My freshmen kept talking about Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. They hated it. They loved it. They thought I should read it. That was regardless of whetMy freshmen kept talking about Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. They hated it. They loved it. They thought I should read it. That was regardless of whether they hated or loved it, interestingly enough. So I read it. I’m glad I did.
As I try to write this review, I fear that I’m still too close to the book to sum it up. I think about it and am transported to yesterday, lying on the carpet in my living room in the afternoon sunlight, ignoring the sounds of my dog eating his stuffed toy as I stared at the last pages of the book, willing the story to continue. It’s one of those books that is hard to leave. (And it would have lovely for the story to continue because I’m dying to know how the next few years after the novel’s resolution went. How could they go?! How easy for the author to just jump decades when his characters had to deal in seconds.)
Though unorganized, my thoughts about The Book Thief are an accumulation of positives. The fragmented style of the self-conscious narrator, though seemingly a bit rudimentary at first, grew on me and offered some poignant moments. Liesel, the girl who clings to books for company and answers, writes them and destroys them, loves them and hates them, was--of course--a lovable protagonist (and a strong-willed, fiery heroine!). So many other characters were also memorable and endearing, particularly the gruff Rosa, who threatened to be the standard stifling stand-in matriarch, but fiercely cursed out those expectations and became something better. Also, simply reading a novel about the European WWII front that generally focused on non-Jew Germans was a new experience me and stretched my sympathies in more directions. I must mention “The Word Shaker,” a book within this book, if only to say that it too is hard to leave, and may not ever leave me. I, too, am haunted by humans.
“I know what happens and so do you. It’s the machinations that wheel us there that aggravate, perplex, interest, and astound me.”
“There would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too. That was writing.”
“I have hated the words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”
“I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn’t already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race--that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.”...more
A little over halfway through Diane Setterfield’s Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story, I began to panic. I had been gathering her bread crumbs--little biA little over halfway through Diane Setterfield’s Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story, I began to panic. I had been gathering her bread crumbs--little bits here and there about feathers, a flap of wings out the window, a gossamer black, an untimely death. But so many crumbs don’t make a meal. Pages later, the story hit its climax, and I waited like an entranced fledgling, hungry for some answers--more crumbs. I was reading a story that was a story of something else, but the something else was late. My desperate panic mounted, because it all hinged on the resolution. I had stayed through pages on textile manufacturing and funeral props, feverishly transversed alleyways that led to practically nothing, and perused account books with a stern eye, and I deserved to know why. To answer that looming question, Setterfield included the last two paragraphs of her three-hundred page novel.
They were good.
But still disappointing.
Which, I suppose, is kind of the point. But I’m not going to let her get out of this that easily! I wanted more. I deserved more.
I read Bellman and Black because I read The Thirteenth Tale, and, as someone who has read The Thirteenth Tale, I naturally wanted to read every single thing that Diane Setterfield has ever written. Ah, to have The Thirteenth Tale be your first published book. (Kind of like being a football star in college… “everything afterwards savors of anti-climax”.) Of course, as you may have guessed from my previous comments, the plot and resolution of Bellman can’t compete with Thirteenth Tale. And while Setterfield’s beautiful attention to detail is still quite riveting, I’d much rather watch her prose caress a book cover and extoll storytelling than explain the dyeing process or applaud a department store. (Although, let’s be honest: her study of rooks and Victorian funeral consumerism was fascinating.)
I may be a bit disappointed, but I will still do my annual “Diane Setterfield” google search to make sure I read her next book.
“Once you said a thing, it could never be taken back and would be taken up and repeated and altered and told again, no matter how misshapen and out of true.”...more
I want John Green to write the dialogue of my life. (I would also accept Aaron Sorkin, but that's for another review.) On a really, really good day, II want John Green to write the dialogue of my life. (I would also accept Aaron Sorkin, but that's for another review.) On a really, really good day, I might have one enjoyably clever exchange, or craft one deliciously cynical remark, or be shocked by abrupt sincerity, or witness a delicate verbal dance from the painfully poignant to facetious tomfoolery. But the characters of The Fault in Our Stars live, not in the literal heart of Jesus, as one character suggested, but in words. Beautiful, witty, desperate words. It may lack verisimilitude, but I don’t care; even though I can’t believe that a sixteen-year-old could speak with the consistent awesomeness of Hazel Grace, I still want to teach her/parent her/befriend her/be her. (My love of the novel’s dialogue may have led me to occasionally overlook the fairly important detail about terminal disease.)
I know there are segments of teen culture that share books like soul-secrets, joke about semantics, and fall in love with their peers’ diction. (I teach some of them. They wanted me to read this book.) But still, what I loved most about The Fault in Our Stars is that John Green created this fantastic alternate reality where reading is cool, contemplating the nature of life, death, and reality is foreplay, and even parents manage witty rejoinders. I want to live there. Can we build this world?
Maybe it’s mortality. Maybe we need to realize that we too are staring at oblivion.
It makes me happy that my students are reading this book.
“(Witness also that when we talk about literature, we do so in the present tense. When we speak of the dead, we are not so kind.) You do not immortalize the lost by writing about them.”
“The world is not a wish-granting factory.”
“Grief does not change you… It reveals you.”
“It occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better again.”
“We are like a bunch of dogs squirting on fire hydrants. We poison the groundwater with our toxic piss, marking everything MINE in a ridiculous attempt to survive our deaths.” ...more
I'm not enthusiastic about writing my Dust review. Which sadly echoes my feelings about reading it. While the early episodes of the Wool series tuggedI'm not enthusiastic about writing my Dust review. Which sadly echoes my feelings about reading it. While the early episodes of the Wool series tugged at me, Dust became that book I had to finish so that I could be done with the series and move on to something else. Perhaps it is because the early books in the series were all mystery and questions, while this last piece tried to offer sufficient answers and sufficient closure. Both were sufficient. I just wanted more.
I did like that there was a girl who ran around clutching a puppy and a book. Howey somehow put my teacher persona into his story, so that was cool.
Now this is the review I have to finish so I can be done with it and move on to something else. So uninspired. Sorry.
"There was no going back. Apologies weren't welds; they were just an admission that something had been broken. Often between two people."
"That's the problem with the truth... Liars and honest men both claim to have it."
"Were a story ends is nothing more than a snapshot in time, a brief flash of emotion, a pause. How and if it continues is up to us." (from the "Note to the Reader")...more
One of my favorite quotes, attributed to C.S. Lewis (although apparently said by a fictionalized C.S. Lewis in the film Shadowlands--thanks for the diOne of my favorite quotes, attributed to C.S. Lewis (although apparently said by a fictionalized C.S. Lewis in the film Shadowlands--thanks for the disillusionment [AGAIN], Google!), is: "We read to know we are not alone."
That sums up the experience of reading the Hyperbole and a Half book for me. Because while I chuckled at the Simple Dog's stupidity and the Helper Dog's idiosyncrasies, I was reminded of my dog. And so much more so, as the strange, bug-eyed, triangle-haired, curve of a human Brosch shared her shame, depression, awkwardness, silliness, laziness, joys, and disappointments with me, I was freed. Someone else thinks like that too?! I'm not alone. And I laughed because Brosh exists. And wrote about it. And drew it. And I'm not alone....more
I read this book six months ago, and am reminded of why I write these reviews: they help me remember what I read. As it is, The Blind Assassin is a faI read this book six months ago, and am reminded of why I write these reviews: they help me remember what I read. As it is, The Blind Assassin is a faint memory, colored by warm regards.
This is what I remember:
I felt like a researcher, delving into archives and lovingly touching worn pages, trying to put together clues and characters.
Atwood's prose took my breath away.
This is what I marked:
"Gods always come in handy, they justify almost anything."
"Any life is a rubbish dump even while it's being lived, and more so afterwards."
"Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence. Time and distance blur the edges; then suddenly the beloved has arrived, and it's noon with its merciless light, and every spot and pore and wrinkle and bristly stands clear."
"What fabrications they are, mothers. Scarecrows, wax dolls for us to stick pins into, crude diagrams. We deny them and existence of their own, we make them up to suit ourselves--our own hungers, our own wishes, our own deficiencies."
"Why is it we want to badly to memorialize ourselves? Even while we're still alive. We wish to assert out existence, like dogs peeing on fire hydrants. We put on display our framed photographs, our parchment diplomas, our silver-plated cups; we monogram our linen, we carve our names on trees, we scrawl them on washroom walls. It's all the same impulse. What do we hope from it? Applause, envy, respect? Or simply attention, of any kind we can get?"
"At the very least we want a witness. We can't stand the idea of our own voices falling silent finally, like a radio running down."
"What you don't know won't hurt you. A dubious maxim: sometimes what you don't know can hurt you very much."
"People cry at weddings for the same reason they cry at happy endings: because they so desperately want to believe in something they know is not credible."
"Romance takes place in the middle distance. Romance is looking in at yourself, through a window clouded with dew. Romance means leaving things out: where life grunts and snuffles, romance only sighs."
"The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date."
"So much better to travel than arrive."
"But I like my stories to be true to life, which means there have to be wolves in them."
"That's the kind of stories I know. Sad ones. Anyway, taken to its logical conclusion, every story is sad, because at the end everyone dies."
"I am not scoffing at goodness, which is far more difficult to explain than evil, and just as complicated. But sometimes it's hard to put up with."
"An odd thing, souvenir-hunting: now becomes then even while it is still now. You don't really believe you're there, and so you nick the proof, or something you mistake for it."
"When you're young, you think everything you do is disposable. You move from now to now, crumpling time up in your hands, tossing it away. You're your own speeding car. You think you can get rid of things, and people too--leave them behind. You don't yet know about the habit they have of coming back."
"But in life, a tragedy is not one long scream. It includes everything that led up to it. Hour after trivial hour, day after day, year after year, and then the sudden moment: the knife stab, the shell-burst, the plummet of the car from the bridge."
"But thoughtless ingratitude is the armour of the young; without it, how would they ever get through life?... Without the protection of surliness and levity, all children would by crushed by the past--the past of others, loaded onto their shoulders. Selfishness is their saving grace."
"What we all want: to leave a message behind us that has an effect, if only a dire one; a message that cannot be cancelled out."
"Love is giving, marriage is buying and selling. You can't put love into a contract."
"The dying are allowed a certain latitude, like children on their birthdays."
"Nothing is more difficult than to understand the dead, I've found; but nothing is more dangerous than to ignore them."
"In Paradise there are no stories, because there are no journeys. It's loss and regret and misery and yearning that drive the story forward, along its twisted road."...more
It is not a good book to read when you're in a I-haven't-taught-in-a-month-and-sometimes-I-think-teaching-is-Things about Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar:
It is not a good book to read when you're in a I-haven't-taught-in-a-month-and-sometimes-I-think-teaching-is-my-life-force funk. Because it has some compelling shit. Plath so expertly captures and conveys Esther's descent into uncertainty, depression, and paranoia that it is not only plausible, but it is also strangely engrossing.
It presents the stifling position of (white, middle class) American women in the 1950s with the same precision and pathos as the instructional videos I watched in college (to analyze, not follow) that directed wives and daughters to freshen up before the man in their life came home from work. But knowing Esther, the protagonist, made the situation more personal and real.
Even though much of the very autobiographical novel deals with the specific circumstances surrounding educated young white women in the fifties, there were moments when the prose so perfectly gave voice to the challenges young adults face in making decisions about their futures that I wanted all of my college-decision-making students to read it, if only so that they didn't feel alone. Esther's reasonable fear that choosing one path for her future effectively eliminated her chances of traveling on any other will resonate with me, I know. Though it did occur to me that, because this is such a fundamental part of the novel, I missed the ideal time in my life to read it. Here, I saw my students, when it would have been so much more compelling to see myself.
My last comment relates to that as well. Why did it take me so long to read this? As I limped through Catcher in the Rye and sped through The Perks of Being a Wallflower--heck, I can even include A Separate Peace and Looking for Alaska here--surely some part of me had to wonder where the introspective female protagonist of a coming of age story was. And, finally, I've found her....more