I read this book two years ago, but when we discussed it this month for book club, I remembered how much I liked it. A good discussion always ups my a...moreI read this book two years ago, but when we discussed it this month for book club, I remembered how much I liked it. A good discussion always ups my appreciation of a novel as does an ending that makes me requestion my givens in the story. I find myself reading contradictory interpretations and agreeing with both sides. That's the beauty of symbolism: as long as you back up your cause, it's plausible.
Initially it took me several weeks to get into the book. The beginning reads more like a textbook with inserted clips of the main character's future self. While the knowledge I gained about zoology and theology was interesting, it wasn't intriguing enough to keep me awake for more than a few pages at a time and often I found the tidbits a confusing distraction. But with distance I enjoyed the backdrop information it offered. If you're struggling through the initial background, jump ahead to the second section. Yeah it's important, but it's not vital. And maybe once you've read the story you'll want to come back and appreciate his analysis.
I highly enjoyed this strange journey at sea and found it almost believable--until the castaways encounter the island at which point I wondered how much of his sanity wavered. Being shipwreck is one of a plethora of phobias I have. Throw on top my even stronger fear of tigers and this was a story straight out of a nightmare, one that kept me intrigued for a resolution. How could a boy keep the upper hand shipwrecked with a tiger? I had a picture in my head of Pi clinging to the side of the boat to avoid both the salty water infested with sharks and a foodless boat housing a hungry carnivore.
I found myself stuck in the unusual place where as a reader I find a story plausible with full knowledge that had this story been presented in real life I would have doubted its authenticity. I wanted to believe the story and all its fantasy. The end initially annoyed me, but if you look at the rich metaphors in the story, it becomes delectable for a story analyst like me. There is nothing I enjoy more than tearing apart a story and pulling out the intentions and symbols buried inside. Instead of just a fantastical story, you find a fable with a moral.
Spoilers here. (view spoiler)[I want to reread the story now and analyze Richard Parker as Pi's alter ego, seeing that alpha and omega struggle as an internal one. Even the name Richard Parker is a hint at cannibalistic roots since it is the true account of a sailor who died at the hands of his cannibalistic crew members. I keep going back to that moment when Pi calls for Richard Parker to join him on the ship and then is appalled at what he has done. Once Richard Parker has joined his voyage, there is no banishing him. If they are one and the same, they beautifully represent that internal battle between the civilized vegetarian and the animalistic instinct to survive, showing the compartmentalization he needed to prevent madness.
You would not expect the small boy to conquer the beast (whether animal or himself), and yet he keeps the upper hand for an unimaginable 227 days. Had the cannibal overrun his pysche, he would have lost his battle and landed a madman. When the duo landed on the beaches of Mexico, Richard Parker took off, never to be noted by civilians again, but alive and surviving. Thus the horror of the incident will always live in Pi's memory but he chooses to repress it as it has no part in civilization.
I enjoyed the portrayal of the characters on the boat as animals. I could envision the quiet maternal sadness the orangutan gave his mother. Since the crew would be blamed for the demise of the ship, the wounded sailor as the zebra lying as prey to a demented and angry foreign chef who is just as crazy as we view the viscous hyena. The symbols were perfect and I think a second read would bring out their traits even stronger.
Some of the richest symbolism comes from the cannibal island and sailor. I think Pi's childlike mind could not deal with the cannibalism of a loved one and lets this theme leak into other story elements. The blind sailor is a second portrayal of the French chef, a character too big and conflicting to fit into one projection. At first he is the mean animal thinking only of his own survival, but as the journey progresses, Pi is conflicted with his friendship for the man. A bond is bound to happen between the only two survivors in limited space and Pi could not come to terms with his human feelings for the barbaric man. So he invents a second character, one whom he can make human, worthy of connection, but in the end is still untrustworthy and Pi must kill or be killed.
So what of the strange island? In his hallucinating state, it serves as a mirage where life is not as sweet as he suspected. The island parallels his own problems at sea with rich religious symbolism of the Garden of Eden. No matter what one's ethical code, the will to survive trumps one's moral haven. These vegetarians (person and island) don't want to harm, but are killing to survive. Something happened out at sea that his waning mind (and blindness both real and spiritual) could not substantiate and like all else he twisted it to a socially accepted tale. Since the island is discovered just after the sailor dies, maybe finding one of the chef's tooth on board turned him. Or maybe Pi happened upon a pile of garbage infested with rats and this boy, starving and demented enough to have tried his own waste, sees it as a heaven. His civilized nature knew he should scorn the filth but his barbaric needs were grateful for the nasty feast. The bones in the boat, proof that his experience was real, could have been rat bones.
Whatever the cause of his epiphany, he had to enter the depths of his own personal hell to realize this was not a heaven, or Garden of Eden, and a return to civilized behavior was vital for his own survival. Richard Parker was winning as he felt completely detached from civilization. He almost wished to stay and die at sea, to live at a level of base survival, instead of have to emotionally deal with his ordeal to progress. But his innate need to survive wins out as he realizes that as the lone castaway if he does not fight his mind's descent into madness, the sea will eat him mentally and literally.
One of my favorite interpretations of the island is a religious fork in the road. Whatever truly happened, the island cements your belief in the first or second account. Either you see the meerkat remains as proof that the beauty of the first story is true or the island is the point at which you start questioning the credence of his tale and believe he threw in this unbelievable turn of events to ready you to accept his alternate ending. As readers we are given the choice between two stories. We can pick the miraculous version of the first story, an icon of those who believe in God, or we can pick the grim atheist view of the pessimistic--although reasonable--second story, as do those who believe science disproofs God. In section one, Pi references religion to not only show where his beliefs give him strength but to give backbone to the religious allegory. He shows disdain for the indecisive agnostic (see quotes below) and bids you chose your path. The island serves to question your own religious devotion, but you have to pick what you think it represents, which story you care to believe.
Pi states this is a story that makes you believe in God. As a believer in God and the second story, I don't think there is merely an atheist interpretation to the second. Either you accept God with a leap of faith despite dissenting controversy or you take the bleak realism and see God saved him from death at sea and even more protected him from mental anguish by healing his soul from the horrors he experienced. Both stories can justify the belief in God or justify your belief in nothing. Just as I don't believe people who buy the second story are atheists, I do not believe people who chose the first story follow blindly or idiotically. It's a matter of interpretation. The story isn't going to make you believe or disbelieve God anymore than you now do.
At first I was annoyed he recanted his story because I wanted to believe his original story. It is imaginative and well written and I didn't like being called out for believing fantasy from the fantasy itself. But how could I not love an allegorical explanation to a literal story? So now I love that he presents both stories: the imaginative far-fetched one and the plausible horrific one and leaves you the reader to decide which one you want to buy into and let you ponder what it says about you. That is the point of the story. (hide spoiler)]
Some of my favorite quotes from the book: "Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can." "It was my luck to have a few good teachers in my youth, men and women who came into my dark head and lit a match." "Doubt is useful for a while...But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation." "All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways." "Memory is an ocean and he bobs on the surface." "First wonder goes deepest; wonder after that fits in the impression made by the first." "The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart."["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
If you have not read the book, it is the true account of a Dutch woman in her 50s who sets up an underground Jewish haven during the Nazi rule over Ho...moreIf you have not read the book, it is the true account of a Dutch woman in her 50s who sets up an underground Jewish haven during the Nazi rule over Holland. I love reading about the Holocaust, but this was the first time I could sense such a chasm between a sweet, elderly, epitome-of-Christian woman and the cruel hatred of the Nazi camps.
Even before the war, the family's charity and service was inspiring. During the war, their optimism, stalwartness, and charity was amazing. Corrie would trust her instincts as being directed by God, and sure enough they were protected from harm around every corner. When they were finally discovered, her amazing sister not only was filled with nothing but sympathy for the Nazis' hatred, but looked at every evil as opportunity: the more crammed the camp became the more women they had to teach the gospel, the dirtier the conditions the less intrusion from the guards, etc. I like to think I am optimistic, but I have my breaking point and then I'm irritable. The true test of our character comes under stressful times and their willingness to search for service in the trenches of hatred was heart warming.
I have often wondered if I would risk my family's life to protect another, but I have never questioned whether or not I would lie. I would have lied to the Nazis and had no moral regrets about it. Connie's sister-in-law was so dedicated to honesty she told her children they would be rewarded for their honesty. And sure enough, when they told Nazi enquirers dangerous information, they were always protected. That made me question my own commitment to honesty.
The family experienced their share of sadness and loss, but even after the war, Connie opened her heart and home to those displaced by the war, including the Nazis. I am not a crier and yet as I reached the close of this book, I found my eyes watering, not out of sorrow, but out of sheer awe at the hand of God in their lives and the power of love in their hearts. That sounds so cheesy, but what an uplifting read.(less)
The mother of all love stories, Pride and Prejudice is the perfect novel. We do not begin with flawless characters and a whirlwind lust that must be j...moreThe mother of all love stories, Pride and Prejudice is the perfect novel. We do not begin with flawless characters and a whirlwind lust that must be justified into love. No, we begin with acquaintances who despise each other and in the slow understanding that deepens their appreciation, as well as ours, the love that sprouts surprises even them. A love that is founded in friendship and deep-seated in true understanding is one that will last a lifetime and in our cases for generations.
Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy are a part of our collective conscious. Gratefully they are strong and lovable enough to deserve it. Lizzy has to be one of my favorite heroines of all time: her wit and stubbornness are perfectly balanced by her heart and good nature. Mr. Darcy is the perfect man: quiet, dignified, unassuming, slow to gain your trust and then a staunch friend/lover. I love the subtlety of minor characters, especially the father's methods of dealing with his silly wife.
The scene where mutual love is quietly pronounced has to be one of my all-time favorite scenes in literature: all that bottled up passion, and they don't even touch each other. Austen does a superb job of making you feel the desire emanating from them. I love Mr. Darcy's proposal almost as much: his conflicting love, her shock and rage, the banter between them. The book so full of delightful dialogue and Austen's own insights, it is delightful. Even the opening line makes me smile. This novel is the standard by which all subsequent love stories are compared. Many have tried to recreate or top this book, but it is an impossible feat.(less)
The book starts off a little slow and I wasn't quite sure what direction it was taking, but by the end I'm left with such a melancholy feeling I wante...moreThe book starts off a little slow and I wasn't quite sure what direction it was taking, but by the end I'm left with such a melancholy feeling I wanted to devour it again the minute I closed it. Yes, it has it's place as an American classic.
I could feel the desperation of the American Dream in this short novel. Poor Gatsby, who dedicated his life to being good enough for a shallow girl with a magical voice when old money would never accept cheap money. His parties were so needy it was depressing. I could visualize all those moochers who feed off his wealth for a good time when they were never there to accept him and even gossiped about him in his own home. Although Fitzgerald couldn't have known at the time how the opulence of the twenties would crash into the Depression of the thirties, I could feel a warning in his display of the overindulgence, the inability to see past oneself, the complete lack of moral and social consequence. If only we could learn from the past.
Not a single character in this book is likable, except for maybe Nick--who was too inactive to be too likable but I still liked his counterbalance to the overindulgence and his reality check on the American Dream--and Jordan who isn't so much likable as much as interesting. But all the characters are strong and quirky and classic. I particularly hated Tom. I was so angered with him at his last meeting with Nick that I wanted to strangle him. I wanted to see some fear or regret in him, but he couldn't see past his own nose. He couldn't see that the pain he felt was the same pain he caused. So shallow and self-involved it was almost sad. He and Daisy deserved each other.
Daisy was never worth the pedestal Gatsby put her on. Since I read this in high school, I've always pictured Daisy Buchanan when I think about unrequitted love, especially love that has warped over time to be something bigger than it originally was, something unattainable and unrealistic. I hated the way Daisy used up Gatsby and then spit him out when he wasn't worth anything to her anymore. And I hated that Gatsby let her, that he put her on that pedestal and spend five years trying to be something for her instead of for himself or his family or something other than greed and childish love. Gatsby is such a great tragic character, not only because of what happens to him, but because he is so naive about the wealth and people around him. It's what makes Fitzgerald's irony and satire of the American Dream so desperate.
I loved the New York Fitzgerald paints and his scarce analogy, leaving us the reader to define the novel. I loved this book in high school so much I read an anthology of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short stories (my favorite of which is Bernice Bobs Her Hair and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Along with Catcher in the Rye, I consider The Great Gatsby to be the Quintessential American novel and F. Scott Fitzgerald one of my favorite authors.
Years after first reading it, I bought a copy and the book has been sitting on my shelf ever since. That red cover has o...moreI love this book. I really do.
Years after first reading it, I bought a copy and the book has been sitting on my shelf ever since. That red cover has occasionally caught my eye and I'd toy with the idea of revisiting Holden's story. But I've been afraid. What if Holden didn't stand up to the pedestal he occupies in memory? What if J.D. Salinger isn't as amazing of a writer as I once remembered? When he died, I knew it was time to justify that position on my favorite books shelf.
It took me a week and half to read this book because I wanted to savor it. What a powerful story teller (if only he'd learn how to break a few paragraphs every once in awhile). Love or hate Holden, you get Holden. That moment when he held the snowball and looked out over the snowy street below, unable to throw the snowball because it looked too pretty, was such a fabulous example of showing us Holden's personality and his insecurities about himself in the world, that it made me smile. So much of his quirky personality, word choice, exaggerations and the way J.D. Salinger writes it with such power and metaphor made me smile (well minus the use of about the only swear words that makes me cringe).
I have a weakness for good boy protagonists. Girls get whiny and annoying, but boys bottle it up so you want to protect them. I found the scene where Holden fights with his roommate for saying he messed around with a girl he liked so powerful. You can feel the emotion breathing off Holden and know exactly what he's thinking despite what he says. For all his angst, Salinger gives us enough of his emotional breakdowns and his show of good heart that you feel for him, even if you want to shake him. Dealing with his brother's death and his insecurities about living up to his family, he's falling apart, but even those who see that he needs don't get that his alienation and apathy are self preservation. I can't help but think that he wanted to protect kids so much because he needed someone protecting him. He's such a child, his whole character full of irony. He needs his own catcher in the rye, standing on the edge of that cliff to make sure he doesn't fall.(less)
It's a classic. Everyone should read it. The characters are multi-dimensional, the epic story an amazing complex twist that keeps you turning pages, t...moreIt's a classic. Everyone should read it. The characters are multi-dimensional, the epic story an amazing complex twist that keeps you turning pages, the description, well the description can be a little much sometimes, but isn't that true of all novels in the 19th century? At what point would watching the revenge you plotted yank the strands of mercy in your heart? When is enough too much? Oh the unyielding French who find more honor in fierce resolution than they do in forgiveness or common sense. The story has a great message and leaves you with much to consider about your own need for vengeance.
About the movie... I love this movie. It is a rare case where I love a book and love a completely different cinematic adaption. Perhaps because the modern film allows for story lines that would not be acceptable in a classic novel. I love the book for the stalwart characters and French-morose theme, but I love the movie for the redeemable characters and the modern-day twist. If the book were written with the movie's plot, I would be disappointed in the characters, and yet we make allowances for modern-day standards. Both great stories. (less)
This is a very quick read. I finished it in a few hours. The story deals with a society that chooses everything for its citizens and keeps difficult k...moreThis is a very quick read. I finished it in a few hours. The story deals with a society that chooses everything for its citizens and keeps difficult knowledge and feelings from them in order to not give them the chance to choose incorrectly. It makes you appreciate free agency. What would be the point of our lives if we could not choose for ourselves? If we didn't know how to make right or wrong choices and the opportunity to choose for ourselves are our lives worth living? It's a good thought-provoking young-adult read.(less)
What I love most about this book is how well it puts you into Japanese culture in the early 20th century. The characters, both loved and hated, are de...moreWhat I love most about this book is how well it puts you into Japanese culture in the early 20th century. The characters, both loved and hated, are deep, multi-faceted embodiments of that culture. Sometimes while reading a book the stage set by the author becomes more real than your own surroundings. You become so enthralled in the story that you almost believe if you visited the era you could walk into a scene from the book. Even years later the details remain firm in your mind. This is a well-written, strong book that also enlightens and explains Japanese culture. I loved learning exactly what a geisha is and what the Japanese value and desire in them. I was both interested and at times appalled at Japanese cultural tendencies and forever twisted into this girl's life. A fantastic read. (less)
My main issue with this book has to do with the author's eccentric picture on the jacket. I know. Judging a book by a picture isn't fair, but once I k...moreMy main issue with this book has to do with the author's eccentric picture on the jacket. I know. Judging a book by a picture isn't fair, but once I knew how quirky she is, I couldn't take the voice seriously.
I had heard that this is a great novel for people who are word connoisseurs. It is not. Yes, I love when language is poetic and vivid. When words capture exactly the right image it is magic. And she is a very good (both image and grammar) writer. But she is not precise. She loves her writing too much to narrow it down to one description. If it were a repetitive sentence here and there I would tolerate her inability to edit down her favorite sentences. But this is paragraph after paragraph of the same thoughts rewritten to showcase linguistic ability. The picture of this free-spirited woman dancing around in my head makes me want to tie her down and chop away. Maybe if I didn't have exactly one day to read this novel before it was due at the library the slow pace would have let me enjoy the book more, but my impatience only aided my annoyance that she took her time getting to the point.
The story is strange, but she does a good job of feeding you a little at a time so you want to turn the page and know more, despite the slow pace. Occasionally I was frustrated with her taunts that she knew something we didn't know, but I was intrigued by the story. It's very creative with a lot of twists and discoveries. If it weren't so strange and imaginative the final destination would have been easier to spot, but as it is, the mystery pulled me along the entire book wondering what it all could mean. Not only is the mystery well done, but the characters are well written too (minus the narrator that I couldn't pin down to a personality or age, only visualizing that quirky author photo) and the author leaves just enough open to leave you wondering what exactly happened. In the end I did highly enjoy the story and that is what is important in a novel.
I've been to two book-club meetings for this book and both had fabulous discussions because of the open ending. Here are a few questions debated over in my mind and my answers: Which sister did she save? (the wrong one) Did you believe Vida's tale? (of course, I'm extremely trusting) What time period does the story take place? (20s past, 80s? present, I couldn't place it) How old is Margaret? (30 acting 50 who knows) Did you guess the conclusion? (No I missed all the clues, except the transition from third person to first but could not identify its meaning). Because there is so much to discuss, this book is an excellent choice for book club. It's worth the wade through wordiness. And in all honesty, that quirkiness is a little fun, even if it does make me laugh and roll my eyes.(less)
I was hooked from the first chapter: a whole new world and Rowling drew me in, had me believing this strange underground magical society. The book hol...moreI was hooked from the first chapter: a whole new world and Rowling drew me in, had me believing this strange underground magical society. The book holds the winning formula for a great children's story: good writing, a likable/relatable protagonist, an evil antagonist (several actually), the funny side kick (sadly I did not appreciate the full comic relief of Ron until Rupert Grint's excellent interpretation on film), the brain, the ignorant rival, the complications of relationships, even intriguing minor ones, the quest, and of course good conquering in the end.
I admire Rowling's appreciation of her position of role model. She encourages education, morality, good will and humanity, and fairly clean vocabulary (and only mild swearing by the 17-year-olds) instead of resulting to cheap trips to sell books. In light of the entire series, it amazes me how complex even the first book is without you even realizing it. I have never come across such a detailed imagination and coupled with an ability to write and draw the reader in, it is no wonder the series has been so explosive and returned children to the passion of reading. JK Rowling is my idol.
If for some reason you live under a rock or are resisting the mass media appeal of this book, please give it a try. Don't judge us Harry Potter fanatics by the first book. And never judge us by the movies. Having said that, I don't know how I would read this book if I picked it up post fandom. It come with huge expectations so you almost want it to fail. In book one, you can hardly see why it has become so well loved. When I read this book, I liked the story enough to continue, was a moderate fan by four, but didn't consider myself a die-hard Harry Potter fan until I completed book six and caught a glimpse of her vision. Some of the best fiction I have ever read; it's worth the read.
In this book you are reading the carefree story of an ordinary boy about to embark on an amazing adventure in an undiscovered world. It is fun, enjoyable, and every boy's dream. Although this book is intended for eleven year olds, it has way more adult appeal than any other juvenile fiction I've ever read. But that's not what the story is really about. When you get to the end of the series, come back and read it again. Now it is the story of a loving headmaster with the difficult task of preparing an innocent boy for every level of sorrow until he must make the ultimate act of bravery. Now you can read it as an adult. How a simple story can be two completely different novels is impressive and shows the depth of the story.(less)
This is what I remember about this book: a) the storyline was good but b) I couldn't get over the fact that Dickens was paid by word. The redundancy, t...moreThis is what I remember about this book: a) the storyline was good but b) I couldn't get over the fact that Dickens was paid by word. The redundancy, the drawn-out descriptions, the overuse of language. It killed me. And yet it's a classic story, a deep root of American literature and you have to read it. (less)