I Do Not Come to You by Chance is fascinating from the stand point of the setting. As a novice on Nigerian culture & history, I found Nwaubani's lI Do Not Come to You by Chance is fascinating from the stand point of the setting. As a novice on Nigerian culture & history, I found Nwaubani's loving and honest depiction fascinating. Kingsley's struggle as the opara of his family, who is therefore obligated to provide for his younger siblings and ailing mother, but who doesn't have the "long-leg" to get a job using his degree is both manifestly Nigerian and understandable to anyone who has loved academia. Nwaubani takes care to paint the "419 scams" as both necessary and repulsive, successfully depicting a morally ambiguous area.
However, the book falls flat of the mark when it comes to pacing. The plot, such as it is, goes little further than the back of the book and somehow stretches across 400 pages. Character development is fleeting (the only development I noticed was when Kingsley finally realized that he had been either doing what his father said or what Cash Daddy said his whole life, which he realized almost word-for-word as I have typed and then did not reflect on that or change his behavior at all.) The setting alone was not enough to hold my interest; a huge part of the appeal of the book for me was hoping to see change & when I realized none was forthcoming, I finished the last 100 pages at a run mostly to get it finished. ...more
I was concerned about two possible outcomes when I first read the cover flap to How to Buy a Love of Reading: the first that the book would be overwroI was concerned about two possible outcomes when I first read the cover flap to How to Buy a Love of Reading: the first that the book would be overwrought with literary devices, self-referential and self-deferential -- obsessed with its own cleverness, the second that as a "young adult" book, the writing would be so simplistic, so easy to read, that it would not be worth my time.
Gibson walks a narrow line without ever venturing into either extreme in this novel, which is filled with a rich and moving narrative, well-depicted and sympathetic characters and metafictional devices, theme, tone and point-of-view. It is not only the sort of book that one can read many times to find out what it is "really about" (and certainly, because it is the sort of book that makes one hark back to their own exposure to the concept of literature as more than narrative, I was tempted midway through to sit down and write a 5 paragraph essay about the Dark Journey and Coming of Age imagery.) but also the sort of book wherein "stuff happens" and the reader cares about what will happen.
The writing is elegant, readable, funny and terribly, terribly sad. It is easy to identify with parts of each of the (many) characters, while despising others. Ultimately, it is a book about narrative, as each of the main characters has a different struggle with living their own narrative -- Hunter who lives his life according to his own internal narration, Carley, who rewrites her life in Aftermemory, Bree who is so self-conscious and defensive that she invents literary devices in her life and Justin, who does not live at all, rather inventing the story of his life to be printed in the papers. ...more
I'm usually very deliberate about my book rankings. I think about what I like and what I didn't like and assign and deduct points to come up with a fiI'm usually very deliberate about my book rankings. I think about what I like and what I didn't like and assign and deduct points to come up with a final opinion. The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet is NOT that kind of book. T.S. Spivet gets five stars for the room-feeling of the book. Yes, it deserves them for introducing concepts such as room-feelings, for its unique approach, and for its gutsy nature. Yes, it deserves high recognition for depicting the portrait of the scientist as a young man - the coming of age of one young scientist from a obsessive prodigy who values science above all else into a nuanced adult who seeks to be a part of the world as well as depict it. It is amazing to me that I have never even heard of another book focusing on the development of a scientific mindset within a character in a way that is nuanced and treats science respectfully, rather than a foil for robotic rationalism or an idol for intelligence. Larsen uses every single trope of a conventional coming of age story, which adds to the power.
12 is such a perfect age for a child protagonist. Larsen depicts the emergent adulthood of a 12 year old almost perfectly (there are a few stumbles). Like a true tween, T.S. at times acts like an adult and at others acts like a toddler, with very few in between moments. It's rare to capture the true granular nature of coming of age, where childhood falls away chunk-by-chunk and memes of adult life settle in, rather than as a linear progression.
But despite all of that, the best thing about T.S. Spivet is simply a ton of fun. We're having a bad week at work. Everyone is cranky. Usually, the worse of a mood I'm in, the less I read (and the more I use pure escapism that doesn't require reflection) But even after long, cranky calls, all I wanted to do was read about T.S. I laughed out loud at points on his reflection on adulthood, science and cross-country travel. I flipped through to find my favorite illustrations. I smiled when he name-checked Paul Ekman (a Duchenne smile, of course.) Pure enjoyment.
There are a lot of criticisms that one could level at T.S. Spivet: it is a pretentious novel, built on a schtick. In fact, built on a ton of schticks. It's like someone got a deal on schticks: there's the child protagonist, who is a prodigy, and may also have an autistic spectrum disorder, the maps/illustrations, secret societies, a book-within-a-book, just to name in a few. Luckily, I am a sucker for pretentious novels built on schticks, so it is going to go right next to Special Topics in Calamity Physics on my shelf.
More bitingly, there are several narrative threads in T.S. Spivet that never satisfyingly come together on the level of the plot: the Emma thread, the Mother as a Writer and Mother but Not as a Scientist thread, the Wormhole thread and to be honest, the Layton is Dead thread. They are all tied up from a thematic level, but I would have liked more literal closure....more
The adjective that comes to mind when I think of this is cozy. It reminded me of my own childhood, filled with fingerprinting kits, lust for chemistry sets and Sherlock Holmes books.
Flavia is a spunky heroine, who is posed between the confidence that children have as a consequence of not yet knowing enough to feel insecure and the equally inaccurate easy dismissal of children by adults. This tension is expertly woven by Bradley, especially in the ideas of reference that Flavia has - her serious concerns that the adults around her consider her the prime suspect in the central murder (an idea both laughable to an adult, and familiar to anyone who was ever a preteen.)
Yes, at times, the mystery is a bit weak and predictable, but a well written child protaganist in a book for adults is much more unusual than a good mystery. ...more
I'm still not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, it is a beautifully written, moving (if depressing) and thorough account of three geneI'm still not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, it is a beautifully written, moving (if depressing) and thorough account of three generations surviving in the face of death, infidelity and alienation. On the other hand, after 300 pages, a reader gets bored of every female character getting pregnant, running away from home and/or marrying an emotionally distance if not frankly abusive husband and regretting her life. It ends up feeling flat at best and at worst, a little misogynistic that even the smartest female characters get entangled in such things.
On a practical level, the intertwined narratives of many generations playing through the same script are very hard to keep straight, and I ended up needing a diagram to remember if Frank was Nell's husband or Alice's and how exactly Edmund was related to Bunty and who exactly Betty was, again? I get the parallels Atkinson is trying to draw, but they work better when she gives the characters enough individuality that the reader can keep them straight.
The true redeeming aspect of the novel is Ruby -- the protagonist. Her thoughts are vivid, full of metaphor and symbolism and yet relatable. The book truly shines in Ruby's nightmares -- inchoate end of the world fantasies, in which the familiar twists with a certainty of catastrophe -- and the way in which they mature with Ruby. These nightmares reflect the heart of Atkinson's narrative -- the way in which the families are both familiar and yet ill-meaning, self-involved and chaotic, which she does equally skillfully....more
There are books about revolutions that are really novels, and not a manifesto. This is not one of them. More propaganda than literature, furnished witThere are books about revolutions that are really novels, and not a manifesto. This is not one of them. More propaganda than literature, furnished with schticks rather than narrative this is a clunky sophomore novel. The redeeming feature is the intricacy of character in Rex and Gordon. However, all of the other characters, even the ostensible main characters are not featured enough to be much more than spokespeople for the various political causes Chute uses them for....more
Well that was quite odd. The basic premise of the book was well-done: a psychiatrist's descent into psychosis. Here Dr. Galchen's medical background rWell that was quite odd. The basic premise of the book was well-done: a psychiatrist's descent into psychosis. Here Dr. Galchen's medical background really shines from the accuracy with which she portrays her protagonist's failed reality checking and lack of insight, to the subtle historic clues that suggest a schizophreniform personality (excessive paranoia, overvalued ideas), Galchen parades nearly every possible positive psychotic symptom. Leo experiences thought insertion, overvalued ideas, pressure speech with train of thought patterns, hallucinosis, and delusions of every flavor. It's all done organically, realistically and from a first person perspective. While unique and originally fun as a concept, once Leo finishes his descent into psychosis, the plot doesn't really go anywhere, and I found the last 25% or so of the book dragged.
What really struck me though, almost immediately, was the inclusion of Tzvi Gal-Chen as a character. "How odd, Gal-Chen, that sounds familiar," I thought, then remembered that the book was by Rivka Galchen. I then checked the acknowledgements, yup, she includes Tzvi in there. A quick google search revealed that Tzvi Gal-Chen is Rivka's (deceased) father (But no information about the surname spelling discrepancy). The pictures of him in the book, citations of his research and figures from his papers are all real, as is the description of him and his computer programmer wife living in Oklahoma with their two kids (Google has no opinion as to whether Rivka and her brother were indeed spoiled, bad at soccer, and good at math). In an interview, Rivka mentioned that readers rarely notice but for her the inclusion of her father is the largest part of the book. Well, I noticed and for me, it loomed large, as you can tell by the amount of googling it provoked. It's just such a strange decision: why include one's dead father in an otherwise non-autobiographical novel, as the hallucination of the psychotic protagonist? To make the reader feel like they're going crazy and overvaluing ideas? To invoke a Freudian feel wherein the reader sits around asking "but what does she mean by her dead father?" It's so very weird and it completely broke my ability to otherwise concentrate on the novel at all.
What I did appreciate even more knowing that Rivka grew up with a meteorologist for a father was her obvious love of language. It was clear that she had been rolling around words and turns of phrase in her head for a long time, taking them in and out of context, so when she got the chance to explore every possible meaning of every phrase, she really made the technical language sing. ...more