Category: Book Blog (page 20 of 27)

2012 Book #3: The Hobbit

I’m generally not one to reread books unless I have to. They’re mostly school-related, and they include White Noise (the only DeLillo novel I still really like), The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby (I reread that one on my own), and my thesis novels. Those are the only ones I can think of, but I’m sure there are a few more. And there was Lisa, Bright and Dark when I was 12 or 13, but we won’t talk about that.

And, now, there’s The Hobbit. I discovered Tolkien late: I read The Hobbit sometime around 2003 or 2004. I think I’d passed them up when I was younger because I thought they were so long. Except they’re not. When I was ten or twelve, I bought a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, but I didn’t get very far into it. I’m not sure why I bought it – I guess one of my friends read it – but I remember being at the Waldenbooks in Pierre Bossier Mall and pulling it off the shelf, marveling at how long and adultish it looked.

I didn’t read The Lord of the Rings until a few years after I’d completed The Hobbit, and the first movie, or so, was out. It took me about three months to get through them, though I really loved them. I got a nice hardbound set from the Thrifty Peanut the other day, only to discover that they’re moldy. Good thing I work in a library and know how to deal with moldy books. Denatured alcohol and sunlight, in case you’re wondering.

Anyway, I’m not going to rehash the plot of The Hobbit because you’ve probably already read it. If you haven’t, and you’re thinking, tl;dr, check out the Rankin/Bass animated version (they also did The Last Unicorn, which I love and which made me unable to watch a movie with Mia Farrow in it without thinking the unicorn was talking). Turns out you can watch the whole thing on Youtube. Here’s the first part:

At some point in the near future, I’m probably read The Lord of the Rings again. It’s one of my favorite books. Here, of course, I’d count it as three because it’s really long, and I have 50 books to read. If you haven’t read it, you should. If you have kids around 10 or 12 (or older!), you should introduce them, too. I wish I had caught on earlier.

2012 Book #2: Ready Player One

I only need one word to describe Ready Player One: overkill. Seriously. This novel is like the Treme[1. Treme is an hour-long list of Things You Can Find in New Orleans.] of 80s references:  it’s basically a list of all of the Things about the Eighties Ernest Cline could come up with. It’s also juvenile: In the past, I’ve said that several YA books should be put in the Adult section (most notably the Hunger Games trilogy). Ready Player One is just the opposite: it’s a kid’s book. The only problem is that kids wouldn’t understand any of the 80s references.

Ready Player One is set in 2045, after we’ve used up most of our fossil fuel, and the world is a pretty miserable place. The protagonist, Wade, lives in the stacks, a literal pile of trailers. He spends most of his time playing a game that’s a mix between Second Life and Warcraft, called OASIS, as does everyone else in the world. The creator of OASIS, a very wealthy man, has just died. He didn’t have any heirs, so he created a contest within the game for his company and his money. It’s an easter egg hidden behind three gates that have to be opened with three keys within the game. Obviously, everyone wants to win, and there are thousands of players after that key. They call themselves gunters. There’s also a huge corporation, IOI, after the prize, but they want to take over OASIS for monetary gain. And they’re evil. Anyway, five years pass after the game begins, and lots of gunters have begun to lose interest, thinking that the easter egg is too well hidden for anyone to find. Then Wade finds the first key, and the race begins to find the egg. There’s also a stupid love story subplot.

The general plot is good: it’s the details that annoy me. Halliday, the creator of Oasis, was obsessed with the 1980s, and to understand the clues to where the keys are hidden, one would have to know everything about Halliday. And it’s all 80s references. If it’s pop culture, and it happened in the 80s, Cline worked it in somewhere. It just doesn’t end. At one point early in the novel, Wade has to supply the dialogue for all of the movie WarGames, and we hear too much of it. Later, he has to survive an entire videogame. We hear too much about that, too. By the time I was halfway through the novel, I was downright angry.

It also didn’t help that Ready Player One invaded my dreams. I hate it when novels do that, even if they’re really good. I spent one night in a sort of twilight state calculating how to get those keys, and the next night, last night, I could hardly sleep at all. What I learned from this experience: no scifi novels at bedtime. Not that I read many scifi novels, anyway.

Other than the 80s overload, Ready Player One is a decent novel – if you like pop fiction (I don’t) and if you really like the 1980s. I still think it belongs in the YA section.

2012 Book #1: Great Jones Street

201201032113.jpgI’ve read Great Jones Street three times – and only once because I wanted to. It’s the topic of the second chapter of my thesis on How Don DeLillo Writes the Same Novel Over and Over Again. Okay, that’s not my official topic, but it’s what my Thesis Monster is really about. Translated: I read through this novel really, really quickly so I can read what I want to read. Which is not Don DeLillo.

That said, I’m not saying the novel is bad or that DeLillo isn’t a fantastic writer. Because it’s not, and he is. Great Jones Street is the “least interesting and most plotted of DeLillo’s Novels,” according to Michael Oriard. I’m not sure that I agree. Surprisingly, I generally enjoyed Great Jones Street this time around.

It’s about a jaded rock star, Bucky Wonderlick (supposedly modeled after Bob Dylan). As with most of DeLillo’s protagonists, he’s surrounded by media, which is imposing an identity on him. In this case, he’s supposed to commit rock star suicide. Instead, he holes up in his girlfriend’s apartment, trying to escape the music industry and his fans. But he can’t really escape, and he becomes involved with a superdrug, and he’s swept up into chaos again.

It’s really not a bad novel, but one read was enough. The vast majority of DeLillo novels (I’ve read most of them) follow a general formula, and they all sound the same. I hear all of his novels like Michael Douglas is reading them to me. All of the characters follow the same speech patterns, which isn’t terrible: my favorite thing about DeLillo is his writing style. It’s beautiful. Here’s the first paragraph of the novel:

Fame requires every kind of excess. I mean true fame, a devouring neon, not the somber renown of waning statesmen or chinless kings. I mean long journeys across gray space. I mean danger, the edge of every void, the circumstance of one man imparting an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic. Understand the man who must inhabit these extreme regions, monstrous and vulval, damp with memories of violation. Even if half-mad he is absorbed into the public’s total madness; even if fully rational, a bureaucrat in hell, a secret genius of survival, he is sure to be destroyed by the public’s contempt for survivors. Fame, this special kind, feeds itself on outrage, on what the counselors of lesser men would consider bad publicity–hysteria in limousines, knife fights in the audience, bizarre litigation, treachery, pandemonium and drugs. Perhaps the only natural law attaching to true fame is that the famous man is compelled, eventually, to commit suicide.

Michael Douglas read it in your head, too, didn’t he.

What having read this book yet again means to me is that I have to start on chapter two of my thesis tomorrow. Meh.

If Great Jones Street seems interesting to you, give it a try. If DeLillo sounds interesting, read White Noise first. It’s so much better.

2011: The Year in Books

I did it. I read fifty books this year. After 2010’s embarrassing performance, I’m rather proud of myself, especially since that fifty includes some really long ones like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and 1Q84 and some really hard ones like The Satanic Verses and Midnight’s Children.

I enjoyed the vast majority of them, and I enjoyed the experience of spending most of the year ahead of my quota, then playing catch-up at the very end. I wasn’t sure I would make it: I finished #46, Midnight’s Children, only a couple of days before Christmas, leaving a week to read four novels. Luckily, I found some good short ones. I’m looking forward to some longer ones this year, but I think I’ll try to stay away from the long and difficult. Rushdie does have some shorter novels.

Here’s my list from 2011, formatted like my 2010 list. Bold means I really liked it, and italics means I really disliked it. If it’s neither of those, it was good enough. I’ll use strikethrough for the few books I tried to read and gave up on.

This list is much more impressive than last year’s. In 2012 I’m attempting another fifty and trying to put a more formal spin on things since I’ll be cross-posting to the liberry’s webpage (yay!).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I haven’t yet announced my favorite book of the year. Last year, it was David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, with Murakami‘s Dance Dance Dance as a close second. If you would have asked me then, I would have predicted that 1Q84 would top my list this year, but I didn’t like it half as well as I thought I would, though that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. And, if you’ve been following my blog recently, you might expect Midnight’s Children, but no! It’s a close second to…

Drumroll please…


One Hundred Years of Solitude

Yep. The best book I read this year was the very first one. I think it’s My Very Favorite Book Ever. I’m not going to rehash my review here. The closest rival is, as I said, Midnight’s Children, but that’s because they’re so similar. I hope I find a book half as good as either of those in 2012.

So, that’s it. Out with the old, and in with the new, as they say. I have another fifty books ahead of me, and fifty-two weeks to read them. Wish me luck.

2011 Book #50(!): The Loved One

201112311039.jpgI arrived at The Loved One because I was looking for a very short novel (I had two days to read it!), and I read a random article about how prolific Evelyn Waugh was. I was first introduced to him earlier this year with Brideshead Revisited, which is now one of my favorite novels. Then I read A Handful of Dust and liked it, too. I’m really surprised at how much he wrote and how much I like him. When I picked up Brideshead Revisited, I expected something serious and stuffy, but it’s really funny – and fun.

The same goes for The Loved One. I went to Starbucks yesterday and read all but the first fifteen pages in one sitting. It’s a really entertaining read.

Dennis Barlow is a really bad British poet transplanted to Hollywood to write a film script about Shelley. The other expatriates are unhappy with him because they think he’s tarnishing their reputations because once the film doesn’t pan out, he gets a job at a funeral home for pets called the Happier Hunting Ground. Barlow lives with another Brit named Sir Francis Hinsley, who promptly dies. Barlow has the task of dealing with the human funeral home, Whispering Glades, which is entirely excessive on every level. While he’s there, he meets the cosmetician (Hinsley hanged himself, so he has an interesting facial expression that must be dealt with), Aimée Thanatogenos, and begins dating her, regaling her with his terrible poetry. He soon discovers that he gets better results when he uses poems by Shakespeare or Tennyson or Poe because she’s too dumb to realize where they come from. He asks her to marry him just after she’s offered a promotion so she can support him: he says it’s perfectly acceptable in England. But! He has a rival in Whispering Glades, Mr. Joyboy, who also has his eye on Aimée. Ridiculous mischief ensues.

The Loved One is a very English novel, and it reads like one of the old shows that come on LPB on Saturday nights. It especially reminded me of Are You Being Served. It’s about English snootiness and American excess, and it’s hilarious. And a very quick, light read.

2011 Book #49: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

201112292239.jpgIf I had read The Perks of Being a Wallflower when I was 15 or 16, it would have blown my mind. I really wish I had read it then: it might have made the melodrama that was my adolescence a bit more manageable. Or, at least, I might have realized that other kids had similar things going on. And while it makes me a bit nostalgic for the good (and bad) times I had in high school, it also reminds me how much easier things get when you grow up.

It’s about a somewhat damaged kid who starts high school and makes friends with a bunch of seniors who introduce him to the things kids are almost inevitably introduced to: sex, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes. The kid’s name is Charlie, and he’s very innocent at the beginning (I was beginning to wonder if he was *ahem* mentally challenged). He’s a good kid and always thinks of the needs and wants of others before his own. He’s generally not a troublemaker, but he occasionally has Donnie Darko-style fits (that’s another thing I wish had been around when I was fifteen). He almost instantly falls in love with Sam, one of his best friends, and he deals with unrequited love for her throughout the book. A bunch of angsty teenager mischief ensues. There’s also a big reveal near the end that I don’t think was necessary but that might explain some things.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is poignant, but it can also be funny. Here’s one of my favorite passages, in which Charlie describes his first girlfriend. It made me chuckle.

I did go to the dance, and I did tell Mary Elizabeth how nice her outfit was. I did ask her questions, and I let her talk the whole time. I learned about “objectification,” Native Americans, and the bourgeoisie.

But most of all, I learned about Mary Elizabeth.

Mary Elizabeth wants to go to Berkeley and get two degrees. One is for political science. The other is for sociology with a minor concentration in women’s studies. Mary Elizabeth hates high school and wants to explore lesbian relationships. I asked her if she thought girls were pretty, and she looked at me like I was stupid and said, “That’s not the point.”

Mary Elizabeth’s favorite movie is Reds. Her favorite book is an autobiography of a woman who was a character in Reds. I can’t remember her name. Mary Elizabeth’s favorite color is green. Her favorite season is spring. Her favorite ice cream flavor (she said she refuses to eat low-fat frozen yogurt on principle alone) is Cherry Garcia. Her favorite food is pizza (half mushrooms, half green peppers). Mary Elizabeth is a vegetarian, and she hates her parents. She is also fluent in Spanish.

I think I like Mary Elizabeth so much because that’s who I thought I was in high school. I wasn’t, of course.

My plan for this blog post was to explain why I’m too old fully to enjoy this novel, but I think I’m changing my mind. Sure, it’s in the YA section of the library, as I guess it should be. In fact, here’s a review on the Teen Scene blog by one of my coworkers (It makes me feel ooooooold and highlights the difference in perspective seven or eight years can make).

I’m not sure if I’d want my kid reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I say I’ll leave my bookshelves open and encourage reading of any sort, but I don’t think I’d want my twelve- or thirteen-year-old knowing about all of that stuff just yet. Fifteen, sixteen, sure. Hopefully my kid will have a much easier time in high school than Charlie did.

Bonus: The author, Stephen Chbosky, isn’t primarily a novelist. He wrote the screenplay for Rent and the short-lived CBS series, Jericho.

2011 Book #48: The Sense of an Ending

201112261518.jpgThe Christmas Crunch continues, in which I readandreadandread to reach my fifty-book goal before the year is out. Which means I’m limited to short novels for the moment. At a lean 163 pages, The Sense of an Ending definitely qualifies. It’s actually been on my to-read pile since it came out earlier this year. I ended up with a copy because it was on the library’s newly catalogued list, and I clicked the hold link before anyone else.

It’s about Tony, a sixtyish-year-old man looking back over his life, especially focusing on the relationship he had with his friends in his school days and early adulthood. He starts when they were in high school, discussing philosophy and literature. A kid their age named Robson gets his girlfriend pregnant and then kills himself, and the topic of his suicide floats throughout the novel. The friends finish school and slowly go their separate ways. A couple years later, Tony is in the US when his parents call him back home to England because his friend Adrian committed suicide. He and Adrian hadn’t seen each other for quite a while after Adrian dated Veronica shortly after she broke up with Tony. Forty years later, Veronica’s mother dies and, in her will, leaves Adrian’s diary to Tony, but Veronica has it and doesn’t want to give it up. Then things get complicated, etc, etc.

I’m kind of ambivalent about this one. I generally liked it, and I think it’s very well-written, but it’s also sappy and preachy like The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I really didn’t like. That said, I definitely think it’s worth a read. Just be patient toward the middle as it gets a bit boring and repetitive. Later, though, it gets good again. The Sense of an Ending isn’t exactly a relaxing read for a lazy Sunday morning, so read it (preferably in one sitting) when you have some time to decompress afterward.

2011 Book #47: Slaughterhouse-Five

201112241801.jpgI first read Slaughterhouse-Five many years ago. So long ago, in fact, that I have no idea when it was. I might have been in high school, or I might have been in college. I only remembered a vague outline involving Dresden and time travel – and that I really didn’t like it. Not one bit. The funny thing is that I’m a huge fan of Vonnegut. I’ve read most of his novels, and this is the only one I didn’t like. Something must be wrong.

So, several years later, I decided to give it a second chance. That chance happened a couple of days ago because it’s almost the end of the year, and I’d only read 46 books. This is the Christmas Crunch, and I need short books. Slaughterhouse-Five definitely fits into that category.

It’s about a young (then old, then young again, etc, etc) man who has just joined the army and ends up a POW in Dresden just before the fire bombing decimates the city. Except (the first words of the novel-within-the-novel) “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” He travels back and forth to different points in his life – and death. Including an alien abduction that makes him understand life, death, and time differently.

I liked it better this time, though I’m still a bit ambivalent. It’s okay. It’s certainly not my favorite Vonnegut novel. I think I’ve fallen into a long novel morass, coming off of Midnight’s Children, 1Q84, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Long novels give authors opportunities to fill in gaps left in stories. Vonnegut wasn’t one to write a long novel, of course, and he wasn’t one to write particularly intense ones, either. My favorites are The Sirens of Titan and Cat’s Cradle, both of which are pretty funny. Slaughterhouse-Five is funny in its own way, too, and poignant. I guess I just didn’t spend enough time reading it to internalize it. Maybe that’s what happened when I read it before.

So it goes.

2011 Book #46: Midnight’s Children

MidnightsChildren.jpgI’m not quite sure what to say about Midnight’s Children except that it’s fantastic. Really. If you haven’t read it, head over to your local library and pick it up right now. Disregard your Christmas planning, ignore the hurt faces of your family, and hole yourself up for a week, book in one hand, cup of coffee in the other. You won’t regret it. Children are resilient: a few years of therapy, and they’ll learn that some things are more important than having parents at Christmas.

I’m kidding, of course. Kind of.

At this point, I’m trying to figure out why I haven’t read this before. I’ve ranted several times about colleges not assigning long books anymore, so I won’t rehash that here. But everyone should read this novel. It’s about everything: history, family, love, good, evil, etc, etc. Just like One Hundred Years of Solitude, which, I’m sure, is why I liked it so very, very much.

That’s not to say it’s easy reading: Rushdie isn’t easy. I had a helluva time with Satanic Verses, but that one was worth it, too. Midnight’s Children, though, is my favorite of Rushdie‘s so far. I picked up a couple of his other novels when I was in Houston, and I’ll read them soon. After the Christmas Crunch is over. But I’ll talk about that later.

Midnight’s Children is about the children born at midnight on India’s first day of independence from the British and how they, specifically Saleem Sinai, fit into and affect that history. It’s an autobiography from Saleem’s point of view, beginning before he was born with an account of his grandfather’s life, and then his parents’, and then his own.

I had a hard time reading it at the beginning: as I’ve said, Rushdie isn’t easy, and his syntax takes a bit of getting used to. But you read and you read, and then you can’t stop reading. A year or two ago, a friend of mine was reading it, and he excitedly told me that it’s a challenge until you hit a certain page (which I will not divulge as he refused to remind me), and then BAM. You’re in it for the ride, and you can’t give up on it because you know it’ll be worth it in the end.

The closest analog that I’ve read is One Hundred Years of Solitude, which gives you a sense of a sweeping history, like all things are encapsulated somewhere in the novel. There’s also the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Haruki Murakami. Rushdie creates a whole world around you, and you can’t help but be a part of it, swept up in the chaos of Indian independence and what follows. And the end! The end! But I won’t go there.

Seriously. If you’ve never tried Rushdie and you hadn’t planned to because of what you’d heard about his books (So many rumors! He’s not at all what I expected!) or the man himself. I remember hearing about what happened after he published The Satanic Verses when I was too little to understand what was going on, and now I can see how both of these novels are incredibly controversial – but that’s all the more reason to read them. He knew there’d be a scandal (seems like a petty word to use in that case), and he did it anyway. The result is incredibly moving – and, quite often, funny. I had no idea until I puffed up my chest and said, “Hey. Today, I’m gonna tackle Rushdie.” I haven’t looked back.

2011 Book #45: Wise Blood

I have almost nothing to say about Wise Blood, though I enjoyed it immensely. Fresh off 1Q84, I wanted something a bit shorter and not on the Kindle. I was limited to my own library since it was Black Friday, and I wasn’t in the mood to change out of my pajamas. After reading Everything that Rises Must Converge and finally deciding that I love Flannery O’Connor, I picked up Wise Blood at the Centenary book sale, and it sat on my shelf for a few months.

Then, on Black Friday, I sat down and read the whole thing.

Which is very rare for me. I’m pretty sure that the only time I’ve read a whole novel in one sitting was Cormac McCarthy‘s Child of God, one afternoon at Barnes and Noble. Though I really enjoyed it, that novel is a blur since I didn’t take time to digest it in part.

Same goes for Wise Blood, sadly. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. Luckily, Palmer and I were both off of work that day, and we weren’t going anywhere until late afternoon. He caught up on TV shows while I holed myself up in the library for Serious Reading Time. Palmer even came in for a while and napped with the kitties. It was a good day.

Except, of course, that I remember almost nothing about this novel. O’Connor likes to explore religion, and that’s a big part of what Wise Blood is about. It felt like an extended short story. It’s also O’Connor’s first novel (of which I think there are only two), and it whet my appetite to read the rest of her work. I’ll have to reread this one in the near future, in bits and pieces, so maybe I can talk about the plot a little.

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