I don't even know where to begin with this review. I had such mixed feelings. I picked this book up on a Friday afternoon and read about 20 or 30 pageI don't even know where to begin with this review. I had such mixed feelings. I picked this book up on a Friday afternoon and read about 20 or 30 pages in, then picked it up again on Sunday and read the rest in one sitting. That is a testament to Cheryl Strayed's writing. It really is superb, and she has a gift I think, for drawing readers into the story.
The book begins with some back history of Strayed's childhood, growing up with her siblings and mother on a farmhouse with her step-dad (she had a very poor relationship with her biological father who was abusive to her mother). It then moves to her college years, when she and her mother begin to attend classes together and apart, both to get their degrees in-you guessed it Oprah Book club fans, Women's Studies. Strayed marries a good man at 19 but 3 years later, she finds out her mother is dying of lung cancer. After that happens, her life falls apart. She has a massive breakdown and begins cheating on her husband repeatedly until she confesses her infidelities and he leaves her. She claims that she still loved him very much and that he was still her best friend. She hooks up with a junkie who in turn hooks her up with heroin. She gets pregnant via said junkie and has an abortion. She then decides to hike the PCT from Mojave to Cascade Blocks in Oregon. In spite of months of preparation, she finds as she begins her journey, that she is still woefully unprepared and ridiculously naive in regards to what her 1100 mile+ hike would actually be like. Heaving her massive and heavy pack nicknamed "monster" along the way, Strayed slowly but surely acclimates to life on the trail. Along the way, she meets other hikers and makes some friends, as well as having a few spooky encounters with snakes, bears, and creepy men, armed only with a whistle (which I found incredibly stupid btw…I would never go hiking alone without some kind of real protection or firearm. That's just me though). She even has time along the way to hook up with yet another stranger, while taking a break from the hike in Ashland. By journey's end, Strayed is fitter, happier, and….well, maybe just fitter.
What I liked:
In a way, I can relate to Strayed. Someone close to me is a heroin abuser, and knowing what drove him to that, I could easily see the pain of her mother's death bringing her to that. I could also relate to her self-destructiveness in general, especially when she mentioned how she imagined that people who were "cutters" enjoyed the pain they caused themselves. That hit home for me in a pretty real way.
I really enjoyed the actual "journey" parts of this book. Strayed makes a few bad judgment calls and underestimates how much stress her body would have to go through. Unlike some, these dumb decisions didn't drive me batty and I found her to be somewhat endearing in her foolishness. She is pretty lucky that nothing really bad happened to her. I also found her encounters with the other hikers to be interesting (more specifically, the fact that just about everyone she came across was friendly and helpful to her in some way).
Strayed's writing as I said, is pretty damn good. She is honest and forthright about her past, and I don't feel like she tried to paint herself as a victim too much, which is good, because I didn't see her as such.
What I didn't like:
I felt like Strayed didn't do the greatest job of explaining her "transformation" while on the trail. In fact, it almost seemed like she didn't change much at all, except to mention that she felt she no longer needed heroin at the end. Oh yeah, and instead of sleeping with a man she is attracted to, she decides not to. I mean, both of those things are important I suppose, but I just needed…more. I felt like Strayed needed more redemption or something. She basically just rationalizes away the shitty things she did, because they lead her to hiking the PCT, which somehow leads her to a rebirth that isn't quite believable to me, as presented. I expected a little bit more contrition, and maybe for her to stop using her ex-husband as an emotional tampon (in all fairness, she did make some comments like maybe she was truly moving beyond him but it was only a couple of lines). Another reviewer mentioned that if we reversed the gender roles in this story and a man had written it, this book wouldn't have quite as many four and five star reviews because we would all be so focused on what an asshole he was to cheat on his loving and supportive wife repeatedly and engage in heroin use. I kind of tend to agree that it wouldn't also. And while I think anyone who hiked the trail is a bad-ass for even trying to go so far, Strayed admits multiple times that she is constantly being helped out and complimented because she is pretty. There is even a scene where three guys she met on the trail tell her that she is lucky to get helped out by strangers like that, because no one at all wants to help three men out. It kind of took away from the "empowerment" aspect of her journey. I mean really, had she not had all of the little handouts and whatnot, I don't know that her story would have ended the same way, because she found herself in some sort of dire circumstances at times. Not that it really lessens her feat greatly, because I don't think that it does. Things are what they are and she did make it the whole way.
I probably sound pretty judgmental of Strayed and but I honestly am trying hard not to be. I'm not by any means perfect and I'm in no place to truly judge her as a person. She may have well evolved immensely on her trip, but she didn't convey that personal internal evolution very well to me with her writing, and that's what I'm criticizing because I have a feeling that Strayed is probably a cool lady now a days. I'm happy that she found someone worth marrying again and had a family. She lives in Portland just like me, so maybe someday I'll meet her. I'm definitely going to check out more of her writing and her Dear Sugar column. ...more
I decided to take a break, first from reading, and then from reading mindless poorly written garbage. I felt as though my brain were trapped in a clouI decided to take a break, first from reading, and then from reading mindless poorly written garbage. I felt as though my brain were trapped in a cloud of smoke and cheap words.
So I heard about this memoir by Lidia Yuknavitch, and I had to give it a go. Lidia lives here in the Portland area and somehow knowing she's around, a real person existing, is kind of exciting.
The book is comprised of vignettes; various memories that Lidia recalls and show/tells us with her often poetic prose and use of various literary devices. After opening with the death of her still-born daughter at age 26, the first part of the book is mainly about her dark and frightening childhood, shared with her sister. The failings of her parents are pretty grievous, and her father especially took some pretty fucked up liberties with his daughters. Lidia however, is a gifted swimmer and finds her strength in swimming, and later in her life, writing. She is careful not to cast her parents into specific boxes; while she is deeply hurt by her father, she also speaks of his vast intelligence and artistry and while she resents her mother for not protecting her more, she also remembers how much her mother was there for her in other ways.
After moving to go to college in Texas, Lidia's life seems to spiral into a mess of alcohol, sex with just about everyone(and abortions), drugs, and mayhem. Crimes are committed. Men are married (three of them). Lidia is fearless in exploring art, writing, sexuality. She also relates to how she found writing through doing workshops with Ken Kesey and meeting Kathy Acker. Eventually she goes on to be a professor herself, and marries one of her students, with whom she eventually had a child and is still married to, today. While Lidia does some morally questionable things in her life, she keeps it real. She tells it like it is, even when she isn't explicitly telling it. She writes with a dispassionate hindsight. The tone seems at times amused, other times somewhat apologetic, but only subtly so.
The way that the book is written is so...lovely. I really love Lidia's writing voice. She has a mastery of language. To me, a well written memoir should bring the reader closer to who the writer is. And this was something that I felt reading the book. I felt connected to her, which is something that makes the book far more meaningful to me. Our life experiences are pretty vastly different too, but the emotions, the feelings...I felt a kinship, even though you can't actually put emotions into language. She gets close enough sometimes. Sure it's not a work of perfection, objectively speaking. There were a few lines that had me rolling my eyes. But nothing that really took away from book, as a whole. ...more
I had heard much about this book when I was going through my "radfem" phase (I have since declared myself a humanist) and bought it a few years back.I had heard much about this book when I was going through my "radfem" phase (I have since declared myself a humanist) and bought it a few years back. I read it pretty quickly but decided I thought it was a little over-the-top and unrealistic, but that I enjoyed it. I tend to like reading about dystopias and alternate futures and the like. However, over the years passed, I have reevaluated and I do believe that the potential is there for something similar to what happened in this story, to happen in America. Human beings, being deeply flawed and the ones tending toward irrational fanaticism have lead me to believe this. I think its an incredibly remote chance, and I also think it would start a war in this country. The point is that I don't think it's *impossible.* I believe that was Margaret Atwood's point too.
I found myself horrified and disgusted by the way women and all societal outliers were treated in this dystopian world. The idea of being forced to have sex with an assigned patriarch is absolutely revolting to me. While the narrator seems to keep her wits about her and maintain a solid frame throughout the novel, it did not lessen the tragedy of being separated from her daughter and husband. But of course, anyone who is immersed in any kind of government/ruling system, will soon find agency in their own ways, and also learn to exploit loopholes in the system, as well as learning to exploit human weaknesses, which don't disappear simply because one lives in a totalitarian state. Offred (the narrator) does just this in striking up illicit affairs with both the commander and Nick, and is able to find a way out (it is implied that she is indeed taken in by the resistance in the epilogue. I choose to believe this as well.) I enjoyed this read very much and recommend it to anyone who is intrigued by "speculative fiction."
I bought this book of essays on impulse, having seen it on my coffee break in the Small Press section at Powells. Being a twenty-something myself, I wI bought this book of essays on impulse, having seen it on my coffee break in the Small Press section at Powells. Being a twenty-something myself, I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to read about another woman’s life and experiences. They were totally different from mine in a literal way, but I could still relate to the sense of wistfulness I found in many of her stories. Like many if not most of us, Caldwell seems to learn the most about herself through her relationships with others, and that is what most of these essays are about. I have to admit that I respect how much she revealed. I think that it takes balls to be so open about every part of your life.
Caldwell’s essays are all regarding her early twenties spent in Brooklyn and Seattle (and here in Portland too, I think but I don’t recall reading any Portland-centric essays in her book). I felt drawn into her life right away. Caldwell strikes me as someone who is probably warm and friendly and eager to experience everything that life has to offer. She writes with frankness about her past sexual exploits and drug use, and is honest about her feelings; yet she also conveys a sense of vulnerability throughout. There were certainly lines in the book that really resonated with me as well. I will probably have to go back and highlight them at some point.
Critique-wise, I would first say that the constant listing of “we did this and we did that and then we did this….” Got kind of monotonous after a while. I mean, I think I get it, but the events and places and things listed don’t have meaning to anyone else but the author and the person she’s writing about, so the constant listing kind of makes one’s eyes glaze over after a few pages. And I also have to agree with the one reviewer who mentioned wanting to see more self-reflection. And it very well may just be her writing style; but I just got the sense that Caldwell didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about how these experiences and relationships were affecting her growth as a person. Maybe that wasn’t what she wanted to write about this time around, but I’m not sure if one can get away with writing about doing heroin and acid and having multiple casual sexual relationships and attending orgies, without a little “gee, why am I behaving this way” kind of introspection. And that’s not meant to be a moral judgment, it’s just that she was engaging in risky behavior and never seemed to question herself on it at all. And if she didn’t that’s cool, just write about it. Maybe in the next book. I will certainly buy it. ...more
I saw the Sofia Coppola movie-version of this story, before I read the book. And like the movie, I found the book to be very “pretty.” The prose is poI saw the Sofia Coppola movie-version of this story, before I read the book. And like the movie, I found the book to be very “pretty.” The prose is poetic and lovely, and I felt a certain sense of emptiness by the time I finished the novel. I felt as though I; like the boys telling the story in the novel (well, one man tells the story as an adult on behalf of him and his friends) had only gotten little glimpses of the reality that the girls lived in. I felt a certain distance from them…the story was not sad to me, it was more like a piece of art. That’s okay by me, as I could still appreciate it and relate to a point. I do wish we could have seen things from the girls’ perspectives, I think that would also have made for a fascinating story, but then again, that probably wasn’t the point of the book in the first place....more
What can I say about the Hobbit? It’s a great fantasy novel, but I will warn those who haven’t read it, that it can take a while to get into. HonestlyWhat can I say about the Hobbit? It’s a great fantasy novel, but I will warn those who haven’t read it, that it can take a while to get into. Honestly, it took me about a hundred pages or so before I was really feeling it. I still say it’s a five star book. I admit I haven’t read it in years but I remember loving it when I was much younger and I have a feeling that I still would now. There’s nothing like a great fantasy to capture the imagination.
The premise is this: Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who just wants to live a quiet and simple life. Then Gandalf the Grey, a wizard, shows up at his door with a bunch of dwarfs. The speak of wanting to reclaim their treasure from Smaug; a fearsome dragon that has taken residence in the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo’s heart is not in it initially, but as the novel progresses, he becomes more and more a hero, in unconventional ways. The story is a classic, and I fell in love with it as soon as I moved past the first hundred pages or so, as I said. The adventure really picks up at that point and with every turn I was enthralled by the magical world of Middle Earth.
It’s a great story for grade school/middle school kids, and with the first part of the movie coming out at the end of 2012, there may be no better time for them to read it or for you to read it to them. ...more
Goodness but there are a lot of reviews on this book! It’s almost intimidating trying to write my own.
I picked up a Game of Thrones at a book store aGoodness but there are a lot of reviews on this book! It’s almost intimidating trying to write my own.
I picked up a Game of Thrones at a book store a few years ago, out of boredom. It was in the bestselling paper back section, which isn’t an area I normally linger in but the vague cover gave so little away that I was intrigued and so I took it home thinking it would be another book that I would start and then toss aside out of boredom half way through. I had no idea I was about to become yet another obsessive fan…
In case the five stars didn’t give it away, I really loved this book. And pretty much the whole series, thus far. I’ve also seen every episode of the HBO series, and while good, it doesn’t come close to the books, IMO.
The series takes place in a fictional medieval world in which summer and winter last for years at a time. I noticed other reviewers complain that Martin didn’t think this choice through well enough or elaborate on what that would mean for the economy, food storage, etc. While there may be a grain of truth to that, it wasn’t something that I noticed originally and it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story one bit. Martin’s world is one in which magic is thought to have died but once very definitely existed. In fact, it is still thought to, in some of the more mysterious and distant reaches …
The gist of the story is essentially a battle for the throne of Westeros, the continent on which much of the action takes place. There are so many characters and political intrigues in this book that I could not properly summarize them, even if I tried. Most of Martin’s characters are a mixture of “well-fleshed” and “mysterious/intriguing/I-hope-they-are-fleshed-out. This can make for some sad reading when one of them dies, which many unfortunately do, even those whom you think “he couldn’t possibly do that to *****, could he?” Oh yes. He can and he does. Whether by sword, sea, ice zombie, dragon fire, being baked alive in armor…*sigh*. No one is safe. And the magic that we discover does still exist, does little to help anyone. This was important to me, as I cannot stand fantasy stories that rely too heavily on the use of magic to propel characters out of dangerous situations or accomplish goals. The magic element is more subtle, certainly in the first few books, although it becomes somewhat less subtle later on.
There are families in which you as a reader may find yourself pledging your loyalty to. I love the Starks personally (and maybe that’s because this first book is so heavily Stark focused) You may find yourself throwing in with the Targaryans, the Tyrells, or the Lannisters. There are many families, and many many names to remember. Those who don’t like a little complexity in this way might be turned off. I can understand, sometimes you just want an effortless read. This book, hell this series, is not effortless. It’s violent, and depending on your investment level, emotionally exhausting. I love being made to feel anything by a writer, quite frankly. So that counts as a positive in my book. ...more