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.