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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
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A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Clayton, Paul: Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam | Main | Millington, Mil: Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About »

Grossman, Lev: Codex

  

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Harcourt © 2004, 348 pages [amazon]
3 stars

With two weeks of free time to fill before he is due at his new job, a prestigious position in the London office of his current employer, twenty-something investment banker Edward Wozny is unsure what to do with himself. More accustomed to 18-hour work days than sleeping in, Edward finds himself open to two time-consuming experiences he would never have considered previously. For reasons that are unclear to him, Edward is singled out by an English duchess and asked to take on the job of cataloging her family's library of neglected medieval manuscripts. He is at the same time directed to keep an eye out for the work of a certain Gervase of Langford, the codex of author Lev Grossman's title. Edward thinks the job the duchess offers (through her representative) is beneath him, and he is by no means qualified to perform it, but he nevertheless allows himself to be hired. Sucking up the rest of Edward's free time is an (allegedly) addictive computer game with unusually realistic graphics that is lent to him by his friend Zeph. Edward manages through his ineptitude to stumble into levels of the game that more experienced players are not even aware exist. In the weeks before his move to England, Edward becomes engrossed in both these activities, the game and his search for the codex, to the point that he questions whether he will in fact return to the work that had until recently meant everything to him.

In the weeks before his move to England, Edward becomes engrossed in both these activities, the game and his search for the codex, to the point that he questions whether he will in fact return to the work that had until recently meant everything to him.There is much to recommend Grossman's Codex. The book is filled with beautiful, vivid writing, as, for example, this description of Edward's childhood winters in Bangor, Maine: "It took a lot of snow to cancel school, but fortunately for Edward, Bangor got a lot of snow. If it started before he went to bed--and the later it started, the better his chances were--he would lie awake listening to the snow-muffled silence, and once his parents were asleep he would shine a flashlight out the window, watching each snowflake gleam once as it passed through the beam and then vanished into collective anonymity on the lawn." The book's dialogues are well-written also, particularly those conversations in which Edward's friend Zeph has a part. Grossman manages to grab the reader's attention immediately with a charming scene in which Edward first encounters the duchess, and he keeps us interested for a surprisingly long time in the ostensibly unexciting question, Why did these people hire Edward to catalogue their library?

In the end, however, the book is a disappointment, principally because its plot is incredible. I cannot believe that Edward became as captivated as he did by his search for the codex, by the duchess herself--who for a time bewitches Edward from afar--or by the computer game, which despite its spiffy graphics does not come across as all that intriguing and does not warrant the many pages of description it is given in the book. Indeed, the subplot of the game might have been excised from the book without detriment to the narrative. One comes in the end not to care very much why the duchess is interested in finding Gervase of Langford's codex--one of the book's great mysteries--but when the answer is finally given it too is difficult to credit. Further, when Edward is hired the task of finding the codex is presented to him as an afterthought, as something he might think about while engaged in the more important task of shelving books. Yet Edward is somehow intended to understand--and remarkably he does understand--that the discovery of the codex is all important. Edward is so sure of himself on this point, in fact, that he goes to the length of hiring, on his own authority, an assistant to help him with the task--graduate student Margaret, whose encyclopedic knowledge of medieval manuscripts is yet another unrealistic element of Grossman's novel.

Lev Grossman certainly knows his way around a sentence. Given his talent, Codex could have been a great literary thriller. It's unfortunate that the book's plot does not hang together better.

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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.