it years back and am a Montgomery Clift fan (Clift being Clyde) so I decided since I had already seen the film I wouldn’t be ruining the ending.  However, “A Place In The Sun” (also starring Shelly Winters and Elizabeth Taylor) is an adaptation by Patrick Kearney which came out in 1951, while the novel was set in the 1920s. Besides the basic premise of “troubled poor boy meets troubled poor girl, becomes successful and overreaches which ends in tragedy” , I found the movie and the book to have distinctly different flavors, to me it just isn’t the same story at all.  The biggest discrepancy being the character of Roberta Alden, who in the book is a fully developed central character.  In the movie, she is reduced to a sniveling, fleshy,  simple pilot fish. So, I ended up shutting the movie off when Clift and Winters were in the canoe, knowing the forgone conclusion.
The other aspect of this book was… “hmmm, what kind of lessons can be taken away from this tragedy?”
  • Don’t raise your children in a religious militant fashion because they’ll turn into heathens.
  • If you ever meet a wayward poor relative, whatever you do, don’t extend a helping hand. Your name will be disgraced and you’ll have to leave town.
  • Avoid office romances with your superior or prepare to grow gills
  • Use reliable birth control (always a sound move)
  • If you are poor and uneducated, stay that way, striving for something else is just going land you in hot water
  • If your relationship is on the rocks, avoid canoes and romantic lake trips
Hmmmm, not sure. I don’t think there are any lessons. That is part of the attraction of this novel.  It is extremely contemporary and if you turn on CNN there is probably something similar airing right now.  I can hear Nancy Grace berating Clyde Griffiths and recapping the details ad-nauseam.

Lastly, I love recasting movies, so for the new release of “American Tragedy” Clyde is Christian Bale, Roberta Alden is Rachel McAdams (Not a Shelly Winters type….total miscast), and Sondra is Scarlett Johansson (or Megan Fox would be a dead ringer, but I have no idea if she can act or not…????) Anyway, that’s my vote. What’s yours???

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I hate to admit it (Hi, I'm Kris. I'm a book abuser. I abused my last book this morning!) but I am seriously rough on the books I read. When I'm done with them, no one else wants them with all the underlines, dog ears, and coffee stains (amongst other things).  But that is how I enjoy reading, who can resist not underlining a really superb snappy comeback (Vonnegut) or a character description that is so effective you immediately say, Ahhh yes, I know that guy (Dreiser)!  Or, just the beautiful way words are weaved together to create poetry or a fresh interpretation (Nobotov).  
I take notes in the margins, shove my books in my purse and cram them into laundry bags. It would be interesting to interview a book that has to travel around with me until completion. The book could review me maybe. 

Here we have the book "American Tragedy", who prefers to be called A.T.  
Interviewer: So A.T. what was it like to be read by Kris Daniel?
A.T.: I feel violated for one and am now in therapy. I don't think when Mr. Dreiser poured years of his talent into me he pictured my being used as a coaster by said person's coffee mug! 
Interviewer: So it sounds like you're a little irritated, would that be a correct assessment?
A.T.: I moved past irritated the day I was thrown into a dirty clothes basket so Ms Thang could take me to the laundry mat and pass the time crinkling up my pages while she was eating a strawberry danish. But I confess the danish was light and fluffy with a tangy strawberry filling. There is still some left on page 87 if you want to give it a try.
Interviewer: No I think I'm good, but thank you. What are your hopes for the future A.T.? 
A.T.: Well I just hope I get placed in better hands next time but let's face it I'm all tatooed up and my back cover fell off. People cross the street when they see me. Although, I do have some good things going. I've started a group for abused books which is very rewarding.  
Interviewer: So, it sounds like you have turned a negative into a positive.
A.T.: Yes, and we also are insisting that all new books be printed with a warning label so as not to find themselves in the hands of such readers.
Interviewer: Thank you very much Mr. American Tragedy for sharing your story with us today.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Back in October of 2009 I put forth the question to book bloggers, "What is the worst book you've ever read?"   And, recently (December) an article came out in the Wallstreet Journal by Alexandra Alter reviewing a list of "Worst Books". (visit link to article)  To my surprise, Ms. Alter actually contacted me for an interview about why I raised the question.

I write about books for the Wall Street Journal and am putting together a story about some of the "worst books" lists coming out. I saw a thread on books blogs by Kristina Daniels, who asked "What is the Absolutely Worst Book You've Ever Read?" and I hoped to interview her about why she raised the question and whether the responses surprised her.

I can be reached at the number below, or if you prefer, you can email me your contact information and a convenient time to call.

Thanks very much,

Alexandra Alter
The Wall Street Journal
1211 Avenue of the Americas, 4th floor
New York, NY 10036
Story of my life, I just got the email and think it is too late to participate in the reviews, but here are some of the books avid readers contributed:
Twilight (by far the most reported "worst book")
The Secret
Catcher In The Rye
Vampire Diaries
Gulliver's Travels
Time Travelor's Wife
Digital Fortress
Blonde Roots
Citizen Girl
The Gargoyle
The Life of Pi
The Polished Hoe
The God Whale
Passage To India
Ethan Frome
Women About Town
A Partisan's Daughter
Julia's Chocolate
and readers also responded with disliked authors and genres: Patterson, V.C. Andrews, Self Help Books
(to see more visit link above)
I guess I posed the question because I'm reading the top 100 books and wanted to investigate how many responses would include novels from that list. Random House.  
For those of you that read my blog enteries on living through "Ulysses" (see archives), or have struggled through a monolith yourselves, the question "Worst Book?" is something readers like to share. Let's face it, we are more likely to respond to something we disliked than something we loved.....i.e. people will share a bad restaurant with more people than a good one.....or something like that. So book bloggers, What bad books have you read lately?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


LOLITA was published in 1955 and released in the U.S. in 1958. I cannot stress enough Vladimir Nabokov’s Afterword in fully understanding Lolita. This is probably one of the best, if not the best, books I’ve ever read. The writing style immediately reminded me of American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, which also produced shock and disgust while  generating appreciation for its satirical and gory theme.

Patrick Bateman is the protagonist in American Psycho who embodies all that is superficial and materialistic in society.

“I have all the characteristics of a human being: blood, flesh, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don't know why. My nightly bloodlust has overflown into my days. I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip.”

Just as in American Psycho, Lolita’s theme is repulsive. And, Humbert Humbert (a name subliminally effective like Dick Diver in Tender Is The Night by Fitzgerald) is the lead in this debauched story. He doesn’t generate any sympathy; albeit, his sociopathic, matter of fact style is married to a morose dark cynical humor that is irresistible to the reader. In discussing Lolita, it’s a feeling akin to when someone says “my wallet is missing” and even though you didn’t take it you feel guilty and must establish your innocence. Just as now, I feel the compulsion of stressing my disapproval of the subject matter of Lolita and was squeamish many times throughout. I also questioned the nature of the author. It didn’t seem possible that someone could write in this kind of narrative style and present a character so real without sharing some components of that character’s personality. This is why Nobokov’s afterword is necessary for the reader. It answers all those nagging questions that come up.

“Humbert Humbert is a European intellectual adrift in America, haunted by memories of a lost adolescent love. When he meets his ideal nymphet in the shape of 12-year-old Dolores Haze, he constructs an elaborate plot to seduce her, but first he must get rid of her mother. In spite of his diabolical wit, reality proves to be more slippery than Humbert's feverish fantasies, and Lolita refuses to conform to his image of the perfect lover.”

The additional component that is extraordinarily impressive is the perfection of Nobotov word usage (especially considering English was a second language to his native Russian). I rescanned many passage just for the sheer beauty of the writing; it literally is poetic! This is why on “Kris’ Rating List” (see below) I have placed Lolita as number one. I welcome other impressions.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Okay, first of all, in looking over my hasty entries lately I have noticed several embarrassing typos and spelling errors! (Blush, blush, wagging foot with down cast gaze). Well I'm out of Maine and in La Jolla, California where it is absolutely gorgeous. I walked along the beach today with my two boys ten and eight and we saw all the seals basking in the sun and they had lots of babies as well (which of course are the cutest things on earth with their big brown eyes!) I can't help but worry for them that they will be shark bait. How horrible!

In my winter travels from Hawaii to Maine to California I have managed to read quite a few books: Howard's End, A Room With A View, A Passage to India (all by Forster), Deliverance (Dickey) and Lolita (Nobotov). There are so many aspects to Lolita that I don't even know where to begin. So that will be for another day. I'd love to hear impressions of Lolita from other bloggers!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


"The setting is the Georgia wilderness, where the state's most remote white-water river awaits.  In the thundering froth of that river, in its steep, echoing stone canyons, four men on a canoe trip discover a freedom and exhilaration beyond compare.  And then, in a moment or horror, the adventure turns into a struggle for survival as one man becomes a human hunter who is offered his own harrowing deliverance."

Deliverance makes you think, how would I handle a situation like this? What compromises would I make? Could I be a hero?
Drew, Lewis, Ed and Bobby are just regular guys.  We all know them or have met people like them.  Drew is that guy you met in college briefly and then happen to run into years later to discover he's just the way you thought he would be.  These fellas are your boss, your brother, your husband.

Do you want to commune with nature, but it's somthing you put on the side burner?
I have too much work....
It's too much energy; I would have to get off the couch.....
There are bugs, and bears and Big Foot.....
I don't have the gear....etc etc etc
And these guys are no different, they want to go but they have their doubts and aren't exactly conditioned for the wilderness like their friend survivalist and bow hunter Lewis.
Although ladden with doubts and lots of complaints, they decide to do a river run in the remote mountains of Georgia. In the beginning, things are good. The men are awakened, enlightened, and Ed experiences a self awareness he doesn't feel back in the city working 9-5 at his advertising business. His friend Lewis is an excellent archer and Ed has become proficient himself. He's looking forward to actually making his first kill (little does he know, his first kill will be another human being).  However, suddenly without warning....things take a decidedly nasty turn as Bobby and Ed, in one of the canoes, happen upon two foul and filthy hillbillies (dueling banjos commence) who are in the mood for romance! As one exclaims, "You ain't going no-where!" Triple YIKES!! And, you can feel the creepy crawlies on that banjo string..... twang!!
This is where my mind went nuts, "Ed shouldn't have said they were alone!" "They definately should have not let the other guy go!" "OMG, what would I do if that was me?"  And so on.......
If you haven't read Deliverance it is an emotional ride for sure and can be read in a day. It really made me question what would I be able to do if a situation warranted killing to survive? Would I be able to act? Or would I freeze and blubber like a baby? Most of us haven't found ourselves alone in the woods with randy hillbillies (Thank God!) but have needed deliverance from other scary situations. I wonder if most of it is innate (survival instinct) or training?? Thoughts?