Actually, the book that really set me straight was Denis Johnson's The Stars At Noon. Johnson is one of those names I've always carried with me, and s...moreActually, the book that really set me straight was Denis Johnson's The Stars At Noon. Johnson is one of those names I've always carried with me, and so one evening when my boyfriend and I were having dinner, and I got an itch to scour the Halfprice Bookstore shelves, when I saw this one title on the shelf, what with its appealing cover and description, and an alluring randomly-read paragraph from the middle of the book, I decided to take it home with me.
Best decision I could have made. I started reading, and wow. Now, I tried Johnson once before with Already Dead and was less than enchanted. Granted, Johnson's subject matter is really not for the faint of heart, but dear God. The thrill of the perspective he offers, a basic survival story in a completely foreign territory but without losing over to lengthy description and standoffishness in regards to his characters in this foreign place, was freaking rock solid. Not only that, but I made one of the coolest discoveries I have ever made while reading - I found the lyrics from the first verse to a song from my favorite Sonic Youth album, Daydream Nation. The song is called "The Sprawl", and it was actually one of the first Sonic Youth songs I ever heard, and that convinced me to check them out (well, that and the irresistable Madonna cover 'Into the Groove(y). Some of the sentences in the verse were very distinctive, others not so much. But they stuck out like sore thumbs of the best sort to me while I scoured the first fifty pages. Turns out it was lifted from the book, and that just makes me like Sonic Youth even more.
Aside from that, this story of human degradation and what lengths people will turn to when they have no other choices is completely engrossing. Enter love story? And you have a complete winner. If I met that book in a dark alley, it would totally kick my ass. I really wanted to include an excerpt in here, and even though certain passages really rocked my socks off, I had a hard time pulling it from the context of the book. It is just all so good.
In short, this book gave me a pulse again. It inspired me to actually be fair with the stack of to-reads I've been holding at bay, and for the sake of actually accomplishing them, I am not even going to list them here. It seems I jinx myself whenever I declare lists or to-do's, as if by nature of acknowledging that they are in my future I am also dismissing them at the same time. Boo! No more!(less)
I just finished this book by Carlos Ruiz Zafon today while sitting at my desk at work. It was recommended by a friend, and I picked it up immediately...moreI just finished this book by Carlos Ruiz Zafon today while sitting at my desk at work. It was recommended by a friend, and I picked it up immediately after reading the last novel I read, and was again astounded, but in a different fashion. Here is something similar to Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics, I think, in that it tells a story with a youth as a narrator and winds up in thick mystery that is improbable a touch but charming nonetheless. However, this story is perhaps a little darker (Gothic, mind you) and I think Zafon has a touch more insight into how to really captivate his reader enough to care about his descriptions.
In this story, a young boy, Daniel, who lost his mother and has lived with his father, a bookseller, his whole life, is initiated into an order an individuals who care for and tend to old and lost literature. Daniel chooses a single book and vows to protect it for the rest of his life, an act which draws him into the lives of the author, all he affected, and the strong current at work surrounding these people. At turns the plot was predictable, but it did not lessen the pleasure of reading what you knew came next. There were oh-so-many parallels, and definitely plenty of dots you could still connect after a second read.
Zafon is working on another piece of fiction right now, a prequel to this novel that is tentatively due for release next Spring. I think I will probably pick it up when it does come out, but maybe not in hardback.(less)
This is the second book I have recently read about American women in Central America - a prostitute in Nicaragua (The Stars at Noon) in 1984; and real...moreThis is the second book I have recently read about American women in Central America - a prostitute in Nicaragua (The Stars at Noon) in 1984; and really, a solid example of an American prototype in the 1970s in A Book of Common Prayer set in Boca Grande, which is described to be somewhere in Central America - but seems to possibly be fictional? I don't know, every time I try to look it up, all I find is somewhere in Florida. I find it somewhat strange that I have managed to pick up two seemingly random books that have such similar settings, and in ways, similar characters. In The Stars at Noon you have a character who not only accepts the harsh realities she has come across in this world, she embraces them. In A Book of Common Prayer, you have a woman who subsides on being completely ignorant, a pawn in everyone else's world, who floats about on her own detached sea. Some of the reviews on the book discuss how it paints such a vivid picture of the times, and I wonder if they just mean in war.
The interesting thing I find is that in both stories, the only way either of them addresses the way in which the war affects them is by how it mangles their own lives. Politics, too. The politics made personal, or, I don't know. I begin to wonder if they are meant to be examples, and if so, examples of what: if they are examples of American ignorance, if they are examples of what war really means to everyone. Because only some far-fetched hero would really be able to tell you what happened, other than the sketches pulled by hearsay out of otherwise thin air, and what happened beyond the tip of their own nose.
Similarly, I can relay what the experience was to me. I also read this book, almost entirely at work, except for the last fifty pages that I read on a bench on the back porch warding of mosquitoes in the heat and drinking a Heineken light. While I was reading this book during the day, during what normally should be working hours, during a time when I should be doing something to make this world a better place somehow I was reading these pages as if I was holding my breath until finished, the way I also read the only other Didion book I've ever read. I finished it in two days. The book chilled me to the bone, until I was out of the canned AC and on the back porch, where I could more accurately weight the potency of such a creation (or something more like, I could fool myself into believing that by the heat and the sun and vitamin D that the world still has a heart). I believe her other book did the same to me as well. Didion relies on dialogue to develop her characters, most of the men in her stories are sons-of-bitches, and the women aren't really all that better. I can't tell if Didion is just being honest or cynical or mean or what, but I don't know that this story was really told from a particular intention, either.
All I know is this compelled me to write this long-winded something you couldn't even quite call a review, for whatever that is worth. I don't know how to review books anyhow, I only know how to respond to them.(less)
Proulx is a master at what she does, it is no wonder to me that she won the Pulitzer for this novel. Every single sentence is crafted so full of detai...moreProulx is a master at what she does, it is no wonder to me that she won the Pulitzer for this novel. Every single sentence is crafted so full of detail, so perfectly arranged - I believed every second of what she wrote, even the far-fetched beginning (after all, these things do actually happen to some people). I would have thought she lived every moment of what she wrote, it was told so well. I will definitely be trying to read everything else she has written. (less)
I alternately hated and liked "The World According to Garp", which is the first John Irving book I have ever finished. Irving knows how to tell a tigh...moreI alternately hated and liked "The World According to Garp", which is the first John Irving book I have ever finished. Irving knows how to tell a tight story and works his details down fairly neatly for those who are supposedly living messy, complicated lives. However, I feel too often as though the point is missed, and while many interesting characters are introduced the story is purely about the writer, T.S. Garp, who happens to be in their midst.
In a fashion, this novel parallels the first (and best) work of the writer, a short story written while he was still young, that is themed around death. This story launches his career and his propulsion into adult life, which this book chronicles. It is a family story, begun with his controversial mother and ending with his children that reads somewhat as the posthumous celebration of his life.
The only problem I think I have with the characters is how readily they seem to accept infidelity, breaches of trust and other such disasters that cause monstrous problems for families and any variety of relationship more often than not. Several facets of the story become so neatly tied together when all is said and done that it's tee-totters on the edge of something believable and alternately that "boy, isn't life funny" mentality. It also tends to be widely self-referential - throughout Garp's career, he makes the remark more than once that he can't stand how writer's will capitalize from their lives and careers to share details about their lives, or alternately that a writer will narrow themselves so much as to include only real incidents from their own lives. For such blatant criticism of memoir, one has to wonder what kind of story is actually resting in their hands.
The good moments, when they were good, were also fairly corny. Some of the reviews printed on my copy were fairly confusing as well - "To be full of Garp to be full of life!" says the Minneapolis Tribune, back in the seventies when my edition (complete with full Robin Williams movie-insert photo montage) was printed.
It is an inviting read that does not require much challenge, and I have to hand Irving his knack for telling a story. I will definitely read something else of his at some point, as I would like to see what he can do with some different themes and situations. (less)
Would have liked to rate it higher, but the story itself doesn't seem to warrant it. His writing is really beautiful, I'm really looking forward to pi...moreWould have liked to rate it higher, but the story itself doesn't seem to warrant it. His writing is really beautiful, I'm really looking forward to picking up some of his others. (less)