Thursday, December 2, 2010

I'm baaaaaack

So sorry for the long break in posting - I have been busy laying on the beach and watching basketball in St. Thomas, cooking and eating lots of turkey, and studying corporate tax.  But now the trip is over, Thanksgiving is over, and classes are over, so I can get back to being a bizzy bookworm.  Here's a list of what I've read since I last posted:

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Obvi this was a re-read, but I had only read it once before and wanted to appreciate it one more time before the movie came out.  I definitely teared up at the end, but I didn't sob last time, probably because I was on an airplane and that would have been embarrassing.  Aaron is reading book 7 now and I can't wait to see his reaction.  JK Rowling is a genius, but I have to admit that I still get a little confused with all that wandlore stuff at the end.

2. The Pact by Jodi Picoult.  I know, Jodi Picoult is kind of below my normally high standards.  My Sister's Keeper was a really good book though, and I appreciate Jodi Picoult for her ability to pick timely, controversial and/or fascinating topics.  She is a machine though, it's ridiculous how many books she writes, so you can't expect all of them to be that great.  And I read this book on a plane and on the beach, which are the two places where it is most acceptable to read easy mindless stuff.  The Pact is about teen suicide and two families struggling to deal with the aftermath.  Kind of depressing and it jumps around a lot between character perspectives and chronologically, but it sucked me in and that flight was over before I knew it.

3. The World According to Garp by John Irving.  I think Until I Find You is still my favorite Irving novel, but I loved loved loved Garp.  No one can make you laugh and squirm and gag and cry at the same time like JI.  This book kind of made me jealous though, because I want to be a writer so badly, and here's John writing not only a great novel about a writer, but also writing that writer's stories within the novel.  He is almost disgustingly creative.  I just watched the movie version with Robin Williams as Garp and Glenn Close as Jenny last night, but of course it couldn't compare to the real thing and they changed the story way too much.

4. Bolt by Dick Francis.  Not my favorite from Francis, but was still a great plane read.

5. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey.  Unlike Oprah, I did not read this book during all the hype about it before it turned out to be fake, so I approached it as a novel and not an autobiography.  It's kind of hard to follow the dialogue because there are no quotation marks or anything, and the part at the dentist is seriously disturbing, but it was definitely an interesting book.  Leonard was my favorite character, I thought the James character was conceited and obnoxious.  Overall verdict - I'd rather watch Intervention.

Currently reading: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hot Money

I really wanted to read a Dick Francis book after watching Zenyatta in the Breeders Cup.  She is such an amazing horse.  For anyone who has never read Dick Francis, he is a former steeplechase jockey, and all of his books are mysteries that somehow involve the horse racing world.  Usually the main character is a kind of everyman, often a jockey or trainer, who somehow gets recruited to solve a murder or fix some other kind of crisis.  I got really into these books once I outgrew the Thoroughbred and Saddle Club series and now DF is in my top 5 of favorite authors, and luckily he wrote like 400 books before he passed away a few months ago (RIP...seriously, I got teary when I read his obituary, that's how much I love him) so I still have plenty to enjoy.  If you're into horses like I am, you'll love these books, but honestly they are great mystery stories even if you take out the horse stuff - really great pace, lots of unexpected creative plot twists, entertaining and realistic dialogue.  And you will learn some funny British words.

Hot Money is about a jockey, Ian, who is from a mixed family - his dad's 5th wife was recently murdered and now it looks like the murderer is after his estranged father too, so Ian reconciles with his dad and basically becomes his bodyguard and private detective.  They know that the murderer is almost certainly one of Ian's half-siblings, so there's a lot of thought provoking issues about family betrayal, childhood trauma, and greed.  The dad is a great character - comic at times but also very real and likable.  A lot of the story involves the family home and the house almost becomes like a character as well.  DF never disappoints.

If you want to see one of the most heartbreaking moments in sports, check out this video of Dick Francis riding Devon Loch in the 1956 Grand National:

Up Next: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by JK Rowling

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The 19th Wife

I decided to buy this book after watching a 4.5 hour marathon of Sister Wives.  Polygamy is hot right now, I guess.  This book is one of those kind of cheesy historical fiction novels that weaves together jazzed-up stories about real historical figures with a made-up story about fictional modern characters.  In the modern story, the main character has been kicked out of his polygamous community because he is a teenage male and a homosexual.  He learns that his mother (wife #19) has been accused of murdering his father, and returns to try and clear her name.  This is paralleled with the story of Ann Eliza Webb Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young who publicly divorced Brigham and fought for the abolition of polygamy.  One thing that I liked about this book is that I really couldn't figure out where the author stood.  At some points, it seemed like he was being kind of apologist for the LDS church and its role in the polygamous offshoots that still exist today, but at other points I felt like he was pointing out how oppressive and strange Mormonism was and is.  A book revealed to some random guy on golden plates, baptisms of the dead, guys with 50+ wives, sacred underwear...weird but also fascinating (hence the 4.5 hours of Sister Wives).  In my opinion, the author wrote an unbiased but still very entertaining story.  I just wish there had been more of the modern part - I really liked the main character Jordan and I missed him when I was reading all of the Ann Eliza parts.  The only thing that seemed really contrived with how the stories were tied together by Jordan meeting another character who happened to be writing a masters thesis on Ann Eliza, I thought the stories had enough connections and shared history without needing something that direct and artificial.
One very unique aspect of this book is the incorporation of different "sources" - the author tells the story in part through newspaper articles, letters, Wikipedia entries, diaries, depositions, and others.  All made up of course, so he really had to use a lot of different voices.  Obviously a 21st century teenager who is angry and hungry and scared (lots of f bombs) is going to be written very differently from a 19th century Mormon wife, mother, and authoress (no f bombs).  I think it's hard enough to create and give voice to one character, so I appreciate how much work this book must have been to research and write.
And finally, a note from Wikipedia - apparently a Lifetime tv movie starring Lexie Gray from Greys Anatomy based on this book premiered in September.  And no one told me!!!  It will not air again in the next 6 weeks, but I will keep checking the Lifetime website so stay tuned :)

Up Next: Hot Money by Dick Francis

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Lost Symbol

I went to Boston this past weekend, so I wanted to read something good for traveling that would be entertaining but require no effort on my part, and Dan Brown did not disappoint.  I was very impressed with his ability to keep me riveted with the plot and yet be beating a dead horse at the same time.  The last 50-60 pages of this book are completely unnecessary and overkill and I was losing interest at an exponential rate, but luckily I was back home at that point and didn't feel bad about skimming.  The main idea in this book is that because God created man in His image, the human mind has godlike powers, which the ancients knew and appreciated, but that modern people have forgotten and lost the ability to tap.

"This is the great gift, Robert, and God is waiting for us to understand it.  All around the world, we are gazing skyward, waiting for God ... never realizing that God is waiting for us.  . . .  We are creators, and yet we naively play the role of 'the created.' We see ourselves as helpless sheep buffeted around by the God who made us.  We kneel like frightened children, begging for help, for forgiveness, for good luck.  But once we realize that we are truly created in the Creator's image, we will start to understand that we, too, must be Creators.  When we understand this fact, the doors will burst wide open for human potential."

I think that's a fascinating, inspiring idea, and I like the point that if our ancestors could see us today communicating through computers, transplanting organs, exploring space, etc., wouldn't they think we were gods?  Pretty cool.   Unfortunately Dan Brown makes his characters discuss this point ad nauseum until you want to shake him and be like I GET IT, ENOUGH ALREADY, HOW STUPID DO YOU THINK YOUR READERS ARE?!

Also, I think it's kind of a cheap trick to make the ending of every single chapter be a cliffhanger.  It's kind of exhausting when every 6 pages, someone is turning around and gasping, eyes wide in fright, as they make some alarming discovery and nananabooboo, I'm not going to tell you what it is yet.  And italics lose their purpose when they're so overused.  I've also never read a book where the word "esoteric" is used so frequently.  Has anyone ever actually used esoteric in a sentence?  I looked it up and I still don't understand what it means.

But despite all that, I actually love books like this.  It's the literary equivalent of a really nerdy soap opera.  Plus I really like Dan Brown's bad guys - the albino monk in Da Vinci Code, and now in this book there's a crazy tattooed antagonist who is really freaky.  So if you want a good page-turner with cool historical trivia for geeks, then I recommend this book, just don't think about it too hard while you're reading and feel free to skip the last 50 pages.

Up Next: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

I liked this book better the first time, when it was called A Confederacy of Dunces and wasn't half in Spanish.  For example, here is advice about how to get over an ex-boyfriend, given to Oscar's mother by her friend/coworker: "Forget that hijo de la porra, that comohuevo.  Every desgraciado who walks in here is in love with you.  You could have the whole maltido world if you wanted."  I can understand the basics from context in this example, but in some places there are entire paragraphs in Spanish that I had no clue about...I just felt like I was missing a whole lot because I didn't want to stop and google every 7th word.  Does desgraciado just mean man or gentleman or something more specific?  Any other non-Spanish speakers read this book, and how did you deal with the language problem?

But that being said, this book did make me laugh a lot and was very interesting.  I also learned a lot about the political history of the Dominican Republic.  The footnotes were very long and were in very small font, but they were some of my favorite parts, I kind of wish there had been a lot more of them.  I also loved all the Tolkein references, because I've read LOTR and seen the films multiple times, so I felt like I was actually in on those inside jokes.

One major theme of his book is fuku or the idea that a curse can follow a family through generations.  So that made me think about whether or not I am superstitious.  When I was a kid, I used to have this thing where I would have to open and close the laundry hamper three times before the tiolet stopped flushing everytime I used the bathroom, but I don't remember what I thought was going to happen if I didn't do that, so maybe that's more OCD and not superstition.  There's a black cat that likes to hang out under our black car and runs across the driveway whenever we turn in, so Aaron and I are in trouble if that's a bad omen.  I think that to a certain extent our lives are subject to fate.  Everything that happens is leading you to where you're meant to be, whether it's a decision you make or one that gets made for you.  And it's certainly true that your parents' mistakes can stick with you and have irrevocable consequences, although I think that's environmental and not because there's a fuku hanging over your head.  So go walk under a ladder or break a mirror and enjoy the ride because life is short and you are not in control.  And take a few semesters of Spanish if you want to try and read this book.

Up next: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Out Stealing Horses

Another WWII era story about stealing things.  I found this book to be a little annoying, it kind of had that artsy-fartsy tone where you think the author is trying to show that he is smarter than you because he is so creative and not subject to the rules of linear storytelling and wants to keep you guessing about exactly how far over your head he is.  Which is probably why the NY Times picked as one of the 10 best books of the year, because those Times book reviewers obvi can't admit that anyone is over their heads.  However, to be fair, this book is translated from Norwegian, so it's hard to know how much the translator influenced the tone.  Here's a quote from the author according to Wikipedia:

When asked “How did the Nazi Occupation of Norway translate into the plot of your novel?” Mr. Petterson responded “Well, like I said, I do not plan, so that double meaning came up when I needed it. That is disappointing to some readers, I know. But for me it shows the strength of art. It is like carving out a sculpture from some material. You have to go with the quality of the material and not force upon it a form that it will not yield to anyway. That will only look awkward. Early in the book, in the 1948 part, I let the two fathers (of my main characters, Jon and Trond) have a problem with looking at each other. And I wondered, why is that? So I thought, well, it’s 1948, only three years after the Germans left Norway. It has to be something with the war. And then I thought, shit, I have to write about the war. You see, I hate research.”

It's kind of funny that he said shit, but seriously, it's that easy for you to spit out an award winning novel that you don't have to plan, you just rely on "the strength of the art"?  Vom.

And I also questioned the verisimilitude (shout out to Mr. Burke, my 10th grade english teacher) in Chapter 2 when the main character Trond, 15 years old at the time, jumps from a tree branch onto a running horse's back.  Maybe if Mr. Petterson did not hate research so much, he would know that no normal horse is going to let a human, esp. a teenage boy who probably weighs what, 140-150 lbs?, jump on its back from a tree.  Horses are fast, that's kind of how they survive...  And even if by some miracle the horse does not shy away and leave the would-be rider in the dust, no teenage boy who does not know how to ride is going to be able to hold on when the horse starts rearing and bucking.  As a general rule, I will love any book with the word Horses in the title, but geez, that scene was ridiculous.

But except for those problems, this book does have some beautiful imagery of the forests and lakes and rivers of northeastern Norway.  Lots of snow, spruce trees, and cold clear water.  Although it is a war story to a certain extent, it is really about a boy's discovery that his father, who disappears after the summer when most of the story occurs, is not the person he thought he knew, and how that discovery is kind of his final break with childhood.  I agree with that idea - you can't be your own person until you decide how you are going to be different from your parents.  Another theme that really resonated with me is the idea of being alone vs. being lonely, because I've been spending a lot of time alone lately.  Is it truly unnatural for a person to prefer being alone, is solitude a personal choice that we should have the right to make?  As an introvert myself, I feel like most introverts would choose to be extroverts if they could, but I doubt that most extroverts wish they were more introverted.  I can actually see myself living like Trond if I'm old and without my spouse, even though I hate to think about that - just going for walks with my dog, piddling around the house and yard, sitting on a bench thinking, reading Dickens by the woodstove at night... Except I would not move to a cabin in the forest with an outhouse :)

Up Next: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Book Thief, Part 2

I could not go to bed last night without finishing this book, so I ended up awake until almost 2:00 am, tears streaming silently down my face.  I almost decided to wake Aaron up just to give me a hug because I was so sad.  But instead I just wiped my face with the covers, went to sleep, and had horrible dreams.  This book is narrated by Death so death is everpresent.  The question I kept asking myself at the end is whether I would want to live if basically everyone I loved was dead.  Horrible to even think about, isn't it?  What else would you have to live for?  Books, I guess.

This author was able to really make me care about the characters, they seemed like such real people.  I think they were so likable because their lives were so difficult but they still managed to love each other and be funny, and that is what real people have to do.  I was a little skeptical at first of the choice to have Death as the narrator - it's such a human story, I thought maybe it should have been told by a human - but now I think it was really cool because it was a tool to see these characters from an omniscient birds eye view and to also fit in information about what was happening in the war and in the death camps.  One of the most beautiful things in the book is the word shaker story that Max writes for Liesel, and message in that story is that as long as there are some people who are willing to stand up for the oppressed, change will happen.  Hitler's downfall can start with just two people.  So the idea that Death could become so interested in following one little girl and telling her story fits perfectly with that theme.

This is definitely a book that will stick with me, although I think I might still be a little too sad to fully appreciate how much.  It actually made me think of The Hunger Games a lot as I was reading it, just in terms of the impact of war and totalitarianism on young people, but like The Hunger Games, it is so much more than just a war story.  I think what I will remember most about The Book Thief is its portrayal of Liesel's relationship with her foster parents and what it says about what makes a family - you don't have to be blood-related or even affectionate, you just have to be selfless.  Read this book, Saumensch!

Up next: Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson