Tag: atwood

2014 Book #26: The Penelopiad – and PUPPY!!! and Oyster

PenelopiadI’ve been In the Middle of David Copperfield for a couple of weeks now, so I decided to take a break and read The Penelopiad, which I’ve been meaning to reread for a couple of years now. At some point, I owned a copy, but I guess it made it into a discard pile because I disliked it so much. I gave it two stars on Goodreads, back in the day, and I thought that was rather charitable. Why did I want to reread it, then, you ask? Because I love Margaret Atwood and The Odyssey, and I really thought I should like The Penelopiad. And I did like it a little better this time around. It’s just not Atwood’s best book.

You probably know the story of The Odyssey (or have easy access to a summary on Wikipedia), so I won’t rehash it. The Penelopiad is Penelope’s side of the story. She’s the one who marries Odysseus, then waits around faithfully while he’s off fighting in the Trojan War, then slooooooowly making his way home. If you haven’t read the whole Odyssey, you should probably do that now because it’s fantastic and totally worth it.

Which all means that The Penelopiad is the feminist end of The Odyssey. Margaret Atwood loves these kinds of things. I generally like these kinds of things. It’s just that she’s done better. A lot of this book is really good! It’s just there’s a lot of dumb, too, and it was frustrating. Atwood chose to tell the story from what might be Penelope’s contemporary perspective: she’s been in Hades since she died and has chosen not to have another life, though she’s watched others and has heard news of the living. And that’s all fine, except (spoiler alert? are there spoilers here?) at the end, there’s a really dumb modern-day courtroom scene in which Penelope’s maids, whom Odysseus killed along with the Suitors, prosecute Odysseus, then vow to haunt him for the rest of eternity. The scene itself was silly, I thought, and since it was kind of big and near the end, it tarnished my newly more positive view of the whole thing. That said, I liked it more than I did the first time around. It’s not terrible, but it’s certainly nowhere near Atwood’s best.

I happened to run across The Penelopiad on a relatively new book subscription service called Oyster (That’s an invite link! We both win if you click on it and subscribe!). I’d tried the free month just before I got my iPad Mini and didn’t want to pay the $10/month subscription fee for a few reasons: 1) the full-size iPad is too heavy and awkward to use for reading, 2) Oyster is only available for iPad and iPhone and can’t be read in a browser, and 3) at that point, their book selection was a bit on the skimpy side. Two of the three have been solved: I got an iPad Mini, which is perfect for reading, and Oyster has expanded substantially. What put me over the subscription moneys edge, you ask? They just got Simon & Schuster! Which includes Hemingway, DeLillo, Fitzgerald, and lots of other authors I enjoy. Oyster now has enough of a selection for me to willingly shell out the $10. I’m really excited about it.

Anyway. Back to why I haven’t read David Copperfield. I’m not quite ready to add it to the Fail Pile, though I’m pretty sure that’s where it’s headed, because I’m really enjoying it. It’s just that now is not the time for a looooooong book because I’ve been busy!  Palmer finally broke down and got me a PUPPY (which he oh-so-secretly wanted just about as badly as I did)! SO here is the Puppy Reel! (Okay, this isn’t a Puppy Reel. It was supposed to be a Flickr Slideshow, but Flickr still exists in the dark ages and slideshows won’t work on mobile. So here’s a Puppy Gallery, thanks to Flickr Photostream, an awesome WordPress plugin! And a link to the Flickr Set containing All the Puppy Photos.)

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She’s the Cutest Thing Ever, though I’m pretty sure getting a puppy is like a sped-up version of parenthood. She has nicknames like Bitey McBiterson because she goes at most things teeth-first. She’s not quite eight weeks old, though, so I’m sure she’ll grow out of it.

The reason I had time to get 40-ish% into David Copperfield was that I had a break. Well, sort of: I went to a badly timed library conference in Columbia, South Carolina, on USC’s campus. I had a really nice time (and some great food!), but the whole time I was there, I was counting the minutes until I could come home to puppy, kittehs, and husband. Here’s a link to the photo set.

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It’s so good to be home.

2013 Book #43: MaddAddam

maddaddamI’m getting behind again. I really need to make a habit of writing about a book right after I finish reading it, which is what I’m doing now. Before I write something about Larry Brown’s collection of short stories, which I read first. But that’s neither here nor there.

MaddAddam is the final book in a trilogy by Margaret Atwood, preceded by Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, both of which I read and loved. In 2011. That was a while ago, so my memory of them is a bit hazy. I think I would have enjoyed MaddAddam even more if I’d reread those two first for a refresher, though Atwood is good about sprinkling little reminders where they’re needed.

I won’t give much of a summary of this one because, well, it’s the third of a trilogy, and if you haven’t read the first two, it would be full of spoilers. All I’ll say is that Atwood fleshes out the backstory of the other two novels and offers a somewhat satisfying resolution to the story by joining the plots, which seemed so separate before. And by “satisfying,” I don’t mean good or bad – or ambivalent. (See? No spoilers this time! I just had a reader complain…) It’s almost a Breaking Bad (I know) sort of resolution. That’s all I’ll say.

So. MaddAddam is good and worth a read. Margaret Atwood is almost always good and worth a read (I’m not a fan of The Penelopiad, but I think I’ve liked everything else). Don’t read this one if you haven’t read Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood because this trilogy is more like one novel in a Lord of the Rings sort of way. Best of all, read them in one go.

I guess I can’t really talk about this one enough without connecting it to the other two, so read those reviews and consider this a continuation. I even reread them and didn’t change my mind.

(Okay, here’s a better summary for my benefit, since this blog is really for my benefit because I’m terrible at remembering what I’ve read. So spoiler alert for all you complainers out there. It’s narrated by Toby, one of the Gardeners. They’ve rescued Snowman/Jimmy, who was just about dead from a foot infection. The Painballers – think Hunger Games, but with criminals – escaped, thanks to the Crakers, after they raped Amanda. The Crakers also had their way with most of the women, but no one really seems to consider it rape. The Gardeners and the others move into a compound and make a deal with anthromorphized pigs to help kill the Painballers, and they go on an adventure to do just that. And we get more of the backstory from Zeb, who explains how everyone knew each other before the Waterless Flood. And so on.)

2012 Book #10: I’m Starved for You

But wait, you say. I’m Starved for You is a Kindle Single and is too short to qualify as a novel! And I reply, That’s okay! Because it’s a novella, and it’s awesome! Last year I read and blogged about The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which is only 26,000 words, or so. Also, it’s my blog, and if I say it qualifies, it qualifies. So there. That said, it really is just a longish short story.

Anyway, I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood, which you’ll know already if you’ve read my reviews of Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood from last year or my dystopia rundown from a couple of weeks ago. I especially enjoy her writing style, which is easy to read but not condescending at all. And we all know how much I like dystopian fiction.

I can’t give out too much information on I’m Starved for You without a Super Duper Spoiler, which, in this case, I don’t want to do, especially since this story is so new. It’s a dystopian novella about a near-future city in which the residents (voluntarily) alternate months between prison and home. They go to prison for a month and have a job, etc, there, and then they return home to their houses and families for a month. While one couple is in prison, Alternates stay in their homes until the Alternates go to prison, and so on, and so one. Families and their Alternates are allowed no contact. Except the protagonist, Stan, finds a note under the refrigerator and starts to investigate. Which is where I stop.

I think I discovered this novella from Margaret Atwood herself: she’s very active on Twitter, which is soooo cool. (Incidentally, one of my other favorite writers, Salman Rushdie, is, too.) It’s a Kindle Single, and it’s only $3. You can’t, of course, check it out from the library because publishing companies make it as hard as possible for libraries to offer ebooks. But that’s another story.

I don’t have that much to say about I’m Starved for You except that it’s very Atwood-y and that it’s fantastic. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can read it anywhere that there’s Kindle software, which includes PCs. Here’s a handy link!

Yay, dystopia! Oh. Wait.

As you might know, I’m reading Yevgeny Zamyatin‘s dystopian novel, We. And I’m totally not going to finish it for a couple of weeks because I have Other Things going on. So I thought I’d give you a quick rundown on what is possibly my very favorite literary genre. (Read on if you’re wondering what a dystopian novel is. I’ll get to it eventually.)

What happened: In high school, I was assigned quite possibly the best known dystopian novel of all time. Ever. Yep, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. It remains one of my favorite novels, though I haven’t read it in several years (*adding it to my to-read list now). Written in 1948, takes place in 1984, this novel is a terrifying vision of what the world can be if the government becomes too powerful. You’ve heard of Big Brother. Here’s where he came from.

Second, for me, was Brave New World. It’s about a society in which people are conditioned from birth to think and behave in a certain way. The theory is that if every thought is conditioned, poverty, hunger, and crime will be wiped out. One of their tactics is to limit reproduction and, when a child is born, take him away from his parents to be conditioned by the government. And so on. Good novel.

There was also The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Atwood is one of my very favorite authors. (She’s also active on Twitter!) The Handmaid’s Tale was the first book of hers that I read, and I was enthralled. Like Brave New World, this society is dealing with population problems, but on the other end of the spectrum: for some reason, most women have become infertile. Young women who can have children are forced to become handmaids – or, basically, concubines to rich men. Still one of my favorites. Lots of Atwood’s novels are dystopian. If you like The Handmaid’s Tale, check out Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, both of which I read and reviewed last year. Then read everything else she’s written.

Several years ago, I read Ayn Rand’s Anthem, which is about a society in which even thought is supposed to be collective, and “I,” “me,” and “myself” are Unspeakable Words. I dislike Ayn Rand, so I’m not saying anything else. But Anthem is a dystopian novel that I’ve read.

And don’t forget Fahrenheit 451! A very special book for librarians everywhere. (See? Isn’t this genre exciting?!?) It’s about a society in which books are banned. Owning a book is a crime, and the government conducts regular and very public book burnings. Here’s another one I need to read again. There’s also a good movie version from the 1970s.

Wikipedia’s list of dystopian novels also includes Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which I’ve read and enjoyed, but I don’t think it fits into this category. Dude wakes up turned into a cockroach. His life becomes unpleasant. Things Happen. Not dystopian.

This one’s a short story: “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, in which everyone is supposed to be so equal that “normal” people are required to be handicapped in some way. People with above average intelligence have to wear headphones that make a high-pitched noise ever so often, interrupting any intelligent thought. TV anchormen have to have speech impediments, and so on. If dystopian lit sounds interesting to you, but you don’t want to make the novel commitment, “Harrison Bergeron” might be a good place to start.

And there are so many more! Here are some more that I’ve read and that I recommend. A few are juvenile novels, and I’ll mark them with a J. That shouldn’t keep you from reading them, though. They’re all great books no matter your age.

Do you see a pattern here? A dystopian novel is usually set in the future (sometimes in the very near future) and in a society that has gone horribly wrong. They usually involve totalitarian governments and/or a spent environment. Dystopia is the opposite of utopia, in which society functions perfectly, and everything is pleasant and beautiful and such. If you want to read about those, try Plato’s Republic or Thomas More’s Utopia. I generally find utopian novels a bit, well, boring, so I haven’t read any, I don’t think, except those two. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t!

Bonus: Here’s the iconic Apple Macintosh ad from 1984. It’s worth a watch!

2011 Book #21: The Year of the Flood

year-flood.jpgThe Year of the Flood isn’t really a sequel to Oryx and Crake like I expected it to be. The two novels’ events happen at the same time: the plots and characters are interwoven. The Year of the Flood is narrated by two of these characters, Toby and Ren. They’re both part of an environmentalist group called God’s Gardeners. The novel jumps around in time between Year One, when the God’s Gardeners first organize, and Year Twenty-Five, when the Waterless Flood knocks out most humans. The Waterless Flood is the virus Crake intentionally spreads in the first novel. Then Things Happen, as they did in Oryx and Crake. We hear a bit more about what happens at the end of the first novel, though not much. Many of the characters in The Year of the Flood are minor characters in Oryx and Crake, and vice-versa, which makes it interesting.

I think I liked The Year of the Flood more than Oryx and Crake, though that one was good, too. I gave this one four stars on Goodreads because, unlike Oryx, it’s really preachy. Explicitly so, even. The way Atwood does it, though, isn’t annoying, at least for the most part. Adam One, founder of the God’s Gardeners, gives sermons of sorts, followed by poems Atwood says were inspired by William Blake‘s poetry. You can listen to some of them here. They’re super-corny.

I explained my past with Margaret Atwood in my Oryx and Crake post, so I won’t talk about it again. These books, though, have reminded me of how much I enjoy her stories and her writing style, so I’ll revisit her novels soon, though only after some DeLillo because I’ve given myself a stern talking-to about the Thesis Monster situation, and I have to get to work.

2011 Book #7: Oryx and Crake

oryx_and_crake.jpegI really enjoyed Oryx and Crake . It’s a dystopian, post-apocalyptic-type novel about one of the few men left on Earth. He calls himself Snowman, and the plot bounces back and forth between him and the man he used to be, before the catastrophe, Jimmy. This part is set in the near-future, where everything is genetically spliced together – food, animals, medicine, etc. Jimmy and Crake had been good friends since they were kids. Crake was really intelligent. They grew up, and Crake worked on what he claimed would cure all of the problems caused by humanity. Then Things Happen. Snowman survives with Crake’s humanish creations, called Crakers, who think Crake is a god and Snowman is almost one. Then there’s Oryx, who might or might not have been sold as a slave into the sex industry when she was a child and who is revered as a near-god, too.

I tend to like dystopian novels. I read Atwood‘s most famous novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, when I was fifteen or so, and I liked it so much I even remember some of it. I’ve noted before that I rarely remember what books are about after a few years. I think 1984 was the first dystopian novel I ever read: my high school freshman English teacher assigned it, and I actually finished reading it. Another feat.

I bought Oryx and Crake in 2003 when it was first published. I tried reading it but lost interest after the first chapter or so. I don’t know why: this time, I had a hard time putting it down. I ordered The Year of the Flood, the events of which are contemporaneous to Oryx and Crake, from Amazon, but I think I’ll save that for later.

Oryx and Crake really sucked me in – moreso than most novels do. It’s the usual dystopian warning of sorts, but it’s not preachy. I’m not sure of a comparison – maybe a not-so-grim On the Beach. I really like Atwood’s writing style: it’s very easy to read, though I guess I’m comparing it to the two dialecty novels I just finished reading. I’m really looking forward to the sequel.

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