Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Fight Club" by Chuck Palahniuk

I was warned away from this book by both Rachel ("the movie was better") and Elvis ("the book is exactly the same as the movie except without Brad Pitt's muscles or the cool Pixies soundtrack") but I've wanted to read it ever since I heard it existed. (I'm not sure how long it's been since I saw the movie--years, anyway--and back then I hadn't realized it was first a book. It's kind of sad, how often that happens.)

When Hud saw what I was reading, he said, "You're reading Fight Club? That just doesn't seem like the kind of movie anyone would want to read. It would be like reading Die Hard." I disagree. There's much more to Fight Club than fighting. And, come to find out, Hud hasn't seen the movie. (How is that possible?) He didn't even know the Big Thing. All he knew was that there was something called Project Mayhem, there were fights, and Brad Pitt wore fur.

I've seen the movie, so I already knew all about the Big Thing. And now Hud knows too, because I told him. (Oops.) But that was just about the only thing I remembered--that, the first rule of Fight Club, and the scene with the big yellow dishwashing glove. (The important parts, right?) I mean, here's how bad my memory is: I couldn't remember what the movie had to do with soap.

It's been long enough since I've seen the movie that I thought the book was really, really good. If you've seen the movie often enough that you can quote every line, or if you just watched it last week, I will warn you away from the book along with Rachel and Elvis. You won't find any extra tidbits in the book that you haven't already learned from the movie. But if it's been close to a decade since you watched it, or if your memory isn't any better than mine, I say go for it and read the book. If you loved the movie but don't remember it very well, you'll love the book too. Even without Brad Pitt's muscles (because, see, you can imagine them).

Reading the book made me want to see the movie again. In fact, even though I heart the book, I think Rachel and Elvis were right about the movie being superior. Whenever I get a craving for Fight Club in the future, I'll probably reach for the movie instead of the book.

What about someone who has neither read the book nor seen the movie and has managed to avoid hearing about the Big Thing? If such a person exists, should they read Fight Club or watch it? To me, the most important factor in this choice is the impact of the Big Thing. I want to say it seemed like a bigger surprise in the movie, although that's probably because I knew it and expected it by the time I read the book. Here's my call: either 1) watch the movie only, 2) watch the movie now and read the book after a few years, or 3) read the book and then watch the movie. Notice that the common denominator is watching the movie . . .

Monday, November 22, 2010

"The Knife of Never Letting Go" by Patrick Ness

This book doesn't have an effing ending and I'm not very happy about it. I mean, sure, it has a final page, and the last sentence even ends with a period, but it's not a ruddy ending. Patrick Ness has unapologetically dragged me into his trilogy and now I couldn't get out even if I wanted to.

The nice thing is that I don't want to. This is not the sort of book where I only have to read the sequels. No, I want to keep reading. I want to know what happens to Todd Hewitt. It doesn't hurt that I can't even imagine what might possibly be coming next.

But I can tell you a little bit about what came before. Todd Hewitt is just one month shy of his thirteenth birthday, which means manhood in the community of Prentisstown. Life may not be exactly as Todd wishes it--he's an orphan, and he's been stuck with a talking dog instead of getting his fissionbike fixed--but he feels secure in what he has known all his life on New World. And what he knows, above all else, is that a germ was responsible for killing all of the women in town, leaving the men awash in each others' Noise--the constant mental barrage of thoughts every resident transmits involuntarily.

Of course it's not long before everything Todd has ever known is turned on its head. He is forced into a journey--one that is metaphorical as well as physical--that opens his eyes along with his mind. His path is beset by tension and danger and askings and answers that cause Todd to mature in a way that he never would have, had he remained at home in his snug cocoon of ignorance.

Too bad the book kind of sounds like it sucks when I describe it. It really doesn't, at all. I promise. Well, except for the non-ending.

Don't let the presence of a talking dog put you off. Manchee is very different from Enzo in The Art of Racing in the Rain, but he's just as appealing. Either you will love him or you are not human. I have it on good authority that even people who don't like dogs (gasp! there really is such a thing) love Manchee. He made me laugh from the very first time he said, "Need a poo, Todd." (Though, of all the New World animals, my favorites were the crickets. I can hear real ones outside my open window as I type, and I giggle because now I know what they're saying.)

Even though the ending of this book just begs me to read The Ask and the Answer right away, I refuse to be manipulated. I'm reading something else first. But I will read the sequels soon. I have heard that the second book ends very much like the first (in that it doesn't), but surely the third book will end with some semblance of finality. If it doesn't, watch out. My wrath will know no bounds.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud" by Ben Sherwood

My apologies to Ben Sherwood, but this book made me want to gag.

I must admit I came to it with a bad attitude. As if it weren't ghastly enough that my copy of this book has Zac Efron* on the cover, it's supposed to be "one of the most magical love stories I've ever read." Gaaah. Even worse, there's a quote from Nicholas Sparks, King of Shameless Tearjerkers, on the back. My overriding thought was, do I have to read this?

This is kind of a ghost story with all the good, spooky parts taken out. Charlie "I see dead people" St. Cloud lives and works in a cemetery so he can hang out with his ghost of a little brother (gosh, I wish I had one of those). Charlie's life has been on hold for thirteen years so he can keep his promise to Sam that he'll never leave him, and Sam has spent all those years stuck between "here" and "beyond" in order to keep his end of the bargain.

The story itself wasn't so bad, but I had trouble swallowing it--hence the gagging. I had to think for a while before I figured out the reason behind that. Sure, the book is filled with unlikely premises, but I've read and loved less realistic stories (Harry Potter springs to mind). I believe my problem was with the unrealistic characters and dialogue. (Elvis is probably cackling right now, or at least thinking, "I told you so!" He argued during Bel Ami that the "realness" of its characters was a rare thing; I agreed that the characters were very realistic, but didn't think it was so rare.) Charlie St. Cloud was filled with characters who did and said things that no real person would ever do or say. Not only that, but everyone in Charlie's town of Marblehead was undeniably quirky, and you know what they say--when everyone is quirky, no one is.

I feel bad when I don't like a book written by an author who is still living. No, that's not quite right; it isn't disliking a book that is the problem--it's writing about it here. But since I'm probably one of the only people in the world who read this book and didn't care for it, I don't feel so bad. It was just not my kind of book.

If you're wondering why, once again, I have tortured myself with a book I really didn't want to read, there are a few reasons:

1. It was for book club.
2. I didn't choose it. (Don't worry, Lydia, I won't tell anyone who did.)
3. Reading, for me, is like . . . um, yeah. Pizza. Even when it's bad it's good. (To a certain extent.)

What I did like about the book, and what I think will be fun to discuss at book club, was its interesting take on death, grieving, and the spirit world. There were three specific parts that stood out to me, realistic or not. First, Charlie's admission of what he missed most about Sam. ("The feeling that everything is all right in the world.") Second, the concept of dreamwalking. ("We can go right into people's dreams. We can hang out wherever their unconscious takes them. And we can tell them stuff.") Third, the spirits of your loved ones are reaching out to you. ("We all shine on. You just have to release your hearts, alert your senses, and pay attention . . . Notice the little things, because somebody is reaching out to you.")

If nothing else, maybe we'll tell some good ghost stories tonight.

*It's not that Zac Efron is hard to look at; it's just that he doesn't seem especially indicative of quality literature.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Brisingr" by Christopher Paolini

I've had this book since it first came out just over two years ago, but I've never been very eager to read it. Paolini is at best a marginally talented storyteller. Maybe I'm just a tough crowd, since fantasy really isn't my genre (fairy tales, yes; swords and sorcery, not so much). But I'd read the first two Inheritance books and kind of felt obligated to read the third.

I read the first book, Eragon, because I was kind of in awe of the fact that Paolini began writing it at the age of fifteen, much like S.E. Hinton with The Outsiders. I was perhaps even more impressed in this case, as Paolini takes on the likes of  J.R.R. Tolkien with his story. (Of course, Tolkien soundly boxes little Paolini's ears and sends him to bed without any supper, but at least Paolini tried.)

My vague memory of Eragon is that it was OK. Nothing transcendent or life-changing, but not horrible or boring. I read the second book, Eldest, because I'd read the first book. And maybe because I hoped it would be even better than OK. (I think it wasn't, or I would have remembered.) Which leaves me with the third book. I obviously didn't have much hope that it would be better than OK, or I would have read it two years ago.

At least I wasn't disappointed in Brisingr. It met my expectations: it was OK, and it wasn't horrible or boring. I do feel like Paolini went into a whole lot of detail without an excessive amount of plot. I'm also pretty pissed (and this is a huge spoiler here, so consider yourself forewarned) that Galbatorix was not defeated by the end of this book. Nobody won or lost. There was no real resolution. Same with the potential love between Arya and Eragon. Of course, by now I have figured out there will be another book--no wonder it's gone from the "Inheritance Trilogy" to the "Inheritance Cycle"--but I'm dreading it before it's even been published. Do I buy the fourth book or do I leave the set incomplete? There are a few authors who could squeeze out a turd between two covers and I would still buy it (the first time they tried it, anyway), but Paolini isn't one of them. However, Hud seems to enjoy these books more than I do (he's more of the sword-and-sorcery type) so we probably will end up with a copy of book four.

It was a little bit silly of me to listen to the audio version of this book when I own a paper copy, but after this much time I knew if I hadn't started reading it yet I was never going to. I was fairly certain that, given the choice between this book and any other, I was always going to pick the other one. But I refuse to own a book that I will never read (and it's not like I would get rid of my copy just to resolve the issue--that would be giving in!) so my compromise was to listen to it. I haven't yet devised a way to read while I'm ironing or washing dishes or running, but listening to an audio book allows me to be a multitasking maniac.

The audio version was well done, and I was impressed by the reader's range in making each character sound like a different individual. It did take me a bit to get over his voice for the dragon Saphira. At first he sounded like an unfortunate cross between Yoda and Grover whenever he spoke Saphira's lines. But either the reader improved or I got used to the similarity, because I stopped noticing it.

This audio book was really, really long (29.5 hours!) and if I could have listened on fast-forward, I would have. It took me two weeks to get through it, during which I sorely missed listening to music and watching movies. I am glad to get back to those (possibly less-than-admirable but probably more entertaining) pursuits.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Quite Ugly One Morning" by Christopher Brookmyre

Here's a book for those of you who think Christopher Moore is funny. Moore may have the ability to elicit internal chuckles from me (tempered by an equal number of eye rolls), but Brookmyre actually had me snickering out loud in the first few pages. I figured sooner or later Hud would ask me what was so funny, but he never did. That's probably a good thing, though. How is it that I can hear a perfect Scottish accent in my head but utterly fail at making it come out of my mouth? Hud would have been distracted by the hilarity of my awful attempts to channel Sean Connery.

Of course, any book that takes the Lord's name in vain and drops the f-bomb in the very first sentence has got to be as "thrillingly unpleasant" as Esquire claimed. Though I kind of take issue with the unpleasant part. I actually found it to be quite a lovely read, unless we're talking about the first two chapters which treat the reader to a vivid description of the murder scene with all of its excrement and emesis--oh yeah, and a dead body. Hmmm, lovely may be the wrong word. But fun works.

This was my first Brookmyre book. I heard about him here. It's nice to finally find a mystery that doesn't pale in comparison with Agatha Christie's, although admittedly it's very different from hers. In fact, I think nosy investigative journalist Jack Parlabane may be exactly the sort of person Miss Marple always railed against. Contrary to all her sentiments, I am almost tempted to add the rest of this series to my TBR, but the thought of adding four more books at one whack is too daunting for a Monday morning. Maybe I'll do it later in the week.

I learned a lot of new words in this book. All of them were Scottish. Most of them are synonyms for poop. As such, they won't be appearing in any of my Words of the Day posts, but I will throw out a pair for you here: keech and jobbie. (You put them in the bog, by the way.) A few other "Jock" words that I remembered to write down:

smout (a small person, especially a young child)
glaikit (foolish, flighty, giddy)
baw-faced (that of a person with a large, round head; apparently, "baw" comes from the Scottish pronunciation of "ball")

Now you try to channel Sean Connery and see how well you do.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"Bel Ami" by Guy de Maupassant

Before we discuss Georges Duroy, I want to explain to you about Elvis. You've heard of him, right? Elvis and I have started an online book club, and this is the second book we've read.

I hope you're not too disappointed to hear that the Elvis you're probably thinking of is not the one I'm talking about. For starters, there's no question that my Elvis is still alive. Second, I don't think anyone has ever painted his portrait on a canvas of black velvet. Third, I have a feeling the other Elvis was too busy TCB to do much reading. But my Elvis loves to read (maybe even more than I do? Nah, not possible) and we'll be reading a book together every month until we get bored of each other. I'm not allowed to reveal his secret identity (I think he's embarrassed to be seen with me) but all you need to know is that he is The King.

Now on to Georges Duroy. I've been wanting to read something by Guy de Maupassant for years. I was first introduced to this author during my old book club when one of our members suggested, "We could even read something by Guy de Maupassant. IF YOU WANT." The way he said it made Maupassant's work sound unusual, risky, maybe even naughty. So of course my interest was piqued.

We never did get around to reading Maupassant in book club, but when I heard a new movie adaptation of his novel Bel Ami (first published in 1885) was being filmed, my decision was made. It may have been an odd choice to start with one of Maupassant's novels--and not even his greatest one, a distinction wikipedia states is claimed by Pierre et Jean--as the author is considered one of the "fathers of the modern short story." But I had to begin somewhere, and starting with a seductive Parisian social climber of the late nineteenth century seemed as good a place as any.

Bel Ami is the nickname of Georges Duroy, a handsome and ambitious young man of humble beginnings who finds his surest route to success is through the beds of a series of ever more prestigious mistresses. Without much effort, the nearly destitute ex-military officer of the book's opening scene rises to an impressive position of wealth, influence, and power by the book's denouement.

Elvis couldn't understand it, but I loved Georges Duroy. How could I appreciate such a despicable character? I don't quite understand it myself, beyond the fact that he must have seduced me while he was seducing the ladies in the book . . . plus, in my imagination he doesn't look anything like the portrait on the cover, but instead looks just like Robert Pattinson. (And now you know my dirty little secret.)

It was interesting to learn from the book's introduction that the title character was modeled after the author. Maupassant must have been successful with the ladies, not to mention quite the "cold, vain, selfish, single-minded" person (description courtesy of Elvis. I should have just gotten him to write this post). However, there couldn't have been much of a happy ending for Maupassant, with his world crumbling around his syphilitic ears. This is most evident in the depressing epitaph he wrote for himself: "I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing." I have to say I would hope my life embodies the exact opposite of that sentiment. But perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at so cheerless an outlook from someone who tried to slit his own throat.

Bel Ami was very well-written and, though I can't quite explain this since the story wasn't especially suspenseful, it was a page-turner for me. Every time I came to the end of a chapter I just wanted to keep going. Duroy kind of made me think of Scarlett O'Hara; I just had to see what kind of shenanigans he would be up to next.

Elvis called this book "clear, light, and funny," and found all of the characters very realistic.I had to wonder, as I have occasionally in the past, if such a light and clearly-written book was considered fluff in its day (sort of like the nineteenth century's answer to James Patterson or Danielle Steele). However, I think the fact that people are still reading this book more than a century later--and finding they can still relate to it--places it well above fluff.

I do need to rant about the free Kindle version of this book. In case you haven't noticed, many of the free Kindle ebooks originally written in another language are inferior translations. I'm fairly certain that the free Kindle version of Bel Ami is abridged, although I didn't see anything on the amazon website that made this clear. Once I realized this, I sprung for the Penguin ebook edition, though even that had a surprising number of odd mistakes. Penguin has always stood for quality in my mind (though I was a bit disappointed in them recently . . . Elvis knows why) but evidently that doesn't extend to their ebooks. There were several instances where what should have been a "th" was replaced with the letter "m." Just mink how confusing mat was. But it wasn't significant enough to detract from my pleasure in reading the story.

After reading Bel Ami,  I am interested in checking out some of Maupassant's many short stories. I wonder why I don't hear much about him from my fellow book bloggers? Such an elegantly written and classic story should be read more often. Have you read anything by Guy de Maupassant?

Friday, November 5, 2010

"The Book of Lost Things" by John Connolly

I really wanted to love this book. I expected to love it. I knew it was just my thing. A boy is sucked into a world of all the fairy tales he knows so well, only to find the reality of the stories is darker and more twisted than he ever suspected. What's not to love?

Well, I'm not quite sure, but . . . something. I considered waiting to write about this book until after I'd figured out what my problem was, but procrastination is my archnemesis.

This is not to say that I didn't like the book. I liked the fresh take on the old stories (and such a satisfying number of them were incorporated), the pervasive sense of enchantment and danger, even the comic relief in the form of oppressed communist dwarfs. Some of the stories were new to me, including my favorite--Roland's Second Tale, of Alexander and the Lady. I loved the way the book is written (the choice of words, their timeless quality). The language is perfect fairy tale fare, just like Shannon Hale's (albeit in a decidedly darker manner). But throughout the entire book I remained a spectator. I didn't expect to be literally sucked in, the way the main character was, but I did hope for more absorption of the figurative kind.

Oh, maybe that's why I didn't love it.

I (of course) can't remember where I first heard about this book, beyond the fact that it was from a fellow book blogger. The one thing that stuck in my mind was the blogger's insistence that this book is not for children. I find myself ambivalent about that distinction. While I do agree that it is too grisly for my seven-year-old book lover (worse than the brothers Grimm, by more than mere degrees), it's not aimed at adults as clearly as Gregory Maguire's fairy tale retellings. There is something childish in the feel of the story, and I don't think it would be inappropriate or too frightening for a young teenager.

I've never liked reading more than one book at a time, though I've gotten used to it since the Anna Karenina debacle. But just in the past few days I have decided it's best to stick with wildly different genres. Reading The Book of Lost Things concurrently with Bel Ami? OK. Reading it in conjunction with listening to Brisingr? Not OK. At times I had trouble remembering who was dealing with a castle which is "said to move with the cycles of the moon" and who just rescued Katrina from Helgrind. Throw in bedtime readings of The Neverending Story and I've really gone down the rabbit hole. Next thing I know, Eragon will be riding Falkor to the castle of the old king with the Loups in pursuit.

Parting shot: the book should have ended three pages before it did, with this perfect-for-an-ending paragraph: "David . . . became a writer and he wrote a book. He called it The Book of Lost Things, and the book that you are holding is the book that he wrote. And when children would ask him if it was true, he would tell them that, yes, it was true, or as true as anything in this world can be, for that was how he remembered it." If only the Woodsman hadn't told David that most people return in the end.