Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Giver

In literature and fiction, anything in the sci-fi or fantasy genres have always been a bridge too far for me.  I find this type of story challenging beyond words.  I do not desire to "learn" a new world and the machinations thereof.  I am challenged enough by the nuances of the world I know.  Thus, I can count on one hand the books I have read in this genre in my lifetime.

So, with my current book reading challenge suggesting (nay, forcing me) to read a book set in the future, I went to my husband for a suggestion.  He suggested The Giver by Lois Lowry as an "easy and quick read."

The challenge I felt reading the first half of the book was oppressive.  I found it difficult to get through two to three pages at a time without falling asleep or finding other things that needed doing around the house.  In fact, it took me over a week to read a small nine chapters.

And then...
It took me an hour and a half to finish the rest of the book and I devoured it in one sitting, feeling somewhat satisfied with myself for chalking up my 2nd fantasy/sci-fi read.

So what gives?

I think that, as with almost all other books in this genre, a large portion of the book involves building the setting.  And, let's be real: that can be pretty boring.  Finding out all the specifics of an author's made up world can take a while.  Not that it is an unnecessary step, just a tedious one. Once the author has established this made-up world to his/her liking, he/she can move forward with plot.  And apparently plot is my jam.

The Giver, though in my opinion, is long on setting and short on plot; it is not unsatisfying.  It is a good read.  A recommended read and it deals with some pretty major themes.  But I kind of feel that it could have been a short story.  Wouldn't it have been a little more jarring if it had just plopped the reader down into the plot and left her to discover the uniqueness of the world surrounding t he plot?  Just a thought.

I can see why The Giver became an instant classic.  But I do understand why it would have been a challenge for me in eighth grade.  Heck, it was a challenge for me at 34!


Rating: 3.5 out of 7

This book fulfills the "Book set in the future" for my current challenge.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

All the Pretty Horses

Alright, I have to admit something right here and now:

I am Texan.

And this fact may greatly influence my impression of Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy.  But I am not really sorry for the fact of my birth and the love of that land borne into my heart.  As I am endeavoring to read the Border Trilogy by Cormac (we are on a first name basis now since I have read two of his books and seen at least one screen adaptation of his work); I am, indeed, congratulating myself on the place of my beginnings again.

My love for all things Cormac (or pretty much all things I have experienced thus far of Cormac) dovetails nicely with my endeavor not to spoil anything in the reviews on this blog.  So I will attempt to review All the Pretty Horses (book one of the Border Trilogy) without giving anything away.

Ready?  I have two primary thoughts about the book:

1. You know those people who you hear sing and that saying, "I could listen to them read the phone book."?  That is Cormac McCarthy for the written word and the lesser things of life.  Cormac is that guy who has so observed the world that he has discovered the nuances of objects and events.  And he takes those observations and translates them into some of the most beautiful prose I have read.  He does it with the most mundane things.  In All the Pretty Horses, he does this whilst describing the heaves that come with vomiting.  I had to read that paragraph twice, just to revel in it.  And he does it again in AtPH describing the feeling of waking up and not knowing where you are in a land where fear is the default emotion.

2. This is my second time through AtPH.  And this time through I was noticing a prevalent theme I don't think I noticed or remembered from the first read.  The theme is the contrast between a God-like plan (or fate) and the choices of man.  The characters talk a lot (as much as characters talk in a Cormac book about anything), wondering if there is a God and if he is in charge of the events of men.  This is juxtaposed with some seriously questionable decisions on the part of many of the characters.   And then it is highlighted by the main character (John Grady Cole)'s need to set things right, to do the right thing, to have everything right (at least as he sees it).  Mix in some events that would make most men shudder and you have a basic man questions God story.  Does He exist?  How could He be good if things like this happen?  etc. etc.  Maybe I am reading a little too much of my own theology into this, but I definitely see the contrast and conflict there.

And I have a secondary thought:

The way that Cormac describes the shift of the world that happens when you fall in love at first sight is spectacular.  As a girl who in a way, fell in this manner for the love of her life, he captured it perfectly.  I am not even going to quote the things he wrote so as to encourage you to pick up this book and read it to discover these tiny nuggets of sensitive beauty set amongst finely-honed boulders of brilliant observation.

The book is basically a Bildungsroman for John Grady Cole, but even as you turn the pages, you will discover that he was very much a man before you opened the book.  Nevertheless, the fact that it remains a development of a boy into a man reveals that we are always on this journey of becoming more.


Rating: 6 out of 7
This book fulfills 1/3 of the requirement for a "trilogy" in my current book reading challenge

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See, first read of the new year

My first official read of the new year was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  And before I was half-way through the book, I was already recommending it to others, hoping they would read it as soon as possible, so we could have a book discussion.  And really this book is ripe for discussion.

Anthony Doerr's book made it to the top of numerous top ten of 2014 books and that is how I discovered it.  My trusty EW reviewer told me that the book was about a boy and a girl and was the most hopeful book they had read in a while.  At least that's what I remember from the review.  And although I am not normally a fan of historical fiction, I thought I would give it a go.

I, like the EW reviewer, do not want to give away too much of the book.  (I hate spoilers and you should, too!) So, I will just say that it follows the lives of a number of people including a girl and a boy in the years leading up to and during the Second World War.  And even as I sit writing this review, I am struck by one major theme: truth.

In the years leading up to the Second World War truth (the this-is-the-real-deal, unadulterated truth) was scarce.  Propaganda was rampant.  But what was worse than that is many people wanting to create their own truth because what they saw around them just couldn't be so.  The horrors of the Third Reich's rise presented people with the opportunity to face the reality of what was happening or create their own excuses or escapes to remove themselves from the harsh truth.  Often the excuse was self-preservation - knowing that if you had to face reality, it would destroy you or ones you loved, or both.

This is what I see as a major theme of the book and of my favorite movie of all time, Life is Beautiful.  The reader/viewer is forced to place herself in the shoes of the characters and ask herself, "What would I do in that situation? Would I lie to those I love?  Would I lie to myself?  Could I accept the truth of the situation, or would I choose to escape/ignore?"

In All the Light We Cannot See many of the characters choose to believe stories they are told, to believe propaganda, to see what they want to see, and even to lie to one another in hopes of providing comfort.  But there are a brave few in the book: the ones who see the truth and refuse to cover it up with myths and denials.  These are the characters that I connected with in the book.

There are many more themes to explore from the book.  As I said, it would make a great book for group discussion.  Ultimately, I very much enjoyed the simple (yet often profound) prose and the structure of the book (a jumbled timeline converging to a single day).  I did not check to see how many pages the book was before reading it on my e-reader.  I felt this would be a short book and so I savored each word for the first 100 pages or so.  But then I checked and found it was over 500 pages and upped my reading pace decidedly.  I feel like the the denouement could have almost been omitted and found I would have liked for the story to end differently, but the Second World War didn't provide everyone with a perfect ending, either.

Have you read it?  Let's talk.


Rating: 5 out of 7
This book fulfills the "Book by an Author You Haven't Read" requirement in my challenge for the year.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Back to the Books

So we had this little hiccup in life called children.  We didn't stop reading after we had children, we just stopped writing about it.  But, I still remembered this space where I had a place to record the thoughts I had after reading books.  The challenge was to read a book a week (more or less) and we did well the first year.  The second year...

And now we are in 2015.  2015!  Our girls are getting to ages that make it more possible to read books after they retire to bed.  And I am returning to this space.  I am trying to persuade -D to return, too.  But even if he doesn't, I will try!

My sister-in-law and are are embarking on a new challenge to read a bunch of books this year (about a book a week).  And we are pretty excited about it!  Trying to come up with a long list of fabulous reads and recommending books back and forth.

And I am currently reading a really good book, All the Light We Cannot See.  I don't know exactly where it will go, but I have been enjoying the journey and the thoughts it has provoked. I suppose it will be the first review of the year.  
  Until then...