Month: March 2013

2013 Book #13: Amerika

amerikaI haven’t hated a novel so hard in a long time. Amerika is quite possibly the most frustrating that I’ve ever read – even more than Kafka‘s other novels. It’s considered one of his three principal novels – The TrialThe Castle, and this one (The Metamorphosis evidently doesn’t count because it’s a novella) – and it’s not even finished. I bet I can tell you why, too: Kafka knew it sucks, and he knew the plot couldn’t go anywhere worthwhile. It would just have to be an endless loop, so he gave up. Which is kind of what his novels are, anyway. They’re certainly frustrating. I’m beginning to wonder why I like the other two (and The Metamorphosis) so much. Maybe it depends on my mood. But I hated this one almost from the beginning. I’m not even sure why I finished it.

And what made it worse: I was done when I realized that it’s unfinished. I dislike unfinished novels, and I rarely read them. Not only am I predisposed to dislike it on that basis, but it sucks. MEH.

It’s about Karl Rossman, who is sent to America by his parents because he got a girl pregnant, and they don’t want to have to pay. And Karl trusts everyone, even if they’re obviously out to get him, so he ends up in trouble pretty quickly. He takes the side of one of the ship’s employees who thinks he’s being treated unfairly even though he (Karl) has just met the employee. As things go south, a businessman asks Karl to repeat his name then claims to be his long-lost American uncle, there to rescue him. Thus ensues lots of creepiness, and trusting ol’ Karl gets into trouble again, though he doesn’t mean to, and his uncle is entirely unreasonable. I really don’t understand the situation. It’s a ridiculous situation that only Kafka could pull off, and this time he does it badly. Then Karl ends up on his own and works in a hotel for a while, then becomes a kind of slave, and then on and on and on.

I seriously wanted to throw this book across the room when I finished it. I hated it that much. The last book I hated that much was Chinua Achebe‘s Things Fall Apart, but I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that because he just died. Except I did.

ANYWAY, Amerika is, as I said, Kafka’s first novel. And it’s not good. And I almost wish I hadn’t bothered to finish reading it just to find out that even Kafka couldn’t finish it. On to greener pastures.

2013 Book #12: Anne of Green Gables

anneOkay, here’s yet another book I should have read a long time ago. Anne of Green Gables was a big part of my childhood, but, surprisingly, not in book form: I watched the TV series.

How that didn’t result in my reading the book, I don’t know. I’m not even sure I knew that there was a book, though I had a dim recollection of the illustrations. That series remains one of my Very Favorite Ever.

And visions of it are why I picked up the book. I needed to see something beautiful. It was the very end of winter, and I couldn’t wait for fresh green and flowers. (What’s funny, is that’s exactly what I got after reading the novel.) Since spring was just barely out of my grasp, I figured visions of Prince Edward Island might do. I needed something beautiful!



Anyway. In case you haven’t read it (or your kids haven’t filled you in): Anne of Green Gables is about a young orphaned girl, Anne Shirley, who is adopted by middle aged siblings, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, who live on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Matthew and Marilla wanted to adopt a little boy who could help them on the farm, but Anne appeared with a vast surplus of imagination and won them over. The book chronicles Anne’s adventures through childhood.

I really loved this book, and I’m almost wishing the series wasn’t so ingrained in my memory. I saw the characters from the series so clearly while I was reading. Which isn’t really bad because they were perfect choices. The series sticks really closely to the book.

Anne of Green Gables is, most of all, refreshing. It’s generally a happy book, and it feels fresh and clean like Spring. If everything is still dark and gray where you are, this is the one to pick up. Luckily, there are hints of green all over Shreveport, and the azaleas have started blooming. Anne of Green Gables got me through that last bit of winter blues: it was exactly what I needed.

2013 Book #11: Kafka on the Shore

kafkaontheshoreI’ve been meaning to write this post for about a week, now, but I keep putting it off. I think the lesson I’ve learned here is not to read a Murakami book twice because I won’t like it as much. The only other one I’ve read twice is Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which had previously been my favorite novel. Until that second reading, after which it was replaced by Kafka on the Shore. Well, I’m in the same position now, and all of this is rethinking my devotion to Murakami. It’s not that it’s a bad novel, or anything. I just didn’t like it as much. I certainly understood more of it this time around, even though it had been a few years since I’d read it, and maybe that’s why I didn’t like it so much. Or maybe not. I’m just a bit confused.

Kafka on the Shore is about a kid named Kafka Tamura (he changed his first name) who runs away from home, partially because he doesn’t get along with his father, a famous sculptor, who prophesied that Kafka would kill his father and sleep with his mother and his sister. Kafka ends up in another town at a private library. Then things start to get weird in a way only Murakami could think up. There’s also an older man named Nakata. When he was young, something mysterious happened to him and his classmates, and all of them recovered except him. He seems a bit autistic, and he can talk to cats. He gets aid from the state and supplements his income by finding people’s cats. On the trail of one of these cats, he finds himself in an empty lot where one had been last seen. A big dog appears and guides him to the house of a man who calls himself Johnnie Walker who does terrible things to cats to collect their souls to make a flute. (Yep, that’s the plot.) Nakata kills him, and it turns out later that Kafka’s father had been murdered, but apparently under different circumstances. And then more Murakami-ish things happen, some of them involving fish falling from the sky.

Yeah, it’s a strange novel – as are all of them. Most of Murakami’s work is magical realism, kind of like Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s One Hundred Years of Solitude and the like. That’s one of the reasons I like him so much. He’s certainly one of the best living authors (and so is Marquez, though he quit writing). I’ve read every one of Murakami’s novels published in English, even the hard-to-find ones like Pinball, 1973. I didn’t especially like A Wild Sheep Chase or After Dark, and I’m still considering giving them a second read because I should like them. And there’s 1Q84, which plain ol’ disappointed me. All of the others, though, I really like. Even the two I’ve read twice – it’s just that I don’t like them quite as much as I did the first time I read them.

If you haven’t read any Murakami, pick up one of his books. I read somewhere that Norwegian Wood is his most accessible because it’s the most realistic, and I can agree with that. There’s also the movie coming out sometime soon. My first Murakami was Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I was browsing the shelves at the Urbana Public Library in Illinois and thought the title was too interesting to pass up. I think The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is probably his best, and as much as I loved it, I don’t think I’ll read it again anytime soon because I don’t want to be disappointed on the second go-round.

2013 Book #10: A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel

wrinkleintimeAs soon as I got into this book, I said to myself, “Have I ever even read A Wrinkle in Time?” I remember the act of reading it, but this graphic novel isn’t what I remember. I guess I just pictured it differently in my head. I enjoyed it, anyway. For me, graphic novels are like watching TV when I don’t want to watch TV – giving me the pictures along with the words takes all of the work out of reading. And there’s the fewer words to read, allowing me to get through these quickly. That said, I don’t read many graphic novels at all. I went through my manga phase (do those count?) several years ago, and since then, I’ve generally stuck to relatively picture-free books. There are, of course, exceptions. And hey, this one’s even a kids’ book. I don’t read too many of those, either.

I’m not going through the whole story because I assume you’re over the age of 10, and I’m pretty sure the gods don’t let you pass that age without reading A Wrinkle in Time. Or maybe they do these days: book literacy seems secondary to computer literacy. So it goes. Anyway, a guy who works on some secret project for the government disappears, and two of his kids and one of their friends search for him, befriending three old, time-traveling ladies on the way.  They end up in a dystopian world where everyone is exactly the same and there’s no free will. Then Things Happen.

I’d forgotten so much about this book. Like how super-Christian it is, Bible quotes and all. I guess that’s a product of the time in which it was written? I thought it was a little much. And I remembered them getting to the dystopian city where everyone is the same, but I didn’t remember what came after that at all like Hope Larson depicted it. That’s not to say it wasn’t well done or that I didn’t like it, because I did. The artwork is really nicely done:


If you haven’t read the actual novel, pick up a copy because it’s totally worth it. If you have, take a look at this graphic novel version. It’s fun and fast, and I, at least, was entertained the whole time. (It also got me about a week ahead in my 50, which is one of the reasons I chose it. I thought I was going to tackle Mark Danielewski‘s behemoth, House of Leaves, but when I realized how long it would take to get through it, I tl;dr-ed it for now. If I get a month ahead, or so, it’s on.)

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