Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sally906's June Update

Well of the 6 that I was going to definitely read - I have read 5 - probably won't get a chance to read the Anne Tyler one for a couple of months as will be travelling on and off - and libraries frown upon you keeping their books too long - LOL!!!

Half of a Yellow Sun
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Read
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky -
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai - Read
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson - Read
The Road by Cormac McCarthy - Read
Digging to America by Anne Tyler (library)

Hoo Roo

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

Review also found here

Finished: 30/05/07
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 284
Rated: B
Cover: Hard Copy
Obtained from? Own it
Reason(s) for Reading: Wanted to

Opening Sentence "...It is August 1854, and London is a city of scavengers..."

At the end of the summer of 1854, the deadliest outbreak of cholera in London's history erupted. At the time, London was one of the biggest, most populated and relatively modern city in the world. What it didn't have was sewerage systems in place, or access to pure water sources. But that was OK - because every one in the scientific and religious world knew that the people who died of plagues and cholera caught it from bad odors (miasma) - and as London was virtually covered in poo - there was a lot of miasma around.

The book traces the history of the cholera virus, and it is fascinating. It then goes on to describe the investigations of Doctor John Snow and Reverend Henry Whitehead. Separately at first, then joining forces they set out to prove that the virus was not caused by breathing foul air - but by raw sewerage getting into the drinking water. Totally at odds with the scientific thoughts of the day. Unfortunately Snow never lived long enough to see his theory proved and accepted.

While the book is easy to read and fascinatingly informative - which is hard to find in the scientific Non-Fiction genre. However, I did find it to be very repetitive at times. Often, as I read a paragraph, I virtually rolled my eyes thinking " Hello you've told me this twice already - I get it!!"

He finished up comparing this event to the modern viruses around today, such as bird flu, and how it could potentially happen again. I was disappointed that this was put in at the end, almost as an afterthought - maybe if he had repeated himself less then he could have expanded more on this theory.

On the whole though - it was easy to read, informative and very interesting.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wendy's June Update

Here we are - only a couple of days from June - hard to believe! I am happy to report that I have now completed exactly half of the books on my list for this challenge.

For June I am planning to read nothing for the NYT Most Notable because, quite frankly, I am overwhelmed with other reads! I will be reading 8 books for other challenges, and 5 books for book groups - an almost impossible number. But I like a challenge, in case you haven't noticed!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Old Filth - Wendy's Review

Old Filth dozed off then with this picture before him, wondering at the clarity of an image thirty years old when what happened yesterday had receded into darkness. He was nearly eighty now. -From Old Filth, page 24-

Old Filth ("Failed in London Try Hong Kong") is a surly, retired Judge who begins to remember his past as he enters the final years of his life. The story is told in a series of flashbacks, taking the reader to Malaya where Filth was born, to Wales where he is fostered by the evil Ma Didds, to England where he attends school, and to Hong Kong where he finds his professional niche. Along the way, people from Filth's past surface to fill in the gaps of his memory - and a crime is uncovered.

This book was hard to rate - there were moments of brilliance from Jane Gardam. She likes to play with words and metaphor, such as when Filth meets a character by the name of Loss.

Loss's defection was the metaphor for Eddie's life. It was Eddie's fate always to be left. Always to be left and forgotten. Everyone gone, now. Out of his reach. For the first time, Eddie was utterly on his own. -From Old Filth, page 230-

Gardam also uses this same style to explore the idea of revelation - a central theme in the novel.

The suitcase was immense. He got it out of the roof like a difficult birth. Its label called it a Revelation. "Revelation was once the very best luggage," said Filth. "They were revelations' because they expanded." -From Old Filth, page 282-

And just in case the reader misses it, Gardam ties it up in a neat bow when Filth strikes up a conversation with a character he meets on a plane.

"I always feel tip-top. I say - you're not by any chance...?"
"Yes. Old Filth. Long forgotten."

"Well, you're still remembered out here."
"Yes. Well, I dare say. I hope so. Ha. Did you ever come across a chap called Loss?" "No. I don't think so."
"Or Islam?"
"They're all called Islam."
"He's probably dead. Certainly retired. I've got one of his suitcases. Called a Revelation."
-From Old Filth, page 287-

Gardam is a natural storyteller who writes stellar dialogue, heavy with meaning. Despite this, Old Filth is not an easy novel to read. At times the story becomes dreamlike and the characters warp into odd, almost surreal figures. Gardam's style tends to be circular, which ultimately leaves the reader with a satisfying end.

Not great, but good - rated 3.75/5. Recommended for those readers who enjoy literary puzzles and creative use of language.

*Read the original posting of this review on my blog here.

The Stories of Mary Gordon ... kookiejar's non-review

I really don't get a lot of contemporary short fiction. As I understand it, fiction should have a clear beginning, middle and end. All too often modern authors can only accomplish one 1 or 2 of those. Mary Gordon is hit or miss in this regard.

One of the stories in this collection is called "My Podiatrist Tells Me a Story About a Boy and a Dog". A woman with a plantar's wart goes to a podiatrist for treatment and at every visit the doctor tells her a funny story. One day he tells her about a dog he had as a boy who turned out to be a wolf. Then he says he'd like to tell her more stories, but he won't be seeing her again because her feet are healed. What?

I ask you, what kind of story is that? Stupid...that's what kind.

The very first story is about a woman who has become disenchanted with her family and her life and gradually grows a fascination for the lifestyle of her dirty, mean neighbor. He rejects her and she goes home. Okay, beginning, middle and end...but who cares?

Those are just the first two of 41 stories, so I turned to a random story in the middle called "I Need to Tell Three Stories and To Speak of Love and Death". The narrator tells us three stories and two of them have to do with love and death, but the third is about -and I wish I was making this up- the time an Indian woman pooped on the floor of the locker room at her gym! What the...? How in the heck is that a story of love and/or death?

After that revolting and mildly racist little story, I decided that Mary Gordon and I needed to part ways. And it's a shame because she writes very well, with quite accessible and descriptive prose, but until she learns to give a story a proper ending, I won't be reading her again.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Laura's Review - The Translator

The Translator (original review here)
Leila Aboulela
203 pages
First sentence: She dreamt that it rained and she could not go out to meet him as planned.
Reflections: Sammar is a Sudanese woman, working at a university in Aberdeen as an Arabic translator. She is tormented with grief over her husband's tragic death four years ago, and the manner in which she was subsequently ostracized by her mother-in-law. Her young son, Amir, remained in Khartoum and is being raised by her mother-in-law and other relatives. Sammar lives in a spartan apartment; she has not decorated, nor has she bought any new clothing, since becoming a widow. She struggles to cope with the Scottish customs and weather, and her only social contact is with her university colleagues.
Most of her translation work is done for Rae, an Islamic scholar and department head at the university. Rae is divorced and lonely, and it seems almost inevitable that Rae and Sammar become close. Yet the customs of Sammar's culture, and of the Islamic religion, do not make it easy to express her feelings. She does so in small gestures, which seem bold to her: visiting him in hospital, and meticulously making soup to help him heal. Rae does not practice any particular religion, and Sammar knows the only way their relationship can be sanctioned is if he were to convert to Islam. This is not a subject the pair can discuss openly, yet Sammar hold fast to her beliefs.
Rae arranges for Sammar to travel to Egypt for some translation work, and she then goes to Khartoum for an extended stay with family and a reunion with her son. There is much to comfort her here, but her relationship with her mother-in-law is still strained. While she is in Africa, Rae experiences a journey of his own; one of faith, which he describes, "... it didn't have anything to do with how much I've read or how many facts I've learned about Islam. Knowledge is necessary, that's true. But faith, it comes direct from Allah."
Leila Aboulela's prose is dreamy and wonderful. This was a short book, and yet I found myself setting it down every 50 pages or so, just to reflect on the text and allow it to wash over me.

"Thoughts of Joy..." ~ One Good Turn (Atkinson)

"Thoughts of Joy..." can be found here.

One big disappointment was my feeling as I concluded this chunkster. I loved the cover and title, the author was new-to-me, the plot was intriguing and unfortunately I was let down. An "okay read" ends up as a real literary bummer when you anticipate something great.

The "across the pond" setting produced mixed emotions in me. I like exploring cities that I've never physically been to, but I also like to be familiar with (or made to feel familiar with) the lingo, names of places and buildings, etc. I sometimes felt like I had to read at a slower pace just to make sure I didn't miss an important piece of the puzzle. I was at a disadvantage.

The beginning opens with a road rage scene that really drew me in and then I was flooded with a stream of characters that ultimately held no water. Their personalities did not entice me, yet I thought it was going to happen at any moment. There were plenty of hopefuls and with a very prolific author I was surprised that none of them panned out. I experienced the same with the plot. Great ideas and some really good scenes, but something was missing or maybe it was just too bland for a thriller. I don't know. ???

Making the NYT Most Notable Books of 2006 is interesting. I'm not sure how that whole process works, but this book doesn't qualify in my opinion. Rating this book a 3 seems like a gift, but it's not. I'm just miffed that I spent hours and hours reading it (a chunkster no less) and wasn't satisfied.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

May Update - Wendy

May 17, 2007: I finished The Road tonight. Wow, wow, wow. I need 24 hours to absorb this book and try to come up with a semi-coherent review on it. I've gone on and read all the reviews here on this book and added to some of the comments. There are a lot of questions I have, and sort of vague thoughts. Hopefully will post a review tomorrow.

May 27, 2007: I've moved things around. I need to read Old Filth for The Spring Thing challenge, so I've decided to wait on The Emperor's Children. I started Old Filth last night.

I am drowning in books - of course, I'm not really complaining since I love books - but nonetheless, I've created a goal list of to be reads that far exceeds my capability.

At any rate, if all goes well this month I will have read the following NYT Most Notables before the calendar flips into June:

1. Eat the Document, by Dana Spiotta (FINISHED 5/22/2007)
2. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (FINISHED 5/17/2007)
3. The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud (MOVE THIS TO NEXT MONTH OR AUGUST)
4. Old Filth, by Jane Gardam (FINISHED 5/29/2007)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Laura's Review: One Good Turn

One Good Turn (original review can be found here)
Kate Atkinson
418 pages

First sentence: He was lost.

Reflections: One Good Turn is a mystery set in Edinburgh, and begins with a horrible "road rage" incident in which a man named Paul Bradley is brutally attacked on a busy street in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival. There are several witnesses who play key roles in the story: Martin Canning, an author, who stops the attack by throwing his laptop bag at the attacker; Gloria Hatter, unhappily married to Graham, a corrupt real estate developer; and Jackson Brodie, an ex-cop and the only one to note the attacker's license plate number. I can't say much more without giving it all away, but like any good mystery I was drawn into the lives of these characters and the plot infiltrated my dreams (which was not necessarily a good thing!).

This book was a "New York Times Notable Book" for 2006 and while I would recommend it, in my view it was not quite as "notable" as others like Suite Francaise and Half of a Yellow Sun.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Vasilly's list

Just like Dewey I'm joining late, but I think this is such a great challenge.I'm only joining to do about three of the many books I'm picking since I've signed up for so many other challenges.

After this. By Alice McDermott
Arthur and George. By Julian Barnes
Everyman. By Philip Roth
Forgetfulness. By Ward Just
Gate of the Sun. By Elias Khoury

One Good Turn. By Kate Atkinson
The Road. By Cormac McCarthy. (Let's hope I can stomach this one.)
The Translator. By Leila Aboulela
Suite Francaise. By Irene Nemirovsky
The Afterlife. By Donald Antrim. (I know I'm going to read this one. I read such a great review about this book in Poets and Writers.)

Eat, Pray, Love. By Elizabeth Gilbert. (This is one of my favorite books ever. It made me so happy. It's also very truthful about life and very funny.)
The Lost: A search for six of six million. By Daniel Mendelsohn
The Places in Between. By Rory Stewart
Reading like a writer: A guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them.
By Francine Prose (I started reading this one. Already I feel myself paying more attention to what I am reading.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Dewey's list

Hi Everyone!

I know I'm joining really late, but so many of these books are already in my TBR pile or on my bookmooch wishlist, so I decided my list would just be everything I'm already planning to read.

1. After This by Alice McDermott
2. Digging to America by Anne Tyler
3. Everyman by Phillip Roth
4. Lisey's Story by Stephen King
5. Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski
6. The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq
7. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
8. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
9. Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart
10. Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
11. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
12. The Road by Cormac Mccarthy

My blog is The Hidden Side of a Leaf.

A very belated update from Ariel, a.ka. Pour of Tor or Sycorax Pine

Hallo all!

I am afraid that I have fallen desperately behind in our mutual project during my recent (couple of months of) travel and conferences, but I am eager to hop back in the saddle and get some of these books read so that I can join in the conversation again. I have been trying to keep from reading your reviews until I have read the books myself, but I often yield to temptation and find myself adding books to my to be read list. Which makes it all that much more dispiriting that I have been so belated in accomplishing my original goals.

At the moment, I am halfway through a number of books from our list, either because I wasn’t finished with them when I had to leave town on a trip, or because they are in such high demand at my library that I had to return them before I had made it to the end. Here are the ones I have started, but not yet completed:

1) “Twilight of the Superheroes” by Deborah Eisenberg
2) “Beasts of No Nation” by Uzodimnma Iweala [there is no excuse here – I own the novel, and it is not a long one]
3) “The Inheritance of Loss” by Kiran Desai
4) “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” by Marisha Pessl

My goal for the end of May is to finish “Twilight of the Superheroes” and “Beasts of No Nation.” June’s goal will be “The Inheritance of Loss” and “Special Topics.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Thoughts of Joy..." ~ Everyman (Roth)

"Thoughts of Joy" can be found here.

If you like to read or listen to someone complaining about aches and pains, medications, surgery, sickness, infidelity, divorces, estranged relationships, and death - this one is for you. It was NOT for me!

Eat The Document - Wendy's Review

Anyone can start a new life, even in a small town. Everyone moves so much these days. You get a divorce, you move and start over. Try it. See how little people ask about you. See how little people listen. Or, more precisely, think about how little you really know about the people you know. -From Eat The Document, page 198-

Dana Spiotta's novel, Eat The Document, is an edgy expose` on the American countercultures of the early 70s and late 90s. The story revolves around Mary Whittiker and Bobby Desoto, two idealistic and passionate characters who get caught up in the radical Vietnam protests of their time. Told from multiple points of view and leaping back and forth in time from the heady days of the early 70s to the angst driven world of the late 90s, the novel uncovers Mary and Bobby's rebellion gone awry and the reinvention of their lives as they go underground.

Spiotta excels in the development of her female characters and portraying the intricacies of relationships and how those complexities shape one's decisions.

This was the power of a couple - their doubts occurred at different times and canceled each other out, making them much more fearless as a pair than they would ever be on their own. And that's how a life changes - it could go either way, and then it just goes one way. -From Eat The Document, page 229-

I must admit to being somewhat impatient with Spiotta's exploration of some of her male characters - especially Jason, who I found annoying and overwritten. Jason perhaps encapsulates the angst of youth, but his intellectualizing and preachiness reminded me he was a character in a story rather than bringing him to life on the page.

I am the center of the culture. I am genesis, herald, harbinger. The absolute germinal zero point - that's me. I am the sun around which all the American else orbits. In fact, I am America. I exist more than other Americans. America is the center of the world, and I am the center of America. I am fifteen, white, middle class and male. -From Eat the Document, page 123-

Spiotta laces her novel with a subtle and sarcastic humor which saves it from becoming just another overly serious interpretation of the Vietnam years and the rebellion of America's youth.

Miranda also began to notice things in the meetings Nash led (or "facilitated," because naturally there were no leaders). They were held on Tuesday and Thursday nights under Nash's highly mannered and hermetic nomenclature: SAP (Strategic Aggravation Players and/or Satyagraha by Antinomic Praxis); or the Neo Tea-Dumpers Front; or Re: the "Re" Words - Resist, Reclaim, and Rebel; or the "K" Nation (single-tactic group that merely inserted the letter k or removed the letter k - dislokations were what they called them - to cause psychic discomfort and disturbances. As in blac bloc instead of black block, or Amerika instead of America. They sent out ransom-note-style missives to unnerve their targets: Welkome, konsumers! you have been under attac. Better watch your bac, et cetera). -From Eat The Document, page 62-

Eat The Document is a smart, witty novel that falls just shy of being very good.

To read the original review of this (on my blog) go here.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Keep by Jennifer Egan

"I close my eyes and jump in"
When you are reading The Keep that is perhaps the best thing to do. After reading this book, I read several reviews that called it "confusing" and "convoluted." But I disagree. What we have in The Keep is a delightful reversion to a style more like Wilkie Collins or Edgar Allen Poe in which the reader simply has to be patient and wait while bit by bit of the story is unfolded and revealed at the pace of the author's choosing. No, you won't understand everything from the beginning. In a book that holds secrets and mysteries spanning over a period of thirty or more years, you aren't supposed to.
Even more delightful to me was the discovery, some 60 pps into the novel that there is a second and even eventually a third story line. Each weaving and twining in and around the others spiraling downward to a point where all the stories come together and all the mysteries are revealed. While I originally bemoaned the lack of punctuation, as the story lines unfolded I realized that this was a brilliant and pivotal part of the story as well. Not all of the story is unpunctuated, to tell you why would be to spoil some of the surprise.
It's a story of mystery and secrets but also of forgiveness and redemption, of leaving the darkness and finding yourself again in the light. Don't go there looking for John Grisham style action, you won't find it. The pacing, the style, the slow tightening of tension bit by delicious bit is what makes this such an unforgettable book. It is one of my favorites this year.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Road - Wendy's Review

He woke before dawn and watched the gray day break. Slow and half opaque. He rose while the boy slept and pulled on his shoes and wrapped in his blanket he walked out through the trees. He descended into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched coughing and he coughed for a long time. Then he just knelt in the ashes. he raisedhis face to the paling day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at the last? Have you a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered. Oh God. -From The Road, page 10-

Cormac McCarthy just won The Pulitzer Prize for The Road, a novel of profound bleakness and beauty which almost defies definition. I was worried about reading this book, which has garnered praise but has also been described as dark and depressing. It is dystopian literature which I usually avoid because the genre always struck me as so pessimistic. That being said, The Road blew me away and will make my list for one of the best books I've read in 2007.

The story appears to be a simple one: a father and his young son are traveling along a road somewhere in America after a devastating event which has killed almost every living thing and left the world in a gray haze of floating ash and weird weather. There are "bad guys" and there are horrors; there are moments of sheer terror which seem to be nightmares instead of actual life. Layered beneath this story is a larger story - one about a boy and his father and the love they share, one about faith and hope and the will to survive. It is heartbreaking and beautiful and written in an unembellished language which somehow makes it that much more powerful.

I found myself compulsively turning the pages, unable to stop reading the story. I would lay the book down, and then pick it up only moment later. Just a few more pages. McCarthy carries the reader along on this journey, looking for the hope around every curve in the road, holding their breath, wondering if God has survived the devastation after all.

McCarthy uses metaphor and symbolism throughout the novel - the fire which the boy carries inside him (is this spiritualism? hope? humanity?), and the road itself - to just name two. This is a deep book, one that deserves to be discussed and thought about. It is certainly worthy of the Pulitzer.

There are some wonderful reviews of this book out in the blogosphere. You can go here to read several in one place, and to take part in some interesting discussions of the book.

Highly recommended.

**Original post of this review may be found on my blog here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Only Revolutions - kookiejar's review

I actually tried this one before the Challenge was announced. I took one look at the first page and decided to skip it. But, I thought it would only be fair for me to try to do an actual review of it for the forum, so I tried again.

Here's what I could gleen from my second attempt...Sam is 16 and lives during the Civil War. Hailey is 16 and lives in the early 60's just after President Kennedy was assassinated. They meet and interact even through the gap in their timelines.

Time marches on as evidenced by the dates and historical footnotes on the margins of each page, but Sam and Hailey's story moves along as if months aren't zipping by as they talk.

The book is supposed to be read 8 pages at a time (for Sam's story) and then flipped over for the next 8 pages (for Hailey's story), so half the print on each page is upside down. It is written in free verse with copious, well-researched footnotes. However, punctuation, grammar and spelling rules are flagrantly disregarded. The author makes up words to suit his purposes (which is not unprecedented in literature), and for some reason all the o's are a different color from the rest of the text. I found it incredibly annoying. In fact, it may well be the most annoying book I've ever picked up.

Here I've recreated one page from Hailey's story (including the odd colored o's, nonsensical bold face type and capitalizations and made up words). I'll give a cookie to anyone who can make any sense of it...

When Renverse to bole, hundred
ringed, with Frightened
Oddly roped for hacks
by savage fr

-O here. Now. Let me go. Please.


ong Pith. Tall Phloem.
Great Heartw
ood, Oily Barked with
omes of Ever Dust. Perfumes
trampled by Diesel Trucks, chain
sawed, and clear cut
for that SNIDEY CLYDE:

-You cain't own
what you cain't end.

otching and atimbering. I dash,
murdering gaps t
o gum his axe
hacking at my
Tall Pith. Warm Heart
creeing just t
o stay
a little l
onger except
by vi
olent do's
allready rem

Yeah, I didn't think so. I'd love to know who decided which books made the NYT list and how that was decided, because this book isn't worth the paper it was printed on.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sally906's May Update

I planning on reading The Ghost Map next up - Have actually moved it to the shelf beside my bed. I was going to read it last month - but read The Road instead as it came into the library and there is a long list for it - If I had turned it down them it would have been months before I got it again :)

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Still to do:

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson -
Almost Reading Now
Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Once I have done these I will see how I can get my hands on any others. The ones here on my initial list were ones I could easily get my hands on. I thought six book over the year would not leave me too pressure ridden :)

Update from 3M

Update on 5/12:

I set my goal for 10 books but will most likely do 12. I didn't follow my plan as outlined below, but I am 60% (or 50% if I read 12) finished. I'm happy with that so far. I don't know if I'll be able to complete the remaining titles until after June 30, though, because of all the other challenges I'm doing. Right now I'm reading The Stone Diaries for the bookawards group and toward the end of the month I'll start on The Known World for the Pulitzer group. I'm also trying to pack and put most of my belongings (hence, books!) into storage so my house will be mostly clutter free when we put it on the market.

Finished titles:
The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (to be reviewed after I re-read print version)
Everyman by Philip Roth
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
The Translator by Leila Aboulela
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

To be read:
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
Lisey's Story by Stephen King
Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky

Previous update on 3/15:
I have finished The Road on audio CD from the library. Although somewhat depressing, I liked it very much. Before I write a review, though, I want to read the actual print copy. Luckily, it's a short book. I've bought a copy and will "re-read" it soon. Sometimes I feel like I miss a lot when I just listen to the CD.

I have gotten quite a few NY Notable titles from the library lately. Black Swan Green, Intuition, and Half of a Yellow Sun to name a few. Hopefully I'll complete them by the end of April. I plan on finishing Suite Française and Inheritance of Loss by the end of March.

Other books I'm reading include Big Stone Gap for my f2f book group, and The Myth of Me and You for one of my online book groups.

Previous update on 3/3:

I am halfway finished with Inheritance of Loss. For anyone interested in reading that title with others this month, you may join our Yahoo group here. Our group includes several people from the NYT Notable Challenge.

After I finish Inheritance of Loss, I plan on reading Suite Française. I'm also reading The Book Thief for the Chunkster Challenge. Those two titles should go along nicely with each other.

Happy reading!
(yet another) Michelle

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Against the Day... Kookiejar's Review

This is how I normally read a book. I spend the first 50 pages or so getting familiar with the characters and the setting, growing used to the author's style and vernacular, and generally getting a feel for the book as a whole. The next 50 pages I spend trying the understand the author's intent...what is he trying to tell me and why did he write this particular story.

After the first 100 pages I stop and ask myself these questions...

1. Do I understand what is going on?
2. Do I care about the characters?
3. Does it matter to me what happens next?
4. Do I have the time and energy to see this book through to the end?

If the answer to any one of these questions is 'no', I stop reading. Sometimes I will return to a book years later and the answers will be different, sometimes not.

For 'Against the Day' the answers to all the questions were 'no'. It isn't that it is poorly written, it's just that there are so many characters that we never really get to know any one individual in a personal way. We never form a vested interest in anyone's activities. There is plenty of humor in these first few pages and lots to enjoy, but it just wasn't enough for me.

In the first section he introduces us to a roving group of balloonists called the Chums of Chance, who go on various adventures (supposedly chronicled in tales with titles like 'The Chums of Chance and the Evil Half-Wit') but we too soon leave this merry group for encounters with other characters who are not so enthralling. Too bad. Mr Pynchon, write some of the adventures of The Chums of Chance and I will read it, but don't meander off in search of greener pastures.

So, after a valiant effort (I really, really tried to finish this), I've decided that this book is unfinishable. That does not excuse the so-called professional book reviewers who felt qualified to give an opinion on this book without finishing it. If I were being paid to review it, I would either force myself to read nothing else but this until it was done, or simply not accept payment for this assignment. It's only right.

So, is anyone else game?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Eat, Pray, Love - 3M's Review

Eat, Pray, Love
by Elizabeth Gilbert

2006, 352 pp.

Rating: 4
Caveat! I didn't like the book much. I'm giving it a '4' because of the brilliant writing.

Subtitled One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert's book about "finding herself" after a divorce is, well, interesting to say the least. She is frank, candid, brutally honest, and bares all in this travel memoir. I do give her this: she is a brilliant writer and narrator (I listened to the audio CD). The problem was, though, that after finishing the book, I found I really didn't like it much. It is an easy read/listen, with a little 'too much information' sometimes, if you know what I mean. I also didn't agree with almost any of her decisions or with her conclusions about God and spirituality, though I'm sure she's not asking me to, either! Still, I rated it a '4' because I want to recognize her writing talents.

She goes through a messy divorce and travels through the three "I" countries listed above. She learns Italian and eats a lot of pasta in Italy (the Eat in the title), she "finds God" in India (the Pray), and she finds love (the Love in the title) in Indonesia. She makes it all very interesting, that's for sure. I do recommend this book because it is always fascinating to take a peak at other women's lives and their viewpoints, and as I said, the writing is excellent. In some ways, though, books like these always reinforce my own beliefs and viewspoints as well.

The Translator - 3M's Review

The Translator
by Leila Aboulela

1999, 203 pp.

Rating: 4

Sammar, (I believe it was pronounced 'Summer'), is a young widow working as an Arabic translator at a university in Aberdeen, Scotland. She has been grieving for several years over the loss of her husband who was killed in a car accident. She has a little boy but feels she is unable to care for him and leaves him with her mother-in-law in Sudan.

Faith plays an important part in Sammar's life, so when she starts to fall for Rae, her boss, she realizes it could never be. That is, unless he converts to Islam. Their relationship starts off slowly, just by talking on the telephone. I found this to be very real and touching. Many of my best conversations with my husband have been on the phone, and this was the first time (that I could recall, anyway), that I had found it portrayed in such a way in a book. The progression of the relationship and the issues of faith and belief are explored in the rest of the novel.

I really enjoyed Aboulela's writing. It was very tender and poignant. I found it easy to feel Sammar's grief. There were a few things I did dislike about Sammar's character, though. I really cannot imagine leaving a child behind like that for such an extended period of time. A few weeks perhaps, but not a few years! The writing was beautiful. However, in the last few pages of the book there were a few too many sentence fragments for my taste. I don't mind some, but it seemed a little excessive. I would definitely read another book by this author, though.

This is the author's first novel and was first published in the UK in 1999.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Kookiejar Checks in

I'm still alive, and I'm still in the challenge. I've been a bad book blogger, I know. I've been in such a rut. But I'm over it now and ready to continue on my way.

"Against the Day"? I will post on that next Tuesday. I don't think it will surprise anyone that I couldn't finish it.

I am currently reading (and rather enjoying) "Golden Country", so expect a review of that before the end of the month.

I read the first story in "The Collected Stories of Mary Gordon" and I liked it, so I'll try to finish off that collection before June as well.

I am lugging "Intuition" back and forth to the laundrymat with me, and am finally getting into it, so that looks promising.

I have a copy of "The Dissident", but I'm having trouble with it, so we'll have to see where that takes me.

So, that's where I stand. That is all.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Arthur and George - Wendy's Book Review

Julian Barnes has crafted an imaginative, compellingly readable 'whodunnit' that keeps the reader compulsively turning the pages.

Based on the life and work of Sir Arthur Conan Boyle, it is a tale of two men - George and Arthur - who seem to be living worlds apart, but whose paths cross when a mystery surfaces. The novel explores larger themes of racism and morality, but is driven by excellent story telling and Barnes' gift of creating character.

I read this for a book club read as well as a 2006 New York Times Notable. I am happy I picked it up. If you enjoy evocative novels which spin a good yarn, you will love this book.

Rated a 4/5. Recommended.

You can read my original review of this book on my blog.

April Updates - Wendy

May 2, 2007 - This was not the best month for me. I managed to just squeeze in Arthur and George on the last day of April. Now I'm playing catch up!

March 28, 2007
- Okay, I know it's not April yet, but a little planning goes a long way for me! These are the two NYT Most Notables which I intend to read in April:

Eat The Document, by Dana Spiotta
Arthur and George, by Julian Barnes

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Satire or Reality?? You Choose......

Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart (352 pgs) was named one of 100 New York Times Notable books of 2006. This is the main reason I chose to read it, for both the NY Times Notable Challenge and the Spring Reading Thing Challenge. It's not exactly the type of book I would normally pick up, although I do like a good satire. There is a lot of understated politics in this book, and to be honest, I don't know a lot about the breakup of the former Soviet Union. However, I really did enjoy this book.

The story revolves around the narrator, a man by the name of Misha Vainberg. Misha, or "Snack Daddy" as he was aptly nicknamed by his college friends, is grossly overweight, rather naive and has a lot of self-esteem issues. He is the son of Boris Vainberg, the 1238th richest man in Russia, Jewish, and a local mafioso. He gained most of his wealth and "fame" after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Boris raised Misha alone in St. Petersburg after his wife passed away. He sent Misha to the United States to be educated like an American at Accidental College in New York City. And Misha LOVED New York. He studied "multi-cultural affairs", ate lots of food, listened to rap music, and made many acquaintances - but very few friends. After graduating, Misha took an internship, and moved to a fabulous loft-apartment. It is then that he met Rouenna. Rouenna is a ghetto-girl from the Bronx who spends her days in a bikini, serving shots at a local bar. She takes an immediate liking to Misha, and sees him as a way to get out of the 'hood. Not only does she take Misha's virginity, she takes his heart.

But here is where Misha's happiness gets sidetracked. He gets called back to Russia by his father. While there, Boris kills an Oklahoma businessman. Misha finds himself stuck in St. Petersburg with no hope of getting another American Visa and going back to New York. When he father is assassinated, Misha decides to get out of Russia by any means possible. He develops a plan to buy a Belgium Passport and from there find a way back to the US. To do this, he travels to Absurdistan. But shortly after he arrives, a war breaks out over control of the Absurdi oil (hmmmm...doesn't this sound a little familiar?) Here is where all Misha's troubles seem to get exponentially worse.

This book is rather raw. There are some seriously vulgar sex scenes dealing mostly with Misha's size that were just a little TOO detailed. But there are also many extremely humorous parts, most notably Misha's circumcism at the age of 18. And I really, really liked Shteyngart's whole depiction of Absurdistan, the country. He creates two groups of warring people that are doing whatever it takes to make headlines on CNN. I have a feeling there is a lot of reality in his view's on this fictitious country. Especially as they are dealing with the US and "Golly Burton" (Halliburton). And while it takes awhile for Shteyngart to get to his point, he delivers a rather scathing attack on world politics as it applies to us today. He is a very clever author who subtlety makes his views known. And he really doesn't pull any punches. Although he describes a pretty bleak existence for Aburdistan, he does it with humor and an almost insider's view. I'm definitely going to have to read his first novel, "The Russian Debutante's Handbook". All in all I'm really glad I decided to choose this book. 4/5