Category: Books 2014 (page 3 of 6)

2014 Book #40: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

hitchhikerThis isn’t my first round with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. When I was fourteen, or so, I checked it out from my high school library and read it voraciously. I loved  every minute of it. I thought 42 was the best number in the way only a teenager can grasp false significance.

This book is cultural currency. I read it again for two reasons: I’d forgotten a lot in the intervening almost-20 years, and it was one of the few audiobooks on my local library’s OverDrive that was both interesting and immediately available. I listened to it over a week, or so, of walks with Zelda.

I didn’t like it half as much this time around. Sure, it’s funny enough. I laughed ten times more and harder at A Confederacy of Dunces and so many more books, even recently. On the productive(?) end, now I remember the story behind the number 42 and where “So long and thanks for all the fish” came from. Those things seem to be important to lots of people.

I’m not going to do much of a summary of this one because if you haven’t read it, you’ve watched the movie, and if you haven’t done that, you’ve heard enough references to grasp the situation. It’s about Arthur Dent, who lives on Earth until it’s unceremoniously blown up. Luckily, he happens to know an alien and ends up hitchhiking around the galaxy, getting into all kinds of interesting situations. The universe is explained, and so on.

I gave The Hitchhiker’s Guide three stars on Goodreads. It’s right in the middle. I liked it well enough, but it’s not a good book by any stretch of the imagination. I guess it was good for me to read because here’s one set of book/movie references I’ll get for a while. That’s something, I guess.

I finished this book with an overwhelming feeling of MEH. I know there are sequels, and I might read them at some point, but I probably won’t for lack of interest. Douglas Adams captured the imaginations of millions, but not mine; not since I was a teenager, anyway. Maybe it’s like how you kind of need to be a teenager to enjoy Jack Kerouac.

2014 Book #39: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

bernadetteSince I adopted a certain puppy a few months ago, I’ve spent a lot of time outside on walks, about an hour a day. At first, I was busy talking to her and trying to make her behave, but, for the most part, she’s settled down, and I figured I should use this extra time to listen to books. The first was Where’d You Go, Bernadette. At this point, I seem to be faster at getting through audiobooks than paper (okay, digital) ones because, well, puppy. And Minecraft, though that’s another post (or another blog entirely).

I’ve talked in previous posts about my issues with audiobooks. With a few exceptions, I haven’t enjoyed them. Now, though, I’m wondering if I just listened to the wrong books, or even the right books read by the wrong people.

Because I loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

What’s funny is that I think I liked it so much not because of the book itself, but because of the way it was read. And I can’t find who read it without checking it out and downloading it again! Ugh! Which I’ll do later. (One would think it would be easier to find out who read an audiobook, but even Google is withholding the information.) I got it from my local library’s Overdrive, by the way.

It’s about fifteen-year-old Bee and her mother, Bernadette. As a reward for doing well in school, Bee’s parents tell her she can have anything she wants, and she wants a family trip to Antarctica. Despite some reservations, they agree. It’ll be a difficult trip, as Bee’s father is an executive at Microsoft who is always chained to email, and Bernadette is basically a recluse, considered insane by Bee’s schoolmates’  socialite mothers, who Bernadette calls gnats. Lots of really funny hijinks ensue, including a school function at a gnat’s house being interrupted by a landslide from Bernadette’s property that only happened because said socialite insisted that Bernadette remove her blackberry bushes before the party. Things escalate, and Bernadette ends up disappearing. Bee works to solve the mystery of what happened to her mom.

Most of the story is told in a series of emails and journal entries, and it’s mostly funny, though in the end, it’s poignant. It’s not a great book by any means, but it’s not crappy chick lit, either. I don’t think I would have liked it as much if I had actually read it, though. Having this one read to me, in several voices, made it seem more immediate. I really need to find out who the reader was so I can listen to all of her other books.

Anyway. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is Maria Semple‘s second novel. Her first, This One is Mine, has a lower rating on Goodreads, but the blurb looks interesting enough. I’ll probably pick that one up at some point.

In other news, I’m back from Washington, DC. I still haven’t processed the photos I took with my good camera, so most of my adventures will have to wait. The most notable, though? I ended up in a presidential suite at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel! Here’s a tour:

And I can’t forget the pandas! I only had a little time, so I went to the National Zoo just to see the pandas. What’s cool is that all of the Smithsonian stuff is free, so I didn’t have to pay $20+ to see one animal. That said, I would have done it anyway.

I guess those were the major highlights. I went to most of the usual touristy sites, but I only had a few hours, so it was mainly just a lot of fast walking. Those photos are on the Nikon. And then there was the Society of American Archivists conference that took up most of my time. Lots of People were involved.

After all that, I’m glad to be home to my husband and my menagerie of pets. Things should be calmer for a while.

2014 Book #38: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

colorlesstsukuruColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami‘s lastest novel, was released in English on the perfect day: the very day I was flying to DC from Louisiana and had nothing better to do than read all day. I’d been looking forward to this book since it was published in Japan, about a year ago. The translator couldn’t finish fast enough! I’m a huge Murakami fan and have talked extensively about his books on this blog. I really liked his last one, 1Q84 (though it wasn’t my favorite), and I was sure good things were on the horizon.

But Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki was a letdown. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a perfectly fine novel as long as you don’t compare it to Murakami’s best. He can do so much better. It seemed like he said to himself, “Well, I guess it’s time to write another novel” and did it without any real inspiration.

It’s about Tsukuru and his close group of high school friends who mysteriously abandoned him a year after he went to college. It’s been sixteen years, and he still doesn’t know why. He starts dating a woman named Sara, tells her his story, and she tells him that he has to track them down and resolve his issues if he wants to have a serious relationship with her. So that’s his real impetus: he tracks down these former friends to get a woman. Of course, as he meets with each of these friends, the mystery unravels, and so on and so forth.

That’s all I’ll say except that this would have been a much better novel if Murakami had ended it differently. Until about two-thirds through, I thought I might have found a new favorite Murakami. Then things slowly tipped downhill.

Again: It’s not a bad novel. It’s just not good for a Murakami novel. I didn’t especially like After Dark, either, but I’ve been planning on revisiting that one. I liked A Wild Sheep Chase better the second time around. I’m not sure what my favorite of his novels is, though it’s somewhere in this (short) list: Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Kafka on the Shore, Sputnik Sweetheart. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki isn’t half as good as the ones in that list. Why, you ask? A few things. There was a noticeable lack of cats and wells. Cats were only mentioned as parts of a couple similes, and wells were nowhere to be found. What’s a Murakami novel without a well? And, more seriously, while Tsukuru is not a flat character, his friends are. This important part of his life, around which the entirety of the novel revolves, just blends into the background. It’s hard to explain, but you’ll see what I mean if you read it. And the end. I guess I’ll put a short spoiler alert here: his driving force is a woman who is cheating on him, and he does everything to keep her, basing much of this devotion on the advice of one of these former friends. It just doesn’t make sense. End of spoiler.

All of that said, I’m already eagerly awaiting the novel that Murakami is probably still writing right now.

I’m at the point in the year (for the second time?) that I’m tired of writing book reviews, so I’ve been putting them off. I just finished reading this novel last night, but I listened to a fantastic audiobook version of Where’d You Go, Bernadette that I still need to write about. There’s also my current trip to Washington, DC, that might get its own entry. And the dog. We can’t forget the dog. I’ve got so much going on right now! I guess that’s a good thing.

2014 Book #37: The 42nd Parallel (USA part 1)

42ndparallelOkay, so The 42nd Parallel only qualifies as its own book in the way that The Lord of the Rings does: John Dos Passos‘s USA trilogy is really one big book. That’s my disclaimer. Note that I’m disregarding this disclaimer because USA is loooong – at least as long as The Lord of the Rings. Three books it is, then.

Still suffering from my book rut, I stumbled on The 42nd Parallel while I was browsing around Oyster (which just got even more awesome with a web reader!). I’ve wanted to read USA since I saw a theatrical production of it when I was in high school, but I never got around to it mainly because of its length. Splitting it into three makes it seem more doable, especially with my limited free time because (you guessed it!) puppy.

Dos Passos seems to be aiming at the Great American Novel by encompassing all of North America in this ginormous book. In the first of the trilogy, we meet five main characters: Mac, Janey, Eleanor, J. Ward Moorehouse, and Charley. Separate chapters are given to each character in a style like the Game of Thrones books. They come from vastly different backgrounds and lead vastly different lives, but they all intersect, at least tangentially, in often fascinating ways.

I really loved this book, and I could tell from the beginning that it’s a masterpiece. Maybe no one reads it anymore because of its length – calling The Great Gatsby the Great American Novel seems more palatable because almost anyone can pick it up and experience it in its entirety within a couple of hours. That’s definitely not the case with USA, but it’s entirely worth it. The rest of the trilogy will follow in short order.

And on to the puppy. It’s been so long since I’ve posted that I had to scroll down the last couple entries and was surprised at how much has happened since. She’s definitely growing. Here she is at the vet, waiting on her last round of shots and a microchip!

Now that she’s had all of her shots, we can go on more adventures! A couple weeks ago, we went to Hamel Park to see the Red River:

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A few days later, we went to Caney Lake for a picnic lunch and visited Nunpoo in Minden.

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Nunpoo was very happy to see Zelda.

Zelda is, of course, a puppy, so things don’t always run perfectly smoothly:

She’s big enough, now, that she can jump right onto the coffee table or over the baby gates we installed to keep her in the living room. Oh, well. We’re working on things. One good thing about puppies: she was asleep five minutes later.

Finally, yesterday was National Mutts Day, so we celebrated with a selfie:

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve had to slow down my reading. There’s the book rut that won’t seem to go away and, of course, the puppy. It doesn’t help that I’m choosing long books, either. A friend talked about The Pillars of the Earth on Facebook, so of course I had to give it a try. It’s like Game of Thrones without dragons. I had no idea! It’s really good, except it’s too long, so I’ve put it on hold for a while. I hope I get my act together finish it soon.

2014 Book #36: (a biography of) Richard III

richardiiiIf you’ve ever seen my blog before, you’ve probably noticed that my reading statistics are overwhelmingly stacked in fiction’s favor. I have a habit of falling asleep when I try to read nonfiction, but sometimes these books seep in.

My favorite English kings are Richards II and III. One was a tyrant, and the other was so greedy for the crown that he ruined everything for himself and his family. Richard II and Richard III are also two of my favorites of Shakespeare’s plays, so I know a little about them from his skewed view. I haven’t looked into the truth of #II’s history at all, but, thanks to a class on FutureLearn, I jumped at the chance for a little Richard III study.

If you haven’t seen FutureLearn (or edX or Coursera), you should hop over. They offer mostly sciency/techy/mathy classes presented by major universities, but some English and other humanities classes are thrown in for good measure. Each class is listed several months ahead of time and lasts several weeks. Participants are encouraged to participate through forums, quizzes, and peer-reviewed short papers. And they’re completely free with no tuition and course materials provided on the website. Have a look!

Anyway, back to Richard III. The FutureLearn class I’m taking is much shorter and less involved than Coursera classes are (I’m taking one on the French Revolution over there!), and I’m still in the reading rut I mentioned earlier, so I looked at the list of Richard III biographies in my local library’s catalog and chose the one Goodreads liked the best. Which was this one, by Charles Ross.

A very brief, cursory overview of Richard: He was king for a short period of time during the Wars of the Roses. Lancaster vs. York, etc, etc. Fight, fight, fight. Henry VI, a Lancaster, was a weak king and was usurped by Edward IV, a York. Richard, his younger brother, wanted the crown for himself, so he locked his brother’s heir in the Tower of London. Edward IV died, and Richard declared himself protector of Edward V, still in the tower, and with some great intimidation skills, got Parliament to sign off on it. Edward V conveniently “disappeared,” and Richard took the crown for himself. It seems like he was trying to be a decent king once he got there, but he’d made too many enemies and he was really bad at foreign policy. Meanwhile, the Lancaster who was to become Henry VII was hanging out in France and talked the French into helping him get back to England and take over, which he did. More fighting. Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field, and Henry took the throne.

The only version of the Richard story I knew was Shakespeare’s, and, from what Ross says, that’s (predictably) not entirely accurate. Shakespeare’s version of events was based mostly on Thomas More‘s, and More painted an especially ugly picture of Richard. And there are the obvious uses of poetic license: Henry, himself, did not kill Richard, and the “My kingdom for a horse” probably didn’t happen because it sounds like Richard was offered a horse for escape, but he refused because he wanted to die a king. Which is almost more interesting than what Shakespeare wrote.

I want to look more into Richard II’s history now. This stuff is so interesting!

As for this specific biography, it’s dry but more readable than it could have been. I mean, how interesting can an academic make a story when there’s so little actual evidence of what happened. All told, Ross did a good job, and I really enjoyed it. He explained the various sources from which Richard’s story comes and why the truth is probably a mixture of them. “History is written by the victors,” and all that.

As for Puppy News, Zelda is still growing, and the cats still hate her.

And here she is jumping at my face as I was trying to get a picture:

I finally regained access to my home library with the use of a well-placed puppy gate. I totally should have thought of that earlier.

And, finally, Palmer moved her kennel from the bedroom to the living room. I think it’ll be a much better arrangement. If my Dexcom hadn’t continually spazzed, I think I might have slept well last night.

2014 Book #35: The Flamethrowers

flamethrowersAaaand back to our regular programming.

I’ve been putting off reviewing The Flamethrowers since I finished it a few days ago because I wasn’t sure what to say about it. I think I have it straight now. Here’s the gist: It’s a really good book that could have been a Great book but got a little lost on the way.

I discovered this one because of a Facebook recommendation. After I finished Butcher’s Crossing, I had no idea what to read next, so I took a little nonfiction detour and posted my frustration with being in a Reading Rut. A couple old friends from high school suggested Still Alice and The Flamethrowers. I’d heard good things about both of them, but I started reading Still Alice first simply because I didn’t have to wait for a trip to the library to read it, as I had to do with The Flamethrowers. Anyway, I got about halfway into Still Alice when I discovered that it’s Not My Kind of Book (I talked about this in my review of The Cleanest Race) and moved on to The Flamethrowers, which Is My Kind of Book. Oh, yes.

It’s about a young artist and a twenty-two-year-old girl nicknamed Reno has moved to New York City because that’s where she thinks Artists are supposed to live. She’s from Reno (hence the nickname) and wants to go back to photograph land art. She starts dating Sandro Valera, an older artist who happens to come from the Valera Tires/Motorcycles Family in Italy. Sandro has distanced himself from his family for years, but he agrees to get Reno a super-fast bike so she can drive it really fast on the salt flats in Nevada to Pursue Her Art. She crashes said bike with only minor injuries and talks her way into the Valera camp to convalesce. Valera makes a special car that has clocked the land speed record of 700-something miles per hour across the salt flats, and their driver breaks the record again. The team talks Reno into attempting to break the women’s record in the same vehicle, which she does. The Valera family invites her to Italy for a publicity tour with the other driver. She really wants to go, but Sandro is hesitant because he doesn’t want to get back into the world of his family. Except he agrees, and they go to Italy, and Things Happen.

Summarizing books isn’t my strong point.

When I read the blurb on the back of the paperback, I thought, Motorcycles? Really? The Desert, of course, was a draw, and the recommendation came from someone whose reading taste I trust even after so many years, so I dug in. I could tell immediately that it’s a well-written, solid book, and it got off to a really interesting start along the lines of that amazing art museum scene at the beginning of The Goldfinch – though not quite as good. (Overall, this book is much better than The Goldfinch, by the way. Much more worth your time.) I was a little disappointed toward the end, though, because Rachel Kushner seemed to get a little lost in the backstory. There’s a whole long section about a messed-up story at sea involving a relatively minor character, and its excessive length made it seem like a separate story Kushner was determined to fit in. Scenes like that happen a couple of times, and I think that’s the novel’s biggest weakness. Like many books, it could have been shorter, but, in this case, only because of the long tangents that didn’t really have to be there. That’s why The Flamethrowers isn’t a Great book.

That said, I really enjoyed it, and I’ll definitely be reading more Kushner in the future. She writes My Kind of Book.

In Puppy News, Zelda continues to grow. We’ve been walking over two miles a day between two walks. She’s…improving.

She celebrated her first July 4th at a friend’s party!

She didn’t really mind the early fireworks until Palmer shot off a fifty-pack of Black Cats. She seemed to get over it, though, because the booms around here don’t seem to bother her. Which is fantastic. We took her home and put her in her kennel before it got dark, and she was fine when we got home a few hours later. No Poopocalypses were involved.

A good time was has by all.

Jacob took the Photo of the Night:


Meanwhile, in Puppyland, canine-feline relations are progressing very slowly. This is a regular occurrence in our household:

Shakespeare has spent most of his time hiding on our screened-in back porch, but yesterday he graced us with his presence on the top of the sofa.

Now that Palmer is home, I can hang out with him more, and I think that makes both of us feel better.

2014 Book #34: The Cleanest Race – and a couple additions to the Fail Pile

cleanestraceNorth Korea fascinates me. The culture is so vastly different than my own, and it’s so secretive, that I’m intrigued. I saw The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters on Oyster, and it sounded really interesting. I’d just finished Butcher’s Crossing and had no idea where to go next, so I thought a little nonfiction might be in order.

The Cleanest Race is a succinct look into North Korean culture and how it functions. Evidently, what we see from the outside is entirely different from what the North Koreans, themselves, see. Palmer suggested that they’re living in constant fear of being arrested and tortured for what amount to thought-crimes, but, according to B.R. Myers, that’s not the case. North Koreans see themselves as a pure and innocent race that needs protection from the outside because of said innocent nature. Everyone else wants to break in and ruin them, and the Dear Leader’s aim is to protect his people from these dangerous outside influences. North Korea’s domestic policy is entirely different than it pretends to be in the international community: Myers claims, “Where [North Korea] presents itself to the outside world as a misunderstood country seeking integration into the international community, it presents itself to its own citizens…as a rogue state that breaks agreements with impunity, dictates conditions to groveling U.N. officials, and keeps its enemies in constant fear of ballistic retribution.” He says that within the country, residents hear “news” through carefully controlled propaganda that represents a truer version of official views than international versions. One of the most important ideas for keeping North Koreans compliant is the story that South Korea is basically held captive by America and would join the North in a heartbeat if given the chance. What is “most dangerous to the regime,” Myers states, “is the inevitable spread of public awareness that for all their anti-Americanism, the South Koreans are happy with their own republic and do not want to live under Pyongyang’s rule.” Which is all a problem with the constant influx of smuggled South Korean data appearing in the north.

So what that means is that the North Koreans, themselves, are probably more content than we think they are, but that’s because of the careful filtering of information by the government. In the book, Myers gives a very brief (too brief, really) overview of the basics of North Korean history from Japanese colonization until just before Kim Jong Un took over, as it was published in 2009. He follows with an examination of North Korean internal propaganda and explains how that is a better representation of what the North Koreans think of themselves than what international stories have told us.

The Cleanest Race is a reasonably good book about a fascinating subject. I’d recommend it for someone with a decent background in the history part because I spent some time googling as I read. (That Asian history class I took in college didn’t quite cut it.) Myers is a professor in South Korea and teaches students there about their northern neighbors, and what he says makes sense, so I think he knows what he’s talking about. You can’t always trust nonfiction, of course, especially when it’s about super-secretive Eastern countries with entirely different cultures that misrepresent themselves to the rest of the world.

I’ve been having a hard time choosing what to read – I called it a book rut, and I got some great suggestions from Facebook. Before any of that, though, I made an attempt at yet another DeLillo novel, Running Dog, and stopped halfway through even though it’s short. It’s about double-crossing art buyers trying to get their hands on Nazi porn filmed in the bunker where Hitler died. It’s about how non-moving pornographic art isn’t enough anymore, and they must move to the next extreme, video. The Nazi part just makes it even more extreme because DeLillo is all about new extremes in media. It’s the old shtick, just like every other DeLillo novel, and generally not any good. Here’s a representative quote: “It’s the presence alone, the very fact, the superabundance of technology, that makes us feel we’re committing crimes. Just the fact that these things exist at this widespread level. The processing machines, the scanners, the sorters. That’s enough to make us feel like criminals.” In the dialogue. Come on, DeLillo. Running Dog wasn’t worth my time, so onto the Fail Pile it went.

Next up was Still Alice, by Lisa Genova, one of the Facebook recommendations. It started off well enough. Alice is a 50-year-old professor at Harvard, and she has a husband and grown kids, and such. One day, she’s giving a well-practiced lecture and can’t come up with the word “lexicon” to save her life. Then she starts forgetting other things, like basic tasks, moving onto bigger things, like a flight to Chicago for a conference. The farther I got in, the more I got worried that this was just a list of Alzheimer’s symptoms, and Still Alice is just a novel about the slow steps into Alzheimer’s. I hadn’t, of course, read the blurb, though I’d heard good things about it. So I read the blurb, and yes, Still Alice is about a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s. So I immediately stopped reading and moved on. It’s not that this is even a bad novel. I just hate books like this. They’re always sappy and preachy and sentimental, and I don’t like any of those things. (Note again: This is my personal list of dislikes and not objective.) I also saw that this is a self-published novel by a neurologist who specializes in stuff like that, and I couldn’t help but scoff. Though, again, it’s not written badly, it sounds like something straight out of a creative writing class, formula and all. It bleeds formula. So. That’s the end for Alice. I’ve moved on to The Flamethrowers, which is more my speed.

In Puppy News, Zelda is 3 months old! She’s growing so quickly that I’m beginning to wonder if we have a Clifford on our hands.

Zelda also had an adventure with an identical puppy on the other side of a floor-length closet mirror at Nunpoo’s!

We went for a visit to celebrate Nunpoo’s 88th birthday. Happy birthday, Nunpoo!

2014 Book #33: Butcher’s Crossing

butcherscrossingI’m generally no fan of westerns. I’ve often put westerns in my List of Genres I Don’t Read, which includes the likes of mystery and romance. Well, that was until I started reading Cormac McCarthy and Stephen King‘s Dark Tower series. I softened my position a bit, though I figured those were big exceptions. Maybe they were, but I’m adding Butcher’s Crossing to that list right now because it’s fantastic. One of the best books I’ve read this year, in fact.

But I’ll get to that in a minute. I’ll tell a little story about my hatred for westerns.

My dad loves westerns. It’s his favorite genre, especially the treasure-hunting type. When I was a kid, he was convinced he could find the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, and he still carries around books about it. I’m also pretty sure he’s read every single Louis L’Amour book ever published. He’s pretty hardcore on the westerns. The problem is that he shared his genre love with an entirely uninterested teenager. He’d be reading some book about horses and plains and/or treasure-hunting, get really excited, and read loooooooong passages to my stepmother and me over dinner. Like pages and pages long. My boredom eventually turned into resentment of everything the western novel stands for, so I put them on the List. (Which has nothing to do with why mysteries and romances are also on that list: mysteries generally irritate me, and I’ve yet to find a romance novel that didn’t suck.)

January 2006 286

So I guess my new-found love of the western (the good ones, anyway – Butcher’s Crossing is an NYRB Classic, and I haven’t yet gone wrong with one of those) has something to do with Not Being a Teenager Anymore. Which is fine.

Back to the novel. It’s about Will Andrews, a kid in his early twenties. He’s just spent three years at Harvard and decides he needs to See the Country, so he heads to Butcher’s Crossing, a tiny buffalo-hunting town in western Kansas. You know, when there were still buffalo and almost every single one hadn’t been killed off. Will decides to fund a buffalo hunt led by an old man named Miller who is convinced they’ll find thousands of buffalo up in the Colorado Territory. They take along two other men and head up there on what’s supposed to be a six-week trip. After almost dying of thirst on the plains, they make it to the Rockies, and, lo and behold, they find the buffalo herd Miller spoke of. Thousands. They’re up there for a few weeks, and Miller can’t stop: he’s convinced he can kill every buffalo in the herd and that they’ll make All Kinds of Money doing it. Except then they spend too much time there, and the snows come. They’re stuck up there all winter. Things Continue to Happen.

Ooooh, this is such a good book. I’m not sure why I got it, but I’m glad I did. I ordered it through interlibrary loan and got it in roughly two days. I was reading DeLillo‘s Running Dog, which is the same old shtick, and terribly bored, so I was glad to take a break (even though Running Dog is one of DeLillo’s shorter novels). I enjoyed every minute of Butcher’s Crossing. I felt like I was on the planes and up in the mountains, dealing with the snows along with Will and Miller. It’s a beautifully constructed novel and totally worth a read.

Zelda is 11 weeks old, now, and still ultra-cute.

We got her 15-foot tie-out leash for the back yard so she can hang around outside more than four feet away from us. Closely supervised, of course. She really enjoys it.

She’s still being alternately Very Good and Very Bad.

Sleepytime is the best.

2014 Book #32: Sputnik Sweetheart

sputniksweetheartI’m generally a wee bit reluctant to reread books by Haruki Murakami because I don’t always like them as much the second time around. The problem is that I’ve read all of his novels published in English, so I’m kind of out of new material. After the terror of Bird Box, I wanted to read something more calm (and short because, you know, puppy), and, for whatever reason, I gravitated toward Sputnik Sweetheart. According to Goodreads, I read it in July of 2007, almost 7 years ago. I’d forgotten most of it with the exception of one scene involving a woman getting stuck on a Ferris wheel. It’s funny how one scene can stick in your head while you forget the rest of the novel, no matter how good it is. For a long time, I remembered White Noise ending when they reached the Red Cross shelter, and that’s maybe halfway through the book. I had forgotten so much. (White Noise is another book that deserves a rereading soon, but that’s another post.) Of course, I read Sputnik Sweetheart well before I started this blog, so I don’t have a previous review to look over.

So. Sputnik Sweetheart is a pretty run-of-the-mill Murakami novel. There are multiple worlds/planes of existence/whatever you want to call them, and, of course, cats and wells. Not many of the latter two, but they’re there.

This one is about Sumire, a 22-year-old girl who quit college to write novels, though she hasn’t actually written one yet. She is good friends with the unnamed narrator, who is in love with her. She falls in love with an older woman, Miu, and becomes infatuated. There’s some trace of similar feelings on Miu’s end, but something happened to Miu when she was younger, and she says half of her is gone. Any kind of desire has left, along with her ability to play piano (her first vocation), and her hair turned completely white. Miu, who runs a family company, asks Sumire to work for her, and Sumire jumps at the chance. They eventually end up traveling together to a Greek island, and Sumire disappears. The narrator travels to the island to meet Miu and find out what happened.

Sputnik Sweetheart is one of the relatively rare novels that I liked more the second time around. Part of that is because of the length of time between readings – this time, I felt like I was rediscovering something I’d had but lost. I’d forgotten most of the story line: the Ferris Wheel scene isn’t even very long. Maybe being a little older and more settled helped, too. I can identify with the characters, and I think that I better understand what is going on and why. Which makes me realize how much I’ve changed in seven years – and how much happier I am for it.

So. Is this Murakami’s best novel? Probably not. I think the crown still belongs to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Others might claim Norwegian Wood because it’s more accessible. Sputnik Sweetheart might be a great Murakami starter novel if you don’t get hung up on the gender of Sumire’s love interest because that part seems irrelevant here. Murakami isn’t especially controversial, and this shouldn’t be, either. It’s about being lonely and wanting love and willingness to cross worlds to get it. It really is a good novel, and now that I understand it better, it’s in my top five Murakamis.

In Puppy News, Zelda is 10 weeks old!

She’s also crazy. Our candy bowl must be evil:

But how could you possibly stay annoyed with this puppy?

Okay, I have an answer for that: these two kittehs, who are united in puppy annoyance.

Who could blame them? Puppy sees kitteh, puppy wants to play. Chase chase chase, bite bite bite. Instead of fighting back, the kittehs run away. If they’re in a tight spot, the worst they’ll do is hiss and bat with their claws in. I’m beginning to think they should be a little more heavy-handed with Zelda.

2014 Book #31: Bird Box

birdboxY’ALL. Bird Box. Read it. It’s the most terrifying book I’ve read in I-can’t-remember-when. “But Lindsay,” you say, “you don’t like scary books! Remember Salem’s Lot?” Yes, that is, indeed, the case. I generally don’t read scary books, and I rarely like them when I do. But Bird Box is different!

And it’s so hard to talk about it without spoilers. Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll add spoiler alerts at the beginning and end of the massive Spoiler Time, you you can just hop down. Because you don’t want this one spoiled.

It’s about Malorie, a young woman who just found out she’s pregnant as news of a “Russian Report” emerges, in which there have been incidents in Russia of people suddenly becoming violent toward others, then killing themselves. Reports spread, eventually, to the United States. No one knows for sure what’s causing it, but they think they’ve figure out that the victims see something before they die. So people start boarding up their windows and stop leaving their houses. The violence spreads, and Malorie and her sister can no longer get in touch with their parents who live in a town with a reported incident. Then Malorie’s sister ends up dead in the bathroom with slit wrists. They had covered the downstairs windows, but not the upstairs ones. Then Society Falls Apart. Flash forward (or, really, backward to the first scene of the book and in other scenes interspersed throughout) to Malorie with two four-year-old children, escaping their house, blindfolded, feeling their way down to the river, where a rowboat sits. They get in the rowboat, still blindfolded, then start down the river. They are entirely reliant upon their hearing, and the kids are especially good at warning of danger because Malorie has trained them to live in this world since birth. They have never even seen anyone or anything outside their house. So here they are, rowing downriver in total blackness, following vague directions Malorie got from a lucky phone call.

Oh. My. Gosh.

Okay, here’s the spoiler alert. I can’t say what I think about this novel without one. We all, by now, know, that I hate violent and gory books. Most scary books are violent and gory. Bird Box, however, isn’t, for the most part. The best part of this novel is that we never find out what these “Creatures” really are – are they aliens? Are they men? Is it just the world going insane? And, strangely, I liked the happyish ending. Most post-apocalypse books have a sad – or at least ambivalent – ending. It’s like they’re supposed to. I really like that Josh Malerman bucked that trend and made things, at least for the time being, turn out okay. It was refreshing. End of spoiler.

What I said in the paragraph above, minus the spoilers, is that this book is different and refreshing. It doesn’t follow the usual horror novel pattern, and it’s very well written. I had a hard time not finishing this novel in one sitting because I just couldn’t stop. I was immediately swept up in the story, and I wanted to see it through to the end. And that journey is totally worth it.

Shortly after I started reading it, I flipped to the back of the book to read the author blurb. Turns out Josh Malerman is the lead singer of some band I’ve never heard of, and this is his first book. He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry! To him, I say, Good job, sir. Bird Box is excellent, and it’s totally worth a read. Just expect to spend an evening unable to pull yourself away.

Aaaaand here’s a puppy with hiccups:

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