Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, is perhaps unlike any book I have read. Part novel, part picture book, aimed at young audiences highlighting a peculiar figure in cinematic history. To start, there is something beautiful about this book but I find it more difficult to articulate.

Many of the illustrations are exquisite. For me the best images were the ones that had the greatest scope, either interior or exterior. The more going on in the frame, the better the illustrations. Plus, there is a definite cinematic attempt being made that gives many illustrations a storyboard-like quality. Generally, this is remarkably successful. Yet, I felt the young characters, Hugo and Isabelle, looked terribly similar.

The prose narrative of the story is also clever. While the premise of a boy living alone in a Paris train station seems a slight stretch, the evolving relationships that Hugo develops with the other characters are built with care. The fact that Papa Georges is revealed to be the pioneer French filmmaker Georges Méliès was not something that I was necessarily expecting, but made the story all the more enjoyable. Being familiar with Méliès’ work and importance in cinematic history but not the man made me wonder how much of the story was true, if any. Even more surprising is how the fictional account mirrors the filmmaker’s life, giving the whole story greater appeal for me.

Even the themes of the automaton and magic was all enjoyable. These elements combined to make Hugo more interesting and well-rounded, more than a stock scamp of an abandoned kid. Plus, the weaving of cinema’s magician with a young would-be magician eased the tension between the two and made their relationship that much more authentic and interesting. Add the mysterious automaton from Méliès’ past and it is no wonder why the old man remained intrigued but the boy, even if at an arm’s length.

In spite of all of these things, something tells me that this book will be more important as a forerunner to other textual experiments of similar combinations of illustrated prose narratives. I am not sure that the two worked as seamlessly as I might have liked, but I admire the attempt immensely. Considering how much I enjoyed it and how distinctly different the reading experience was, I would like to see more efforts like this by Selznick or others. There is a lot of room for it to evolve as a kind of genre all its own, somewhere between traditional novel and the graphic counterpart.

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Review: The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery
The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everyone knows the the name, but how well-known is the story? Above all, The Notorious Benedict Arnold is an excellently crafted and remarkably compelling story of one man’s hubris.

Reading Steve Sheinkin’s historical non-fiction volume uncovers Arnold as an undeniable hero of the American Revolution. His audacity, skill, and considerable luck all converge to make him an extraordinary military force in the early days of America’s revolt. His initial mission to Fort Ticonderoga alone is an adventure story worthy of its own treatment. Yet that is only the beginning of the dramatic wake that cast by Arnold’s meteoric rise and ignominious fall.

While considered a young adult title, this book transcends that label on a number of levels. It reads like a novel, includes first-person accounts, and is well resourced. Perhaps Sheinkin’s greatest feat is his successful portrayal of Arnold as a sympathetic, albeit severely flawed individual. No doubt, Arnold was not always recognized or treated fairly in a highly politically charged climate. What’s more it was his capacity to hold grudges and feel scorned that led to his undoing. Still, Sheinkin certainly makes the case for his being the subject of a great story and an even greater fall.

While Arnold invited a lot of his own trouble, that only serves to make him even more interesting and compelling. To say Arnold lived a full life is understatement. Even the melodrama of his ultimate unraveling, missing his most ardent supporter, George Washington, by mere minutes makes for a fantastic story alone, and Sheinkin relates it with relish. Even the aftermath of Arnold’s betrayal draws a degree of sympathy, making him all the more powerful as a cautionary tale.

Although I typically like historical non-fiction generally, as well as biographies, I enjoyed this book even more than I expected. It was a fascinating view into a historical figure that everyone knows but doesn’t know much about. Ultimately, Sheinkin squeezes out the formalities and dogma of historical writing in favor of action, adventure, and ripping good yarn, a major factor in it being considered a young adult title, but it makes it all the more readable and enjoyable.

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Review: Dutch ‘Total Football:’ How the Dutch Created ‘Total Football’ Their tactics, Drills, and Coaching Methods

Dutch 'Total Football:' How the Dutch Created 'Total Football' Their tactics, Drills, and Coaching Methods
Dutch ‘Total Football:’ How the Dutch Created ‘Total Football’ Their tactics, Drills, and Coaching Methods by Terry Michler
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

While two thirds of Dutch ‘Total Football’ are filled with valuable Drills and Exercises for anyone interested in coaching with a Dutch sensibility, most of this book is comprised of recycled material reassembled from a handful of sources into an edited introduction to the subject from a coaching perspective. That is not all bad for anyone unfamiliar with the Dutch national team, Ajax, or some of the most famous coaching exports.

However, for anyone who has read Coaching Soccer, the official coaching book of Dutch Soccer Association, by Bert van Lingen There simply is not a lot new here. For anyone deeply interested in the topic or who has read Brilliant Orange or Ajax, Barcelona, Cruyff there is even less new in this slim title.

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