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...


Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Nerd goes to the Movies: 2012 edition

So, I do have a fascination with reading the source materials for movies, if possible before seeing them.  I know I am not alone,  So, here are THE books you need to read before going to the movies this year.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:  This short story by the Grimms is generating two movies this year: Mirror Mirror (3/16) and Snow White and the Huntsman (6/1).  Can't wait to see all the stuff the producers and writers throw in there to fill out a couple hours.  These movies, being based on such a short story, are reminiscient of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Something tells me the results will not be the same.

The Hunger Games: (3/23) This literary phenomenon has now been made into a blockbuster from Hollywood.  I just saw the preview a couple of days ago and it looks interesting.  I really liked Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone, so this should prove to be a good one for a Saturday rental after it comes out on DVD.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: (6/22)  While not really up my alley in terms of literary choice, I am intrigued by the fact that it is directed by Tim Burton.  -D is a big fan of Burton, but I do think he makes a misstep every once in a while.  What I am looking forward to more is his version of Dark Shadows later in the year (he does odd camp best).

The Hobbit: (12/14) The prequel to the Lord of the Rings is finally getting the full Hollywood a la Peter Jackson treatment.  I will be forced to see it with the hubby, so I might as well get to reading this one.  I tried once before, but I struggled in the first chapter and put it down.  We shall see...

The Great Gatsby: (12/25)  So if I get dragged to the theater to see the previous two picks, I will get to turn the tables for this one.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Baz Luhrmann and cannotwait to see what he does with this one.  I will have to refresh my memory because 11th grade English was not kind to Fitzgerald.

and last but not least:

Team of Rivals (Lincoln): (December, I hope) Rarely do I get all tingly whilst reading the actor list on IMDB for an upcoming movie, but I did on this one!  I ablsolutely loved Dorris Kearns Goodwin's masterpiece on the Lincoln presidency (it is hand's down my favorite Lincoln book), so I cannot tell you how excited I am that it is coming out this year!  I won't force Drew to go see this one with me.  I loaned the book to my dad after I read it and he loved it as much as I did, so sounds like a dad-daughter outing is in the offing!!  Yea! 

Are there any books that are being adapted for the screen you are excited about this year?  Oh, I just realized I left off Twilight (how could that have happened? I wonder).  If Twilight is the movie you are most excited about, please do not let me know; I will mock you mercilessly inside my head.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Help: A Rumination on Civil Rights and such

So, I have a small timing issue (previously discussed on this blog) in which I do not read according to current bestseller lists.  I wait a little while, try to give a book some time to breathe (for me to forget all the spoilers I think I have heard through my stopped up ears), and then I read. 

The latest read to fit into this category of books for me is The Help.  The ubiquitous read was EVERYwhere last year and the year before: book blogs, newspapers, morning television, etc.  The furor was renewed with the creation of the motion picture adaptation.  Which is what brought me on board. 

I like to attempt to read the source materials for most of the movies (that have source materials) before I see the movie.  In fact, I tend to refuse to see movies until I have read the book...yes, still waiting on The Maltese Falcon.  So, since The Help (the movie) has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and I am going to the AMC Best Picture Showcase in a couple of weeks, I found myself with some reading to do! 

Thankfully, the book is of the page-turning sort.  It is a well told story, even if the dialect gets in the way a little bit. 

I couldn't help thinking of my summers in Mississippi with my grandparents in the late 80s.  Many of the vestiges of the racism that formed the struggle at the center of The Help, were still evident.  A trip to the Piggly Wiggly with my grandmother was still included a chance to hear the n-word used, to see the lines drawn subtly between classes and races.  My grandmother had a black woman to help her around the house on a weekly basis and this was still pretty common.  My grandmother looked down on her, but also showed her kindness and a concern for her family that was palpable to a child under the age of ten.  The contradictions inherent in these kinds of relationships were easily recognizable and equally infuriating. 

I grew up with a strong aversion to racism and had a real-life struggle with friends at a young age that left an impression on me forever: that the lines drawn between people are often not drawn by others for us to see, but are drawn by suggestion.  Some of us can overcome the power of that suggestion and shrug off stereotypes to examine people as individuals.  Some of us cannot overcome the power of those persuasive influences and are doomed to follow in their opinions and actions.  What it comes down to in the end is the question: are you going to follow or ar you going to lead? 

The characters who form the center of The Help are of the latter group: leaders.  They don't stand up and make speeches or try to force others to see things their way.  Instead they live quiet lives of conviction and wait for others to catch on.  I think it is this portrait of a leader in the midst of the civil rights era that has made The Help the phenomenon it is.  There is something that resonnates in the queitly done everyday activities that change the way others think.  It is leading by example, even if it looks like no one will follow.  This is the type of person who really accomplished civil rights reform in America and Kathryn Stockett paints their portraits sharply and beautifully.

I am glad I read The Help and I really am looking forward to seeing the film.  I am also interested in getting the audio version.  Has anybody seen the movie or heard the book?  Please let me know what you think.

Rating: 6 out of 7


Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Whilst reading my latest book, I often thought of how I could write a spoiler-free review for it.  After finishing the book, I am still struggling with the problem of revealing too much.  In  my opinion, to tell the premise of the story would be too much; to tell the narrative style would be too much; to tell practically anything would be too much. 

Thus, I will say:

The book is separated into four sections.  The second section is the best.  The first section is just mildly less interesting than the second section.  And the last two sections are almost an afterthought.  In my opinion the book could have ended almost at the end of the second section. 

Yes, that is my review.  You would have to read it to get it and if you have, I much appreciate your input on a spoiler-free review.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I think Tubthumping is an inappropriate song for a 5 year old, but I am not judging.

Rating: 4.5 out of 7