Month: September 2013

2013 Book #41: Anna Karenina

annakareninaI don’t even really want to talk about this one. I read it; isn’t that enough? I know that Anna Karenina is considered one of the best novels ever written and that I should like it, but I just didn’t. I got bored really quickly, and it’s just too damn long. And it’s false advertising, which makes me angry, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Here’s a very basic plot summary: Anna Karenina is married and falls in love with Vronsky, and they run off together. At the same time, Levin, who meets Anna, like, once during the novel, falls in love with Kitty Shcherbatskaya, who at first rejects him for Vronsky but then marries him after Vronsky runs off with Anna, then questions the existence of God and has a long inner monologue.

Which is where the false advertising comes in. Anna Karenina is two novels, not one. The connection between the titular plotline and Levin’s is so tenuous that they could easily be separated. I’d have enjoyed an abridged copy with all of Levin’s crap cut out. Because I didn’t care. I think, though, that I would have appreciated it more when I was younger and was questioning, and such, as people tend to do at some point. Now, though, it’s not of interest to me, and it almost reminded me of the preachiness of Paolo Coelho or Milan Kundera, which we all know irritates me.

And maybe it didn’t help that I couldn’t settle on one format: I read it between paperback and Kindle and listened to the audiobook all the way to Grand Isle and back. If it wasn’t for that audiobook, I probably would have given up because at least listening is passive and I could only halfway pay attention to it. I was just bored.

Contributing to the boredom was my inability to sympathize with hardly any of the characters. I just didn’t like any of them. I know that I was supposed to like Levin, at least, but I just found him irritating. Especially over the fifty pages about mowing a field of grass with the peasants on his estate. Meh.

That’s not to say it isn’t a great novel. I could see why Tolstoy included all that he did; I just wasn’t interested in most of it. I didn’t know how it ended for Anna and Vronsky, but by that point, I wasn’t surprised, and I kind of rolled my eyes. And after that part, which was at least kind of interesting, Levin started on his ruminations.

I definitely feel like I’ve accomplished something just by getting through it.

2013 Book #40: Ivanhoe

ivanhoeIvanhoe? How’d that end up on my reading list, you ask? Two reasons: a Book Riot article about Game of Thrones and Ivanhoe put it on my radar in the first place, then seeing Sir Walter Scott mentioned in so many other books (none of which I can think of, of course) finally did me in. Evidently, back in the day, Scott was super popular with both kids and adults. Maybe like an early nineteenth-century J.K. Rowling? People loved his adventure stories. Now, of course, he’s fallen out of fashion, I guess because more modern audiences have difficulty with his language. I really don’t know, except that I hear so many complaints about “old books” and how hard they are to read. Like Shakespeare wasn’t written in English.

Walter Scott, of course, is no Shakespeare.

But he writes a damn fine story. Ivanhoe is set in twelfth-century England, when Richard I was king. Ivanhoe, a knight, has just returned from Palestine and appears at Cedric the Saxon’s house in disguise, peniless and destitute. No one knows who he is. There, he meets a Jewish man, Isaac, who he rescues from Normans who plan to kidnap him, and in return, Isaac loans Ivanhoe a horse and armor to fight in a tournament for Prince John, Richard’s brother. Richard is supposedly off in Palestine, and John has dreams of becoming king, so he acts like (a bad) one. On the first day of the tournament, Ivanhoe wins the joust. There’s a melee the next day, and Ivanhoe wins that, too, thanks to a mysterious knight dressed in all black who runs off after the fight. Another mysterious man named Locksley wins the archery competition. This book is full of disguises. After all of this is over, Ivanhoe reveals himself, and we discover that he is Cedric’s son. He had chosen Cedric’s ward, Rowena, as queen of the tournament – he had plans to marry her before he went to Palestine. After he removes his helmet, though, he falls down because he’s been wounded, after which Isaac’s daughter, Rebecca, applies secret Jewish balms that are later attributed to sorcery. Prince John is none too happy, and Cedric sneaks Isaac and Rebecca off with Ivanhoe in a litter so he can recover in a more friendly atmosphere. They meet up on the road and are assaulted by robbers, and most of them are kidnapped and end up at a Norman castle. I’ll stop here. This summary only covers the first third of the book, or so, if that much. It’s a complicated plot. But Robin Hood makes an appearance! Good stuff.

I liked Ivanhoe even more than I thought I would. I was a little worried at the beginning because Scott enjoys extensive description a little more than I do, but I got into it quickly, and the story moved at a nice pace. I hadn’t heard anything, really, about the plot, but I found it very predictable, as I guess books of this era tend to be. What I wasn’t expecting was that prejudice against the Jewish characters drove the storyline more than just about anything else. I guess I hadn’t thought about such prejudice beyond The Merchant of Venice. I was sad and a little disturbed.

Anyway, Ivanhoe is worth a read. It’s long, but it’s time well spent. The story is good, and the characters are all interesting and entertaining. It can seem a bit daunting at the beginning, but get through the first few pages, and you’ll be hooked. It’s a classic for a reason.

Centenary Book Sale Day!

I look forward to it all year: the Centenary Book Bazaar is by far the best book sale in Shreveport. If you’ve only been to the library’s, you’re missing out! My general rule is $20 and one ginormous bag, but rules are made to be broken, right? I was still too sick to enjoy last year’s book sale, so I sat it out. This year, I gave myself permission to make up for the lost book deals, so I took TWO bags and my usual $20 bill, but I also took my checkbook. Always be prepared. Winter is coming. And so on.

People line up for hours to be first to get into this thing, and that’s dedication considering it’s usually 100 degrees outside at this time of the year. In fact, I followed an ambulance, lights and sirens blaring, into the parking lot. I assume someone had fainted. They offer bottles of water for $1, and I heard rumors of ice cream. It started at 4pm, and I showed up at 3:45 because while I love this book sale, I’m not willing to bake before it (and there’s the little matter of insulin in my pocket). I was dripping sweat by the time I got in, anyway.

The line didn’t seem as long this year as it had been in the past. Maybe it was exceptionally hot? What’s funny is that there are two line options: one out in the sun and one in the shade. And the sunny one is always longer! Ridiculous. I, of course, chose the shaded route. Two roads diverged in a wood, and so on.

As usual, it was packed. Rows and rows of tables lined with people wheeling around suitcases and other fun things to trip over. I just poked at people with my bag.

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I was mildly disappointed this time: they have multiple tables of paperback fiction, and one is something like “Paperback Treasures” and is usually covered in nice trade paperbacks of books I like to read. Somehow, that table was covered with mass markets this year.

I spent about half an hour nosing around and filling up one big bag plus a couple. I only go for the tables of decent contemporary fiction, “literature,” and school book lists because if it’s true, I’ll never get around to reading it. And this year, I found some gems! And a much larger pile of books that have been on my radar for a while.

What did I get, you ask? Here’s the list! (I usually link books and authors to Goodreads, but I’m far too lazy to do that with all of these, so I’m only linking within this blog. Just so you know.)

  1. A Russian Journal by Steinbeck. I’d never heard of this one, but I love its author.
  2. Adam Bede by George Eliot. It’s been on my radar for a while, and I really liked Silas Marner.
  3. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. I’ve been meaning to read it.
  4. Officers and Gentlemen by Evelyn Waugh. Waugh is highlarious.
  5. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I tried reading a few years ago and failed, but I think I’ll try again soon.
  6. Labrynths by Jorge Luis Borges. I love Borges. I’ve read Labyrinths, but it was a borrowed copy, and I wanted to own it.
  7. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata. Goodreads keeps telling me I’ll like it.
  8. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. I haven’t read Turgenev, but I’ve been meaning to.
  9. Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol. It was the Book Sale of Russians. There was a pile.
  10. A two-volume set of The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. I love Crime and Punishment, and I bet I’ll love this one, too.
  11. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor. I think she’s my favorite short story writer. This was a FIND.
  12. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Another one I’ve been meaning to read.
  13. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. Another Russian and another reading list fulfillment.
  14. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Everyone tells me it’s good! And Cormac McCarthy has won me over to westerns.
  15. A two-volume set of Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve never read it because I hate mysteries, but I know I should.
  16. The Children of Men by P.D. James. Another attempt and failure. I’m not sure why. It’s different than the movie, and I think I liked it as far as I got into it. That was several years ago.
  17. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I read it last year and reviewed it on this blog. I own it on Kindle, and I bought a nice hardback version for all of $3.
  18. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. If you ever read this blog, you know how much I love Hemingway. I haven’t read many of his short stories. This is also another one I own on Kindle but wanted the actual book.

And I could have sworn there was one more! I’m going by the recent history list in my cataloging software, Delicious Library. Maybe I miscounted yesterday. All told, I spent $23.50. I think I got a pretty awesome deal. The winners, of course, are the Flannery O’Connor and Hemingway collections. A nice page with a list of all of my fiction and a few other things is here. I even updated it today!

As I said: best book sale. If I ever say I’m bored, point me toward my bookshelves. Speaking of which, all of these books created quite a pile, and I had to do some pretty serious rearranging of my already limited space. I need more shelves!

Finally, a round of applause for my Very Helpful Helper, Shakespeare, who walked back and forth over my keyboard countless times just while I was writing this blog post.

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2013 Book #39: The Book Thief

bookthiefI read The Book Thief because I felt like I had to: there’s a movie coming out that I thought I might like to see, and it’s all over Tumblr. I was convinced that I’d hate it for being sappy and preachy, but I started reading it, and my opinion slowly changed. I decided to give it a chance.

It’s about a family of Germans at the height of Nazism and the Holocaust. They sympathize with the Jewish victims and hide a man named Max in their basement. Things, as you can imagine, go wrong, though not necessarily in the way you probably suspect. And so on.

So. I got exactly what I expected. This book is over-sentimental and preachy. I said on Goodreads that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it with my eyes rolled so far back in my head. Zusak pulls out all the stops. (I guess I should add a spoiler alert here.) Death, the narrator, announces well before the end of the novel that almost everyone but its protagonist, Liesel, dies in an air raid one night while they’re sleeping. Liesel happens to be in her family’s basement, writing what will essentially become The Book Thief. Meh. Death describes going from house to house, body to body, and gently lifting out each soul, including that of Liesel’s foster father and her best friend, Rudy. So she’s pulled out of the rubble and sees what happened and freaks out. If Death’s tour of bodies isn’t enough, Liesel has to have her own, and she cries over each one individually. And Death sees that Liesel sees the soul of her foster father (who she calls Papa) stand up and play the accordion in front of her. Cry, cry, cry, he says to the reader. Even before this, Liesel sees her friend Max, the Jewish man they had been hiding in their basement, in line, headed for Dachau. She yells at him and causes a scene, and everyone gets hit and whipped. Cry, cry, cry, again.

I knew exactly when I was supposed to cry because Zusak makes it crystal clear that that’s exactly the response he’s eliciting. It’s a flamboyant call to sorrow. It was so blatant that I cringed instead of cried. I sighed. I rolled my eyes. I groaned and read through to the end as quickly as I could because it was just dumb.

I’ve said before how much I hate preachy, sentimental books, and this one is right up there with The Unbearable Lightness of Being on my Hatred List (though it’s not quite at the level of Amerika or Things Fall Apart, which I might call my Mortal Hatred List?). For a while, I thought I might like The Book Thief, and then it got cornier and cornier and more sentimental at the end. Another spoiler alert: Liesel likes to steal books from the mayor’s wife’s library. The wife knows about it, and it’s really okay. She had a kid who died in a war, and she’s all broken and miserable, and she likes that Liesel is around. That family is one of the few around with any money and a nice house with a library. Guess who Liesel goes to live with after her foster family dies in that air raid? I’ll give you one guess. I just threw up a little in my mouth. Disgusting and sickly sweet. Urrgh.

Have I made it clear that I don’t like this novel? I didn’t think I would, but then I was hopeful for a while. I had a feeling things might go badly because it’s all over Tumblr in the sentimental book quotes, but I thought it was worth a try. And it totally wasn’t; it just annoyed me. (This is why I won’t read John Green. He seems to write sentimental teenage fiction like this, and as good as everyone says he is, I’m skeptical. Sorry, Palmer.)

Now. I hated this book because I hate this kind of book. It’s not that it’s bad, if that’s what you’re into. Lots of people like The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Every Book by Paolo Coelho (Look at the front page of his website! What a humble guy. :/), for example. I can’t stand anything about them, either, and for the same reason. But if you like the sickly sweet, sentimental, preachy kind of book, go for it. Just leave me out.

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