My mom reads an abnormal amount of children’s animal books. So, when she ventures into the land of adult reading, it comes as no surprise to me that s...moreMy mom reads an abnormal amount of children’s animal books. So, when she ventures into the land of adult reading, it comes as no surprise to me that she typically chooses books with animals in the title. I suppose for Little Bee, it was actually an insect… but close enough. My mom highly recommended Little Bee to me, and so I had high hopes for the book. The story is about a Nigerian refugee who escapes to England (illegally) and after being held in a detention center for two years, she is released into a land where she knows only two people. These two people, Sarah and her husband, took a vacation to Nigeria two years before in which they crossed paths quite tragically with Little Bee. When she sees out the couple, her arrival stirs up a mess of horrible memories. While she struggles to find a better life, it seems she just can’t shake the atrocities which have long haunted her.
Little Bee’s own story was compelling and emotional, but the rest of the characters in this book were infuriating! Not even Sarah’s son Charlie, who only responds to “Batman” and goes into hysterics if forced out of his Batman costume, was likeable in the least bit…and he is a small child! His antics should have been cute and brought comic relief; instead he was tiresome and at times infuriating. Compared to Little Bee and the other refugees from early in the book, all the characters seemed weak and lacking backbones. I suppose in a way that was sort of the point – to show that a woman who owed no one anything and faced the ultimate evils could continually sacrifice herself for the lives of others. But it just made me ashamed of my own sheltered, privileged upbringing and of how cruel and selfish white people can be.
Also, it makes me sick that in just about every book I read these days it seems like the “strong” female lead is having an affair. There is no quicker way to tarnish the character of a woman who is supposed to be strong and inspirational. I think this novel could have been taken to a whole other level had Sarah been as much of a role model (in ALL aspects of her life) as Little Bee. Together, they could have taken the world (and readers’ hearts) by storm. But as it was, this novel seemed lacking and incomplete. Instead of feeling fulfilled by the novel’s end, I felt at emotionally at a loss. So although I liked much of the story (until the end), all of the supporting characters knocked my liking for this novel down a few notches. (less)
For all the hype Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, was getting, I was expecting it to be the mystery/thriller of the year for 2012 (as many blogs, publicat...moreFor all the hype Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, was getting, I was expecting it to be the mystery/thriller of the year for 2012 (as many blogs, publications, lists, etc. claimed). Sure, it was gripping and held my attention, but by the end all I could think was, “Wow, Flynn has to be a special kind of crazy to write this.” And not the fun kind of crazy, more like the oh goodness that lady has issues sort of crazy. Upon looking up her picture and reading her biography, I was reassured of her apparent normalcy. But I still wonder, what inspires authors to write stories like this one, seemingly fueled by so much contempt, suppressed rage, and maybe a hint of desperation? How do authors create and get inside the mind of characters like the ones in this book, without drawing from some aspect of their own lives? I sincerely hope, for Flynn’s sake, that she was not drawing on personal experience when she wrote this book.
The story is about Nick and Amy, and for a good portion of the book the chapters alternate between Nick in the present day and diary entries from Amy. Married five years and living in North Carthage, Missouri, they both feel stuck in their relationship, neither one of them making the other happy the way they used to (if they ever really did – that part is debatable). But then on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears. Nick returns home to find his front door left wide open, a tea kettle brewing, an iron left on upstairs, and signs of a struggle in the living room. Nick, being the husband, is of course the primary suspect, and he doesn’t exactly help his case with his strange behavior or by repeatedly lying to the police. Yet, he doggedly maintains that he had nothing to do with his wife’s disappearance. So then what did happen to Amy?
If you think this is going to be your typical whodunit mystery, you’re wrong. In fact, the reader learns what happened to Amy about midway through the book. That’s one of the reasons this book is a refreshing change of pace. Nothing is as it seems and the characters are all so incredibly twisted, it’s hard to root for anyone. Instead, the reader just has to surrender to the story and let it take them wherever it is going to, which I can guarantee will be a place least expected. By that, of course, I mean the ending, which many readers were up in arms about. I personally don’t have a problem with the ending. I’m not sure there were many other ways the book could have ended so perfectly. And with such perfect justice.
Although I still only give this book a 3 out of 5 stars, the more I think about how everything ended, the more I find I like the book. Especially for those who like a good suspense story, I think Gone Girl is worth checking out. I’m still not quite sold on it being one of the best of 2012, but I still found it to be a totally engrossing read. And even if you don’t love it, it should at the very least make you feel better about your own lives and relationships.
Apparently, modern day witch hunts do exist. In case you haven’t heard the story of the West Memphis Three, now is your chance to read all about it be...moreApparently, modern day witch hunts do exist. In case you haven’t heard the story of the West Memphis Three, now is your chance to read all about it before it is released as a movie later this year.
Back in 1993, three young boys were reported missing. The next day, police found the dead bodies of the boys, submerged in the waters of a ditch in woods near the boys’ homes. The boys were tied in an unusual position, stripped naked with their hands and feet bound together from the back. For weeks after the murders, the police had little to go on and no suspects. Then seemingly out of nowhere, police began targeting local three teenagers, supposedly belonging to a satanic cult: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley. Due to the fact that these teenagers wore black band t-shirts and played Dungeons and Dragons, they were “obviously” into some dark stuff, including Devil worshipping. Side note: if DND is all it takes to be labeled a murderer, my boyfriend better be on his best behavior. The police believed without a shadow of a doubt that these boys were guilty, and aided Prosecutors in convincing the Jury of their guilt. The jury, then, gave convictions of life in prison to Jessie and Jason, and the death penalty to Damien, the supposed leader of the group. However, not everyone was as convinced of the boys’ guilt as the jury and police, seeing the case against them for what it was – riddled with more questions than answers.
Mara Leveritt, a journalist in search of the truth, was one such individual who questioned the “facts” of the case. She compiled and wrote The Devil’s Knot as an unbiased look into the investigation, highlighting inconsistencies among testimonies, holes in the investigation, shoddy police work, a lack of hard evidence, and a fervor to find someone, anyone, to pin the murders on, even if the facts didn’t necessarily support such accusations. After all, America demanded justice for the shocking murder of these innocent children. After reading this book, I find it terrifying how easily a case could be falsely built around anyone provided the right set of circumstances. This is the kind of thing that makes a person lose faith in the people who are supposed to be protecting us from injustice, not helping to cause it.
Leveritt does an exceptional job of laying out the case. In fact, the only thing I was left wishing for at the book’s conclusion was not something that the author could have actually helped. That is, I wanted to know about the events leading up to the three being released from prison, obviously impossible since they were released in 2011 and this book was published in 2003. Furthermore, based on Leveritt’s reporting, the facts seemed to point to the guilt of the stepfather of one of the murdered boys – but this could neither be confirmed nor disconfirmed at the time of publication. However, since finishing the book, I realized that there are three documentaries about the case: one filmed during the investigation/trial (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills), another filmed while the three convicted boys were in prison (Paradise Lost: Revelations), and the third after new evidence was found and a new trial date set (Paradise Lost: Purgatory). Right now they are at the top of my must watch list. Hopefully they will be able to fill in the answers to some of my unresolved questions after finishing the book.
I highly recommend The Devil’s Knot. It was completely engrossing, and it’s good to know that the West Memphis Three were finally given the justice they deserved, although it can never take away the wrong that was done to them.
My sister, my boyfriend and I recently started a bookclub. They share similar reading tastes, which consist more of a mixture of science fiction, fant...moreMy sister, my boyfriend and I recently started a bookclub. They share similar reading tastes, which consist more of a mixture of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that the type of books that typically top my reading list. But, I thought it would be a good time to try new things. Last month, Zach picked Enchantment by Orson Scott Card for our group to read.
I think Enchantment was a good starter book to ease me into the genre (this one was fantasy). For instance, it started out without a trace of anything bizarre going on at all – Although, the first chapter seemed to have a large section devoted to circumcision, which I most definitely could have done without. However, this lack of anything unusual persisted for a good five chapters, and from my point of view the book didn’t actually really get interesting until chapter ten (the book has twenty in all). Needless to say, the slow buildup left me struggling to read the book as quickly as my sister and Zach did.
Enchantment is a novel twist on the classic fairy tales we all heard growing up. It centers around a boy named Ivan, who while staying at his uncle’s house, goes for a run in the nearby woods one day and stumbles upon an alter with a sleeping girl. Not really knowing what to do, Ivan returns back to the house, and then his family moves to America. Yet, he never is able to forget the sight of the girl in the clearing no matter how many years he puts between him and that fateful day. When Ivan is working on his Dissertation, he returns back to the country of his youth to research, but is once again drawn to the spot where the girl lay sleeping. After putting up one heck of a fight against the bear who guards the girl’s body, Ivan kisses her, and it should come as no surprise that this simple act awakens the princess from her slumber. Ivan follows the girl across a bridge back and ends up back in time, at a turbulent time when an evil witch named Baba Yaga threatens the welfare of the Kingdom. Unfortunately, Ivan and the princess have troubles of their own, and can’t seem to stand being around one another for longer than a few seconds. Thus, the story focuses on the ever evolving relationship between Ivan and the Princess, as well as the fight to save the princess’s Kingdom from the hands of the conniving Baba Yaga.
There were a number of things I liked about the writing: First, the story was told from multiple perspectives, which kept things interesting. Secondly, the story began in the present day, then progressed back to the past, to the present again, and once again to the past, which made it interesting to see how the characters adapted (or didn’t) to setting which they were wildly unequipped to handle.
The main things I didn’t like about the book were the extremely slow start, many of the characters were quite annoying, the battle scene seemed rather short and weak (almost as if the author just got tired of writing and decided to skip ahead a bit to the part he found more interesting), and finally the author wrote what my sister and I refer to as a Harry Potter-esque fan-fic ending. If you have read Harry Potter, you know what we are referring to. At the very end of the final book, Rowling flashes forward in time many years (always a mistake!) to describe all the kids of our beloved Potter characters boarding a train to go to Hogwarts. It is cheesy and completely unnecessary to offer more closure to a series that in my opinion didn’t need it. This story was the same way, with a flash forward to show what the main characters lives are like years in the future. Authors need to stop doing this, and be ok with leaving a story with a little less finality. Movies do this all the time, and we don’t seem to be outraged when at the end of the journey the screen simply fades to black and the credits roll. The final chapter/look into the future of Enchantment was far less gag-worthy than Harry Potter’s ending, but still enough to make me groan.
All in all, while the latter half of Enchantment was a fun read, I didn’t feel sympathetic enough to the plight of the main characters to really care one way or the other what happened to them in the end. I read books for enjoyment, not to get fed up with the way characters act (probably one of the reasons I DESPISE the Great Gatsby). Luckily, some of the supporting characters were relief enough to make the main character bearable. Plus, Card’s writing style, laces with satire and sarcasm, was enough to keep me reading. (less)
Remember how in 1875 the U.S. government traded 1000 white women to the Cheyenne Indian Tribe in exchange for 1000 horses to help the Cheyenne learn h...moreRemember how in 1875 the U.S. government traded 1000 white women to the Cheyenne Indian Tribe in exchange for 1000 horses to help the Cheyenne learn how to acclimate to the White man’s world? No? That’s because it didn’t happen. But what if it did?
This may seem like a strange premise, but when Ulysses Grant was president, a Chief from the Cheyenne Indian Tribe actually suggested this trade of 1000 white women for 1000 horses. Of course, the poor guy was laughed out of the room and his proposition was never even considered. However, I was never too interested in American history, and coupled with my gullibility, I was almost convinced that this story actually happened. AT FIRST. But the writing in the journals was so modern that soon the seeds of doubt were planted in my mind as to the story’s validity. The setup of the book is essentially this: May Dodd was a woman condemned to the loony bin by her family due to her “promiscuity,” a term used to describe her love for a man who wasn’t her husband. It seemed she was destined to waste away her prime years institutionalized, with no hope of freedom, until she heard about a strange opportunity. Patients, provided they were fertile with promising birthing hips (ok…I added that last bit), were given the opportunity to travel west under a super secret “Brides for Indians” program sanctioned by the U.S. Government. Of course, May Dodd’s immediate reaction was. “Where do I sign up?” I’m fairly certain she would have sold all of her non-essential organs (and maybe even some essential ones too) on the black market if it could guarantee a hasty departure from the psychiatric facilities where she was being held. The book itself is meant to be Dodd’s journals, composed of letters to friends and family, she wrote while on her bizarre adventure in the Wild West both before and after meeting her Indian groom.
While I loved the style of this book (Miss Dodd has a great, highly satirical voice), it just didn’t seem to transcend anything other than a fun read not to be overanalyzed due to its various limitations. First, although May Dodd certainly knows how to tell a good story, unfortunately her language was just too modern to fit in to the late 19th century when it was supposed to have been written. Perhaps that’s why it appealed to me – because May Dodd just seemed like one of my friends ranting and raving. But realistic? Not at all? I can’t really hold this against the author though, because I honestly don’t believe the author takes himself too seriously (nor was this book meant to be taken seriously). If it was, well THEN we’d have a serious problem. However, what I did object to was the one-dimensionality of all the characters. It’s as if Fergus wrote each character to fit a certain stereotype, and just expounded on them to the point of ridiculousness. None of the characters ever really acted unexpectedly throughout the entire book, and I think a bit of unpredictability would have added some more depth. Furthermore, Fergus essentially wrote all of the women characters to be slightly neurotic if not insane. The only woman that was semi-normal dressed like a man most of the time. This wouldn’t have even stood out to me had the author himself not been male. Again, he was just playing into the stereotype that women are overemotional (i.e., not rational) creatures.
Oh, and for such a quirky book with so much humor, it sure had a heck of a depressing ending. A seriously gruesome, killing and slicing open horses just so one can jump in and wear the intestines like a sticky winter coat kind of ending. I suppose when I really think about it, the book dealt with some pretty heavy subject matter all the way through, such as rape and murder and domestic abuse. Yet, I didn’t notice the heaviness as much throughout because May Dodd made it somehow seem a little less depressing with her sense of humor. And when that was gone, there was nothing to buffer the reader from the horror.
All in all, I did enjoy this book. As long as you aren’t looking for a literary masterpiece or even realism, then you might enjoy it too. Just know going in that this is a purely a piece of fiction, and hopefully that will alleviate some of the incredulity I experienced from page to page.
"My Ántonia" by Willa Cather has been sitting on the shelf besides my bed since my sophomore year of college, collecting dust until the day I could fi...more"My Ántonia" by Willa Cather has been sitting on the shelf besides my bed since my sophomore year of college, collecting dust until the day I could finally devote time to reading it. You see, I read "O Pioneers!" by Cather my freshman year at Truman in a Literature of the American Landscape class (which in case you were wondering, was not a class which I would have chosen for myself; rather, it was chosen for me for the purpose of making our transition to college life a little easier?). In a sea of boring, painstakingly detailed descriptions of plant life, of ever blade of grass and the measurements of the girth of every tree trunk, complete with scientific names and next to no storylines (think Walden, Muir Woods, and the like) "O Pioneers!" stood out as one of the few enjoyable books we read. It had characters! And a plot! And an exclamation point in the title! What's not to love!? In retrospect, that book may have seemed so enjoyable at the time in comparison to the slew of other "page-turners," and may not have held my attention so well had I read it immediately after, say, Harry Potter. Regardless, I was thrilled when my book club decided to read it last month. And let me tell you, it was NOT worth the 6 year wait with an unremarkably underwhelming array of bland characters and no real climax whatsoever. I shouldn't have been surprised to find the setting none other than the farmland of the Midwest.
I suppose Ántonia's untamable passion for life was supposed to be endearing, but I found it tiresome and never really connected with her (nor any of the characters, for that matter). The narrators Grandma and Grandpa seemed to me the most interesting and amiable of the characters, but sadly they played a minor role in the book.
Despite my ambivalence toward the story, I like a book that can strike a chord and make me think about things a little bit harder- if even for a few fleeting moments. The final page of "My Ántonia" made up in the tinniest bit for the lackluster pages preceding it. It was a surprising change of pace and a beautifully written moment by Cather. In it, she spoke to the circularity of life, how when we reach the end of something, we find the moments we wish to share with another can only be found in memories of the past we have worked so hard to leave behind. It's sort of a bittersweet ending, but the final chapter was perhaps my favorite part of the book because it is about people coming to terms with who they really are. I think such a realization is perhaps the only way we can really be happy in life.
I'm not sure if I'd really recommend this book. As my fellow book clubbers noted, it is sort of like Little House on the Prairie without the charm. I don't even know if I could recommend "O Pioneers!" anymore either, but I am not so turned off by Cather to stop me from rereading the latter. (less)
Audio Book Review: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Once you get past the fact that Dr. Chapman sounds a lot like Dr. Phil, and mixes in a fair...moreAudio Book Review: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
Once you get past the fact that Dr. Chapman sounds a lot like Dr. Phil, and mixes in a fair amount of religious talk at the beginning and end of this book, The Five Love Languages is actually a really interesting way of looking at our relationships with others (both romantic and non-romantic). In the book, Dr. Chapman reveals that people express and receive love in different ways. Because of this, even in some of the most loving relationships, one or both parties may not feel loved because the way the love is expressed isn’t necessarily in a “language” the other is receptive to. In other words, we feel most love when the other person is expressing their love in a way that is important to us.
There are 5 main love languages: Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, and Quality Time.
Physical Touch means that a person feels loved through hugs, pats on the back, hand-holding, back massages, hair stroking, and other thoughtful touches. An affinity for physical touch isn’t synonymous with wanting to get it on all the time. Sure, that can be part of it, but just being near someone can be enough to show them they are loved. Thus, when a loved one never initiates any sort of touching, someone who values physical touch may feel unfulfilled.
Words of Affirmation focuses on encouraging words. People with this love language feel loved when others complement them, verbally express their love, and give them meaningful praise. These people are thus very sensitive to criticism and insults.
Acts of Service is all about expressing love by helping others. These people feel loved when others offer their unsolicited assistance and do things to make their partner’s life a little bit easier. So, being lazy and not offering to help with chores around the house sends the message that you simply don’t care.
Receiving Gifts is not the same as materialism. Rather, people with this love language love the thoughtfulness and effort behind the gift. The type of gift doesn’t matter. Bringing home a person’s favorite candy after work or making something heartfelt is just as appreciated as something expensive – especially when finances are an issue. Every-day, simple gestures really communicate to these people that others love them.
Quality Time is the final love language. These people yearn for the undivided attention of those around them. That means no TV, no cell phones, no computers – just enjoying each other’s company and the chance to talk without interruption. Doing new things together or having a date night with a loved one are more meaningful than anything else.
This book was really enlightening; I understand now where the miscommunications in some of my relationships have stemmed from. Throughout the book Dr. Chapman shares many stories about how doing a six month experiment in trying to speak your partner’s love language has saved hundreds of marriages and led to more fulfilling relationships with all types of people – parents, children, friends, etc. (Chapman also has written books for the love languages of the office, children, and teenagers). Sure, at first it may take extra effort to communicate your love in a way that doesn’t come naturally to you, but he promises the payoff will be worth it, and all things considered, what do we really have to lose by trying it out? I highly recommend anyone to check out this book (he also writes a book geared towards guys for those reluctant male readers). You can probably skim through the first couple of chapters though, and get to the good stuff when he actually starts talking about what the love languages are.
Ever wonder what happens after we die? It’s a heavy question, and one that I choose not to think about all too often for the simple reason that we can...moreEver wonder what happens after we die? It’s a heavy question, and one that I choose not to think about all too often for the simple reason that we can never really know the answer until we die. Maybe we are just gone, maybe our spirits live on, or maybe the devout believers in God will at last reach that final destination: Heaven. In A Brief History of the Dead, Kevin Brockmeier takes a stab at the afterlife. He creates a city, The City, where the dead exist only for as long as the living remember them. It isn’t Heaven; it isn’t Hell; it’s just a place where the dead get a second chance at living their lives the way they wished they would have the first go round, for however brief a time they are allotted.
All at once, The City’s once a bustling seems to be rapidly dwindling to almost nothing as a deadly virus sweeps the Earth. As people are eliminated, they appear by the thousands only to vanish a short time later. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Wildlife specialist Laura Byrd, isolated in Antarctica conducting research for Coca-Cola, manages to escape the clutch of the virus. However, she finds herself in an equally perilous situation, severed from the World, and in a desperate battle to survive the elements while maintaining whatever tenuous hope she has at an eventual rescue.
I’ve put off writing this review for a long time, just because I didn’t know exactly what to say about it. So I’ll keep it short and focus on the things I do know.
First, I found this book to be intriguing from the very beginning, as people in the City struggled to figure out the meaning for their existence. Through alternating chapters switching the focus between Laura and the City, Brockmeier challenged readers to figure out how the two would ultimately be connected. Then, about halfway to three quarters of the way though, the book starts to lose some of its initial appeal. One chapter towards the end – the chapter where Laura follows some “marbles” on a wild goose chase, seemed as though the author completely lost his way, engaging in superfluous rambling in lieu of meaningful content. Maybe he had a case of writer’s block, and thought he would write without thinking until he came up with an ending? The book would have been much stronger in my opinion had that chapter been eliminated all-together. Finally, the ending seemed sort of anticlimactic. I’m not really sure how I would have changed it, but I just wanted something… I don’t know… more?
But, I’ve always loved a good story about being lost in the wilderness and relying on one’s wit and survival instincts to make it through. Hatchet? Yes Please. The Call of the Wild? Count me in! The Cay? Take me to that Island! The Life of Pi? You get the point… So when this story turned out half to be about the dead and the other half about fighting to survive in Antarctica, I was pleasantly surprised.
All in all, this book gave me a lot to think about, and I would recommend it. Plus, it was way more interesting (and less heated) than engaging in an actual debate about what happens when we die.
Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons, is a hilariously witty, tongue-in-cheek parody of the melodramatic novels published before and around the 1930’s...moreCold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons, is a hilariously witty, tongue-in-cheek parody of the melodramatic novels published before and around the 1930’s which featured rural life at its finest: laden with the ever-present promise of impending doom and imminent despair (usually featuring a heroine prone to hysteria and fainting spells).
Gibbon’s story begins with our recently orphaned heroine, Flora Poste, deciding to eschew the horror of getting a job to pursue a far more attractive option: imposing herself on her very distant relatives at Cold Comfort Farm. Of course, upon arriving at the farm, she discovers the living conditions don’t live up to her high city girl standards. But, she nobly pushes aside her own discomfort for the sake of her relatives, for it is immediately clear that her cousins, aunt and uncle desperately need her help if they are ever to experience any kind of joy in their feeble existences. However, if she is to succeed in her quest to fix the farm up for good, she will have to take on the mighty Aunt Ada Doom. Ever since seeing something “nasty in the woodshed” as a child, the ominous old matriarch has forbidden anyone to leave her alone at Cold Comfort Farm, managing to simultaneously rule the house and scare the living wits out of her entire family all without ever leaving the comfort of her bedroom. Flora, however, is not perturbed by this shadowy wench in the slightest. Flora as a character proves two things: (1) that there is literally nothing that can’t be accomplished by the idle mind of a busybody, and (2) that Gibbon’s is a comedienne of epic proportions.
Even if you happen to like those melodramatic books which are set on the great plains and undoubtedly have at least one pivotal scene in which the heroine throws herself upon the unforgiving Earth while rain pelts her back (I do thoroughly enjoy them myself), you will still find amusement in the ridicule Gibbons throws their way, I’m sure of it. And if you despise those theatrical tales of rural life crammed down your throat in high school? Then all the better!
If you are looking for the Cliff Notes version of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, here it is: And they lived UNhappily ever after (and the whole “l...moreIf you are looking for the Cliff Notes version of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, here it is: And they lived UNhappily ever after (and the whole “live” part is negotiable). The End.
If you turn to its pages seeking an uplifting novel, keep searching. Unless, that is, your idea of uplifting is death and dismemberment – don’t worry, I won’t judge if it is… at least not too much. Ok I lied I will DEFINITELY judge you, but you have to know already that you are a bit of a freak. Even though at times I fell into the trap of believing that everything was going to turn out ok for the eternally unlucky characters of this novel, it didn’t. And although I am not one of those people who absolutely needs a happy ending in order to enjoy a book, in this case it would have been really nice. Because this book truly is the ultimate epitome of depressing. And when deciding whether to read a few more pages of the horribly sad Balance or watch another episode of Castle, it’s sort of difficult to work up the motivation to do the former.
The story takes place in the 1970s in the slums of India, and portrays the country at its very finest. If you know anything about the slums of India, you know that last statement carries with it a thinly veiled layer of sarcasm. In the house of the widowed Dina Dalal, four lives irrevocably intersect – that of Dina, her paying college-attending boarder (Maneck), and two tailors hoping to build a better life than the one they were born into (uncle and nephew team Ishvar and Om). They have each seen their fair share of tragedy in their lives (perhaps Ishvar and Om more than others), and although their stay together seems a brief reprieve from the ever looming brutality and humiliation they can’t seem to shake, they find that they cannot hide from it forever, as hard as they might try.
I liked the story, but I didn’t love it. However, I am still haunted by many of the images put forth by Mistry, and something tells me I will be for quite a while (although it was made apparent from our last book club meeting that I have already forgotten a lot of details about the book – apparently there is only so much tragedy I can take before I start suppressing it). Mistry really brought to life the world of poor Indians born into a low caste, trying to get by day to day with at least some semblance of dignity, despite the mercilessly unrelenting attempts by upper caste members and their very own government to rip it apart. Really nailing the feel of the place being described is a necessary foundation for any good book. However, above getting India right and allowing me to viscerally experience firsthand the sights, smells, and feelings that go along with it, the characters just couldn’t take me to that next level. I didn’t particularly like any of them except for Ishvar (but then I have a thing for fiercely protective, polite old men). I think the reason why I didn’t really respond to the characters was the lack of strong female leads. Dina was endlessly frustrating with the way she initially treated other people, and there is only so much defamatory talk against women from the mouths of college aged boys a person can take before wanting to kick somebody in the nuts. Maybe if there was a female that I could really feel sympathy for, my rating would have escalated from like to love.
Furthermore, I think that there was so much tragedy stuffed in to one novel that by the end I was utterly desensitized to it. In fact, I expected the tragedy. Which is why for once I was really hoping for the unexpected – a happy twist – that unfortunately never came. At one point, a proofreader tells Maneck, “Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair… In the end, it’s all a question of balance.” This quote, for which the book draws its title, depicts the overall theme running through the entire book – knowing how to balance hope and despair. By the end, all I could think was:
So much for that balance. Sayonara hope. All that remains is despair, despair, despair.
Jim Collin's book, Good to Great, was a solid "good," but in my opinion, fell short of great. This book showcases his attempt to figure out what disti...moreJim Collin's book, Good to Great, was a solid "good," but in my opinion, fell short of great. This book showcases his attempt to figure out what distinguished great companies from good ones. His criteria for being a great company was rather stringent. In fact, only 11 companies made the cut! Collins and his team of researchers found that great companies have level 5 leaders (leaders who put the company's interests above their own, are humble yet incredicbly driven), a hedgehog concept (that is, they figure out what they can be best in the world at), a culture of discipline, use technology to accelerate their success instead of using it to create success, and gradually build to these changes rather than make radical adjustments.
Each chapter in Collins' book is focused on one of the findings about the characteristics of great companies. And while Collin's has very convincing arguments and evidence to support these findings, every now and again I found myself getting annoyed with him and I could never really pinpoint why. I think it might have to do in large part because it seems as though after a point he was beating a dead horse. He just presented so much evidence to back up each chapter's theme, and it is easy to understand why: (1) every piece of evidence lends credence to his arguments, the reinforcement makes it less likely the reader will immediately forget what he or she has read, and Jim Collin's seems genuinely excited about every company that made the list - naturally he would want to share their success. However, as the chapters drug on, I begin to feel like he was making the same point over and over again until finally I would think, "Ok, we get it... lets move on." In other words, he could have still effectively gotten his point across without being so redundant.
I don't want it to seem as though I didn't like the book though. I did, and what's more, I truly believe it holds valuable insight to the world. However, I'm afraid the book will have little impact upon people who don't already have a mindset similar to Collins, or people who are not open to the message which he is preaching. Just talking to my dad about the book is proof that many people out in the working world don't really see much use in trying to implement the principles Collins talks about.
I think the thing which will resonate most with me is the book's first line, "Good is the enemy of great." The sentence speaks to the fact that many never achieve greatness because being good is so much easier, and one can still live a quite comfortable life being good. However, imagine the difference people could make in the world if people didn't get comfortable with good.... if good was no longer good enough. Even if everyone who reads this tries to live up to just this first line, the book will have had an impact.(less)