I loved about a fourth of the essays in this book, liked about half, and hated a fourth. Most of the stories are quirky, heartfelt, excellently writteI loved about a fourth of the essays in this book, liked about half, and hated a fourth. Most of the stories are quirky, heartfelt, excellently written, and engaging. A few are whiny drivel, but those are the exceptions. My biggest quibble with this book is the structure/order of the essays. The editor groups them by stages or categories of love: seeking, finding, breeding, staying, leaving, and bound (yeah, that last category doesn't flow as well). Because the predictably depressing "leaving" chapter is near the end and the collection closes with the equaly sad "bound" chapter, it's hard to recall the joys of some of the earlier essays that discuss the triumphs of love. The final essay in the collection deals with hope and new beginnings, but it wasn't enough to shake the feelinsg from the pages and pages of sad stories from before. I would have much preferred the essays be mixed up and not categorized so sharply. It reads the way you would hear a CD that has its peppy, upbeat songs all first, then the mellow, brooding ones all second, then the depressing or angry tunes at the end. If the structure of the collection is supposed to mimic the stages of love, then it suggests we will all be heartbroken and alone in the end.
One last observation: this is a very New Yorky book. It's a collection of essays from the New York Times, so that's an obvious statement, but be warned: the New Yorkyness may irritate you (as it did me) if you don't live there or put the city on a pedestal. At times I found it challenging to connect with certain characters because they seem so specific to that city and its culture, unlike men or women I could recognize from my own life and with whom I could better empathize....more
This novella got under my skin very insidiously. I read the first half and found it funny and quirky but not particularly affecting. Daniel Pecan CambThis novella got under my skin very insidiously. I read the first half and found it funny and quirky but not particularly affecting. Daniel Pecan Cambridge, the neurotic and possibly autistic main character, is an expert at building walls between himself and the world through a series of compulsions and habits. When he is forced to break out of his isolation against his will, and later consciously makes the choice to break out further, he comes alive to the reader as he does to those individuals in his small circle. The final 40 pages or so made me unexpectedly teary but also frustrated that my view into Daniel's life was ending. Martin glosses over an entire turning point and relationship in his protagonist's life, and I felt cheated out of a glimpse into the transformation. I wish the book had been 100 pages longer. ...more
I struggled to make it through this book, sustained by the periodic flashes of linguistic and narrative brilliance within a sea of tedium. Having readI struggled to make it through this book, sustained by the periodic flashes of linguistic and narrative brilliance within a sea of tedium. Having read The Road but no other McCarthy, I expected similar stripped down prose. Wrong! Blood Meridian reads much more like Faulkner than Hemingway. I'm a glutton for punishment via Faulkner, so I thought I'd enjoy the challenge more than I did.
Over the week it took me to read, I usually felt a sense of dread as I picked up the book. What miseries are in store this chapter? More dead babies? Mass murder? Torture? Animal abuse? Body parts worn as decoration? I push myself to read works that make me uncomfortable, even upset, but this was just too much awful and not enough story. The kid's character felt only half developed to me until the last quarter of the book, at which point I finally felt invested in his character and connected to his story. But it came too late to save the book for me.
I was left cold in the end. Well to be fair, cold AND terrified, but not moved. The two star rating captures my experience of reading Blood Meridian, though it doesn't do justice to McCarthy's brave and brutal imagination and his masterful grasp of language. He's a huge talent, and I plan to read more of his work despite my squirmy, miserable reaction to this one.
I'm also fully prepared to eat crow after I've mulled over this book for several months. I think it's going to haunt me, which will mean I have to conclude that I was more than just horrified and was moved, after all....more
The Jonestown tragedy happened a few years before I was born, so prior to reading this book I knew very little about the People's Temple and Jim JonesThe Jonestown tragedy happened a few years before I was born, so prior to reading this book I knew very little about the People's Temple and Jim Jones. I saw a news story one day that marked the twentieth anniversary of the mass suicide, and I poked around online until I came across Deborah Layton's book.
Layton was a privileged, rebellious teenager when she was introduced to the People's Temple and the world of its charismatic leader, Jim Jones. She is a talented and passionate storyteller, tracing the evolution of the Temple from a socially conscious advocacy organization that helped the poor, homeless, and drug addicted to a perversion of socialism that brainwashed, abused, and terrorized its members. Layton's brother, sister in law, and mother all joined the cult as well. The latter two traveled with her to Jones'so called Promised Land in the jungles of Guyana, where members were held prisoner and ruled by lies and fear.
Layton's eventual escape led to an American contingent of a congressman, members of the press, and concerned relatives traveling to Guyana only to be ambushed by Jones' security forces. Hours later, Jones ordered the mass suicide, his soldiers killing any who refused to drink the poison.
The story is compelling and heart breaking. Layton debunks myths about cults by portraying the lives of intellectuals, doctors, lawyers, and others from all walks of life who joined the Temple. It's frightening how insidious the transformation of the Temple was from a legitimate commmunity organization to a cult ruled by a sociopath. She shows us how any of us could fall prey to a charismatic leader only to have things go terribly wrong.
I didn't enjoy this book as much as "Something Borrowed" and "Love the One You're With" (still need to read "Something Blue"). I don't think Claudia iI didn't enjoy this book as much as "Something Borrowed" and "Love the One You're With" (still need to read "Something Blue"). I don't think Claudia is one of Giffin's best characters. The premise of the book is engaging and relevant to many women, but I did not connect with Claudia to the extent that I've connected with other of Giffin's characters. I had difficulty following her decision making patterns and found some of her choices near the end of the book not very believable. It was also challenging to root for her marriage because Ben disappears (at least physically) from large chunks of the book, which has the effect of minimizing how much we as a reader can get to know him and decide if we like him.
Complaints aside...I'm still a sucker for Giffin's books. They are a quick read and she's great at capturing the complexities of women and their relationships. Even if this wasn't her biggest success at achieving the latter, it's still a good read. ...more
I'm sort of embarrassed to give such a blatant guilty pleasure book four stars, but to be honest, I really enjoyed this book. It's formulaic and prediI'm sort of embarrassed to give such a blatant guilty pleasure book four stars, but to be honest, I really enjoyed this book. It's formulaic and predictable at times, but thoroughly entertaining. Rachel, the perpetual sidekick to her narcissistic and beautiful best friend Darcy, shakes up the decades-old conventions of their friendship when she sleeps with Darcy's finance. Her transition from doormat to assertive and independent woman is believable because it happens very slowly, with numerous setbacks along the way. I don't think Giffin quite achieves the goal of making Darcy at least SOMEWHAT likable, which she needs to be for us to fully appreciate Rachel's dilemma.
Overall, great fun. Perfect book for vacation or a rainy day at home. ...more
What a glorious, wonderful day it was when this book mysteriously showed up on my doorstep, a gift from one of my best friends for no special occasionWhat a glorious, wonderful day it was when this book mysteriously showed up on my doorstep, a gift from one of my best friends for no special occasion--she just knew I would love it.
"The Invention of Hugo Cabret" is a novel told through both words and over a hundred gorgeous pencil illustrations. The illustrations tell crucial portions of the story themselves rather than simply complementing the narrative, an interesting device that makes the reader feel like he or she is watching an old film. This sensation was almost certainly intentional on the part of Brian Selznick as much of the story revolves around the magic and legends of early cinema. My enjoyment of this novel was greatly enhanced because as a wanna-be film nerd, I've seen and loved many of the classic early films that are referenced and pictured throughout the story.
I will keep this book a long time and read it to my children one day (that is, after savoring it myself several more times!). ...more
I resisted picking up this book for many many months. The cheesy title and cover art turned me off to it, as did the schmaltzy book jacket descriptionI resisted picking up this book for many many months. The cheesy title and cover art turned me off to it, as did the schmaltzy book jacket description. I'm not sure what made me finally grab it off the library shelf, but at least now I can weigh in on the fierce debate over this book.
Oh, Elizabeth Gilbert...where to start? I found you funny and observant 20% of the time, infuriatingly narcissistic 40% of the time, sympathetic 20% of the time, and just plain annoying for the remaining 20% (does my math add up??). Most of my annoyance came from the India section, which, in all seriousness, I would suggest a new reader skip entirely. In Italy and Indonesia, Gilbert is often likable, funny, engaged with her community, and occasionally (gasp!) concerned about others instead of only herself. India, on the other hand, could be a case study in upper middle class white female narcissism. Gilbert's only use for others in the ashram is to figure out how they can help her on her own spiritual journey. Everything and everyone exists to facilitate her development, she believes. I slammed the book shut in disgust when she fantasizes about going into a period of silence and yearns to be revered for being the quiet girl, the best silent person of them all.
Back to Italy and India...having spent a brief study abroad trip in Italy as a college student, I enjoyed her descriptions of Italian culture and think she nails it. I have never been to Indonesia, nor did I know much about it going in, but she's a highly entertaining cultural writer. At least in Indonesia she makes a concerted and successful effort to give back to her host community, which made me ever so slightly begin to forgive her for the India debacle (but you still shouldn't read that section, so be warned). ...more
It has been years since I have finished a book and immediately felt such a strong sense of loss that my time with the main character is over. Curtis SIt has been years since I have finished a book and immediately felt such a strong sense of loss that my time with the main character is over. Curtis Sittenfeld's portrait of Alice Blackwell, inspired by the life of Laura Bush, is richer and realer than anything I've read in a very long time. The bulk of the book is about her life before the White House instead of her time in it, with a spectacularly written section about the car accident that shaped young Alice's life. The final chapters that cover her time as First Lady were my least favorite of the novel, but I believe Sittenfeld intended it that way. She takes such great care to craft Alice's life and allow us to understand exactly how and why she has become who she is. Once she becomes First Lady, she remains the Alice that we already know and no one else. She felt like a dear friend to me by the end. Maybe I'll fill the void by reading more about Laura Bush, about whom I'd rarely had a thought cross my mind before reading this novel--perhaps because I'm a fairly flaming liberal. Despite the fact that it is indeed fiction, albeit fiction very informed by biographical study and actual facts, it has made me become interested to learn more about the life of Laura Bush. ...more
It took a while for me to get hooked on this book, but once I did, I realized what an impressively complex story Guterson tells. It's an intriguing muIt took a while for me to get hooked on this book, but once I did, I realized what an impressively complex story Guterson tells. It's an intriguing murder mystery, social commentary on the treatment of Japanese-Americans in the middle of the 20th century, lush portrait of the Pacific Northwest, a morality tale, and so on. If you can be patient through the first hundred pages or so, you will be rewarded with complicated and believable characters, challenging questions of right and wrong, and underscoring it all, an emotional portrayal of the harsh beauty of Guterson's real life home in the islands of the Puget Sound (San Piedro is fictional but based on an assortment of actual places).
I can understand how some readers might tire of Guterson's prose, which tends toward repeating his favorite words and phrases far too many times, but to me that was a small complaint against an overall great writer and a great story. ...more
Lincoln Hall's story is amazingly compelling: falling ill with cerebal edema after beginning his descent from Everest's summit, his team cannot move hLincoln Hall's story is amazingly compelling: falling ill with cerebal edema after beginning his descent from Everest's summit, his team cannot move him and is forced to leave him for dead. The next morning, other climbers find him alive and a rescue is underway. The story is full of drama and great heroes and villains, and Hall's feat defies all common sense and history.
I loved "Into Thin Air" when I read it many years ago, so after purchasing this book for my mom I gave it a read. I liked it far less than Krakaeuer's work, primarily because Hall comes off as highly narcissistic and a know it all. Yes, he's been an expert climber for decades, but so have many of the other members of his team (incluing his rescuers), yet he constantly elevates his own expertise and skills above theirs. I suppose to be an Everest climber you have to have at least some streak of narcissism toput yourself and your family through that experience, but Hall's is especially large and remains irritating throughout the book. I don't mean to belittle what he went through, but his attitude about why he survived and others doesn't exactly add to the reader's sympathy.
All in all, an intriguing read. If you liked "Into Thin Air," you'll enjoy this....more
These stories don't quite pack the emotional or lyrical wallop of Katherine Anne Porter or Faulkner short stories, but they are still enjoyable and beThese stories don't quite pack the emotional or lyrical wallop of Katherine Anne Porter or Faulkner short stories, but they are still enjoyable and beautiful nonetheless. What I love about Welty is that she is entirely unpretentious and straightforward in her portrayal of life in rural Mississippi. She shows the heart and the beauty but never shies from exposing the dysfunction and even violence lurking just below the surface of seemingly normal families, towns, lives. I always feel a special connection to her writing because of my many generation's worth of family roots in Mississippi, with a simultaneous disconnect given my own upbringing in a Southern city a world apart from the small town South.
I think I will read these again in the future, and I expect I'll find a whole new set of meanings the second go around. ...more
Unlike Roth's other books I've read, I was not strongly drawn into these characters. The style of the book, written almost exclusively in dialogue witUnlike Roth's other books I've read, I was not strongly drawn into these characters. The style of the book, written almost exclusively in dialogue without attribution of the speaker, is creative and engaging, but I found it more difficult to connect with for this same reason. Roth is brilliantly insightful on love, relationships, infidelity, jealously, and so on, but the overall impact of the book for me was more abstract than personal due to the distance I felt from the characters.
This may have been what he intended, though; I don't think we're always supposed to know who is speaking, which of Phillip's many lovers he is conversing with at the moment, or the correct timeline in which all the affairs occurred. Such a literary structure does have its power and purpose for making a statement about these universal struggles, but it makes for a challenge to empathize with, or even despise, individual characters. ...more
I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I think he nails some of the behaviors, attitudes, and trends of students, faculty, and aI have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I think he nails some of the behaviors, attitudes, and trends of students, faculty, and administrators at elite institutions. Often as I read I found it remarkable how much he got right, at least according to my early 2000's college years at UVA (the so-called public Ivy, pretentious as that is). He's a talented writer, though he seems to realize this and frequently goes overboard with unnecessarily melodramatic sentences and semi-obscure cultural references (obscure only to us plebians, I suppose, but irritating nonetheless).
This book asserts itself as a sociology text. It is NOT; it is a memoir. The author throws around impressive sounding statistics, but he includes no citations--didn't they teach him better at Harvard? According to his critiques of the Core Curriculum at Harvard, no. He probably spent too much time in "Indigenous Cultures of the Canary Islands" and "Politics of 14th century Russian Villages" and not enough in a basic research methods class.
Perhaps what bothered me the most is that for all his complaining about Harvard, Douthat comes off as the exact same spoiled, over privileged, entitled student that he lampoons. He offers little vision for how Harvard should or could be different, and is entirely unconvincing in any attempt to set himself apart from his classmates. He observes, he writes, he complains, but the missing piece is ACTION. Don't complain and do nothing--that's called whining.
I was also appalled at some of his comments about women and events like "Take Back the Night." The chapter on student advocacy almost made me slam the book shut in disgust.
Bottom line: if you went to a pretentious college and you felt uncomfortable with some of the attitudes and behaviors you saw there, you will find some interesting and very identifiable reflections in this book. Tangible solutions to revamping elite education? Won't find them here. But you will find a lot of thinly veiled snobbery and smugness that may make you want to throw the book out the window. I'm glad I only spent 3.50 on this book in a "Bargain" pile. Guess I'm not the only one who was unimpressed. ...more