Monday, March 23, 2009

I had to do it for myself.

This is the second book by Jonathan Safran Foer I've read. I adored his other, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I had high, high hopes for this one.

I was not disappointed. What I like most about this book was the way that Foer is able to weave together not only several different stories, but different voices to create a full narrative that really hits home. We get the tale of a man named Jonathan Safran Foer searching for a woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. His guide, Alexander, and Alexander's grandfather bring their own distinctive voices. Foer's grandfather's village history is included, along with Foer's grandfather's personal history.

Personally I enjoy a book that uses different points of view, and I think that Foer has a great handle on this technique. I was not as moved as I was with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but I think this is because I, a non-Jew, have an easier time relating to the events of 9-11 than the horror of the Holocaust. That being said, I was unable to put this book down and could feel my heart aching at his phrasing - it was just beautiful.

I thought that this was a wonderful book, one that I would recommend to anyone who wants not only a gripping tale, but one that will leave you helplessly enthralled. I will be waiting with bated breathe for Foer's next work.

A few quotes to tempt you:

"The final time they made love, seven months before she killed herself and he married someone else, the Gypsy girl asked my grandfather how he arranged his books." ~ page 229

"We were stupid," he said, "because we believed in things."
"Why is that stupid?"
"Because there are not things to believe in"
(There is no love. Only the end of love.) ~ page 245

"She wore my teeth marks on her body like other wives might wear jewelry." ~ page 264

And - the exchange that stopped my in my tracks and got me really thinking about love and why we hang on to hurt:

"Do you like thinking about Mom?
Does it hurt after?
Then why do you continue to do it? she asked." ~ page 92

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Top Five

After that last post I realized I had to come up with my current Top 5 Favorite Books.

1.) The Master and Margarita by Mikahil Bulgakov
2.) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3.) Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
4.) The Sound and The Fury by William Falkner
5.) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

(ok so Top 10)

6.) Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger
7.) Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
8.) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
9.) Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott
10.) All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

I now want to reread all of these. Oy!

And just an update on what's to come. Right now I am reading Consider the Lobster And Other Essays by David Foster Wallace, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, The Stuff of Thought, by Steven Pinker and Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach.

from politics, it was an easy step to silence

Continuing on my Austen binge, I picked up Northanger Abbey. This is one of those books that I've always felt a little weird about not reading. I own a lot of books and read a lot and yet I feel that there are some "classics" that are just not on my radar. Case in point, I didn't pick up Wurthering Heights until last year and I have yet to read anything other than Great Expectations by Dickens. I'm working on it people.
I've made no secret that I love Austen. Pride and Prejudice is in my top five favorites and Emma would be somewhere in the top tier as well (I'm now trying to figure out what my other top five are and top 100 and so on). That being said, I did not like Nothanger Abbey. It just did not do it for me. Here's why:
Catherine and Isabella have such a fake friendship that everyone can see but Catherine. Isabella is such a parody of a flirtatious woman and an insincere friend that it made me cringe to read about her. Her speeches on how important friendship meant to her contrasted with her abandoning Catherine in favor of any man seemed like they were meant to be humorous but just came off disappointing me. Perhaps if I too had been fooled to think that Isabella actually cared for Catherine, then I would have cared about Isabella in some way. I was not surprised by anything Isabella did, no matter how shocking it appeared to Catherine.
Catherine herself was a big issue for me. She's pure, innocent and about as naive as they come. That I could handle if not for the fact that she doesn't seem to be acting like a woman in that day and age should in regard to men. In other Austin novels, women who are not rich are always at least aware that they need to get a man to marry them before they become a horrible burden and shame on their parents. Men and marriage occupies a lot of their thinking. Catherine seems to be oblivious to it. She is not a rich woman, though yes not poor either, and so should be concerned about getting married. Yet the girl couldn't pick up a hint from a guy if he dropped it in her lap. Which they do, a lot. Yes, she is smitten with Tinley and may be in love with him, but we the reader never really get to know this until very late in the novel. I felt like Austen had Catherine tip-toe around the thought of marriage . This fact of Catherine's obliviousness to men and marriage bothered me the most about this book.
There are moments in Northanger Abbey where you can clearly tell that the writer is brilliant, but, in the face of her other works, this is not a great book.
Two quotes I rather liked:
"Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love."
"To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Is 5

Now, I usually don't read a book of poems straight. I tend to pick them up randomly and read a poem from a random page. But for whatever reason I wanted to read this one through.

I am a big fan of e e cummings. I find his poetry to be beautiful, sensual, and alluring. In college I always chose his poems to read for class.

Some of the poems in Is 5 were a little lost on me, but I'm not too worried about it. Maybe in five years I'll reread them and be able to see just what cummings is saying. Cummings is known for his free style, words scattered across the page, phrases thrown together seemingly at random to create the perfect image in your mind. He writes about love and war, and eschews the normal rules of punctuation. The above poem is not in Is 5, but I thought it was a good example of how playful cummings' poetry can be.

Several poems jumped out at me in this book. "my sweet old etcetera" has always been one of my favorites. I had a poetry class and that was the only cummings poem in the text book.

I do want to include one poem from the book. This one stood out to me as special. I've heard the "eyelids' fluttering" line before and love it even more in context. Enjoy!

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world
my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
-the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other:then
laugh,leaning back in my arms
for life's no a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

Pride and Prejudice

What can I say about this book that has not already been said?

I turned to this book because I feel like I'm reading so many books that are new to me, and every now and then I need a familar face. As I've said in my Kindle review, this book has a lot of sentimental value to me. I love this book a lot. I would have a hard time believing that there are people out there who haven't read it (I'm sure there are, but it's more like I don't want to believe it) so I don't really feel like I need to recap the plot. Mr. Darcy is dreamboat.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." ~ I actually had a friend quote this at me the other day in regards to some guy we know and it pretty much made me idolize her.

There are too many lines I have underlined and too many comments I wrote in the margins for me to recap here. I need to go drink a cup of tea.

Friday, March 6, 2009

How does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

I've been meaning to read this since the movie came out, which is about the same time that I bought the book. I read this in conjuncture with Pride and Prejudice. Seems to me like I picked the two books I own that are least like each other to read at the same time.

Anyway, I enjoyed the book a lot. The movie was pretty faithful to the book, so I felt familiar reading it. The writing style that McCarthy uses took me a while to warm up to though. He does not use quotation marks for dialogue at all and has no apostrophes anywhere. After a few chapters is flowed, but that defiantly took me by surprise. Names also took me a little while to get the hang of; I kept having to picture their movie counterpoint.

The book is as bloody as the movie, which gave me about six heart attacks. I think that the book is creepier though. In the movie they have Anton Chigurh creeping around murdering people and the sense that he is amoral really comes across. However, I think there is one scene missing from the movie towards the end that hits that point home in the book.

I also think that the book does a wonderful job of leaving things unsaid. There are some great line breaks that cut right from a heightened situation to Chigurh suddenly having what he needed, which leaves the reader to determine what actually happened.

I read this book in a very short amount of time; it was really hard to put down. I'd read something by McCarthy again. Just a few quotes:

"It takes little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people cant be governed at all. OR if they could I never heard of it." - page 64

"the dead have more claims on you than what you might want to admit or even what you might know about and them claims can be very strong indeed. Very strong indeed." - page 124

"Well I guess in all honesty I would have to say that I never knew nor did I ever hear of anybody that money didnt change." page 128

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My thoughts on Kindle 2.0

I've read a lot lately about Kindle 2.0 and about past e-readers, the pros and cons, both view points. The first time I had thought about an e-reader was about three years ago in college. I was in my media science class when the topic of e-books came up. My prof knew me very well and said, "Amy I bet you've got one don't you?" I think I glared at him for the rest of class. I told him that there was no way, no freaking way I would ever buy one. I had absolutely no desire for one. Of course, I didn't know as much about them then as I do now.

The Kindle 2.0 seems great for people who travel all over and want multiple books on hand. No more driving to the store or waiting for a book to be delivered to you, just a few clicks and it's there. The screen is said to be as easy on the eyes as reading paper. Sounds great. More and more people are talking about them, and talking about them to me so I had to read some reviews. I know I shut down e-readers in the past but maybe I was wrong I thought.

And then I had to urge to read Pride and Prejudice. I went to my bookcase (one of my five - the one keep in my bedroom with the books that are nearest and dearest to me) and pulled out my copy. Now, there is nothing that special about my copy of Pride and Prej. It's just a standard paperback that has been reread about 15 times and it shows. But it single handedly reminded me why I personally will never go over to an e-reader.

This book of mine is one I used for a class in high school. I have notes everywhere in it. Passages underlined, comments from my teacher at the end of the chapters and my running commentary in the margins. Now I know, I know that you can make comments on the Kindle and highlight and all that, but I feel a big personal connection to actually putting pen to paper. In school (high school and college) I had to hand write everything before I could sit down and type it out. Everything. Even my thesis. I took crazy detailed notes in classes and they were all handwritten. Back to Pride and Prej. I love rereading books that I have written in because it gives me a glimpse of the girl I was at that point in time. I have even written responses to my previous self in the margins on different rereadings. My handwriting, tone, depth is all different in every comment. I feel that I can be more honest writing than typing most of the time. Would I really take the time to enter "Lydia is a total skank" in a Kindle? Probably not. But you bet I did in purple pen.

Books are my comfort food. My copy of Pride and Prejudice is right up there on the top of my Comfort Book list, along with Nine Stories, the Giving Tree and Master and Margarita to name a few. When I am having a bad day or freaking out over something, which happens a lot, I turn to my books. Just being in a bookstore takes my stress down about 5 levels. I can and have spent hours in one store, without looking for anything in particular, just waiting for a book to call out to me. And they do.

With the Kindle, I feel that I would have to know which book I wanted to read and I'd have to hope it's one of the books that are offered on Kindle (not all are). I buy a great many books second hand, some of my favorites are ones that are not readily avaliable. And like I said, I usually don't know what I'm going to come home with when I go to the bookstore. That's what makes it fun for me.

I think it is safe for me to say that there is nothing I am more passionate about than books. When I moved, I was more concerned about packing them than anything else. There was a point where the bookcases in my apartment were empty but I was still sleeping there and it just felt wrong. Books were the first thing I unpacked in the new place. I didn't feel at home until I had them in the bookcases.

And maybe this is because I was an English major, or the fact that I work in a bookstore, but I get really excited when I see books in people's homes. My friend Liz, who used to work with me at said bookstore, and I always have to oggle the other's books when we visit. She roped me into book club and is the person I borrow the most books from. Which is another reason I love having physical books. I can see them. I can stack up all my Vonnegut books and put them on a shelf. I can put all my Russian lit together, arrange them however I choose. And other people can see them too. If you can't see the books it's hard to say oh that looks interesting, can I borrow this?

I feel like the e-readers make reading a much more isolated hobby than it really is. Yes, you read by yourself, but reading doesn't have to be a private thing. Example, if I see a guy playing with some kind of electronic device I'm not going to think twice about it. If that guy is reading a copy of Cat's Cradle though, I might have to start up a conversation. It's hard to meet people at the e-book store!

My other big issue with e-readers is that I love giving and recieving books as gifts as well as loaning and lending books. I'm sure that you can buy someone a gift card to amazon for them to purchase an e-book, but that's not quite the same as wrapping up a book and writing and inscription inside. Many of my books carry more importance to me based on who gave it to me. I can tell you where I got almost any of my books, whether from a bookstore, garage sale, or a family member. I have many of my father's old books. These are special to me because they were his. Or they are books that he's hunted down for me and given to me. He travels a lot and has brought me back books from different countries in different laugages. Others have given me books as well: one of my dear high school friends gave me Tulips and Chimneys by e.e.cummings for graduation, a teacher gave me The Story of B by Daniel Quinn, a boyfriend gave me In Cold Blood by Capote and Proust for Valentine's day (best v-day gift ever).

This is not to mention all of the books I've borrowed over the years, most of which I've returned. If not for a good friend, another Liz, I might not have picked up the Harry Potter books. I was big into the those-books-are-for-kids mindset and she put the book in my hand. I now own two copies of each book (British and American versions) and will talk about that series nonstop if allowed.

And I love lending books to people. When I've finished a good book I really want to talk about it so I usually throw it at one of my friends or my dad. I love giving books as gifts too. I have a younger brother who is always asking for video games for his birthdays and all he ever gets from me are books. Which he loves. It just doesn't seem to me that an e-reader can effectively be shared like a physical book can. Once I read it, can I give it to someone else?

Several people have told me that I shouldn't be too harsh on the e-reader and I have tried not to be. With all the hoopla over the Kindle 2.0 I was actually interested to learn why amazon thinks I need this product. I'm just not convinced. Call me old-fashioned or out of touch, but I just can't see books being replaced my an electronic medium. There is something intangible about books that makes them so appealing to many people. Yes the content is important, and if the Kindle gets more people to read Anna Karenina then great. But you won't be able to pry my copy away from my hands. It takes up a heck of a lot of space on my shelf but it's mine. Even if I drop it in the tub (a fate that befell most of my Laura Ingalls books) I could still read it if I wanted to. And knowing me if I did shell out the $360 for a Kindle 2.0 I would drop it in the sink or spill soda on it within a week.

Fucking A

One of my good friends lent me Red Letter Plays by Suzan-Lori Parks. My friend and I had both taken some women's playwrighting courses in college and this was one of her recomendations.
First of all - I want to say that this is one of the most compelling covers I've seen in a long time. How could you not at leat pick it up? I was really excited to learn that Parks was playing off of the Scarlet Letter.
Now, I'm not sure why I did this but I read Fucking A before In The Blood. And, if you do read these plays please note that there are translations to the weird gibberish that the ladies speak in now and then - at the back of the book. I didn't see any footnote directing me back there so I didn't read the translations until after the fact.
Anyway, Fucking A is the story of a mother who is an abortionist working hard to earn money to get her son out of jail. She, Hester, carries an "A" much like Hester Pryne, however hers is literally carved into her chest and continually bleeding. Would be a fun time for the make-up artist. She's friends with a woman who is the mistress of the Mayor. And to top it off, a murdering ex-con is on the loose.
In The Blood also centers around a Hester (not the same one) who has five children with five different dads, none of whom are around. Hester is trying to make ends meet and gets her hopes up when her oldest child's father is aking around town for her.
These plays were both really enjoyable to read and would be amazing to see on stage. Parks has a style of playwrighting that is like no other play I've read before. I would highly recommend these plays.