Sunday, February 22, 2009

It's my jaw not the government's!

Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov

This is the second book by Bulgakov I have read. His the Master and Margarita is, by far, my favorite book. So I was very excited to read this novella.

The story is about a dog, Sharik, who is taken in by a doctor. This doctor, Philip Philippovich, does some very interesting surgeries in attempt to keep his paients young. He transplants some of their organs with animal ones. However, with Sharik, he replaces the dogs testes and pituitary gland with that of a criminal who has recently died. Sharik becomes more and more human much to the alarm of Philip Philippovich and his assistant Dr. Bormenthal.

This story connected in my mind not only to Frankenstien, but also to A Clockwork Orange, for not only does Philip turn Sharik into a "human" but he also is trying very much to change the nature of this human, albeit not with the certain force used in Clockwork. Also, the more I think about it you could also see a little of My Fair Lady in there as well, since they do their best to turn Sharikov into a gentleman.

There is also a great deal of issue over "rights" in this novella: the right of the upper class over the lowe and how this is transitioning at that point in Russia, the right over the educated over the uneducated, human rights over animal rights, doctor's rights over patient's rights and creator's rights over the creation'r rights. Can you tell that I am drooling to write a paper on this book?

This book was translated by Mirra Ginsburg. I've never read any of her translations before. I think that some of the finer points of the story might be lost on readers without a background on Russian life at the time, since there are no footnotes in this edition explaining things. One thing that just didn't click with me was that there were several instances of young men who turn out to be young women, I'm not quite sure what the deal is since they are only talked about for a
moment or two.

This book is very short, only 118 pages, but gives you a lot to think about. What makes a man and what the purpose is of human/animal testing are things that Philip Philippovich struggles with.

There were so many quotes that I wrote down; I'll just share a few.

" The whole horror, you see, is that his heart is no longer a dog's heart, but a human one. And the viliest one you could find." pg 105

"The doctor's eyes resembled two black muzzles of guns aimed straigt at Sharikov." pg 110. I love that image.

"You are a creature just in the process of formation, with a feeble intellect. All your actions are the actions of an animal. Yet you permit yourself to speak with utterly insufferable impudence in the presence of two people with a university education - to offer advice on a cosmic scale and of equally cosmic stupidity on how to divide everything..." pg 91

And because I find this to be humorous:
"I am not a mister, all the misters are in Paris!" pg 96.

My soul is as naked as my face

I finished Zipporah, Wife of Moses by Marek Halter. I read his Sarah last year and really enjoyed it. Historical fiction is really interesting to me, and biblical fiction is even more interesting. These books focus on the women of the Bible, and how their lives may have gone. We get so little of their stories in the actual Bible; it's nice to get a gilmpse of what might have been for them.

Zipporah's story is very intriguing. I honestly can't say that I remembered anything about her fromt he Bible at all. In this telling of her story, Moses may not have gone back to Egypt at all if it were not for her. She believed in her own vision of him and knew that he had to go back and deliver his people from the pharoh. She would not marry him until he did. The interations between her and her sisters and eventually with the women in Egypt are so realistically construed. I have such respect for Halter because he is able to write from a woman's persepcetive so well. When I first read Sarah, I could not believe it was written by a man.

This book is bittersweet and a little depressing, but makes you yearn to know the back stories of other people from the Bible.

No quotes jumped out at me, but I would highly recomend this book to anyone who likes historical/biblical fiction.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

She has our hearts in her keeping

Onto a book that I am excited to write about!

And, as an added bonus, a movie review as well!

Coraline is written by Neil Gaiman who is an author that I ran across again on quotes. This is a really quick read for sure. It is the story about a little girl, Coraline, who's parents don't really have time for her. She finds a door in her new apartment and goes through at night to find a world where everything seems so much better. In this world she has an other mother and an other father who are much better at paying attention to her. They also have buttons for eyes. However, things are not what they seem.

Coraline has to go about trying to defeat the other mother and get herself, her parents, and the souls of other lost children free from the other world. The pictures are a little creepy, at least I would be creeped out by them if I was a kid. Hell, I'm kid of freaked out by them now.

Best quote from the book by far:

"Coraline sighed. "You really don't understand, do you?" she said. "I don't want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted?Just like that, and it didn't mean anything. What then?"

I also went and saw Coraline the movie. Now, when I was little, my mother took one of my brothers and I to go see the Nightmare Before Christmas. We freaked out and had to leave. That clown with the tear away face still makes me shiver. So, when I saw all the kiddies in the theatre to see Coraline, I felt for them. And several of them left. The poor girl next to me looked like she was going to cry.

That being said, I thought that this story was perfect for a stop motion picture. The details were amazing and just visually beautiful. The story was changed a little, most noteably the addition of a character, but I think that the changes made the movie flow. The other mother was wonderfully creepy - you can watch her slowly become less like Coraline's real mother and more like her true spiddery self. I yelped several times in fright, especially the end.

For the love of God, don't bring an infant to see this movie like some crazy lady did. In fact, bringing an infant to a movie theatre is just never a good idea.

A pearl of fasinating tales

Oy oy oy trying to keep up with myself.

I picked up this book: Once Again to Zelda: the stories behind literature's most intriguing dedications by Marlene Wagman-Geller, becase I really enjoy reading about books. But I was really dissapointed in it.

The book goes through many different books and explains the dedications behind them. The material is very interesting, and I learned a lot about different authors and their backgrounds. What I did not like about the book was the fact that the author felt compelled to include the cheesiest, sappiest sentiments. For example, in the chapter on McCuller's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, the last sentence is: "Maybe in the next world, unlike this one, her heart no longer had to be "a lonely hunter"." ack ack ack ack ack. Stuff like that makes me want to hurl. And she puts stuff like that in a least twice a chapter. Ugh.

I'd rather read a biography on any of these authors than read this book again. Although maybe if I cut out the begining and the ends of each chapter I could forgo the gagging.

It just reeks of ambience

The second book in the discworld series by Terry Pratchett is the Light Fantastic. It picks up right where The Color of Magic left off, without missing a beat really. The disc is heading towards a crazy red star, the clouds are solid, magicians are being overthrown, you know, the usual.

I think that the first book does a better job of keeping things funny and memorable. I know that I liked this book but I honestly don't have too much to say about it. I like the idea of Death having trouble learning some type of card game and the images of the trolls. I think it is hard to change the preconcieved image that most people have of classical fantasy creatures, but Pratchett does the best job at it with those trolls. And whenever I lose my teeth I hope I can afford some diamond den-chewers.

Twoflower continues to be the sterotypical tourist and Rincewind follows after, trying to clean up the mess.

And, perhaps my favorite exchange between both of his books that I've read! This takes place between Rincewind and Bethan, a madien who was rescued from being a sacraficial virgin who was mad that her Saturday nights at home went to waste.

"A necromancer!" said Rincewind
Bethan leaned sideways.
"What's neck romance?" she wispered.
"Necromancy. Talking to the dead," he explained.
"Oh," she said, vaguely disappointed."

Love it. I'm really not sure which of his books comes next, as I mentioned there are about a bagillion of them, so I'm not sure when or which ones I will read. But I love Pratchett's humor and wit so I'm sure there will be more discworld goodness in my future.

A tavern brawl? Why didn't you wake me?

Ok, I picked up two books by Terry Pratchett simple because I stumbled across him on I was just reading random quotes from him and figured that I would dig his books. Shocking news: I was right!

First up is The Color of Magic. This starts off the Discworld series, which, as far as I can tell, includes nine hundred books. This world is flat, and being held up by four giant elephants that stand on an enormous turtle. In The Color of Magic, we follow Twoflower, Discworld's first tourist, and Rincewind, Discworld's worst wizard, as they travel around and cheat death numorous times.

One of the things I most liked about this book was Death actually. Since Death has to be personally present at the death of a wizard, we get to see a lot of him showing up around Rincewind. Death, much like Harry Potter in book five, has given into CAPSLOCK.

This book has all the elements of a classic fantasy story, wizards, heros, sword fights, dragons, magic, trolls, tree nymphs, with the bonus addition of a piece of luggage that has a hundred little feet and can eat people. The book is also very witty and sarcastic at times, so I felt right at home. I would not say that it was a "great" book in the way that the Lord of the Rings books are great, however, any book that honestly makes me lol is worth a look.

I didn't write down a bunch of quotes like last time, my reading notebook seems to have wandered off - maybe Jack hid it..... But I just flipped through to what I think may be the best line of the book:

"No, what he didn't like about heroes was that they were usually suicidally gloomy when sober and homicidally insane when drunk."

A steed, she said, is not a mouse

I picked up The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya because it caught my eye in Half Priced. I am drawn to Russian lit due to an amazing class I took in college. I just feel compelled to buy them.

Anyway, she is related to the Tolstoy and began publishing in the 1980s. The Slynx is a tale of post nuclear war in Russia, Moscow to be exact. People have "consequences" or mutations and even two hundred years after the Blast, everyone is wary about plants, animals, and any remnant of th past society. Our hero is Benedikt and we follow him through his life working as a scribe, scoffing at the Oldeners (those who survived the Blast and live without dying of natural death), and dreaming of being rich. The peasants live by capturing mice, using them as their main food source - along with worms (ew)- and as a commodity to trade.

Fyodor Kuzmich is the head of the government and Benedikt works at copying the leader's work, which is actually bits and pieces of our literature. Benedikt gets married and some creepier things start going down, which is saying a lot since this book starts off fairly creepy. Father-in-law scares me. Mother-in-law and Olenka are a little unsettling as well but Father-in-law is the worst to me. There is some great imagery with these characters.

Bendikt gets introduced to reading real books and falls in love with them. However, this love of knowledge isn't enough to bring him out of the ignorance that has been drummed into him.

The title comes from a creature that dwells in the woods hoping to prey on those who wander or spend too much time Free-thinking or partaking in feelosophy. I wished that we got a little bit more on this critter, is it real, unreal, who is to say?

I was blown away by this book. I think I will need to reread it again this year, but I need some time to digest it. The ending (the last few pages) didn't seem to be as strong as the rest of the book, but that I can forgive because the rest was so amazing.

Some quotes that moved me enough to write them down in my reading notebook (yes I have a reading notebook for such instances):

"And why is it that spritual life is called a higher life? It's because you put books up as high as you can, on the top floor, on a shelf, so that if misfortune strikes and the vermin get into the house the treasure will be safer. That's why."

"What love is his talking about? It was a book! What else could you love but a book? Huh?"

"There is no worse enemy than indifference! All evil in fact comes from the silent acquiscence of the indifferent."

"No more tryanny allowed! It was just getting too darn fashionable!"

Books are good company

I finished Nabokov's Butterfly by Rick Gekoski last week.

Ok, ever since I picked up A Gentle Madness, I have found books that are about books very interesting. I like reading about rare books and the passion that some people devote to collecting and preserving them. Gekoski describes a book in each chapter that he has come across in his rare book dealing. There is a lot of insight into the history of the authors. Lolita, the Hobbit, Harry Potter, Animal Farm, and the Satanic Verses are all included.

I guess I don't have too much to say about this one. It was a good read for sure. One quote:"Because there's nothing as reassuring and reliable as a book. I don't mean physically, though books resist the passage of time considerably better than humans do, but emotionally. Books are good company, their presence brightens up a room: they become a difining feature of one's personal landscape."

I left Zipporah at my mom's so I dont know when I'll finish that one. However, I picked up the Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya the other day and am 30 pages away from finishing. Sneak peak - I think it is amazing.

Too sophisticated to believe in destiny

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan is my fourth book for the year. I haven't been to my book club in some time and this is one of the ones for this month. It was a fairly quick read; I finished in just a couple of days.

The novel revolves aroudn the wedding night of Edward and Florence. They are British and get married in 1962. However, they seem to be living in 1952 or perhaps the Victorian age. Edward cannot think of anything but finally getting to sleep with Florence and Florence is grossed out by the thought of having to have sex. We get a lot of information that at times seems to be a little much. I enjoyed the flashbacks to how they met and their courtship, but I pretty much love anything British. If the book has tea time in it I have a hard time hating it.

That being said, I don't think that the book was great. It wasn't Atonement. I have the urge to shove this book in the hands of everyone who insists that they are waiting until they get married to really kiss their significant other (there are people like that out there, I saw it on tv). I expected not to like the ending because my friend did not, but I thought that it fit. I love that Florence could not help but look for him in the set 9C.

I am completely enthralled with McEwan's writing style, but I think this book just did not live up to expectations. Perhaps if I had read this first and then Atonement. I bought his Saturday and I really want to read Amsterdam as well.

I did love one character that is only introduced for a moment, Harold Mather. He's the kind of guy I would like. After hitting a guy for smacking Harold, Edward has this thought: "Later on, Edward realized that what he had done was simply not cool, and his shame was all the greater. Street fighting did not go with poetry and irony, bebop or history."

Girl goes to the movies

Went home this weekend and saw a couple of movies. Now last year I went and saw all of the films that were nominated for best picture. So I'm going to try to again this year. In case you don't already know, the five movies nominated for best picutre are:MilkFrost/NixonSlumdog MillionaireThe ReaderThe Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I hadn't seen any of them before this weekend. Can I just say that is seems more and more like any movies that are nominated for Oscars only come out in the last month of the year.

So first up on my Oscar run was Slumdog Millionaire. I had heard really great things about this movie from several different people. In fact, I don't think that I heard one negative review. The movie was very moving. There were moments where I cringed, laughed, groaned, and my friend had to grab my arm at one point because she was scared. It is a love story and there were a few lines that just were sappy to me. I went with two girl friends and one had a mini swoon whilst the other and I felt like we would vomit. I mean if some guy told me it was our destiny to be together I would be all kinds of weired-out.

I can see why this film has won so many awards already; it is all around an excellent movie. And I'm pretty sure that every movie (no exception) should end with a dance number over the credits.

Then yesterday I took my littlest brother to go see Inkheart. Now, he has read the books and has some high expectations. I was more concerened about the trailers. ;) And I wasn't dissapointed, unlike my brother. Coraline was previewed and I think I may have to go see it. My brother (oldest younger) and I went to see the Nightmare Before Christmas when we were young and my mother had to drag us out because we were so scared. Coraline looks creepy and maybe this time I won't have to hide under my seat. And they showed the HP trailer. Whenever I hear that intro music (Hedwig's theme) I get all excited and fangirly.

But onto the movie! Inkheart has an interesting premise: there are those in our world who, when reading aloud, can bring elements of books into our word. Brendan Fraiser happens to be one. Blah blah,he and his daughter get caught up with these characters from the book Inkheart which Brendan had read aloud to Maggie, his daughter, and his wife got sucked into the book. What I liked about this moive was the emphasis on books and reading. The dad and the daughter hearing books call out to them is really well done. And, I loved that the characters that weren't read out properly had tattos of the print on their faces and bodies. I kind of want them.

My brother was bummed out about the movie because I guess they changed a lot of it and stuck things from the second book in the movie. We had a talk about how movies and books never seem to mesh quite right. You just have to approach them as two different things. That being said, if they mess up a Harry Potter movie I will pitch a fit.

It kills me sometimes, how people die

So I had over a hundred pages left in The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, when I was getting ready for bed and told myself just one more chapter. So of course I was up late finishing it.

The novel is a coming-of-age tale about a young girl, Leisel, in Germany during the start of WWII. Her mother leaves her with a set of foster parents in the poorer part of town. Her brother dies on the way there. The whole book is told from Death's perspective, which I liked a lot. I expected Death to be glad of a war, glad for more to do, but Zusak's Death viewed it as another task, a boss yelling to get more done. Death was tired.

The characters in this book are so vivid. Rudy Steiner and Leisel are so clear in my mind. Their friendship is so realistic and refreshing. Leisel's Papa is a man you cannot help but want to hug. If only everyone had someone sitting next to them when they awoke from a nightmare, maybe the world would be a better place. The way that Zusak writes is very interesting, however, after a while I got a little annoyed with the way he would describe things. Sentences like (and I'm paraphrasing here): Her voice was like suicide. While I really like that particular sentence, I felt the novel was over populated with them. They became less special and unique.

Max (a Jew who is hidden in Leisel's basement) becomes very close to Leisel. His story that he leaves her is shown with pictures and different writing. I like when modern novels do this, using different forms and styles to evoke emotion in the reader. What struck me most about Max is that he was my age. My age, and hiding in a basement, unable to see the sky, unable to do anything except sustain. Leisel finds him in the parade of Jews near the end and the whole scene is just beautiful. She repeats lines to him from his story and he kisses the palm of her hand. And then they are whipped.

Death does give the ending away (for the most part), and I thought that knowing certain characters are going to die would make the actual death less powerful. I was wrong. Knowing made my heart hurt every time the character was around after then, and it did not soften the blow.

As a young adult book I think that this does an admirable job of brining a huge, horrible concept to the level of adolescence.

Some of my favorie quotes ( the title of this entry is one of them)

"Like most misery, it started with apparent happiness."

"The only thing worse than a boy that hates you: a boy that loves you."

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Finished another book a couple of days ago. So Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? is a play written by Edward Albee. I have see a couple of his works performed before at my college (Zoo Story is the only title I can recall) and they were very different plays than I was used to. Lots of talking, not a whole lot of action and smaller cast. This play revolves around a couple of college professors, together with their wives, staying up late drinking. The four of them get extremely drunk. George and Martha are the older couple; Martha is the daughter of the college president. I can only imagine that watching the two of them tear eachother apart would be extrmely uncomfortable (not the painfull "the Breakup" level of akwardness though - that movie was like eating glass!) and unsettling, but that seems to be what Albee goes for. I thought their banter was well written, and the whole thin had me chuckling.

There are so many akward situations and they are written in such way that you cannot help but feel the embarassment of the characters radiating off the page. I looked it up and it seems there is a film version with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I may have to hit up Blockbuster. Everytime I read a play I can picture my theatre professor saying that a written play is not a complete work like a novel is. The script isn't the finished product; the production is. That does not mean reading a play cannot be a worthwhile persuit, but I like to keep that in mind while reading plays.

So book two down for the year! I'm halfway through this month and I want to knock out a couple more still. I'm in the process of reading The Book Theif by Markus Zukas - just barely started but it is looking really interesting - and I've also started Zipporah, Wife of Moses by Marek Halter. I'm also reading two nonfiction books about books - Nabokov's Butterfly: And Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books by Rick Gekoski and Once Again to Zelda: The Stories Behind Literature's Most Intriguing Dedications by Marlene Wagman-Gellar. Both are very interesting but I have been taking my time reading them.


Alright, done with my first book of 2009, Ian McEwan's Atonement! Ok, firstly I was very bad and watched the movie first. I loved the film, although the only reason I cried was because they were shooting the horses on the beach. And maybe a little at the end. I was not sure what to expect from this book; I had never read anything else by McEwan before.

The book is told in three parts and from different points of view. We get the background of the Tallis family and their garden boy Robbie Turner. He and Cecilia's relationship is missinterpretted by her sister Briony with catastophic results. On the whole the novel had a modern Austen feel; the depth and detail that McEwan puts into his characters makes it easy for one to loose themselves in this world.

I personally find it very interesting to read about people during World War II. In Atonement, you get to see the war's effects on Robbie and also the efforts of Briony who becomes a nurse in London. I think that our generation has a hard time conceptualizing the amount of sacrifice and hardships that people used to go through during wartime. For many the only major inconvience now is if a news report or Presidential message interrupts So You Think You Can Dance. Briony's (and Cecilia's) choice to become a nurse makes me wonder how many girls I know would rush to do the same. Not many I think.

Briony's love of writing also holds great interest to me. But what I loved most about the novel is the end. She writes a neat happy ending to her tale and wonders to herself what purpose could have been served by telling the truth. The reality of Robbie and Cee is not a happy one. Her stories (if we can assume from the bits of the ones we are told of) all seem to end neatly. I think that McEwan's choice not to end the story with a happily ever after was the right choice. We get more of a scope of Briony's long standing guilt and sadness over the loss of her sister. We can relate to sadness, death, and seemily eternal sufferrig; not many can look at a happy ending and say "oh that's just like me."

My favorte line from the novel, as told in Briony's section of working as a nurse:
"From this new an dintimate perspective, she learned a simple, obvious thing she had always known, and everyone knew: that a person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn, not easily mended." ~page 287.

I love McEwan's writing style; I cannot wait to read another work by him.