31 March 2010
The Joy Luck Club (family drama/women's fiction): I have been meaning to read this book, which has become something of a modern day classic, for some time now. This Amy Tan novel tells the story of four immigrant Chinese women and their Americanized daughters through touching vignettes that range from tragic to comedic. As you all well know, I am a huge fan of works that feature multi POVs, and this novel alternates between first person narration from all of the daughters and three of the mothers. The result is a fascinating book with a plot that unravels like a puzzle as you follow each character's development and motivation. This novel isn't packed full of action, per se, but it is an enthralling story anyway. Tan writes an intriguing domestic drama that anyone with relatives can relate to. I look forward to reading more of her work.
Hedda Gabler (tragedy): This Henrik Ibsen drama was part of my assigned reading for World Literature II this semester and is considered one of the classics of modern drama...for good reason. I adored this play--it's a fun read. The protagonist, Hedda, is a fiery, complex female character with a dark side, and this tragedy, which traces her downfall in the course of two days, is superb. All of the characters are well-crafted (Ibsen took one year to plan out their personalities. As a details-obsessed neurotic, I appreciate an author who is obssesive with research.) The Victorian Scandinavian setting is vivid and realistically portrayed, as well. I really wanted to do a blog post on this one, but, alas, I was too busy studying it for a test to have time. Waaa! On the flip side, this play is a lot of fun to analyze in class. ^^
Peony in Love (romance): All right, I must be honest: I have mixed feelings about romances. On one hand, I adore certain classic romances, gothic romances, and historical romances. On the other hand, I am not a big fan of the Happily Ever After endings that are so common in this genre. Meh, I just think they are a bit too pat. Give me a choice between a Happily Ever After and a murder-filled finale where everyone dies, and I'll choose the bloodbath every time. I found this Lisa See novel--a supernatural romance set in 16th century China and loosely based on fact--interesting, though a few parts did drive me a little crazy. (Not crazy enough to make me dislike the book, but crazy enough to make me occasionally roll my eyes.) This novel is the tale of Peony, who pines away from lovesickness, under the influence of the deeply romantic and frequently banned The Peony Pavilion opera, and, after becoming a ghost, influences her husband's subsequent brides to do likewise. The first part, before Peony's death, is good, but it's all very familiar: Girl falls in love with dreamy boy. Girl is trapped in impending arranged marriage and will never see boy again. Girl becomes upset and starts acting crazy. (On a side note: If you decide to go on secret rendezvous with an attractive stranger, please, for the love of God, at some point tell each other your names. It will save everyone a lot of heartbreak, okay? Thank you. This has been a public service announcement by Zella Kate, courtesy of the Lonely Hearts' Club.) I thought that the book improved dramatically after Peony died and became a ghost, primarily because it was unique and provides a fascinating look at traditional Chinese beliefs about the afterlife. The historical detail is well done. Overall, I liked the book, though I thought the beginning was a bit clichéd.
Secrets of Eden (literary thriller): Alice Hayward was baptized on Sunday morning. She was murdered by her abusive husband in a murder-suicide on Sunday night. But was it really a murder-suicide? Evidence at the crime suggests it may have been a double homicide and the pastor that baptized Alice, Stephen Drew, is the prime suspect. This brand new Chris Bohjalian novel is told through the POVs of the accused Drew, the DA who believes he's harboring secrets, an author who interjects herself into the investigation because her parents also died in a murder-suicide, and Alice's now orphaned daughter. The only reason I didn't review this is it would have come too soon after Shutter Island. This is an extremely well-written novel. Bohjalian does a marvelous job of maintaining suspense without resorting to overdone plot tricks. I was particularly impressed with how individual each of the character's narration was, especially the sardonic DA, Catherine, and Alice's teenage daughter, Katie. I highly recommend this book.
Gone, Baby, Gone (hardboiled mystery): I am now a confirmed Lehane nut. Aly simultaneously recommended it to me as I was reading it. (You know what they say about great minds...) This is a gritty, heartrending tale of a kidnapping in the mean streets of Dorchester, Massachusetts and the resulting investigation by private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. As with Shutter Island, I loved the twisty plot and the great characters. I also love how Lehane doesn't cop out and go for the blatantly unrealistic happy ending. As with my other Lehane review, I must warn you that this also has loads of profanity and some very disturbing scenes. (If it makes a hardened PI like Patrick cry, it will make you bawl, too. Or at least it made me cry.) My only problem, and it isn't the author's fault, is it is a little hard to follow in parts because this is the fourth book in a series, but Lehane keeps it up to date without bogging you down in details. (I am now going insane trying to find the other books in the series.)
Prayers for Rain (hardboiled mystery): This is the fifth Lehane novel about Gennaro and Kenzie. (I am reduced to reading whichever one I can get my hands on. Pity me! Pity me!) I enjoyed this one--which details the detectives investigation of a sadistic stalker who pushes his victims to commit suicide--but I liked Gone, Baby, Gone just a little better. Reason is in this one the basic plot gets figured out before the denouement and it becomes more an issue of stopping the stalker, rather than a mystery right down to the end. It’s still a great atmospheric read with Lehane’s trademark sardonic wit. And the ending, where Kenzie and Gennaro turn the tables on the stalker, is delicious revenge. *insert standard disclaimer about profanity and adult situations*
Columbine (non-fiction/true crime): The Columbine High School shooting was the first major news story that I remember when it happened. (The fact that I was living in Colorado at the time probably didn't help.) As with true crime in general, it is an event that both horrified and fascinated me. Eleven years after the fact, journalist Dave Cullen re-examines the massacre in this meticulously researched, well-written book that explodes many of the myths about the tragedy. I saw a review that compared it to one of my favorite books--Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. That's high praise from anyone, but this book is reminsicent of Capote's masterpiece. Even the killers bear a disturbing resemblance to the murderers in Capote's book. (That's because murder-spree duos usually have similar psychological mindsets, but that's a story for another day.) Cullen is widely regarded as a foremost authority on the Columbine school shooting. This book proves it.
Greedy Apostrophe (children’s book): Those of you who know me well know that I love punctuation, even to the point of committing vandalism in the name of preserving proper punctuation. *cough* You also know that I adore that most special yet maligned punctuation mark: the apostrophe. *gently picks apostrophe up and holds her high for the world to behold* Is she not dainty and pretty? Is she not flawless? Is she not the epitome of what a punctuation mark should be? (Just agree with me. Please.) Well, as much as I adore the apostrophe, in the wrong hands, this gentle soul can wreak havoc. Greedy Apostrophe: A Cautionary Tale, by Jan Carr, warns of the confusion and horror that can result from abuse of the apostrophe. This is a children's book, so I wouldn't expect you guys to read it, but for those of you with younger relatives, please read this book to them! Alert them to the dangers inherent in using apostrophes to make something plural! Greedy Apostrophe must be stopped! We need your help! :P
P.S. As some of you have already discovered, I am now on Twitter. Stop by and read the ramblings of my diseased mind when you get a chance...if you dare. :)
Next Week: Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. This is one of my absolute favorite stories from one of my favorite writers. We're reading it for World Lit this semester. I squealed with joy when I saw it on the syllabus.
28 March 2010
25 March 2010
22 March 2010
17 March 2010
If you're anything like me, you are reading Swarup's name and thinking, "Hmmm...that name sounds familiar." Swarup, an Indian diplomat, is the author of the acclaimed novel, Q & A, which was adapted as the hit film Slumdog Millionaire. I have never read Q & A or watched Slumdog Millionaire, but the premise of Six Suspects intrigued me. I have always been fascinated with India, so I was curious to read a contemporary novel written by an Indian author that is set in that country. I also love experimental fiction, which Six Suspects, with its multi POV framework, definitely qualifies. I also love a good murder mystery. So I couldn't resist checking this novel out.
Rather than presenting a standard linear murder mystery plot that starts at the murder and then works through the investigation or starting at the beginning and tracing the murder's cause, Swarup does both. The novel starts with a newspaper article about Rai's murder, moves onto introductions to the suspects -- a corrupt Indian official who may be possessed by the spirit of Gandhi, a doltish Texas tourist, a sharp-tongued Bollywood actress, a charming thief from the slums of Delhi, a disoriented islander from the Andamans in search of a lost tribal heirloom, and Rai's own father -- all of which are conveyed through a variety of methods (first person narration, third person narration, diary entries, and tapped phone conversations) before moving into the stories behind each suspect's motive for killing Vicky and the circumstances behind each one's presence at the party. From there, the novel picks up with newspaper articles to detail the investigation into Rai's murder.
I thought that Swarup handled the complex plot well. The many-faceted plotline is never confusing, and the murder mystery aspect is handled well. Swarup plays fair with the reader, but I bet you won't guess the murderer's identity. The focus of this novel, though, is each individual suspect. The individual stories range from the commonplace (thwarted love) to the outrageous, but each one is compelling and handled with humor. Six Suspects is also an indictment of India's government, which Swarup portrays as corrupt, but the tale is both hilarious and outlandish enough to prevent this from descending into a heavy-handed lecture about politics.
There was a lot to like about this book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, though it is over 450 pages, I got wrapped up in it and couldn't put it down. However, as you can imagine, some of the characters were more engaging than others and, hence, some of the stories were better than others. I adored most of the suspects and found many of them sympathetic, even if they really weren't. Shabnam, the Bollywood star, and Eketi, the mischievous islander, both go squarely in this category, as does my absolute favorite of the characters: Munna, the thief. (He reminded me so much of Moist von Lipwig from Discworld. I have a weakness for roguish, good-hearted charmsters...) Even the stories of two of the least-likeable characters, the two government officials, are entertaining. The story of Mohan, the possessed one, is weirdly funny and the story of Jaggarnat, Vicky's father, is an intriguing tale of corruption.
But, and this is a big but, I hated the story line involving Larry, the American tourist. (Pardon me while I stand on my soapbox and scream.) I thought this particular subplot of terrorist kidnapping and mail order brides and mistaken identity, though amusing at times, was horribly over done and melodramatic. I could have handled that, but Larry was intolerable and stereotypical. His first person narration was chock full of irritating yokel sayings, some of which were funny, but the sheer quantity of them was unnerving. It was distracting to read several corny similes like "I was as confused as a cow on Astroturf" on every page. (I'll admit some of them were pretty darn funny, but they're the ones that are unprintable here *sigh* or they are so outrageous that no person with anything remotely resembling brain cells would ever say them seriously.) It was as if Swarup just decided to cram every cheesy Texas saying known to man into Larry's story. It wasn't logical either, because most of Larry's narration was fairly well-spoken and grammatically correct, so it was a glaring inconsistency to me. What aggravated me the most, though, was how stereotypical Larry was. It disappointed me that all of the other characters were so well-crafted and complex, yet Larry was the proverbial idiotic hick who was incapable of realizing anything, whether he was being stood up or mugged. As a Southerner, I think the stereotype that we're all a bunch of toothless ignoramuses has gotten old fast. As a reader, I was vexed that Sawrup choose the easy way out with this character. I really wish that Swarup had developed Larry as well as he did his other characters. (My soapbox rant is officially over.)
Six Suspects is a superb book with a lot to offer -- complex structure, intriguing mystery, and scathing social satire. Overall, I recommend the book for anyone who loves postmodernist experimental fare, mysteries, or Indian culture. Though I was disappointed in Larry, I though the rest of the book, and Swarup's undeniable talent, more than made up for that. I wouldn't mind rereading this book, and I look forward to reading Q & A and the third novel that Swarup is reputedly working on.
10 March 2010
Scott recently recommended John Knowles' classic coming of age tale, A Separate Peace, to me, and I read it over the weekend. I had heard a lot of great things about this book (and I love a good coming of age story to start with) but had never read it before. I wish now that I had -- it's a new favorite! I started this book Friday evening and finished it early Saturday morning. Yes, it's that good. I loved Knowles' writing style. His prose is elegant and lyrical yet highly readable. Knowles' description of WWII era New England boarding school life is also realistic and makes for a unique backdrop. The petty rivalries between the students and the outrageous diversions that they develop to stave off boredom especially rang true. A Separate Peace is also a compelling study of the joy of friendship and the insidious influence of envy. It's definitely one of the more moving books I have read recently. (You may want a hankie handy for the tear-jerker ending.) That being said, the book isn't a totally depressing read. There is a lot of wit and humor present as well.
As much as I loved the style, setting, and plot, the real draw for me were the characters, who were complex and exceptionally well-constructed. I sympathized with Gene, the novel's sensitive, intellectual protagonist, but I adored Finny. We all know a Finny, that upbeat, charismatic, and devil-may-care friend whose carefree personality is one that you both admire and detest. I read many novels that have strong main characters, but very few books have as strong of a supporting cast as A Separate Peace. Knowles created a vivid mix of equally interesting and realistic characters in Gene and Finny's classmates, which range from the misunderstood Leper to the enigmatic Brinker to the insufferable Quackenbush (Admit it: You laughed at the name. Don't lie! I saw you giggle as you were reading this blog post.)
I highly recommend this novel. A Separate Peace is a superb book on every level. Well-written and moving, this novel features some memorable characters that are well-worth getting to know.
By the way, I love getting book recommendations, so please always feel free to suggest books to me. I'll read them as soon as possible. :)
Next Week: Vikas Swarup's Six Suspects.
I also have two announcements. Hey, don't run! They'll be quick. I promise. First, you may have noticed the new pages I have been adding to my blog. (Just humor me and pretend that you did. *points covertly to top of page*) I have added "What's All This, Then", which is a history of my blog; "And You Are...", which includes more information about me then you would ever wish to know; and "What's Next?", which is where I will be posting the books on my TBR list that I plan on reading in the not-so-distant future. I plan on adding a few more pages over the next couple of weeks and will point them out when I do get them finished.
Now, for the other announcement. My good friend over at Ergo, Scott, tagged me to predict my future. I have to tag ten other bloggers and make predictions about where I will be in ten years. I would mention that Scott is an excellent friend (and blogger) with an outrageous sense of humor and impeccable taste in books, but he insisted that I am not allowed to tag him back, so I won't. Be that way, Scott. ;)
Hmmm...where will I be in ten years? In ten years I will be thirty -- the age of Hamlet. This intrigues me, because Hamlet is not only one of my favorite characters who I insist upon dragging into every conversation, but I once took a personality test that said Hamlet was the literary character that I am most like. The similarities between the Prince and myself were truly scary. (Of course, I also once scored as Lady Macbeth and Sweeney Todd on similar tests, so maybe I shouldn't take these too seriously...) Regardless, I wonder: When I am thirty will I also develop an alarming case of insanity that involves my being responsible for the murders of several people? (Gee, I hope not...) Will I wander around a spooky Danish castle reeling off witty non-sequitors and shrieking "Fie on it!"? (Gee, I hope so...) Will I be an indecisive emotional basketcase? (Gee, I already am...) I wonder about these things, but the thorny question that I really ponder: Will I still be in college, like Hamlet was? (Gee, I bet so...) That is the question! I mean, I plan on sticking around and earning master's degrees in English and history then getting a Ph.D. in history, so it's very likely I'll be one of those pathetic ABD grad students, slaving away on some dry dissertation that only the insane, drunk, or academic would plod their way through. That's all right, though. Maybe if I am busy writing a dissertation on the political beliefs of Russian Revolutionaries, I will be too distracted to sword fight anyone named Laertes...
Enough of my nonsense! Now for the ten bloggers I have tagged:
Jean (Discarded Darlings) -- for her always amusing observations on writing.
Aly (My Seriously Unserious Life) -- for always being so cheerful and upbeat.
Bec (Propose With Oreos) -- for her funny, informative "How to" articles
N.A. (Zac Serves it right) -- for her original, engaging series on Zac the cafateria worker.
Math is a Plentiful Harvest (Math is a Plentiful Harvest) -- for her superb poems and essays.
Ryan (The Dark Corner of the Mind) -- for his always excellent take on writing.
Jourdie (I Read This!) -- for his great book reviews and literary analysis articles.
Rose (Shadowland) -- for her haunting, beautiful poems.
Lucy (Amusing Seth) -- for her amazing blog posts and great links.
Glenda (Schemer's World) -- for her hilarious take on writing and life.
03 March 2010
I know I promised you historical fiction last week, but I just didn't have time to read any historical fiction this week. I also realized that this would be my fiftieth post on my blog *throws confetti*, so I wanted to pick something special to review. Also, I have been promising my good friend Maddie for quite some time that I would review a book by her favorite author, John Steinbeck. Finally, I wanted to return to a normal-sized post after frightening you guys with those behemoths from the past two weeks. With all of these thoughts swimming around in my poor diseased mind, I saw my Of Mice and Men copy -- one of my absolute favorite books ever -- on the shelf and knew that was what I had to blog about.
So exactly why is this slender little novella one of my favorites? Well, first and foremost, George and Lennie are two of my favorite literary characters...period. I sympathize with the put-upon George, who masks his sensitive side with biting sarcasm, and poor Lennie's child-like innocence and vulnerability just breaks my heart. Curley is also one of the most vile characters in literature. We have all met a Curley (read: idiotic bully), and the resulting collision between the sadistic, spoiled rancher and the workers he mistreats is one of the most compelling, heartbreaking confrontations I have ever read. When I first read this book, the shocking ending (which I refuse to divulge, in case you haven't read it) made me sob relentlessly and turned me into an emotional pile of goo for a day. The ending still makes me weep every time I read it. *dabs eyes with hankie* The emotional intensity of this novella is the primary reason I adore it so much, but I also love the realism Steinbeck employs in his portrayal of the setting. The rugged life of Depression-era migrant workers comes to life with Steinbeck's dialogue and narration.
I think this book is a masterpiece, but I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the controversy that surrounds Of Mice and Men. Though this book is widely regarded as a classic of 20th century literature (rightly so!), Of Mice and Men is one of the most censored books in US history. As late as the 1990s, this novella was the second most banned book in this country and it still remains a frequent target of censors. Why? Welllll, the book is chalk full of profanity, the plot is morbid, and some of the characters espouse racism and are insensitive toward the mentally handicapped Lennie. I think these critics who dismiss this book as offensive are missing the point of this novel. Yes, the language is heavy. There is profanity on virtually every page. However, the cursing is never gratuitous and is essential to understanding several of the characters. I have read books that had less language than Of Mice and Men that offended me far more, because the language was not necessary. I am also not going to deny the book is morbid, but I think attacks that this book is racist or discriminatory are utter nonsense. There is a huge difference between a book where the author advocates despicable platforms and a book that reveals how despicable those beliefs are by showing them in action. I think showing the consequences of these actions is a far more effective means of condemning these ideas than merely lecturing about them. I think the philosophical issues that this novella explore would have nowhere near the powerful effect if these elements of the book were not present.
Of Mice and Men is a powerful tale about friendship, dreams, and justice. If you have never read this superb story, I beg you to pick it up and give it a read. This is one of those books that stay with you long after you put it down.
Next Week: I just got several books from the library that I can't wait to read and blog about. I can't guarantee what next week will be, but it is likely the review will cover Vikas Swarup's Six Suspects (an experimental mystery set in modern-day India and written by the author of Q & A, which was turned into the acclaimed film Slumdog Millionaire), Lisa See's Peony in Love (a supernatural romance set in 17th century China), Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall (a historical fiction piece about Elizabethan England suggested to me by James), or, if I get it in later this week as planned, John Knowles' classic coming of age tragedy A Separate Peace (suggested to me by Scott).