Extremely disturbing, but very well-written and provocative. Is Kevin sick or evil? How much responsibility does his mother bear for his psychological...moreExtremely disturbing, but very well-written and provocative. Is Kevin sick or evil? How much responsibility does his mother bear for his psychological makeup?(less)
Ok -- I finally finished it. There's not much I can say that wasn't already discussed in our dialogue, but overall I definitely enjoyed the book. As a...moreOk -- I finally finished it. There's not much I can say that wasn't already discussed in our dialogue, but overall I definitely enjoyed the book. As a religious person, I can definitely relate to a memoir which explores spiritual ups and downs, and the fact that it wasn't written from a Jewish perspective made it more interesting for me. I'm wondering -- are she and Felipe still together? Just a little trivial aside there. Some parts were better than others, but I definitely thought it was worth reading.(less)
My book club plans to do this one eventually, but I thought I'd get a jump start since Margueya was reading it. I found it highly readable and affecti...moreMy book club plans to do this one eventually, but I thought I'd get a jump start since Margueya was reading it. I found it highly readable and affecting on the one hand, and very agenda-driven on the other. Boy, did she make me feel guilty about having a cleaning lady! On the other hand, Saadia argued that cleaning ladies need the money and the employment, and why feel guilty about paying someone for a service that they willingly offer in exchange for money that they need and want? I definitely empathize with the struggles of the working poor as depicted in this book and would hate to minimize them; on the other hand, the writing is just a bit rhetorical and one-sided and I would like to read an intelligent critique to get a balanced perspective on this issue. The conclusion made some interesting points, but minimized some of the real challenges of the other side. For example, she raised the point that many employers simply can't afford to pay their workers more than they already do, but then bypassed this significant issue to talk further about the difficulties of making ends meet on such a limited salary. All in all, I would have given it more stars because I found it readable and engaging as well as provocative and good for discussion, but the agenda was pretty transparent and I would have liked something a little less one-sided.(less)
I meant to pick up "The Reading Group" for a light change of pace after "Nickel and Dimed," but I had to take Naava to the pediatrician who often disc...moreI meant to pick up "The Reading Group" for a light change of pace after "Nickel and Dimed," but I had to take Naava to the pediatrician who often discusses literary fiction with me (he reads a lot of the same books I do, but in Hebrew translation) and I was embarrassed to come in with a fluff book. What can I tell you; we all indulge our vanity where we can. Meanwhile, after a 1.5 hour wait in the waiting room I'm too into the book to put it down now. "The Reading Group" will have to wait.
Update -- Ok, I finished it. Wow. Very interesting and provocative, if somewhat tragic and depressing. Great for a book club. It reminded me of "Seven Types of Ambiguity" with its multiple unreliable narrators. I was impressed with many things about this book. First, I thought the author really captured the "voices" of his different narrators in a very authentic way -- they were really all different people, as opposed to books like "My Sister's Keeper" where they all sounded the same. Second, I was particularly impressed with the chapter that was written from the point of view of the ambulance chasing lawyer. The author actually made you second-guess whether an ambulance chaser could possibly have a morally upright, or at least sympathetic, motive. He did a wonderful job of making the ambulance chasing lawyer both sleazy and sympathetic, a truly complex character, as opposed to being all one or the other, or worse, unrealistically switching between the two. In general, the writing was excellent and I thought this was a wonderful exploration of both the aftermath of a tragedy and the limits of perspective. (less)
I wavered between three and four stars on this one. The topic was compelling; the book somewhat less so. I found it kind of slow and ver...moreReview, Part 1
I wavered between three and four stars on this one. The topic was compelling; the book somewhat less so. I found it kind of slow and verbose, although it certainly was interesting and gave me a lot of food for thought (as you will see if you have the patience to read another long, rambling review). I got a little annoyed when she kept emphasizing how a mother can provide a clean home, home-cooked meals, adequate clothing, structure and supervision, etc. for her kid and that child can still grow up feeling shortchanged emotionally -- it almost felt as if she was minimizing the amount of effort and yes, LOVE, that goes into doing those things. I'm not trying to invalidate the pain of a child who grows up with these things and feels unloved, but as someone who works hard to provide those things for her children (and I'm fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom; working mothers have to work much harder than I do to provide these things), I can tell you firsthand that it's a very demanding job and one that I could only do, or certainly only do well and consistently, for people to whom I really felt commitment and love. Providing these things generously and graciously is definitely a statement of love, even if children don't appreciate that until they grow older. Of course, emotional needs should be tended to as well; however, I wonder if perhaps our generation expects too much in that sense? I remember reading P.D. James's memoir where she wrote about how, when she was younger (she wrote the memoir several years ago when she was in her late 70s), there were a lot fewer divorces. She acknowledged that this probably means there were more unhappy marriages, but as she says, in those days "we did not view happiness as an entitlement." She commented that today's generation appears to feel more entitled to happiness and anxious to pursue it as a goal, but is not necessarily happier for it. Anyway, getting back to the book at hand, I often wonder how much of my generation's general dissatisfaction with their upbringing and efforts to improve on it stems from increased psychological awareness and is based in reality, versus how much of it reflects a perceived "entitlement to happiness" as P.D. James would have it, and a lack of appreciation of the things we did have and the efforts that went into providing them. The book doesn't raise this question, much less attempt to answer it, but I did wonder how much of these "undermothered" women's deprivation was in their minds, and a sign of the times, as opposed to actual emotional deprivation.
[They told me my review was too long, so I'm going to attempt to paste it in two parts; let's see if I succeed. Part 2, hopefully, will follow...](less)
Beautiful writing, kind of an interesting and ambiguous story. I'm not sure I really got it. Having read "Through the Narrow Gate," though, it was int...moreBeautiful writing, kind of an interesting and ambiguous story. I'm not sure I really got it. Having read "Through the Narrow Gate," though, it was interesting to read a fictional story that took place in a pre-Vatican II convent.(less)
Another recommendation on loan from Margueya -- her book club is reading this one.
I thought this was a great book. Its deceptively simple style and im...moreAnother recommendation on loan from Margueya -- her book club is reading this one.
I thought this was a great book. Its deceptively simple style and immediate accessibility belies a deep, provocative story. I loved the subtlety, and the complex look at human relationships. This would be a great choice for a book club! There's a great deal to discuss. Not for the fainthearted, though -- I also found the book to be terribly sad.(less)
I'm giving this five stars, even though in truth I'm really not sufficiently knowledgeable to critique the thesis of the book and should perhaps be mo...moreI'm giving this five stars, even though in truth I'm really not sufficiently knowledgeable to critique the thesis of the book and should perhaps be more conservative in my praise. I found it readable, interesting, and thought-provoking; similar genre to Freakonomics but more solid, it seemed to me. Highly recommended. (less)
Wow -- very interesting examination of beauty vs. ugliness, and how unforgiving life can be if you're stuck being ugly. It made me contemplate a lot o...moreWow -- very interesting examination of beauty vs. ugliness, and how unforgiving life can be if you're stuck being ugly. It made me contemplate a lot of issues, some of which she didn't delve into as much -- for example, the difficulty of enjoying genuine friendships with "normal" people when there's something obviously different about you, especially during adolescence. It was very well-written and powerful, but I also found it pretty sad and intense at times, especially the description of what her illness was like as a child.(less)
I liked the fact that this book managed to be both a quick and easy read and very thought-provoking at the same time. It was an interesting look at bi...moreI liked the fact that this book managed to be both a quick and easy read and very thought-provoking at the same time. It was an interesting look at biculturalism, specifically east-west ambivalence. It made me think about some of my America issues, as an Orthodox Jew -- I never realized how American I was until I moved to Israel, and how much pride I take in qualities I have that were clearly influenced by my having grown up in America. At the same time, when I lived in America I always felt bicultural because my Orthodox observance and separatism made me feel like I couldn't fully participate in the mainstream culture. I think that that's why I often enjoy literature about American immigrants, first-generation Americans, bicultural characters, etc. (e.g., "The Namesake").
One of the things that bothered me, though, was my difficulty comprehending the main character's reaction to 9/11. Yes, I could see that he disliked American arrogance and the paternalistic attitude/bullying that often manifests in America's involvement in eastern countries. However, here was a guy who had taken advantage of the best America has to offer and was enjoying it -- how could he feel good about an attack on America? Did he feel no gratitude for what America gave him, things he clearly could not enjoy in his own country? I couldn't tell whether this was a flaw in the character or a flaw in the book, but I tend to think it was the latter.
I was also impressed with the writing. There are passages I really wanted to quote; unfortunately, I read this over Shabbos and no longer remember which passages they were.
a friggin sherpa!
the guy writes like a friggin sherpa! from the first you fall into reading the book like a dot! i mean the first sentence --excuse me sir but may i be of assistance? ah, i see i have alarmed you. -- who talks like that but a dot?! i felt like i was talking to dell customer service! and it goes that way for the whole book! lyrical writing my XXXXX! sure its lyrical, if you read it in dot! heres a guy who was shlepping yaks all over the himalayas and ends up at princeton! you can take the guy out of the cave, but you cant take the cave out of the guy. a friggin sherpa.
Whew -- finally finished it. A funny thing to say about a four-star book, which this was. On the positive side, and the reason for the four stars, thi...moreWhew -- finally finished it. A funny thing to say about a four-star book, which this was. On the positive side, and the reason for the four stars, this book was really everything non-fiction should be -- readable and well-written, educational, well-researched, thought-provoking, and highly entertaining at times. Because it was all those things, its negative qualities only cost it one star.
Among its negative qualities were the fact that it was repetitive at times, and that despite all its virtues, I sometimes got tired of reading it. After a while, it felt like a monologue on one long topic which demanded too much from my attention span at times -- a good monologue, but a monologue nonetheless. (Kind of like spending a lot of time with a friend who's interesting and intelligent, but does all the talking and after a while you want to either interrupt or space out, not because they're boring, but because endlessly listening is boring.) Also, despite all the interesting questions this book posed and tried to answer about friendship, there was one important one (at least, important to me) that did not get addressed: when your friend does something that hurts others, even if it has no impact on you, is that something that should break up the friendship?
For example, a relative of mine lived in a small college town (no, this is not a disguised story about me) for several years. There was only one other Orthodox couple, and naturally, the two were great friends, especially the husbands who would probably have hit it off anyway. One day, the wife confided to my relative that she was having an affair. My relative's response was, "That's disgusting!" and she promptly told this woman she could no longer be friends with her. A brave move, made even braver by the fact that this meant she now had absolutely no friends in this small, isolated town.
I think about this story a lot, especially since I have one friend whom I suspect (thank G-d, it was never proven to me and I hope it stays that way) of doing something pretty bad that affected a lot of people. I always wonder -- if my suspicions are ever borne out, do I need to stop being friends with this person over what she did, even though I was not at all personally affected by it? The short answer for me is, it depends on her attitude -- if she is sincerely remorseful and regretful, I can deal with that, but if she's convinced that she was right and unresponsive to criticism, I'm not sure whether we can stay friends. But that's a big question I have -- how far does loyalty to a friend go? If you are supposed to help your friend bury a dead body, no questions asked (see comments), should you also remain loyal to your friend if they did something morally wrong which hurt lots of people?
I don't know whether or not to hold it against the book that he did not address this, because it's almost a personal concern for me and may not be a universal question about friendship.
In any case, like most friends, the book was largely enjoyable in measured doses. I particularly admired his writing. There were so many amazing quotes that I would have loved to record, had I not done most of my reading on Shabbos or at night in bed.(less)