After a beautiful day of skiing, my luck remained with me as I plucked this book off the Free Shelf in Telluride. What's inside this small book is a hu...moreAfter a beautiful day of skiing, my luck remained with me as I plucked this book off the Free Shelf in Telluride. What's inside this small book is a huge collection of amazing, unique short stories (and a few comics), by the heavy hitters in modern American (and British, and Irish, and probably some more) fiction. The unifying theme is that each story is about a character, and that this book was a fundraiser for 826 New York, a youth literary project in New York. I skipped around, changing order as it suited my mood, and re-reading several of the stories when the endings revealed something that had been hidden earlier. The characters range from hazy to obnoxious to tragic to hipster to my grandmother (yes, thank you Jonathan Safran Foer, for that unoriginal but amusing monologue). They are revealed to us through their own narratives, others' perceptions of them, and their absences and memories. If you only have time to glance at this book while in someone else's bathroom, or the doctor's waiting room, read "Judith Castle" by David Mitchell, "Gideon" by ZZ Packer, "Lele" by Edwidge Danticat, "Magda Mandela" by Hari Kunzru, "Puppy" by George Saunders, and "Roy Spivey" by Miranda July.
I was seduced by the atmosphere of the Book Cellar -- you know those little bookstores where the employees scribble their own reviews below books they...moreI was seduced by the atmosphere of the Book Cellar -- you know those little bookstores where the employees scribble their own reviews below books they recommend, and they have their own little theme and serve coffee, this one even has wine -- into buying this book at the rec of an anonymous employee. I mean, the Wine Cellar is cute, accessible, in Lincoln Square in Chicago, and this book is by a Chicago author and takes place in Chicago (albeit the South Side; I'm from a North 'burb). Much like the high school experience this book purports to report, it is somewhat painful and interminable. I'm awaiting some great revelation in the last 20 pages that will have made it worth me continuing to read past the first 50. (less)
A really beautiful book about some ugly facets of small-town life in Colorado. Haruf has a talent for revealing his characters without ever letting yo...moreA really beautiful book about some ugly facets of small-town life in Colorado. Haruf has a talent for revealing his characters without ever letting you be privy to their inner workings or thoughts, and the love with which they treat each other provides just enough warmth to carry this book through its cold setting. I expected this book to send me into a further depression -- after all, it's about lonely people who live in the middle of nowhere -- but I couldn't wait to read this book again all of the few short nights it took me to finish it. (less)
This book takes the centerpiece of the Palestinian tragedy -- the Nakba, or catastrophe, that was the founding of the state of Israel and destruction...moreThis book takes the centerpiece of the Palestinian tragedy -- the Nakba, or catastrophe, that was the founding of the state of Israel and destruction of Palestinian society -- and renders it into a mildly sentimental tale of some emotional war buddies. Hemingway-esque in both its focus on male characters and echoing descriptions of natural places, Yakhlif also chose (rather oddly I thought) to focus on two characters who came from outside of Palestine to join their lots with the noble cause for someone else's homeland. It is these characters -- one man from Iraq and another from Lebanon -- who are actually more developed than the various Palestinians who populate the village at the center of the story, Samakh. I would've liked to know more about the villagers and Samakh, but felt like Yakhlif only let us view snitches of the beautiful village on the lake from behind a curtain of the love and camraderie felt between the main characters.(less)
The 5-star rating is a bit deceptive -- I'm not enjoying reading this book at all -- I've been reading it before bed and having horrible dreams -- but...moreThe 5-star rating is a bit deceptive -- I'm not enjoying reading this book at all -- I've been reading it before bed and having horrible dreams -- but it is well-done and effective.
I've heard about The Jungle my whole life as the book that turned people into vegetarians, and also the book the prompted much food regulation in the early 1900's, but in the struggle of Jurgis and Ona and family I see ongoing struggles faced by my legal aid clients and continuing scams wrought upon poor people that keep them always struggling to make ends meet.
Upton Sinclair's choice to tell the story of the inhuman, unregulated conditions in the packing industry through a fictional, human narrative was a brilliant and effective one. Rather than state coldly the hours worked by the starving immigrant class, he is able to show it through the characters' exhaustion, hunger, missing body parts, fatal illnesses, and lost dreams. Rather than describe how upside-down lending practices were regularly used to divest people of every last penny (a practice I still see often as a consumer law attorney on the rez), we see how the characters invest all their hope and money in the picture of homeownership for substandard housing only to be cast out when they inevitably miss one of the hidden costs.
This book also has a particular poignancy for me as an Evanstonian -- I was raised in a comfortable middle class existence about 20 miles from the neighborhood in Chicago where all these horrors and abuses were carried out, undoubtedly to the ignorance of those who would have shared my position just miles away.
My most immediate, gut reaction to this book is that the Lithuanian immigrant characters made a huge mistake when they left an area with arable land for an urban industrial existence, and that anyone who leaves farmable land for promises of wealth risks complete disempowerment and starvation. On another level, this book reflects my concerns in my consumer law practice and makes me wonder just how much individuals, businesses, and government entities still sanction and actively engage in the abuse of people with no recourse or understanding of their rights. Based on what we see of treatment of undocumented workers and what I see with lending practices, I would hazard a guess that we haven't come too far since the time of The Jungle. (less)
This book gets so much better once you read The Queen v. Dudley and Stevens, thank you first year law school. I mean, the God and ark imagery is great...moreThis book gets so much better once you read The Queen v. Dudley and Stevens, thank you first year law school. I mean, the God and ark imagery is great and all, but the imagery of a 19th century shipwreck and cannibalism is even better. (less)
He leido este libro en colegio, y no recuerdo mucho, menos las hormigas. O fue Amor en el Tiempo de Colera?
Marquez has the ability to transport his re...moreHe leido este libro en colegio, y no recuerdo mucho, menos las hormigas. O fue Amor en el Tiempo de Colera?
Marquez has the ability to transport his reader into a hot, languid climate in a way that you sometimes wish he did not. I suppose magical realism is a form of escape literature, but Marquez's characters' situations can be so depressing, stifling, and full of quiet despair that you'd almost rather have stayed in your concrete jungle than in his beautiful, lush, tropical houses. If I remember correctly, this book focused on one thin lovesick man who, because he could not be with the woman he loved, turned into a master lover. In the end, when they are too old and worn out to care, the unfortunate couple finally gets a chance to be together. Or maybe that was Love in the Time of Cholera.
It's worth the read. And probably worth me re-reading. Maybe in English this time. (less)
I was a little reluctant to begin reading more work by Alice Munro, as the images burned into my brain by "Wild Swans" have never fully left. This coll...moreI was a little reluctant to begin reading more work by Alice Munro, as the images burned into my brain by "Wild Swans" have never fully left. This collection is not nearly so haunting as I remember Alice Munro's other stories, and therefore also more enjoyable. Some of the pieces, notably "Runaway" and "Grace," had me forgetting that I was reading Alice Munro, and not that other prolific Canadian author, Margaret Atwood. Maybe there is something similar about the two writers, or maybe there is just something so pervasive about the vastness and austerity of the Canadian landscape, and the women who inhabit it, that my American mind is overwhelmed by it in the same way that I can always hear a Southern accent but never my own Midwestern twang. I think I'm also going soft, because I was thankful for the trick in the end of "Tricks" (which I didn't realize was the name of the story when I read it). Munro throws her readers a bone with this twist, instead of leaving us with a cold and empty story that has us pondering the indecipherable nature of the human condition. Or maybe I've just kowtowed too much to those who believe that really good art, especially really good literature (James Joyce's The Dead comes to mind) must be cold and miserable and not give too much away. And that anything that leaves us feeling a little bit better is "chick lit," appropriate only for bedtime reading. Runaway certainly is good bedtime reading, but don't get the incorrect belief that it is cozy or cuddly. (less)
My favorite book ever, at least so far as I recall. Protestant missionaries, Catholic missionaries, and a Lakota con-man turned his own sort of missio...moreMy favorite book ever, at least so far as I recall. Protestant missionaries, Catholic missionaries, and a Lakota con-man turned his own sort of missionary in the Amazon jungle. Everyone's flawed, everyone has a plan to save the Natives, and everyone loses their minds a bit. The most likeable character turns out to be the hellfire and brimstone Protestant missionary. They made a good movie of it, too, but the scenes on mind-altering drugs don't work so well in there. Peter Matthieson is the man, but stay away from his short stories -- they suck. If you liked The Poisonwood Bible, well, this is better (but obviously not if you're going for a history of the Congo).(less)
It was blah. Alternatively entertaining and annoying. The details of circus life are fascinating, and apparently based in truth despite seeming prepos...moreIt was blah. Alternatively entertaining and annoying. The details of circus life are fascinating, and apparently based in truth despite seeming preposterous (they publicly executed elephants?!). I enjoy the flashback scheme for storytelling sometimes, but in this book it just made me realize that I can handle the narrator as an old man but find his perfection and dullness as a young man aggravating. Perhaps I should stay away from books with built in book club questions, but that would be unfair because some of those books (The Birth House, for example) are just fine. Perhaps I should stay away from books where the love object is yet another delicate pretty woman. This is a quick and uninvolved read that would be good plane reading, or good for someone who is just getting into novels. (less)
I generally find historical fiction to be a "lite" way of learning real history, material I can read before bed but still retain the lesson.
I know ju...moreI generally find historical fiction to be a "lite" way of learning real history, material I can read before bed but still retain the lesson.
I know just as little about Toussaint L'Ouverture and the Haitian slave uprising now, however, as I did when I began this book, and I'm more confused. The book is well written, if extremely graphic and gory. It's told from the viewpoints of a maroon (run-away slave) and a somewhat unbelievably sympathetic French doctor (who is not from Haiti and is therefore not obviously invested in slavery or even racist.) The central character, Toussaint, remains somewhat shadowy, and the reasons for his appeal and leadership are not illustrated by this book. In fact, I don't really like Toussaint L'Oeverture after reading this book, and I'd always thought of him as a noble hero.
My conclusion is that I should read some better historical accounts of the Haitian uprising, and so should anyone else who knows nothing about this important moment in history. (less)