This is undoubtedly one of the strangest literary journeys on which I've ever embarked, and after finishing this book, I'm left feeling both strangelyThis is undoubtedly one of the strangest literary journeys on which I've ever embarked, and after finishing this book, I'm left feeling both strangely inspired* and noticeably annoyed. There are parts of this book I wholly disagree with, based on my own knowledge of the wild animals in question, and based on my own experiences with them. (E.g. Foster's chapter on otters seems wholly misinformed, short-sighted, small in scope, and wholly misrepresentation of otters as a whole. He's dealing with a very specific river otter in a very specific region of the world, and his "truths" about them should be taken with a vat of salt. I've seen otters play, exhibit wit and cunning, and be altogether amusing and ingenious creatures.) There are parts of this book that are beautiful and interesting, and I particularly enjoyed the chapters on foxes and swifts, though I'm left thinking that's due in large part to particularly enjoying foxes and swifts in general, and not necessarily due to any true gift of Foster's.
There are also far too many parts of this book that feel wholly doused in upper-middle-class white privilege (e.g. sleeping on private property while appearing both homeless and slightly crazed, and having a conversation with a police officer wherein the author feels safe enough to be a sarcastic smart-ass, and wherein if that had been a minority person, or even someone of lesser class status - especially in the U.S. - they would have been arrested, or worse). One could argue the entire premise of this book is the product of upper-middle-class white privilege/disenchantment/ennui. And that's pretty gross.
I don't like the pretentious, WASPy parts of the book at all (and oh, there are many). I don't like the part of the book where, in his attempt to be more like x, y, z wild animal, the author himself engages and instructs his children to engage in unsustainable, detrimental, and altogether poor outdoor/wilderness ethics (e.g. instructing his children to take literal shits next to a flowing, functioning river). Foster either seemingly doesn't understand Leave No Trace, and/or doesn't care/doesn't think it applies to him and his mighty journey into the great unknown of becoming a beast. I happen to care a great deal about people traipsing out into the natural world and being completely idiotic about the type of footprints they leave and the type of long-term damage they could do.
I also don't for a second believe love has to be reciprocal to be felt, especially when it come to wilderness, and wild animals. (Which is the final, strange premise with which Foster closes this book). Parents can love an unborn child for a great deal of time before that child can even think about loving them back. Humans all over the globe can love other people that don't love them back, not yet and not ever. I can love each and every fox I see, and I do - my heart verily skips each time, and I feel an instant and intense sense of kinship and adoration for them - while completely understanding foxes, both individually and collectively, care nothing for me, and nor should they, save for taking care to steer clear of humans (sometimes driving vehicles) like me who might do irreparable damage to them, either accidentally or wholly intentionally.
The one piece of Foster's book (and his misguided but potentially well-intentioned process in writing it) that stands true and valid to me: There is a worth in seeking to see parts of this world from other vantages, no matter how literal and bizarre, in seeking to view our natural and contrived worlds via altogether "other" points of view. He did that. I just don't think he was altogether too successful. And maybe that's the entire point. Maybe some points of view just exist outside of our tangible purview, and that's more than okay: it's necessary.
*Inspired to tell better stories, to do better by our wild creatures, and to learn much more about foxes, swifts, otters, badgers, and all the rest.
[Two stars for foxes and for swifts, and for thinking outside the box, however misguided, pretentious, and WASPy the thinking may have been.]...more
I want to buy this book for every one I love. I want it to be required reading for every human. Please please please read it. I bet it'll take you 30I want to buy this book for every one I love. I want it to be required reading for every human. Please please please read it. I bet it'll take you 30 minutes or less, and it'll be time so well spent.
[Five stars for repeatedly punching me in the face with 58 pages overflowing with truth and timeless relevance.] ...more
I learned so much reading this. About our oceans, our sea creatures, the mud at the bottom of everything, and that I really likely should have gone wiI learned so much reading this. About our oceans, our sea creatures, the mud at the bottom of everything, and that I really likely should have gone with my gut and been a marine biologist. But mostly I learned I should trust myself and what I know and what I've always wanted to know and I should trust my stories. We are how we spend our time. We are what we care most about. We are essential to the survival of this earth and everything living on and in and underneath it.
[Four-point-five stars for our sacred, beloved, and equally maligned oceans, and for being nearly exactly the book I wanted it to be, and another book I much needed to read this year in any case.] ...more
Winton excels at writing broken men. Men at their literal and figurative wit's end. I find his books beautiful. They flow steadily for me, while his cWinton excels at writing broken men. Men at their literal and figurative wit's end. I find his books beautiful. They flow steadily for me, while his characters progress along their paths honestly, sometimes infuriatingly, painfully slowly. There's something inherently beautiful in the brokenness Winton isn't trying to hide, but is instead unapologetically showcasing in his stories. (When I say "his stories" I'm herein referencing The Riders, Eyrie, and Cloudstreet, which I'm currently reading.) His pages are laden with freshness, rawness, honesty - and plenty of happenings I can only describe as strange. Fittingly so. At this point, I'd highly recommend any of his books, even ones I haven't yet read, but The Riders is still my favorite.
[Four solid stars for a story and characters I won't soon forget, and for another ending that felt as if it came much too soon.] ...more
This story started incredibly slow for me, and I nearly abandoned it on multiple occasions (and I'm always disappointed when female authors write everThis story started incredibly slow for me, and I nearly abandoned it on multiple occasions (and I'm always disappointed when female authors write every female character in their books as mostly terrible, and terribly predictable, people), but sticking with this book through the end led to an unexpectedly beautiful story of camaraderie, companionship, and love.
[Three-point-five stars for just enough whimsy, and for plot twists and turns like clockwork.] ...more
A beautiful book. A heartbreaking book. A book about the ghosts we carry with us daily and what it looks like to be (im)perfectly human. It's a welcomA beautiful book. A heartbreaking book. A book about the ghosts we carry with us daily and what it looks like to be (im)perfectly human. It's a welcome sort of haunting, and makes me remember I'd very much like to know how Ireland smells before I die. I wish the book didn't end as abruptly as it does, but that's likely because I wanted to keep reading about Scully and Billie and their new-found Ireland forever.
[Four-point-five stars for whisking me off on an altogether insane European holiday, and for all the truth-telling in between.] ...more
This review is difficult for me. Because I'm a forever Stiefvater fan, and this series was so beautifully imaginative in places, and I adored some ofThis review is difficult for me. Because I'm a forever Stiefvater fan, and this series was so beautifully imaginative in places, and I adored some of these story-lines and some of these characters, but I also think The Raven King is my least favorite book in the series (while also freely admitting that not entirely loving series-ending books tends to be a pattern with me). It's not as if it wasn't a well-told story. It's just...well, the pacing of this one felt entirely off to me. We've been building up to the discovery of Glendower and the moment of Gansey's death since the beginning of Book 1, and by the time it arrived I was mostly over it. It felt like an excessive amount of perpetual build-up, and then BAM! the moment arrived and the kiss was anticlimactic (when that's the only kiss you're going to write between two "true loves" in four long books I expected a bit more oomph, I guess?) and then it felt like a dedicated rush to tie up as many loose ends as possible and tidily end the book. I get it: Books have to end. Four-part series have to end. But I felt like the end of such an emotionally wrought series with so many integral characters (Ronan, Adam, Blue, Gansey, Noah, The Grey Man, etc. etc.) deserved more time and attention - deserved to feel much less rushed.
ALSO: WHAT THE MAGICAL EFF HAPPENED TO THE GREY MAN? And to (the rest of) Laumonier? Is Blue's dad just going to perpetually live in their backyard tree? Can Blue live in trees, too? Can she still communicate with them? I feel like for as tidily and yet intentionally open-ended the series ended, there were some huge pieces left out of the narrative clean-up, and some strange narrative decisions made that didn't quite seem to fit as well as I imagined they would/could/should in a series-ending book. (For example, what was the point of introducing Henry and Seongdeok and RoboBee (wtf?) for one book?) I don't imagine any of that was wholly unintentional or haphazard, but it's admittedly more than a little vexing/confusing. Especially because The Grey Man was one of my favorite characters of the entire book, and I was confused as to where, exactly, he ended up (though maybe I was so focused on what was happening to Ronan and Adam that I somehow missed it?).
All of that to say: Would I read four more of these books were Stiefvater to add more to the series? You bet your magical ley line I would.
[Three-point-five stars for all of the magic and imagination, and for TEAMWORK, and for Ronan and Adam's love story being even more beautiful than Gansey and Blue's.] ...more
Oof, this book. So much potential! So much promise! It's a debut novel, and I want to tell you it's an impressive debut, because it really is SO beautOof, this book. So much potential! So much promise! It's a debut novel, and I want to tell you it's an impressive debut, because it really is SO beautiful in so many places. But it's terrifyingly incomplete in others. Namely, the ending. And it fails in huge places long before then, like in telling a complete story AND providing the main protagonist we're supposed to care about (We are supposed to care, right? Otherwise, what are we doing here?) with some self-worth and more than one sad dimension. Watching Carolina be overrun by the men in her life over and over and over again is a ridiculous use of a book. If that's what actually historically happened, fine (and: UGH), but readers deserve more closure than the literary equivalent of *SPOILERS FORTHCOMING IF YOU CARE* "And then her cheating/statutory-digging husband kidnapped her away to somewhere and she might have continued writing letters, and she might not, and she might have been happy or she might have been living locked in a literal closet, or she might have taken revenge on her husband with candle wax, BUT I'M NOT TELLING YOU A DAMN THING EXCEPT THAT THEY ALL EVENTUALLY GOT OLD AND DIED SO TAKE THAT, SUCKERS."
[Two stars for some seriously pretty passages, but I need my female protagonists to STAND UP AND USE THEIR WORDS, ALREADY.]...more
For me Margaret Atwood is one of those authors I've been told repeatedly I would like/love/adore/definitely not abhor, but until this collection (of sFor me Margaret Atwood is one of those authors I've been told repeatedly I would like/love/adore/definitely not abhor, but until this collection (of short stories, or perhaps more aptly described in places: prose poems) I hadn't ever read anything of hers. This collection is older (1994), and additionally comprised of pieces originally published in both 1983 and 1992, which is why it feeling so timely in places is perhaps my biggest praise of the book. She didn't write it a month ago, or a year ago. She didn't even write it a decade ago. Some of the strongest pieces are more than 30 years old. And yet so many of the pieces center on the sort of timeless topics we find ourselves currently reading about in newspapers, magazine articles, on social media - and otherwise facing in countless other ways throughout our daily lives.
For example, from "HARDBALL": "Think of the earth as a nineteenth-century life-boat, adrift in the open sea, with castaways but no rescuers. After a while you run out of food, you run out of water. You run out of everything but your fellow passengers."
And then from "WE WANT IT ALL" - which is my all-time favorite and in my opinion also the most poignant passage from the entire collection of words in this book: "When will it all cave in? The sky, I mean; our networks; our intricate pretensions. We were too good at what we did, at being fruitful, at multiplying, and now there's too much breathing. We eat dangerous foods, our shit glows in the dark, the cells of our bodies turn on us like sharks. Every system is self-limiting. Will we solve ourselves like the rats do? With war, with plagues, with mass starvation? These thoughts come with breakfast, like the juice from murdered fruits. Your depression, my friend, is the revenge of the oranges."
Ultimately, I don't find this collection flawless, and more than a few pieces felt to me as if they didn't necessarily belong, or weren't exactly strong enough - as if they weren't, perhaps, finished, but: There is strength in talking about women. In talking about men. In talking about the way men view women and women view men. In talking about the way all of us view this earth and everything in and on it. And thus, this little book packs a mighty powerful punch in some very specific and memorable places.
My personal favorites (in case you're curious, and/or in case I'm curious later): HAPPY ENDINGS MY LIFE AS A BAT HARDBALL POPPIES: THREE VARIATIONS WE WANT IT ALL WOMEN'S NOVELS
[Three-point-five stars for being strange and beautiful and powerful and altogether nothing I expected.] ...more