I came across Stoner in my local bookshop. When I first read the synopsis of this novel I was sure this would be a long and boring read. So I put theI came across Stoner in my local bookshop. When I first read the synopsis of this novel I was sure this would be a long and boring read. So I put the book away and moved on to the next one. But as I was drawn to the beautiful cover of the Vintage Classics edition I kept picking it up whenever I was browsing the bookshop. And I kept thinking about the book and about the description of the plot on the back cover. So, even before I decided to read it the book stuck with me.
Stoner is the life story of protagonist William Stoner, who grew up on a farm in Missouri in the beginning of the 20th century. He decides to enrol at the University of Missouri in order to get a degree in agriculture that is supposed to help him take over his parent’s farm. However, once enrolled there he starts to discover his interest in – and later his love of – literature and philology. And this is the aspect that totally gripped me. The way Williams describes academic life and the study of literature with all its ups and downs reminded me so much of the time when I did my degree in literature.
“Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.”
The novel tells Stoner’s story over the decades and, honestly, there is not much of an extraordinary plot there. But the characters and the way Williams describes their lives and the little intrigues and problems they have to deal with is simply beautiful and gripping. I started reading because I was drawn to the descriptions of academic life and the love of literature. But I kept reading because I wanted to know what was going to happen to Stoner and all those interesting secondary characters that surround him.
Stoner is a novel about the decisions we make and how they influence our life and the people we (have to) share our life with. It also makes an effort of putting the life of an individual person in contrast with the Big Picture. Throughout the book the narrative touches upon important historical events of the 20th century. However, it does this in a way that foregrounds personal life and uses history as a backdrop. One of the novel’s main points is that the life of an individual may not make a dent in the history of mankind but it still is the more important event because all those small insignificant lives make up humanity in the end. Here’s a quote that I really liked and that describes the theme of the novel quite well:
“It was the force of a public tragedy he felt, a horror and a woe so all-pervasive that private tragedies and personal misfortunes were removed to another state of being, yet were intensified by the very vastness in which they took place, as the poignancy of a lone grave might be intensified by a great desert surrounding it.”
So, even though this might not seem like the obvious choice for a fun read, it actually is a beautiful and touching homage to academic and individual life, to the love of books and to being human. I am in love with Stoner and I really hope more people will pick it up and give it a try in the future....more
I needed some time to find words to describe this reading experience. Emily Gould does not reinvent the wheel here; neither are he 4 ½ stars, actually.
I needed some time to find words to describe this reading experience. Emily Gould does not reinvent the wheel here; neither are her anecdotes unique or especially weird/funny/terrible/anything. Why all the stars, then? Well, I guess that’s because I could relate to her so much. This collection simply got to me since I am in a very similar situation right now as Gould was when she came to NY. Having finished my Master’s Degree I am looking for my first “real” job and having a degree in the humanities section makes this, well, let’s say, a bit of a pain in the ass. Reading this, I sometimes felt directly talked to (or talked about). For instance:
“I’d thought that I was smart, that it was my smartness that made me exceptional. Now I had to adjust my thinking in one of two ways. 1. I wasn’t smart, but something else made me exceptional. 2. I was neither smart nor exceptional.” (p.20)
"In college I’d had a half-acknowledged fantasy that a teacher would recognize some talent in me and decide to make me her protégé, but it had never happened, probably because I was such a prickly and pretentious little jerk, with no innate gift for ass-kissing." (p.91)
and this one:
“I searched the job descriptions, looking for a position that seemed to have what I was looking for, but I couldn’t find one. It would have helped, I guess, if I’d any idea what I was looking for.” (p.93)
Those quotes could have been taken from my personal diary (if I had one). And I felt understood and also a bit creeped out. And then it got really creepy. There is this one description of how she says good-bye to her boyfriend every morning when she goes to work.
“I breathed in his warm, sleepy smell and touched the bristles of his close-shaved head, admiring the defenseless, private look of him without his glasses.” (p.206)
Sounds exactly like my boyfriend when I say good-bye to him in the morning before going to “work” (God, I hate my job!).
There is also one anecdote that deals with a long-time friend she keeps in contact with only sporadically, but every time they meet it feels so great and they feel so close and she sees how much she has missed her and so on. And on other occasions there is this unbridgeable gap between them and she cannot remember why they were friends once and they don’t really have anything in common any more. I guess everyone has someone like that in their life but when I read this I clearly saw the face of my oldest girlfriend in front of me and remembered various occasions that were examples of those scenarios described by Gould.
There are many more (sometimes very personal and detailed) examples which completely got to me because of their similarity to my experiences and my life.
The only aspect of this collection I have to criticize is that sometimes Gould seems to lack the ability to focus. Her essays don’t always follow a common thread and she keeps jumping between topics. But really, this is the only negative thing I can say about this. I know that people tend to think that she is a bit too full of herself but, honestly, what do you expect when you pick up an autobiographical essay collection?
The relationships and friendships and job-related situations she describes where just so relatable to me it sometimes hurt. This book made me smile and it made me shed a tear or two. It simply got (to) me. And I realize that this is a very personal impression and not everyone will love this collection as much as I did but I am also guessing that there are more people out there who feel like Emily Gould – and like me, for that matter. ...more
First of all, a warning: DO NOT READ the plot description on the back cover!! Oh, so many spoilers!
Now, here comes my not-quite-a-review.
This book isFirst of all, a warning: DO NOT READ the plot description on the back cover!! Oh, so many spoilers!
Now, here comes my not-quite-a-review.
This book is really hard for me to review simply because I loved it so much. Emily Gould’s writing is so comforting to me. I feel understood reading about twenty-and-thirty-somethings trying to cope with life because (even though I don’t live in NYC or any city equally “cool”) the parallels to my life and feelings are creepily accurate. This includes the sometimes obnpxious characters and their ridiculous and almost non-existent problem-solving-skills.
Most of the things I wrote in my review about her essay collection And the Heart Says Whatever are also true for Gould’s debut novel. But she actually managed to straighten out the (albeit small) flaws I saw in her essays. The only thing that bothered me with the collection were the weird meanderings and the way she gets sidetracked so much that the end of the essay has nothing to do with the rest of it anymore. That might have been a clever literary digressional device but it did not feel like it. The good news is: in her novel she does not do this anymore. So there is nothing for me to be bothered by and everything for me to love! A book about female friendship, about the complexity of (changing) relationships and the problem of making your own choices and being true to yourself while trying to be the person your friend expects you to be.
I think this book will become one of my comfort reads. Something I will pick up again and again in order to feel understood or to gain perspective or simply to get this fuzzy feeling associated with true and utter book-love. Also it’s a bit like the novel version of HBO’s Girls. Just to be clear: that’s meant as a compliment. ...more
I am not completely beside myself after reading this book. It was quite alright. A fast read. Sometimes really interesting and intriguing. Other timesI am not completely beside myself after reading this book. It was quite alright. A fast read. Sometimes really interesting and intriguing. Other times it felt like a succession of anecdotes and trivialities and the story kept meandering and digressing. A device I usually enjoy a lot if it’s done right. Here it mostly felt like filler material and kept me wondering what all of this was about.
If you’ve heard anything about this book before you might have noticed that the publisher is working really hard not to tell you its actual topic. I am not going to spoil that either since its revelation was one of the best moments in the book. That, however, makes it really hard to talk about this novel at all.
As a fairly unreliable narrator, Rosemary Cooke tells us the story of her life; the story of how her two siblings had to leave the family and what it was like to grow up in a house filled with grieve and longing for the past. Just so you know, that there was not a spoiler!
Jumping back and forth in her retelling we get glimpses at the past and present and information is only given to the reader piece by piece and only when the narrator feels like it. This stylistic device turns afairly simple story into something more complex but it can sometimes come across as a cheap means to make the plot more interesting.
While Rosemary tries to find herself, some interesting themes are explored. Like the importance of childhood memories and how they can be changed, invented, re-invented, repressed, and denied. We get some background knowledge on psychology (that can be a bit too much on the popular science side) and one other very interesting field of study, which I cannot reveal here without telling you the main twist of the story – so I won’t. Other themes and topics are family life, dealing with a shared past, guilt, and how memories can define and shape our personality.
What I really did not like was how later in the book the author throws in that pinch of female solidarity as another theme. Maybe I just didn’t notice it earlier but I got the feeling that it was put in quite late and suddenly. It’s like the author thought “oh, I need some feminism in my book as well. I just put it in right here. I don’t want to go all the way back and make it a proper theme”. Meandering. A word that came to mind quite a lot while reading “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves”.
To end this review on a positive note: It was a fast read, I was caught up in the story and simply wanted to know what the narrator was not telling me. All that secrecy and “I’ll tell you later. When I’m ready. Maybe.” was what kept me going. And I was satisfied when all of it was finally revealed. It is a story about family and secrets, and if you like to read about these things than this might not be the first book I’d recommend but it IS a good one. ...more
Firstly, I need to get something off my chest. In terms of dystopian fiction this one is really not the greatest example.
There is no background inforFirstly, I need to get something off my chest. In terms of dystopian fiction this one is really not the greatest example.
There is no background information whatsoever about how the society in these novels came into being. Dystopian fiction usually works by means of extrapolating society’s problems or the current state of things into the future and see where that might lead. This is not done in Divergent. The reader is put into this setting in a take-it-or-leave-it kind of manner. There are no explanations of the historical circumstances that lead to this point and we don’t find out how the factions that are so important to the plot of the novel came into being.
That said, this book was awesome and great fun to read. I love a writer that can be ruthless with their own creation. (view spoiler)[ e.g. by killing off characters we came to love or hate or have any type of strong emotion for. (hide spoiler)] In the YA section I have only come across two so far – Rowling, J.K. and Suzanne Collins. Veronica Roth is now number three on that list. She created an interesting environment and put a story filled with action mystery and – yes – love into it, which is never boring and can always be taken seriously. And, in turn, takes its readers seriously.
Even the love story makes sense in this one. YA series often tend to force the love interest on the protagonist in a way that makes me cringe and want to throw the book at the next wall. Here it is neither the centre of the plot nor is it random. It comes slowly and seems very realistic – that is I can understand why Beatrice is intrigued by (view spoiler)[ Four (hide spoiler)] and how she herself only realises this very slowly because she does have more important things to deal with. I also like that she is not absorbed into and weakened by this relationship but stays on course to finding and becoming herself.
All in all this is a great read that I would categorize as Science Fiction and not so much as Dystopia (of course this might change with next book in the series – which would be awesome!). ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
The Cranes Dance is a story of two sisters, both professional ballerinas with the NY Ballet. Narrated by the elder of the two sisters, Kate Crane, theThe Cranes Dance is a story of two sisters, both professional ballerinas with the NY Ballet. Narrated by the elder of the two sisters, Kate Crane, the novel deals with the pressure of professional dance combined with the already difficult task of growing up. The narrator’s voice is one of absolute honesty - when it comes to others. We witness Kate come to terms with her sister's psychological problems and eventually with her own.The descriptions of the everyday life of a ballerina with all the typical restrictions in terms of food and free time and Kate's problems to form meaningful relationships in such a competitive world are probably the most interesting aspect of the novel.
All of this is done while employing the metaphorical language of dance and especially ballet to convey relationships and emotions. Kate's view of professional ballet and the "literary" material used in this specific art form become a means of describing Kate's psyche as well as her relationships with other people. Even though we are in her head, we can never be sure to really know the narrator since it is only in the end that she starts to understand herself a little better.
Yes, this is a book about ballet, and yes it has long descriptions of the technique and plot summaries of various ballets - however, all of this is done in the slightly cynic and snotty voice of a character who has pretty much grown up on stage and has lost - or maybe never developed - that sense of sanctity and grace that tends to be associated with this art form. The writing is definitely beautiful and the narrative voice is unique and captivating.
The similarities to a certain ballet movie starring Natalie Portman are definitely there. Meg Howrey probably won't like that comparison but I kept thinking about the movie the whole time. The book seems to have been published after the movie was released and if I understood that part correctly there even is a little stab in the direction that production. I can only say that I loved that movie and I loved this novel - for similar reasons. ...more
UR is a really short novella that has been exclusively released for the amazon kindle. The first few pages actually read like an advertisement for theUR is a really short novella that has been exclusively released for the amazon kindle. The first few pages actually read like an advertisement for the kindle. We learn what a great device it is and that even university professors of English who love books can see the huge advantages a kindle has. Yes, Mr.King, we get it. It’s a great gadget and we don’t have to be afraid that it will replace our beloved books; and even if it does, it’s just so cool that we won’t even care! Once the commercial break is over, however, the story becomes interesting. The kindle ordered by protagonist Wesley Smith is not like any other one; it gives the reader the possibility to access a kind of alternate literary reality – many different realities actually. These realities offer written material by every author there is and Smith is able to read unpublished – because in his reality unwritten – texts by various writers.
The plot is intriguing and of course there is the Stephen King mystery that keeps you reading. The novella left me wishing I had an awesome pink kindle that could access all the alternate material by Jane Austen and Scarlett Thomas and maybe even Stephen King. It’s a nice read if you have half an hour to fill and nothing else to do. It also was the first text by Stephen King that I was able to finish, probably because of its shortness.
By the way, I have not bought a kindle yet. ...more