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The Year of Magical Thinking Dec. 22nd, 2006 @ 10:36 pm

Tonight I finished The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.  It's a non-fiction book about Didion's struggle to cope the death of her husband and the severe illness of her only daughter, which unluckily coincide in December 2003.  I wasn't sure what to expect going in.  Didion's novel Play it as it Lays is one of my all-time favorite books, but I wasn't so into the only non-fiction collection of hers I read, Slouching Towards Bethlehem.  Luckily, I enjoyed this book. 

Well, I don't know if enjoyed is the right word.  It's a depressing book, in that it deals with grief and loss and feeling lost and helpless.  But, it is also sort of uplifting, because Didion completely exposes herself to the reader, allowing you to share her grief in a way and to understand that what she's going through is thoroughly human.  Luckily I have yet to suffer the loss of such a close loved one, but I think that when that time eventually comes I would find comfort in reading this book and knowing that what I experience is normal.  And there were parts I genuinely enjoyed - funny little anecdotes and the like. 

The thing I loved most about Play it as it Lays was the style, and I was happy to find a similar style in this book.  Didion uses recurring phrases to emphasize feelings and moments throughout her story.  It's extremely effective.  Whereas in Play it as it Lays it might have been "Mariah said nothing," in Magical it was "I tell you I will not live two days," for example.  Whenever you see the same phrase appear again it evokes the feeling of the earlier passage(s) and brings the whole narrative together in extremely effective fashion. 

Next up: The Manchurian Candidate, for NYMAAC book club
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

Many Invitations (5 to be Exact) Dec. 18th, 2006 @ 03:28 pm

Currently Reading:

1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I'm one of maybe three people that wasn't required to read this during my public school 
education.  So, I'm reading it now. 

(Enotes summary): Despite its later popularity, William Golding's Lord of the Flies was only a modest success when it was first published in England in 1954, and it sold only 2,383 copies in the United States in 1955 before going out of print. Critical reviews and British word of mouth were positive enough, however, that by the time a paperback edition was published in 1959, Lord of the Flies began to challenge The Catcher in the Rye as the most popular book on American college campuses. By mid-1962 it had sold more than 65,000 copies and was required reading on more than one hundred campuses.

The book seemed to appeal to adolescents' natural skepticism about the allegedly humane values of adult society. It also captured the keen interest of their instructors in debating the merits and defects of different characters and the hunting down of literary sources and deeper symbolic or allegorical meanings in the story—all of which were in no short supply. Did the ending of the story—a modern retelling of a Victorian story of children stranded on a deserted island—represent the victory of civilization over savagery, or vice versa? Was the tragic hero of the tale Piggy, Simon, or Ralph? Was Golding's biggest literary debt owed to R. M. Ballantyne's children's adventure story, The Coral Island, or to Euripides's classic Greek tragedy, The Bacchae?

Though the popularity of Golding's works as a whole has ebbed and grown through the years, Lord of the Flies has remained his most read book. The questions raised above, and many more like them, have continued to fascinate readers. It is for this reason, more than any other, that many critics consider Lord of the Flies a classic of our times. 

2. The Big Sleep
by Raymond Chandler.  I have a good friend that loves film noir, pulp novels and all things art-deco.  I love the snarky detective-speak you see in 1940s dective movies, so I thought I'd read it straight from the master. 

(From Wikipedia): The Big Sleep is a 1939 novel by Raymond Chandler, with two film versions, one filmed in 1946, and another filmed in 1978. It is the first novel to feature the detective Philip Marlowe, and is considered one of Chandler's greatest works, and one of the seminal works of hardboiled fiction. The story is infamously complex and hard to follow, with many characters all double-crossing and triple-crossing each other.

On deck:
3. The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon. 

(From Amazon.com): Richard Condon's 1959 Cold War thriller remains just as chilling today. It's the story of Sgt. Raymond Shaw, an ex-prisoner of war (and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor) who, brainwashed with the rest of his unit by a Chinese psychological expert during his captivity in North Korea, has come home programmed to kill. His primary target is a U.S. presidential nominee. 

4. Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

A couple of years ago, I sort of enjoyed Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas but was told Still Life With Woodpecker and Jitterbug Perfume were not to be missed.  So, I'll give it a shot.  I did like Robbins' sort of bizarre writing style, but something about Frog Pajamas just fell flat for me. 

(From the back of the book): Still Life with Woodpecker is sort of a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes.  It reveals the purpose of the moon, explains the difference between criminals and outlaws, examines the conflict between social activism and romantic individualism, and paints a portrait of contemporary society that includes powerful Arabs, exiled royalty, and pregnant cheerleaders.  It also deals with the problem of redheads.

5. Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

Anyone who has read this community even a little knows of my booklust for Vonnegut.  Mom bought me Hocus Pocus as an early Christmas gift, and I can't wait to read it.  

(From Publishers Weekly via Amazon.com): While awaiting trial for an initially unspecified crime, Vietnam vet and college professor Eugene Debs Hartke realizes that he has killed exactly as many people as he has had sex with, a coincidence that causes him to doubt his atheism. According to PW , "The cumulative power of the novel is considerable, revealing Vonnegut at his fanciful and playful best."

Comment if you want to join in on anything between now and say, February? 

Prince Caspian Dec. 18th, 2006 @ 03:21 pm
I also recently finished Prince Caspian, the fourth book in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series. 

Thusfar, Prince Caspian was definitely my favorite in the series.  It was the most satisfying, in a fairy tale sense.  The kids all get to be the big heroes, return to their castle full of noble riches, and they make friends with centaurs and gophers and dwarves and talking Lions who represent God, and they defeat an evil king to put the rightful king back in power. It's just a shame that you know these kids are just going to have to come back and fight in another war soon.  Because that's what they do.  They have wars.

I'm not sure when I will continue in the series and read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  I pretty much save these books when I want an easy read or Kurt Vonnegut when I'm not much in the mood for anything because I almost always love him. If anyone else is reading the Narnia series or wants to catch up, I'd be glad to read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in a group!

This Side of Paradise Dec. 18th, 2006 @ 02:57 pm

Hi, guys...been a while (again). 

So I finished This Side of Paradise a while ago, and was a big fan.  It made me want to refresh myself and reread The Great Gatsby sometime. 

True, Fitzgerald only writes about one thing it seems: the frailty of the wealthy class, and the fear of losing wealth.  But to me he seems the predecessor of modern existentialism and the likes of Brett Easton Ellis.  

Amory Blaine and his hapless college friends seemed if they were teenagers in the 1980s and wore topsiders, they could just have easily been the cast of Ellis' The Informers.  Amory would fall in love with a girl in an instant, noting the clothes she wore or the kind of friends she had, or how she had her hair done, without giving a hoot about what she was interested in, the quality of their conversation, or potential future of their relationship.  

The course of This Side of Paradise follows Amory Blaine through his few great loves, and in the end we see that Amory's romantic encounters serve over his young adulthood to help him discover who he is and what he believes in.  This all culminates in the back of a rich man's car, where he ends up in an unexpected monologue where he outlines his beliefs about politics, society, men, women, art and money.  This particular passage and the few that lead directly up to it were for me, the point of reading the book and completely worth the failed relationships we endured with Amory beforehand. 

As I said, I'd like to re-read The Great Gatsby and I'm also interested in The Beautiful and the Damned, as well, which was the next book written by Fitzgerald after This Side of Paradise.

All Families are Psychotic Dec. 10th, 2006 @ 11:42 am

I just finished devouring All Families are Psychotic by Douglad Coupland.  I haven't read a book that quickly in some time - but I couldn't help it, I was enjoying it so much!  I had bought this novel a few years ago for my mom, on a whim when I spotted it in a bookstore, based on the title alone (and the bright orange cover).  I gave it to her and then never really thought about it again.  Then a few weeks ago my mom gave me a bunch of books she didn't need anymore to post on Bookmooch, and this was one of them.  So it sat on my huge stack of books for bookmooch, and when I finished my last book (Hiding in the Mirror, which is about relativity, string theory, and extra dimensions, so I didn't post about it here) I needed to choose my next read, and again the orange cover called to me.   

The novel tells the story of the unlikely reunion of the Drummond family, who have gathered near Cape Canaveral, Florida, to witness one of their own launch into space on a NASA mission.  There are three Drummond "children" (all around 40 years old): Sarah (the Astronaut), Wade (the con man/ne'er do well), and Bryan (the suicidal, dopey one).  Also they have spouses/signifcant others (Howie, Beth and Shw, the latter two being pregnant) joining in on the reunion.  Add to that thier mother, Janet, her ex-husband/their father, Ted, and his wife Nickie, who is of the same age as the Drummond children. 

The family hasn't been together since a bizzare incident two years prior, which I won't discuss because it's so deliciously random and horrifying you need to find out for yourself.  The incident not only had the immediate effect of splitting the family up again, it forever changed the lives of those involved.  Fast forward two years to this new reunion, where one severely messed-up family tries to 1. stop someone from selling their baby, 2. avoid getting killed in a restaurant hold-up, 3. not actually beat the crap out of each other, 4. survive drinking relapses and missing medications, 5. deliver a priceless letter to a dangerous German man in exchage for a large sum of money, and 6. make amends for the aforementioned incident, all while hopefully not upsetting sister Sarah too much and jeopardizing her shuttle flight.

Also, Sarah has one hand, and half of the characters have AIDS.  It's like Little Miss Sunshine meets RENT.

I think I enjoyed the book because, although their situations were extreme, it's true that the Drummonds aren't all that different from my family, or any family.  All families really are psychotic, in our own ways.  They have some serious family drama to work through, but I've grown up with relatives not speaking to each other for a decade or more, so I can sort of relate.  The way the Drummonds speak to each other struck me as very realistic, too.  Every morning when Janet wakes up she immediately mentally locates all of her children, which totally reminded me of my mother.  Other times Janet reminded me of my aunt Irene. 

My favorite characters were Janet and Wade, who were more or less the main characters of the story, so that's not surprising.  But I really liked the way Wade was protrayed as this unlikely good guy, and Janet as the avenging housewife or something.  They were really quite likeable.

Next up to read: Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking!  Finally.
Current Mood: sicksick
Other entries
» Walls?
Hey guys!

Stumbled across the community, read a few reviews and thought you guys were awesome, I look forward to reading a few of the books I have read reviews on over break, and suggeseting some of my own.

Anyway, I have a question regarding a book.
I read a book titled "Walls" in 8th grade Social Studies, and I am looking to rent it from the library or buy it to read again. However, I'm having a hard time locating it due to the fact that I have forgotten the authors name, and it was a hard one to spell, I remember that much. I have looked up the title on amazon.com to no avail, sorting through pages of books on "The Wall Street Journal". If it helps, the book was placed in Europe during WW2, and follows a woman who visits prisons as a translator, but ends up aiding the Jewish prisoners who are being persecuted. This is as much as I remember, and as you can see, desperately need some help finding it. If any of you can lend suggestions as to where I may locate it or know of the author, that would be great.

♥ ♥
» INVITATION: Darkly Dreaming Dexter
For the first time in two and a half years, I find myself without a book club to tell me what to read next.

After hearing about it at Borders for years and now inspired by the new Showtime series, I am going to read Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. It's a mystery novel about a blood splatter analyst for the Miami police department who is secretly a serial killer (who only kills bad people). Thanks to the Showtime series, this book can now be found with the broodingly handsome* Michael C. Hall on the cover.

*Credit to egreenwood for the phrase "broodingly handsome", although she wasn't talking about Michael C. Hall when she said it.
» Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
As you can see, I've been busy like pistashio2 and am now trying to catch up with my book posts. I don't have much to catch up on since Son of a Witch took up most of my time. I also picked up Steve Martin's The Pleasure of My Company which was okay, but I eventually became bored with it and put it down.

I mostly share Mary's sentiments on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. It was a lovely book and so well-written. Foer does such a good job writing as Oskar Schell. This book reminded me a little of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Both books are narrated by a child who perceive the world differently than most people: in Curious an autistic teenager and in Extremely a precocious little boy. And in both books the author writes as this other personality so well that you sincerely feel for the character and you really feel like you're inside his head.

minor plot point revealedCollapse )

It's a delicate subject (9/11) handled with such grace, class, and entertainment. Read this book.
» Wicked, and Son of a Witch
I read Gregory McGuire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West in August, and I just finished the sequel, Son of a Witch. Let's see what I can think of to say about them.

On the whole, I enjoyed Wicked. I find McGuire's writing style to be a little ... I don't know. Florid? Bumpy? Whatever it is, the result is a slow read. I didn't find myself flipping through this book. I was propelled by the story, however. The book held my interest despite the writing style.

I often find myself wanting to read related materials after finishing a book, and then getting over it quickly. That being said, Wicked really makes me want to read The Wizard of Oz and other books in L. Frank Baum's series. Lindsay read the first two books and said they're enjoyable for grownups and kids alike.

The map at the front of the book provided helpful reference.

Having read the book and seen the musical, it's interesting to think about the differences between them, of which there are way more than similarities. You might say the musical uses the same characters names and follows the same general arc, but the characters' personalities, the events, and the plots are entirely different. Both are enjoyable, though.

I can't think of much interesting to say about Wicked. I enjoyed it because it's just fun to read a different interpretation of a well-known story. Elphaba's character was interesting, and I liked what McGuire did with it.

I won't bother saying too much about Son of a Witch. I read it for the same reason I read Wicked; I simply wanted to play in Oz for a little while longer. The story centers areound Elphaba's alleged son, Liir, who was not an interesting character in Wicked and continues to be uninteresting in Son of a Witch. The story is rambly, like Wicked was, but it doesn't have the framework of its predecessor. You know what happens to the Witch so you know where the story's going. You have a goal to work towards. The experience of reading the sequel is that of reading the memoir of a person you just don't care about.
» Hard Times by Charles Dickens
It seems every couple of years I try again, unsuccessfully, to get myself through some Dickens.  Until today, I hadn't successfully finished any Dickens novel since A Christmas Carol, when I was 9 years old. Great Expectations creeped me out, what with Mrs. Havisham's co-dependency and scary mansion, and A Tale of Two Cities confused me. But I've always been fascinated by Dickens' social commentary on the upper and lower classes so I thought it was time to give him another go.

Not only did I love Hard Times, but I am very enthusiastic to take another stab at some more of his work.  I think now that I'm older maybe my attention span is more conducive to reading  Dickens than it used to be?

Aside from the general theme and message of Hard Times, which is to dedicate as much of yourself to love, generosity and joy and the simple pleasures of life as you do to education and hard work, I enjoyed how realistic the outcome of the novel was, with the exception of

I loved that the ending was not 100% happy in terms of fortune, but was mostly happy in the fact that the characters that were receptive learned important things about themselves and the way they perceived the world and people around them.  Everyone seemed to learn to see the good in what they had, even if in some cases that wasn't a lot.

Next up for me is This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Thoughts?

x-posted to readplease
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