Showing posts with label bookclub. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bookclub. Show all posts

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera ★

The Unbearable Lightness of Being13% and I'm done.

I have had a run of books that have bored me, or annoyed me, or just did nothing for me. This one is... You know, I don't even know how to describe this one.

I pretty much hated it from the first page. I do not understand the high rating on Goodreads for this book. I can barely stand the thought of picking it up again and reading more of the words telling me things about characters that I could not possibly care less about.

We have Tomas, whom we meet standing on his balcony and vacillating between whether he should ask a woman that he's "in love with" (read: met in a chance encounter and became infatuated with) to move in with him. He's saved from making any kind of fucking decision by her showing up on his doorstep (literally) with her bags packed and ready to move in. Which she does. And then she clings to him (literally) every night - to the point that he controls her sleep patterns. He even, charmer that he is, fucks with her partially-asleep mind and tells her that he's leaving her forever, so that she'll chase him and drag him back home.

Tereza (that's the woman - I had to look up her name) begins to have nightmares that he's cheating on her and forcing her to watch after finding a letter from a woman in Tomas's drawer describing that very thing. So then, in the course of a sentence, we learn that Tomas has never stopped womanizing, then that he lied to Tereza about it, then tried to justify it, and now just tries to hide it from her, but won't stop.

And she stays. He gets her a dog, because the dog will hopefully "develop lesbian tendencies" and love Tereza, because Tomas can't cope with her and needs help.

So yes, Tereza not only stays, but marries him.

Why? *shrug* The book said so.

So then war comes, and they relocate... but after a while Tereza leaves Tomas (taking the female dog that they named Karenin and now refer to using male pronouns... Maybe to make Tomas feel as though Tereza has a lover as well? Who knows. This book is so stupid...).

She leaves him, and I think, "About frigging time." There's no reason for her having decided to leave him NOW, as opposed to any day of the 7 previous years of dreading him coming home smelling of another woman, of fearing that every single woman she sees will be her husband's next conquest. She decided to leave now... because the book said so.

And then he realizes that he can't be without her, and goes to her, and she takes him back, and then he realizes he feels nothing for her but mild indigestion and "pressure in his stomach and the despair of having returned".

I am a character reader. I need characters that I can identify with, that I can understand, maybe like... but these were none of those things. I don't know them, I don't understand them, I don't identify with them in any way... and I don't want to.

I just want to stop reading about them.

And so I did.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn ★★★★★

Gone Girl

That was my immediate reaction after finishing this book. Pretty clearly that's not how it ends. It doesn't END that way. Yet, when I tapped Shadow's screen to turn the page (Shadow's my Nook's name, FYI) - there were only acknowledgements.

And then I thought about it... I gave it just a few minutes' thought, and I decided that I thought the ending was appropriate. Fucked up? Oh my, yes. But fitting too, in a way. We do dig our own graves, don't we?

This book kind of reminded of Lemarchand's Box. Every time you try to figure it out, it draws you deeper in, and in the end, reveals the kind of depravity that seemingly knows no bounds. Ineffable.

And I kind of loved it.

I thought I had this book figured out so early. I even thought I was being clever, despite knowing, KNOWING, that I was being carefully, artfully led to these conclusions. I was creative though. I had it all figured out. All I was waiting for was the vindication when the book caught up with me.

And then WHATTHEFUCK?! The twist. Oh my. I never, never saw it coming. Despite having accidentally seen the table of contents, which kind of give it away. But, then if you know me, you know that I don't want to know anything - so I put it out of my mind. And I'm glad that I did.

The first line of the Chapter of the Twist floored me. I read it four times, and still felt sluggishly stupid. I couldn't wrap my mind around it. I had never read Gillian Flynn before, only knew that her stories were dark, thriller types. But in that one sentence, I wondered if all along I've been reading a haunting story and not even realizing it. In a way that was right, but it's just haunting in the wrong sense. Or the right one, depending on your point of view.

This book kind of... resonated. It's easy to get caught up in it - or it was for me. I could see myself, my boyfriend, my friends and their significant others, pretty much ANY relationship, in this book. And that's disturbing. Everyone changes in a relationship. Everyone. I thought, early on, "Oh, this is a story of how relationships go bad when expectations aren't met - when people change, and grow lax in their status quo relationship..."

And it was, in a way. If the When-Relationships-Go-Bad-O-Meter goes to 11. Why not just make 10 more intense? Because this one kind of situation requires it go to ELEVEN.

The thriller aspect of this book was fantastic. It's not one of those non-stop rollercoaster thrill-ride books, where every page turn is another exciting development. This was like watching the water drain out of a tub, slowly, allowing you to see, little by little,what lies under the surface. And you realize that it's recognizable but stunted and deformed, horrifying, and clearly dead inside. But you can't quite stop looking. I loved every second of it. Learning about Nick and Amy's relationship, both how it was so right, and how it went so very wrong. The characters were real, disturbingly real. Every word was expertly placed to take the reader along on this journey, and it was brilliantly done. Loved it.

The moral of this story: Make an effort. It won't kill you... ;)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years Resolutions and Goals

2013 is going to be a great reading year!

Last year, I banned myself from re-reading anything for the entire year. Nothing but new-to-me books for an entire year. I made it, but it was incredibly hard, and is probably the reason I did not make my goal of reading 160 books.  I ended up lowering my goal several times, and in the end I made it to 128. 80% is a passing score, but it was still disappointing to me. I feel like I'd have done better if I could occasionally re-read a book I knew I'd love.

So this year, all that "no re-reading" garbage is out the window. I'll be doing a LOT of re-reading this year.

I have plans to read through as much of Stephen King's work as possible, in publication order, for the most part. I'll be skipping the Bachman books (except Thinner, The Regulators, and Blaze), and reading the Dark Tower series at the end of the year, rather than the beginning, which was originally the plan before I decided to go crazy with the Stephen King re-reads.

I'll also be re-reading Harry Potter. Duh. And some other favorites, like The Lord of the Rings trilogy and some Jane Austen.

Basically anything I want! MWAHAHAHAHA!

We're also continuing with the real life bookclub, which is exciting. I'm really glad that people seem to enjoy it, and it's even growing! We lost one of our members when he moved away, but we've gained a few others, so it's working out. I really enjoy it, and it's caused me to read some books that I really had no intention of ever reading. Some of those I didn't even end up hating! Surprises abound.

January's book is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which is another one that I really had zero intention of ever reading. It was THE "It" book for a while a few months ago, and while I don't really have anything against super-hyped books, I have read a few reviews and it doesn't seem like it will be my cup of tea. But I'm going to read it and give it a chance... who knows, maybe I'll end up liking it. Stranger things have happened, right?

So anyway, this year, my goal is to read 150 books. With all the re-reads that I know I'll enjoy, I don't think I'll have to "OMG I-DUN-WANNA!" reading slumps that I had last year, where nothing at all interested me enough to read it... for weeks at a time. Reading should be enjoyable, dang it!

This year it will be. Or ELSE.

Anywho... if anyone is still reading this defunct blog, do you have any reading goals or plans you would like to share?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver ★★★★★

We Need to Talk About KevinI started this review 6 times, and each time, I deleted it because it didn't quite convey the right thing. I think the problem is that I'm not sure just what that thing is. But one thing I do know is that I love books that make me feel like this... that "I don't know what I need to say but I need to say something, to talk about this with someone because this book won't keep quiet in my mind" feeling.

I guess it's lucky that this was chosen for our latest group read then, because I filibustered there with every jumbled, messy, half-formed thought that my tired-because-I-stayed-up-until-nearly-2am-with-this-book-then-worked-a-full-8-hours mind could think of... Because this book won't keep quiet in my mind. I finished it last night around 1:30am, tears streaming down my face, hurting for everyone and furiously heartbroken over something so unnecessary and so seemingly unavoidable as what was depicted. Then I slept, and I dreamed about this book, with hazy, distant figures without names or faces, but bigger than life aspects.

It's rare that I dream about books. It doesn't matter if I read it up until the minute I drop off; I only dream about a book I'm reading, or have read if it pulled me into its world first. I dream about the books that touch my soul. *cue dramatic music*

This book was just... wow. If I were to nitpick anything, it would be that Eva's pen wandered a tiny bit too much into the outside world. I wanted to see her world, the world of her family, or her lack thereof. It took a little bit to get there, and for a while, there were hints but the narrative meandered along in its own time. But oh my, once it got going, it really got going. I don't think it was just my last minute mad dash to read this the day before my bookclub meeting that helped me to read 75% of this book in one night after work... it was unputdownable. Once I glimpsed this family's world, I couldn't look away.

There is... so much to talk about in this book. And I don't think that I could even attempt to do the topics or themes any justice (as I didn't in my bookclub, not for lack of trying). This is a book that begs to be turned around to the beginning again and immediately re-read. It's like one of those optical illusions. At first, the picture is simple, but then once you see the hidden picture within it, you gain a new appreciation for the whole.

This book was beautifully written, insightful, questioning and heartbreaking. It was nothing at all like I expected, and even guessing the things that I guessed (which turned out to be true), it didn't make the impact any less. This book was so incredible at making me sympathize and empathize with each person's perspective, though we only see these through Eva's brutally honest memory, that it was impossible for me to lay blame anywhere, even though the potential for assigning blame was huge.

This was expertly executed (pun intended), and it is not one that I will forget any time soon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: House Rules by Jodi Picoult ★★★★

House RulesConfession time: I had no intention of ever reading a Jodi Picoult book. To me, her books were pretty much equivalent to Nicholas Sparks' books.* Formula: Mix one part "issue" with one part "sap" and one part "luuuuuurve", then swallow. If nausea occurs, try Pepto to keep it down.
*Sparks' books are still ones that I have no intention of ever reading. I watched 'A Walk to Remember' and 'The Notebook'. That's enough for one lifetime. There's like 50 movies based on his books now or something, and you know they're scraping the bottom of the barrel when Miley Cyrus is the best they can get to star act be filmed in one. *shudder*

So when this was chosen for my bookclub, I wasn't exactly looking forward to it, and prepared myself to be reticent at the next meeting.

Aside from that, I was worried about the portrayal of a teen with Asperger's Syndrome, particularly because the only other book that I've read with an autistic character was very disappointing for me. I couldn't help but mentally compare the two books, and my opinion of that other book was constantly reinforced: it just lacked substance, depth. It was just mediocre. House Rules was anything but mediocre. It was interesting, insightful, informative and fulfilling.

I'm no Asperger's expert, but I thought that the book worked on many different levels at portraying not only the thought processes and behaviors of one who has it, but also of everyone that is affected by it. I felt that Picoult did her homework, and that she presented the traits, and possible causality, fairly and honestly. There are perspectives on whether heredity, or immunizations, or just randomness cause autism to develop, and I liked and appreciated that it was not treated as an excuse to demonize vaccines.

I particularly empathized with Emma and Theo. Their perspectives were so raw and honest that I couldn't help but love them for it. Emma's raised two sons on her own for 15 years - something that is hard enough without throwing autism into the mix. Her whole life has centered around it. She's done everything in her power to give him the best life she can, and if she suffers for it, that's just part of the job.

There were points in Theo's chapters where he'd be thinking something that an outsider would think is horrible, and even berating himself for it, and I would just sit there commending him for the things he didn't say. For example:
"True confession number four: I don't sit around thinking about having kids, nor­mally, but when I do it scares the shit out of me. What if my own son winds up being like Jacob? I’ve already spent my whole childhood dealing with autism; I don’t know if I can handle doing it for the rest of my life."
This is a superficially selfish thought, yes, but then I read the subtext to be that he's assuming he'd be around to take care of any kid of his who has autism. He'd stick it out, not leave like his own father did. He'd try to do the right thing, even if he doubts his abilities to do it. It makes me proud of him, and sad for him, at the same time. Because he's lived on the sidelines of autism for his whole life already. His childhood was constantly colored by the routines and the contingencies and the chaos of his brother's condition. To never have "normality" would have to be a terrifying, daunting thought.

Regarding the mystery aspect, I pegged it pretty quickly - about 30% in. All the clues were there, and it wasn't hard to figure out. But I was still interested to see if I was right, or if there would be some twist, other than the one I predicted, to shock me. I kept being a little frustrated with the investigation too. This kid is extremely literal, and extremely honest. Why did nobody think to just ask him directly? I guess I understand why, honestly, but it was still kind of frustrating. And so for that, I knocked off a star. But the rest of the story, the personal and familial aspects, were fantastic. I loved it.

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable book, and I will probably be picking up more of Picoult's books now that I know they aren't likely to be tapped for maple syrup anytime soon. ;)

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie ★★★

The Enchantress Of Florence: A NovelWhen this book was chosen for my bookclub, I was a little nervous about it. I'd never read anything of Salman Rushdie's before, and I wouldn't have chosen this one to start with (if ever). I'll be honest, the premise looks kind of boring.

But then I started reading it. And I was completely surprised by not only how much I liked it, but by how funny it was. Irreverent, and witty, and whimsical and a little weird, with more than a dash of gutter-humor funny that had me giggling like a fiend. At the 45% point, I was ready to call this one a 5-star book. I was loving it.

I loved Akbar, Akbar the Great, the greatness of which must be twice specified in order to merely hint at his glorious gloriousness. Him. I loved his personality, his unpredictability, his mind. I loved how he thought about things... Honestly, it is so rare for a ruler to think about the nature of his (or her) rule in terms other than 1) how to keep it, and 2) how to get more of it. I loved that he thought in the abstract, the philosophical. I vs we. All "I"s are "we"s, not just Royal "we"s. Everyone is part of a larger entity that makes them up: family, friends, community, etc.
Perhaps the idea of self-as-community was what it meant to be a being in the world, any being; such a being being, after all, inevitably a being among other beings, a part of the beingness of all things."
"...[They] are all bags of selves, bursting with plurality..."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Review: The Man In The High Castle by Philip K. Dick

The Man in the High CastlePreface: I chose this book for my very first real life bookclub meeting ever. There was also much drinking (by me) at this meeting, so... if my review is less than coherent, well, actually, I think that's fitting, isn't it?

So, right. I chose this book blindly. Never read PKD before, although I have seen a few of the movies based on his work, and they are all interesting, to say the least. Having just read the amazetastic 11/22/63 by the King, I was in something of an alternate history mindset, and so TMITHC was chosen.

Nerves were on edge while I anxiously awaited the meeting to see what people thought. Hell, to see what I thought, even, because I finished it literally minutes before the meeting. Because I'm a slacker procrastinator who barely started it this week and read 90% of it between last night and today. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed this quite a lot, even though "enjoy" isn't really the word that comes to mind first... maybe "pondered"? Let's try that one out: "I pondered this quite a lot." Yes. That works. I pondered, and I discovered that I arrived at many more positive feelings than negative, and thus the term "enjoyed" enters into my vocabulary. I'm pleased to announce that my bookclub-mates also arrived at ponder-positive assessments. Bookclub choice #1: Success!

I feel like this is the type of book that begs to be re-read. I don't feel like I really "got" very much of it... or maybe I do/did and I'm
just overthinking it? I don't know. Parts of it really frustrated and unnerved me, and I found myself angrily typing notes on my nook, like how "Lotze can go screw himself the shit" and "yay!! Baynes - show that shit what fear is!" and "seriously?!??!" (These are actual notes that I made while reading. That last one makes sense in context, I promise.). Parts of it were disturbingly unnerving in a "can't look away from the train wreck" kind of way. Fascinating and horrific at the same time.

There were some very interesting concepts in this book, and I thought that PKD did a fantastic job at capturing the different cultural nuances of both the Japanese and Germans. At first I was concerned that I wouldn't like the book because the writing was off-putting. Clipped sentences. No connecting words. Interrupted thought proc--. Then I realized that this was on purpose, after it switched for a bit, and I was actually really impressed. It worked well. The concept of Place was interesting to me, though not because I'd want to live with it. I would be Place-fucked because I can't be bothered to constantly worry about the formality of every single situation. Seriously, who has time to worry about whether the random person on the street is judging you for carrying your own bag, or walking when you could take a cab? Not me. No Place Becky, that's what they'd call me. But hey, at least I know my Place. Zing!

Anyway... I really enjoyed this book, and I'm looking forward to reading more PKD in the future. Yes indeedy. :)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bookclub Review: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes ★★★★

Flowers for AlgernonI have three confessions to make:
1) I never read this book in school.
2) For some reason, this book is associated with the A-bomb in my mind. No idea why.
3) There was beer at my bookclub meeting, and I drank a goodish amount of it, so this review may ramble.

Needless to say, Flowers for Algernon was very, very different than I had always thought. I honestly cannot tell you why I thought that... just that I did. It's just one of those weird association things that people have. Or maybe it's just me. Unsure which.

So, after I read the book description and realized that I was way, way, off, I was actually really looking forward to reading it. I love overcoming adversity type books, I love books that make me feel something, and I love books that make me think. This is definitely one of those, but still I feel like there was something off about it. I liked it, a lot, but I wanted more perspective, I guess.

Quick run-down: Mentally handicapped Charlie is undergoes an experimental operation to increase his capacity for learning and intelligence. The book examines his journey, and what it means, intellectually, socially, emotionally, and morally. Very interesting stuff.

I liked Charlie, more so the less intelligent he was. It was easier for me to sympathize and identify with him then, rather than at the height of his intelligence, when everything and everyone seemed beneath him. I can identify with aspirations and dreams, but I find it hard to understand intelligence so massive that it's alienating. I did like that the more that Charlie learned, the more was able to understand about the world around him, but it was often heartbreaking to see his revelations. Heartbreaking to me, anyway. One of the things that I felt was off about the book was that Charlie seemed distant from his own experiences and memories. He often saw his "handicapped" self in memories as a different person, and his discoveries of memory and experience were like watching something happening to someone else, rather than to himself.

I also wanted more of the history, and more perspective on the story. We see everything through Charlie's eyes, and while this works for most of the story, because we're in his head and we can almost experience his changes directly, some parts just lacked perspective, to me. Particularly the parts dealing with Charlie's incubator mother.There were a lot of parts where Charlie remembered her behavior and her actions and reactions and attitudes, but he couldn't identify with them, or understand them at all. And the reader, seeing through Charlie's eyes, sees the cruelty and the intolerance and impatience, but there isn't anything to give perspective to these memories. We don't see how hard it would be to deal with a young mentally handicapped boy, while caring for a newborn, and constantly worrying that one lapse in vigilance could result in disaster. We don't see how hard day to day life would be with a mentally handicapped 17 year old... we see only the extremes.

Am I condoning her horrific behavior? Absolutely not. Never. But I can put myself in her shoes and imagine just how hard it would be. And knowing myself, and how patience is NOT one of my best qualities, I can understand her frustration and fear and anger. I hope that I would never, ever, ever act on them like she did, that I would have the insight and compassion to accept the hand I'm dealt, should I be put in that position, but I can sympathize... to a point. Past that point and I don't think there's a punishment severe enough to make up for the way she treated her son. Not in a hundred lifetimes. Charlie had every chance to be happy, despite his handicap, and she ruined him.

Forgiveness isn't one of my virtues, either.

I did like the themes in the book, of second chances, at taking a risk, at wanting to better oneself and understand who we are and who we are in the world and what it means to be who we are. I liked the theme of one person being able to make such a difference, such an impact on the world, and it gives me hope that there is a point to it all. I liked the theme of learning to accept the life we have, and that sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and it definitely was a hit with the bookclub. Very glad that I read this one. :)