7/28/09

The Reader


I've just been letting chance decide my books lately. So I found this book sitting a on a shelf and got to reading. I read the entire book in one sitting in the bath tub.

After the last book I read about cannibalism (The Taste of a Man), a story about a 15-year-old boy and his romance with a woman over twice his age wasn't as shocking. So I'm only need to gloss over that issue.

I liked Part 1. It told the story of their romance, silly things that the couple quibbled over, and how their relationship helped to teach Michael to become a man. His maturity and the ways that she touched him (other than physically, I mean) show up later in life and throughout the novel. Though Michael is much younger than his mistress, it's not particularly shocking or vulgar. Though, as I would in real-life, I do wonder why in the world a thirty-something woman would even consider becoming involved with a 15 year old, but hey, it's like 1950 or 60 in the novel.

Part 2 and 3, I didn't care for. I don't want to give away the ending of the book since it is still a new-ish movie, but when it is revealed that Hanna was a guard in a women's concentration camp during WWII and has to stand before a judge for war-crimes, the story begins to stretch itself too thin. When she is sent to prison and Michael begins to record readings for her, the story loses it's attraction because it is trying to hard. And when Michael reunites with Hanna only to find out that she is an old woman, it is just too obvious.

If you can't tell, I didn't like how the book ended.

The Taste of a Man


I almost had to put this book down and stop reading it. The back-side of the book reveals that the novel is about cannibalism, but I didn't read that until I had read the first few chapters. The novel hooked me though. I liked the story, I liked the way it was told, I could empathize with Tereza the narrator. Maybe that is why I took the end of the book so hard.

Tereza who is a graduate student in New York, meets Jose who is in the city on a grant while he is writing a book about the Uruguayan soccer team that crashed in the Andes and resorted to cannabilism to survive. However, Jose is already married, has a son, and another on the way. The couple ignore these facts until they are forced to face reality, and then Tereza jumps into action. She decides that the only way to keep Jose with her forever is to kill him and eat his flesh in order to unit them forever.

Even though I knew after the first chapter that this was the decision that Tereza would come to, toward the end of the book when his murder is described in detail and Tereza explains why she decided to eat his fingertips first, I was too involved and had to put the book down for a few days. It was a little overwhelming. The book was beautifully written.

"Strangely, though, the author seems most shocking when Tereza, her task finished, obeys the mundane dictates of the fashion magazines she's idly thumbing through: 'After a hard day's work, treat yourself to a luxurious bubble bath.' " NY Times

7/20/09

When You Are Engulfed in Flames


The first Sedaris book that I read was his novel Me Talk Pretty One Day. A friend gave it to me for my birthday along with Ariel by Sylvia Plath. Ariel pleased me mentally and psychologically, but Sedaris was my comic relief. I like his books for what they are: silly, humorous, dysfunctional stories of a silly, humorous, dysfunctional little man.

In the case of this book, Sedaris includes three things I find funny and entertaining: jokes about France, jokes about smokers, jokes about gays. He has a witty way of telling his side of the crazy situations he gets himself mixed up in. He is unapologetic and never embarrassed.

The title of the book comes from bad Engrish that he saw while he was in Japan trying to quit smoking. As an extra bonus he has a really cool Van Gogh painting on his front cover!

"I wear shorts only in Normandy, which is basically West Virginia without the possums."

7/7/09

Revolutionary Road


We went and saw Revolutionary Road in the movie theatre shortly after it's release and before the Academy Awards. I can't say I particularly loved the movie, but I did enjoy the look of the movie which was set in 1955 suburbia and the story. I didn't really buy into the Winslet-DiCaprio marriage, but John, a friend's psychotic son, saves the movie by being all-around crazy and intense.

So after reading A Good School, I decided to get another of Yates' books Revolutionary Road. As usual, the transfer from page to screen left a lot out. The book is a much more in-depth look into the lives of suburban couples, and not just the April-Frank relationship but also the relationships of the people around them.

It is a depressing book. Everyone is unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. Though Frank and April are not happy together at the beginning of the novel, Frank acts out like a child and is selfish and stubborn. He snaps at his children, slacks off at work, berates his wife, and sleeps with a young, impressionable woman from work. On his 30th birthday, after coming home late from work because he was schtupping the girl from work again, April surprises him, acknowledges that she has been unbearable to him lately, and tells him about her plan to sell everything in America and move the family to Paris where she would support them financially while Frank figured out what he really wanted to do with his life.

Many of the other couples around them think they are crazy for planning to leave their normal, every-day, American life behind- except John, the crazy guy. Then, April finds out that she's pregnant. This new situation that the couple finds themselves in open up a lot of baggage for the couple because the option of abortion has come up numerous times in the past.

The Moon is Down


I am a big Steinbeck fan. I've loved him since I read Grapes of Wrath in high school. It wasn't until recently that I had the time to rediscover him though. My long trip started with East of Eden earlier this year and by the numbers I'm sure this will be a Steinbeck year for me.

The moon is down was Steinbeck's try at war propaganda. The US was in WWII and Steinbeck's way of supporting the war effort was writing this book. At the age of 40, the military probably didn't have much use for him so instead he worked with 2 organizations that preceeded the CIA. To gather information for this novel, Steinbeck interviewed refugees from countries that were occupied by Nazi Germany during the war. The novel was originally set in America, but before being published Steinbeck changed the setting to an unnamed country in Europe. This ended up being a good choice because when the novel was reprinted and reprinted in every possible language and handed out in occupied and soon-to-be-occupied nations.

The history surrounding this novel is as interesting as the novel itself. The book is very simple. It is about a country invading another and occupying a coal-mining town in order to receive free labor and free coal. The unnamed town is a democracy and so they prevail through hard-times (this is a piece of propaganda and the obvious message is democracy=GOOD).

Other writers and critics bashed the novel for it's obviousness and for humanizing Nazi's. The book however was noticed for being very realistic especially for being written by a man who lived across the ocean from Nazi occupation. The novel was edited for the stage and the screen.

Sons and Lovers

I'm sorry, I have been treasuring and savoring this novel. Don't know when I'll finish it but I do love it.

A Good School


This novel was recommended to me to add to my book list. I've never read anything by Richard Yates before, but I did see last year's Revolutionary Road which was based on another book by Yates. Vonnegaut called Revolutionary Road the Great Gatsby of his generation; in that case, A Good School was Yates's Catcher in the Rye.

After reading the first few chapters, my first reaction to the novel was that it was unnecessarily dirty. The French teacher at the private school is having an affair with the wife of another instructor who has been crippled by polio and the narrator William Grove is hazed by a group of boys who catch him in the hallway, shave his pubic hair, and give him a hand job. Already the beginning clashed with the title. But by the end, this really is the point of the novel. The novel finishes with the school closing, Grove being in the last graduating class.

Like Catcher in the Rye the book chronicles the lives of boys at a private school that was started by a wealthy woman who wanted "a school that might be just the kind of school for boys that might just be the kind of school I'd have wanted if I'd been a boy." Unfortunately the school was far from that. Instead the novel is about teenage boys doing what teenage boys do: worrying about their social status at the school, dreaming about girls, and romanticizing war.

The Afterword tells briefly about which boys died during WWII and what happened with their lives. Immediately after closing, the school is turned into a home for veterans blinded during war

7/2/09

Tortilla Flat


I definitely am partial to Steinbeck novels, so each is truly my new favorite. Tortilla Flat is compared a lot to a Californian King Author and his knights and even has books dedicated to pointing out these similarities... which I have to admit are striking.

The book is based a on a maybe fictitious (by different accounts?) town where the Paisano's live near Monterey. The Paisano's are a mix breed of the Spanish, Indian, Mexican, anything... and according to the book apparently make their living doing nothing but drinking wine and discussing life and ethics while using their Tortilla Flat as a backdrop and setting. Steinbeck gives a description of a paisano, who speaks English with a paisano accent, and Spanish with a paisano accent, "He is a mixture of Spanish, Indian, Mexican and assorted Caucasian bloods. His ancestors have lived in California for a hundred years or two.... He lives in that uphill district above the town of Monterey called Tortilla Flat, though it isn't flat at all."