I don't think there's any way to avoid a sophomore slump after a truly fantastic debut like Ready Player One. And actually as I read Armada, the wordI don't think there's any way to avoid a sophomore slump after a truly fantastic debut like Ready Player One. And actually as I read Armada, the word "sophomoric" constantly floated through my mind. The story is a teenager gamer's dream of ecstasy: high school senior Zack Lightman is the target of many a bully in his small suburban town, but that all changes when he's enlisted in the Earth Defense Alliance to counter an impending alien invasion based on his online video gaming prowess. There are many of predictable plot lines here, and Cline gives little winks to the video games and sci-fi films on which the stereotypes are based, but the references never achieve that clever level of sophistication present throughout Ready Player One. If you loved Ready Player One in spite of being a visitor to the world of online gaming like me, I'd honestly skip this one....more
This book is definitely a lot of work, but it's worth it. It requires a slower, contemplative pace, one that mirrors the introspection of the narrativThis book is definitely a lot of work, but it's worth it. It requires a slower, contemplative pace, one that mirrors the introspection of the narrative voice. Julius is a Nigerian-American psychiatrist living in New York and literally wandering the city aimlessly in search of himself. His musings while walking the city streets range from flashbacks to his childhood in Africa, biographical anecdotes of classical musicians like Mahler, and little-known historical facts about the Big Apple. Nothing really happens, but in the end I felt satisfied at having had the opportunity to sit inside this man's head for a few hundred pages. The novel provides some great insights on race, culture, and identity, as well as an excellent walker's tour of NYC....more
A neighbor gave this book to my kids for Christmas, and I was so excited to sit down with my oldest to read it with her. I remember thinking this wasA neighbor gave this book to my kids for Christmas, and I was so excited to sit down with my oldest to read it with her. I remember thinking this was one of the best books I'd ever read as a kid, and I was an only child who couldn't really identify much with the older sibling mentality. My daughter simply couldn't stop making comparisons between Peter's plight with her own; every time the fourth-grade narrator complained about an incident with his younger brother Fudge, my daughter found a parallel experience between her and her younger brother. While the parental roles are a bit dated (the mom is an over-indulgent woman nearly always in the kitchen while the dad is a high-powered advertising executive who doesn't know how to cook and freaks out when left alone with his two sons), the story overall is still appealing after all these years to the mid-elementary age set....more
I was excited to read this latest book from Herman Koch after loving the complex narrative that unfolded in The Dinner. Summer House with Swimming PooI was excited to read this latest book from Herman Koch after loving the complex narrative that unfolded in The Dinner. Summer House with Swimming Pool includes Koch's dark perspective on life, this time told through the perspective of the depraved narcissist Marc Schlosser, doctor to the Dutch artistic elite. Marc has mastered the art of feigned empathy and he soothes his patients' egos with a handful of unnecessary prescriptions. When famed actor Ralph Meier invites his family to the titular locale, he coerces his wife and two pre-adolescent daughters into going along. Ralph, a family man himself with a wife and two sons, clearly has his own problems with rage and misogyny, as does an aging Hollywood producer Stanley who is visiting with his barely legal girlfriend Emmanuelle. What transpires at the summer house is a hedonistic Bacchnalia of sorts that pushes Marc to make some unthinkable decisions.
Overall, the book is an engrossing read, but Marc's character is so unsavory (as are most of the cast here) that at times I asked whether the brutal depiction of human deviance and immorality was worth the experience. I wondered whether this is Koch's attempt to reveal the parallel god complexes that exist within the medical field and pop culture or if this is just him working out his own cathartic process as a doctor turned writer in real life. In the end, I didn't hate the reading, but I also didn't totally enjoy it either....more
I honestly could not wait for this book to end. Had it not been the last in a series of four books (and based on the way this one ends, it might not bI honestly could not wait for this book to end. Had it not been the last in a series of four books (and based on the way this one ends, it might not be the last), I probably would have ditched it after the first few chapters.
The Life As We Knew It series begins with an asteroid hitting the moon, pushing the natural satellite closer to Earth, which in turn wreaks havoc on the Earth's tides, somehow creating new volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and generally insane weather patterns. (It's all a bit like that ostentatious film The Day After Tomorrow.) The science--as flawed as it may be--kept me focused through the first book. I thought what was happening to the planet was interesting, even though it was being drearily narrated by a hardly believable adolescent girl. The second book took us to a concurrent third person perspective with a family in New York City, a shift in setting from the first book's rural Pennsylvania. I liked this the best of the series, especially when Pfeffer returned to the horrid diary format for her third book when the characters from the first two books come together.
The trouble with this fourth book is that Pfeffer attempts to turn it into a full-blown dystopian society, but she's no Margaret Atwood and fails in the process. This fourth novel opens three years after the close of the third, and Jon, who aged 12-14 in the previous books is now 17, living in an "enclave," a gated community on what was once a college campus where only the most elite of society are allowed in and provided a quality of life in many ways better than their pre-asteroid existences. The residents are called "clavers" and their entire way of life is supported by the masses outside the gates, called "grubs." Jon, his step-mom, and his half-brother gain access to the enclave through a free pass obtained by other characters in the second book, but the rest of his family now live as grubs.
This all sounds like appropriate dystopian fare of the young adult variety, but Pfeffer constantly hits readers over the head with a big club that reads, "This is a metaphor for class and race!" The clavers treat grubs like eighteenth century American slaves, and there are even laws preventing mixing of the classes through marriage. Initially, the dichotomy between the two seems one of mutual existence; the grubs needs to work to afford food, but then things quickly take a turn to an outright master-slave allegory, a transition that left me a little befuddled since the two portions of the book didn't seem to totally match up. When Jon's step-mother Lisa repeatedly threatens to take away her domestic's food allowance because she didn't clean the floors well enough, it simply doesn't ring true with the woman she was before and it certainly becomes far too flimsy when Lisa makes a tremendous sacrifice for these very same grubs near the end of the novel. Likewise, Jon's character is certainly peripheral in the first and third novels, but he is nowhere near the monster he's become as this book opens, nor does his transition back to goodness halfway through the book make sense given his earlier choices.
This book would probably entertain an adolescent who has devoured the series up until now, but for readers with discerning eyes, it might leave you feeling empty and hollow, yearning for the moment you'll turn that final page and it will all be over....more
Thank goodness Susan Beth Pfeffer drops the stilted diary narration for this second installment in her Life As We Knew It series. The third person limThank goodness Susan Beth Pfeffer drops the stilted diary narration for this second installment in her Life As We Knew It series. The third person limited perspective is far more suitable for her slightly far-fetched post-apocalypse scenario in which an asteroid pushes the moon closer to Earth. (I've done some Google research, and most of the scientific community is certain that an asteroid with the power to do that would obliterate the moon before it pushed it out of orbit.)
In this sequel, Pfeffer focuses on Alex, the seventeen-year-old son of Puerto Rican immigrants living in New York. The cynic in me sees flaws in her characterization of course. This book is clearly written by an older white lady, one who has focused in on a model minority Latino family of devout Catholics. The four children are exemplary first-generation Americans with nary a sign of a negative stereotype. The older brother Carlos is an enlisted young man on the West Coast, Alex is vying for valedictorian as he rides a scholarship at a private and prestigious Catholic school, Alex's younger sister Bri is on the fast track to becoming a nun, and his youngest sister Julie is precocious but harmless. For some reason, this urban Puerto Rican family had little knowledge of the impending asteroid impact, although the white middle class family in Pennsylvania in Life As We Knew It knew all about the celestial event (although no one knew about the disaster to come).
Beyond some of those issues, the novel itself is an interesting meditation--albeit a fairly tame one--on how widespread disaster might affect an urban center like New York. Although I took great issue with some of the literary aspects of Life As We Knew It, I had the same feeling about the story itself. Both are fast-paced reads, and this one is definitely slightly more adult. In the first novel, everyone, including the family cat, survives the ordeal, but here, some of the major player don't make it out alive. I'm hopeful that Pfeffer is aging the storyline with her audience as she moves through what is currently a series of four books. These are still quite young adult, as neither volume ever reaches the macabre depravity of more adult apocalyptic fare like Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Just as with the first novel, there's optimism here about how innocence may be preserved in the face of tremendous destruction of societal structure, even the local pseudo-mafioso has a heart of gold and takes special care of Alex, admiring his pluck.
I'll continue with the series I think, and I admire the ways in which this might introduce younger readers to one of my favorite genres. As an adult who enjoys some of the more hardcore stuff out there though, I'll continue to be a bit snobby about works like this....more
Four years into teaching a course on dystopian literature, I finally got around to reading this, arguably one of the first young adult works in the geFour years into teaching a course on dystopian literature, I finally got around to reading this, arguably one of the first young adult works in the genre. (Granted, I was pushed to pick it up now by the impending release of the big budget film adaptation.) Knowing that it is read widely at the middle school level, I stupidly questioned its literary weight. My bias was proven incorrect as I sped through this easy-to-read but hard-to-grapple-with story.
With it's story of a boy coming of age in a society of sameness, the novel pits comfortable living against the freedom of choice; it's definitely something that all adolescents should read, and then something that adults should revisit. I understand that some malign the ending, but I love that Lowry's cliffhanger ending leaves it completely open to interpretation. I sort of want to avoid reading the sequels for a while to revel in my idea of what befalls the protagonist and his precious cargo....more
I loved just about every minute of this book. Framed by a fancy dinner out at a trendy urban Dutch restaurant, the story focuses on the protagonist'sI loved just about every minute of this book. Framed by a fancy dinner out at a trendy urban Dutch restaurant, the story focuses on the protagonist's interactions with his wife, brother, and sister-in-law. Through the main character's inner-monologue and various flashbacks, we come to understand the true nature of the relationships at play during dinner, and nothing is at all what it seems. I had no idea the places this novel would go, so I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't yet read it, but aspects of it are both hilarious and unsettling, and the Koch calls into question how strong the bonds of family really are, especially in the face of our sense of civil duty and responsibility....more
Early on, the narrator of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour tells us that "everything was always something, but something--and here was the rub--could neEarly on, the narrator of To Rise Again at a Decent Hour tells us that "everything was always something, but something--and here was the rub--could never be everything" (5), and this sets the tone for the type of existential philosophizing that takes place throughout the book. Paul O'Rourke is a dentist who is desperate for a sense of belonging and community, the type that he never received from his broken family structure and something that he sees as possible only in the religious faiths of those around him. The problem is that his epic pragmatism dictates that he believe in nothing as an atheist. He tries to find solace in doomed affairs with women and their families, cultural Judaism, and an obsession with the Red Sox, but he discovers each leaves him feeling just as empty as before, a discovery that is often foisted upon him by others.
As he makes his way through the early twenty-first century, the social connectivity of the Internet only makes matters worse. At one point, he tells another character that "streaming all the clips of [other people living their lives], commenting on how lucky they are to be doing all those things, liking and digging and bookmarking and posting and tweeting all those things, and feeling more disconnected than ever? Where does this idea of greater connection come from? I've never in my life felt more disconnected. It's like how the rich get richer. The connected get more connected while the disconnected get more disconnected. No thanks, man, I can't do it. The world was a sufficient trial...before Facebook" (32). So when a website and various social networking accounts start popping up online in name proselytizing something that looks suspiciously Biblical, he is sent on a wild goose chase to discover who has stolen his identity and why this new version of himself is questioning the integrity of his unquestioning atheism.
Over the past few years, Ferris has become one of my favorite contemporary authors, and while this book doesn't quite soar to the heights of his first novel Then We Came To The End and neither does it create the page-turning suspense of his second book The Unnamed, he does create some terrific commentary through sardonically engaging characters and utilizing the all the tools of fiction at his disposal to compose a thoughtful and cohesive piece. The story is set in New York, a city the narrator describes as having "almost nothing else to offer" but "eating and drinking," which prompts him to contemplate "what it was like in lesser cities, or the suburbs, or the small rural towns where so many people are clerks or farmers" and to conclude that this is why the "country has become a nation of fat alcoholics and the nurses and therapists who tend to them" (38). Morbidly honest commentary like this sprinkles Ferris's work and keeps me thinking and reading and hungry for more....more
I still have yet to read or see The Silver Linings Playbook, but a friend had done both and was excited to read this newest title by Matthew Quick. ThI still have yet to read or see The Silver Linings Playbook, but a friend had done both and was excited to read this newest title by Matthew Quick. The Good Luck of Right Now is a fine read, but I wasn't totally engrossed like I wanted to be. The novel is told through a series of letters to Richard Gere, written by a middle-aged man who clearly resides somewhere along the functional side of the mental disorder spectrum, and the plot loosely follows his experiences following the death of his mother who has clearly served as a codependent in his disease for all of his nearly forty years. There are a few interesting side plots here about the narrator's biological father, a domestic abuse scandal, and a self-defrocked bipolar priest, but when some of the plots come together in the final portions of the story, it wasn't rewarding enough. It's not that I wouldn't recommend this book, just lower your expectations before you pick it up and read it quickly....more
Mohsin Hamid is making a name for himself writing in the second person. I totally enjoyed the perspective in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and here heMohsin Hamid is making a name for himself writing in the second person. I totally enjoyed the perspective in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and here he uses the style in a totally different way, depicting the story of a young Asian man's rise from poverty to wealth in the form of a self-help book. The man ("you") makes conscious choices to supposedly improve his life, choices that are augmented by fate and chance. His counterpart is a woman with whom he feels intimately entwined, a woman who makes her own dubious choices to escape her circumstances. As they each progress toward fame or affluence, the story exposes the corruption in "Rising Asia" that ironically forces individuals to compromise their morality in order to better themselves.
While I wasn't quite as entranced by the storyline as I was with The Reluctant Fundamentalist, this latest novel has plenty in it to keep a reader interested and turning pages....more
For some reason the National Book Award winners have left me feeling somewhat flat the past few years. I read them with an anxious anticipation that IFor some reason the National Book Award winners have left me feeling somewhat flat the past few years. I read them with an anxious anticipation that I will embark on some voracious reading journey, only to be deflated by cold characters in overly complicated life scenarios. The experience of reading The Good Lord Bird was no different for me. The concept sounded exciting: historical fiction focusing on a young adolescent black boy unwittingly teamed up with uber-abolitionist John Brown. I tend to steer clear of reviews prior to reading books, so I wasn't prepared for the cheekiness of the portrayal of the historical figures, at least as seen through the young first person narrator's perspective. John Brown is a crazed zealot ignoring all reason and rationale as he plunges into a war that it seems like only he is fighting, while Frederick Douglass is a lecherous polygamist. The cast of characters--both real and imagines--is dizzying, and I found myself consistently confused by who was which and what was why. Still, upon further reflection after finishing the novel, I found myself smiling over McBride's attempt to take an often short paragraph in the history books and turn it in something more real, although that effort is thwarted by the foreign culture and context of a barely developing American landscape just a few years before the Civil War. Thus, my initial two stars was bumped up to three....more
I found the nearly 500 pages of this book a little daunting, but Ness does a great job creating suspenseful scenes and plot twists that propel the reaI found the nearly 500 pages of this book a little daunting, but Ness does a great job creating suspenseful scenes and plot twists that propel the reader forward at a swift pace. He captures the voice of this thirteen-year-old boy as he journeys through an unknown world, and the staccato sentence structure that punctuates the excitement throughout helped endear me toward the story, although at times it was a little trite as geared toward the intended young adult audience.
The story of young Todd Hewitt living on a planet where mind-reading is essentially possible in the form of hearing others' "noise." There is no hiding in this world where even animals expose their every thought, and still Ness keeps some questions explicitly unanswered until late in the novel. Still, when the big reveal takes place, I wanted something a little more substantial. Perhaps I need to read the two sequels to be totally satisfied on that front.
The book is essentially a gateway piece to bridge the gap between lighter and younger fare where all's well that ends well and more gruesome stories like The Hunger Games. I enjoyed most of the reading in spite of its deficiencies, and at some point I may pick up the sequels to see how the cliffhanger ending....more
I finally did it! It took me nearly two months, but I conquered this nearly-800 page book! Woo-hoo!
Much of this book was enthralling and enjoyable. ThI finally did it! It took me nearly two months, but I conquered this nearly-800 page book! Woo-hoo!
Much of this book was enthralling and enjoyable. Theo Decker's misfortune is monumental, as his mother is killed in a New York City terrorist bombing and the barely adolescent boy make a series of shell shocked decisions in the aftermath that set his life on a difficult path as he strives to cover up his theft of a major piece of art, The Goldfinch.
Theo's story is captivating in the adolescent years, as his fears about the theft serve as symbolism for the internal dialogues all adolescents endure as their lives and bodies change forever. Of course Theo's life is pushed to the extremes, forced to live with a father who walked out on him years earlier and who has no desire to be a parent, and Theo quickly attempts to take over of his own life, only to see it spin wildly out of control again and again.
I found the final portions a bit more difficult to get through. Theo and an old friend engage in some pretty far fetched shenanigans in the underworld of European art thieves, but given the preceding 500 pages, Tartt had to wrap it all up somehow.
While on the surface much of this book sounds like it should be trite and contrived, it simply works. The titular Burgess boys are Jim and Bob, escapeWhile on the surface much of this book sounds like it should be trite and contrived, it simply works. The titular Burgess boys are Jim and Bob, escapees from Maine living the high life as lawyers in New York; the former in insanely wealth, helping the rich stay rich, and the latter is a Legal Aid attorney, helping the poor and downtrodden. Initially, they seem to have left behind Bob's twin sister Susan and the shadows of guilt over their father's death when they were all children, but when Susan's son Zach makes an incredibly stupid decision, one that disrupts the delicate balance between hearty Mainers and the newly relocated Somali refugees, the boys are pulled back home and the reality of their ties to their hometown and each other are revealed to be both strong and strained.
Strout explores various narrative perspectives, seemingly inconsistently, yet each contributes to the central themes of her novel. Her characters are flawed and imperfect, and she simultaneously makes them endearing and horrifying. The book read incredibly quickly, and I admit loving every minute of it....more
This novel is often endearing, and at times a little vapid. Protagonist Don Tillman is "on the spectrum," as socially awkward as he is purportedly briThis novel is often endearing, and at times a little vapid. Protagonist Don Tillman is "on the spectrum," as socially awkward as he is purportedly brilliant, and his romance with Rosie Jarman shows a humanizing side to his emotionless disposition. Following an adult version of the adolescent characters in wonderful books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close isn't quite as charming, but the storyline is ripe for a Hollywood adaptation as the next big rom-com. (In the author's note at the end of the text, Graeme Simsion actually writes about how the idea started out a screenplay.) A quick read, good for beach reading or lounging about during a vacation, I'm not unhappy that I spent time with it....more
There is a lot to like in this short meditation on a young man's brief hiatus from war. Centered on a Thanksgiving Day NFL game where protagonist BillThere is a lot to like in this short meditation on a young man's brief hiatus from war. Centered on a Thanksgiving Day NFL game where protagonist Billy and his fellow soldiers are paraded out by the government to whip up some politically appetizing patriotism, the novel provides a full picture of Billy by splicing in recent flashbacks to his visit home after an embedded Fox News crew chronicles Billy's company successfully taking down some insurgent retaliation. Rather than focus on the tribulations of war, as Kevin Powers does in The Yellow Birds, Fountain takes on what happens at home, by zooming in on American ignorance and exposing the greed and consumerism that drives our society. He does this with equal parts humor and tragedy, never delving overtly into patronizing liberalism. This is definitely one of the first worthwhile reads about the Iraq war....more
I initially bought this for a friend's baby as a joke after hearing Nicole Krauss say in public that her four year old son was constructing his own veI initially bought this for a friend's baby as a joke after hearing Nicole Krauss say in public that her four year old son was constructing his own version of The Odyssey. When I finished rolling my eyes at the literary pretentiousness of her comment, I searched for a kid-friendly version of the epic poem and came across this one. I ordered for my friend, gave it to her a few weeks before her baby was born, and shared a laugh. Then I flipped through the pages and noticed the great illustrations and the attention to detail that Cross provides. The story is accurate, and while there is definitely violence here, it's fairly kid-friendly. My six year old loved the book, and as a pretentious literary snob myself, I loved the fact that she was hearing a fairly authentic version of this story.
If you only read one kid-friendly version of Homer's epic poem, let it be this one....more
Reading this book to my kids, we found this just as delightful as I remember. I was slightly taken aback at the depiction of the Oompa-Loompas and theReading this book to my kids, we found this just as delightful as I remember. I was slightly taken aback at the depiction of the Oompa-Loompas and the Euro-centric depiction of them as backward savages, but at least now I have a little excerpt to bring in for my students when we read Things Fall Apart....more
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 someAfter 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 reWith 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!...more
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'sFeed 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....more
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 PoliI 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....more
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 everythZach 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....more
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....more
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 bookMy 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!...more
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 chancI 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. ...more
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 morToni 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....more
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 professThis 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....more
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, sThis 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....more