I now understand the love for The Fault in Our Stars: It’s charming, imaginative, and self-deprecating about its own pretentiousness. It totally reads...moreI now understand the love for The Fault in Our Stars: It’s charming, imaginative, and self-deprecating about its own pretentiousness. It totally reads like something that was started in a creative writing class, which I liked. Also I have to say that John Green, a man in his thirties, does a creepily good job of writing from the perspective of a teenaged girl. When I didn’t overthink it, I was really impressed and not creeped out by this feat.
Other times, I kind of was tho. Another thing that kept taking me out of the world was that Hazel, Augustus, and even Peter Van Houten have very similar voices and the same linguistic tendencies. For example, the speech of all three characters is filled with British English, and I was surprised when Augustus complimented Hazel for making adjectival forms of nouns since he does it a lot himself (as does Van Houten, though I guess that Hazel could’ve picked it up from him, her favorite writer). As a result, when they would praise one another for their wit and intellect, it was a little weird, and even moreso when I thought about John Green writing all of this and how he was basically praising himself, which killed his self-deprecation game a little bit. And if this book were a Word document I would CTRL+F and delete every instance of "vague"/"vaguely" because they seriously have to go OMG!
Voice/style aside, I was also unsettled by Isaac, who seemed to serve as comic relief until the last quarter of the novel, when he stopped being a caricature and became a character to be taken seriously. While I thought that the dark or irreverent humor was often used well, when it was used in relation to Isaac, I could not help but feel uncomfortable. I liked him and wished that he wasn’t the sidekick whom we were supposed to pity because he went blind from eye cancer (view spoiler)[and was dumped by his girlfriend (hide spoiler)]. The way that Green treated Isaac kind of counteracted his message about not pitying kids with cancer. In short, John Green needs to be nicer to his sidekicks.
The beginning of the novel was stronger than the middle, and the middle was stronger than the ending, which was probably the corniest part of them all. In general I have no problem with corniness but felt that Green owed it to us readers to be more authentic at the end. What Augustus would call “metaphorically resonant” existential lines increased in frequency, and then it was over.
But I feel like I am being too negative in this review. Overall, I did enjoy The Fault in Our Stars. It may have weirded me out in a few different ways and used a few too many clichés, it may have been too self-conscious for its own good and misstepped in its tragicomedy, but there was a lot to like. I admire the heart that John Green put into this project, even as the product is not without its issues. And it would be interesting to see what he writes next.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The premise and world-building is interesting though derivative, and not at all plausible. The narrative is awkward and full of deus ex machina. The c...moreThe premise and world-building is interesting though derivative, and not at all plausible. The narrative is awkward and full of deus ex machina. The characters are substantial enough for an action-driven story. And the writing is bad.
Prime examples (of many):
"I know I haven’t been in this part of the woods before, there were no sizable rocks like the one I’m sheltering against on my earlier travels."
"even more strongly than at home, I feel my impotence."
"When I open my eyes, the world looks slightly fractured, and it takes a minute to realize that the sun must be well up and the glasses fragmenting my vision."
"This girl...is unrecognizable. Her features eradicated, her limbs three times their normal size."
The necessary violence made you stop and think. I liked the issues (wealth & ethics; TV & desensitization; survival vs. compassion, etc.) and my favorite thing was the extreme dual philosophies as embodied by straightforward idealist effeminate Peeta and calculating practical manly Katniss. But this reversal, too, was ultimately disturbing as it depended on these very notions of gender roles.
And is it bad that I just wouldn't even want my kids reading books with sentences like "Today I'll have to be scrupulously careful" and "We look well [i.e. 'good'] together"?!
The whole time I tried to imagine how I would've responded to this book if I were 13. And I just don't know. Would I have been engaged by its tensions and themes, by its narrator who has a heart but buries it so deep that she even righteously guilt-trips clinically-depressed loved ones? Would I really believe in her contrived internal melodrama and become immersed in her telling of the story?
When I reread other YA coming-of-age books, I don't feel that they're simplistic in any way. But when I read THE HUNGER GAMES now, and the narrator is explaining things excessively and smacking me over the head with the fact that these aren't normal circumstances since they have to fight to the death, etc. etc., my mind just goes totally numb. And I feel that we should give teen readers more credit than that.
Which is why I feel that an Ursula LeGuin dystopia would be healthier than this.
That said, I can't wait for the HUNGER GAMES movie.
Confession: Normally I don't sit through books like this because I'm a sheltered safe suburban child who gets traumatized easily. For example, I total...moreConfession: Normally I don't sit through books like this because I'm a sheltered safe suburban child who gets traumatized easily. For example, I totally dropped Drown by Junot Diaz super fast back in like 2007.
So when I read Palo Alto all the way through, it was because I was curious about James Franco's writing and workshop education.
I thought that most of these stories blended into one another, which is not necessarily a bad thing and seems to happen in a lot of short story collections. All of the narrators too, as other reviewers have mentioned, have almost the exact same voice.
The repetitive violence and sociopathic behavior by these bored, lost hormonal teenagers had me feeling like it was a movie that was so horrifying that I couldn't stop watching it.
Recommended: "American History," "Lockheed," and "April in Three Parts."
The best is definitely "April in Three Parts"!
"Jack O," the last one, is also good to read so that you can see a little bit of variation in his style.(less)
After being super pissed off through the first 140 pages of the father figure's tyranny, I began to have more patience for Bread Givers.
The most inte...moreAfter being super pissed off through the first 140 pages of the father figure's tyranny, I began to have more patience for Bread Givers.
The most interesting thing was keeping in mind that it was not historical fiction but rather a semi-autobiographical novel published in 1925. So I think the reason that it is widely-read and -taught is that it had been a pioneer in English-language immigrant fiction. Tension between the Old World and the New, between generations--family vs. personal identity, obligation vs. freedom--these are all of the classic themes, acknowledged honestly and in very basic terms. The narrative is kind of melodramatic and repetitive (breathe, heart, & life are a few of the narrator's overused words :( ) with some (IMO) really nice pieces of prose in-between.
My favorite part is when Sara decides to go to college and to be an independent woman. She'd broken free of poverty and patriarchy! I was inspired. If only there had been more of this and less of the father, hahaha!
Even at the end, I still couldn't forgive him. The author tries to describe him as a man simply trapped in the Old World and really all together innocent, but it's clear from his actions that he's not. He is a hypocritical, delusional, selfish, greedy poser who wants tradition to justify how he shamelessly exploited all of the women in his family. I believe that this fact totally undermines his role as a representation of Jewish tradition, if that is his role as we discuss it in literature class. I mean, even when there is this message of moderation and drawing out the best in American-ness, there is not too much of that for Jewish-ness (at least in the areas of philosophy & religion) because the father just turned off his children to Judaism that badly.
Finally, I must say that I would have been in love with Bread Givers when I was ten years old. Even then, there are better children's/YA books out there, but this one can be valued for its authenticity and place in history.(less)
The cover says, "One of the few genuinely distinguished novels written by a 20th-century American." (What does that even mean.) Pero lo siento, I thin...moreThe cover says, "One of the few genuinely distinguished novels written by a 20th-century American." (What does that even mean.) Pero lo siento, I think that Faulkner > Henry Roth.
Call It Sleep is a lot of gorgeous writing in an incredibly drawn-out narrative with no sense of pacing. Jarringly throughout there's the frequent enthusiastic insertion of choppy streams of consciousness, which are inspired by James Joyce, which makes me not want to read James Joyce.
Some people wonder why this novel wasn't well-received when it was first published in the 30s, but I don't: Its overflow of adverbs/adverbial phrases and labored description of every character's eye-blink is exhausting and only for the serious reader. Language gets obscured on purpose through the use of Yiddish, Hebrew, (implied) Polish, and even some Italian etc. The young boys speak a difficult-to-read English vernacular, all of which is innovative and painful.
I was out of patience by page 100-something but had to read to the end for class. And made a bajillion status updates on GoodReads to keep myself going! (BTW, the ending = X-treme experimental prose-poetry that seemed intentionally confusing and therefore made me angry.)
The plot is wrapped around questions of Jewishness in the New World + sexual guilt/awakening. Hooray. And the author's history of sexual abuse of & incest with his younger sister just made it all the more emo. You can feel his repressed issues traumatizing his shy & innocent protagonist/alter-ego. So I had to tell myself not to be judgmental and not to hate his guts 24/7. Lots of "black" and "light" in a dogged motif that intensifies in the final pages. Sin, and more sin! And then, redemption? Creation of the "new Jew"?
Who the heck knows. I can't help feeling that this is the kind of novel that is proclaimed a work of genius by pretentious literary people. It's honest but also a little too self-absorbed in some of its stylistic flourishes (sometimes lovely, other times unbreathable) and very juicy for analysis, all with enough ambiguity of meaning for people to be all, "Hmm, I don't really get this part, so it's probably brilliant."
Or maybe I am just bitter for not being able to successfully understand it. And just because I personally felt more connected with (the maybe equally pretentious) Faulkner, I am dissing Henry Roth? Not cool. But oh man, that is what I am doing.
Otherwise, I do think that it was a super great window into these Jewish immigrants' world of 1930s East Side NY. Lots of sights and sounds.
And repetitive rambling hard-to-follow stuff through which I felt like Roth was abusing my reader faithfulness. Characters were also often strangely "drowsy" or "lethargic" or another synonym of that. Call it Sleep should have been 300 pages or fewer. Oh, but I will stop being grumpy and end this review! Basically, unless this species of literature is what you crave, I would not recommend it, except in select wonderful excerpts. I have yet to decide if the struggle was worth it.(less)
Drugs, abuse, child molestation, anything that would make people cry & be traumatizing for a teenager, it's all here in overdose, injected whereve...moreDrugs, abuse, child molestation, anything that would make people cry & be traumatizing for a teenager, it's all here in overdose, injected wherever possible into every character's life. How can the author be such a douche.
I felt emotionally manipulated by this inconsistently written, I'm-trying-to-be-deep-and-real-and-strike-emotional-chords crying fest.
Sophie's is a short & sweet story of a pubescent girl trying to find her way as a freshman in high school. I like the transparency and innocence o...moreSophie's is a short & sweet story of a pubescent girl trying to find her way as a freshman in high school. I like the transparency and innocence of her voice. Her best friends and crushes and broken family were my world too as I read her diary-like free verse, which has lots of lovely lines in which every moment expands to become huge and often delirious, funny, sad, and/or touching.
The side conflicts (mom & dad and discrimination for being Jewish) I think were a little on the cliché side in the intentionality of them, but they were fairly well-done; they weren't very substantial, but I felt them.
Things begin to happen quickly and tie up pretty neatly (maybe too much so?) in the final thirty pages or so, including the interestingly open ending. I feel this was kind of "the easy way out" and would have liked something stronger, though what is here works and is nice and cute (and made me say, "Awww!"). I think it is only the novel-in-verse format that made this possible.
Overall, this is some sweet, light teen reading that made me smile! And was a welcome break from studying. I recommend it to girls ages 12-16, but if you're older I'm sure you'll enjoy it, too, as I did.
[some favorite lines to be inserted here once I borrow it from the library again:](less)
So I kind of left this book at home and still have 100 pages left. AAAAH! But I'll be borrowing a copy from the library ASAP.
So far: Hilarious. Full o...moreSo I kind of left this book at home and still have 100 pages left. AAAAH! But I'll be borrowing a copy from the library ASAP.
So far: Hilarious. Full of surprises. Sad. Adorable. Kind of annoying. EXTREMELY IMAGINATIVE. And very experimental, though I have to say it's becoming tiring for me. The grandfather's writing style especially, and especially in big doses. He has no voice except for emo-ness, and really long sentences.
I enjoy Oksar's narrative the most, I think it's the best part. But even while he is quirky and has a *great* voice and child's perception (SO GOOD), he is not entirely believable. Sometimes you can very clearly see the author come through the things that he says, especially when making big statements about love, life, death, and healing. Some of these are beautiful and inventive; others feel contrived in their poeticality and symbolism.
Not too far into the book, I did start to lose interest and found myself waiting for the Oskar parts. The alternating narratives don't seem to have any direction or to connect successfully. And it is definitely repetitive and overly emotional at this point. Everybody just cries. I think their stories would touch us more if we weren't always told that they began to cry.
On Extremely Loud in comparison to its twin, The History of Love: I heard how Krauss & Foer didn't read each other's books until after they were published, and it is too, too remarkable. This is what people call Destiny, or something like that. Similarities are MANY! (Someone could write a thesis on it.)
Perhaps it is up to personal taste and experience which one you like better. To me, Foer is talented, sensitive, and imaginative like his spouse, but much more outrageous and risk-taking. His ideas just overflow onto the pages from his ever-creating brain, and they are often delightful. Unfortunately, they can't all fit. Even a little streamlining would help, I think. Foer is not attentive to two very key things which are the pacing and construction of his novel.
I find Krauss's writing to be a lot tighter and subtler, and The History of Love is better as a story, but given that we're all different, the erraticism and sentimentality of Extremely Loud might appeal to some people more. I'd definitely be interested in hearing whether people were moved more by Extremely Loud or The History of Love, or both (or neither).(less)