I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell...moreI suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.
But what a rich story it is!
The Secret History is the account of a poor, twenty-year old from California who, in order to escape his bland existence and soul-less family life, transfers to a small college in Vermont called Hampden. At Hampden, he joins up with a group of five stylish, yet "morally neutral" students who study The Classics, and all of their other courses, under the mentor-ship of an intriguing teacher-slash-father figure named Julian.
The Secret History begins with a murder. The mystery is less about "who" than it is about "why". The story starts with the act, then flashes back to the beginning, as the reader tries to piece together why this group of young intellectuals felt the need to end the life of the seemingly benign one of their own.
In The Secret History, the plot takes back-seat to the characters and to style. We don't keep reading because we're so super interested in what happens to everyone at the end (as is usually the case). We keep reading because we've never seen characters written like this.
Each member of the group is multidimensional (though not necessarily "good" in terms of good and evil). They're like The Interestings, without a heart. We're fascinated by their combination of sophistication and lack of ethics as they follow the path to self-destruction. We don't want to BE these people! But we sure are curious to find out what they're doing on a Friday night.
At the end of this book, the author ties up the fate of even the minor characters. In most novels, minor characters are throw-aways, meant only to move the plot along. But even the minor characters here--Judy Poovey, each member of the murdered student's family--are every bit as interesting and in ways darkly comical as the main cast of characters. Think about the behavior of the Mother and Father at the funeral. Aren't they ripe for being brought to life by the right actors on the stage or screen?
There is enough drinking in this book to rival Hemingway at his drunkest. Drinking, drugs, sex, murder. It's all there. The Secret History for me was the epitome of escapism, but written by a genius with inspired descriptions and events. I actually liked this better than The Goldfinch, although similar threads run through both (Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.) To me it was neater and tidier and more efficient. I do believe I could pick this one up and start again today.
My only question remaining is why haven't we seen this on film yet? It begs for a brooding, well-acted adaptation.
The Giver is one of those books that all book-lovers seemed to have read except me. It was never required reading for me. My daughters read it before...moreThe Giver is one of those books that all book-lovers seemed to have read except me. It was never required reading for me. My daughters read it before I did. So it was kind of a treat for me to finally, at 40, read a book that a lot of people had read and talked about for years. It was also a treat that I went into it blindly--having no idea about the premise.
There's a lot of dystopian fiction out there. I remarked to my daughters that so many of these books start out with a young person who, as the story begins, is about to go through one of the most significant days of their lives. Maybe there's a reaping for a competition, and guess what? They get picked. Maybe it's almost the day they get to figure out what faction of society they will now join to live in. Or maybe it's time they get told what they're gonna be when they grow up (at the ripe old age of 12).
In the Giver, our protagonist is chosen for a special field. He gets to be the recipient and keeper of the memories of the way things used to be--way back when there was pain, and snow, and Christmas, and colors. And we as readers are asked to look at a life without choices. Is it better? Is it worse? Well, in some ways, for a while, it may seem to be a little of both.
I was a bit surprised this was considered YA (I can prove it--I found it in the YA section of my library). The big surprise is--it's a bit of a horror story. We come to find out that the inability to choose goes farther than we even realize, and all of a sudden this new future world is bad. Very bad stuff indeed.
I thought this was an interesting little read that I finished off in about 3 hours. To me, it didn't say a GIANT amount about personal freedom or human sensation or emotion. We pretty much know by now that we'd rather choose our destinies. It's a big part of the human experience, for better, or for worse, and hopefully those of us with that choice never, ever take it for granted. I did think it was a very creative way to present the privilege of choice, though, and I'm glad I read it. It really seemed to touch the edge of something big, but then kind of never get there for me. But overall, a good reading experience in a haunting kind of way.(less)
There seems to be a lot of attention given these days to creativity--growing it, harnessing it, making something actually come of it. If shared articl...moreThere seems to be a lot of attention given these days to creativity--growing it, harnessing it, making something actually come of it. If shared articles on Facebook seem to be an indicator of what's relevant to the times (God help us), there have been at least two articles come through my feed in the last couple of days regarding creativity in young people, and things to do to each day to make one's self more creative. It seems that all of a sudden being creative is more desirable than being rich or skinny or popular. Or maybe it always has been that way for a chosen few.
In The Interestings, a group of very interesting kids meet together at summer camp, and a family is made. Not the kind of family you are born into, but the kind of family you choose. The common denominator in the group is that they are all good at doing something artful. One is funny, and somewhat good at acting. One writes plays, one draws cartoons very well. They're the smart kid clique--the ones with the inside jokes--yet their familial and socioeconomic backgrounds are all varied.
The thing about talent is, that if you are lucky enough to be blessed with it--you are still charged with the task of making something of it. Along the way as we age, certain obstacles start to stand in the way of "success"--however subjectively that may be defined. Maybe something really terrible happens to you specifically related to your talent. And suddenly your own creative genius is a source of turmoil to you. Maybe it's as simple as wanting to be a dancer...but as you hit puberty and your body changes--continuing your art and your love just becomes unrealistic for you, and the dreams are packed away with the dance bag and slippers.
The Interestings speaks to art, creativity, talent, and how circumstances shape our future. Sometimes positive circumstances, like financial backing, can speed our dream along. Sometimes negative circumstances squash our dreams pretty quickly, and we are forced to continue on with something we are good at, but not necessarily passionate about, in order to pay the bills and create a life for ourselves.
This book also speaks to relationships, and how there are so many different ways to love someone. It speaks to crushes that fade over time--unlikely matches and love that grows where one might least expect it. In The Interestings, love is a powerful, all-encompassing force that flounces about and then lands at a random choosing. No certain amount of probability or guessing can guarantee where it may stick, or where it may fail to exist even under the most likely of circumstances.
The Interestings is about the randomness and unpredictability of life, and love, and of art, and how it's all fueled by forces much greater than us, no matter how smart or creative we may be. And it's about real people living real lives and the real bonds that exist between them. It's about expectations versus reality. It's very current in it's themes (HIV, child labor, network television), yet the situations feel like they have probably been around as long as two people existed and attempted to intertwine their lives together.
Not alot of exciting stuff happens in The Interestings, so some people might find it to be boring. Mostly this book is about life and living and the human experience. To be able to put it all down on paper the way it is done here, to me, is the essence of art and brilliance. I cannot say enough about the level of talent and insight fulness of this author, and how much I enjoyed reading this book and getting to know these people. Well done, Meg Wolitzer. I am not done with you yet.
"I remember a few weeks before she died, eating a late supper with her in an Italian restaurant down in the Village, and how she grasped my sleeve at...more"I remember a few weeks before she died, eating a late supper with her in an Italian restaurant down in the Village, and how she grasped my sleeve at the sudden, almost painful loveliness of a birthday cake with lit candles being carried in procession from the kitchen, faint circle of light wavering across the dark ceiling and then the cake set down to blaze amidst the family, beatifying an old lady's face, smiles all round, waiters stepping away with their hands behind their backs--just an ordinary birthday dinner you might see anywhere in an inexpensive downtown restaurant, and I'm sure I wouldn't even remember it had she not died so soon after, but I thought about it again and again after her death and indeed I'll probably think about it all my life; that candlelit circle, a tableau vivant of the daily, commonplace happiness that was lost when I lost her."
People get ready. A truly beautiful story.
Things you need to know if you are thinking about reading the Goldfinch.
1. It's long. It's 771 pages of writing. Donna Tartt hasn't published a novel in 11 years, and if someone told me that she spent the last 11 years working solely on this novel, night and day, I would not be surprised. It is that dense.
2. It is never boring. Throughout this book, the plot reels you in. It moves quickly, it is engaging, it stays interesting and compelling throughout. I set out to read this book in 7 days, and I did exactly that. I was never bored. I was never tired of it.
3. This is truly great writing. Donna Tartt was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and attended the University of Mississippi. After reviewing her writing, Willie Morris was influential in having Tartt transfer to Bennington College where she studied alongside Bret Easton Ellis and Jonathan Lethem, among others. She is a truly gifted, touched-by-God writer who can convey a whole scene, a whole era, a whole city, a whole lifetime, in a few descriptive sentences. I have actually never read descriptions like these.
4. This is not Southern fiction. The book is a love letter to New York City and is set in New York, Las Vegas, and Amsterdam. This is not "The Help." If you look at Tartt's picture, she really doesn't even seem Southern. She looks a bit like a grown-up Wednesday Addams, in a truly fantastic way.
5. This book is said to be a *Bildungsroman*, so if you're into coming-of-age stories like Great Expectations and Jane Eyre, buckle your seatbelt, because you are going to truly love this modern-day-version of the same type of story.
6. It's pretty gritty. Not like Wolf-of-Wall Street gritty, but kind of sad and nihilistic pretty much throughout (and beautifully so, I must say). However, it is not without hope so hang in there. (That life--whatever else--is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random.) Probably the most talked about sadness comes from the drug use throughout. As to this I just kept reminding myself how emotionally disturbed and deeply sad our morally-complicated protagonist really was. I felt the drug use was meant to remind us of that.
What else to say without giving anything away? Maybe it's because it's the first book I read this year, or maybe because Donna Tartt is like me, from Mississippi, and a woman, and I really wanted to love this. Or maybe because it's really, really just that good (it is!). But I really loved The Goldfinch. And to everyone who reads it, I will see you out there in the museums, in the gardens, having brunch somewhere in our favorite brunch spots, in the local used bookstores, or wherever you are newly inspired to become one with your things of beauty. And we will nod, and smile, and we will get it.
Only--if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn't it? And isn't the whole point of things--beautiful things--that they connect you to some larger beauty?
I'm not sure why it took me two months or more to get through this one. It reads very quickly. At its close, I ca...moreFinally.
I finally finished this book.
I'm not sure why it took me two months or more to get through this one. It reads very quickly. At its close, I can say that I liked it, and I am committed to the series, but this one really confused the heck out of me. Thankfully my 13 year old daughter was there to explain the ending to me.
This books seemed to wash over me without ever fully sinking in. I think it's because action scenes (written, or filmed on camera even) tend to lose me. I tend to drift off when I should be paying attention to who punched who, who's got the gun now...whether or not somebody's got a knife in their shoe. For whatever reason, I just cannot fully engage.
Also there is a looong list of characters in these books. For example, something dramatic happens with say, Lynn. Everyone in the book stands frozen and amazed. And I'm just like, "Wait, who's Lynn?" It's not you, book, it's me. I promise.
I do plan to read Allegient, and I plan to see the movie adaptation of Divergent. I'm just going to put a little time between me and this series. I will get to Allegient later, after I've had time to read a few synopses online and put these pieces together.(less)
Sweet story about an 8th grade boy named Doug who moves to a small town in New York when a job prospect for his father forces the family to relocate....moreSweet story about an 8th grade boy named Doug who moves to a small town in New York when a job prospect for his father forces the family to relocate. His family life which includes a bullyish older brother, a meek mother, and an abusive, drinking father is less than optimal. However, Doug has a keen eye for seeing past people and their behavior. He possesses the rare ability to look within to try to understand what people need, and to figure out how he can give it to them. Through key characters, the local library, and pictures of birds (stay with me), Doug is able to discover himself and his talents, and find an outlet for his sadness and frustration with his environment, as well as find hope for a brighter destiny.
The author utilizes a unique style that makes for interesting reading. Okay for Now starts slow, but gains momentum. Hang in there and you will be hooked.(less)
I enjoyed every moment of this book about the three daughters of a Shakespeare-expert/professor who grew up in a college town in the Midwest.
The story...moreI enjoyed every moment of this book about the three daughters of a Shakespeare-expert/professor who grew up in a college town in the Midwest.
The story was compelling, and the intertwined lines from Shakespeare's plays gave it a special quality, linking the reader to the family and the Bard.
What held me back from truly loving this was the neat and tidiness of the plot and its easy resolution. Life's not always so easily sorted out, especially once you've made some of the bad decisions some of these ladies have made. Bad decisions bring consequences...no matter how cute or quirky our protagonists may be.
But it was fun. And there's nothing wrong with fun. Would also make a fun movie that would be interesting to cast, and entertaining for a nice "escape" night out.(less)
Awesome first novel by the Chinese-American Bill Cheng, a Gothic odyssey set in the Deep South (the Mississippi Delta) in the 1920's-30's. This is wha...moreAwesome first novel by the Chinese-American Bill Cheng, a Gothic odyssey set in the Deep South (the Mississippi Delta) in the 1920's-30's. This is what I would want to write like if I could write. Bill Cheng, who lives with his wife in Brooklyn, is also a graduate of Baruch College in Manhattan, where my husband went to graduate school. I had many reasons to love this book!
Beware of GoodReads reviews that tell the entire story! The story is presented in a non-linear fashion, and the bulk of the plot we don't find out until the end. Beware of spoilers!
Good stuff, reminiscent of Toni Morrison's Beloved to me. (less)