This was a outstanding book in the "beach read" category.
I picked it up after reading about Dogs of Babel on the NPR book blog. This book is set on aThis was a outstanding book in the "beach read" category.
I picked it up after reading about Dogs of Babel on the NPR book blog. This book is set on a reality show race around the world - ala The Amazing Race, which I love. In addition, it has lesbians, which I double love. And there were actually multiple lesbians, so maybe it was really triple love.
In all seriousness, I was surprised to read on the back cover that the author has a husband. She writes from the perspective of Cassie, the eighteen year old who is really struggling with her sexuality, so convincingly that I was almost sure she had to be basing it on first hand experience. She is surprisingly talented at writing the interior lives of her characters. I don't know why I say 'surprisingly'. Maybe because Jodi Picoult did a blurb for the cover, so I was expecting something more along those lines.
The ending was a little flat, a little fairy tale - but I stayed up late into the night on Saturday to continue reading. And I liked it enough to lend it to a coworker first thing this morning.
**spoiler alert** This was a quick read--though not entirely easy--due to Alice Sebold's evocative writing and beautifully constructed story. It is so**spoiler alert** This was a quick read--though not entirely easy--due to Alice Sebold's evocative writing and beautifully constructed story. It is so good. The characters are so three dimensional, so fully realized. And the shape of the absence created by Susie's death, how it develops and is molded over time, is as fascinating as it is haunting.
When I was younger, I did not like books like this, books that give away large chunks of their plot on the first page. But as I've grown older, this type of story telling has become a favorite of mine. The idea that it is not where the story winds up, but how it gets there that contains the real loot.
I love the way the book breaks every single one of its characters. And makes the heart of the story how they piece themselves back together. That's a powerful narrative. As is the story of how neighbors and friends react and adjust to the grief of the Salmon family. Clarissa, who was Susie's best friend, is willing to go get it on with her boyfriend in the cornfield where Susie was killed, and later exploits Jack Salmon's grief for her own popularity. Hal, who had no previous relationship with the family until his younger brother started dating Lindsay, does them an infinite number of services (bringing Abigail back to herself before she walks into Jack's hospital room, buying Buckley a drum set, driving Lindsay to the hospital).
The descriptions of heaven are interesting. I like that Susie finds a friend to live with her in a duplex. In fact, I like the idea that you can make new friends even in heaven, that your capacity for love does not die with your physical body. And it seemed perfectly in line with what a young girl would imagine heaven to be. Not, in fact, much different from the Realms in the "Great and Terribe Beauty" series.
A few of my friends commented that they did not like the ending of the book. I have not checked in, now that I'm done, to find out if it was the actual last sentence ending of the book, or just the wrap up of the story in general.
I confess that I was a little less than thrilled with the conclusion. I wanted other things to happen - the discovery of Susie's body (which, based on the title, I thought would be the final scene of the novel), or the eventual appearance of the other characters in wide, wide heaven once their time on Earth was done, or worldly justice catching up with Mr. Harvey. I still liked the book, in spite of the fact that these things did not happen, but I actively and ardently disliked two plot developments that did take place at the end.
First, I did not like Susie (from heaven) killing Mr. Harvey with an icicle to prevent him from killing another teenage girl. I feel like that went against all the metaphysical 'rules' of heaven as established by the author up to that point. And, if a dead girl can extract - not exactly vengeance, but proactive-and-further-horror-preventative execution - against her killer, it begs the question as to why none of the other girls that Mr. Harvey killed could have seized a moment for action before Susie was killed. Meh. I find that problematic in terms of my willful suspension of disbelief, and I do not like the way that it robs the remaining characters of further closure.
BUT, my biggest issue with the end of the book, by a long shot - I disliked every single thing about Ruth and Susie briefly trading places so that Susie could spend a few moments being alive in Ruth's body and kiss/shower/get it on with Ray Singh. UGH! I mean, I get that this part of the story is more about what Susie had always wanted (to grow up, to be a woman, to feel that kind of passion) than it is about what any of her family members deserved. And I get that Ruth trades her body for a soujourn in heaven willingly. Perhaps the reason I dislike this part so much is that I had been reading the Ruth character, since her introduction, as a lesbian. Yes, she has experimented with Ray in the past. But it appears that Susie understands Ruth as a lesbian, too. Using Ruth's body for Susie to get it on with Ray Singh elicits a tongue out in disgust, and a serious roll of the eyes from me. The only positive thing I can say about it is that at least Ruth didn't get pregnant and have Susie come back to Earth as the soul of their baby. Bleeech.
But these are, perhaps, minor points that stand out more because the rest of the book was so well done. I did enjoy it, and would recommend it to other readers. My lame book club is watching the movie this weekend, and at least I feel that with this novel, we will have a lot to talk about. ...more
Although it was only the seventh book I've read for the Hundred Book Challenge, Pirate Latitudes has a good shot at being the worst book of the year.Although it was only the seventh book I've read for the Hundred Book Challenge, Pirate Latitudes has a good shot at being the worst book of the year. It reads like poorly written Pirates of the Caribbean fanfic.
I had never read anything by Michael Crichton before, but I was intrigued when I heard that a finished manuscript of a pirate adventure novel was found in his desk after his death. Perhaps I should not judge all of his work by this novel, as it is possible that he may have died before being able to revise it into a half-way decent story. But this book, in my opinion, is barely worth the paper it's printed on - let alone a hardback purchase price.
The characters are cardboard stock figures, the women (with one exception) are ridiculously insulting caricatures, and the plot is forced. The dashing hero of the novel, Captain Hunter, is a privateer. He frequently fights people for calling him a pirate. I humbly suggest that if you are writing a book about pirates, the main character should be - for real - a PIRATE. Sheesh. Especially because in many great pirate adventure stories, such as Captain Blood or The Seahawk, or even the plot within a plot of PopCo or The Watchmen, what causes a person to resort to piracy is often the most interesting motivator in the story. But if you are a privateer, and you only want money, we might as well be reading a story about Wall Street traders. Lame.
They threw in a brief hint that the crazed Spanish commander had killed the captain's dead brother somewhere along the way, but it was no more than an after thought.
Which brings me to my main issue with the plot. In seafaring adventures, in GOOD seafaring adventures, action should be sweeping the decks like a roiling tide. In this book, it feels very much like someone thought up a list of Things That Could Happen to Some Pirates (a sea chase, capture by Spaniards, escape from Spaniards, a raid on a port, battle, being chased by some more Spaniards, being trapped in a bay, blowing up some Spaniards, being attacked by some natives, having to rescue a damsel in distress (same damsel, multiple times), an attack by (oh goody) a Kracken, a hurricane, a double cross, arrest of pirates, sentencing of pirates, prison escape of pirates followed by revenge of pirates on all who had wronged them) that will all lead to eventual victory of pirates. And then wrote a story where the main goal was to connect the dots between each action sequence on the list. Yawn. Every time the pirates get into trouble, Captain Hunter's arrival at a solution seems forced and pre-determined. He lacks any kind of believable ingenuity (which is a big quality in Captain Blood, Hornblower, etc), and clearly seems to be getting away each time because the novelist needs him to move on to his next Action!Sequence! than because of any deep thinking or effort on his part.
Also, the cardboard cut out mates are: The Double Crossing Frenchy Killer, The Mute But Bullishly Strong Moor, The Explosive Expert Called (yes, really) The Jew, The Doctor/Sea Artist Helmsman, The Skilled Marksman and Look Out Who Is A Woman Living As A Man. Throughout all these adventures, seamen are killed by cannon shot, splinters, hurricanes, poisoned darts, for theivery, by additional broadsides, by the kraken, etc. And yet, miraculously, none of the major characters are harmed! None! Lazue, the Woman Who Lives as a Man, is hit by a splinter at one point, but it is forgotten in the narrative by the next page. No sling, no favoring the arm, nothing. Similarly, the captain is dramatically bruised up from scaling a cliff during a storm as part of a raid - and feels stiff for perhaps a page and a half, and is then fine. At one point, the main characters are stung by mosquitos so badly that their faces are distorted for one whole paragraph! And then, apparently, are rendered back to normal by the author forgetting that ever happened. Ugh.
As for the many seamen who were not even lucky enough to get names, nicknames, or character traits - their deaths are unremarkable and uninteresting because they are never introduced until the moment of their falling overboard, being done in by ruthless Spaniards, death by Kraken, etc. They are no more than flour sacks in the narrative.
Also, a big deal is made at the start of the voyage about how the captain is taking no provisions. And yet, the pirates are gone for over a month. How do they eat? How is there still a barrell of salt pork to be pitched overboard? I could go on and on about this and other stupid plot holes, but I feel like I've already given them far more consideration than the author himself did.
It is a silly and stupid book, which would actually have to improve a lot to gain the status of trashy novel frivolity. Thus, it is perhaps like firing on a sinking ship to even go into the significant problem of women in this book. But I am a woman, and a reader, and a lover of pirates - and this book offends me on all three of those levels.
There are four female characters who get face time in the book. One lives as a man, and is my favorite. The other three are all completely defined by their helplessness and promiscuity.
We have the damsel in distress who was taken prisoner by the Spaniards, is rescued, is taken prisoner by natives, is rescued, dabbles in witchcraft, and betrays the pirates by testifying against them at trial. Along the way, she is raped by Spaniards, and tries repeatedly to seduce the captain. While also whining about her diet. And appearance.
The 'animalistic' wife of the Puritan assistant governor is apparently described as 'animalistic' because it is a 16th century code word for 'sexually insatiable.' She has slept with the King, she seduces the captain, gets pregnant, and is raped (at her husband's request) by the garrison commander.
The comely serving girl has sex with the governor, the double crossing frenchy killer, some prison guards, a captain of a merchant ship, an English lord, and probably a bunch of other people, but you don't know because she is actually not in the book that much. She just appears every now and then, fucks whatever character needs to be distracted, and then fades off into the background.
Having another character who is a woman living as a man, who attacks men with her breasts bared and smeared with blood to frighten them, makes out with female whores, and hits on the damsel in distress, is not enough to counterbalance Crichton's awful treatment of women. In fact, her presence is further evidence of the fact that these women are here to titillate men. As I've said, the men are not remotely realized characters either, but the women are seriously little more than orifices.
This book is three hundred pages of lazy writing and cartoonishly simple characters. It feels like it was written more because Crichton was a popular author, and pirates a popular subject, than because the author had any real interest in the subject or desire to write the story. If I could give it a negative number of stars, I would.
This was a pretty funny book, although it is about 15 years old and some of the humor now seems a bit dated. I would have gotten through it more quickThis was a pretty funny book, although it is about 15 years old and some of the humor now seems a bit dated. I would have gotten through it more quickly if it were all cartoons, but there are author interviews and profiles throughout the whole thing.
I often laugh out loud at my own thoughts or things that people say, but rarely when I am reading a book. This book did make me laugh so loudly that I scared the cat, at least three times.
It was strange to read an interview with Alison Bechdel where she says that she'll probably be drawing DTWOF until she keels over. Strange to read now, since the strip has been on indefinite hiatus for at least two years now.
It's also kind of funny to read interviews of lesbians by other lesbians from this time period (mid-90s). There were lots of processing type questions about diversity in the comic strips, and whether a white cartoonist would even be qualified to voice a Latina character. For reals, I don't think anyone ever gave Charles Schulz trouble about Franklin like that. I mean, some newspapers in the South boycotted the strip when he was shown attending school with Peppermint Patty, but no one was like - hey old white dude, you are not qualified to voice this racially diverse character. Goodness.
Also under the lesbians are kind of funny, even when they don't mean to be category - the book is arranged in the most egalitarian way, from A to Z. That's great and all, but I think it would be more cohesive if some of the strips were grouped thematically. Eh.
One of the best things about the book is that it is almost old enough to be an artifact, and reading it now highlights the progress that has been made and the overall changes to the LGBT community that are sometimes so gradual that you don't even notice them at the time. A lot of times, I wonder if we are losing the subculture as the mainstream culture becomes more tolerant and accepting. Which is progress, but also makes me a little sad. As more characters in books and movies are explicitly written as gay or lesbian, it kind of takes the fun out of always looking for secret signals and hidden codes to determine their identity. It's kind of like that with comics. Now that For Better or For Worse has shown Lawrence having a long term partner, what happens to the place on the margins that some of these cartoons used to occupy?
Overall, it was a good fun read. I like lesbians and I like comics, so it's not like this book was a hard sell. ...more
**spoiler alert** This was a fascinating read. I'd never seen the play before, and as someone who would previously have said that I was familiar with**spoiler alert** This was a fascinating read. I'd never seen the play before, and as someone who would previously have said that I was familiar with the Matthew Shephard case, I now feel like - wow, I had no idea.
This play really gets at the heart of a town in the midst of struggle and crisis....more
This book was a pleasure to read and difficult to walk away from.
Reading other people's lists: of things to be happy about, pro/con on whether to breaThis book was a pleasure to read and difficult to walk away from.
Reading other people's lists: of things to be happy about, pro/con on whether to break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, or New Years resolutions and daily living, feels as if you are snooping through the medicine cabinets of strangers. In short, it is awesome. It's like a free pass to glimpse, just a little, into a bunch of other ways of living a life, and what of that gets put down on paper.
I loved the variety of lists that were included, and I loved the commentary they sometimes included. It made me wonder about the way people use lists (16 pros / 12 cons and you don't take a new job? Interesting), and the point at which decisions seem inevitable (5 pros / a full column plus continued on back of cons - you should be walking out the door of this relationship without a list to help you).
The one thing that decreased my enjoyment of the book was the overly cutesy way in which it was presented. I do not need an editor's comment after every single list. Example: "The words of a mother live on after her death." I read the list. I get it. I don't need to be spoon fed. Sasha Cagen clearly suffers from finding herself more clever than she actually is.
Also, the DIY hints for how to make your own list were distracting and somewhat annoying. If I'm reading a book about lists, and feel inspired to make a list of my own, fine. But if I need you to suggest possible lists to me, that's really kind of lame.
But overall, the concept of the book is great, and the lists themselves are fascinating. A fun, and funny, read. ...more
This was a compelling read, and I loved the style and evocative language of the letters that make up the book. I also love the way that all the characThis was a compelling read, and I loved the style and evocative language of the letters that make up the book. I also love the way that all the characters mature over time, as they grow and learn and move towards happiness.
I often wished that Celie would stand up for herself a lot more, but she comes into her own independence in time. Shug is my favorite character by far, and I like that a book with so much brutality and heartbreak concludes with such a happy ending.
The mixture of stories, moving back and forth between Celie and Nettie, America and Africa, deepens the narrative and expands the scope of the novel in a way that works very well to contrast the different lives led by the two sisters.
A great story, a good book, and an excellent read....more