Monday, April 19, 2010

Atonement - Ian McEwan

yes, yes. THE MOVIE TIE IN EDITION. It's what the library gave me, okay? And yes, it makes it impossible to read the book without picturing the lovely Kiera Knightley as the rebellious Cecilia or the oh so dreamy James McAvoy as tortured Robbie. But, you know what? Who cares? I loved this book. And maybe it would have been heartbreaking for me if I had pictured Ryan Gosling the whole time I read the book and then found out later that James McAvoy was given the part of Robbie.

Oh wait, I'm not 14. And this isn't Twilight. Har har.

So, anyway, all of you movies adapted from books/movie tie in editions of books haters can just shut it.

This novel was incredible. So incredible, it only took me a week to read it! Can you believe it, friends? ONE WEEK. I'm not so much proud of myself (I can read a book in a day if I really want to, duh), but more so excited that I found a book on the list that I actually found completely captivating. I had to know what happened next. And so I found myself coming home after 9 or 10  hour work days, fixing myself a drink and taking a bubble bath with this book. Even in a complete state of exhaustion I was compelled to find out what that little bitch Briony would do next.

Oh, am I being too insensitive? Was Briony just a sheltered, precocious child who made a mistake and was bullied into sticking by her lie? No freakin' way. She was a spoiled brat. And even if she thought she was protecting her sister, it doesn't take long to realize that everything has gone to shit and maybe you should tell someone the truth. Maybe then a great love isn't destroyed. Maybe then you don't turn the lives of everyone around you into a complete tragedy. I have no sympathy for Briony. I thought her attempt at redemption (becoming a nurse, really?) was completely trite and her falsified "atonement" only infuriated me. 

Have you ever actually become angry while reading an epilogue? Because I totally did. I was pissed. "WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU MADE THAT LAST SCENE UP? WHAT? WHY? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO ME???" Okay, I didn't actually shout, but only because The BF was very focused on his video game, and also, shouting at midnight makes neighbors very angry. But I was shouting on the inside. My little stomach was swinging its fists and my blood cells were a'boilin'.  

The gist: Another depressing novel, yes. Tragic to the very (infuriating) end. But, so, so worth it. It's beautifully told and so gripping you won't be able to think about anything else until you've finished. And even then, you'll probably mutter to yourself occasionally about that little b-word, Briony.

UPDATE: OHMYGOD. You mention that stupid vampire series ONCE (AS A JOKE), and google starts putting ads up for ways to "find your own Edward". BARF. I hope putting this here doesn't mean I get more crappy ads. Just to be safe:

A Great and Terrible Beauty - Libba Bray (seriously read it....amazing!)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

American Pastoral - Phillip Roth

Yes, it took me a long while to read this book. After reading 3 books in January, I took a few weeks off, and then decided to dive back into the list with Phillip Roth's American Pastoral. I could not get into this book for the life of me. It took me weeks (months?) to get through the first of three parts. Once I made it past that, though, the rest of the book was a great read. The first part is a first person narration of growing up in a town with Swede Levov, our protagonist. Swede was the boy next door, the all american boy with great looks, and incredible athletic talent. He had it all, and everybody loved him, wanted him/wanted to be him. While I understand Roth's purpose behind this first part of the book (to demonstrate how great it was -from an outsider's perspective- to be Swede Levov growing up. How years later when they meet up again, the narrator is shocked to find that Swede appears to be an empty shell.) It seemed as though his life was an easy ride and he never had to stop and wonder about the world and his place in it. I understand this introduction to the story, but it also seemed unnecessary. I almost feel like it takes away from the actual story.

The next two parts have more of an omnipotent narrator; whether this is the same narrator from the first part now just writing Swede's story, I'm still unclear on. Please feel free to let me know if you've also read this book. Either war, the narrator was right. Swede's life was pretty great. He grew up, married a beauty queen, successfully ran his father's business, and bought his dream house. He was living the "American Dream". The only blemish on this perfect life was his stuttering daughter. Merry grew up angry and embittered by her inability to live up to her parent's legacy of perfection. As the story takes place in the 1960s, Merry uses the Vietnam war as her outlet. At 16, she commits an act of terrorism in their hometown of Old Rimrock and it changes everything for Swede. It is only now that he begins to question everything; to look inside himself for answers. This is where the real story begins. His internal struggle is sometimes to difficult to witness, but that is only a testament to the sheer brilliance of Roth's writing. I'm not surprised this novel won the Pulitzer, as it tears apart what it means to be an American and puts it back together in a jumbled, wonky sort of way. The way most of us can relate to (not that we all have children that commit violent acts and ruin our lives, but in that no life is perfect and we all have our problems).

I highly recommend this one. As usual, this novel is a bit of a downer (pretty on par with the list thus far), but all great stories have a bit of tragedy to them, right?

 If you're like me and struggle with the first 100 or so pages, don't give up on it! It's worth it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

3 books, 1 post

Holy weirdness, Batman. This is absolutely the best book on the list I've read so far. My mind is blown. The characters are so wonderfully written, you can see them; you almost know them. The dialogue between these characters is so off the wall and outrageous, I couldn't help but get giddy about it. Don Delillo makes what should be a simple conversation about the weather into something completely wacky and hilarious, but still incredibly brilliant. Periodically, I'd take a break from reading and find myself in awe. This book is unlike anything I have ever read. It's almost too brilliant. If you read this book and don't end up thinking that Heinrich is the coolest kid you'll ever come across, you fail.

You have to read this book!

Wow. Heartbreaking. Depressing. Beautiful. Tragic. These are the only words I can muster to describe this novel. Things Fall Apart is a story that takes place in late 19th Century Africa, with the second part of the novel taking place just as the Europeans begin to arrive. The culture that the main character, Okonkwo, resides in is rich with traditions, many of which would be considered horrific by modern standards. While this culture provides the backdrop for the novel, the real story comes in Okonkwo's endless struggle to prove he is a better man than his father, known for being lazy and having many debts.
Most novels have something which the reader can grasp onto and find familiar; a sense of comfort can be found by anyone. This novel was so different from anything I've ever read. I felt like a spy, trespassing on this very unfamiliar, often startling culture. While it is difficult to connect to characters who inhabit a world so very different from my own, I still found this novel to be beautiful and incredibly well written.

By nature, I am not a reader of science fiction. I can't get into the super technological lingo or crazy futuristic plot lines. Also, it's for nerds. I picked this book up only because it was on the list and was not looking forward to the read. While it did take me abou 2 1/2 weeks to get through it, I really ended up enjoying this novels. One step forward for nerd literature, one step backward for my coolness.

Essentially, through Snow Crash Neal Stephenson examines ancient topics such as language and religion through a futuristic technology driven storyline. I really found the book to be a brilliant criticism of organized religion. Fun, funny, thought provoking and fast paced, Snow Crash was one hell of a nerdy ride.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rabbit Run - John Updike

And thus continueth the depressing theme of Time's Top 100 List. Must all "good" novels be filled with gloom and doom? Has no one "important" read The Confederacy of Dunces? Brilliant novel. FUNNY novel. And yet, not in the top 100. Harumph. I digress...
Rabbit, Run. As much as I'd like to bash Updike for basically rewriting Revolutionary Road minus the female perspective, he died this year so I decided to think a little more critically about this novel. Also, as it turns out, Revolutionary Road was published one year after Rabbit, Run. Who's copying who now, Mr. Yates?
The point is, after reading the book I thought "oh good, another story about a man who gets tired of his wife and leaves her and just when he decides to do the right thing something terrible happens with/to/because of the wife and he says 'oh gee, I was right after all. She really is the worst'".
But it's more than that. While I wish Updike had given Janice one redeeming quality (it's difficult to sympathize with a hopelessly daft girl who drinks while pregnant), this book wasn't about the woman. He left her perspective out for a reason. It seems that we always hear about how life trapped women into loveless marriages because there was a very strict societal system in place that one was made to follow - but here, with Rabbit, Run, Updike is demonstrating that men were just as easily trapped. That, men too, failed to live up to their potential, or find themselves; find something,anything, because marriage and family were made to be far more important than self actualization and happiness.
When Rabbit decides to take his journey, he is punished for it. Everyone blames him and rushes to Janice's side. Only their pastor, Eccles, is able to appreciate, however conflictedly, Rabbit's thirst for truth and a sense of fulfillment. This novel questions whether we can ever truly be happy whilst living within our societal constraints. How much do we hold ourselves back? In clinging to the past, how much of our future do we sacrifice?
This novel has several sequels, and if I ever make my way through this list, maybe I'll pick up the next and see what Rabbit is up to. For now, I'm hoping for something a little less dreary.
Currently Reading: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (on the list)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey

Everyone else hates this cover for some reason, but this is the edition of the book I read, so there it is. Deal with it.
Oh boy. 2 MONTHS. That's how long it took me to read this tedious chore of a novel. In the end, I suppose I'd say it was worth it. I feel accomplished, if nothing else. And I now belong to the group of people who can roll their eyes and commiserate with anyone in the middle of the book, desperately wondering what they've gotten themselves into.
This book is a classic example of the old "ends justifying the means" discussion. And it's hard to say what made the read so difficult. Maybe I was just hoping for a different narrator? A giant native american slipping in and out of reality is not the clearest of storytellers. And while I understand his existence is there to demonstrate the impartiality of the narrator, he was mostly just boring.
Or maybe I was hoping Nurse Ratched would get what was coming to her sooner? I think what I really wanted was a more evil Nurse Ratched. Because yes, she was a horrible bitch, but not in an evil, intent on ruining everyone's lives way. She really just liked things to be in clean and orderly and McMurphy was the embodiment of everything she hated. Nurse Ratched is the Queen of Mind Fucking, which, now that I think about it, is sort of the scariest kind of evil.
Worst book review ever. Meh.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Never Let Me Go - kazuo ishiguro

Hooray! A book on the 100 list that doesn't make me poke my eyes out!
Ishiguro's novel examines the question of cloning. What if it were incredibly simple? What if we could clone whomever we needed or wanted to? What if that meant curing cancer and AIDS and ridding ourselves of other various illness? What if the government mass produced these clones, so that when they were old enough, their organs could be harvested for humankind's benefit? In the world Ishiguro creates, all of these things are not only possible, but they're happening. Never Let Me Go is the story of three young people growing up in a "special" school called Hailsham. Our narrator is one of these clones, though as a "child" she is not made fully aware of her purpose. She understands the concept of family; that she does not and will not ever have one. But that her life is not her own; that is an issue she will not face until later in life..
What I found most interesting about this novel was the instituion of Hailsham. A school created as part of a movement that demanded more humane treatment of these child clones or "students". Its founders thought the students should have as close to a normal life as possible until their donation time came upon them. They focused on keeping the children creative, using art as a tool to prove that they had souls. And indeed, as Ishiguro writes them, these children do have souls. They have hurt feelings, crushes, embarrassment, etc., everything a normal child would have to deal with as well.
So, how far is too far? Could we really separate the idea of humanity and medicine when our saviors from disease look, act and feel just like us? Would we be able to live with that? Never Let Me Go does not answer any of these questions for its reader, but rather, dares to ask the questions. I found it to be incredibly well written, captivating, though provoking and an overall lovely novel. The genius of Ishiguro is that he reveals small parts of the truth behind the story little by little; I loved being slowly let in on the secret. He creates this world that is completely fascinating, even though you aren't quite sure what's happening most of the time. I found myself discussing this book with A. on a regular basis, and, not surprisingly, he had tons of questions for me, as I revealed more of the book's mystery to him. Naturally, these were questions that I had no answers for yet, but I found it exciting to continue reading, so that I could come back the following night and fill A in on what had happened/answer his questions. Never Let Me Go would make a really great pick for a book club.
Next Up: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry ~ Audrey Niffenegger

"The thing that made the twins peculiar was hard to define. People were uneasy when they saw them together without knowing exactly why. They were not merely identical: they were mirror-image twins. The mirroring..involved every cell in their bodies. They were still essentially one creature, whole but containing contradictions."

Audrey Niffenegger's follow up to the Time Traveler's Wife will be arriving in stores sometime next month, but I was lucky enough to snatch an advanced copy. Niffenegger seems to like to incorporate intimate relationships with the supernatural. Her Fearful Symmetry replaces true love with sisterhood and swaps time travel for ghosts. The result is what I expected from Niffenegger (after reading Time Traveler's Wife) -- a wonderfully crafted, beautifully written story.

Her Fearful Symmetry tells the tale of Julia and Valentina, mirror image twins who inherit a London flat from their estranged aunt Elspeth (their mother's twin). The twins have never been away from home for very long, and they've never even entertained the notion of being apart from one another for a second. Julia is thrilled about moving overseas and having an adventure, while Valentina is more apprehensive and nervous about the change. When they move in, they meet Robert, Elspeth's grief ridden lover who lives downstairs. Their upstairs neighbor, Martin, is a sweet man whose severe OCD has made him unable to leave his home for the past few years. Each of these men develops a very influential relationship with one of the twins, causing at least one of the twins to begin to ponder what life on her own would be like.

Also, there's ghosts! But that's my favorite part, so I'm not giving anything away.

The central theme of the novel is an examination of relationships; what's healthy and at what point they can become toxic. Robert's relationship with Elspeth and the relationship between Julia and Valentina are written so well, I'm certain that every reader will be able to relate to most aspects of them. It's a beautiful story about love and its potential toxicity, the inability to let go, and how these things affect us in both life and death.

I loved it. I can't wait for other people to read it, so we can discuss it. After some humdrum novels on the 100 list, I needed a break, and this novel got me excited about reading again. It has a laydown date of 9/29, so keep your eyes peeled (? eww.)

(Sis you can borrow my copy, cause I think you'll really like this one!)