We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a preview for the movie adaptation of this novel (coming out at the end of this month) which, before, I’d never heard of. The trailer freaked me out in a weird way, where I was also impossibly intrigued. The trailer mentioned that it was based on a book, and oftentimes I can read about things that I couldn’t watch, so I decided to go for it. It was even available at my own library, not inter-library loaning necessary!

The book is a first-person account of the life of a boy named Kevin Khatchadourian, told by his mother in letters to his father, several months after Kevin unleashed fire on his schoolmates at age fifteen. The novel is meant to be an exploration on the nature-versus-nurture question- basically, how much of Kevin’s blow-up was Eva’s fault? Would things have gone differently, had she been a different sort of mother?

The novel is told through a series of letters, and is a pretty good representation of why I’m not fond of novels told through letters. I feel like the way people communicate through letters in novels is not how they do it in real life. Considering that each chapter was a letter, and each chapter could be over twenty pages long, it didn’t feel like Eva was writing letters to be mailed off. It felt like she was writing a novel for an audience of one. At the very end of the book, though, something unpredictable is revealed and it all makes sense. I commend Lionel Shriver, because once I read this final bit, the way Eva was writing felt perfect. There was a reason behind it.

I thought this book was fantastic. Admittedly, it is 400 pages and the first 100 or so weren’t very gripping, it made a complete heel-face turn and was utterly fascinating for the entire rest of the book. I did not want to put it down. I spent far too many nights sitting up thinking, “You are going to be so tired at work in the morning” and not being able to stop.

The message, nature-versus-nurture, is a subtle undertone of the entire thing. It’s never addressed outright, but Eva’s guilt over the events is clear enough to put your mind to it. It’s true that she is not the best mother in the world, but it was also clear, from the moment of birth, that Kevin was not a normal child. It’s hard to say where his nature came from, but where both are involved, the book very neatly refuses to answer this question. At inspection, it feels like there’s nothing much Eva could have done differently. At closer inspection, she really wasn’t a very positive force in Kevin’s life and perhaps being born to a different mother would have changed him.

I enjoyed this book immensely and yes, it is going on my list.

Here’s the trailer that started it all. After reading the book, I’m even more nervous to see the movie, but now I know that I almost definitely will. I can’t let the story go that easily.

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Published in: on September 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm  Comments (3)  
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Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

This has been a big week for me: landed a second job and got my driver’s permit. Here’s hoping I warm up to driving, because it would be kind of terrible to hate something that I’ll undoubtedly have to do quite a lot of in my life. I care more about having the job, anyway.

So, for those interested, in the Winthrop area, I’m now a waitress at Tubby’s, and you should all come and see me. I enjoy this job much more than housekeeping (I’m not giving that job up, by the way- I’m keeping them both). Even if I hated the activity of waitressing (which I don’t), this job is still preferable because there are people around me. And, of those I’ve met so far, every one of my coworkers is very cool.

That’s all.

Oh my god. I was completely rational about writing this review up until the last fifty or so pages of the book, which came completely out of nowhere and blew me so far away that I can’t even think right now. Geeze. Deep breaths, okay.

Everything is Illuminated is a very strange book by Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, about a young man (also named Jonathan Safran Foer) who’s recently been given a photograph of his grandfather, standing with a woman named Augustine, who reportedly saved him from the Nazi’s during WWII. This took place in Ukraine, in a small nothing town known as Trachimbrod or Sofiowka. Sixty years later, Jonathan returns to Ukraine to try and find Augustine and Trachimbrod.

To help him on his quest is Alex, another young man from Ukraine who speaks a stilted sort of intelligible English, and will act as his translator. They’re accompanied by Alex’s grandfather (also Alex), who will act as their driver, and Sammy Davis Junior, Junior, Alex Sr.’s “seeing-eye bitch.” Go ahead and work that one out.

The story is told in three styles. The current action- the story of Jonathan searching for Augustine in the present day- is narrated by Alex, who is writing it as a book. This is portrayed in Alex’s excessively formal English, which was jarring at first. You get used to it quickly.

The second part is the story of Trachimbrod in the 1780’s-90’s, beginning on the day Trachim B’s wagon went into the Brod River- Trachim’s body was never recovered, but he became a legend to the village and they would celebrate him every year on Trachimday. Somehow from the wreckage, a baby was found- a young girl, eventually adopted by the “disgraced usurer Yankel D” and named Brod. This is the book Jonathan is writing.

The third part of the story is told through letters that Alex writes to Jonathan, after he has returned to America and they are both writing their books. Presumably, Jonathan is writing back to Alex, but we never see his letters. Alex tells Jonathan about his family- his brother Little Igor, whom he thinks the world of; his grandfather, who has become obsessed with Augustine; his father, who is strict and cold; and his mother, whom he only wants to be close to. Meanwhile, Alex comments on Jonathan’s story- paralleling, in many places, exactly what the reader is thinking of the action.

This is just a curiosity- but I felt, very sincerely, that this story took place in the exact same universe as The History of Love. I’m not sure how to explain this, except that I felt certain that while Jonathan and Alex were hunting down Augustine, Leo Gursky was biding his time in New York, watching his son from afar. I’ve never had this feeling with a book before. It’s odd, but I’ve never come across another novelist who writes like Nicole Krauss, except Jonathan Safran Foer- in my head, they automatically click (it’s only one of life’s perfect ironies that they’re actually married).

So this book is odd, but it was also incredibly gripping. I enjoyed reading it- though there were a few moments around 180 pages in that it slowed down a bit, it only became that much more amazing when he revealed the truth of everything. All I could think was that this was one of the most mind-bending, unbelievable, powerful things I had ever reader. I was in awe of was JSF did with the ending. I spent the last fifty pages or so just trying to breathe evenly around my accelerated heartbeat (though there easily could have been, there were no liquid tears).

As far as JSF goes, I thought that this book was much better than his other (which I liked quite a lot, so). If you have even the slightest amount of time, read this book. I’m going to add this to my rec list and buy a copy for myself, that’s how highly I thought of this book. That’s all I can say.

There’s been a movie made, starring Elijah Wood. I watched the trailer, and to be honest, the tone of the movie looks very different from the tone of the book. The movie looks much more fun- odd in a Sunshine Cleaning, Little Miss Sunshine kind of way. I have to say that I’m not sure I would watch it in conjunction with the book, but as a movie it looks interesting. Here’s the trailer, if you like:

My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews

Okay, this week I’m back in school. Back to the grind. The thing is (I can’t remember if I already mentioned this), even when I’m on vacation, I’ve still got all of my online classes to worry about- my workload doesn’t actually diminish… at all. Not even a little. But if feels like much less because I don’t have to go to school. And at school, just so we’re clear, I sit in a small room all alone and do my work for the six hours I’m not actually attending a class. I’ve got music, and I can access tumblr and MSN, so I chat with friends who aren’t in school, but rest assured, this routine got old fast.

And so, I really don’t have anything interesting to say. I mean…. back to school. Exciting! Yeah. I’ve been butting heads with my family for the past few days, which is always awesome in every way. I don’t know what it is that makes us clash so badly sometimes. I think my brother and mom would have a very quiet, peaceful existence without me.

How boring.

This is a book I read for my sister. She’s a very nice sister and I quite enjoy having her, but she has bizarre taste in books. She claims that V.C. Andrews is her favorite author, and I believe her. To date, I’ve read two Andrews books; the first was Flowers in the Attic, which I tend to think is her most well-known because it was actually made into a fairly decent movie that I saw before I read the book. That one is about an evil grandmother (and rather malicious mother) who locks her four grandchildren in the attic for a number of years, never letting them down. It was dark and interesting and contained rather well-played incest, but altogether not the sort of book I want to be reading all the time.

My Sweet Audrina is about a young girl (Audrina) who, with no memory of her life before age seven, has been hidden away in her family’s elegant, rustic mansion home for her entire life. She thinks. She’s being manipulated, twisted like clay, by her cunning father, cruel cousin, disinterested mother, and abusive aunt. The story follows her until she’s twenty-two as she tries to figure out why there are so many secrets in her life and why her memory has so many holes.

That’s not all. Audrina has been told her entire life that she had an older sister, also named Audrina, who died before she was born- she was killed by some boys who did terrible things to her in the woods, and that’s why Audrina II is never allowed to leave Whitefern (the name of their home). She was raised to be a semblance of the First and Best Audrina, and her Papa would often force her to rock in Audrina I’s chair to “become an empty pitcher” and “absorb her precious gift” of selfless love.

Here is one of my biggest problems with V.C. Andrews: most of her books are about damaged children being taken advantage of by evil adults, and that’s your entire cast of characters. The main character, the good ones, the children, are painted like angels- they’re perfect, perhaps a little too trusting or gullible or weak, but their moral compass points steadily north. Everyone else is purely evil and out to get them. Even when she adds a character whom you think is going to be good, they’ve always got something up their sleeves. In this book, Audrina always knows what’s what, morally speaking, even though she never knows what’s actually going on. She grows up mistrusting her Papa (surprise surprise), but later on other character trust and even like him. The man is charismatic and generous, kind and, in his own way, very loving. So how do we know he’s truly evil? Well, Audrina says so. As soon as she begins to grow up, when she’s no longer a child, then Audrina starts hating her Papa for what he’s done to her.

There is so much worth discussing about this book, but it would all spoil the last fifty pages.

One thing that constantly bothered me was Andrews’ writing. I won’t say there’s anything wrong with her writing style, but it’s very classical and proper. The dialogue didn’t feel real to me- one character would spout out their entire story, then another character would spout theirs, and everyone sounded so righteous and it was really annoying. I’m not explaining it well, and this could easily just be me- Andrews is actually a very popular writer, or has been in the past, so it’s most likely a matter of taste.

My Sweet Audrina is a good book to read if you need to satisfy that little piece of yourself that has a fascination with the morbid, the bizarre, the dark. It definitely satisfies that. I won’t say that I’ll never read another Andrews book, but if I do it won’t be soon. She is definitely not for everyone.

I have a giant pile of books right now, and none of them are from the library (Audrina was)- I actually paid for most of them. And one I borrowed from Emma. I’m not entirely sure which one I’m going to start first, but these will take me a good few weeks. Until next time!

Published in: on March 4, 2011 at 10:27 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Princess Bride by William Goldman

This has been one of the longest weeks in recent memory. Then as soon as the weekend came, I decided to neglect everything I have to do and relax. Yesterday Emma and I made a cake, and then I got to babysit my favorite three year-old on the planet, and it was awesome. I love that child and it completely lifted my spirits. I got home rather late, though, and then, THEN, I finished The Princess Bride. In case math is a little difficult for you, that means that I finished the book sixteen hours before I wrote the review. That means that for the first time since I began this project, I broke my own rule. But I’m not sorry. Because THIS morning, I woke at six to be out the door by six-thirty, to be babysitting again by seven. These were two different children, on the more difficult side, so I brought my sister with me to help me hold down the fort. She was very helpful, but there were a couple of tantrums and one brief collision of skulls that left no permanent damage. For nine hours.

Then we received a very gracious sum of money, and scooted on our way. I’m very tired, but I need to write this review before I procrastinate anymore.

Mother just came in and started talking about cake.

Is there anyone here who hasn’t heard of The Princess Bride, the movie? I feel like less people actually know that it’s available as a book. Well, it was originally a book, and I had it recommended to me by people who also love the movie, so I thought it was worth a shot. For those who aren’t familiar with the basic plot, this is the story of Westley and Buttercup, who fell in love before Westley was killed on sea by the Dread Pirate Roberts and Buttercup was pursued by the evil Prince Humperdinck, then kidnapped by the evil Sicilian Vizzini, the Spaniard Inigo, and the Turk Fezzik. (Fun fact: spell check doesn’t recognize the words Vizzini, Fezzik, or Humperdinck, but it recognizes Inigo.)

The book also used the framing device of the sick son being read to by his heavily-accented father. Remember that one from the movie? The way the book was written, William Goldman has been read The Princess Bride by his father when he was young and ill, and when his son turned eleven, he wanted him to read the book. But when he found it, he realized that his father had done some… abridging. What S. Morgenstern had written when he first published the book was a satirical history of Florin, and Will Goldman’s father had turned it into a classic tale of true love and high adventure.

In case you’re wondering, that original book doesn’t exist; I looked. Will Goldman made it up. So occasionally as you’re reading he’ll interrupt with with red text and leave an aside note to explain something, or tell something interesting.

One interesting thing, which is impossible not to notice, is that the first chapter has been almost completely left out of the movie- it’s the introduction chapter where you meet EVERYONE- but after that, EVERYTHING was in the movie. Most of the dialog can be found in the movie, if slightly modified. There were a few things left out- the backstories of Inigo and Fezzick, and how they met Vizzini; their hardships in finding Westley; the existence of Humperdinck’s Zoo of Death. But basically everything was there.

Here’s what really sold the book for me, though, rather than say, “Well, in this case, I might as well watch the movie.” Goldman writes in such a way as to be simple, yet sincere, but every few pages or so he would include a sentence that knocked me flat. I can’t come up with any examples of them right now, but trust that they’re in there and they make the book about two-hundred times as readable. It was wonderful.

If you’ve never heard of the book, if you love the movie, or if you love true love, give this book a go. It was quite a good time, and a pleasant reprieve from the near-unbearable week I had. I’m not looking forward to this week ahead of me, either, but I can’t wait for Saturday! I’m having my favorite three year-old over at my house as her mom takes on some home-improvement projects. I’m very excited!

The next book (which I’ve already started) is… a classic. My teacher gave it to me because I’m currently studying World War I. I’m about twenty pages in so far (the kids today did have a few quiet moments that allowed for reading) and rather bored. I would rather read the next book from Val’s list, and then the books in my pile that I bought from B&N. And the book I just borrowed from Emma.

Published in: on February 13, 2011 at 4:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

You know what the thing is? I should really cut the bitching about all the work I have to do. Because it IS a lot of work, I DO always have SOMETHING waiting to be done, and EVERY bit of it is a drag, but I still have hours to sit and read and, today, cook. Appropriately, too.

Though actually, this week, following a few conversations with my mom about “after high-school plans,” I find myself REALLY looking forward to my gap year. Yes, I’m taking a gap year- but I’m graduating a year early, I feel like I deserve it, and I really don’t want to start college now. I want time. I want to go backpacking through Europe with five dollars to my name. Or something like that.

New resolution: embrace challenges. To me, this specifically means that when I see something completely kickass awesome online, I won’t go, “Wow, that’s cool. Whoever made this has some serious talent.” Instead, I’ll go, “I wonder how that was done. I bet I could do that- I have hands, don’t I?” Because, really, that’s all it takes. And some supplies. I need to stop being afraid of supplies I’ve never used before.

Yes, I am actually sickeningly optimistic right now. I really just want to finish school. In the meantime, I decided to reread a book I knew would put me in a good mood- I like it so much I actually purchased a copy.

Oh, another thing before I get started; my mom read my Alice review and told me, as I kind of already knew, that what I’m writing aren’t really reviews- they’re kind of details of my emotional reactions to the book. But frankly, I don’t feel the need to change that. If anything, it’s probably more interesting- call me a hypocrite, but I don’t even read that many review blogs. What I have here is more personal, and isn’t that a bit more enjoyable to read? Anyway.

So, who here’s seen the movie? I love the movie! The movie definitely puts a more pleasant spin on things than the book does. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Julie & Julia is a memoir by Julie Powell about the year she turned thirty, when she decided (rather spontaneously, actually) that she was going to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Volume I” in a year.

542 recipes.

365 days.

To put a spin on things- to document, to make it substantial- Julie decided she would write about her culinary forays on a blog, called “The Julie/Julia Project.” It took a bit of time, but it soon became a sensation, with regular followers commenting and discussing and giving input, and even making donations and sending anonymous packages and other creepy stalker things.

So, let’s talk about the movie: I saw the movie first, and I just went on a Julie/Julia bender. I read the book, watched a bunch of old French Chef episodes, watched the movie three or four more times, and more after that, and I’ll probably watch it again sometime this week. I don’t know what it was about the movie that got to me so strongly, but after reading the book I have a bit of a better idea. And if you’ve read the book, this might sound just a little bit ridiculous.

I find the story very inspirational. Reading it literally makes me want to get up and do things, and that’s happened both times. Just watch, Julie & Julia is going to become my feel-good reading material of choice. It’s ridiculous. Part of the reason it’s so crazy is because, from an objective standpoint, if you read the book, take in everything that happens over the year (because the movie was mostly about the food; the book is about the year, where food happened to play a hefty role), and the way she handles every frustration- she didn’t actually seem to be enjoying herself. Yet at the end, she attests that the experience, that Julia, has changed her life, and it’s clearly a mark of my naivety that I don’t entirely see how. My best guess is that she’s been inspired to better living, the same way I have.

You know another thing? She didn’t seem that likeable. I mean, she was by no means a horrible person you should hide your children from, of course she’s not, and she’s actually probably a fine person. I suppose what I mean is that I doubt she and I would get along as friends. Okay, this is absolutely not coming out the way I mean it to. She’s just very different than me, and if it had been me deciding to do an insane project while working an insane job at insane hours, the book would probably be a little differently. Actually, there would probably not even be a book, because I’m not as stubborn as she is and would have given up. She actually makes a point of this in several places, citing previous times in her life when she made terrible decisions and then refused to quit, despite being miserable, and everyone in her life urging her to just quit already. She’s very stubborn. She also whines a lot. But so do I. I think I’m going to end this trail of thought now, because it’s not serving the purpose I wanted it to serve.

Julie Powell is not a quitter.

Anyway, after reading this book- well, while reading this book, I very much desired to cook. I do like to cook, and bake, and I like food a lot (this book is more enjoyable if you’re a foodie) and especially chocolate. I have a massive sweettooth. In face, I’m pretty sure I have sweet teeth. Thirty-two of them, to be exact. And a bit of the tongue as well. So it was only fitting that I broke my kitchen vigil with this recipe for chocolate-orange cheesecake. Those came out of the oven, but I haven’t tried them yet. But it’s interesting, because when we were shopping for the ingredients we ran into several hurdles; we were missing exactly three of the eight components of this dessert: almond flour, orange extract, and coconut (which I actually passed up because I hate coconut). My mom took that moment to decide that this was probably a good time to return home, check the recipe, and maybe come back for ingredients later, but I didn’t want to. I said I could compensate for the missing ingredients, and so I did. Instead of coconut, I put graham cracker crumbs in the crust. Instead of almond flour, I used regular, with some extra brown-sugar to make up for the lack of sweetness. I bought two oranges and zested them. The batter tasted awesome. I do hope they came out well, you know, if only so I can be right.

See, I can blog about food, too.

Really, though, I love this book. I’m in a good mood for having read it. It was clever, funny, gross (one word: maggots), and I really have to mention here, but Julie Powell has a serious way with words! See, there’s something about writing which I’ve noticed; it’s not about bringing out your scariest vocabulary to give the idea that you’re one of the elite. There’s an amount of understatement that, when used effectively, lulls your reader into a zone of comfort so they don’t even realize how thoroughly your words are massaging their minds. It’s about choosing exactly the right word for exactly what you need. It’s a gift.

Everybody read this book. Watch the movie. In no particular order.

Next up: a classic, and a V-recommended. The library is one of my dearest friends.

Dear Julie: If you’re still in the blogosphere and you ever see this, please don’t take offense. I’m just a naive book blogger whose gimmick is saying the first thing that comes to her mind. Organization and reason aren’t part of the game. I really did find your book inspiring, and it caused me to make delicious cheesecake.

Published in: on February 4, 2011 at 10:49 pm  Comments (4)  
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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

I am very drowsy right now. And that’s all I really need to say. There are no very interesting things happening in my life, especially not since three days ago when I wrote for Peter Pan.

So, as I can’t actually remember if I’ve mentioned (and if I have a reminder won’t hurt), I’m reading these books because I know the stories, but I’ve never read them in their original, and it’s interesting the various surprises I’m coming across. It’s like you know the story… but not really. I’ve seen movies and adaptations of Alice (it actually seems quite popular at the moment- I see new Alice-esque novels every time I go to B&N) and they all look interesting because Wonderland is fascinating.

I got this book from the library (from which I get most of my books, especially first-time reads), and they actually had five different copies of both books. I chose two very old, classical covers that looked like a pair. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I realized about halfway through that it would be completely impossible to find the right covers when I needed to write this review. I still checked Google, just in case, and a part of me really wanted to just choose the most stylistic cover, but I figured, no, I chose these ones because I liked how old and musty they looked and I should share that with you. So I photographed them myself.

So here’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

And here’s Through the Looking-Glass:

There, do you see what I mean? They’re perfectly lovely. I was especially thrilled when I looked at the inside cover and saw the name “Phillip A. Bennet” in wobbly penmanship and blue ink. By my estimation, the boy who donated it couldn’t have been more than nine or ten. Then I looked for the year the library had received it- 1978, but the edition came out in 1946. The pages were a pleasantly weathered yellow, there were places where the pages had separated from the cloth of the binding, and the book itself smelled divine. I actually read somewhere online, why it is that old books smell so good. The glue that’s used in book-binding is created from a plant which is closely related to vanilla, and when the glue breaks down it releases the scent. Someone correct me if that’s inaccurate.

Anyway, here’s the thing about Alice: it takes place in a dreamscape. So everything is completely topsy-turvy. It brings new meaning to word ‘nonsense.’ So there’s no real point telling you the plot, because there just isn’t one. It’s a sequence of events, but they’re not in any way connected. But that’s okay, for what it is- Lewis Carroll originally orated this story to a pair of young girls, and nonsense is entertaining to children. The sillier the better. So I won’t criticize it for being pointless- the real problem is that I’m not part of the target audience, so I can’t rightfully enjoy it.

The most fun, for me, came from comparing the Alice’s I know with the story itself. The Disney ‘Alice in Wonderland’ actually uses scenes from both books, and a lot of the more memorable things from the movie actually took place in Looking-Glass Land (there was no mention of Wonderland in Through the Looking-Glass). For example, Tweedledum and Tweedledee were one-scene wonders in the sequel. Humpty-Dumpty made an appearance. Also the singing flowers (though in the book they only made snide comments) and the Walrus and the Carpenter, and the Jabberwocky poem.

Then there were points that get no notice in any adaptations- the entire second book was played as a chess game, with Alice becoming a queen at the end. Through both books (but especially the second) there is a great deal of poems and limericks. Were children really made to memorize such long stanzas back then? What dull lessons. Of course, the first adventure begins because Alice is bored of her lessons.

There’s also much to be said about Carroll’s illustrations. Everyone’s at least a little familiar with the original Alice illustrations, even if they don’t realize it. Carroll certainly has some ability, but I never really thought it could be said that the drawings were pleasant. If anything, they’re a bit garish and even spooky in places. I doubt they were considered so in 1865. Still, I thought they were nice to have, even if they weren’t necessarily pretty. I’m an appreciator of quality illustrations; I really did enjoy the ones in Peter Pan. In fact, I wish I had thought to photograph my favorite one so I could have shown you.

On the subject of Alice adaptations- has anyone seen Phoebe in Wonderland? That’s a movie about a young girl who wins the part of Alice in her school’s production of the play, and she develops a relationship with the characters that helps her deal with the real world as it gets more and more foreign. It’s an excellent movie- a tad on the dark side, I would say, but worth the watch. Most of the daydream sequences were scenes directly from the book, using the exact dialogue, and whenever I came across a passage that I recognized from the movie, my internal voice would switch over. During the final poem in Through the Looking-Glass, I was hearing it sung in my head by the cast of children on stage.

So, I guess that’s it. I’m a little sad to be putting up the children’s books for now, but not entirely. Nonsense gets tedious. I think Alice shared my sentiments, you know- after reading about Wonderland (and Neverland, for that matter) I’ve sort of concluded that I’m happy enough not being there. You need to be very careful of what you say and not to offend, but everyone is s sensitive that you would just as well like not to run into anybody at all. But somebody is always in your path. They sweep you up thoughtlessly and then you have to just go with them. I would find it very frustrating.

Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 8:04 pm  Comments (4)  
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Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

A little while ago I decided that I should really give these classics a shot. And that’s not to say that I looked at Peter Pan and said, “Why on earth would I want to read that?” Mostly it just hadn’t occurred to me until a short while ago.

Particularly with the popular Disney cartoon and all the other movie versions of Peter Pan, I thought it would be interesting to see what Barrie thought of this famous character he created. The common idea about Peter Pan is of a curious little boy who doesn’t grow up, and he doesn’t need to, because he’s the very picture of youth and adventure. He’s ignorant, of course, unschooled, but at the same time with a certain innocence that he claims simply for being a child.

This is not the idea that Barrie had when he invented Peter Pan.

There are ways you could read this book that would even cast Peter as the bad guy.

Actually, all of the children are the bad guys, and the parents are the good guys.

Really, though, Peter is a mean little child. And I had heard that- I knew he wasn’t quite the angelic imp we celebrate today, but really, this book is dark. First, he tricks Wendy, John, and Michael (who were entirely too willing to be tricked) into coming away to him to Neverland, enticing them with mermaids, pirates, and fairies. He teaches them to fly. Then, as they fly on and on to Neverland (it’s not quick, as opposed to what the cartoon implies), he plays daring tricks that would very nearly cost them their lives if he didn’t resolve them in time, even forgetting about them entirely on occasion. He’s half adventure and half cockiness, with the occasional dash of cleverness and wickedness, which Barrie uses almost synonymously.

No, Barrie isn’t trying to skirt around Peter’s faults. He actually makes it very hard for us to ignore them, as the children have done. He uses these same words to describe all of the children at different points- they’re all wicked, thoughtless, heartless, carefree. Yet despite himself, Peter develops a fondness for Wendy, whom he’s brought to Neverland to be a mother to himself and the boys. But even with that, it’s not like she matters to him- she’s someone nice to have around, and that’s all. In fact, it’s interesting that he likes her at all, given his scorn for mothers. It really shows what a child he is; he may not need a mother, but he likes it.

The problem with Peter is that, you can look at what a devilish little child he is, but when he’s right there, flying around with his fairy in his outfit of leaves, he’s incredibly fascinating. He’s even charming.

A note on Captain Hook: he is not the goofy, incompetent villain Disney made him out to be. He was vicious and scary and I would not want to run into him in the middle of the night. And Peter killed him. These boys kill everything with a heartbeat. Those fur clothes the lost boys wore? Those were the skins of animals they killed themselves. Disney made them look like pajamas. They killed pirates. MICHAEL killed pirates. Remember Michael, the baby? He was a ruthless killer.

It would be very, very easy- just change a few key adjectives- to make this a horror novel, and in that case Peter would almost certainly be the villain. Far more so than Hook- Hook is just your average evil villain, ruthless pirate, but then he has surprising light moments, like being drawn short when he comes upon a sleeping child in an idyllic area. Peter carries a haunting sort of malignancy. I would be incredibly mournful if he abducted my child.

On the other hand, for children in the real world, Peter is a part of growing up. At the end (yes, spoilers, who doesn’t know the story) Wendy’s daughter, Jane, goes off with Peter Pan to do his spring cleaning. Later, her daughter, Margaret, does the same. Eventually they all stop believing in Peter, and forget how to fly. They learn maturity and become normal adults. Barrie writes this as an incredible tragedy.

On the other other hand, there’s never actually any implication that Wendy ever realized that she was wrong to be so implicitly trusting of Peter. In fact, if she wasn’t an adult, she probably would have gone with him again in the end. When she tried to stop Jane from flying away, it wasn’t because she didn’t want to entrust her to Peter, it was just because she didn’t want to give her up, in a motherly way. So maybe I just feel like it should have played out this way and it didn’t.

I’ll admit, though, that none of this would probably stop me from reading it to a child. It is a good adventure story. It is very colorful. It would keep children engaged, and if they didn’t notice all the darkness (as children often don’t) I can see how they would enjoy it quite a lot.

OH, I completely forgot to mention the illustrations. My copy of the book had wonderful gorgeous pen-and-ink illustrations and all of the children were absolutely lovely. So perhaps that’s another allure to Peter- he’s positively one of the most handsome little boys you’ve ever seen, all skinny limbs and sharp bones and curly hair with leaves in it. It makes me wonder why they changed his character design in the Disney one- especially for the lost boys, who were also drawn all to be a similar way, and the narration mentioned that all of the boys were bigger than Peter. It’s curious. But the drawings were wonderful, and I wanted to mention them.

Published in: on January 28, 2011 at 8:08 pm  Comments (5)  
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The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

I’m someone who can and does reread books. That’s part of the entire point, for me- to find the books that will be worth reading again. And since I’m a denizen of the library, those are the books that I’m actually willing to spend money on. The week before Christmas, I went to Barnes & Noble with my mom and spotted this book. Giftcards and such were starting to come in, and I was already eager to spend. But it was the week before Christmas. I had to wait, just to make sure that nobody was planning to put this under the tree for me.

And nobody did.

So, December 26th I returned to B&N and went to the K’s. And it wasn’t there. And it wasn’t in the back. And they didn’t have a stock coming in. I had to resign myself to ordering it. And waiting for it. And I didn’t make it a huge deal, because it’s not like I planned to reread it as soon as I laid my fingers on it, but I was really looking forward to having it in my possession.

7-9 days later, it arrived and it was mine!

I first borrowed this book from the library, at the beginning of the summer of 2010. No, it hasn’t been that long at all. I’m not sure what really made me borrow it- perhaps the title- because the summary on the inside flap didn’t really do anything for me, you know? Or I suppose it sort of did- it briefly mentioned an old man and a young girl and a mysterious book that tied them together and all this.

What it’s really about is three different human stories. The first is Leo Gursky, aforementioned old man, who moved from Poland to New York sixty years ago, five years after the girl he loved did the same. When Alma left, Leo was writing a book for her called The History of Love, sending it to her in installments overseas. When he went to America and found her, he also found the son he’d fathered, and the man Alma had married. He removed himself from their lives, and grew old.

Alma Singer is a fifteen year-old girl named after every female character in The History of Love. She lives in New York with her mother and her younger brother, Bird. Her father died of pancreatic cancer years before, and ever since her mother has been tagged by an incurable loneliness. Alma would like to find the cure. Suddenly in the mail, a strange request from a very wealthy man asking her mother to translate The History of Love from Spanish into English.

Zvi Litvinoff has died by the time Alma and Leo cross paths; years ago, when he left Poland for South America, he took with him a manuscript from a friend, promising to hold on to it until they met again.

One of the things I like about this novel is that Nicole Krauss does not go to any efforts to beautify the lives of her characters. She speaks honestly and openly about everything that people generally shy away from in polite conversation, but there’s no accompanying feeling of shame to reading the words. In return, her characters read with a rare honesty- they have nothing to hide. The other thing- something which is important to me in a very giant way- is that her prose is marvelous. She writes in a conscious style that immediately comfortable and places you softly right alongside the character.

When I read Jodi Picoult or Sara Gruen, I go through long paragraphs and come out thinking, “I will never be this good.” With Nicole Krauss, I came out thinking, “THIS is how I would write.” Of course, that’s not to say one is better or worse, Krauss just writes so differently that you read it and realize that, of course, there’s more than one way to write a novel.

There was one part where I very nearly cried- and I don’t know if it affected me last time- but I’ll try to explain it, because it’s really not a spoiler. Leo has a friend named Bruno, whom he knew as a boy but lost for years, and then met again in New York when they were both old. Now Bruno lives in the apartment above him. Leo tells the story of when Bruno got a dog he loved more than anything in the world. He would take this animal for walks in the dog park and praise her even though she couldn’t be house trained. Then one day, the dog ran away, right out the park gate, and Bruno ran after her crying for her to come back. He ran as long as he could, and then he returned home, dejected and heartbroken, and I ached for poor Bruno. And I can’t really explain why- V, you wonder what makes me cry? This almost made me cry. Now go find a movie where someone loses his dog.

That probably wouldn’t work. Sorry.

Vonnegut (I think) once said that to write fiction, everything you do must serve a purpose: to further the plot, or to build the character. Most writers balance this nearly fifty-fifty, or close to. With Krauss, it was closer to 65% character, 35% plot. I like this, because when I read a book, I read it for the characters- they’re people I like to know. Really, that’s why I don’t care for adventure or thriller as much as fiction- when it’s all plot, I get bored. Character is what matters to me.

I’m really very fond of this book. I know I’ve suggested it to friends, and they’ve all pretty much brushed it off because it didn’t sound interesting, but if you’re ever at a loss, it’s definitely worth a read.

Next, I have library books. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. My next review shouldn’t be too far off. Until then!

Published in: on January 26, 2011 at 7:58 pm  Comments (5)  
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House Rules by Jodi Picoult

This week has been so incredibly difficult for me that this book has been pure escape. On the other hand, there have been happenings this week for which I have been incredibly grateful- like all the snow which kept me out of every single on of my painting classes. For those who don’t know, I’m quite the artistic individual and incredibly right brained- I’ve begun to thing I could have my left brain removed without significant impairment to my functioning- but my hands haven’t really gotten the picture. Drawing and painting aren’t my medium, and so I’ve found the class incredibly frustrating. Actually less so since we’ve done less actual painting- these past two months have been spent between clay projects (also something I’m not particularly amazing at) and oral reports on an artist of our choice. Besides that, we just have to paint at home, which is much easier. I tend to go abstract.

So I’ve been glad to be out of painting. I’ve also been neglecting astronomy, since objectively speaking I know I still have time to get it done. Instead, I’ve been working on astronomy lab (which is a different class) and history. I’ve had a lot of work to do, and none of it is actually done. As for today- well, I’ve been in an extreme amount of pain. But in the spaces, I’ve still been reading this book.

House Rules, newest novel by my favorite authoress, the amazing and talented Jodi Picoult. I love this woman’s work. This novel is about an eighteen year-old man with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Jacob has an intense interest in forensics, which leads to him setting up fake crime scenes for his mother to solve, watching endless episodes of his favorite television show, Crimebusters, and recording case details in a series of notebooks. He’s also developed a tendency to show up at crime scenes and drop hints to help the CSIs solve the case he’s already figured out.

All of this makes him strange.

Because Jacob has Asperger’s, he has virtually no social skills at all. Asperger’s is described as a basic lack in any sort of empathy- a person was AS can’t relate to other people. It’s difficult to explain- the book does it in fragments- but because of all this, Jacob had a social skills tutor, whose job it was to teach him how to act appropriately in these situations he couldn’t read. It was described as going to a foreign country and not knowing the language.

So Jacob is an autistic person with a fixation on forensics, who can’t relate to people at all. He also carries other hallmarks of AS, such as stimming, echoing, and an inability to look people in the eye. And other “quirks.”

These are only a few of the reasons why, when someone shows up dead, Jacob looks very suspicious.

I’ll say this right now: I love Jodi Picoult, and I want to marry her brain. I’ve read twelve of her (nineteen) books, and they’re all fantastic. She’s just marvelous in description and scene, everything connects, but probably the part that really sells me, is the characters.

In a Jodi Picoult book, every character may not be likeable- but they are all very understandable. You can place yourself into each of their shoes. By the end of the book, you may not have done what they did, but you understand why they did it. So what it boils down to is what kind of person they are.

Part of the reason for this is that many of Picoult’s novels feature a multiple-narrator point of view, where each chapter is headed by a character’s name, the font changes, and the story is told through their eyes for a time. It works fantastically well. She also uses excerpts from history, scientific facts, and personal flashbacks to illustrate ideas, all of it coming through in the voice of the character narrating.

Another thing she does is take an interest from a character, and make it a recurring thing- just an aside from the story, something to remind you where this all comes from. In My Sister’s Keeper, it was firefighting, because the father was a firefighter. In Handle with Care, it was baking, because the mother had been a baker. Between every five or six chapters she would give you a recipe for some desert and explain how to make it in a way that made you more sympathetic to Charlotte. In House Rules, she used murder. Every few chapters, she would describe a historic murder, how it was committed, and how the killer was caught.

One thing I will say for this one, which I consider a detriment, is that for the first time, I knew how it had happened. I had actually figured it out, based on the points of view of the different characters involved. It’s possible she meant for this to be the case, but I’m used to being surprised by the big reveal. I enjoy it. And that’s the main reason why this won’t rank up with my favorites of hers.

Oh, and if you’re curious- the reason it’s called House Rules is that, since Jacob is autistic and Theo (the younger brother) is not, Emma (the mother) set up a list of mutually relevant rules for them both to follow. These rules turn out to be incredibly relevant as more and more of the story comes out.

Really, though- it might not have been one of my favorites, but I still read it in every spare moment. I never wanted to put it down. I read 532 in under five days. I paid for it before reading it. It was worth every ridiculously expensive penny.

Have you noticed how expensive books have gotten lately?

But anyway. If you want to read a Jodi Picoult, begin with My Sister’s Keeper- thanks to the movie, that one’s probably the most well-known, it was the first of hers that I read, and it’s still one of my favorites. Then you can read the entire rest of her life’s work.

Next, I’m going to reread a couple of books from my list of recs (which is over at the top of the page on the right), then in a couple of weeks, I’ll pay a visit to the library. Until then, folks.

Published in: on January 23, 2011 at 11:26 pm  Comments (2)  
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Exodus AND Zenith by Julie Bertagna

Alright, these were the two books that I was waiting for from the library last week when I read Magical Thinking. But first, my week in review.

I really don’t get any breathing space at all with these classes. Last night, Monday, I completed my final English Composition class. Now, to be clear, this wasn’t a normal highschool class; it was a college level course I took through the local Adult Ed. program, that I attended at night with a bunch of adults. It was a lot of work, and I was taking a psychology class at the same time, but I really enjoyed it! I don’t gel with my peers most of the time, so it was really nice and refreshing to take a class with people older than me, and I liked my teachers as well. It was a bittersweet moment when I had to say goodbye to everyone.

In comparison- today I attended my painting class, which is a normal highschool course with normal highschool students. And patience, I have to tell you this story. There are these two sophomores in my class who drive me completely up the wall. Every class is exactly the same- gossip and complaining about what they have to do. This week we were assigned the task of completing and performing an oral report on an artist of our choice, any artist at all. We have to create a slideshow of their work to accompany our speech, and it’s really quite easy. But these two girls just wouldn’t shut up about how much of a pain it is to make a slideshow, and how it would be so much better to do a poster instead. My art teacher couldn’t ACTUALLY tell them to shut up, so finally (and remember that I’ve been repressing the desire to ring their necks ALL SEMESTER) I told them off for her. I explained why doing posters was a bad idea (namely: highschoolers make shitty posters, and they would not be pleasing to look at) and that they were not representatives of the entire school. When they hate something, it doesn’t mean everyone does. Then one of the girls said that she could say whatever she want, she had “freedom of speech. It’s the first amendment, look it up.” And I said that I had listened to them exercise their freedom of speech all semester without speaking up because unlike them, I knew that voicing my frustration would not a) help the situation, or b) make anyone feel better. And just like I knew would happen, they turned right around and started attacking ME.

Later, I returned to the art room to get my things, and the teacher came right up to me and apologized for how the class went. I was shocked, because I had been about to apologize to HER for my outburst. She said that I voiced my opinion very respectfully and she was certainly going to talk to the girls about their behavior in her class. Victory.

Meanwhile….

Okay, I didn’t cheat. See that title? See what I did there? Exodus AND Zenith by Julie Bertagna. I had intended to read both books in the series, one right after the other. So rather than write two reviews of two related books, right in a row, I just decided to save it and create one review for both.

This one came strongly recommended by a friend. For this reason, I was truly hoping to like it a lot- she’s recommended to me some very good ones before. This novel was science fiction (which isn’t entirely my thing) with elements of fantasy. Set in 2100, the ice caps have completely melted and the Earth is almost entirely flooded. Surviving on the shrinking island of Wing is a young woman named Mara who would really like to not drown in the next few weeks. So, after talking to one of her village’s elders, she manages to convince her entire village that there are cities floating in the sky which would be ideal places for them to run to. Packed into fishing boats, they set out.

That’s really all I can tell you as far as summary. A lot happens, and to explain each different part you need to know the part prior, and I don’t want to spoil. Now, since this is set on Earth, 89 years into our future, there are remnants from the world as we know it today. The one which Mara finds is what she calls The Weave, which she accesses through a curious device called a cyberwizz, which I couldn’t exactly envision in my head. It creates a virtual experience for her to run around in and explore, and it’s all quite exciting.

I’m a little sorry to say that I didn’t really like this book that much. It was thought provoking and scary- the global flood was a consequence of human behavior- but it didn’t really capture me. I liked Mara, but I never really grew attached to her. Admittedly, the book became more interesting about halfway through, but it didn’t seem like it worked very hard to redeem itself.

One of the most difficult things about this book was that there wasn’t nearly enough detail. There was a bit of exposition and some dialogue, but Bertagna spent almost no time describing settings and locations, so I had a lot of difficulty visualizing the story. That made it much less interesting for me.

But, I got through that book and decided that I would at least give the sequel a shot.

I got one hundred pages into this one before deciding that it wasn’t worth it. Mostly, I was just bored. Usually when I don’t finish a book, I don’t mention it on here (to avoid the shame, mm) but I thought it deserved at least a mention, since it forced me to break my own rule.

This one picks up where the last left off, as well as introducing a new character- Tuck, a Gypsea boy who lives in a city floating on the ocean. I liked Tuck, but even he wasn’t that interesting. I wonder why? By all accounts, he should have been interesting- he was a young, fatherless thief with a drunken, nagging mother and a chip on his shoulder. Exactly my type of hero, you know?

So it’s hard to explain, and that might be the most frustrating part- neither of these books moved slowly, there was always something happening, and the characters were lovely and three dimensional. So why didn’t I like them? If any of you have any insight, I would appreciate it quite a lot. It’s a similar question as I pondered last week, when I asked why people are so fascinated by the dark things that truly captivate us? Unless it’s just me.

Really, I don’t even know.

Okay, I’ll admit that I feel like this one was a bust, but moving on. I’ve got four books in my pile right now; one from the library, two gifts, and one I bought myself with Christmas gift cards. Also, have any of you read The History of Love? I very strongly recommend it. It’s one of my favorite novels, and once I get a moment to reread it, I’ll review it right here.

Published in: on January 11, 2011 at 9:27 pm  Comments (7)  
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