The Lowland is so beautifully written and yet manages to fall so completely flat. There's no emotion behind the characters; people make wholly selfishThe Lowland is so beautifully written and yet manages to fall so completely flat. There's no emotion behind the characters; people make wholly selfish or wholly selfless decisions without the reader really having any idea what would motivate these actions.
It's hard to say too much about the book without giving things away, since it follow the course of several generations of the Mitra family, and most of the poorly explained selfish and selfless decisions have to do with marriages and children - so even talking about characters from later in the book spoils events from earlier on. The action is divided between Calcutta in the first half and Rhode Island in the second half, and one of the things Jhumpa Lahiri does best in The Lowland is evoke places - I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that Calcutta and Rhode Island felt like more compelling characters to me than any of the people in the novel did.
The writing is so strong that I didn't feel bored with the book at any point along the way, but I kept waiting to get a real look inside various characters' psyches and never did. The Lowland is good, but there are much better books out there to spend your time on....more
For probably three-quarters of this book, I was really excited. It's so weird, and it could be hard to follow, but I couldn't wait to see how the authFor probably three-quarters of this book, I was really excited. It's so weird, and it could be hard to follow, but I couldn't wait to see how the author was going to tie everything up together to make it all make sense at the end. Unfortunately, somewhere in that last quarter I started realizing we were running out of pages and the author wasn't actually steering us toward a satisfactory conclusion. Maybe I'd get more out of a re-read, but there are some books you read once and know you need to read them again to understand everything, and Long Division felt more like a question mark - I don't know whether a re-read would help or not.
In Long Division, a black teenager from Mississippi named City has an epic, YouTube-viral meltdown during a competition called "Can You Use That Word in a Sentence" (meant to be an unbiased alternative to a spelling bee, but in practice designed to ensure a black student would win). Shortly before the competition, he borrows a book called Long Division from his school principal. The book-in-the-book is also about a black teenager from Mississippi named City, but that City lives in 1985 and can time travel. Unsurprisingly, it can be a bit confusing as chapters switch back and forth from one City to the other, but Kiese Laymon gives a strong and distinct voice to each City so that the reader doesn't flounder for too long - even while keeping both protagonists similar enough that the reader's overall sense is that they are both the same person, just living in different eras. (Apparently the print edition of this book uses different fonts to differentiate 2013 City and 1985 City, but as far as I can tell the Kindle edition did not do that, so I had to rely on context clues alone to know which City I was reading about in each section.)
There is so much that Long Division does really well - I loved the strong characters, the glimpses of the same town across very different eras, the blurred lines between the two protagonists, the time-travel element - but I felt like the book ended abruptly without really coming to any kind of satisfactory explanation for all the strange things the reader had to accept over the course of the novel. I would love to read more from Laymon, and I might even go back and re-read Long Division to see if more things fall into place on a second reading, but overall I think Long Division promises a lot more than it delivers. ...more
I've been trying to devote more of my reading time to books from other countries and cultures, so I ended up picking up The Kite Runner when I saw itI've been trying to devote more of my reading time to books from other countries and cultures, so I ended up picking up The Kite Runner when I saw it on the shelf at the library because I hadn't read anything from or about Afghanistan before, and because it seems like one of those books everyone else had already read.
I can understand why people love this book - it's an engaging, emotional story with a feel-good yet not entirely pat ending. However, it's also very heavy-handed, relies far too much on unlikely coincidences, and is incredibly paternalistic in its treatment of servants/lower caste members. Hassan is the Afghani equivalent of the Magical Negro, with no concern or purpose in life except to make Amir happy. Amir is riddled with guilt for the way he has treated Hassan, but rather than ever doing anything active to make up for this guilt, he allows circumstance after circumstance to carry him along until he ends up with his redemption served to him on a platter.
I'm giving The Kite Runner an uneasy three stars because I was torn at the end between feeling satisfied (and wanting to give it four stars) and feeling manipulated (and wanting to take all those stars away). The book is absorbing, is heartwarming in the moment, and does give an interesting glimpse of (privileged) life in Kabul in the 70s, but it also relies on two-dimensional characters and heavy-handed metaphor to produce its emotional reaction in the reader, and the more you think about the characters and circumstances in the book, the more it becomes apparently how flimsy and egocentric the entire story is. I'll have to go looking for another book that can give me a more even-handed and respectful story about Afghanistan. ...more
I wanted to read a novel about Santeria and found this one through a Google search. I didn't go into it with the highest of expectations, and while itI wanted to read a novel about Santeria and found this one through a Google search. I didn't go into it with the highest of expectations, and while it's deeply flawed I did find myself enjoying it more than I thought I might. The book is quite obviously a very thinly veiled novelization of the author's own faith journey, written with all the enthusiasm of the newly converted, which at times is energizing and at others embarrassing.
The book tells the story of Gabrielle Segovia, a marine biologist and college professor who is struggling with her own infertility. She doesn't give much thought to religion until she gets a reading on a whim in a voodoo shop while at a conference in New Orleans, and she is so shaken by what she hears that she makes contact with family members she hasn't seen since childhood who she knows to be involved with Santeria. She begins the process of being inducted into the family religion while struggling deeply with what her coworkers will think of her if they ever learn that she practices an ancestral religion complete with animal sacrifices.
The book shines in giving an even, respectful introduction to a secretive and often misunderstood religion; we learn a lot about the gods and get a taste of some of the rituals. However, the author being a convert herself, she is obviously invested in putting Santeria is the best possible light both for her readers and for herself; predictions are clearly stated and always come true, no matter how skeptical Gabrielle may be upon hearing each one.
Overall, the book is not terribly well written and would have little to recommend itself if it were a novel about a better-known religion. However, the subject matter itself is interesting enough to make up for a good percentage of these shortcomings. I wouldn't go so far as to recommend this book to anyone, but I got what I was looking for out of it and didn't regret my decision to read it....more
I liked this book more than I expected to based on its description, but although it purports to be a single narrative, We Need New Names is really twoI liked this book more than I expected to based on its description, but although it purports to be a single narrative, We Need New Names is really two books smashed together, one a compelling story about children in a shantytown in Zimbabwe and the other a disjointed story about a teenager from Zimbabwe living in Michigan. Both stories share the same narrator, but there's surprisingly little tying them together, and the second half tries to cover far too many topics in the space of only 150 pages to succeed at much of any of them.
In the first half, Darling runs around with her friends, playing games of their own invention and heading into a nearby town to steal fruit from the guava trees there. They remember living in houses and going to school, but their houses were razed and now they live in shacks their parents built from whatever materials they could find. The book hardly touches on what happened to land them in this situation and focuses almost entirely on the present day; this feels entirely accurate for a book narrated by a ten-year-old, but as a reader I would have liked to know a little bit more about what happened to their town. We get little inklings of what the parents must be feeling, but only ever in passing, as glimpsed by a child.
Even in the first half, the chapters read almost like standalone stories - it's the same characters from one chapter to the next, but each chapter feels self-contained - but in the second half, the chapters really start feeling disconnected, and it gets hard to follow the passage of time. In the first half, Darling kept referring to her aunt in America and claiming that someday she'd go to live there too; suddenly we move into a chapter where Darling is living in Michigan, but there's no real transition from Zimbabwe to America and no explanation of why her aunt would have welcomed the responsibility of raising and feeding a teenager.
The second half spans Darling's middle school and high school years in America, and it tries to cover so many things: the immigrant experience, being an illegal alien in America, trying to relate not just to Americans but to immigrants from other countries, getting lumped in together as being "from Africa" no matter the country, race relations in America, poverty in America... There's so much going on here that there's no space to go into any detail about any of these things, so the second half is a whirlwind of impressions, each chapter a story that has little to do with the previous chapter. The book starts trying to cover so many different topics that we get less and less of a sense of Darling herself; I often spent half a chapter trying to figure out how much time had passed since the previous chapter, and how old Darling was supposed to be now. At one point I honestly thought my Kindle had skipped me about 50 pages forward as I couldn't figure out how the chapter I'd just read could possibly flow directly into the one I was reading now.
Overall, this gets four stars for the first half and for the ambition of the second half, even though the second half really should have been a much longer novel all its own. I wish I could have learned a lot more about the political situation that had shaped Darling's childhood, and I wish there had been better narrative flow in the second half. However, there's a lot of promise here, and I look forward to seeing where NoViolet Bulawayo goes from here....more
Opening with an erotic dream, followed shortly by a ghostly visitation, Oleander Girl had me worried about what I was getting into for the first couplOpening with an erotic dream, followed shortly by a ghostly visitation, Oleander Girl had me worried about what I was getting into for the first couple of pages, but it isn't the fluffy book you might expect from its first two scenes. Set in Kolkata in the early 2000s, Oleander Girl looks at race, class, and gender concerns in India and in post-9/11 America as its main character, Korobi Roy - orphaned at birth and raised by her grandparents - prepares to be married but then drops everything and travels to America to track down information about the parents she never knew.
Oleander Girl is beautifully written and a pleasure to read, and for that it easily earns four stars. However, for all the challenging topics it takes on, it doesn't delve nearly far enough into any of them. Where there should be struggle, things fall easily into place. Situations that feel challenging are often resolved in the very next scene; where she expects hostility Korobi almost always finds warmth and forgiveness from the people around her. Even the love triangle - a fiance at home in India and a growing infatuation with a new friend in America - seems ultimately just to give Korobi a safety net rather than causing any deep soul-searching about the different lives she could lead by choosing one path or the other.
It's not that anything in the book is unconvincing; I just felt that Oleander Girl touched on a lot of issues without really wrestling with any of them. It's a lovely book, and it's a better book for incorporating these issues than it would be without them, but it could have been a whole lot more. Regardless, I look forward to reading more books from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni....more
I really love the Kingkiller Chronicles and have been glad to read these shorter works Patrick Rothfuss has been publishing - first a story about BastI really love the Kingkiller Chronicles and have been glad to read these shorter works Patrick Rothfuss has been publishing - first a story about Bast in Rogues and now this novella about Auri.
I'm not sure this book would hold a lot of appeal for people who haven't already read at least the first Kingkiller book, The Name of the Wind. The Slow Regard of Silent Things isn't a great introduction to Rothfuss, as inviting as it might seem for being so much shorter than his main books. The whole book is told from the perspective of a side character who lives in a maze of tunnels and ruined old rooms underneath the University where a significant portion of the Kingkiller story takes place. There's a strong suggestion in the Kingkiller books that she lives here because the studies of magic at the University damaged her, broke her brain in some kind of way that the University might have tried to mitigate or manage except that she escaped and hid.
This book doesn't really give any new backstory for Auri; it's set during the time that Kvothe is a student at the University, when she's already been living underground for quite some time, and it makes only a couple of passing mentions of her own University studies. Auri lives very much in the present in a life governed by many rules about where she can go, what she can do, and the most harmonious arrangements of the items around her. It's very enjoyable if you're already interested in Auri's character but does, I think, require a kind of patience for her that you can probably only get from reading the Kingkiller books first.
If you've already read the Kingkiller books and are waiting impatiently for the third one to be published, this is a very good (though not essential) diversion while you wait. If you haven't read anything else by Rothfuss yet, though, The Name of the Wind is excellent and very worth your while!...more
I deliberately avoided this book for years because everything I'd heard about it made me pretty sure it was not a book I would enjoy, but my book clubI deliberately avoided this book for years because everything I'd heard about it made me pretty sure it was not a book I would enjoy, but my book club picked it so I found myself reading it, years after all the hype about it. I know lots of people love this book and I really did approach it with an open mind, but it was exactly what I expected it to be and I definitely would not have finished it if not for book club.
I have no patience for this kind of self-aggrandizing storytelling. I get that he's doing it to be funny, that it's all some sort of cover-up for not actually feeling amazing and fascinating and perfect, but it's just not a kind of humor that works for me. The underlying narrative is interesting, but I found it very hard to sympathize with a narrator who spends most of his time telling me how great he is. I was particularly put off by his immature generalizations about race and his seeming belief that women exist to sleep with him.
There are plenty of good anecdotes scattered throughout this book, but the storytelling style was very much not for me....more
I watched the movie Stalker years ago but only got around to reading Roadside Picnic (the book on which it is loosely based) after finishing the excelI watched the movie Stalker years ago but only got around to reading Roadside Picnic (the book on which it is loosely based) after finishing the excellent Annihilation and thinking how the plot felt just similar enough that I wanted to see how they compared.
In Roadside Picnic, Earth has been host to an alien visitation, but rather than interact with us in any way the aliens just stop off briefly at a few different spots around the globe and then take off again, leaving an assortment of items behind wherever they touched down - almost as if they stopped by for a picnic, tossed their garbage aside and moved on.
Each of the areas where the aliens landed are now contaminated, deeply unsafe for humans to visit, full of areas of unexpectedly high gravitational pull, deadly molds and slimes, and other bizarre and dangerous things that will kill or maim a person on the spot. However, the items the aliens left behind prove to be highly useful, things like batteries that never wear out - though after years of study humans have only the faintest idea of what many of the items were truly intended to do (one character compares human use of these alien objects as "using sledgehammers to crack nuts"). Going into the Zones and bringing out items is a highly lucrative proposition - though also highly illegal if not done through the proper government channels.
Roadside Picnic tells the story of Red, one of the best stalkers, who has at different times entered the Zone for personal profit and through official government channels. We get a pretty thorough understanding of how much is known about the Zone through Red's eyes - his firsthand experience, his interactions with scientists studying the Zone, and his involvement with the black-market trade of Zone items. We also get weird little matter-of-fact revelations about how deeply the Zone has affected the lives of those in the area - Red's father, like many others who had been buried in cemeteries near the alien landing site, comes back from the dead and spends most of his time sitting slumped over Red's dining room table; and Red's daughter, like all the children of people who have entered the Zone, is only partially human - she is covered in fur and has big black eyes, earning her the nickname "the Monkey."
Over the course of the story we start to hear references to an object deep in the Zone that can grant the deepest wishes of anyone who visits it, and Red's final quest does involve a search for this Golden Sphere, but the heart of the book has more to do with the way humanity adapts and keeps on going even in the face of the most bizarre circumstances. I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed reading this book - highly recommended!...more
This was my second time reading Tove Jansson, and I found Fair Play to be very similar to The Summer Book in that both are collections of glimpses intThis was my second time reading Tove Jansson, and I found Fair Play to be very similar to The Summer Book in that both are collections of glimpses into the lives of a small number of people, but where The Summer Book focused on a young child and her grandmother, Fair Play is about the friendship between two adult women. The slow, aimless pace of these books is probably not for everyone, but Jansson is masterful at creating atmosphere and feelings just through dialogue and the silences that fall between two people who know each other very well....more
I seem to be very much in the minority here, but I found this book tedious in the extreme. The story is conceptually interesting - the main characterI seem to be very much in the minority here, but I found this book tedious in the extreme. The story is conceptually interesting - the main character is born over and over again into the same life, each time haunted by new, seemingly inexplicable ideas about consequences that might follow certain actions or decisions, so that the continued overlay of these past lives gradually begins to steer her into directions that avoid certain fates.
Unfortunately, in practice this means we spend a lot of time seeing the same scenes play out over and over again with sometimes only minor changes from one to the next. It takes almost 130 pages for Ursula to make it past the age of 8. That is a lot of pages to spend reading about all the different ways a child could die in the early 1900s. It gives the reader ample opportunity to question her decision to read 500-plus pages of death scenes.
Once Ursula starts living into her teens and twenties the book becomes a little more engaging, but there's still just so much repetition. Every once in a while the narrative diverges from the norm in some big way, and those stories always end in such spectacularly awful ways that she never repeats anything like them again; these stories stand out the most for their difference but also make it harder to keep track of what's going on in the main narrative arc since they introduce elements that do not occur again.
Ursula, in the stories that keep her alive long enough, lives through both world wars, which gives a particularly wide array of ways she gets to die. There are illnesses, accidents, domestic abuse, and bombs, bombs, bombs. It's exhausting to watch the same person die in so many ways. And while it's interesting to explore all the different life choices a person might make and to reflect on the significance of each one of our seemingly unimportant decisions, the philosophical value wasn't enough to offset the tedium of the book for me.
A final complaint: The book opens with a scene where Ursula is in a cafe, getting ready to shoot Hitler and prevent the second world war. I felt that this plot element cheapened the story; there was no real support for the idea that she retained enough memory from past lives for her to transition from senses of deja vu to seeing into the future so clearly that she might know in 1930 that she should attempt to kill Hitler. This felt like pure fantasy shoehorned in to try to give Ursula's life some kind of cosmic significance that really wasn't necessary.
(Okay, I lied, one more complaint: Life After Life really, really needed an editor to do something about all the comma splices. OH MY GOSH.)...more
Like everyone else who read The King in Yellow in 2014, I came across this book because of True Detective, a show that makes frequent references to thLike everyone else who read The King in Yellow in 2014, I came across this book because of True Detective, a show that makes frequent references to the Yellow King and Carcosa. It turns out you don't get a huge amount of new insight into the TV show by reading The King in Yellow, but there are some great stories in this collection, so I have no regrets about finding my way to this book!
There are ten stories in this collection - an initial cycle of four loosely connected stories, two standalone pieces, and then another cycle of four loosely connected stories. The first cycle is the reason to read this book; they're the only stories in the collection that have to do with the collection's title, and they're far stronger and more creepy than anything else in the book.
The first four stories all have to do with a play called The King in Yellow that drives anyone who reads it insane. The content is apparently so compelling that if you even encounter an open copy of the book and glance at a page, you will be unable to walk away without reading the whole book. It has, unsurprisingly, been banned, but all four stories deal with characters who read or are about to read the play and the psychological horrors and unrealities they are plunged into.
The other stories aren't bad but aren't really worth seeking out - there's a ghost story, a weird little poetry cycle, and four stories about artists in Paris, but the collection is worth it just for those first four stories. The King in Yellow is in the public domain, and you can find it for free on Project Gutenberg, so there's no investment to pick up a copy and no loss if you stop reading after the first four!...more
Last month was a rough month for me and I was not looking forward to reading WWII nonfiction for my book club, but I was running out of time and so afLast month was a rough month for me and I was not looking forward to reading WWII nonfiction for my book club, but I was running out of time and so after a couple of days of glaring resentfully at my Kindle I started to read Unbroken.
Mercifully, the book starts well before the war with the childhood adventures of Louis Zamperini as he grows from rough-and-tumble neighborhood menace to dedicated track star. At the age of 19, he goes to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and competes in the 5,000 meter race, and although he doesn't come close to winning he knows he has a good shot at the gold in four years. His training finds him closing in on what was then seen as an impossible feat, the four-minute mile, and Olympic gold is looking ever more likely. But then the 1940 Olympics are canceled, and Pearl Harbor is bombed, and instead of setting a world record for speed, Louis joins the Air Force.
Even at this point in the book, things aren't too dark. Louis is in training, making friends, learning a new skill as bombardier in a flight crew. He sees how often equipment failures and other acts of chance injure or kill people even outside of battle, but Louis's crew is skilled and their plane is sturdy and fate seems to be on their side for quite some time.
Everything changes when Louis and a few members of his crew are sent on a rescue mission in a dilapidated plane that suffers a mechanical failure over the Pacific. The crash kills all but three crew members; Louie and his friend Phil and a third man, Mac, lash together two life rafts and spend the next 47 days adrift on the Pacific with no food or water - they catch birds, fish, and rainwater when they can, and waste away to almost nothing. Mac passes away, and Louis and Phil are near death themselves when they finally land on an island shore - whereupon they are immediately captured by the Japanese. And this is the point where the book starts getting really hard to read.
Louis is transferred from one POW camp to the next, frequently abused even above and beyond the horrors his fellow POWs seem to be subjected to. It seems that Louis's Olympic fame is both the thing that saves his life - the Japanese feel it might be useful to have a famous American available to them and want to keep him around - and also the thing that causes some prison guards and officials to seek him out with particular malice.
This part of the book is difficult to read on a number of levels. The abuses in the POW camps are appalling, and spending so much time reading page after page of all the ways humans can be cruel to other humans is challenging. However, at this point in the book Hillenbrand is also weaving in tales about so many guards and POWs that it can be hard to keep people straight, which is a different kind of exhausting for the reader. Also, the whole book is by necessity based on people's recollections of a time more than half a century ago than most of them have probably worked hard to forget about, so there are times when the book feels a little less "nonfiction" and a little more authorial speculation about what people would have been thinking and feeling in the camps.
Overall I'm glad I read Unbroken, though I wish my reading hadn't coincided with a dark time in my own life. I'm glad to have learned about Louis Zamperini's life, and I think on the whole Hillenbrand did an excellent job telling the story....more
John Darnielle's band, The Mountain Goats, is one of my favorite bands, and I wanted this to be a five-star book so badly. The writing is solid, and tJohn Darnielle's band, The Mountain Goats, is one of my favorite bands, and I wanted this to be a five-star book so badly. The writing is solid, and the book is structurally and conceptually interesting, but the whole thing just didn't come together for me in a particularly satisfying way.
The title Wolf in White Van is a reference to backmasking in rock records, specifically the evangelical Christian scaremongering that if you played seemingly benign records backwards you'd hear all kinds of Satanic messages. The book is structured in a way that turns that concept on its head - read front to back, the book starts in the present and moves slowly back in time toward a very grim final scene, but taken chronologically from the last chapter to the first the book grows increasingly more positive and "ends" on a note of overwhelming joy. What I'm not sure about, though, is whether we are reading the backmasked version of a "normal" novel - the strange, stuttering, dark sounds hidden behind the everyday - or whether Darnielle is asking us to take his novel and play it backwards to find the joy hidden behind the suffering. I guess it's meant to be some of both.
The story is very similar to Darnielle's novella Master of Reality in that the main character of each is a metal-loving social misfit who we know has been hospitalized for some deep psychological issues, but we largely see the positive human side of the character and only gloss over the history that landed each in his present situation. However, while this worked well in Master of Reality's shorter format, it felt shallow in Wolf in White Van, where you have the length of an entire novel to contend with a narrator who is deliberately telling you only part of the story, sketching things out just enough to give you an idea of what happened without really letting you get very far inside his head.
Sean, the narrator of Wolf in White Van, spent many years telling himself stories about an invented post-apocalyptic fantasy world, and after being released from the hospital he decides to turn this world into a role-playing game called Trace Italian which is played through the postal mail. Participants all start with the same initial story and series of choices, mail in their turn and are rewarded with a page or two of descriptions about the next chapter in their story and another set of choices about what they could do next - a sprawling, slowed-down Choose Your Own Adventure played out over months or years, specifically designed so the player will explore forever without ever reaching the end.
As the book progresses we learn about some of the people who play Trace Italian - in spite of having never met them, Sean obviously feels very close to them and thinks about them often. We know that a team of two players began taking the game far too seriously, resulting in the death of one and serious physical harm to the other, but even though Sean must have learned quite a lot about them in the ensuing legal battle one of the more frustrating parts of the book for me is that we don't get as much of Lance and Carrie's story as I would have liked. The whole idea of Trace Italian is fascinating and one of the strongest parts of the book, and I wish we could have spent more time learning about that world and the players who were drawn to it - especially to understand what was so compelling about this story that two teenagers decided to risk their lives trying to turn it into a real-world quest.
There are so many things about Wolf in White Van that are really good, and a lot of clever things going on in the book, but by the time I reached the end - the darkest scene in the book, though also not the surprise it's set up to be since you pretty well know what's going to happen from all the references to it along the way - I was mostly just glad it was over. The book covers a lot of surface, but didn't give me the depth I wanted. As a concept it's fantastic, but it wasn't the five-star book I was hoping for....more
I picked up this book without knowing anything about it and was surprised at how quickly I was engrossed - I read it every spare minute I could find oI picked up this book without knowing anything about it and was surprised at how quickly I was engrossed - I read it every spare minute I could find over the next few days.
The book opens with the unexpected reappearance of Nicholas Slopen, who had died several months before. He looks different, but he is most certainly alive and knows things only Nicholas would know. After setting the stage for this new Nicholas to leave behind a journal, we go back in time to learn through the journal about the events that had led to the appearance of this bedraggled and tattooed version of the staid Samuel Johnson scholar who had been killed months before.
The story is compelling and is best approached without knowing too much of the plot, so I'll keep my description short. The comparisons to Frankenstein are apt - it's a literate and philosophical exploration of reanimation and what it means to be a human being.
The earlier portions of the book are fascinating, before the reader has any idea about what is actually at play. Nicholas meets someone who appears to be possessed with the spirit of Samuel Johnson and who has written letter after letter in the same handwriting and with the same vocabulary as Dr. Johnson, but who appears otherwise unable to communicate or interact with other people - a savant. I was having a really delightful time speculating on what was going on with these apparent reincarnations, but unfortunately the author tries to take things in an overly scientific direction toward the end without having enough plausibility behind the ideas to make the later parts of the book hold up well. In spite of the ending, though, this was the most fun I'd had reading a book in ages, and I look forward to reading other things from Marcel Theroux soon....more
There is a compelling story here, but it sometimes gets lost among all the layers of this novel, most of which reads like David Mitchell trying very hThere is a compelling story here, but it sometimes gets lost among all the layers of this novel, most of which reads like David Mitchell trying very hard to be Haruki Murakami. The novel switches between dreams, fictional short stories, diary entries, and the actual day-to-day travails of Eiji Mikaye over an eight-week period of his life as he moves from rural Japan to Tokyo to try to find the father he has never known.
You can tell that this is an early Mitchell book - a lot of the strengths of his later novels are here, but it's not as well organized or thoroughly crafted. There's a tendency toward silliness and overwrought scenes, especially the times Eiji gets mixed up with the yakuza (not to mention the bizarre parting gift his friend Suga gives him). It is deliberately hard to tell which scenes are dreams and which are reality, which gets less disorienting as the story progresses but requires a lot of patience from the reader in the opening scenes.
I enjoyed this quite a bit, but having read almost all of Mitchell's novels, this is my least favorite to date....more
Oof. The prose in May We Be Forgiven sucked me in, while the story itself did everything it could to make me want to throw my hands up in the air andOof. The prose in May We Be Forgiven sucked me in, while the story itself did everything it could to make me want to throw my hands up in the air and walk away. It starts on an authentic enough note - an unbearable family Thanksgiving, with the narrator's brother making an ass of himself while the children refuse to look up from their phones. From here, things begin a march to the absurd, first in minor ways but soon becoming totally over-the-top.
Here are some of the things you have to look forward to in this book:
Embarrassing Chinese stereotypes!
An alternative prison where adult men are thrown together in the woods and abandoned to themselves Lord of the Flies style!
Experimental medicines at the nursing home that get formerly bedridden seniors dancing and taking swimming lessons in their diapers!
An impossibly expensive bar mitzvah trip to South Africa featuring a magical negro!
The prose is excellent and some parts of the book are truly funny in their dark weirdness, but so much of the story is just too nonsensical, and the overall motion of the book from disorder to a perfect happy ending didn't sit well with me. There's no real struggle; things go weird and then fall exactly into place without any effort on the part of the narrator. (Then again, a lot of details in the story point to the idea that the narrator is delusional and remembers situations quite differently from other people - he describes himself as if he is entirely passive and his whole life just plays out from other people acting on him, but when we hear those people's voices, they frequently say that he took the first action/made the first move. So is the entire book just one giant delusion? I don't actually think that was the author's point, but it possibly makes the story more interesting to read it that way, even if it's only replacing one kind of frustrating reading experience with a different one.)
The only thing that saves this book for me is how compellingly written it is; it has moments that are really engaging, but every time I'd start to get pulled in, the author would do something so over-the-top that I'd just want to yell at the book again. I'd read something else from A.M. Homes because there's potential here, but this book was really not for me....more
I read this book in a frenzy after realizing at the airport that I was flying into Philadelphia one day before my old book club was meeting to discussI read this book in a frenzy after realizing at the airport that I was flying into Philadelphia one day before my old book club was meeting to discuss this book, and I thought it was short enough that I might have a shot at reading the whole thing in time to join them. This was probably not the ideal pace for reading Hemingway, but it worked out well enough.
I remember reading The Old Man and the Sea and maybe also some Hemingway short stories in school, but that's about the extent of my experience with his writings. I found myself really enjoying his writing style in The Sun Also Rises, but my pleasure in the narration was tempered by the things he was saying. There's some awful anti-Semitism in this book, and none of the characters are really likable at all. I found myself most sucked into the scenes where there was the least going on, like the fishing section, because I didn't have to think about how awful all the people in the book are.
I'd definitely be willing to give Hemingway another go (and A Moveable Feast has been on my to-read list forever) but I don't think I'd be in any rush to re-read this one....more
In retrospect, this was a fun book to read, but my experience of reading it was negatively affected by (of all things) the percent completed feature oIn retrospect, this was a fun book to read, but my experience of reading it was negatively affected by (of all things) the percent completed feature of the Kindle edition. I would read and read and read, and the percent completed would hardly go up at all. I started resenting Ken Jennings and his publishing house for not trimming the book down more.
It turns out, though, that the Kindle version is so bloated with notes, index, and a reader's guide at the end that you hit "book complete" at 74% into the text. In a paper book I probably would have flipped ahead at some point to realize that the actual text ended so far before the end of the book. In my Kindle edition, though, I just soldiered on, getting increasingly grumpy about this book that apparently would never end.
Maphead is actually full of a lot of funny, smart glimpses at different people who are highly invested in maps, whether they're children competing in a geography bee, people who collect rare maps, people who participate in map-based games (whether on paper or out in the world), people who like maps in their fantasy novels, etc. It doesn't go too in-depth into any particular thing, but just spends a handful of pages with each of these different types of enthusiasts.
I don't really feel like I learned a lot from reading Maphead, but it's a fun diversion, and it did make me pull out my atlas again and start spending time just poring over different pages. Just ignore the percent completed counter if you decide to read this on your Kindle....more