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

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Book Club Report, Part III

Only 30 books to go until I'm all caught up on blogging (I think)! As I was looking at this list and trying to figure out how I can knock out several posts in one go, I realized I'd missed blogging about three Old Book Club selections in my previous two Book Club Reports. So, Book Club Report Part III it is! And because posting about three books isn't enough to make a satisfying dent in my backlog, I will add a special surprise at the end. Just you wait!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. My first book by this author, and it won't be my last. Anyone who can get me interested in the birth of the comic book superhero has got to be good. Lucky for me, though comic books were definitely the main theme of the book, there's so much more to it. The writing is excellent, the characters are vivid, the plot flows swiftly, and it's a memorable and believable portrayal of 1940s New York City. I'm looking forward to reading Chabon's The Wonder Boys one of these days. 

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. This is the story of a small gang of young thugs who wreak havoc to their hearts' content until the authorities decide to do something about it. I'd seen the movie years ago, but only vaguely remembered the general idea (as well as a few indelible moments that I wouldn't have minded forgetting). What stands out most in my memory from reading the book is Nadsat, the slang vocabulary spoken by the main characters. I'd been forewarned about it, and (maybe largely because I was prepared?) I found it relatively painless to grow accustomed to. The version I read had a weirdly didactic final chapter. I think the book would be better without it.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Surely it's not a spoiler to tell you that this book is about two teenagers who fall in love . . . after they meet at their cancer survivor's support group. (After all, the huge movie adaptation just came out two weeks ago, and even I've seen ads for it everywhere I've looked. If you don't already know the premise, it's your own problem.) I never, ever would have chosen to read this book if not under duress from Book Club. Love? And cancer?? I smell horrifying tearjerker. Not My Thing. But, you know, John Green can do things I never would put up with from the likes of Nicholas Sparks (I'm looking at YOU, A Walk to Remember). And--not that I'm calling him Shakespeare or anything--I have a bit more respect for teenage lovers dealing with cancer than those who end up killing themselves over a big, stupid misunderstanding. 

So, as far as I can remember, that's it for books read with my sad old defunct book club. Your special surprise? Two books that were rejected by said book club--but I read them anyway.

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. This is an incredibly detailed account of the French Revolution and its three major leaders (Danton, Robespierre and Desmoulins). It's an extraordinary work, more history than fiction, about a fascinating time and place. I wish I could have retained more of what I learned from it. 

Despite the fact that this one is definitely worth reading, I think Old Book Club was right to turn it down. I imagine they would have hated it. 

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. It's Victorian, it's gothic, it's naughty, it's full of mysteries and secrets, and deception is heaped upon deception. It's the story of a pickpocket (hence the title) who agrees to trick an heiress out of her inheritance. If Book Club could have overlooked the naughty bits, I think they would have had just as much fun with this one as anything by Kate Morton. 

Five down, 25 to go!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Book Club Report, Part II

Here's the wrap-up of Old Book Club books that I promised you a few weeks ago. It's kind of sad--in looking over these seven books, I don't see a single one that I loved. Most of them were at least worth reading, though. Except maybe . . .

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. This is one of those stories told from multiple points of view. The main character is a deep-thinking young boy who seems out of place--Oskar doesn't fit in with any kids his age, but adults can't see him as a peer. His father died in the 9/11 attacks, and Oskar is obsessively searching for the lock that will be opened by a key that belonged to his father. I vaguely remember this book was somewhat disappointing, and I didn't care at all about some of the narrators. I also feel like it was sold to me under false pretenses--the idea of the mysterious key seemed much more intriguing than the reality of it. This book was more about Oskar's grief and the ways he dealt with it than it was about the mystery of the key.

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson. This book was probably my favorite of those I'm posting about today, but I still didn't love it. It's the story of a woman who suffers from amnesia. Every morning when she wakes up she has no idea who she is, where she is, or why she is in bed with a man. The man, of course, is her husband, and every day he has the task of reminding her of their history. She has begun keeping a journal (probably either in hopes of recovering some of her memory, or as a way to cope with its loss--I can't remember for sure . . . ha ha) and is starting to realize Something is Not Right. Here are the vague perceptions I recall about the book: it seemed like a really clever premise, but I was slightly disappointed; reading it was oddly like walking through a dense fog; and it had elements of the movie Groundhog Day (which seriously annoyed me with its repetitiveness). But I think it was also somewhat suspenseful and intriguing.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. This is the story of a tribal leader in Africa whose life (as you might guess from the title) takes a bad turn. I must admit I was not looking forward to reading this book (not least because of its awful cover art-- not the same as the cover shown here, but I couldn't find a photo of the copy I read, and I was kind of glad about that) and I actually ended up pleasantly surprised. Not because this is a particularly pleasant read--it's actually a bit depressing and frustrating--but it is a strong story and it definitely held my attention. And I know as I read I had some interesting thoughts about the effect of missionaries on native cultures and their ingrained belief systems and traditions, but unfortunately I can't share those interesting thoughts with you, because I can't remember them.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Here's a curious tidbit: this novel had its beginnings as a short story. And that may be the best thing I can come up with to say about this book because it's been too long since I read it. My hazy memory tells me it's a sort of character study of a fat Dominican teenager and his assorted friends and family members, all of which is overshadowed by a faint sense of impending doom.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. This is a medieval monastic murder mystery, which sounds pretty good until you apply the adjectives "dense" and "glacial". I remember appreciating it more than my other book club members, and it was worth reading once, but I doubt I would wade through it again.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. A futuristic novel about a society that selects children for military training at a young age. Also started as a short story. Good sci-fi, though I have no interest in continuing with the series. My strongest memory of this one isn't even about the book itself--it's how disappointing the movie was.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. This book is peppered with a double handful of weird old photos which are worked into a story about an orphanage for kids with strange powers. I loved the creepy photos, but the ones I was most curious about were merely glossed over, and some of the ones described in great detail seemed to be unnecessarily stretched to fit the story. I enjoyed the read but it didn't meet my expectations.

And now I am seven books closer to being caught up!

Friday, June 6, 2014

"Matched" by Ally Condie

I bought this for Bookworm Child a while back. I think I chose it mostly because I liked the cover, and I'd heard about the story from one of my two main YA-reading friends--the concept sounded interesting when she described it to me. Bookworm Child has read all but the last two and a half chapters (I can't imagine getting that close to the end and not following through!!) and I was curious enough to pick it up myself.

Matched is the story of a rigidly controlled society, ostensibly restrained by the government for the good of all, rendering free will extremely limited. The government controls the populace by dividing it into a handful of factions based on their members' predominant character traits . . . no, wait, that's Divergent. Let's see, in this one the people of the society have underlying doubts and questions about their government, but everyone is afraid to express those thoughts publicly, especially because they fear official retribution. Most of those fears stem from the fact that every year, two children from each district are chosen to fight . . . oops, no, that's The Hunger Games. So, in Matched, everyone has everything decided for them. The government chooses each person's career path, their food and clothes, even their spouse. And some people don't like this.

Just in case I haven't beaten you over the head with it enough, my point is that Matched doesn't seem especially unique. It has its own take on the supposed-utopia-that's-actually-more-dystopian, but it doesn't feel new. (Thought I suppose it might have if I'd read it before reading Divergent and The Hunger Games.) But it was still a fun read, and I'm going to see if I can get Bookworm Child to finish it.