After listening to my high school students rave about this book for the past few years, a fellow teacher and I decided to check it out. I've read some...moreAfter listening to my high school students rave about this book for the past few years, a fellow teacher and I decided to check it out. I've read some Green's other young adult books and enjoyed them, but this one just didn't live up to the hype for me. I'm obviously twenty years older than the novel's target demographic, but I do see exactly what the book offers adolescents. It's a fantasy exploration of narcissism and adult longing, something that I know I would have eaten up in my teen years. The central characters in the novel are a band misfits far too cool to run with popular crowd at their preppy boarding school; the heart of the crowd is Alaska Young, a sassy cigarette-smoking, wine-guzzling, prank-pulling vixen with a dark and mysterious past. (view spoiler)[She dies halfway through the book, an event that sends the narrator and his friends reeling, as well as much of the school population in spite of how mercilessly the teased Alaska before. (hide spoiler)] The tragedy is the type that all high school students secretly long for to give their lives significance. (I seem to remember a David Sedaris essay exploring this very idea with a hilarious result.) In the end, I felt the story overwrought and melodramatic, as well as the insignificant catharsis of the main character. Green's attempt to incorporate literary references is admirable, but it's just as stilted as the rest of the book.
With exquisitely beautiful prose, this novel should have been a far more rewarding experience. I'm not sure I was expecting the commanding episodic re...moreWith exquisitely beautiful prose, this novel should have been a far more rewarding experience. I'm not sure I was expecting the commanding episodic realism of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, but I certainly was hoping to be drawn in a bit more than I was. Powers employs a postmodern disjointed chronology that toggles between the Iraqi war and the post-tramautic stress years that follow, linking the two by a mystery that is revealed in the penultimate chapter. The revelation isn't enough of a payoff for the toil of the lead up though. With gorgeous figurative language from a disengaged narrator, it is difficult to get a concrete handle on the trappings of this war; as a friend pointed out, it may be that Vietnam War literature felt similarly distant in the years immediately following the conflict because enough time hadn't passed for us to really conceptualize the world being fictionalized, but in today's technological world I wonder why we don't have a better handle on the visual components of this most recent war--and perhaps this is part of Powers's intent in keeping the reader at a literal distance from the context and setting of this novel. Or perhaps that's just my limitation as a reader!(less)
Feed starts out essentially as A Clockwork Orange-lite. It's a great predecessor to that far more mature text about the desensitizing of our society's...moreFeed starts out essentially as A Clockwork Orange-lite. It's a great predecessor to that far more mature text about the desensitizing of our society's youth. The focus here though is on the ways in which our culture is being deconstructed by the corporations as they monitor our consumer habits in order to create the most manipulative advertising campaigns, made all the more effective by a "feed" installed in the brain--ideally at birth--that synthesizes all mental activities with the infinite possibilities of our contemporary Internet. The first half of the book is pretty horrifying in its depiction of this dark dystopia, but the second half devolved a bit into a melodramatic adolescent love scene. It's a quick and engaging read, but parents beware--the language is pretty strong here, especially with its classification a young adult novel, although it certainly has its merit in the thematic context.(less)
I really need to give Chabon's work more attention than I have in his recent years. The last two books I've read of his, this one and The Yiddish Poli...moreI really need to give Chabon's work more attention than I have in his recent years. The last two books I've read of his, this one and The Yiddish Policemen's Union, have been mildly pleasant experiences, but reads I had to push myself to finish. While I don't think either of these books reaches the complex and rewarding elevations of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay or the humorous soul-searching of Wonder Boys, they shouldn't have felt like a chore. Based on friend's feedback for The Yiddish Policemen's Union, I can only image my reading was too cursory, and I think Telegraph Avenue suffered from the same plight.
The book is long and the plot line complex: two record store owners on the Oakland-Berkley line in California struggle with impending entrepreneurial doom and a wildly erratic family life that delves into the blaxploitation films of the 70s, midwifery, illegitimate children, air travel by zeppelin, and even a chance encounter with then Senator Obama as a campaigns for his ascendancy to the Oval Office. With so much going on and the perspective constantly shifting, the book deserves a careful reading; unfortunately I realized this too late in the novel to make effective use of that knowledge!
Still, there was much to enjoy in this book, particularly Chabon's witty figurative language. As a child of the Bay Area, my favorite is probably his line about a character who "never liked the Bay Area...the way it had arranged its hills and vistas like a diva setting up chairs around her to ensure the admiration of visitors" (287). I found myself marking these one-sentence metaphors and similes that they almost eclipsed the storyline. (This admittedly probably contributed to my difficulty engaging with the characters and plot.)
With the ever-growing mountain of books I intend to read, I don't see myself going back to this one to give it the attentive reading it deserves, but I'll certainly keep this in mind with my next Chabon experience.(less)
Zach Wahls is the poster child for the modern family movement; the child of two gay women who raised him and his sister in Iowa, he represents everyth...moreZach Wahls is the poster child for the modern family movement; the child of two gay women who raised him and his sister in Iowa, he represents everything that is right about parenting, and parenting that has very little to do with biological ties. He walks the reader through the pillars of the Boy Scouts of America (quite ironically given their recent anti-equality stance), coupling each element with narrative stories of his upbringing and rational explanations for true acceptance in our country. When he argues that "the refusal to recognize how someone identifies himself is to imply that you are a better judge of who that person is than he is of himself. To suggest that anyone or any family that is not a mirror image of you or your family somehow lacks validity is the height of disrespect and dishonesty" (106), it's hard to argue his logic. One of the most memorable moments is when he strategically argues that studies focused on the benefit of families with one mother and one father are much more about class and wealth than some arbitrary benefit provided by the mere presence of two particular genders.
As the parent of two adopted children, I also found his thoughts on the ways in which modern families are constructed refreshing. He suggests that "biologically, everyone has a 'father,' but 'dad' is a title that is earned and cemented by an emotional, not genetic bond" (191). This is an explanation that I will use to help my children understand their relationship to their parents, and one that I wholeheartedly agree with having been raised by a step-father when my deadbeat biological father willingly left my mother and me when I was infant.
This book is an incredibly swift read, and I recommend it for every parent, regardless of your sexuality or family make-up, as well as for anyone interested in learning more about the gay marriage debate.(less)
I describe Last Night in Twisted River as Irving's "greatest hits" (in a very disappointing way), and I'm not quite sure why In One Person doesn't feel the same way. It's set in Vermont in the mid-twentieth century at all-boys boarding school, there's an absentee father, the protagonist takes a foray into Europe, and wrestling plays a large role. Even still, there is something fresh here, and it's probably due in large part to the exploration of sexuality here. Irving is obviously no stranger to such an exploration, and there's plenty of sexual content here, but with a protagonist who is staunchly bisexual, one who enjoys relations with both men and women, including transsexual men, Irving provides a new perspective on his pseudo-memoir style.
As a gay man myself, I found much of the protagonist's struggle entirely true. From the hindsight of old age, Billy comments that "it's all too common for gay men of [his] generation to say how much easier it is to 'come out' as a teenager"; however, he quickly follows this with the assertion that, "at that age, it's never easy" (117). Even Irving's depiction of Billy's "crushes on the wrong people" (29), including a strapping Stradlater-type, so reminded me of my own struggles that I was amused to see this point of view. (Speaking of Stradlater, there's lots to pair with The Catcher in the Rye here, almost an alternate universe where Holden is allowed the opportunity to explore his attractions to other boys and women's clothing).
The early portions of the novel obviously focus on Billy's maturation in adolescents, a process that is paralleled with his exploration of great literature, spanning from Ibsen to Shakespeare, Bronte to Baldwin. Works like Madame Bovary are featured prominently here, both as a literal part of the story and as major symbolism for the events and characters that propel the story forward. As an English teacher, this furthered my affection for the book. I relished reading these early chapters and was reminded of why I liked Irving's books so much fifteen years ago, just a few years after coming out myself.
The middle portions of the book were interesting from a historic perspective as Billy watches many of his closest friends succumb to the AIDS virus of the 1980s. The voices offered to the early victims of that terrible disease here are poignant and moving.
Later in the novel though, the plot veers a bit off course, especially when Billy takes a rather anti-climatic, and even unnecessary, trip to Europe as an older man. Billy's final place in the world, a sort of return home, establishes a great equilibrium for the story, but the last chapter is sort off-kilter and the ending rather abrupt. At more than 400 pages, this is a fairly weighty text, but the story would have fared better with an Owen Meany-length treatment. Had Irving provided me with a few hundred more pages, I might have been moved to subway-riding tears.(less)
My daughter received this three-in-one book from a friend for her birthday, and we loved reading every chapter, especially since I remember these book...moreMy daughter received this three-in-one book from a friend for her birthday, and we loved reading every chapter, especially since I remember these book vividly from my own childhood thirty years ago! With the exception of the chapter where everyone laughs at Toad's silly swimsuit (which is still amusing), each chapter provides a great lesson to discuss with children. I read a chapter every night to my five-year-old daughter and four-year-old son, and we always ended each reading with a discussion about what we learned from the story. The chapters are the perfect length for this age group to digest and apply to their own lives. Whether contemplating the virtues of patience, the dangers of procrastination, or the simply joy of friendship, we had lots to talk about!(less)
I offered this to my senior level dystopian literature class as an option for end-of-the-year literature circles. Several students jumped at the chanc...moreI offered this to my senior level dystopian literature class as an option for end-of-the-year literature circles. Several students jumped at the chance to read a 90-page book over a three week period, and I was thankful that I only had to read a few pages a night to keep pace with them, having never read it myself. Ayn Rand is a controversial figure in the academic world; we have stacks of her books in the English department book room where I teach, free gifts of the Ayn Rand Institute to any school who agrees to teach her precious philosophies thinly veiled in the guise of fiction. I approached the book with some trepidation, but looked forward to the brevity of my first interactions with the author (as opposed to the 1000+ pages of Atlas Shrugged).
The book opens in a dark tunnel with the main character, a street sweeper named Equality 7-2521, journaling thoughts explicitly forbidden by the ruling class. This dystopian society is one devoid of the first person singular, as evidenced in the opening lines: "It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see. It is base and evil. It is as if we were speaking alone to no ears but our own" (1). Equality is exploring his opposition to "the Great Truth" of this society, "that all men are one and that there is no will save the will of all men together" (4). At the start of this short narrative, Equality details the various stations of life, beginning in the Home of Infants where the young congregate without parents and are transferred at age five to the Home of the Students where they learn and prepare for their future vocation, handed down to boys at age fifteen by the Council of Vocations. And thus, the stage is set for this theorizing on pseudo-communist doctrine and its imminent downfall as Equality pursues knowledge and inquiry, finally determining that "my happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose" (78). He predictably rejects the collective individuality, believing "I owe nothing to my brothers, nor do I gather debts from them. I ask none to live for me, nor do I live for any others. I covet no man's soul, nor is my soul theirs to covet" (79).
I found myself searching desperately for some uber-conservative philosophy, and with effort I can see the issues some people must have with Rand's thematic content. One of Equality's final poetic waxings is that “There is nothing to take a man’s freedom away from him, save other men. To be free, a man must be free of his brothers. That is freedom. That and nothing else” (86). I suppose this philosophy could be used against supporting certain social programs and reinforcing the idea of a meritocracy, but more likely I need to do a little more reading (or perhaps thinking) on the subject before I can speak with authority. In any event, the book was a quick read, yet far too abstract to be truly engaging for me. I might have been keener on it had it been a short story rather than a short novel. (less)
Toni Morrison's most recent and much abbreviated novel is definitely worth a read (as all of her books are), but this one certainly let me wanting mor...moreToni Morrison's most recent and much abbreviated novel is definitely worth a read (as all of her books are), but this one certainly let me wanting more. The story follows an Odyssey of sorts as Korean War veteran Frank Money rushes home to save his ailing sister Cee in rural Georgia. Both are dealing with their own demons growing up in the mid-twentieth century American south, and Morrison's telescopic narrative style--something that reminded me of The Bluest Eye--provided some great insight into these complicated characters. Even still, at only 147 pages, the story and characterization merely whetted my appetite. I wanted more and was disappointed when she didn't give it to me.(less)
This book doesn't sound very appealing in summary: a young and homeless sex offender, referred to only as "the Kid," is befriended by an obese profess...moreThis book doesn't sound very appealing in summary: a young and homeless sex offender, referred to only as "the Kid," is befriended by an obese professor with possible suspicious predilections of his own. However, what unfolds is a story that kept me completely engaged and rooting for the most unlikely of candidates.
Banks poses some important questions, and he excruciatingly refuses to answer them. The Professor (the major players here are unnamed) "believes that one's sexual identity is shaped by one's self-perceived social identity, that pedophilia, rightly understood is about not sex, but power. More precisely, it's about one's personal perception of one's power" (159). He attempts to socialize the Kid is predicated on the theory that "society commodifies its children by making them into a consumer group, dehumanizing them by converting them into a crucial, locked-in segment of the economy, and then proceeds to eroticize its products in order to sell them, [causing] the children [to] gradually come to be perceived by the rest of the community and by the children themselves as sexual objects. And on the ladder of power, where power is construed sexually instead of economically, the children end up at the bottom rung" (161). That may all sound like a mouthful, but within the narrative, it's easily digested; the theory is often paired with plot-driven elements like the intriguing history of the Kid's upbringing, a background that seems to have inevitably led him to his current plight as an ostracized pariah where his punishment far outweighs his crime.
While I flew through the book, upon reflection parts of it proved uneven. The theories about the culpability of our own society in cultivating sexual deviants is derailed somewhat by the fairly innocuous crime the Kid is revealed to have committed, and the fate of a key character lies in the realm of implausibility merely because, as one character puts it, "If you don't believe anything is true simply because you can't logically prove what's true, you won't do anything. You won't be anything" (398).
From a literary perspective, there is a lot to absorb here. There are a few dream-like sequences, including one that compares the Kid to the doomed indigenous people of Florida, where the novel is set, and there is some significant symbolism in the animals with which the Kid surrounds himself and the weather that drives various characters to and from the brink of disaster.
I enjoyed reading this book, but I think what I'll enjoy most about it is discussing it with others who have read it.(less)
This was definitely not one of my favorite books. I had such high expectations based on the tremendous praise for the book in various media outlets, s...moreThis was definitely not one of my favorite books. I had such high expectations based on the tremendous praise for the book in various media outlets, so perhaps this set up some unreasonable hopes for the book. I also must admit that I personally can never imagine being comfortable with commune living, so that discomfort somewhat compromised my reading experience.
The first portion of the book focuses on young Bit, barely old enough to be a conscious narrator (although the book is narrated in a third person perspective, it is limited to Bit's point of view). The cast of characters is expansive and discerning one from another is a daunting task, especially given the lack of quotations in dialogue and the short episodic structure of the first part of the book. Moving from part one where the commune of Arcadia is established into part two where its existence is undermined by newcomers and its own longevity, the plot and characters became a bit more intriguing. I found the third portion of the novel the most engaging; it follows Bit's life as a young adult and new father in his post-commune life. In this section the effects of being reared on a commune create some interesting thematic depth for the novel, depth that is either missing, obscured, or contrived in the other sections. In the final portion of the novel, however, Groff creates a near-future dystopian world that reeks of heavy-handedness and includes such trite gems of wisdom as "too many people, too little land, the oceans polluted, animals dying. It makes me think we don't deserve to be saved" (241).
Maybe I didn't give the book a fair shot, or maybe the media set me up for a fall, but in the end, I simply did not enjoy reading this book.(less)
This quiet meditation focuses on Robert Grainer, an orphan of the newly expanded western United States in the late nineteenth century. His life is a s...moreThis quiet meditation focuses on Robert Grainer, an orphan of the newly expanded western United States in the late nineteenth century. His life is a series of tragedies that propel him further towards the western coast, building up the nation's northwestern railroads. It's a fine portrait of what this life must have been like for thousands of men who served as components of expansionism, but my attention certainly wavered often in Johnson's muted narration of this solitary life. The tale of Grainer's short marriage and stint as a father were the most compelling portions of the short novel and salvaged the overall experience for me.(less)
The first half of the book strikes a more realistic tone as Chris reels from his recent firing from a small liberal arts college because he wouldn't play the role of the token African American professor. The college president tells him, "We have a large literature faculty, they can handle the majority of literature. You were retained to purvey the minority perspective" (13), and this tone of social expectations for acceptable assimilationist behavior reinforces Chris's position that the roots of racism are found in the "whitest of pages" in the American cannon--the works of such men as Poe, Melville, and Hemingway (27). After his departure from his position at the college, he discovers an important artifact that suggests Poe's novel may in fact be a work of nonfiction--and one that might explain the significance of racial strife in the modern era. He then uses his sizable severance package to pursue his theories.
Once his crew of seven black Americans arrives in Antarctica though and the white behemoths make their presence known, the book departs for the realm of magical realism. Through the struggles with these white slave masters for the new millennium, Chris articulates the ways in which skin color--and this is treated as something entirely different than race--is the real source of societal strife. Even when the book heads off in the direction of an even more preposterous plot device than the white Sasquatches of the arctic, the books is entirely readable and enjoyable--at times even humorously macabre. The racial subject matter is thinly veiled within these ludicrous plot points (again, one that mirrors the absurdity of Poe's own novel), yet this is what makes the tense subject matter so palatable.
This is a great read and a weighty one in spite of its readability!(less)
I've been a big fan of James Baldwin's work since graduate school when I read Giovanni's Room and encountered some of his essays. Since then I've read...moreI've been a big fan of James Baldwin's work since graduate school when I read Giovanni's Room and encountered some of his essays. Since then I've read and began teaching some of his short stories, but it wasn't until recently that I was able to pick up another of his novels. I read this one for a short course on African American Identity where it was coupled with Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon and Mat Johnson's Pym. As with most coursework, I liked it all the more once I had a chance to discuss it with a professorial leader and other high school English teachers!
The narrative is sort of brilliant given that it was first published in the early 1950s: the entirety of the contemporary plot takes place one night as the teenage protagonist John crosses over to salvation during a storefront revival meeting run by his stepfather, a man John believes is his biological father. Much of the story however takes us back through time in a telescopic style of flashback where earlier truths are unmade and unseemly actions are justified. (The style actually reminds me a lot of Morrison's The Bluest Eye.) At times, I found myself having a hard time following the overlapping storylines and the ways in which these characters were all related, but once I had a substantial amount of the text behind me, it all came into sharper focus.
The novel is apparently fairly autobiographical, as Baldwin himself was a teenage member of his parents storefront church, and he struggled with his own homosexuality just as John does in the text. The real focus here though is the ways in which these African American men and women struggle with their own salvation--both religiously and socially--and how this grappling with the soul manifests in maintaining the cycles of oppression of the dominant white world.
The book isn't necessary an easy read, but it is one that provides some terrific perspective on the major works that followed it.(less)
This is another standard installment in the Wimpy Kid series. I laughed out loud a few times, rolled my eyes a few times, and plodded through it for t...moreThis is another standard installment in the Wimpy Kid series. I laughed out loud a few times, rolled my eyes a few times, and plodded through it for the sake of my son.(less)
This was a childhood favorite of mine (I went through a phase where I was CRAZY about penguins), so I decided to revisit it and read it to my daughter...moreThis was a childhood favorite of mine (I went through a phase where I was CRAZY about penguins), so I decided to revisit it and read it to my daughter. It's definitely still a cute enough read, but now with an adult and parental perspective, I see that it's more than a little dated.
The opening details Mr. Popper's "a dreamer" (2) who earns his living as a painter, taking orders from the local "housewives" (3). His counterbalanced by Mrs. Popper, whose constant worry is that she doesn't "want any mess around to clean up" in the house (14). These sexist gender roles are reinforced by the plethora of men working in vocational professions and law enforcement. When Mr. Popper is delivered a pair of penguins over the course of the opening chapters of the book and they quickly breed, Mrs. Popper's main concern is that "they really did not make much difference to her housework" (81).
Aside from the dated sexist elements, the storyline is rather amusing: the Poppers train the penguins to perform a sort of vaudevillian routine that gets booked in the best theaters in the country, transporting the Poppers out of pauperdom forever.
An amusing read for a child, but one that requires bigger conversations about the stereotypes it reinforces. (less)
Midway through Julian Barnes's short PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel The Sense of an Ending, the narrator muses, "It strikes me that this may be one...moreMidway through Julian Barnes's short PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel The Sense of an Ending, the narrator muses, "It strikes me that this may be one of the differences between youth and age: when we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves; when we are old, we invent different pasts for others" (88). This is the crux of this moving and well-crafted book as an old man named Tony is inadvertently confronted with the memory of his former self when an adolescent affair resurfaces and awakens memories of a friend's suicide. While in his youth, Tony believed that "history is the lies of the victors" (18), it is only through living his own personal history and contemplating the nature of reality in memory that he discovers "it's more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated" (62). Over the course of a brief 163 pages, history and memory intertwine both beautifully and horribly through the flawed perspective of a passively ambiguous protagonist that forces readers to confront their own understandings of self and their personal pasts.(less)
The book weighs in at over 500 pages, which is probably another reason I liken it to my own experiences with Irving, whose most popular books sometimes span nearly 700 pages. The setting is Westish College, a mediocre Midwestern college that is transformed with the arrival of baseball shortstop wunderkind Henry Skrimshander. The focus though isn't necessarily on unassuming Henry's journey to the big leagues, as Harbach slowly introduces us to a cast of captivating characters, each with flaws and quirks that could alienate the reader under a less skilled author's hand. One of my favorites is Owen, Henry's "gay mulatto roommate" (18) who is a brilliant aesthete constantly delivering some of the novel's most memorable dialogue, lines like "Whitman appeals to the newly gay. He's like a gateway drug" (169) that appeal to the readers' literary acumen.
Tapping into that scholarly knowledge is one of the elements that makes the book so appealing. Harbach plays the references to Herman Melville's Moby-Dick on the surface: the college's mascot is the Harpooner and a statue of Melville himself presides over the school's quad. This is coupled with character names like Starblind, plot elements like team captain Mike Schwartz's monomaniacal pursuit of a national championship, and descriptive elements like college President Guert Affenlight's perusal of a "big white whale of a house" as he looks for a place to settle down with his prodigal daughter (370). Some might find these pieces a bit contrived, but I found them smart without being overbearing.
Beyond the terrific plot and characters, Harbach finds a terrific depth of meaning in the ways in which our relationships are formed and are sustained throughout our lives. His characters realize that "people thought becoming an adult meant that all your acts had consequences [while] in fact it was just the opposite" (399) and that "the Human Condition [is], basically, that we're alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not" (257). These truths are peppered throughout the characters' undergraduate struggles to become adults--even the struggles of sixty-year-old Affenlight--and the realizations never feel forced or heavy-handed.
One of the final sentiments I found so poignant is beautifully wrapped up with the culminating moments in the book. I cried heartily when one character quips, "You told me once that a soul isn't something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love" (503). My tears were both for the beauty in the sentiment and because I had to say goodbye to these characters.(less)
Not much to say about this fourth installment in the Wimpy Kid series. Greg is still rather conceited and close-minded, and his parents are clearly th...moreNot much to say about this fourth installment in the Wimpy Kid series. Greg is still rather conceited and close-minded, and his parents are clearly the cause. It's all very amusing of course, and I definitely found myself occasionally laughing amidst the eye rolling. My son enjoys the illustrations and the various characters though, so I'm sure we'll continue reading the series!(less)
After a pretty great experience with The Book Thief, I was hesitant to pick up another Zusak book, but now I'm certainly glad I did. In I Am the Messe...moreAfter a pretty great experience with The Book Thief, I was hesitant to pick up another Zusak book, but now I'm certainly glad I did. In I Am the Messenger, he uses the same sparsely lyrical prose that marks The Book Thief, but this time with a first person narrative focusing on a nineteen-year-old ne'er-do-well named Ed Kennedy who suddenly becomes the messenger for a anonymous benefactor attempting to improve people's sad lives in a downtrodden Australian suburb. Ed becomes a local hero after inadvertently thwarting a bumbling bank robber and soon thereafter begins receiving mysterious playing cards in the mail with cryptic clues that lead him to strangers who are desperate need of his unwitting help. What could come off as preposterous actually achieves depth and sincerity under Zusak's control, and apart from some slightly religiously preachy elements in the middle, the overall effect is quite engaging and meaningful. While this book, like The Book Thief, is marketed as a book for young adults, there are many adult themes and subjects here that require a mature reader. Zusak has affirmed my fandom, and I'm sure this will not be the last of his books that I read!(less)
If you're going to read the original version of Peter Pan, this is the one to read. The editors have done a great job incorporating original artwork f...moreIf you're going to read the original version of Peter Pan, this is the one to read. The editors have done a great job incorporating original artwork from a variety of sources throughout the text, and this edition includes two auxiliary pieces: "Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens" and "The Peter Pan Alphabet." The former is an early prototype of the title character (elements of the more famous later story featuring Peter and Wendy are here like thimble kisses and such), but it's a rather disjointed collection of chapters about the fairies that come out at night when the gates are closed at the gardens. The stories failed to hold my daughter's attention, and I ended up reading the final few chapters on my own. The alphabet however is a great addition; each letter includes an illustration and a rhyme based on something from "Peter and Wendy," like H is for Hook and C is for Crocodile.
The heavy hitter here though is "Peter and Wendy," the story that inspired the Disney animated film, the Jule Styen musical, and countless other films. While my daughter definitely enjoyed this portion of the book, mostly because she is familiar with the several famous interpretations that are out there and consequently knew the plotline pretty well prior to listening to be reading it aloud, the text itself certainly shows its 100+ years of age. The portions dealing with the Indians are particularly offensive, and I found myself replacing "redskins" with "Indians" or "natives" regularly when reading aloud. (In one ironic moment of female empowerment, Tiger Lily thinks that "her private opinion was that the redskins should not call her a squaw.")
As with many of these staples of British children's fiction, the elements of plot are a bit chaotic and the language a bit dense, but in the end, I'm glad that we read this, and when my daughter is a bit older, perhaps we'll be able to have a more sophisticated discussion about the elements at play here in creating a monolithic character and plot.(less)
I have to admit to being a bit of a closet nerd. I know that makes me sound just a little bit like a regular nerd, but hear me out. A part of me wishe...moreI have to admit to being a bit of a closet nerd. I know that makes me sound just a little bit like a regular nerd, but hear me out. A part of me wishes to have been welcomed with open arms into some hardcore Dungeons & Dragons group where I could roll those multifaceted dice to my heart's content as my low level wizard became an all-powerful sorcerer. Alas, I spent my high school years singing and dancing in community theater instead, only occasionally picking up a Nintendo joystick to battle Gannon and save Princess Zelda. With that little secret still alive and kicking inside me, I devoured Ernest Cline's novel with relish.
The novel opens in the 40s--the 2040s that is. America has lost its ability to sustain the insatiable appetites of its population and the urban centers have become the only habitable landscape as the rest of the country has fallen into lawlessness. Life is barely worth living, especially for Wade, a teenage orphan living outside of Oklahoma City near the top of a towering stack of trailers (such "stacks" have surfaced on the outskirts of all major cities and serve as the new projects). He is like most people of the world: the only enjoyment comes from plugging into a virtual world called the OASIS. Here Wade becomes Parzival. Imagine the virtual world of The Matrix combined with virtual fantasy world of Second Life and you'll be close to the virtual reality of the OASIS. In the OASIS though, avatar's travel the galaxy, adventuring around planets devoted to specific themes that run the gambit from Dungeons & Dragons to military warfare to John Hughes' flicks. In the OASIS, Wade attends school, lives out various adventures (although on a limited basis due to his real and virtual poverty), and searches for Halliday's Egg.
Halliday is the creator of the OASIS; born in the mid-1970s, he has a penchant for all things 80s. He developed the OASIS after growing up on the Atari 2600 and conquering each subsequent gaming system that replaced it. Upon his death a few years before the novel's opening, he released a video announcing that he had hidden three keys and three gates within his virtual world that lead to his "Easter Egg." Whoever finds the egg would inherit his insanely wealthy estate. Early on, Wade inadvertently becomes the first to discover the first key, and his avatar immediately becomes a worldwide celebrity as his name becomes the first to appear on Halliday's score board in the years since his death. Adventure begins as the nerds struggle to dominate the corporate bullies to reach Halliday's egg.
If this all sounds hokey, it is, but the beauty of Cline's novel is that it doesn't feel this way when you're reading it. He never delves too deeply into the miscellaneous D&D-style simulations even though the majority of the book takes place within the OASIS. With Halliday's love affair with the 1980s at the heart of the search for his egg, the book is as much a love letter to the pop culture of that decade as it is role playing fantasy excitement. (An intricate knowledge of such gems as Family Ties and Ladyhawke is helpful to truly enjoy the book, but not necessary.)
If you steer clear of this book because of its sci-fi/fantasy genre, you'll be doing yourself a big disservice. It's an utterly entertaining read from start to finish!(less)
After a recent disappointing experience reading Shteyngart's first novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook, I only read Super Sad True Love Story becau...moreAfter a recent disappointing experience reading Shteyngart's first novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook, I only read Super Sad True Love Story because several friends had said they loved it even in spite of disliking the other. I did have to initially overcome the confusion of narrators that are far too similar between the two novels--and narrators that are far too similar to the persona of Shteyngart himself as I experienced at a reading a few months ago--but once I let go of that frustration, I ended up enjoying my experience with this book.
I won't say I loved reading it, only because Shteyngart's vision of the near future is incredibly scary in that it plays upon elements of our society that are already here: a sexually-desensitized youth culture, socialization ruled by technology, indecipherable boundaries between corporations and government, among other frightening elements. (Although the accuracy with which he paints this dystopian reality gives me hope that educated people do in fact see where we're headed, I wonder how those less politically-minded view these ideas.)
The politics here are all humorously represented for the most part, which certainly makes them much more palatable. Most people wear small "apparati," which constantly stream news, gossip, announcements, and scores about other the owners of other nearby apparati, including credit scores, net worth, personality, and even "fuckability" (89), with scores being ranked based on who is within the immediate vicinity. Along the same lines, New York City is lined with Credit Poles which announce one's credit scores to the world.
Much of the sexual humor is crass--major retail stores include AssLuxury and JuicyPussy--but the cavalier manner in which these elements are conveyed is precisely where the commentary lies. The pendulum of American sexuality in this world has swung as far away from Puritan repression as possible. A minor character, Hartford Brown, streams "a political commentary show intermixed with his own hardcore gay sex," providing coverage of "the Governor of the People's Bank of China-Worldwide" on a visit to America's all-powerful Secretary of Defense Rubenstein while engaging in various sex acts "on top of...a yacht near the Dutch Antilles" (155). One of the main characters compares a love interest to "the old man who molests teens on the beach" in "those porns [they] used to watch when [they] were in kindergarten" (226). These nonchalant references to explicit sexual acts that occasionally pop up throughout the narrative are clear indications of a sexually numb society.
And this quotidian approach to sex is precisely why the true love story of the novel is so super sad. Lenny and Eunice, the authors of the narrative's two epistolary strands, are in many ways totally reprehensible. And yet their love affair thrives, albeit unhealthily, amidst all the dysfunction and dehumanization of their society. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, we should all be so lucky, for as with all great dystopian fiction, the true commentary here is that love can thrive under such similar circumstances in our own world.(less)
I first encountered Henry James a few months ago when reading Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw in preparation for teaching them to my high schoo...moreI first encountered Henry James a few months ago when reading Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw in preparation for teaching them to my high school sophomores. I loved both, and when a friend mentioned that Colm Toibin had written a novel featuring James as its protagonist, I knew I had to read it. What little I've read about James biographical information is fascinating: his early introduction to the expatriate life, his contradictory American-European identity, his struggles with his sexuality. Through his quietly brilliant narrative, Toibin explores the possible lifestyle of this "master" of a novelist.
While elements of the book are reminiscent of Michael Cunningham's own masterpiece The Hours, the structure of The Master is actually less intricate than Cunningham's postmodern fragmentation of Virginia Woolf's life and the women she inspires throughout the last century. That's not to say that The Master is any less complicated in its structure, focusing on James's later years living in the quiet British town of Rye beyond the reaches of metropolitan London while peppering the story with flashbacks throughout to ruminate on the protagonist's inspiration and characterization. The style itself contributes to the complexities of the text, Toibin admitting himself in the acknowledgements that close the book that he has "peppered the text with phrases and sentences from the writing of Henry James and his family."
And that style is what whispers its way into your heart. While there isn't much to propel the plot forward here other than a careful character development, the silent suffering that is evidenced in the subtle narratives depicting imagined elements of James's life. This comes out most poignantly in a scene after the suicide of a friend and fellow writer Constance Fenimore Woolson. Toibin imagines James disposing of Woolson's clothing in a particular spot in the Venetian Lagoon where she would escape the city. James and a fellow mourner watch as at first each dress sinks, only to float "to the surface again like black balloons, evidence of the strange sea burial they had just enacted, their arms and bellies bloated with water." The scenario is a result of Woolson's grieving family leaving James with the responsibility of disposing of her worldly possessions, something he must do virtually alone. This solitary existence and the way in which he is forced to face his loss with the return of the clothing to the surface of the water becomes a metaphor for James's very life. His companions are fleeting, many speaking with a raised brow about his bachelorhood, utilizing innuendo and euphemism to make him feel all the less comfortable with himself. This reflected in the few potential relationships he encounters in the narrative, one unspoken evening of physical passion with a Civil War hero in America and another prolonged yet unconsummated relationship with the sculptor Hendrik Andersen.
Toibin himself is openly gay, so it makes sense that he would focus on this historic figure and imagine the ways in which his struggles would influence his work. The end result is certainly touching and sad, but well worth the read.(less)
Just as my recent forays into Henry James, this is precisely how I like my canonical texts that focus on the repression of emotion boiling over from t...moreJust as my recent forays into Henry James, this is precisely how I like my canonical texts that focus on the repression of emotion boiling over from the Victorian Era: short and sweet. Wharton's short novel effectively captures the paralysis of a life half lived, and the foolish tendencies of us all to make things worse by following the allure of passion rather than dealing with the realities of our lives.(less)
There's not much to say about this third installment in the Wimpy Kid series that I haven't already said in my reviews of the first two. There are amu...moreThere's not much to say about this third installment in the Wimpy Kid series that I haven't already said in my reviews of the first two. There are amusing elements here, but Greg is still a bit of a jerk. The irony of his being wimpy coupled with his narcissism and egotism is a mini-version of the stereotypical American male. He's like a junior version of the dad on Modern Family without any real heart. Since this is children's book and helping kids shape their understanding of the world and what it's like to grow up, I'd love to see a bit more empathy in his character, but maybe he grows into that by the last book. My son is enjoying them though, so I must carry on...(less)
I'm a big fan of Tom Perrotta's writing style. His books have this authenticity about the way we interact with one another, and the effects of that in...moreI'm a big fan of Tom Perrotta's writing style. His books have this authenticity about the way we interact with one another, and the effects of that interaction on our self-awareness, but there's always a drop of fantasy in his characterizations and plots. This most recent book explores a world three years after the Rapture, or at least what appeared to be the Rapture. Our increasingly secular society settles on calling it the "Sudden Departure" because the conventional wisdom regarding who would disappear during this Biblical event of salvation and destruction seems to be flawed: the disappearances seem to have had no religious motivation whatsoever. One particularly devout character who is left behind in fact makes it his life mission to expose the lack of virtue in the lives of those who have disappeared in order to prove to be people the event was not the Rapture at all.
In a smart choice, Perrotta reveals the elements of the event piecemeal as we see the world three years later, after we've tried to return normalcy, a feat too difficult for a few characters who leave everything behind to join a variety of cults, but one that is proving manageable for the main character Kevin Garvey, a self-made man who rode a post-Sudden Departure confusion to win an election as his Ohio town's new mayor. After his wife joins the Guilty Remnant, an eerie cult who dress in white, take a vow of silence, and smoke cigarettes relentlessly, and his son becomes a disciple of the Holy Wayners, another cult blindly following the teachings of a man whose son vanished during the Sudden Departure, Kevin is left with his high school daughter to pick up the pieces.
The book never delves into the maudlin or overtly religious; in fact I read much of as a sort of allegory for our post-9/11 world. How do we return to normalcy after experiencing widespread and indiscriminate devastation on a societal level? How do we remember those that are gone and look forward to a future with optimism when our collective pasts are so dark? What makes this book so readable though is that some of these characters are succeeding in finding that balance, and doing so without melodrama or pity.
I really enjoyed the book, but I do with there was a bit more unity in the plot and characters. Kevin's family goes their separate ways fairly early and there is little that brings the loose ends together by the end. Perhaps though that is the commentary that Perrotta is making though about the ways in which these events dislodge our personal ties and connections.(less)
This is another cute installment in the "wimpy kid" series. It's nothing special, but it's certainly entertaining for the younger set with its pseudo-...moreThis is another cute installment in the "wimpy kid" series. It's nothing special, but it's certainly entertaining for the younger set with its pseudo-graphic novel style and slapstick antics. As with the first one, there are moments that are hilarious, but these are coupled with stereotypical gender politics for young boys as Greg (the titular "wimpy kid") tries to navigate the pure hell that is middle school and early adolescence. The subtitle of this volume is "Rodrick Rules," referring Greg's older brother. Rodrick is a slacker who puts off doing his homework until the last minute even though he's likely to fail without it; luckily his parents have been doing all of his work for him since he got to high school. I'm not sure how Rodrick comes out "ruling" in this edition, except that maybe he bullies his brother and parents like crazy. When my son is older, there will be lots to talk about in this book!(less)
This swift read it completely infectious. Amidst the backdrop of a pre-Christmas snowstorm, Manny DeLeon is managing a skeleton crew of various charac...moreThis swift read it completely infectious. Amidst the backdrop of a pre-Christmas snowstorm, Manny DeLeon is managing a skeleton crew of various characters at a New England Red Lobster the night before corporate headquarters is shutting the restaurant's location for good. Cast with all the archetypes readers typically encounter at a chain restaurant like Red Lobster, O'Nan creates touchingly lifelike characters that sweetly entertain while inspiring an honest empathy for them. There is a tepid romance on the verge of chilling further, a slew of disgruntled employees, and an awful lot of annoying customers. At its center, Manny is a likable man with realistic flaws and pragmatic concerns. Last Night at the Red Lobster is a quick read that leaves the reader feeling rewarded and satiated. At a mere 160 pages, it's the perfect fit between heavier tomes!(less)
There's not much redeeming about Greg Heffley, the adolescent narrator of this fictional diary. Some of his pseudo-machismo is endearing, like the ope...moreThere's not much redeeming about Greg Heffley, the adolescent narrator of this fictional diary. Some of his pseudo-machismo is endearing, like the opening lines: "First of all, let me get something straight: This is a JOURNAL, not a diary" (1); however most of his antics tend toward the abuse of his best friend Rowley or his toddler younger brother Manny. While occasionally he learns his lesson and changes his ways, most of the time Greg accidentally bumbles into the moral course of action, but it's totally wasted because he doesn't understand why what happened was the right thing. The book too is full of stereotypes: for example Greg says that one Christmas he asked for a dollhouse, he remembers his father "said there was no way he was getting [him] a dollhouse...and told [him] to start [his] wish list over and pick some toys that were more 'appropriate' for boys" (117). Even still, the narrator's confusion about what he wants to do and what he thinks he's expected to do is rather realistic. My three-year-old son enjoyed the slapstick elements here and he's excited to read the other volumes with me; we'll see if Greg actually grows at all over the course of the subsequent four sequels to this first volume. (less)