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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
Bloomsday: The Bostoniad - David B. Lentz Nasrudin and the New Qur'an

Nasrudin was at the tea house one day when he heard some idle young students talking about the Qur'an.

"It sounds magnificent, of course," grumbled one, "but half the time you can't even understand it without a commentary."

"It's supposed to respect the Bible," said another, "but Allah often seems to have forgotten about His earlier revelations."

"I don't like its attitude to women," snapped a third.

When Nasrudin got home, he took out his pen and started writing. He returned to the tea house the following week with a thick manuscript and sat down next to the students.

"I have written a new and improved version of the Qur'an," he announced. "Let me read it to you." But before he had even completed the first surah, they begged him to stop.

"This is dreadful!" they shouted. "Horrible! Blasphemous! It's not like the Qur'an at all!"

"Isn't that what you wanted?" asked Nasrudin.


The author has complained to me that the above review is unfair. Let me be more explicit. The book is, both in form and content, an updated version of Ulysses, transposed to 1974 Boston. It is divided into chapters bearing the same names as the ones in Joyce's book, and the two main characters, called "Bloom" and "Dedalus", are in many respects like their Joycean homologues. The storyline is very similar, and the themes used are also taken pretty directly from the earlier book; thus, for example, "The Sirens" is concerned with music, "Oxen in the Sun" includes multiple pastiches of various authors presented in chronological order, and "Penelope" is a stream-of-consciousness monologue by Bloom's wife.

The great difference is in the style. The vatic poetry and near-impenetrable tangle of allusions in Joyce's original, which to me are what give the the book its unique charm, have been replaced by a sub-Wildean stream of wisecracks; the general impression is roughly that of an American sitcom. My first reaction was to read Bloomsday straightforwardly as a retelling of Joyce, and from this point of view I really did not like it. To be blunt, it seemed extremely disrespectful to one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. Towards the end, though, I decided that there was another way to look at the text. No one can do a second Ulysses. If you think of Lentz's book as a comedy about an attempt to perform this impossible task, it is actually quite funny, and from this point of view I recommend it. I must admit that I couldn't put it down: I constantly had to read on to see how the next episode would be treated, and in fact I completed the second half more or less at one sitting.

Maybe the author will like the above even less than my first review. I'm sorry: I'm just calling it like I see it.