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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Published by Borders Classics on January 1, 2006 (first published June 20, 1890)
Source: On shelves
Genres: Classic, Fiction
Pages: 194
Format: Paperback
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Dorian Gray, a handsome and narcissistic young man, lives thoughtlessly for his own pleasure - an attitude encouraged by the company he keeps. One day, after having his portrait painted, Dorian makes a frivolous Faustian wish: that he should always remain as young and beautiful as he is in that painting, while the portrait grows old in his stead.

The wish comes true, and Dorian soon finds that none of his wicked actions have visible consequences. Realizing that he will appear fresh and unspoiled no matter what kind of life he lives, Dorian becomes increasingly corrupt, unchecked by public opinion. Only the portrait grows degenerate and ugly, a powerful symbol of Dorian's internal ruin.

Yeah, so I’m not a fan of The Picture of Dorian Gray. I’m sorry, but it was kind of boring and I knew how it was going to end. The idea itself is interesting; Dorian doesn’t age, but his portrait does and it shows all the signs of his downfall instead of him. Of course, it takes almost half the book to get to that part. it’s a much more philosophical book than I though it would be. It touches on the nature of art and on society’s adoration of youth and beauty. Sin is obviously important to the story  and what a person will do if they are free from consequences, but I think even more important is the dangers of truly influential people. Dorian wasn’t the star for me, his “friend” Henry was. It’s Henry who leads him down the hedonistic path. Henry is charming and witty, he theorizes and shocks people. He encourages Dorian, even though he himself seems to lead a pretty unremarkable life.

Dorian starts off as a beautiful young man, who eventually does whatever he wants whenever. Really, though, we don’t see much of what makes him a terrible person. Two events, breaking a young woman’s heart, leading her to commit suicide, and committing murder himself are clearly reprehensible; but we have 18 years where his friends eventually mostly turn against him, where it becomes increasingly obvious that people know he is immoral, but we don’t know really what he does. We can guess and assume, but I expected to read more of his actual actions. Of course, given the time period this was written, that was probably an unrealistic expectation.

About Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish playwright, poet and author of numerous short stories and one novel. Known for his biting wit, and a plentitude of aphorisms, he became one of the most successful playwrights of the late Victorian era in London, and one of the greatest celebrities of his day. Several of his plays continue to be widely performed, especially The Importance of Being Earnest.

As the result of a widely covered series of trials, Wilde suffered a dramatic downfall and was imprisoned for two years hard labour after being convicted of “gross indecency” with other men. After Wilde was released from prison he set sail for Dieppe, France by the night ferry. He never returned to Ireland or Britain, and died in poverty.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

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Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist
Published by Crown on October 28, 2014
Source: On shelves
Genres: History
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
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Empire of Sin re-creates the remarkable story of New Orleans’ thirty-years war against itself, pitting the city’s elite “better half” against its powerful and long-entrenched underworld of vice, perversity, and crime. This early-20th-century battle centers on one man: Tom Anderson, the undisputed czar of the city's Storyville vice district, who fights desperately to keep his empire intact as it faces onslaughts from all sides. Surrounding him are the stories of flamboyant prostitutes, crusading moral reformers, dissolute jazzmen, ruthless Mafiosi, venal politicians, and one extremely violent serial killer, all battling for primacy in a wild and wicked city unlike any other in the world.

Empire of Sin focuses on New Orleans, 1890-1920. It’s a compelling look at the politics, crime, and culture of the city. The mayhem starts with the killing of Police Chief Hennessy. The acquittal of the killers ignited mob violence that just astounded me. Around the same time, the vice-district Storyville was established. This era saw the birth of jazz, music that made some of the upper class in the city nervous. Jim Crow laws were established in the city, which, until this time, had been relatively tolerant of integration. We see New Orleans during WW 1 and prohibition. A lot happened in those years and the book is filled with names I was familiar with, especially the first generations of jazzmen.

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but books like this make me wonder why not. The people in these pages are as fascinating, absurd, outrageous and inventive as any fictional characters. The things they do, from lynchings to shootouts to somehow keeping a niece from knowing her aunt was a madam of one of the most successful brothels in Storyville made my jaw drop. I found myself rooting for the jazz players and the madams and the bar owners, not the reformers who were trying to clean up – and segregate – the city. The writing style brings the era alive, it’s not a dry recitation of facts, although those are there. Krist makes history readable.

If the book suffers from anything it’s the broad scope. Krist seems to deal with everything happening in New Orleans during that time. Yes, it all interrelates, but I felt like it was almost two, or three, books crammed together. The politics and fight against vice was one topic, the birth of jazz another, and the axman murders that framed the book could have been left out for all I cared.

The book fizzled out a bit at the end. It’s like the time we were looking at was over and now we’re done, except for a mention of Hurricane Katrina. I don’t know if there really was a better way of ending, but it didn’t quite hold up to the rest of the book for me.

I’m glad I finally pulled this one off the shelf. Krist has taken what was already a colorful city and made it more vivid. Now, I a.) want to read more non-fiction and b.) visit New Orleans.

About Gary Krist

Gary Michael Krist (born 1957) is an American writer of fiction, nonfiction, travel journalism, and literary criticism. Before turning to narrative nonfiction, Krist wrote three novels. He has also written two short story collections.

He has been a frequent book reviewer for The New York Times Book Review, Salon, and The Washington Post Book World. His satire pieces have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post Outlook section, and Newsday, and his stories, articles, and travel pieces have been featured in National Geographic Traveler, The Wall Street Journal, GQ, Playboy, The New Republic, and Esquire, and on National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts. His short stories have also been anthologized in such collections as Men Seeking Women, Writers’ Harvest 2, and Best American Mystery Stories.

Krist lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife and daughter.

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

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The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
Published by Burton's Gentleman's Magazine on 1839
Source: On shelves
Genres: Horror, Short Story
Pages: 35
Format: Paperback
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"The Fall of the House of Usher" recounts the terrible events that befall the last remaining members of the once-illustrious Usher clan before it is -- quite literally -- rent asunder.

The story begins with the unnamed narrator arriving at the house of his friend, Roderick Usher, having received a letter from him in a distant part of the country complaining of an illness and asking for his help. Roderick's condition includes a form of sensory overload known as hyperesthesia, hypochondria, and acute anxiety. It is revealed that Roderick's twin sister, Madeline, is also ill and falls into cataleptic, deathlike trances. The narrator is impressed with Roderick's paintings, and attempts to cheer him by reading with him and listening to his improvised musical compositions on the guitar. Roderick sings "The Haunted Palace," then tells the narrator that he believes the house he lives in to be alive, and that this sentience arises from the arrangement of the masonry and vegetation surrounding it.

Amber’s been reading Poe stories in her English class at school – it’s a shame I borrowed her book. No, I’m not that mean, they have copies to read at school. But I do have to thank Michelle at Castle Macabre for making me pull the Poe stories out. It’s given Amber and me the chance to talk about Poe stories in general and specifically “The Cask of Amontillado,” since we both read that this month.

Poe is many things, subtle not being one of them. “The Fall of the House of Usher” borders on the melodramatic, but in a good way. Poe’s writing is ornate and poetic, which is probably why I find Poe best read aloud, even if it’s just me reading to myself.  This story is very much a Poe story – we have several trademarks, from the just overall oppressive atmosphere to the crazy male lead to someone being buried alive, but it’s a formula that works for him, that he brings alive time and again. The problem with talking about short stories is that every little bit counts in them and I don’t want to give too much info. I want you to go read it for yourself. I will say though, if you only read one Poe this one should probably be it. The writing is gorgeous and the setting is appropriately creepy. The Ushers are a disturbing family, twins who have a special connections, whether that be paranormal or an incestuous relationship or both is probably up for debate, but they contrast well with the sane narrator. We even have a bit of poetry thrown in. And the ending, when real events at the house echo a story that is being read aloud is fantastic. The interweaving of fiction and reality works well.

 

About Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American author, poet, editor, and literary critic, considered part of the American Romantic Movement. Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story, and is generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. He is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.

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