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!)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Backstory....that's important right?

This first post will be long as I'm going to review all the books I've read off of the list so sit back and get comfy...

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

Some adventure, Augie. The universe gave our friend Augie several chances to be wealthy and happy, but he chose to be overly existential about life and make it through the hard way. This essentially leads him to marry a girl who wants to move to Mexico and train an eagle. Basically, his life sucks because he was too stubborn to be gracious about the opportunities he was given earlier in life. This nonsense continues for a whopping 557 pages and at the end we are left with no resolution and Augie has done nothing useful with his life. Good call, Time Magazine.

This was the first book I chose to read off the list and I immediately began to regret my decision...

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Yes! Mr. Chandler renewed my faith in the list. This book was awesome. I am firmly against modern mystery novels because they're usually too easy to figure out or the resolution really makes no sense. Also, they tend to be too cheesy. Not The Big Sleep. This book is sexy, captivating and incredibly well written. 5 stars!

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

I started off thinking this was the funniest book I'd ever read. I was laughing out loud and having a grand old time. But just kept going. And the jokes get kind of old. And while you appreciate Yossarian's plight, and the brilliance with which the book is written and Heller's point is brought forth, one has to wonder why, at the end of the day, is so damn hard to get into this book? I kept thinking I should want to read it, but I could never muster the strength to do it unless I forced myself.

So, it's not an easy read, despite it's obvious brilliance. I'd definitely say it's worth challenging yourself.

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

What. The. Heck. This book had some funny parts, but for the most part it was terrible. Everyone was selfish and childish and their behavior was detestable. Poor little Portia. Will no one love this poor child? Matchett, the snarky maid, is there to bring some heart to the story, but not enough to redeem the novel overall.

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles

This is a goodie. Sarah Woodruff, our protaganist, is also known around town as the "french lieutenant's whore" or for those of us who have more feeling hearts "Tragedy". She is the most complex heroine I've ever come across and I thought she was written brilliantly. At time you sympathize with her and other times, as her character unfolds, you come to realize that you may hate her just a little bit. The structure of the novel is interesting as well, as Fowles sort of discusses through the novel his difficulty in controlling the characters. He also offers three different endings to the novel.

Good reads.

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

No. This book is terrible.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov

While I was reading this, I felt dirty. I wanted to tell little Dorothy Haze to run the other way. When I would discuss this with people who had read the book, they would all say the same thing "just remember, it's a love story".

Is it? Because I read it in its entirety and I never saw the love story part. I mean, Humbert really does think he loves Lolita. Maybe he does. But is it real love if she's 12 and is scared and confused and all too aware of her sexuality? All in all, I thought this novel was horribly depressing. Possibly more depressing for me than most, because I expected it to be strangely sexy and it was just terribly sad.

But I feel compelled to say that it was really good and you should read it too!!

1984 by George Orwell

How I went this long without reading this book, I'm not sure. I'm also not sure how to describe it other than brilliant, terrifying and much too relevant for comfort. Everyone should read this book.

Watchmen - Alan Moore

This is the only graphic novel on the list, and the first graphic novel I've ever read. It took me much longer than it should have, because I would just skip over the pictures half the time, not realizing how important they are to the story. (Example: when the movie was coming out, Andrew was complaining about how they weren't using the giant squid and i said, "what giant squid?). The story is great, the artwork is pretty cool as well and it really opened up my mind to the fact that graphic novels are actually an option for me. (I've since started reading Buffy and Angel graphic novels...)

I haven't read a book on the list in a while. I've started both Gravity's Rainbow and The Moviegoer and quit about 20 pages into each. I'll need a study guide for Gravity's Rainbow and The Moviegoer will just need another attempt when I'm not in the middle of moving.

So that's that. I'm currently reading an advanced copy of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (who wrote Time Traveler's Wife), and will definitely share my thoughts once I'm finished...but I'm not sharing the book.

I hate sharing.