Thursday, April 26, 2007
2005, 318 pp.
Winner: Booker Prize, NBCC
While this book has garnered much critical acclaim, I found it very difficult to complete. It took me over two months to get through it. Once I put it down, I just wasn't compelled to pick it up again. It sort of felt like a school assignment. Luckily, the last 1/3 of the book went by much faster than the first 2/3. Before reading, I would highly recommend doing a little research if you are ignorant (like I was) of Indian culture or history. One link that shed a little light on the subject for me was here.
There are two settings for the book--America and Kalimpong. Sai lives with her grandfather, a former judge, at the foothills of the Himalayas. She falls in love with Gyan, her tutor, who is sympathetic to the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF). The clash of ideals between the Indians who want change and those who wish to retain aspects of British colonialism is one of the two main conflicts in the novel.
The other conflict is that of the Indians who emigrate to the United States and the conditions of their lives once they live there. Biju, who is the son of the Judge's cook, is one of the lucky few who get a visa to go to America. But once he is there, is he really better off? The novel asks the question -- how much does each person care about their individual culture, nationality, and family. What does our "inheritance" mean to us?
While I appreciate these themes and do think the writing was brilliant at times, I wouldn't recommend this book for most readers.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Obtained from?: Library
Reason(s) for Reading: Wanted to
Opening Sentence: "...When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him..."
Like many of Ophra's picks The Road is full of angst and gloom. But I didn't choose it because it was one of her picks, in fact when she announced it as her pick I toyed with not reading it - as so many of her picks are so depressing and hard to read. I also ordered it from the library long before it was even announced as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, so I didn't pick it because of that. No, I chose The Road because I am on the New York Times Notable Book Challenge and it was on the list for notable books for 2006.
So is it worth all the hype? Oh yes, I really think so. The end of the world has occurred. The landscape is burnt, no animals, no birds, no fishes, and very few people. There is a man and his young boy - very young - his mother died after the end of the world - she was pregnant with him at the time. The two 'heroes' start nowhere in particular, and seem to have no aim in mind as they journey along the road – just heading south and to the sea. We never learn what the man expects to find when he reaches his destination, or even what his destination might be. The story is just a snapshot of their life, starting on page one and finishing at the end. The Man and the child spend their time hiding from the "bad" people. These are people, mostly men, who will kill you and eat you. People have become food on the hoof so to speak. As the food ran out - humans became the only source. The little boy is convinced that there must be other good people, but the man is certain there isn't. As they travel through the burnt out landscape, they forage for any cans of food that may have escaped discovery over the previous few years. They meet a few people, most of which either try to kill them, or try to steal from them. They do help one person, but the man leaves him behind to the little boys’ distress.
There is no punctuation - my pet hate - BUT as humans and the set parameters that life exists in breaks down - what is the use of punctuation? There will be no-on around to care.
Despite the fact you learn precious little about these two characters they are very real, and through their eyes you witness the death of humanity, the breakdown of society, the struggle for survival in a world that no longer sustains human life.
Is there any hope, any point in reading the book? Well, there is always hope. And when one door closes, then sometimes another door opens. The book is well written, evocative and thought provoking. It will scare you, make you disagree, and then wonder if there could be any truth. We all like to think we are civilized people. But take our civilization away and what will we become?
So the answer to the previous question is yes read The Road, you may hate it, you may wonder what the fuss is, but some of you may just end up being as awed as I was.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Also posted here.
I am giving up on this book. :(
I hate DNF's but I actually found myself avoiding the reading of this book today so that is a sign I should just let it go.
I didn't have any problem with the writing style. I had a problem with the fact that Lisey's interaction with Dooley and the flashbacks to Scott's childhood were images I don't like having in my mind but I can't get rid of them.
Maybe Stephen King is too good at his job. I like spooky, I like creepy, I like mystery, I like paranormal. I want to say it's because I was feeling hopeless and sad while reading this but I certainly wasn't dancing while I read "The Road." I don't know what it is. I just didn't like it.
I have only read one other book by Stephen King("It") years ago. I finished and though I don't remember loving it, I don't remember being as bugged by it as this one.
I guess you can file me under the category of "Not a Stephen King Fan" and no satisfaction in crossing it off my list.
Iran Awakening. Shirin Ebadi with Azadeh Moaveni
Reading Like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them. Francine Prose.
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Lawrence Wright.
The Places in Between. Rory Stewart.
Yet to read: The Omnivore's Dilemma. Michael Pollan.
I just finished Iran Awakening last night. It is an amazing book about an amazing woman. Before I read this I had no idea she had won the Nobel Peace prize for her work in law and human rights. Probably the main thing that I learned through reading this book was the fact of Iran's democratic roots. I would put Ebadi on my list of people in the world I would most like to meet. Along with Jimmy Carter...and others who work for justice issues around the world.
So I recommend this for a challenge to those who might want to read a non-fiction book that reads well and goes beyond western culture.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
First let me say that I am not a person who gives up on books I don't like. I rarely don't finish a book. Having said that, there is no way in H E double hockey sticks that I could finish this book. No way. I made it to page 50.
I guess all parents have terror, that story that fills you with dread when something wakes you up at 2 a.m. and you can't go back to sleep? My nightmare is thinking about something bad happening to our country and being left to care for my children without money, food or medicine. I just can't bear the thought of it. I want to jump out of my skin.
Plus, my oldest boy must be about the age of the child in this book. I could totally see my boy asking the same questions the boy in the book was asking, having the same sweet confusion. I started reading it after the kids went to bed tonight. By the time I got to page 50, sitting in the bath, I was getting pretty crazily emotional and felt like I was going to hyperventilate.
I did read the last few pages. I just wanted to see what happened. I know, it's against all book-reading rules, but I wanted to confirm that my decision to quit was a good one....I just felt that there was no way there could possibly be a satisfactory conclusion to this saga. I was right. I'm glad I quit.
I nod to Cormac McCarthy. I know he's a gifted writer, and he probably deserves all the accolades he's gotten. But he'll have to get them from someone other than me.
This is the story of Blue van Meer, a high school girl that undergoes a crisis experience in her senior year. There was a point reading the book where I said "I really don't like this book, because I hate this character." Since I believe it was the author's intent that the reader would feel that way at that point in the narrative, I guess it's an example of good writing. Many people have commented that the book really picks up the pace in the second half, and I'd have to agree. An intricate mystery, the author spends the first half of the book painstakingly putting each thread in place and then unraveling them with lightning speed in the second half.
The book is written like a research paper, so very often in the book the narrator will be talking about something and then reference a written work or fictional story in parenthesis. This is really clever, but ended up being the only thing I really didn't like about the book. By the end, I was pretty much just skipping over all the parenthesis in order to get back to the real story.
Here's an example of her writing:
As Dad said, the difference between a dynamic and a wasted uprising depends upon the point at which it occurs within a country's historic timeline (see Van Meer, "The Fantasy of Industrialization", Federal Forum, Vol. 23, Issue 9). Jade and Lu were still developing nations. And thus, while it wasn't fantastic, it also wasn't too terrible for them to have a backward infrastructure and a poor human development index. But Hannah - she was much farther along. She should have already established a robust economy, peacefulness, free trade - and as these things weren't yet assured, frankly, it wasn't looking good for her democracy. She could very well struggle forever, with "corruption and scandal perpetually undermining [her] credibility as a self-ruled state."
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
I'll be the first to admit, this is not one of my most enlightening reviews. :)
Digging to America is the story of two families, the Yazdans and Donaldsons, who meet at the airport when they are both adopting babies from Korea. But this is where the similarities end. The Donaldson's are "very American" (whatever that means!), with Bitsy Donaldson staying home to raise her daughter, cooking largely vegetarian food, and embracing her daughter's Korean roots. The Yazdans, are an assimilated Iranian-American couple who are determined to raise their daughter as American as can be.
The story is a quick and easy read. I believe I enjoyed this story more because it literally took place a few blocks from where I live. (I live in the Mt Washington neighborhood in Baltimore where the Donaldsons reside, and the Yazdan's eventually move to). I've never read a book before by such a well known author that takes place virtually in my backyard! Her potrayal of the Iranian American family I felt was largely adequate, but was lacking depth. For a story mainly about the clash of cultures, something seemed a bit out of sync, or missing, from her story.
I wasn't looking for a deep, fulfilling read, but something entertaining. Digging to America fits that niche pretty well. (Much in the same way as this review is not very deep and thought-provoking!)
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Also included were:
Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
The Observations by Jane Harris
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
The official announcement is here.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Sunday, April 15, 2007
I have sentimental ties to King because his writing was something my father and I loved to share. I cried when I finished the Gunslinger series because it was something my own father did not live to see, and he would have loved it. Since then I have been less than impressed with King's releases, but again I find myself saddened that my Dad and I can't share Booya Moon. While completely fictional, I do believe that this work is the most intimate look the readers may ever see of the landscape of Stephen King's mind, and I have no doubt that Scott Landon's love for Lisey finds no small inspiration in the relationship between King and his wife.
The one difficulty I had with book was the "private language" between Scott and Lisey, which must simply be accepted for a time before it is explained. Otherwise King has written a completely unique work with the stylistic elements he is famous for, but in a genre which I would never have imagined he would try. To quote my husband: "In his own inimitable way, Stephen King wrote a love story." And indeed, he did.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
I have The Ghost Map ready for next up - It is going to be my 'bubble bath' read as soon as I have finished my current book 'Ladies of the Grace Adieu' for another challenge. I usually have two or three books on the go at the same time.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
Still to do:
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai - Reading Now
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson - scheduled to read in April
Digging to America by Anne Tyler
The Road by Cormac McCarthy - on order at library (I'm 3rd on list)
Friday, April 13, 2007
Thursday, April 12, 2007
I have decided to drop the titles that I had listed as alternates because I don't think I will have the time but I still have several of the challenge books that I am looking forward to.
See ya around blogworld and Happy Reading everyone!
I was unfamiliar with the historical context of this novel (children sent away to the Far East to be raised by natives, so-called Raj orphans), so that was interesting for me. And I like how Gardam kept the jumping time line distinct by referring to Edward as 'Feathers' in the past and 'Filth' in the present. Even his wife calls him Filth (which is an acronym that is explained early in the book).
Parts of the story were very good and reminded me of some of John Irving's best writing, such as Feather's headmaster at school who was always called 'Sir ' and whose assistants were always called 'Smith', no matter what their names actually were. Other parts were not so compelling.
All in all, I thought this was a fine novel, that I would not have picked up under ordinary circumstances, but ultimately I don't feel that it deserved to be on the year's most notable list.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Wish me luck. I'm taking up the challenge. I'm going to attempt 'Against the Day'. As some of you will recall, only one reviewer for the Tournament of Books could even be bothered to finish the dang thing and even he didn't finish it until after he'd registered an opinion.
I know it is over 1,200 pages and apparently the story is very complicated, but I feel someone should give it a fair shake. I can't promise I'll finish it, but I currently have a copy of it in my hot little hands, so who knows? I'll probably give brief updates along the way, to let you know I'm still alive. I also have 4 other NYT books that I'm going to try to read at the same time, so you'll be hearing from me. I swear.
In the meantime, I'll post my review of 'Old Filth' tomorrow (just polishing it up right now). That is all.
Monday, April 9, 2007
Since I aim to please (Kookie this one's for you!) *grin* here is the link to my new blog: A Novel Challenge.
Here are the books I'm going to tackle ASAP in no particular order:
- The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin
- The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
- Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
- Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
- Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
Thursday, April 5, 2007
published in 2006
started 3/29/07, finished 4/5/07
First Sentence: "Do not set foot in my office."
Reason for Reading: The NYT Notable Books Challenge
For his fourth novel, two-time Booker Prize finalist Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, etc.) turns to material most writers plumb in their first: the semi autobiographical, first-person coming-of-age story. And after three books with notably complex narrative structure, far-flung settings, and multiple viewpoints, he has chosen one narrator, 13-year-old Jason Taylor, to tell the story of one year (1982) in one town, Worcestershire's Black Swan Green. Jason starts with the January day he accidentally smashes his late grandfather's irreplaceable Omega Seamaster DeVille watch and ends with Christmas. The gorgeously revealed cast includes Jason's brilliant older sister, sarcastic mother, blustering dad and a spectrum of bullies and mates. Jason's nemesis is an intermittent, fluctuating stammer: some days he must avoid words beginning with N; other days, S. Once he is exposed, the bullies taunt him mercilessly; there is no respite for the weak or disabled in Black Swan Green nor, as the realities of Thatcher's grim reign begin to take their toll, in England writ large.
I had a hard time getting into the book at first because of all the British slang, but I quickly got used to it and got lost in the story of Jason Taylor. There were parts that made me laugh and some that made me cry-who can give better praise than that? A true coming of age story in every sense, each of the 13 chapters reads like its own short story. I am sure everyone remembers what it was like to be 13, where everything is "epic" (as Jason would say). This book captures that feeling beautifully. Some of the best chapters are Jason just being a boy, traveling through the woods to find a lost tunnel, playing games on the frozen lake with friends. But Jason is also very perceptive for a 13 year old. He writes poetry and becomes obsessed with the Falklands war for a bit. And he is all too painfully aware of the slow motion divorce his parents are going through. And through it all, he is battling his own personal demon-his painful stutter (or "Hangman" as Jason calls it). His main goal in life it to hide his stutter from his classmates-and what happens when his secret finally comes out is exactly what Jason feared would happen all along. This was a great book. I would definitely recommend it.
Some of my favorite chapters are "Spooks", where Jason creeps through the neighbor's backyards in order to join a "secret society"; "Souvenirs", where Jason spends two memorable days with each of his parents; and "Solarium", where Jason meets Madame Eva van Outryve de Crommelynck, who teaches his a few things and who is not at all what she seems.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reason for Reading: NYT Notable Books challenge and it seems to be pretty popular at my library so I read it while I could get my hands on it.
Back of the Book: This is a story with four protagonists: a deadly bacterium, a vast city, and two gifted but very different men. One dark week a hundred and fifty years ago, in the midst of great terror and human suffering, their lives collided on the streets of London.
From Me: The back of the book makes this sound a lot more exciting than it is. That's not to say that it isn't a very interesting story but in more of an informative way rather than a page-turner way.
There is quite a bit of information to be gleaned here, especially from a scientific and historical perspective. What exactly is cholera and what does it take for it to flourish? What were the thoughts of the city health officials and the medical community regarding disease and prevention and why were they so slow to accept changes in thought and procedure even when presented with compelling evidence? Why did some people who lived in the nastiest squalor live while people who lived in comparatively clean conditions die?
Without a doubt, the most startling thing I learned from reading this is what a nasty place Victorian London was. With a population of over 2 million people in 90 square miles before reliable sewer systems were invented, it was a disease-infested place that was notorious for it's awful stench.
I had a somewhat romanticized vision of what Victorian London must have been like, but now I understand it would have been a horrid place.
I enjoyed reading this book even though it didn't turn out to be the way I expected it to be and it thoroughly grossed me out in a few places.
I have been going through a bit of a reading slump lately, which is why things have been quiet on the blog front. Unfortunately, this book is one of the reasons for that slump. It took me ages to finish reading.
The Inheritance of Loss is set mainly in 1980's India, in the state of West Bengal. With stunning imagery, Desai describes a group of people who, while dwelling in their own personal issues, get caught up in the political turmoil of the region. There is the retired judge, a grumpy man who only seems to have affection of his dog; Sai, the granddaughter who comes to live in the judge's crumbling home after she is killed; Gyan, her tutor and love; and Biju, the son of the cook who makes a go at living illegally in America.
Desai is a beautiful writer, her words jump off the page at you. Yet, somehow, everytime I put the book down, the story quickly became forgettable. After finishing the book, I still don't feel as if I know the characters all that well. I almost felt as if the characters themselves were acting out some part in a play, not their true selves. Their innate psyche remained hidden to me. I honestly can't think of another book I've read that evoked such strong polarities: beautifully written, yet utterly boring (although Saul Bellow's Herzog does come to mind). However, the book did spur some personal research about a part of India I thought I knew a little bit about, and realized I didn't. India is such a large and complex country, I am continually finding new aspects of it. I would love to go back and visit some day, as I have only been to the Tamil Nadu region. I also feel her commentary on post-colonialism was spot on.
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
In 1966, Igbo soldiers tried to overthrow the Nigerian government. They failed and the Nigerians launched retaliatory strikes on Southeast Nigeria where the Igbo primarily live. For 3 years the newly formed republic of Biafra held its own, until famine and fighting decimated the population. In "Half of a Yellow Sun" (which refers to the flag of Biafra...see bottom of post), Adichie tells the story of the war through the experience of twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, their extended families, acquaintances and their servants.
I thought it was very interesting to see the way the war affected people of different colors (such as Richard, the white man in love with Kainene), economic position (like middle class professor, Odenigbo and the rich parents of Olanna and Kainene), and social class (as embodied by Odenigbo's houseboy, Ugwu).
Wendy mentioned in the comment section of an earlier post that there are many similarities between this novel and Uzodinma Iweala's "Beasts of No Nation" and I would agree. One ('Yellow Sun') focuses more on the war from the civilian point of view and 'Beasts' from the reluctant soldiers forced to act on their own people.
The first 60 or 70 pages are slow and at times I wondered if anything was actually going to happen, but once the war starts it takes off like a rocket and becomes compulsively readable.
On a side note: Throughout the reading, I was brought again and again to the author photo on the back flap. Adichie is so young and fresh and pretty, her smile gave me a lot of hope, not only for her novel, but her country as well.
NO, I did not read this as an Oprah Book Club member! I checked it out from the library and had it nicely nestled in a pile of TBR books days before she announced it. However, I did put it on the top of the pile once I knew I wouldn't be able to renew it because hordes of people would be placing it on hold.
*I'm not sure why I felt compelled to share the above, but I feel better now. :)
Normally when I finish a book, I run to the computer (okay, I don't run, but I do make it there rather quickly) and type out my thoughts. I don't feel 100% finished until I click "PUBLISH", and then I can move on to the next book. I tell you that because that didn't happen this time. It couldn't. I couldn't. I couldn't put my thoughts together enough to make any sense. (I'm not quite sure if I waited long enough now!) Anyway...
Wow! Bleak. Powerful. Thought-provoking. This author was as new-to-me as was the subject matter, so I had two whammies at once. What a well-written post-apocalyptic novel, although on occasion it felt a little drawn out. I attributed that to my traveling "the road" with this father and son duo and feeling every pothole and pebble along the way. I continue to feel a little battered from the ramifications of that journey and suggest all readers be prepared.
I have been left in somewhat of a funk. I am in need of something a little more uplifting. I'm off to find some happiness...
Sunday, April 1, 2007
This is the recollection of Elizabeth Gilbert's healing, spiritual journey. She traveled to Italy, India, and Indonesia in search of self and the meaning of life, ultimately seeking peace and tranquility. I admire her independence and determination to pursue this right and privilege as a human being.
While there are numerous bits of wisdom or sheer observations that can be taken from this book, here are just two nuggets that happened to stick with me:
"This is what rituals (ceremonies or celebrations) are for...to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma so we don't have to haul these feelings around with us forever weighing us down."
"Make peace with what you were given."
Both of these quotes are not necessarily profound, yet in their own way have made an impact on me. I do think they are a good representation that being in a reflective mood when reading this book will contribute to it being a pleasant and thought-provoking experience.
A few times throughout the book, I wanted her to stop being so self-absorbed, but when that happened I would say to myself, "Hey, it's HER memoir. I think that's allowed." :)
"Thoughts of Joy..." can be found here.
Anything goes. That's what I gleaned from this book. I chose to read this as a reference book for me as a teacher, not as a writer. Therein lays the reason for my rating. Even though I understand and agree with all that Prose discussed, from the get-go, I just wasn't on the same page. Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind or thought it would be different, I'm not exactly sure, but my rating remains my rating.
I do believe that this book could be a useful tool for those that need to look at their personal writing from a new perspective. Reading though purposefully chosen excerpts to show different styles in word choice, sentence structure, paragraphing, narration, character development, dialogue, details, and gestures could definitely be a help to those in need. Her selections were well-chosen and depict exactly what she was trying to convey.
Prose also touches on the mentality of writers and how many feel trapped or compelled to follow the "rules" of writing, when those "rules" are consistently and effectively broken throughout literature. Here's how Prose relays that very same message:
Ultimately, Prose believes (which I agree and teach) that the light that guides the path of writing and is the core encourager is ... reading.
"Thoughts of Joy..." can be found here.
The story was very shallow and repetitious with no direction or point and the characters were boring and unimpressive. Thankfully, I was able to accomplish many other tasks while listening to it. If it wasn’t a BOiPod, I may have abandoned it; there wouldn't have been anything compelling enough to keep me reading. I like to be either entertained or informed (or both) when reading or listening to a book, unfortunately this one didn’t deliver in either arena.