Michelle Knight's memoir is a paradox. I can not think of any other book I have ever read - ever - that has made me feel so incredibly sad about the w...moreMichelle Knight's memoir is a paradox. I can not think of any other book I have ever read - ever - that has made me feel so incredibly sad about the world. But I also can't think of many people who make me feel more hopeful about humanity than Michelle Knight.
Reading this book made me wish so hard for a Thursday Next-style book jumping device, so that we could intervene early on - during her horrific upbringing, during the time she was sleeping in a garbage can under a bridge, before her young son was removed from her car - before she was kidnapped and imprisoned by a brutal psychopath.
This book broke my heart from the very first line about how, when she went missing, no one seemed to notice. And it broke my heart about five more times before that fateful day that she got into Ariel Castro's truck, trusting him because he was the father of a friend. It hurt even more to keep reading after that, but I felt like anyone who had ever lived in Cleveland owes it to Michelle Knight.
Even more than the gory details of what went on in the Seymour Avenue house, the sense that you take away from this book is ultimately hopeful. The fact that Michelle Knight could go through so much, but still emerge from it with such spirit and courage is absolutely amazing. (less)
This is the first Stephen King book I have ever read. Although I've read a few of his essays on writing, which I've always found to be quite good and...moreThis is the first Stephen King book I have ever read. Although I've read a few of his essays on writing, which I've always found to be quite good and very insightful, I've never picked up one of his books because horror is generally not my thing. (Also, I saw the movie "It" when I was in high school, and have carried a serious fear of deadly clowns lurking in sewers every since.)
Nonetheless, when I heard he had written a mystery/suspense/thriller that was NOT a horror book, I thought I would give it a chance. Sometimes when things are really popular all across the culture, it either means that they are really good (Harry Potter, The Beatles) or really awful (Twilight, Fifty Shades). I had no idea where Stephen King would fall on this spectrum, but in terms of Mr. Mercedes, I come down on the side of fantastic.
One thing that I think stands out in this book is Stephen King's ability to create extremely human, immediately relatable characters to populate the entire novel. Even those who only appear briefly, we wind up feeling significant attachment - and often affection - for them. (Although he also has a Joss Whedonesque affinity for the none are safe style of storytelling.
There were several moments in the course of the book where I gasped out loud at an unexpected turn of events, and one moment - at a critical moment when about a hundred and twenty pages of glorious suspense are about to reach their conclusion - where King managed to make me laugh out loud in spite of my pre-existing readiness for terror. He is an extremely agile novelist, much to my delight.
The villains and heroes in the book are top notch, and the wrap up kept me on the edge of my seat for pages upon pages.
In short, I loved it, and if he does not write more mysteries, I will be (pardon the pun) horrified.(less)
This book is an absolute delight. It is a rare thing when an author's gift for making a reader cry at the sadness in her fictional world is equally ma...moreThis book is an absolute delight. It is a rare thing when an author's gift for making a reader cry at the sadness in her fictional world is equally matched by her ability to make the reader laugh out loud at the absurdity and ridiculous and joyousness of same. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of my new favorites.(less)
Love is so short, forgetting is so long. This collection, Neruda's second published work, was first published in Chile in 1924. This English translati...moreLove is so short, forgetting is so long. This collection, Neruda's second published work, was first published in Chile in 1924. This English translation (by W.S. Merwin no less) came out in 1969, two years before Neruda won the Nobel Prize.
Taken as a whole, these are perhaps the most beautiful love poems ever written. Whereas Shakespeare's sonnets are idealized and courtly and passionate, they--like Sonnets from the Portuguese--come down through the ages as exclusive and exquisite writing from one person to another. Neruda somehow takes that passion and doubles down with it. These poems start with the very physical ("Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,") and then transcend into a universal cry of love to life as it is lived in the world.
Even the Song of Despair is astounding in its capacity for this love. Cemetery of kisses, there is still fire in your tombs, / still the fruited boughs burn, pecked at by birds. It is poetry in its purest form, where each word is meant to be read aloud, to be sounded out by human mouths. Nothing is ordinary in Neruda's world. Everything is a miracle, pregnant with notice, waiting to be articulated. Almost out of the sky, half of the moon / anchors between two mountains. Turning, wandering night, the digger of eyes. Reading any one of these poems, you are overcome with the competing desire to savor every line, and greedily wanting to devour the rest of the collection.
They have a startling simplicity and depth which make me wish I could read them in their original language. In this volume, the original is presented beside the English translation, so you can see (and if you are bilingual, read) both. It also includes drawings by Picasso, which are a perfect compliment to the text. The book is so small, but it contains so much. These are the most gorgeous poems that you could ever slip in your pocket.(less)
When I was in high school, the guy who wanted to be the hip blue jeans wearing teacher assigned this book to our English class. For extra credit on th...moreWhen I was in high school, the guy who wanted to be the hip blue jeans wearing teacher assigned this book to our English class. For extra credit on the final, the question was: Why did the bridge fall. The answer: I don't know. It sounds cheesy, but it was a pretty important lesson about life and literature.(less)
This week is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of "To Kill A Mockingbird," and I feel like even though 50 years is not such a very long time...moreThis week is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of "To Kill A Mockingbird," and I feel like even though 50 years is not such a very long time, people just don't write novels like this anymore. And that is a real shame.
The voice of Scout, as she narrates the summers of her childhood in the 1930s, is pitch perfect. The exploits of Scout and Jem and Dill are exactly the timeless stuff that shapes summer days into made up adventures. This book is the best rendition of childhood that I have ever read.
But although the narrator is, for the most part, journeying between first and third grade, the book is a serious grown up tale of hatred and intolerance in a small Southern town. But while prejudice and violence are the dark currents that move the story forward - the story is populated with so many heroes of every day principle, that you don't leave the book with a feeling of hopelessness or despair. You feel privileged to have spent time with Atticus Finch, and Jem Finch, and Miss Maudie, and Boo Radley.
One of the real strengths of the book is that it does not shy away from the complexity of people's character. Nothing is presented as simple, from adolesence to racism to lonliness - the gamut of human emotion deftly layered and learned as the story moves on.
I cried reading the ending on the bus. Jem was so brave, as was Boo Radley.
When I say that I don't feel like people write books like this anymore, it's because I feel like this is a book that aspires to things. It doesn't shy away from rape, race relations, or poverty. There are good people and flawed people and not a whole lot of difference in between except the choices the characters make. It doesn't preach, it just tells a story, and a really fine one when all is said and done.(less)
Mattie Ross is, without a doubt, one of the best heroines ever to ride through the pages of American fiction. Mattie, and the book True Grit itself, b...moreMattie Ross is, without a doubt, one of the best heroines ever to ride through the pages of American fiction. Mattie, and the book True Grit itself, bring the frontier spirit of America vividly to life. This is the Old West, where a straight-laced, sharp-tongued Presbyterian girl might set out in the middle of winter to avenge the blood of her father Old Testament style. It is a quest almost mythological in scope and resonance which unfolds to create a uniquely American story.
Mattie Ross is a fourteen year old girl from Arkansas who talks circles around grown men, quotes scripture regularly, carries a gun around in an old sugar sack, rides fifty miles a day without complaining and shoots a coward with no hesitation. She never doubts her ability to shape her own destiny, and does not allow the fact that she is fourteen years old, or a girl, slow her down for a second.
Her story, as much as Rooster Cogburn's, is about hewing the life you want out of the rough block of the American West. Rooster's back story as a member of Quantrill's Raiders, a free ranging drover, and a periodic outlaw turned US Marshall is just as much about blazing your own path as Mattie's. The 'true grit' in the title stands for toughness, for fortitude, for raw strength of character and courage. Both Rooster and Mattie (and, okay, La Bouef as well) have it in spades.
Mattie tells us that if her father had a failing, "it was his kindly disposition." She inherits his hat and his pistol, but none of his soft-heartedness. In the way that both novels trace the coming of age adventure journeys of children into adults, I can see where some people compare this book to Huck Finn. But I think of Mattie more in terms of a cowgirl Scarlett O'Hara, riding as hard for vengeance as Scarlett ever did for men or money or security.
The narration of the novel, which was written by a male writer in the 1960s, is pitch perfect all the way through. And the biting and nostalgic tone of a spinster recounting lively times after a quarter of a century has passed is utterly convincing. Mattie's voice is the key to the whole novel. She is well realized, convincing, compelling, and one heck of a good story teller. The reader is pulled so far into the story that you can hear the horses clomping down the trail and feel the snow covering your blankets.
True Grit has it all - murder, adventure, humor, suspense, heroism, and a journey that takes you through the highs and lows of them all. It is a thoroughly American story of regular people doing extraordinary things and inhabiting a landscape that encourages and promotes this particular brand of exceptionalism. This book is an overlooked classic of American literature.
This is the 39th book that I have read for the 100 Book Challenge this year, and also the best.
The blurbs on the back cover alluded to the stories bei...moreThis is the 39th book that I have read for the 100 Book Challenge this year, and also the best.
The blurbs on the back cover alluded to the stories being a bit dark, somewhat edgy, made mention of the way they dwell on the alienation of the current American experience. They sounded, in short, like kind of a downer. It is hard, then, to explain how much pleasure I felt in reading them.
I think that Chaon's real strength as a writer is that he connects with something deeply human in his work. Many of these stories are about the shape of absence, which is a theme that is woven throughout the book. But it is also about the bonds that form between distinctly seperate human beings. It is about the sameness of brothers, the genial estrangements that exist between husbands and wives and parents and children, the way wagon wheel tracks in the Nebraska dirt can represent two people holding hands over divergent paths.
It is also about the active interior lives of characters who appear to be not doing much. An argument could be made that as much action in these stories takes place inside the characters heads as it does without, but you never feel that as a drawback. The book opens with a quote from Raymond Carver, "Whatever this was all about, it was not a vain attempt - journey." And that encapsulates the spirit of this collection - that it is not any particular destination that matters, it is the journey of these characters over the course of their lives, and our ability to walk with them for the moments captured in these pages which makes the work extraordinary.
The characters are so well crafted and believable, you never doubt that they have existed before you encounter them, and that they go on after their particular story is concluded. They never feel cliched, or clunky, or too much the same. Under different circumstances, I might feel underwhelmed by Chaon's tendency to leave big questions unanswered, but the mystery of many of these stories is a large part of their charm. He is a master of the art of leaving the reader wanting more, to know more, to feel more, to have things wrap up in a tidy way in the final paragraph. But he resists this impulse every time. It is like watching one of the great early season episodes of the X-Files, where some questions are answered, but the answers seem to invoke a larger sense of the unknown. His narrators are also wonderfully unreliable. They lie to other characters. They lie to themselves. You get the distinct feeling that they could be misleading you, the omnipotent reader.
Two of my favorite stories in the book were "I Demand to Know Where You're Taking Me," and "Big Me."
In "I Demand to Know Where You're Taking Me," the narrator is forced to take care of a bird belonging to her brother-in-law, who has recently been sent to prison for a series of rapes. The bird is a macaw, a talking parrot, who mimics the words and phrases of a deeply disturbed man. One theme in this story is the extensive fraternal similarity between her husband and his brother. There are times that the reader wonders who exactly the bird is parroting. The bird itself is a terrific counterpoint to the silence that exists between the central couple as the crimes of the brother-in-law begin to take up more and more space in their lives. This story is also a good example of the unanswered question: Was the brother in law guilty? It seems likely, but you don't know for sure.
"Big Me" is a story that is, at first glance, mainly about the power of a child's imagination. It is a recounting, from an adult perspective, the elaborate detective fantasies of his youth. He details the imaginary city his detective alter ego worked in, the darker layer of crime and rascality lurking below the surface of his physical world. It is only as the story develops that you begin to see how this facade of comic book sleuthing has emerged as a escapist coping mechanism that the narrator developed in response to his parents' alcoholism. This is also one of the most thought provoking stories, because the narrator - as an adult - suffers from black outs. Is it because he has a drinking problem as well? Or is there, as is vaguely hinted, a more sinister explanation?
My other favorite story was "Passengers, Remain Calm." This was a more upbeat story about the relationship between a young man and his nephew, about the mundane disasters that strike every day, and the ability to weather them as gracefully and humanely as possible.
Like with any collection, some stories do read as weaker links overall. I was not deeply impressed with Prodigal, Falling Backwards, or the Eillustrated Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom. But the stories that I did like, I feel as though I will be thinking about a long time. They are good enough to change your mental landscape a little, which is an impressive accomplishment to render in the confines of such limited spaces.
Having never read "Eat, Pray, Love," I came to Elizabeth Gilbert's latest novel without any expectations. From its first pages, The Signature of All T...moreHaving never read "Eat, Pray, Love," I came to Elizabeth Gilbert's latest novel without any expectations. From its first pages, The Signature of All Things revealed itself to be exactly the kind of book that I like. It is epic in scope, but intimate in detail. It has a strong female protagonist, with a great supporting cast of characters that all feel palpably real. The historical expanse of the nineteenth century, and of this particular moment in the study of the natural world, is exquisitely rendered.
I would rate this book as comparable to A.S. Byatt's "Possession" and also as the equal of any of Sarah Waters' novels of this time period. I love the metaphor of the moss as it relates to Alma Whittaker -- its adaptability and resilience, and its incredible patience -- the way it does so much while appearing to have not accomplished much at all. But given time, as Alma notes, it eats boulders, and transforms the world.
I seriously had trouble putting this book down - I even went over on my lunch break because I kept wanting to find out what was going to happen next....moreI seriously had trouble putting this book down - I even went over on my lunch break because I kept wanting to find out what was going to happen next. I've been thinking about the ending all week.(less)
**spoiler alert** There was nothing this book didn't have.
It was everything that I have grown to love about this series to the power of ten. An action...more**spoiler alert** There was nothing this book didn't have.
It was everything that I have grown to love about this series to the power of ten. An action packed three day battle across New York. Father and Son teamwork from various gods and demigods. All our favorite heroes, all being heroic together.
The twist of the prophecy. The rewards bestowed at the end.
It was so great.
I cried at the death of Selina, and at Clarisse charging the drakon with no helmet and no armor, just the spear that Selina had dropped.
And I cried again, a little, when Percy cries out for a death shroud for Luke, Son of Hermes. Who saved Olympus after nearly destroying the whole world.
One of my favorite parts about the Percy Jackson series is that heroes are heroes, no matter what. Annabeth can not stand Rachel, and yet she flies a Pegasus up to a plummeting helicopter, jumps into the cockpit, and risks her own life to land it and save her. Like in Sea of Monsters, when Clarisse totally hates Annabeth and Percy, but feels obliged to rescue them when they cross her path.
I also like the theme of choices. The prophecy about Percy's decision seems like it ultimately refers to his decision to hand Luke the bronze knife and stand before him unarmed. But I think Percy makes decisions that save Olympus all the time. When he gives Hope to Hestia. When he befriends Tyson back in book two, even though all the other kids at that school are so mean to him - later Tyson leads the Cyclopses in battle against Typhon. When he takes the sky, so that Artemis can battle Atlas in book three. His final choice, to me, is a culmination of all the good choices he has made over the course of the series.