Why I Read It: Required reading for my Religious Themes in Literature class.
Margaret Laurence is considered a classic Canadi...moreOriginally reviewed here.
Why I Read It: Required reading for my Religious Themes in Literature class.
Margaret Laurence is considered a classic Canadian author, but I unfortunately had an unpleasant experience with her work prior to having to read The Diviners. Back in grade 12 I had to read Laurence's The Stone Angel for my English class and I *hated* it. Maybe I would appreciate it more now, but my 18 year old self couldn't stand it, so I was less than excited to read another novel by her. Thankfully for me, I actually enjoyed this quite a bit.
The novel follows Canadian author Morag in two story lines taking place in different times: Morag growing up in a small Canadian prairie-town and Morag as an adult and dealing with her rebellious 18-year old daughter Pique who yearns to find her roots.
This novel is complex and layered without being self-indulgent and pretentious. Laurence has created an amazing character in Morag Gunn. Morag is severely flawed: she's prideful to a fault, she's ashamed of her adoptive parents, she exhibits classism, and she's cloying with her daughter. But Morag also has so many redemptive qualities as well: she's strong, she doesn't take crap from no one and she knows how flawed she is: she's ashamed of her pride and even by the novel's end she's not rid of it. She acknowledges it on several occasions, and you can tell that she IS always trying to better herself. She gets herself into some crappy situations, and while she isn't hunkey-dorey about it, she's never whiny either. She sticks to her guns, and yeah, she makes some mistakes, but who doesn't?
The secondary characters are just as well realized. There's a strong theme of ancestry throughout the course of the novel and how where we come from does and/or doesn't affect who we are and where we end up. My favourite secondary character was easily Christie, Morag's adoptive father. He suffers from shell shock and is scorned by his small town because of his job as the garbageman. Morag is ashamed of him too, but she simultaneously looks up to him and loves his stories of her ancestors' voyage to Canada. I loved loved loved their relationship, even when it broke my heart. Jules was also a well-rounded complicated man who also expounded on the theme of family and roots. His and Morag's relationship treads off the beaten path and isn't the most romantic, but I loved how he allowed her to be independent and didn't shun her or his daughter.
There's of course a lot more I could say about this book: there's a lot about faith (though not necessarily of the religious kind, though it does have religious undertones) in regards to the water divining and Morag's love of writing, and her need for it that I really enjoyed, as well as Morag's strenuous but equally heartfelt relationship with her daughter Pique. There's also something quintessentially Canadian about the whole novel (which I mean in a good way.)
Final Verdict: This novel completely redeemed Margaret Laurence in my eyes. Her novel The Stone Angel did very little for me so I wasn't expecting to like The Diviners, but I was proven wrong (yayy!). This isn't the most exciting novel; we follow one woman's life from childhood to adulthood and watch her struggles with classism (her participation in it, while simultaneously attempting to shun it). Morag is by no means a perfect woman, and she can be downright unlikable at times, but she redeems herself in just how human she is. She acknowledges her imperfections, but that doesn't mean she rids herself of them either. The secondary characters are just as well developed and complex as Morag, and her relationships to them reflects this as well. So, if you're looking for something more on the literary side, something heavily character driven, then I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this. Also recommended for lovers of Canadian classics (though if you're a fan of that you've probably already Laurence.. she's kind of at the top of that list.) (less)
Why I Read It: Required reading for my Gender and Sexuality in Literature course.
This is a difficult book to review; it's a v...moreOriginally reviewed here.
Why I Read It: Required reading for my Gender and Sexuality in Literature course.
This is a difficult book to review; it's a very heavy novel, both in page number and in content and it introduced so many concepts to me that I'm still trying to wrap my head around.
I should also preface this review by stating that I've never read any of Delany's SF before. I never even KNEW about it him until I had to read this book. If you're not familiar with him, he's a black, gay man man who started publishing science fiction novels in the 60s. He's highly regarded as one of the best PoC genre writers of our time (and he was Octavia E. Butler's teacher at some point!)
One thing that people should be aware of before jumping into this is that it's VERY theory laden. There are a lot of anecdotes chronicling important moments in Delany's life, but he's concerned with a much bigger picture when he looks at these events. The theory, unsurprisingly, is what I had such a hard time grappling with, but not in an exhausting way -- rather, it was kind of exhilarating and we had plenty to talk about in class.
I also loved how Delany is hyper-aware that he's writing a memoir. His first chapter, or preface if you want, talks solely about his experience with realizing he was telling people the wrong year when his father died. He knows the right year is fact, but the year he kept thinking was what FELT real to him. All of this is to say that we never be WHOLLY sure of what we're recalling, no matter how real or factual it may feel. It was a good preface for a memoir, seeing as people are oftentimes suspicious/cynical of them in the first place.
It's clear that Delany is a very good writer. The book shows a lot of technical skill in his writing, whether it be him talking about critical theory, or telling some story or other. It's also very clear that he's a really smart guy, and he knows it, but he never rubs it in your face. The writing style itself almost all reads matter-of-factly which was jarring in some cases, especially when he's talking about his sexual exploits (more on that in a bit), but it worked. And even though he writes in this style, he still writes very earnestly as well; he obviously recognizes his faults and he doesn't always paint himself in a very flattering light.
There's lot in this book that might put people off. Delany is writing of pre-AIDS crisis in New York City, so Delany has A LOT of sex with A LOT of people. He also describes the everyday life he experiences in his open-marriage with poet Marilyn Hacker. This relationship was what my class had the hardest time grasping. Despite being gay, Delany and Hacker have a very active and loving sexual relationship. No one in the class really knew what to do with that (including myself.) People were even MORE thrown off when Bob was introduced, a man who comes into their life and they start a polygamous relationship together. By this point, I had just come to accept Delany and Hacker's relationship, so that when I came to this, it didn't feel that shocking. Actually, I found the whole thing very touching; it was obvious that they really did all love each other, and when circumstances made it so that they couldn't be together anymore, I was just as sad as they were.
Final Verdict: I feel like I'm not doing this book justice, because it really is something else. Overall, while it's a fairly long book, and very heavy in many regards, it's also a very rewarding read. Delany is a very good writer and this memoir has made me really want to check out his science fiction work. Some people might be put off by the explicit content and the alternative lifestyles (which I don't think is, or should be, offensive, but alas, I know a lot of people who would), but if you're at all interested in reading a memoir that has theory sewn into its tapestry and deals with LGBTQ issues, I highly recommend it.(less)
Why I Read It: Assigned for my Religious Themes in Literature class.
Like Mootoo Shati's Cereus Blooms at Night, Jackie Kay's Trumpet explores the complexity of sexuality and gender. The novel follows the aftermath of the great jazz trumpeter Joss Moody, and follows his wife as she deals with the grief that comes with losing him. We also follow his son Colman, as he struggles with the revelation that his father was in fact born with a female body.
What Kay addresses beautifully in this novel is how people have the tendency to conflate sexuality and gender identity. Joss' wife Millicent knew from before they were married that Joss had a female body bu she didn't care. She loved JOSS, who identified as a man and thus they both still identified as straight. But in the aftermath of Joss's death and the revelation of the gender he was born with, people assume that Millie is a lesbian. This lack of understanding, or willingness to understand drives Millie crazy and she's forced to retreat to her summer home to get away.
Colman was interesting character because despite his disgust at his father's choices he was still a sympathetic character, even when HE himself wasn't making the best choices. It's understandable that he would question his own gender identity when he identifies as male and modeled his masculinity after someone who turns out to NOT be biologically male. That's got to be mind-boggling, especially when you're not expecting and you're already reeling from grief. His reactions to his father's death also displayed an incredible level of complexity with the exploration of his grief and anger.
Reading Sophie's bits were easily the hardest parts to read as she was easily the most frustrating and unlikable character (though she's obviously meant to be). Her desperate search for the REASON for Joss's choice of identifying as male was angering: she pegged it on Joss's wanting to be a famous trumpeter and not being able to do it as a female, on the death of Joss's father at a young age, and on the fact that Joss was obviously just a pervert who got a kick out of tricking people. We as readers KNOW this is all bullshit of course, but unfortunately it's the attitude a lot of people adopt when it comes to transgendered people which is really sad.
Kay's writing is also worth noting; along with addressing very complex issues, she's an incredibly talented and crafty writer. Throughout the novel, she utilizes several points-of-view from several different characters and uses them all to great effect: We have a first-person POV of Colman when he's being interviewed by Sophie, one where he's NOT being interviewed by her, a third-person POV from him, a first-person POV from Millie, first-person from Sophie, as well as at least three more first-person POVs from other adjacent characters. In under 300 pages that's A LOT of POVs and when written down like that, it sounds like way too much. But Kay pulls it off. Each different POV draws out something different from the story and it never comes off as messy.
Oh, and I don't want to reveal too much, but I also loved the ending. Essentially, you're lead to believe that it's going to be one thing, but it ends being something completely different, and for that I was really happy -- it could have taken the obvious route, but then it would have undermined everything it had set out to do. Again, Kay is a great writer who obviously knows what's she doing.
Final Verdict: I loved this book and thinks it's a wonderful example of GLBTQ lit with a focus on transgendered people. Kay explores the complexities of gender identity and sexuality with a deft hand and this is a book I think I could read over and over again and get more out of it every time. The psychology of the characters is spot-on and they are just as complex as the subject matter of the book. The writing was also excellent and Kay displays an incredible handle on POV as she uses A LOT throughout the course of this relatively short novel and pulls it off magnificently.(less)
Why I Read It: Let me preface this by saying that I did not read this book completely willingly. I have a fourth year English class called Theory and...moreWhy I Read It: Let me preface this by saying that I did not read this book completely willingly. I have a fourth year English class called Theory and Criticism and my teacher wanted us to take theory and criticism and apply it to popular fiction, so at the beginning of last semester she gave the class a list of 3-4 best seller lists and the class voted on a book. This particular book was on a UK best seller list, which is unfortunate because 98% of my class is female. Now, I do also want to say that I have *nothing* against chick-lit. It's not MY cup of tea, but I don't judge people that read it, nor do I think it's all trashy. However, the synopsis of this book still just did not sound appealing to me. It also doesn't help that this is a celebrity-penned ghost-written novel, which I'm sorry, are really ever any good. Anyway, all this to say, I was not expecting to like this book and I was not at all surprised when I didn't.
Oh, and spoilers ahoy by the way.
All right, let's get the really obvious out of the way: this is not a well written book. Actually, I would go so far as to argue that this is potentially the WORST written novel I've ever read. An example of this is how people's physical appearance is described: instead of describing physical features, people are at times described by being compared to celebrities. For example, Jay, Sapphire's boy-toy/boyfriend and central character, is described as looking like an actor from the tv show Prison Break, which is puzzling, because it's later revealed that Jay is mulatto and the aforementioned actor is NOT. This is just one example, but there are many other instances of lazy writing.
The novel has a plethora of other problems. As you can probably tell from the summary, this is a book that pitches itself as feminist (the "I don't need a man!" attitude and "I don't believe in marriage!" attitude of Sapphire is the most predominant examples of this) but in the end, this book is not feminist in so many ways. (view spoiler)[For one, the novel still ends in Sapphire getting married, when prior to that, her life goes to shit when she temporarily breaks up with Jay. Yay for female empowerment! (hide spoiler)] Not to mention that only the women who are beautiful (like Sapphire) are happy and successful, whereas people like Sapphire's friend Sam, who's described as overweight and average-looking, is always living a life unfulfilled (view spoiler)[(until she loses a bunch of weight; then she's drop-dead gorgeous and gets a man who is rich and loves her, obviously -- she also becomes a huge bitch.) (hide spoiler)]
There was also an instance in the book that REALLY bothered me. Sapphire runs a business where she organizes hen weekends (basically they're weekend-long bachelorette parties) and in the novel, she organizes one such hen weekend for a C-list soap-opera celebrity who is in a ton of magazines, so Sapphire wants to use her to promote business. However, said celebrity (who's name is Georgia) is upset when Sapphire's male stripper calls in sick. Because Sapphire is a dumbass, she calls her boyfriend Jay to come do the strip-tease instead! Brilliant. However, the ladies get out of control and literally try to RAPE Jay (Georgia tries to give him a blow-job clearly against his will, which qualifies as attempted rape to me). The novel alarmingly skims over this event. Yes, Jay is upset, but when Sapphire later faces him about it he says that the incident reminded him of when he was picked on in school for being half-black. WHY the novel wanted to defer this event to something else completely baffles me, and in the end is inconsiderate to BOTH issues (attempted rape and racism). Whenever the novel has a chance to be some kind of commentary on anything, it always defers the subject and I couldn't understand WHY. Also, there's a point later on in the novel when someone tries to rape Sapphire and it is a HUGE deal (for good reason -- it's frikken rape!), so why is it less of a big deal when it's a man who's almost raped?
During our discussion of his book in class, I got into a bit of a tiff with someone because she thought I was being too harsh on the book. "But this isn't a book you're supposed to think too hard about!! It's just supposed to be fun and that doesn't make it a bad book!!" To which I replied that, no, just because a book is light-hearted and fluffy does not make it bad. BUT, this book was riddled with so many problems that I couldn't enjoy it. The writing was terrible, and there were so many problems on an ideological level that this book made me ANGRY. And not because I was thinking about it too much; the problems were so glaring and in my face that I couldn't have ignored them even if I tried.
Final Verdict: Unsurprisingly, this was NOT the book for me. The writing was terrible and the book was riddled with so many problems besides: it poses as a feminist text when in many ways it's the opposite, whenever it touches on ANY kinds of issues (racism and rape, for example) the novel almost always defers them or doesn't really touch upon it in a satisfying way. I got some slack from my classmates (though I do want to point out that many others agreed with me) that I took the novel too seriously and that I should've just enjoyed the ride; I would've if I could've, but there's a difference between "light, fluffy and fun" to outright BAD and this novel definitely fell in the latter category.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Why I Read It: Required reading for my Gender and Sexuality in Literature class.
I had never heard of this book before finding out it was an assigned text for one of my classes, which is kind of sad because this was written by a Canadian author (though she was born in Ireland and grew up in Trinidad before immigrating to Canada.) It apparently received a lot of critical acclaim when it first came out, but seeing as I was only seven years old, it makes sense that I wouldn't remember THAT. Anyway, my point for all this is that I had zero expectations jumping into this, and had no idea what to expect.
What I got was something incredibly original: the story read a little bit like a gothic story set in the Caribbean with heavy overtones of post-colonialism, with a hint of magic realism and a lot of playing around with gender. These all sound like disparate parts, but Mootoo was somehow able to bring them all together in a cohesive whole.
I should clarify that this isn't really a gothic novel set in the Caribbean. It has gothic elements in it, such as this being a multi-generational story that is full of violence and taboo (most notably the rape of the main character Mala at the hands of her father). There's also a dash of magical realism that gives it a bit of that element of the supernatural that can be found in gothic novels as well. The story of the life of Mala Ramchandin is an incredibly sad one; it made me ache a little with how depressing everything was. I do also feel compelled to warn that anyone who is triggered by scenes of abuse (verbal and sexual) should stay far away from this novel. There was a rape scene closer to the end of the book that had my stomach churning. Ultimately though, the story ends on a note of hope, which was a welcome relief to all the despair that came before it. Despite how depressing it all is though, the story of Mala Ramchandin is incredibly compelling as well, and is perfectly paced by Mootoo. As the story progresses, things wind tighter and tighter as the reader approaches the eminent disaster that unravels Mala's life. It's not told in chronological order, so it was interesting watching the elements of the story that were initially confusing or just had no context all come together in the end.
Throughout the novel, there's a lot of ambiguity regarding gender and sexuality. Nurse Tyler for example, is gay, a cross-dresser, still identifies as male, but is largely characterized in the female spectrum. Then we have Otoh, someone who was born a female, then "transforms" into a male (an instance of the dash of magical realism found in the novel) but it still *biologically* female. Mootoo however, still uses male pronouns whenever referring to Otoh. This brought up some interesting discussion in my class about the nature of Tyler and Otoh's budding relationship. Some people argued that while they both identified as men (which would make their relationship homosexual) they still felt that the book was perpetuating heteronormativity because Otoh was still biologically a woman. Others felt that whether Otoh had a vagina or not irrelevant because he still identified as male (I more a part of the latter camp.) It's a lot of fodder for interesting discussion and I love how Mootoo bent and twisted up gender in this way and presented it as something so fluid.
As I mentioned earlier, the writing is beautiful. It feels like every word is important, and everything is loaded with symbolism, from the recurrence of insects, to the cereus flower (which reflects the climax of the novel perfectly.)
Final Judgment: This is probably one of the most original books I have ever read. It's a story set in the Caribbean that has elements of the gothic, some magic realism and a little gender-bending. These might not sound like they all go together, but Mootoo pulled it off amazingly. The story is an incredibly sad one, but it ultimately ends up being a very hopeful one. There is a lot of scenes of abuse though, so if this is triggering for you, I would advise to stay away. With that, I wholeheartedly recommend this book, especially if you're looking for a book that's doing something completely different from the norm (it doesn't hurt that it's very well written as well.)(less)
Why I Read It: Required reading for my Religious Themes in Literature class.
This is the second work of non-fiction (outside of textbooks) that I've read in as many years. This is a disclaimer I want to make because having read so little non-fiction will affect my review of this book.
Hospital Time chronicles Amy Hoffman's struggle while taking care of her friend Mike who's dying from AIDS. It also touches upon Hoffman's frustrations with watching many of her friends within the gay community suffer and die of AIDS.
This may potentially sound redundant, but one of the most striking things about this memoir is how unflinchingly honest it is, in all its facets: Hoffman's contradictory and less than noble feelings regarding being Mike's caretaker, her mourning process and her frustrations with the way other people mourn Mike's passing, her less than flattering memories of Mike and his behaviour, etc etc. I have to applaud Hoffman's bravery for writing so honestly, about herself and about others. It can't be easy recognizing such undesirable traits within one's self, nor could it have been easy putting out a book that talked about Mike so candidly when other people who loved him were probably still alive and potentially reading the book.
While I really appreciate Hoffman's brutal honesty, I'm sad to say that I never really connected with her writing. I can't put my finger on exactly what it was that didn't jive with me though. She writes very fluidly, jumping from scene to scene and rarely in any kind of chronological order. It felt very stream-of-consciousness, like Hoffman wrote things down as she remembered them and left it that way. I don't think it was the unchronological order that threw me off though.. it just felt like.. I don't know. Like it was TOO personal. It feels like you're RIGHT in Hoffman's head, and while I can appreciate that from afar, it somehow hampered my reading experience.
Final Verdict: If you're at all interested in reading literature concerned with the AIDS epidemic, I wholeheartedly suggest reading this. It's a very intimate look at a woman's struggle to cope being a care-giver for her friend with AIDS and not doing so completely selflessly. Hoffman's brutal honesty is easily the highlight of this book and is something I applaud Hoffman for (there's no way writing and coming to terms with the stuff Hoffman does could have been easy). Despite this though, I still didn't find myself really connecting with the book, though I'm still not sure why. Either way, it was a fairly engaging read and I'm not sorry to have read it.(less)
Why I Read It: One of my fourth year English Lit classes is "Gender and Sexuality" and this was the first novel we were assigned to read. Prior to that, I had never heard of this book or author before, despite her being a Canadian author.
I'm always kind of nervous reading books for school when I've never heard of them before. I don't mind reading heavy stuff, but sometimes some readings feel like too much. Thankfully, this was not the case with Bow Grip. This isn't to say that this is a shallow read -- it's still chock-full of of themes to extrapolate -- but it was a leisurely kind of read (which again, is not to say that the book was "simple").
The novel follows Joey, a small-town mechanic in Alberta who is the strong and silent type. He's a recent divorcee whose wife left him for another woman. Various circumstances lead him to take a trip to Calgary, where he's set on a path of self-discovery among other things.
Before reading this novel, I already knew that Ivan Coyote was a butch-lesbian, so I was surprised to say that this novel follows a straight man. This is still definitely a GLBTQ novel though, what with Joey's wife Allyson leaving him for another woman. Part of what makes Joey so likable is his reaction to Allyson leaving him. Instead of being angry and feeling emasculated that she left him for a woman, he's just sad she left him PERIOD. There is not a trace of homophobia to be found in Joey, despite his very crappy situation. His later reaction to Kathleen, Allyson's new partnet is equally endearing when he admits that he wants to like Kathleen because he couldn't bear Allyson having left him for some asshole; it speaks a lot about his feelings for Allyson, how he genuinely LOVED her, and it was incredibly touching.
Equally touching is the friendships that Joey forges while staying at his motel in Calgary. He meets Hector, a widow, and Kelly, a young single mom, and Cecilia, the sister of the man who traded his cello for a car. The bonds that Joey forms with these people (along with the new ones he forges with Allyson) are what largely constitute Joey's transformation, and it's subtle and actually very heart-warming to watch. Of course, it helps that Joey is so likable, but the supporting cast really is stellar as well. Hector especially is very layered, especially in regards to his sexuality. Kelly and Cecilia aren't quite as complicated, but they are still fleshed out and not just props for the plot.
The plot itself isn't action-filled or anything. As you might have gathered from this review, this is a very character-centric novel and is a middle-age coming-of-age story for Joey. And if you're looking for a book exclusive about GLBTQ characters, you're not going to find that either; this book largely deals with straight people, but it's still very much an exploration of gender, but more of gender *performance* than of sexuality.
Either way, it really is a great novel. It's too bad that Coyote is more widely recognized.
Final Judgment: This is a very quiet novel, so it's unsurprisingly character-centric, but that's my cup of tea so I really enjoyed this one. We have an extremely likable main character who is very easy to sympathize with, so watching him grow and come to peace with his wife's divorce was actually very heart-warming and never felt boring. The secondary characters were all fleshed out as well and felt like actual people, and they complemented Joey perfectly. This is a novel written by a butch-lesbian, but don't expect it to be a GLBTQ "issue" book; it just deals with real problems with real problems, and most of those people are actually straight. It IS a novel about gender exploration though, just not in ways that you might expect. Either way, it's very good and definitely worth checking out if you're at all interested in anything I mentioned above. (Just as a side note: I haven't watched a lot of them, but Coyote is amazing at live performances and has a slew of readings she's done on youtube which are definitely worth checking out.)(less)
Why I Read It: This was required reading for Religious Themes in Literature II class (which has emphasis on Buddhism, as opposed to Judeo-Christian themes, which was last semester).
Like Bow Grip (which I reviewed yesterday), this is another Canadian novel that is not at all well-known. This book DID cause a bit of a stir when it was published in 1930 though, mostly because of its very blatant anti-war sentiment and his less than flattering depiction of Canadian generals.
One of the most striking things about this novel, and this isn't wholly original or anything, is its depiction of war as a totally futile endeavour. The novel largely takes place in the trenches of the First World War and are based off Harrison's personal experience with the war (though he didn't actually participate in the war relatively long due to a foot injury) and they show how pointless trench warfare is. There's no actual honour in fighting in the war, at least from the narrator's point-of-view, and this is part of what caused controversy when they novel was first released -- people wanted to believe that war was a noble endeavour, and people who didn't concur with that were obviously not "real" men. Harrison challenged this and did so in a way that wasn't preachy, nor like he was trying to push a personal agenda (though it was something he most likely believed himself).
What was equally striking, and also not groundbreaking (by today's standards anyway) in terms of originality, was how the "enemy" in the novel was depicted. It's WWI, so the obvious enemy is the Germans, but not in the eyes of the narrator. There's this amazing scene in the novel where the narrator has to run through No Man's Land and attack the German trenches and try to take soldiers if possible. The narrator ends up brutally murdering a German soldier and taking two other young German soldiers as his prisoners. But when he's running his two prisoners back to his trenches, there's an obvious sense of solidarity, and he comes to the realization that he's JUST like them: a young kid going to war for glory and finding himself in a pointless war of attrition and mindlessly following orders. Again, it's not incredibly original, but the way it's written is powerful and just.. I don't even know. Maybe it's Harrison's personal experience with the war that's shining through here (even though this is by no means an autobiography) or what, but it's powerful stuff.
Another element of the novel I really want to discuss is how the novel utilizes the grotesque. Being set in the trenches, the narrator is very obviously surrounded by death and there are some VERY gruesome descriptions to be found within the covers of this book. But it never felt like these graphic descriptions were put in the novel to be exploitative, or solely shocking -- it feels much more honest and candid than that. Instead, the revelation of this violence feels like it's just trying to give more insight into what was actually going on in the war (which is a lot of obvious stuff to us, but back then was largely undocumented).
I'm kind of curious why this book hasn't passed the test of time -- it really is quite good, though I can't say how it compared to other war novels as I haven't read a whole lot of them. Either way, I enjoyed this book on its own merits, which I think are many.
Final Judgment: This is a strong emotionally powerful novel about a young man's experience in the trenches and it is so bare and honest that it hurts. This book has a blatant anti-war sentiment without being preachy and I feel like I've gained some kind of insight into the First World War that I didn't have before (which I believe was Harrison's intent when he originally published this.) It has a lot of moments that really resonated with me because of how REAL it felt. I highly recommend this, especially if you're at all interested in war novels.(less)
Why I Read It: Required reading for my Religious Themes in Literature class.
Aahh Virginia Woolf. I've been meaning to read...moreOriginally reviewed on here.
Why I Read It: Required reading for my Religious Themes in Literature class.
Aahh Virginia Woolf. I've been meaning to read this author forever because she is considered Important, and while I don't read classics very often (back when I was 18-19, all I read for that year was classic fiction and I've been kind of burnt out on them ever since -- I've yet to fully recover) I'm not someone who doesn't enjoy them on occasion.
This novel has me a little torn. When I first started reading, Mrs. Dalloway felt merciless -- I didn't understand what the hell was going on!! -- but I refused to clear things up by hopping over to Wikipedia or Cliffnotes. I wanted to be Smart, and therefore had to understand the book by myself. I gave up on that after about 20-25 pages. I do have to say, knowing all the characters' names and what the hell is their deal made the reading experience much more enjoyable. But do I want to read a book that makes have to do that extra research? Do I want to read a book that makes me feel stupid because I don't understand what's going on? Not really, no.
Part of what made the novel so hard to understand was the writing. Mistakenly described as "stream of consciousness", the style is *actually* called free indirect discourse. Basically, the prose jumps from character to character, giving the reader a glimpse into their thoughts. So one moment we'll be with Clarissa as she's walking down the street, next we'll be with someone who is walking on the same street and is observing Clarissa, then we'll be back to Clarissa again. This wouldn't be so bad if there was *some* indication that we were jumping around like this, but the text never let's you know -- it just happens and you have to be ready for it. It also does this jumpy thing when the character is reminiscing, or having a flashback; there is absolutely no indication in the text that this is happening, so you're just like "whaa?" and it can be frustrating. BUT, when I got used to it and got in the right frame of mind to read this, the style was much easier to follow and consequently easier to understand.
The novel is littered with unlikable characters, but I felt surprisingly ambivalent about some of them. For example, Clarissa is depicted as this shallow aristocrat who is concerned with little else besides her parties, but I think she was supposed to be redeemed by her moments of mindfulness, and I found her to be quite kind. I never really got behind Clarissa either though -- she was kind of just there. The character who resonated with me the most (and I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case with other readers) is Septimus. That is someone I can sympathize with and want to see get a good lot in life (although he doesn't -- poor Septimus). While his sections could be particularly difficult to decipher because of the hallucinations caused by his shell-shock, they were the more heart-wrenching for it.
Final Verdict: I'm still unsure just how I feel about this book. It does have a lot of beautiful moments, and I can see why it's become a classic, but it really was hard to read. I know that good books aren't always easy books, but this really felt like a chore to read at times. However, once I got used to the style it was much easier to follow and therefore more enjoyable. I think I'll have to re-read this one day, since I know the story fairly well now (especially after having talked about in my class) and I think I'll be able to pick up on the nuances that went over my head on this first reading, due to concentrating on just understanding what was actually going on. :)(less)
Yayy, another book for school. I was not at all excited when I saw this book on my class reading list, and I wasn't any more excited when I got a look at the cover, saw the length or read the blurb. I have to say though, this book surprised me; I ended up liking it a lot more than I initially thought I would.
So what surprised me most about this book was the characters; this being a realist novel, they are unsurprisingly the driving force of the novel, as opposed to the plot. What really struck me about these people is that, well, they all kind of SUCK: Cousin Bette is a bit of demon, trying to mess up her family because she thinks she hasn't received proper treatment (which there is an obvious argument for, but I really think she had it all right if you ask me); Valerie Marneffe who is a manipulating, conniving woman; the Baron Hulot who NEVER learns from his mistakes; Adeline Hulot, the Baron's wife, who puts up with her husband's crap literally until the day she dies; and the list goes on and on. There are literally only a handful of people in this book who aren't either a) assholes or b) pathetic and dependent on aforementioned assholes. It's completely infuriating but equally compelling to read. I think my prof likened this novel (and most of the other of Balzac's books that are a part of his Comedie Humaine books) to the 19th century soap opera. That's totally how this reads, except it's way more layered as far as characterization and writing goes.
Balzac was an extremely prolific writer (he wrote something like more than 90 books in 20 years), but all that writing obviously helped him hone his craft, because this book is really very well written. I missed a lot of the finer passages as I was kind of just plowing through this book because I have a few other books I want to read this month, but we through some of the better ones in class and I really was blown away by some of the minutiae and obvious thought that went behind a lot of the words. Of course, I'm reading an English translation of a French book, so there might be some stuff lost in translation, but that's a whole other can of worms.
While I did mostly like this book, there were some things that hampered the experience a bit, but it's more because of my reading preferences than any fault of the novel itself. The biggest of these problems is how descriptive this book is: people and areas of Paris are described in excruciating detail. This book is written in the vein of realistic fiction though, so the crazy descriptions are just a characteristic of that vein of fiction. Also, there's a lot of that minutiae in these descriptions that I was praising earlier, that adds all kinds of layers of meaning that aren't obvious at first read.
The ending is very unsatisfactory, but in a ... good way? Like I said, this is realist fiction, which was a direct response to Romanticism, so very little in this book ends on a good note, but it's got a whole underlying message of: "Well, that's LIFE. It's not fair." so it feels all right that it ended in this manner. It left me with a strange and unsettled feeling though, which I guess was the point.
Final Verdict: I was originally not all keen on reading this book; it looked so much like an over-bearing "school" book that it looked like more of a chore to read than anything. However, I'm really surprised by how much I ended up enjoying this. It's got very layered, severely flawed, but compelling characters to read about, which lends to a fairly infuriating but engrossing plot. The characters are not at all likable, but it read so much like a soap opera; everyone and everything makes you so MAD, but you HAVE to know how it's going to end (and the ending is less than satisfactory, but in a good way.) The writing is incredible and is ridiculous layered and subtle. I wouldn't wholeheartedly recommend this, because it is a classic and lends for some dense reading, such as the lengthy descriptions of people and places, but if classic fiction is your thing, I'd say give this a shot. :) (less)
So, as you can see above, I read this little novel for school (for my Theory and Criticism class, for anyone's who's interest...moreRead For: School (*sigh*)
So, as you can see above, I read this little novel for school (for my Theory and Criticism class, for anyone's who's interested). I've never heard of Tove Jansson before, but I've discovered since reading this, that Moomins are actually HUGE in Finland and pretty much all of Europe, and even Japan, where an animated series aired for many years. Across the pond, this is a quintessential children's series, and this novel in particular (which is the fifth in the series) was a turning point apparently, though I couldn't tell you how, seeing as how I've never read the other books.
I bring all this up just to give you a sense of how foreign this book felt for me; it was quite different than most other children's novels I've ever read (and I've read quite a few), while being familiar at the same time. I don't know, it was an odd experience.
The plot was simple and straight-forward (unsurprisingly): Moomintroll, who is a creature called a Moomin, is hibernating peacefully one winter when he suddenly wakes up and finds himself in a completely different world than what he's used to. Even worse, he can't wake up the rest of his family, so he's stuck facing the winter alone. Thankfully, he does have his friend Little My (who is not a Moomin, she's.... something else) who has also woken up and meets other creatures of the winter to keep him company.
I'm not too sure how to write this review because I'm not too sure how I felt about this book. I mean, it's definitely CUTE, but it was different, and unlike anything I had read before.
I think one of the things that really threw me off was the lack of a linear plot. The book chronicles Moomintroll being awake through the winter, which is a completely new experience for him in a lot of ways, but a lot of the anecdotes the readers follow are aimless. It's very episodic in nature, but these "episodes" don't have a distinct beginning, middle or end. They just start, move along and then end kind of abruptly. This felt jarring and left me a little disoriented.
This book also have a fantasy element to it, as the world is inhabited by all kinds of strange and otherworldly creatures. At Moomintroll's family's bathhouse, someone else lives there during the winter and the house is maintained by invisible beings that we never get to see. Speaking of that, characters seem to take unnatural events in stride; Moomintroll is NOT used to being surrounded by invisible beings, but he never questions their existence or anything about them. I found that to be a little strange at first, but it was easy enough to accept.
The characters is where the cute factor really kicks in. I found Moomintroll to be a bit of a wuss, but his age is never made clear, so he could be a very young Moomin for all I know. And the pictures of him throughout the book depict as being this round and squishy looking character, which is of course inherently adorable. Little My is hilarious in her cynicism and abrasiveness. I think my favorite character was the forgetful and scatterbrained squirrel. They're all endearing characters in different ways. The nature of the book didn't really allow for character development per se, but this is also a fifth in a series, so I'm sure that characters were quite established at this point as well. Either way, they were my favorite aspect of the novel.
My second favorite aspect of the novel were the pictures and the footnotes. Tove Jansson was first and foremost an artist and her pictures in this book are excellent. They really help to bring the characters to life and to ground the readers in this strange yet familiar world. The footnotes (especially one in particular) were really cute and made me giggle a bit.
Final Verdict: This is a book I wish I had read as a youngin', because I think I could've appreciated it a lot more than then I can now as an adult. I don't have any of that nostalgia attached to this book or series. It is a good book in its own right, but there was something that was just... *strange* about the whole reading experience that I can't shake off, but I can't quite identify it either. I would still say it's worth checking out if you're interested in children's literature though, especially by foreign authors; it definitely have a foreign flare to it. (less)
I read L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time several years ago and again recently for school and enjoyed the book both times, but I've never felt compelled to r...moreI read L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time several years ago and again recently for school and enjoyed the book both times, but I've never felt compelled to read the rest of the series. The only reason I read this second installment was because my teacher suggested I do so for my final Children's Literature essay. I'm very glad she suggested I do so, because I really enjoyed it. It's a nice little gem of a novel and a great classic (is it old enough to be a classic? How old does a book need to be before it can be called a classic?)
L'Engle is often pegged as a Christian writer, and while it was fairly obvious Wrinkle, it's definitely a lot more so in Wind. I'm not religious in any way (I would consider myself atheist, but I found that word's become synonymous with 'religion-hater', which I'm not either), but this book still spoke to me on many levels. L'Engle is not preachy in any way, and instead of just drawing on Christian elements, she draws on elements of all kinds of religion. For example, I found out through research for my essay that kything (the mental telepathy that Meg, Calvin and Charles Wallace possess) was drawn upon some kind of Buddhist meditation. I thought that was really neat. L'Engle also uses these religious elements to expound on a bunch of universal themes: love, learning to see past someone's surface, the importance of having an imagination and an open mind, and the importance of growing up and learning to see outside yourself.
Like in Wrinkle, L'Engle blends science-fiction and fantasy seamlessly. Her books are just different than the usually MG/YA fare and she's really creative. She creates and builds on all these different worlds that are macroscopic (such as Meg and the gang traveling to completely different dimensions) to the microscopic (traveling inside one of Charles' mitochondria inside his body.) Actually, L'Engle's interplay between the macroscopic and microscopic is really fascinating in and of itself.
I think what really makes these books for me though is Meg. I empathize with that poor girl so much. She's a bit of a loner and doesn't really feel like she fits, and she just wishes she were a bit prettier. I remember feeling much the same way when I was thirteen years old (and I'm sure many other people as well.) She's far from perfect, but what pre-teen isn't? I also love Calvin, who is just a huge sweetheart. The only thing is I remember when I was sixteen, I definitely wasn't into thirteen year olds. I love the two of them together so much though that I was able to look past that quite easily. I buy into their innocent (though most sixteen-year old boys are anything but) relationship and found it really sweet and endearing. The passages describing when they kythe together are really quite nice and give me that warm fuzzy feeling.
Final Verdict: I really liked this novel. It's very sweet, and has a great cast of characters (especially Calvin and Meg). There's a lot of religious stuff going on in this title, but it's done very, very well and serves to broaden very universal themes without falling into cliches. L'Engle's story is super imaginative and is unlike any kind of science-fiction or fantasy I've ever come across, and is a breath of fresh air: it's a fantasy without swords and magic and a sci-fi without space-ships or aliens (I'm not saying these two genres are restricted to just these things, but you guys know what I mean, right?) I want to check out the rest of L'Engle's children's literature, because this book really struck a chord with me. (less)