This book was good, but I didn't think it was "winner of the Tournament of Books 2016" good. Granted, literary satire is definitely not my thing. ButThis book was good, but I didn't think it was "winner of the Tournament of Books 2016" good. Granted, literary satire is definitely not my thing. But this read more like movie/TV satire so I liked it more than most satirical books I've read.
The Sellout is the story of BonBon, an African-American man who is on trial for bringing back slavery and racial segregation. I found the "trial" parts (his case was being appealed at the United States Supreme Court level by the beginning of the book) to be quite interesting, but they were only small portions bookending the start and "conclusion" of the book.
[Minor spoiler alert]
There's really no "conclusion" to the story, but there is a little speech about how black people don't get closure. This is typical of the entire book.
[/End spoiler alert]
For a while, BonBon goes back in time and describes his sad childhood as the son of a social sciences professor and a completely absent mother. This part was very interesting. His father performed social experiments on him, all of which failed. For instance, he wanted to prove the "bystander theory," that the more people who witness a crime, the less likely of a chance the victim has of receiving help from any of the bystanders. So he takes BonBon to the middle of a busy intersection and beats him up. The crowd does not, in fact, just stand by, but the opposite happens: They join in on helping BonBon's dad beat up BonBon. And BonBon's dad is just like, "Sorry, dude, I forgot about the 'crowd mentality' theory," or something along those lines.
The story also features BonBon's friend Hominy, who is one of the original Little Rascals. And it continually shows how the Little Rascals is a very racist show. The story is set in Dickens, California, which, in the book, was a town near Los Angeles that was erased as time progressed. Its citizens, and BonBon, feel displaced and forgotten about.
[Mild spoiler/plot point alert]
Eventually BonBon's dad is shot and killed by the police. This part was very interesting. It was sad for BonBon, but not for me, because I thought BonBon's dad was a real jerk. However, BonBon talks about how any boy wants the unconditional love and approval of his father, which he never received, and of course that shapes his life and his decisions from that point forward.
After its second half, the book kind of dragged for me because it was more of the same old same old without much of a plot arc. It discussed important things but kind of started to feel like the book wanted to beat me over the head with its points. It was funny, with a lot of memorable and make-you-think passages. I had to stop and read some allowed to my husband (who made the Dave Chappelle comparison right away), and I'm really glad I read the book just because of some of these unique passages.
But, as I've said, the book was thin on plot, and of course, being a satire, it was completely absurd. I understood the point of the absurdity-- and how, sadly, the absurdity is often more "real" than reality-- but it's just difficult for me to keep interest in something so over-the-top. There are more speeches, thoughts, sermons, soliloquies and internal monologue/ strange dialog than there is actual plot.
I did enjoy the parts about BonBon's relationship with his on-again/off-again girlfriend. It was also interesting that BonBon paid attention to the plight of women and to other races as well as to that of the black race (which, in fact, is why the other characters started calling him "The Sellout").
In the end, this was a book that one really needs to think a lot about and likely re-read to get the full effect, and I have to admit I just don't have time for that these days. A lot of my reading happens when my toddler son is asleep and my brain is starting to shut down. Or when he's entertaining himself and I'm trying to finish the current chapter. I think if I had read this book in college or perhaps on a solo vacation, I would appreciate it even more. But at this point in my life I like books that suck me in with their plot and characters and that easily entertain me. It's great if they make me think a bit too, but I just wasn't able to think as much as this book required in order for its maximum enjoyment to be achieved.
I do recommend the book, as I believe it's important and it makes us think; it's funny, it's sad and parts of it are highly entertaining, although more in a "hmmm, good point" kind of way than a "oooh what happens next with this character?" kind of way. The sad thing-- and the point, I guess-- is that we already know what happens next for these characters, and it's a continuation of what's happened to them throughout history, and it ain't pretty. So in that way I kind of feel like I'm making light of such an important book with my review, but it's more of a reflection of where I am in my life and my reading capabilities right now than it is about the book. I liked the book a solid three stars' worth, but overall it's probably deserving of more.
That ends my review. But here are some parts I couldn't help but quote, to include a sense of the book's unique style, and some of its many funny passages.
* * *
- Dumbfounded, I stood before the court, trying to figure out if there was a state of being between “guilty” and “innocent.” Why were those my only alternatives? I thought. Why couldn’t I be “neither” or “both”?
- [T]he ugliest movie stars, the whitest rappers, and the dumbest intellectuals are often the most respected members of their chosen profession.
- Like all people who believe in the system, he wants answers. He wants to believe that Shakespeare wrote all those books, that Lincoln fought the Civil War to free the slaves and the United States fought World War II to rescue the Jews and keep the world safe for democracy, that Jesus and the double feature are coming back.
- If you think about it, pretty much everything that made the twentieth century bearable was invented in a California garage: the Apple computer, the Boogie Board, and gangster rap.
- Just because racism is dead don’t mean they still don’t shoot niggers on sight.
- "You just have to allow me to do my job. You have to let the system hold the men responsible for this accountable. So just give me the body.”
I asked Captain Flores a question my father had asked me many times: “In the history of the Los Angeles Police Department, do you know how many officers have been convicted of murder while in the line of duty?”
“The answer is none, so there is no accountability. I’m taking him.” “Where?” “I’m going to bury him in the backyard. You do what you have to do.”
- When you grow up on a farm in the middle of the ghetto, you come to see that what your father always told you during morning chores was true: People eat the shit you shovel them.... [L]ike the pigs, we all have our heads in the trough.
- Why blame Mark Twain because you don’t have the patience and courage to explain to your children that the “n-word” exists and that during the course of their sheltered little lives they may one day be called a “nigger” or, even worse, deign to call somebody else a “nigger.” No one will ever refer to them as “little black euphemisms,” so welcome to the American lexicon—Nigger!
- That’s the difference between most oppressed peoples of the world and American blacks. They vow never to forget, and we want everything expunged from our record, sealed and filed away for eternity.
- “When a white bitch got problems, she’s a damsel in distress! When a black bitch got problems, she’s a welfare cheat and a burden on society. How come you never see any black damsels? Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your weave!”
- Feigned or not, sometimes I’m jealous of Hominy’s obliviousness, because he, unlike America, has turned the page. That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book—that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.
- Sometimes I think that there’s no such thing as measurable intelligence and that, if there is, it definitely isn’t a predictor of anything, especially for colored people. Maybe morons can’t become brain surgeons, but a genius can be either a cardiologist or a postal clerk. Or a who made some fucked-up choices.
- Foy gave me the same sorrowful look the missionaries must’ve given the jungle heathen. A look that said, It doesn’t matter if you’re too stupid to understand God’s love. He loves you regardless, just hand over the women, the distance runners, and the natural resources.
- We altered the signs so that the children of Dickens could line up and choose from several race wash options:
Regular Whiteness: - Benefit of the Doubt - Higher Life Expectancy - Lower Insurance Premiums
Deluxe Whiteness: *Regular Whiteness Plus: - Warnings Instead of Arrests from the Police - Decent Seats at Concerts and Sporting Events - World Revolves Around You and Your Concerns
Super Deluxe Whiteness: * Deluxe Whiteness Plus: - Jobs with Annual Bonuses - Military Service Is for Suckers - Legacy Admission to College of Your Choice - Therapists That Listen - Boats That You Never Use - All Vices and Bad Habits Referred to as “Phases”
*** Not Responsible for Scratches, Dents, and Items Left in the Subconscious ...more
This book made me think "WTF did I just read?" I have some theories for how the book could be taken to have ended, or how I personally would like to bThis book made me think "WTF did I just read?" I have some theories for how the book could be taken to have ended, or how I personally would like to be able to interpret it as ending. First I will share my overall review with no spoilers, and then I will list my theories under a SPOILER warning so that anyone who has read the book can let me know if they think any of them are plausible.
This is the first Tournament of Books contestant that I've read. It is up against "A Little Life" (which I haven't read yet). I hadn't heard of this book or its two authors beforehand. I understood it to be an experimental work, sci fi-ish (but apparently disappointing to people who expect standard sci fi elements in their sci fi). The reviews I saw before I started reading it were mostly negative. But I was instantly hooked and at first wondered what was wrong with those reviewers.
The book's interesting premise is that Jim dies and has his head cryogenically frozen so as to live forever. Jim's wife cannot believe he arranged this because he is an atheist who only believes in the here and now. She is angry that he betrayed their wedding vows to be forever together, never apart.
This is a short book that took me about 3 hours to read. The first half is incredibly interesting. It follows Jim in the "afterlife" of his New World, as well as Jane in her anger and her pursuit of destruction against the company that helped Jim freeze his head. Jim must forget Jane and everything about his old life in order to be able to move on in the New World. Jane must find a way through her anger and sadness in order to move on with her own life.
For the first half of the book, I was thinking it was strange and wonderful and deserving of 5 stars. But as soon as I started the second half of the book, I also started to understand the bad reviews. It was like a completely different book, enough to make me wonder whether the two authors each wrote half of the book and didn't bother comparing them or making them fit together before it was published!
Unlike many reviewers, I did not hate the second half of the book. It was interesting in its own way, but a total shift from the first half to which I had grown so accustomed. It read like a long diary entry or recounting of Jim and Jane's relationship. It explained some events in detail that were mentioned briefly in the first half of the book, and I appreciated that. But it didn't go back to the New World and that was supposed to be the whole point of the book. So in that way it was disappointing.
The first half of the book dealt a lot with grief and mourning, a theme I could relate to. I enjoyed the alternative theories of death and the thought that the dead might miss us too. The book had quantum physics/ alternative theories of life and death overtones that made me both happy and sad at the same time.
[SLIGHT SPOILER/ PREGNANCY LOSS TRIGGER ALERT FOR THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH]
Miscarriages and even a stillbirth were alluded to, which are things I've experienced and I wanted to read more about how this couple dealt with them, in a schadenfreude sort of way. The authors did not disappoint and in the second half there is quite a lengthy "almost- baby"/"almost parents" explanation. I found it to be a combination of beautiful, sad and grotesque, which are all things I think are inherent to any stillbirth story. Overall I was shocked that a random book I picked up explored a subject so near and dear to my own life, and I can't help but feel that the entire novel was a larger exploration of this subject.
After finishing this book I am left thinking "WTF?" After I read one of two Kindle versions (the $4.99 one), I found out that this book was meant to be a digital book that did not translate over to a Kindle book. So perhaps I missed out on something that way. (I did download the more expensive Kindle version to see whether it contained more clues, but it was pretty much the same as the cheaper Kindle version except for some formatting differences and a less repetitive ending. I understand that the "digital copy" has colored tabs and other such goodies but I have no idea where to get it or what it all even means.) I have to believe there is a method to the madness and that the authors didn't pull a complete 180 on the reader just for shits and giggles. So below are my theories as to what really happened.
Overall, this book was a fast and entertaining read and it made me think. I am still wondering what exactly happened. But the abrupt about-face in the first and second parts was so jarring and disappointing that I can only give it 3.5 stars.
--SPOILERS FOLLOW: DO NOT READ UNTIL YOU'VE READ THE BOOK. THEN PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT MY THEORIES!--
Theory 1: When Jim couldn't forget him memories of Jane during his Debut, he was sent back to Stage 1, and then he chose to "explode" by going on the hot air balloon ride. He learned that even if it was possible to live forever with a new memory, the old Jim was right that all that truly matters is the here and now. (Therefore the second half of the book was either Jim choosing to keep all his memories, or it was the memories he had written down in his book and intended to burn but instead decided to keep.) What would life be if he couldn't be with Jane? So he broke the contract and "exploded," choosing to die for all eternity and therefore be with Jane (because all he had were his memories of her), than to purposefully forget her and live as a new Jim without her.
Theory 2: By choosing to "explode" (see above- Theory 1), Jim was able to live again, which is what he kept telling Alice he truly wanted. Somehow the New World part took place while Jim was in his coma when he decided to "explode"/ not forget Jane, he was able to have his old life back. His ride in the hot air balloon was back to earth/the past/his old life (or his "new new life") rather than on the bus to the New World.
I realize this theory does not explain his death by heart attack 8 years after his accident and miraculous recovery, but maybe it was a time warp of sorts where Jim got to go back to where he woke up from the coma in the ICU, and live an even happier and better life with Jane. In this better life (a New New World?), Jane doesn't cheat on him. They don't have miscarriages or lose their "almost-baby" and in fact their son Ralph lives. Jane honors his wish for a Viking funeral when he dies in old age of natural causes and after he does not sign up for cryogenics in a weird retaliation for her affair. Maybe by choosing to remember all the bad memories along with the good, Jim was given a true second chance with a blank slate to start over with Jane and have the happy life both of them deserved.
Theory 3 - Jane joined Jim in the cryogenic afterlife/ New World. When she was in the Pyramid Brian said she did everything they wanted her to do. At the end, right before they say their marriage vows, she asks if she is awake, which is the same thing Jim wanted to know when he first went to the New World. (Based on the few crumbs the authors leave in the actual text, I really think this might be the most plausible theory?) So by remembering Jane, Jim was able to still be with her in the New World, and by joining him despite her reservations Jane was able to be with him.
Maybe the hot air balloon took him to a place where spouses really could remember each other and be together in the New World. (And hopefully Sondra is there with Bill.) Or maybe it took him back to his wedding day and once Jane traveled through the New World and refused to forget Jim, it took her back there too and they got the second chance to really live their wedding vows, as described in Theory 2.
Or maybe I just want this book to have a happy and meaningful ending, so I am trying to hard to come up with plausible theories. But theory # 3 is my favorite possible ending, so I choose to believe it's what happened!...more
I wish I could give this book 3.5 stars because, even a couple weeks after finishing it, I can't decide how I feel about it. The beginning really grabI wish I could give this book 3.5 stars because, even a couple weeks after finishing it, I can't decide how I feel about it. The beginning really grabbed me and I loved it all the way up to the first 25% or so. Kate is working at a law firm and stereotypically jumping jumping jacks when they say jump and doing everything to please them but they still aren't happy, and, when she really thinks about it, neither is she. I could relate to this part but I still think that non-lawyers would like it because it is well written and hilarious. I was laughing out loud and reading parts to my husband.
Then Kate is kind of forced to take a "mental sanity" hiatus from the law firm and she goes to Spain. Spain! I love Spain. I lived in Madrid for a year during college. (She goes to Barcelona but all the more interesting). So I should have really liked this part but at first I really didn't. The book seemed to take a dramatic shift in tone and it became more silly and cheesy than genuinely funny. Kate chooses Barcelona because she still has a crush on the Spanish foreign exchange student who lived with her family for a while when Kate was in high school. (Or maybe it was middle school. This was a really long-lasting crush.) She hadn't seen him since then and in fact didn't even know that her mother still kept in touch with him (which I found hard to believe. She has a pretty crazy, mean mother but she still goes home for holidays and stuff and it just so happened that when she wanted to go find the exchange student, her mother had a Christmas card photo of him and his family on the mantel, or fridge or something.)
I think part of what I didn't like about the middle portion of the book is that it reverted into complete chick lit romance. She was smitten with this guy because she used to be fat and nerdy but he had paid attention to her and had been nice to her. I think they may have had an awkward kiss that she initiated and he rejected, but other than that there was no romantic history between them and nothing that should make her think going to Barcelona to find him would be a good idea. I sort of understand that she had no idea what else to do with her life right then and that this was the only guy she'd ever liked, so I can forgive her of her complete silliness. But I just didn't even understand why she liked this guy.
I think the problem could have been solved if the author had inserted more back story about the guy earlier. Later in the book we do start to see this guy's character and their history and we can understand (kind of) what The Big Deal is. But at first it's like "I'm a lawyer at a big firm... oh I think I'll randomly go find a guy I used to like, who happens to live in Barcelona." (She doesn't even seem to have an interest in Barcelona although she did take Spanish in school-- likely to one day hook back up with the exchange student. When people ask her why she's there she claims it's to study Gaudi, but she thinks Gaudi does paintings, not buildings.) All of this just made me feel like my formerly strong, gutsy protagonist (who invents an alter ego that she shows at work and in all professional settings, while her real self is lurking beneath, making sarcastic comments) is pathetic, silly and dumb. And I really don't think that's what the author had in mind.
The last 25% of the book picked back up and I was glad I had stuck with it, although it never returned to the former glory of its first 25%. It goes on really random and over-the-top detours, such as Kate meeting with a fortune teller and having a run-in with a crazy person and embarrassing herself several times. I thought that quite a few parts were unnecessary and the book could have been shorter. Kate still chases after the exchange student but she has some other romantic dalliances and she learns about the Spanish culture and language. So there were some interesting parts and I liked the setting and I was rooting for Kate. The ending is satisfying and complete, unlike some other books I've read recently.
In the end I think this is a fun, quick book to read while on the plane or at the beach. It has some issues and I would like the author to do more character development of the exchange student earlier on. But I really enjoyed Kate as a character in the first quarter to half of the book and I think the author writes really well. So I give it three stars (and would give it 3.5 if that were an option) and recommend it as a fun book, especially to other lawyers or other people who like Spain. Oh, and I am very happy that Kate was able to escape the billable hour! That's a happy ever after right there. ...more
Oh, the adventures of youth! I recently re-read this book in preparation for my son Sawyer's Tom Sawyer- themed first birthday party and I quite enjoyOh, the adventures of youth! I recently re-read this book in preparation for my son Sawyer's Tom Sawyer- themed first birthday party and I quite enjoyed it. Mark Twain says in the introduction that he hopes adults will enjoy his work because they were once children too... and it's fun to reminisce on the days of youth.
I love how adventurous, free-spirited, independent and curious Tom Sawyer and his friends are, just like my own son. I think today's helicopter/over-protective parents would faint and die at all of these kids' adventures. They roam wild and free... until returning home for supper and bedtime prayers. ;) I like how Tom Sawyer is in the middle of the bunch in terms of standing-- he's not a ragtag son of a hobo like Huck Finn but he's also not the richest or most upstanding boy in school (although he is able to pull off stunts so elaborate that even the esteeemed Judge Thatcher, Becky's father, admires him... and in the end, Tom really does earn and deserve his reputation that he earlier faked his way into). I feel bad for him not having a mother or father and having to live with the brown-nosing teacher's/parent's pet cousin Sid, but I think he manages to stay quite happy with his imagination and adventures, and that he does love his Aunt Polly and she him... although I wish she and every other adult in the book would lay off the child beatings!
This book is not only one of the first great American novels but it's also the quintessential story of boyhood! Pirates, Robinhood, fishing, rafting, running away, getting lost in a cave, sneaking out at night, playing with marbles and other toys (even dead animals!)... it's all in here. And even falling in love! I really enjoyed reading the parts about how much Tom loves Becky Thatcher. I believe this book is a romance as well as a childrens' story. And of course I enjoyed the famous part about Tom tricking everyone into doing his work for him. He's clever, spunky, AND sweet... the perfect boy! Just like mine!
Yet this book reminds us that being a young child is not all about fun and games. Tom and his gang learn some important life lessons and Tom is forced to step up and tell the truth in the name of justice. There's even some legal drama in this book as well.
I would rate this book 4.5 stars. My only critique of this book is that it starts and ends with a bang but seems to fizzle out in the middle. I think it could have been shorter but I believe it was written as a serial and needed more volume/words. Although I was a little bored and restless in the middle (much like Tom is in church!), it soon picked up and the entire last third really delivered. My eyes were glued to my Kindle, wondering "What's going to happen?" Even though I'm an adult and had read the book before, I had no idea, and totally fell into the suspense.
I highly enjoyed reading this book, both for getting ideas for my son's party as well as for fun. I would recommend it to children AND adults everywhere. I plan to read the other three books in the series soon....more
I used to love reading John Grisham's legal thrillers, and I picked up this book because it looked like a "female" version of his books. And it kind oI used to love reading John Grisham's legal thrillers, and I picked up this book because it looked like a "female" version of his books. And it kind of was, in that it involved a female lawyer and had a little bit of romance thrown in, but overall the biggest difference was that there is more "thriller" involved, whereas I would say Grisham involves more "suspense/intrigue." Grisham's books seem to center around the legal world and cases but Miller's book has that and more: it goes on exciting detours from the legal world and into a world involving Federal agents, thugs, and assassination attempts. So it's like a super-sized legal thriller that crosses over into other thriller genres.
"Irreparable Harm" is the first book in a series about Sasha McCandless, a senior associate at a big law firm in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a rising star at the firm and is very good at, and devoted to, her job. Her life consists of working a lot, and taking krav maga classes. (I listened to most of this book and my husband heard "krav maga" and was simultaneously impressed and dubious. I didn't know what it was but apparently it's a form of self-defense training developed for the Israeli military. At first I found it extremely "convenient" and unrealistic that she would be trained in this art but as the story fleshes out, it actually kind of makes sense and becomes semi-believable.) The plot of the book is basically that Sasha finds out about an evil plot involving messing with airplanes, and she has to work with a Federal Marshall to figure out who-done-it, as well as escape the murder attempts of people who don't want her to make this discovery. She uses her sassy legal skills as well as her self-defense skills and plain old thinking skills to work it all out.
This book reminded me of everything I hated about being an associate at a law firm. (But was somehow still quite interesting in other ways.) It had quite a bit of legal mumbo-jumbo that I can't believe the average reader would understand or care about. I wondered why the author was spending so much time going into all of that but at the end it all came together and made more sense. (Of course some of it was necessary to explain the court proceedings and legal strategies, but the part about the make-up and functioning of a law firm seemed superfluous until the end-- and even then, I still found that a lot of it was unnecessary).
I wavered between 3 and 4 stars on this book and if there was a 3.5 star option, I would have given it that. For pure entertainment value, it was a 4. But some of the stuff that happens is so outlandish that it annoyed me a little bit and I wanted to give it a 3. I found parts of the book to be "scripted" or overdone but I think that's part of the genre. (I don't read a lot of thrillers or even legal thrillers). But when the book was over I automatically wanted to start reading book 2 in the series, so it definitely held my attention and kept my interest. I think that this book appeals to a wide audience and that most readers would enjoy it. It would make a good beach or airplane read, but I added the audio and listened to it while I was cleaning and that was a good option too. ...more
Disclaimer: I neither read nor enjoy much bestselling contemporary fiction. There are exceptions (I like Elizabeth Berg, John Grisham, and some StepheDisclaimer: I neither read nor enjoy much bestselling contemporary fiction. There are exceptions (I like Elizabeth Berg, John Grisham, and some Stephen King) but in general, these books are not my cup of tea because I feel that they sacrifice good writing for popular plot twists and edge-of-the-seat drama. I especially steer away from "chick lit" and even more some from family-based drama that is about a mother and her children, because I usually find that it's overly cutesy and I just can't relate to it.
But. My mom had been telling me I need to read My Sister's Keeper, and she sent it to me. Even my sister, who hates to read, read and enjoyed the book. Then, a movie was coming out about it with a concept that looked new and interesting: one sister was created so that her other sister could live. I thought, I'd better read the book.
Well. What can I say? I guess My Sister's Keeper was everything I had expected to be. It had an interesting theme and some dramatic plot twists, but lacked good writing (for the most part) and character depth.
The main character is Anna, who is supposed to give up a kidney to save her sister from dying from cancer, or at least to prolong her life a bit longer. Anna has been doing similar things since she was born and her umbilical cord was used for a transplant for her sister. Her parents had purposefully created her to save or prolong her sister' life. At the beginning of the book, Anna has decided to fight back and has hired a lawyer to file a lawsuit for rights over her medical decisions (the legal aspects of the book are pretty murky).
The story is told in different first-person points of view, with each chapter being told by a different character, whose name is plastered on top, and, get this, the font type and style even changes with each chapter so you know it's being told by someone else. Gag.
I felt that Anna's voice was interesting and pretty convincing for a young teenage character. This made it feel like a young adult novel, but hey, I like young adult novels so I wish the entire book were told by Anna; I might have liked it a lot better. I hated the parts that were told by the mother because I was mad at her for having a baby for her own selfish purposes-although some may not think that keeping another child alive is a selfish purposes). Try as I might to grasp it by reading her sentimental and overly-protective dribble, I wasn't convinced that a mother, let alone this mother who was telling the story, could really do such a thing, and feel no shame or doubts about it. My own mother could relate to the mother of the book more than I could, so maybe it's a mother thing. Still, the mother came across as a self-righteous know-it-all to me. I didn't believe that she had had a successful law practice before beoming a mother, and I didn't feel any real love between her and her husband.
Speaking of the husband, the chapters that were told by him and his son, Anna's brother, read horribly for me. I just wanted to skip them. He's a fire-fighter, which I thought was conveniently contrived and also very unrealistic (who is paying for this family's luxury when the father is a fire-fighter and the mother is a stay-at-home mom who only practiced law briefly before having kids and is therefore probably in a lot of student loan debt?). He seems more ambivalent about the family's decision to have one child to save another child, but he comes across like a spineless wimp who's afraid of expressing his opinion to his wife, or, worse, like he doesn't care enough to do so. And the brother, Jesse, is a juvenile delinquent, which also feels very contrived, who is out roaming the streets and starting fires that his father has to put out without knowing that his son started them (see the irony? har har). His character does the best job of capturing the anger and angst that I'm sure Anna was feeling and that most of the readers would be feeling. Still, he comes across as superficial and stereotypical. The voices all blend together and do not sound like individual characters, a pet peeve I have when an author tries to do different points of view. Anna's came across as the strongest but the rest of the narrators--including the guardian ad liten and Anna's lawyer, both of whom get a turn--all jumbled together into one indistinguisable or trying-too-hard voice.
The legal sub-plots of the book didn't seem realistic, although I did enjoy the character of Anna's lawyer and his German Shepherd dog named Judge. He (the lawyer, but also his dog) seemed to be the only rationale character while the rest of them were floating around in no-man's-land.
I did enjoy the plot of the book and it was a very easy read. I read it during a rainy camping trip where I had the luxury of laying in a tent all day. I wanted to find out what happened, and at times there was a piece of beautiful writing included. Most of the time, however, the writing was gimmicky and overly sentimental and I felt like I was just pushing through to see what happens, like in a movie, not a well-written book. And then when I got to the end I was so annoyed that I seriously wanted to throw the book out into the mud. I won't include any spoilers but it was the worst ending I think I have ever read, and such an easy way out that I htink Picoult should be ashamed of herself. I hadn't planned to read any more of her books because I was more interested in the concept of this one than the writing, but, having gotten to the end only to be let down as a reader in such a huge way, I am 100% sure that I will never read anything else by her. Yes, I was that mad at how she wrote the ending! Grrr.
So, I give My Sister's Keeper two stars because there were parts of it that I enjoyed, but the rest of it was downright awful. I cannot in good conscience recommend it, but I think it's one of those books that people read because everyone else is reading it and talking about it (which is never a bad thing, people talking about books), and because there's a movie, all of which were reasons I read it, so, read it and see whether you agree with my many critiques or if you find something redeeming in it. By the way I later watched the movie and enjoyed it. The ending was much better than in the book although they did leave some things out from the book's plot that I missed. I would recommend the movie over the book, which I rarely do, but, there you have it. I guess in the end my foray into popular family-drama chick lit proved to be what I thought it would be: mostly empty, with a few splashes of interest and annoyance. ...more
I had high hopes for The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. (Maybe I had such high hopes that I had raised the bar too high?) I had read somewherI had high hopes for The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. (Maybe I had such high hopes that I had raised the bar too high?) I had read somewhere that Ms. Clayton used to be a corporate transaction attorney at a large law firm. After she ceased practicing law, she wrote this book. As a lawyer and aspiring writer, I was drawn to it from that angle. Then there was the fact that the book is about a group of aspiring writers, who form a writing group and try to publish. That sounds like me, so I thought I could relate. Finally, the book takes place in San Francisco starting in the 1960's. The interview I'd read with Ms. Clayton said she'd scoured old newspapers and magazines for historical tidbits to include in the book. How exciting! I thought.
Well... I have to say that the beginning of The Wednesday Sisters: A Novel really didn't meet my expectations at all. I found the first third of it quite dull. The characters all seemed stereotypical and flat to me. And it seemed like the story was dragging and almost nothing was happening! I pushed on, thinking a big part of it was that I just couldn't relate to these women. They admitted that they had put their dreams on hold, or permanently curtailed them, to marry their husbands, and their lives revolved around their children. It's not that I didn't want to read a book about housewives, but I think that many housewives, in real life and in books, are awesome. Many have confidence, charisma, interests and hobbies. But these women were so self-defacing that it was annoying. The main character, Frankie, tells the entire story, and she's always saying things like, "I can't imagine that I could actually write a book... I'd like to, but I'm no good, and what would these other women think?" We're not talking about writing a masterpiece novel here, or publishing, just writing in general. I wanted to scream at her, it's not that hard, just get a little self-esteem and try it! I really didn't understand the big deal.
Knowing the author's background, and that she was both a lawyer and a mother, I started thinking that maybe the problem was that she was writing what she didn't know, and it didn't seem real. But even the historical parts weren't that interesting in the first third of the book. The characters were on the outskirts of society, seemingly purposefully left out from everything exciting that was going on. They would see feminist protests on the news, but not attend. (Then Frankie would couch the events by saying something like, "We didn't know what to think of these crazy women on TV... we are just little stay at home moms who don't know anything about the world." Honestly, if I were a housewife I would be offended at the way that women in my profession/position were portrayed by the characters in the book!) Then there would be tidbits of history dropped in all too conveniently, like, "we read in the news that this happened..."(couched by Frankie in terms of "not that we understand what it all means, of course"), which to me isn't all that exciting. It's like too much historical data was given without the main characters really being a part of the context.
I kept reading The Wednesday Sisters since I had had such high hopes. Towards the middle, the book started to get better. And then the last third turned into a pretty good read. I think it's because the characters were actually doing something, making decisions instead of letting life just happen to them. For the first time, some of them seemed like separate characters, instead of all being lumped into one stereotypical housewife. (Some of them still fell flat to me even during the exciting parts). And they also went out into the real world and took part in some of the historical goings-ons, which made the historical parts a lot more interesting.
In the end, I think that the best parts of The Wednesday Sisters make for kind of a stereotypical chick-lit-for-mature-chicks read. Like, ladies that belong to knit clubs and church socials would probably like some of this book. But I bet even they'd be bored with a lot of it. It just doesn't go anywhere, or do anything, until near the end, and I don't know if a lot of people would hang on that long! I hate to give negative reviews, so I'll throw in something positive and say that this book has a lot of interesting parts about writing and the writing process, and it includes some good quotes and tips from famous writers. But even that part is annoying, because one of the women, Bret, will say things like, "Well, you know, Mark Twain always said..." at the beginning of their writing groups, causing Frankie to must out loud "How does Bret have such a good memory and always remember what all these great writers said?" Still, The Wednesday Sisters has some appeal for writers, so I recommend it, with reservations, to other writers. For this reason I give it two stars....more
It's hard to read, let alone review, a book about rape, but I think that this book it is an important one. Lucky is a memoir about a college student wIt's hard to read, let alone review, a book about rape, but I think that this book it is an important one. Lucky is a memoir about a college student who was attacked and raped in the park by her campus. Despite its difficult subject matter, Lucky reads smoothly. I feel that this is an accessible book for people to read who would like to understand better how to deal with rape, and to see all the ways that it impacts someone.
For me there were four distinct parts of this book (although the writer did not designate them as such – it just felt to me to read like that). The first part was the beginning, in which the actual rape sequence is told right up front. It is hard to digest but is written very clearly and directly. I really felt for the narrator in the next scenes, which immediately follow the rape, in which she goes to the police and is examined and has to tell her friends and family members what happened. At one point she describes something that I imagine must be almost as horrible as the rape itself – having to live the rest of her life as a rape victim:
“I knew exactly what had happened. But can you speak those sentences to the people you love? . . . That question continues to haunt me. After telling the hard facts to anyone from lover to friend, I have changed in their eyes.”
The second part of Lucky: A Memoir, for me, described the weeks and months following the rape. I found this part to be lacking because it seemed to me that the narrator wasn’t really dealing with her true feelings. I suppose that that is how it actually happened, though, and she did a good job of making me feel like I was right there with her in that time and that space, even though I often wanted her to do things differently. At times it seemed like she was pushing the rape out of her mind completely, and writing about her college classes and other things that any book about any college student would include. I wanted her to focus more on the issue, but perhaps she dealt with it by not focusing on it. In this part the theme of writing was introduced, which I did enjoy. Sebold dealt with her emotions by writing poetry and fiction. She took classes and seminars by Tobias Wolff and Tess Gallagher. Tess Gallagher is actually a pretty central character in the book, who accompanies Alice to court when she has to confront her attacker (although she’s disappeared by the end of the book without explanation, leaving me to wonder what happened).
The third part of the book, which I really liked, moved on to show how the narrator was intent on prosecuting her attacker. It was easy to cheer for her and she showed a lot of strength and wisdom. She describes the legal process well and at one point she mentions wanting to go to law school so that she can prosecute other criminals (she later decides to pursue teaching instead, and says it became her lifeline and salvation). It seems very fulfilling that the narrator finds some kind of justice and closure in the midst of all her suffering. At the same time, she is still human. I could tell that the rape had affected her and that in some ways it had changed her in a negative way. She seems to use men for own reasons and disregard what they must be feeling. She has a strange relationship with her father that she never quite explores in depth the way I wanted her to. (At times she has a close bond with her mother, who is always anxious and has panic attacks). Through all of these shortcomings, however, for most of the book she seems strong and like someone to whom most readers would be able to relate, despite the horrible thing that happened to her.
The fourth and last part of the book, though, takes a strange turn. I don’t want to include spoilers so suffice it to say that the narrator is no longer the intelligent, strong fighter that the reader had gotten to know and admire. This made me feel like my hunch was correct that she hadn’t been dealing internally with the aftermath of her rape. I was disappointed at her downfall but, more than that, it didn’t seem to make sense to me. I thought that the writer should have spent more time on the last part of the book and less time with the mundane intricacies of college life. I felt there were issues left unexplored in the book.
Overall, I “enjoyed” reading Lucky: A Memoir, although that is a strange thing to say about a rape memoir. I thought it was well-written and that it dealt with some very important social issues. I especially liked how it explored the subject of how different women deal differently with rape, and the need for there to be open dialogue about it. The writing in parts is flourishingly poetic, which was a strange offset for the subject, but it usually worked. I would like to read another book by Alice Sebold to see whether the tone works even better with a lighter subject matter (although, from what I understand, her novel Her Lovely Bones has anything but a light subject matter). I give Lucky: A Memoir three and a half stars and would recommend the book, but be forewarned that the subject matter is obviously difficult.
Double Billing is a memoir by a Harvard Law graduate who spent a few years in the 1990’s as an associate at a large (fictionalized) law firm in New YoDouble Billing is a memoir by a Harvard Law graduate who spent a few years in the 1990’s as an associate at a large (fictionalized) law firm in New York City. I bought this book for my fiance’s father, who enjoys legal thrillers by the likes of John Grisham. He had most recently been telling me about Grisham’s book The Associate. So, I thought, here’s a bird’s eye view into the world of a first year associate at a large law firm, a true story told by the former associate himself. The cover looked intriguing and mentioned the usual exciting suspects: greed, sex, and lies (although I wasn’t sure what the pursuit of a swivel chair part was all about).
After my fiance’s father read it, I decided to as well, because it seemed timely. I was working at the local office of a large law firm where I wasn’t happy. I thought that reading this book would help in a “misery loves company” kind of way. (Disclosure: By now I work at a small civil law firm, where I am much happier, so I am biased!)
The contents of Double Billing, however, not only disappointed me but, more often than not, annoyed me. I found the writing to be mediocre and the narrator to be self-indulgent. At some points I wondered if it was the author’s intention to upset the reader, because the book contained some sexist and racist comments, as well as downright condescending ones, such as this little gem:
“In the hierarchy of criminal practitioners, federal prosecutors are at the top, state prosecutors at the bottom . . . In the civil bar, personal injury lawyers—those who handle “slip and fall” cases—are at the bottom; lawyers at large firms who represent major clients are at the top . . . If you asked a personal injury lawyer whether he considered himself at the bottom of the civil law food chain, he would probably deny it and protest vigorously. On the other hand, his denials would have a strong whiff of defensiveness.”
I wondered what made the narrator think he knew so much about the practice of law when it came to making such blasé comments, when throughout the book, he makes a big deal out of the fact that he knows nothing about being an associate at a big law firm. (When given a document review assignment, he lies to a senior associate about having done one before, messes the process up due to his own ignorance, and then remarks, “There was no course called Document Production at Harvard. No one explained ‘Bates stamping’ or making multiple copies or reproducing file labels or sitting in a warehouse sweating your ass off.”) He also comes off as extremely immature at times, and almost disrespectful. (“We drove to the hearing in White Plains in [a partner:] Caroline’s Lexus. On the drive back to the office, I drew stick figures on the air-conditioned window while Caroline spoke to [another partner:] Eric on the car phone.”)
Having worked at a large and a mid-sized law firm, I had a pretty good idea what Stracher was writing about. Granted, I never worked—-and know by now that I wouldn’t want to work—-as an associate at a large law firm in New York City, but I have had many similar experiences as Stracher. He spends the first few months with little to no work, supposedly reading law review articles all day, which in my experience means you are either lazy or that the partners find you undesirable and you will eventually find your way to the door, by yourself or with an escort. After awhile, however, he does pick up some work, mainly a lot of document review and some discovery requests and responses, which is pretty typical of first year associate work. He even gets to help with a trial, which is a rare experience for a new associate that he at different points in the book appears to appreciate and take for granted.
Much of Double Billingcame off as whiny to me, and perhaps I have been numbed by the corporate law firms to which I sold my soul, but I don’t think anything he described was that bad. For one thing, as far as his rant about document production goes, paralegals have done the "bates stamping and multiple copying and reproducing file labels" work at all three of the firms where I have worked, and I can only imagine a large law firm having even more support staff on hand for these types of tasks. The “lies” he mentions are basically instructing a witness not to speculate about a situation if he or she doesn’t remember what was said or done, and playing discovery “games” with the other side by stalling or objecting before producing important documents. These situations and others have bothered me at various points in my career, but, as Stracher pointed out, that’s the way that practicing law sometimes works, and nothing that he saw violated the law or any professional or ethical rules. He also talks about partners giving busy work and tasks that he himself views as unnecessary to associates so that the firm can keep billing as many hours as possible. This complaint also has merit, but one person’s “busy work” is something another person deems necessary, and I wanted Stracher to deal with these important issues in a better way than casually mentioning them and then moving on.
As far as “sex” goes, there was little to none, and certainly not enough for a book that has the word in its subtitle. One of Stracher’s co-workers is secretly dating a paralegal. (How exciting.) More puzzling to me are Stracher’s sporadic mentions of his own personal life, without ever letting the reader in to the whole story. The book starts when he’s out to dinner with his girlfriend, having just passed the Bar, and ends when his girlfriend finally persuades him to change jobs. In the middle, there are random mentions of times when he has to cancel plans with her or leave her lonely at home because he has to work so much, and other times when she nags him to change jobs and stop working so much. Apparently they had been together for quite awhile and I kept waiting for some detail into their relationship beyond this surface level, and especially for resolution one way or the other-—a marriage proposal or a break up—-but there was none. I was left wondering why he even brought the girlfriend into the book at all.
And the swivel chair in the sub-title? Another disappointment. The entire story can be summed up as: his chair broke and he had to put in a request with the office manager, which was last on her list because he was a lowly associate and not a partner, and eventually, right before he quit, he got his chair. This plot line about sums up the excitement contained in the book as a whole.
If you are an attorney who has worked at a large firm before, or probably any sized civil firm, you will be able to relate to many parts of this book. At some points I was like, “Oh, yeah, exactly,” but other times I was bored because it was so commonplace. If you aren’t an attorney, but are interested in legal books, movies, TV shows, etc., you may like the insider’s view that this book presents. My fiance’s father liked it and it gave us some good conversation material, such as billable hours and different types of attorneys and areas of practice, etc. The book is definitely an easy and fast read. I wonder, though, if some of the legal mumbo jumbo may be confusing or frustrating to non-attorneys. The way that Stracher tries to describe legal issues was pretty annoying to me, full of dramatic language and unnecessary capitalization. (“Imagine: you’re the General Counsel of a Very Big Corporation that has just been sued by an Extremely Nasty Corporation for Unimaginable Injuries.”)
I assume that the intended audience of Double Billingis the general public—-readers who want to know what it’s like to be a young, big wig attorney at a large law firm. On that premise, this book does deliver, although I think the entire “spend a lot of hours doing seemingly useless work, until you can pay back your law school loans and go in-house” spiel could have been told with a lot more excitement.
I recommend this for people who are in law school or thinking about going to law school because in my opinion it gives a realistic portrayal of being a junior associate at a big law firm. The problem is that those big law firms are boring and stuffy, so the book is a little bit like that, too. Still, I think many people go into good law schools (and a lot of debt) with a lot of ambition and high hopes, only to find out that they must sell their souls to large law firms to be able to pay for their education, and this is not the kind of work or the kind of environment they had in mind when they signed up for the gig in the first place. A bit depressing, really, but also remember that not all law firms/ law jobs are like that. In my opinion this book seems to accurately depict large, big-city law firm life. To that I can only say "blah" -- to the idea and to the book!
Rating: I give this book two and a half stars -- I didn't really like it but some people might and it's not absolutely horrible.