Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

When asked, I've described this book as Wuthering Heights times ten, or Jane Eyre on crack. And in case it isn't obvious, descriptions like that indicate that I loved this book.

It's the story the Bronte sisters would have written had they not been restricted by social conventions. This is wonderfully dark and creepy -- exactly what I was wanting to read to put me in a dark, fall mood.

The main character, a historian/researcher who works at her father's rare book store, is approached by an author to write her life story. The character isn't sure she wants the job, but she's intrigued, so she goes to visit the author. Soon she finds herself investigating a disturbing story about a disturbed family - neglectful parents and demented children - and the damage they wrought upon those around them.

I don't want to give anything away except to say that this is the perfect book for a late, stormy evening.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Everyone I know has read Kite Runner. It's an incidental thing, not a case of everyone saying "you must read this book" but rather, a more casual, "hey I just read this book the other day, have you heard of it?"

If you liked Kite Runner, I suspect you will like this book as well, the second book from the same author. I found that I liked and disliked in this book the same elements that I liked and disliked in Kite Runner.

I find the history included in the story to be compelling. The author has a way of educating his readers about a part of the world to which we are largely ignorant, and he does so while telling an engrossing story. Accidental education, you think you're just enjoying a story when in fact you're learning something.

The characters led such brutal and harsh lives. This, I know, is unfortunately a reflection of the reality of what women have endured in Afghanistan. That might be what makes the story so hard to digest, the awareness that this is happening in the world. This was not a third world country, this was a prosperous nation, and it all fell apart, and remains in pieces.

The novel spans several generations of women, and many phases of Afghanistan's history -- the Soviet occupation, the warlords, the Taliban, the U.S. bombing, and finally, the current time period, which unfortunately may be a return of the Taliban. By reading this book we understand how the people were affected and in this case the women in particular.

There were times when I didn't feel as if the female characters rang true. These were clearly female character created by a man. I was unnerved by the nine year old thinking she was in love. That was too young for a child to have feelings like that. She was describing the sort of feelings that usually don't happen until later teens. I had to go back and read the part because I was so startled when I saw the line that "she was almost ten years old." I never felt especially close to the characters. Their situations took on a soap opera like element with so many extreme situations, the deaths, the pregnancies, the betrayals, so many characters that were pure evil versus characters that were pure good. While I found the situation and the portrayals of war in the city to be devastating, I felt numb to individual characters.

The coincidences bothered me. They didn't seem as absurd in this book as they were in the other, but nonetheless they were there. When I mentioned this a friend pointed out "that's what happens in fiction." Maybe, in some fiction, not the type I usually read. If this didn't bother you in Kite Runner, it won't bother you in this book.

Despite my criticisms, I'm glad I read it because I am interested in the history of the Middle East. I believe that a lot of people will enjoy it, in the same way that they've enjoyed Kite Runner.

finished reading: August 13, 2007

Thursday, August 02, 2007

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

I found the premise of this book intriguing. A young couple's wedding night, both virgins, contemplating the consummation of their marriage.

The setting is the 1950s, right before the sexual revolution. According to the book, they live in a time before it was fun to be single, it was necessary to be part of a couple in order to enjoy what the world had to offer.

Much of the book consists of the thoughts in their head. Reminding each other of how they met, how they fell in love, and the concern and frustration over what to expect, how to react, what to do in this next step of adulthood, the beginning of a marriage.

He's so eager and she's simply terrified. But they're both entirely too polite with each other. They haven't quite grasped the concept that they are going to be spending the rest of their lives together.

They've both had unusual upbringings, his mother was brain damaged and his father had to be both parents to his three young children and care taker to his wife. She had a cold, distant mother who certainly never took the time to talk to her daughter about something like sex. It is also hinted ever so slightly that she might have had an improper relationship with her father. But again, it could be the confusion of a child. (I've read Atonement by this same author, a book about lives ruined because of a child's confusion regarding sex.)

As I read this, I felt so much aching empathy for the female character. Because even in modern times, if a person doesn't know what to expect, if she's never been told, if she's having to gather second-hand information... It made me wonder how a man could write something so accurate with regard to a woman's feelings. I tend to not read books written by men, especially if they presume to understand women. But I continue to read work by McEwan because he does seem to understand his subject matter and he creates women that are real, and not the hysterical, over-emotive and/or cardboard characters created by most male writers. In this instance, I was especially impressed. A man who has such a strong understanding of the thoughts in a woman's head is quite rare.

It's a small, compact book. The action takes place in one night. Easy to read while laying out in the sun. Probably not considered a beach read, despite its title, but I did read it while sunning, all at once. Gave me a bit of a sunburn because I stayed outside a little too long. But I couldn't stop reading.

It's very sad. In the end, I found the story to be a cautionary tale about what happens when a person doesn't express his or her feelings. If these two people would have just told each other what was going on in their minds, then they probably would have had a good laugh, realizing they were on exactly the same page, and worked through their fears. They loved each other and that should count for something. But when pride stands in front of love, a person may retain their pride, but that might be all that is left.

It's a beautiful story, and as I've said in other reviews, I don't especially enjoy McEwan's books, but I think they are very well written. In this case, the writing was so powerful, I couldn't stop thinking about the book after I read it. I had to keep reminding myself that the characters were fictional and that it was silly to get so upset over what happened to them. When something sticks with you like that, that's the mark of excellent writing.

finished reading: August 1, 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows

I was in Italy when the book was released. I got my copy about a week after everyone else did because I selected the free shipping on I got it on Friday, read about a hundred pages on Saturday, a hundred more on Sunday, on Monday, I got up around 4 or 5 am and started reading it, and I didn't get out of bed until I finished reading it.

I loved this book. I was disappointed with Book 6 because I didn't like what happened to my beloved Snape. My friends were worried that I wouldn't make it through this book.

I admit the first of it was slow going for me. I got a little tired of Harry, Ron and Hermoine in a tent in the woods. Once I got past that though, by the time I was about halfway through the story, I couldn't put it down.

I was pleased with the ending. Overwhelmingly relieved that I wasn't wrong in loving the "bad boy." At the very end, I had a tear in my eye at the mention of "the bravest man I ever knew."

Bravo to JK Rowling for creating this excellent series. Something most writers can only dream of doing -- producing seven well-written, interesting, exciting, beloved novels.

I look forward to re-reading these someday, during a lazy summer, maybe while retreating to a cottage in Britain, accompanied by a visit to Oxford. Someday.

finished reading: July 30, 2007

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Evening by Susan Minot

I decided to read Evening after seeing the previews for the movie. I’m so glad I read it before watching the movie because the movie was phenomenally disappointing, whereas the book was beautiful.

The book tells the story of Ann’s last days. Much of the story is Ann’s morphine induced rambling, one memory blurring into the next. “I will always, I will never.” The words of every argument, every promise, every broken heart. Once I was involved in the story, I found these passages to be the most poignant element of the story. At the end of one’s life, this is all these days become: fragments, simple phrases that merge into the next, one moment indistinguishable from another, with a few bright, crystalline exceptions.

For Ann, the exception was the weekend of her best friend’s wedding, an event more significant than the three weddings of her own that she would later have.

While the movie is simple and predictable, the book is raw and complicated. During Ann’s final days, she reflects on the idea that when she’s gone, all her memories will go with her. She tries to make some sense of her life, looking around at her many possessions and realizes that she isn’t the things she owned, that her children will not carry on her true essence. All the things that made her who she is exist inside of her and will soon be gone. She had three husbands and gave birth to five children. She endured abuse and loss, she had big houses and pretty things.

She arrives at the conclusion that if life has high and low points, then her highest point happened when she was 25, the weekend of her Lila's wedding. Everything after that was less. Ann got married and had children, over and over again, because it seemed like the thing to do. She submitted to men who would take care of her and adore her, but she always kept her heart to herself, never loving her husbands, never feeling close to her children. And during her last moments all she could think of was the man she believed she fell in love with during the weekend of her friend’s wedding.

But the reader is aware of things Ann doesn’t know, revealing that the love she felt for Harris was one sided. He had no intention of their relationship lasting beyond the weekend. He belonged to another. Ann was beautiful and vibrant, this is clear not only from Harris’ attraction but also the subsequent men who insisted on having her. Harris wanted to have sex with her. He wasn’t different from any other man. But he never planned to spend his life with her.

To Ann though, Harris represented a time in her life when she was happy and hopeful. A time when she was a young woman living in New York City and still believed that she would be a successful singer. I don’t think Ann honestly regarded him as her one true love but after a life of failed loves, she looked back on her time with him as holding potential that was never fulfilled, like so much of her life. She was happy in his arms and she never felt that kind of happiness again. The morning after her last night with Harris, her world fell apart because of a tragedy. Innocence lost. He was the last good thing before everything became real and horrible.

I enjoyed this book because it served as a reflection of a time in which women felt they had few options. They weren’t supposed to go out on their own. They were supposed to get married and have babies. Ann did what was expected of her, and she never lived the life she wanted to have.

And when the evening of her life fell upon her, she saw the brightest, happiest moments of her life. It's a story about regret and guilt and the agony of wondering what might have been.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Atonement by Ian McEwan (audio)

This was our most recent book club selection, though it seems that our book club will never meet to discuss this book.

Every attempt to read this left me uninterested. I decided to pick up the audio version of the book in an act of desperation. I spend at least an hour and half on the road every day, so I figured I could get it listened to in a week or so.

Point being, I listened to this. I didn't actually sit down and read it. I don't know if that matters, but anyway…

Overall, I didn't enjoy the book that much. The heavy wording doesn't seem appropriate for the rather simple storyline. A young girl with an over active imagination accuses an innocent man of a horrible crime. And for some reason that is never quite explained, everyone believes her, despite the lack of evidence. The most likely explanation is that it was a class issue, the child was from a well off family, the man she accused was the servant's son. The life of the person accused is ruined. He serves time and is then forced into the army. This takes place during WWII, I believe.

The book describes his life and the horrors he witnesses while in the army. Also, the reader learns about the life of the woman who loved him. They had one brief encounter before he was sent away. Being that she's the sister of the accuser, she cuts off her family and creates a life of her own as a nurse. She lives a lonely life, waiting for her lover to be free. One highlight of the book is the description of their passion and devotion to each other that continues during their time apart. It's a romance created by letters and ideas and desires because they never had the chance to act on their feelings for each other.

In the end, it is revealed that Briony finally realized that she had done and the harm she caused. But by then it was too late. Evidently she becomes a successful writer. There is one absurd passage in the book though where she submits her story and it's rejected. However, her rejection letter is accompanied by a long glowing review of what a remarkable writer she is. The letter contains numerous questions about what she's written, suggesting that maybe she focus on the consequences of the behavior in the story – the story is, of course, the story of what she thought she saw. The reviewer seems to be the one that points out to Briony the error in her beliefs, emphasizing that this story is a tale told by a confused child, not a recollection of an actual event.

The atonement though, as suggested by the title, never happens. It exists in wanting and hoping, but not in actuality. I felt defeated after listening to this. Since listening to this though, I've read another Ian McEwan book, which left me with a similar feeling. He's an excellent writer, but the stories are a bit rough to handle.

Good Omens

I finished reading this during a raging thunderstorm, while watching the Omen. It somehow seemed appropriate to read a hilarious story about the antiChrist while watching a rather stupid movie about the same subject.

After falling for the Sandman series, I'm trying to read the Neil Gaiman novels in order, so I started with this.

I thought it was funny. I enjoyed the bickering angel and demon. I loved the witch in the story. There were so many quotes about witches and angels that I wrote down from the book because I loved them. The bits about how "most books claim witches dance around naked, because most books about witches are written by men."

This is a very clever book. A very light hearted look at the powers of good and evil, the end of the world, and the influence of environment. The definitive take on nature versus nurture.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman (audio)

I listened to this while driving to and from Austin. It made the drive, which is usually such a beat down, seem short.

I really like that the book is read by the author because no one understands the characters of a book better than the author.

This is considered a fairy tale for adults. A young man goes off in search of a fallen star in hopes of winning the hand of the woman he loves. But along the way he learns many things about life and love.

There are several different storylines. Tristan isn't the only person seeking the fallen star. In the end the different storylines all mingle together as the characters try to claim the star.

It's a nice story. I do recommend it, this audio version in particular.

I also highly recommend the movie version of this story that recently came out.

Finished listening: June 12, 2007

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses is one of my favorite books. I finished No Country for Old Men in one night because I could not stop reading it. Suffice it to say, I’m a fan of his writing.

Then Oprah selected this for her book club. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Oprah, though not always of her show. (My husband cheated with my best friend – wtf? I mean, seriously.) Then I read an interview with Trent Reznor, I believe it was in Kerrang. They asked him how he was spending his downtime on the tour, being that he doesn’t drink and party anymore. He said he reads and the last book he read was The Road. (As if I don’t already adore Trent Reznor, do you have idea how much sexier he becomes simply by talking about books?) Either that same day or the next, The Road was given the Pulitzer Prize. Oprah, Trent, Pulitzer – this book had a lot of things working in its favor, along with the fact that I’m already a fan of McCarthy’s writing. I’d been on the waiting list for the book for a few weeks, probably since Oprah selected the book, but that afternoon, the day I found out it won the Pulitzer, I went and bought a copy.

I found it to be written in the same “I can’t put this down” manner. I wonder though if that’s partly because there aren’t any chapter breaks, never a real stopping point. The style is a sort of stream of conscious, flowing from one scene to the next. Of course, if I didn’t find the story interesting, I probably wouldn’t care if there were any official breaks.

By now, I guess most people know the basic premise of the story: a man and his son, walking along the road in a grey, ash covered world that has, for all intents and purposes, ended. They have a shopping cart and a few possessions. They are constantly seeking food and shelter in the remnants of the world.

The book is written in such a way that the reader is placed on the road with these two, experiencing their struggle as they walk towards uncertainty. Maybe that’s why I felt like I couldn’t stop reading this, I needed to keep going. Along the path, they encounter others who have been left behind, dying, starving, insane or marauding.

The father claims he has to keep moving for his son, he has to stay alive because as long as his son is alive, there must be a god.

There’s no explanation as to what happened in the world. I got the impression, from his descriptions of the first signs of trouble that a bomb hit. A catastrophe of some sort took place that destroyed the earth, blocked the sun and made even the oceans turn grey. Infrastructure collapsed and anarchy ensued. The survivors were left to fend for themselves.

The story is chilling, because I think of the incompetence of our government, their inability to mobilize in the event of disaster, the shambles of the current quagmire in the middle east and I realize that in case of disaster we would be very much on our own.

But the predominant thought that kept going through my head was “why would someone want to survive in these conditions?” I don’t have much of a survivalist instinct, at least not when it involves being only one of a handful of people left living in the world.

For example, I’ve never understood people who stock up on gas masks and tape for their windows in preparation for a biological disaster. If the whole world is going to fall apart, I would like to go with it. I have no desire to live in a world that’s been destroyed. Why would you want to be alive inside your house while everything around you went up in flames. Eventually you would have to leave the confines of your home and deal with the horror. I suspect I have different point of view because I don’t have a family. But I can’t imagine wanting my child to have that sort of life either. Why work so hard to keep the child alive when there is nothing left?

While I assume the intent is that this is a story of hope and love, I could never get past the idea that their struggle was one of profound false hope.

Still, it’s very well written. However, there are some truly gruesome scenes in this story. I supposed that is to be expected because, well, it is sort of a story about the end of the world. I was worried because I read most of this late at night while staying at my sister’s house and was concerned that it would give me nightmares. No nightmares, at least none that stayed with me. It does make you think though. A lot of, “what would I do?” No water, no electricity, no fuel, no government. I wouldn’t start walking with no destination in mind. I guess I’d just sit at home and hope the end came quickly.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Devil's Feather by Minette Walters

Minette Walters is one of my favorite writers. I think she's written some of the best mysteries ever -- Ice House, Shape of Snakes, Dark Room. But I've not been crazy about her last few books -- Acid House and Fox Evil.

But Devil's Feather is a return to the style I liked so much in her older books. A suspenseful mystery, that integrates current social issues, interesting, likable, well-developed characters, in particular, strong, independent-minded female characters who don't suffer fools and have no trouble taking care of themselves, and a proper British setting.

In this particular story the main character is an international reporter who has covered war and conflict in several different locations. While attempting to investigate the similar murders of some women in different locations, she is abducted. After her release she goes into seclusion, claiming she's writing a story about what happened, when in fact she is trying to deal with the psychological damage inflicted on her while being captured, as well as remain hidden from the man who tortured her. He was a beast using war as a cover for his crime, knowing that the locals would be too occupied with the international conflict to notice the harm he was inflicting on women in the area. He attacked women he viewed as insignificant, and he didn't take kindly to a reporter catching on to his game.

I loved this book. Besides the well told story, this novel also emphasizes the need for women to be strong and willing to fight when necessary. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an engrossing suspense story that includes some ass-kicking women.

Finished reading: June 3, 2007

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton (audio)

I honestly don't know if any woman in my life has had more influence on me than Hillary Rodham Clinton. I know that might sound extreme to some people, but for me, I spent the early years of my life desperately seeking a strong female role model. I was in high school during the first Clinton presidential campaign. I was disgusted by the fact that my friends now cared about nothing more than boys and makeup. I wanted something more and I needed to know that there were women in the world who did aspire to something more. And there was Hillary, and she was simply brilliant. I latched on to her and my feelings for her haven't faltered over the years. I'm not saying that she's perfect, it isn't a blind devotion, I'll acknowledge fault. She's human. But it is a sincere devotion. Because of her I realized there are strong, successful women, and because of her I became aware of the hatred most of this country feels for strong, successful women. Without a doubt, the main topic on my mind in the coming months will be her presidential campaign. Go, Hill, go!

But this is not a review of Hillary, but rather her book.

I bought it as soon as it came out, but then never got around to reading it. I decided to pick up the unabridged version at the library and listen to it during my daily commute for the last few weeks of my job.

I enjoyed the early parts, when she talks about her family and her college days. It's a side of her that isn't widely seen. You get a better understanding of her background and the basis of her beliefs. She's always been very involved and interested in the world. I also thoroughly enjoyed her description of meeting and falling in love with Bill Clinton. Again, this provides a solid foundation for why she made the choices she has made regarding their relationship. There's a part in the book when she describes how the people around her were shocked by her decision to marry him because she could do so much on her own, why would she choose to be this man's wife and move to Arkansas with him? She loved him, she loves him. She said when she met him they started a conversation and it has been going on ever since.

But once she gets to the part about Bill's political career and particularly his presidential career, I was bothered by the way the story becomes a strong defense for their every action. It made me sad, because I thought of how, in a way, her life, and in this case, her life story becomes nothing more than the act of defending her husband and often making excuses for his actions. (Here's the point where I should state that I am also a huge Bill Clinton fan, but still...) This is a woman who very much had to set aside her goals and aspirations for the dreams of her husband. During these portions of the story, I didn't feel like I was learning any new information. These were the same arguments that we heard when they were in office.

I did however like the stories about the work she did for international women's rights. I remember that time and how awesome it was that she was taking part in those trips and trying to make a difference.

Also, I began to get the impression that because she is still very, very much in the public eye, she can't provide a truly honest assessment of these events. She's still running for office. In many ways, parts of this book read as if they were excerpts from campaign literature.

It will be a long time before she's in a position to publish the honest story of what it was like to be the president's wife, especially a president such a Bill Clinton. She isn't in a position now to tell the full and accurate truth regarding her feelings and impressions. Maybe she'll be comfortable enough to share that story someday. And maybe when she does share that story, it will be accompanying her account of what it was like to be the first president of the United States.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Memory Keeper's Daughter (audio)

I listened to this book while driving back and forth to work during the last week or so of my job. Mid-May of this year.

This was an interesting story. A doctor delivers his twins one winter night, when the roads are too icy for his wife's doctor to get to them. The first child, a boy, is fine. The second child has Downs Syndrome. He hands the baby to his nurse along with an address and tells her to drop the child off at that location. When his wife regains consciousness he tells her the second baby died, thus setting into motion a life full of lies.

The nurse gets to the place, described as a "home for the feeble minded." She's horrified by what she sees and decides to run away and raise the child as her own.

The book describes the lives of the two children over the years and their family environments. One child is raised in the ideal suburban setting, the other by a struggling single mother. But one child is surrounded by cold, distant parents - a father consumed with his guilt and a mother who never got over the death of her child - the other child surrounded by love and support.

The story is in some ways a reflection of the times. But more troublesome than being unwilling to raise a child with a disability is the way the father had no regard for his wife and chose to not even tell her of the existence of their child.

This is a story about a man who had no respect for his daughter or his wife. In the beginning, as he describes his wife, it becomes apparent that he regards her as nothing more than a pretty doll, never imagining that she might have feelings and ideas. He alone makes the decision to send their child away. Later in their marriage, he becomes angry and insecure when his wife decides to get a job and then starts her own travel company. He takes up photography, the manner in which he goes about this hobby is indicitive of his obsession with perfection and appearances. He has no interest in anyone's actual feelings. He just wants everything to look right. ... the evil that men do.

I found the parts of the story about the nurse raising Phoebe to be most interesting, because she becomes involved in education reform in a fight to get her "daughter" the kind of attention she needed. But at the same time, I was bothered by the awareness that the woman's devotion to the child originated from the unrequited love she felt for the doctor. (It's been a while since I read the story, so I don't remember any names.) She couldn't have him, she couldn't be the mother of his children, so she lived in a sort of pretend world, raising his child. It made the woman seem very pathetic, but in the end, she redeemed herself for her "crush".

I recently read a story in this month's issue of Vanity Fair about Arthur Miller having no relationship with his son who had Downs Syndrome. But after reading this story, even Miller doesn't seem as evil, because the mother of the child was allowed to have a relationship with her son. But the mother wanted to keep the child with her. And this again, shows that father doesn't always know best. This will be a better world when women stop submitting to their husbands' orders, and when husbands start respecting their wives opinions and decisions.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Paint it Black by Janet Fitch

This book is thoroughly depressing, but so very well written that I quite willingly stepped into Fitch's carefully cultivated world of misery.

My primary goal in reading fiction is the element of escapism, and I judge the quality of writing by the ease into which I can slip into an existence other than my own. While iced in on a cold, rainy Saturday, I felt transported to LA, circa 1980, immersed in the decadent of punk rock / art scene.

Josie Tyrell came to LA with nothing but a desire to escape the tow yard in Bakersfield and her white trash family. While working as an art model, she met Michael, an art student and Harvard drop-out with famous, wealthy parents who wanted to live in the "true world". He wants to be part of Josie's world, one in which people take care of themselves, one in which he's not controlled by his parents and their history, he wants to be his own person for the first time in his life. Michael though, despite his desires, suffers from depression, more severe than he or Josie or his mother, Meredith, can understand.

One day he tells Josie he's going to his mother's house to paint and a few days later Josie receives a phone call informing her that he's been found dead in a hotel room, a gunshot to the head in an apparent suicide.

That's how the story begins. The rest of the novel is Josie's attempts to understand what happened, what went wrong, the signs she might have missed, a place to lay the blame. But instead she discovers more secrets and lies and confusion, and more questions than she will ever find answers.

Josie finds herself forming a bond with Michael's mother, the only other person who knew him. They cling to each other because no one else could possibly understand their shared pain. Josie is drawn into the world that destroyed Michael and is then faced with the decision to succumb or pull away.

Because of the superb writing, the characters in this story feel so real. Josie's memories of Michael's gradual slide into darkness, her fear and admiration of Meredith, and her struggle to continue a new life, one without the only person who ever made her feel real. Michael was the first person who didn't look at her as if she was trash, and yet, the more she learns about him, the more she begins to question what she believed was their love.

I suspect it could be the result of my own unstable mental state that I felt so connected to Josie. Not because I know anything about living in California or being an art model or having a boyfriend that committed suicide, but rather because I could relate to her determination to have something more, something better than her past told her she could have - even if that meant being left with nothing.

There's a scene near the end of the book when Josie's sitting in traffic wondering why she couldn't have been satisfied with something simple.
Pg. 345 - In an alternate universe, she would be going home from a day at the bank, the Auto Club, the State Farm office, thinking about her own kids and what she would make for dinner in her suburban kitchen in El Monte. Tuna casserole with potato chips crumbled on top. Her young husband picking them up at day care. What was so wrong about that? Something simple and basic, attainable. She wanted too much, that was her fault, not just Michael's love, but everything everything everything. Genius and wealth and culture, art and achievement...

I read that passage and immediately felt like I knew the character and understood everything she wanted. The burning a person feels when they escape a small town and yearn for something more, something so out of their reach. The easy way out is right there in front of you, but if you take that path, you know you'll never have a shot at what you really want. So you opt for nothingness rather than simple mediocrity.
Pg. 383: She liked the city, people close all around, crowds, the feel of something happening. Music, nightlife, being on the list, the girl everyone wanted to know – the possibility of more than dishes and diapers and the grocery store.

You hold onto that possibility as the world crumbles around you.

This is a story about people trying to pull away from that which controls them, without letting go, because they can't or they won't. This is about coming to terms with a past full of horror and degradation or allowing it to destroy you, actions and words that you can never take back, memories that you have to learn to live with, set them aside and move on. Most of all, this book is about trying desperately to find something beautiful in a world that is filled with ugliness. Josie didn't even know there was beauty in the world until she met Michael. But then Michael gave up his search, overwhelmed by the process, leaving Josie behind to continue looking on her own.

I really liked this book.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Twilight of the Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg

Sometimes, after reading a book like this, I wonder if maybe I'm just not as intelligent as I think I am. Maybe I'm simply too dense to "get it". I picked up this book because it was on several "best of" lists at the end of last year, and I liked the title – Twilight of the Superheroes.

The book is a collection of several unrelated short stories. Overall, I didn't feel like the stories had much substance.

When I read something, I want to be entertained or informed, surprised or amused, I want to be taken to a new place, a different world, or I want a connection with my current state of existence. I felt none of that with the stories in this book.

The stories never revealed much about the characters, they touched on the ideas of family and relationships and the breakdown of such. They all felt if they contained the potential for something more, but never quite got there. If anything, after I read the stories I felt like, "why did I just bother reading that if I wasn't going to learn anything more about these people?"

If someone else has read this and loved it, feel free to let me know what I missed, because I was fully expecting to like this and am disappointed that I didn't.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Finally read Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. I have to admit I'm disappointed.

I bought the book the week it came out last summer. I started reading it and had to stop shortly into the novel because I was disturbed by the direction the character of Snape was taking. I love Snape. I've got a thing for bad boys, not so much bad, but misunderstood. The dark, mysterious loner, the inept social skills and the brilliant mind. Plus, Alan Rickman portrays that characters in the movies and I think he's so sexy and even more so when decked out in the Trent Reznor circa early 90s look.

A few pages in, things were not looking good for Snape and I stopped reading. A common trait about women who love bad guys, we prefer to stay in denial when others are trying to point out his bad traits.

Now though, with the announcements being released about the last book – title was revealed a few weeks ago – I felt like it was time to finally get that book read. I couldn't avoid it forever and it would be stupid to have read the first five books and then just stop.

Over Thanksgiving I bought a paperback copy of the book because I had quite a bit of traveling planned for the next few weeks (ie lots of time spent sitting in airports) and didn't want to lug around the hardbound copy of the book.

I managed to get through the 600+ pages in a few long sittings. Never once though did I feel like the story grabbed me, propelling me through the pages unable to put it down. It did however provide a nice escape while spending time in airport waiting areas. However, when not stuck somewhere waiting, it was something of an effort to pick up the book.

With each book, I find I like the character of Harry even less. That doesn't at all lessen my interest in the story, but it does diminish my emotional attachment to the main character. When I read stories about school situations, I tend to compare it to my own school experience and try to figure out which students would be part of which clique. Harry, the "chosen one" and star athlete would be the kind of student I would have avoided. I guess you could say I would have been more of the Neville and Luna type of student.

Well, if you've read the book, factoring in my feelings for Snape, you know exactly why I was upset by the ending. I wasn't that bothered at all by the part of the book that was supposed to be upsetting because I was too angry about what happened to Snape.

I didn't particularly enjoy reading this book, but I am at least anxious to read the final book, in hopes of some sort of satisfactory resolution.