Reviews by larkspur
Okay, so where's the rest of the book?
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Smail admits in the introduction to On Deep History and the Brain that the volume was originally intended as a sort of extended introduction to the real "neurohistory" he wants to write. But then it got to be nearly 200 pages on its own.... On Deep History still feels prefatory, but it's easily enough to make me eager for that more in-depth, researched volume. I even bought the book so as to more easily remember it five years hence, and to remember to look for its successor.

In On Deep History the author, who is by trade actually a historian of medieval France, argues that the discipline of history has unnecessarily self-limited to the study of "documents"--broadly speaking, history has been the history of "civilization," i.e. the 5000 or so years since the invention of writing. Smail wants history to think wider, and longer, and incorporate more ideas from anthropology, evolutionary biology, linguistics, and neurology (at a minimum!). After explaining the source of this perceived self-limitation, Smail finally opens up to the ideas he wants to pursue: that a major driving force for individuals is the modulation of our neurochemistry, sometimes consciously and directly (caffeine, nicotine, sex, &c.) and sometimes through complex behavioral patterns (ritual, gossip, &c.).

I want to hear more, though I should say I have discussed this with a recent medieval history Ph.D. whose initial reaction was, "Those aren't new ideas!" and that (as an analogy) I once had a Mesopotamian history professor who absolutely despised the work of Jared Diamond as speculations of a rank amateur.
A tempest in your head
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Ilium is one heck of a ride. Careering wildly between concepts from genetic engineering to Shakespeare criticism, and between (apparent) time periods from the age of Greek lore through the late 20th century and some three thousand years into the future, Dan Simmons expects a lot from his readers. He writes as if you already are conversant with his SF/F cultures, whereas you are probably flying by the seat of your pants for the first 200-300 pages. He invites you to join him in grappling not only with the themes of early modern fiction (Shakespeare and a little Milton), but also with the speculation that fiction can be so great as to achieve a deeper, even literal, reality. Do not take Ilium as an "easy" read, but know that if you're willing to match Simmons step for step, he'll take you down a pretty mind-blowing rabbit hole.

[P.S. Altough I cannot unequivocally recommend the sequel, Olympos, that book has one of the best first lines around.]
Be prepared
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Brokeback Mountain I probably will never see again, but I don't have to. It's pretty seared in my memory.

On one hand, I do wish I could see it again, for the beauty of the craftsmanship--acting, visualizing, story-telling, and on and on. But I don't think I could emotionally handle being enmeshed again in those characters' suffering.

It's intense. Be amazed, but also try to know your limits.
Wouldn't it be lovely?
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Literary criticism generally becoming obsolete rather quickly, C.S. Lewis is in great part now remembered for his novels and apologetics. This book concerning criticism deserves to live on right alongside them, for the elegance of its writing and especially the beauty of the ideas. Lewis explores how one reads, how different kinds of people get different experiences out of reading, and how to judge--or not to judge--a book's merits. The hook: what if the quality of a book lies less in how it is written, and more in how it is read?

Discuss.
Gorgeous and uncompromising
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The author, Laura Miller, is a literary critic--as indeed C.S. Lewis himself was. She was given The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by her favorite teacher at age 9, and the book opened up all but literally whole new worlds to her. Narnia transformed Miller, but as she grew up and gained critical faculties, she began to see the cracks in the construction--many more than some of us ever see--and felt betrayed. Still, she admits that by many reasonable criteria (including criteria suggested by Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will always be the best book Miller has ever read. The Magician's Book is her exploration of all these ideas: child-like wonder, bitter disillusionment, and enduring love--for literature. It's a gorgeous book. I disagree with Miller sometimes, am baffled by her at others, but I always respect her for her love of stories and story-telling.