Thursday, June 28, 2007

Night by elie wiesel

night by elie wiesel
Originally uploaded by kewlio
Has anyone else read this? I can't even say that I have because I only made it to the fourth chapter, as the Jews are being led off the train at Dachau. I was trying to read it at school while the children napped and felt the need to sob uncontrollably. The idea of babies being thrown in the air over graves and shot at as target practice was too much for me to handle. Before I actually lost it, I put the book down, that awful lumpy crying feeling in my throat, and silently apologized to the author for not being strong enough to read more. Maybe I will read a chapter a month and will be able to digest it more slowly. Has anyone else attempted this one? It's only 109 pages so I thought I would finish it in an evening. Oh, how wrong I was.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Our Kind by Kate Walbert

I hate to say it, but this is the second book I have read in a matter of two weeks that was a finalist for the National Book Award, and the second book in a matter of two weeks with which I was thoroughly disappointed. This was a tad bit better than A Feast of Love, but only a tad....and only because it was shorter.
This was something outside of the norm of what I normally read in the sense that it is a series of short stories that are compiled to tell one complete story. I like the idea of this, and won't shy away from this style in the future, but was not engrossed with this book. It's the story of a group of middle-aged women, all of whom are divorced or widowed, leading their lives in the suburbs and trying to "discover" who they are now that their children are grown and their husbands are no longer around. I really, really wanted to like this book and gave it a fair shake until the last page. But it just didn't flow. Much like The Feast of Love, it wasn't cohesive. The characters seemed eccentric for the sake of being eccentric and half of the time I had no idea why a certain story was being told or what on earth was going on. It was somewhat comical, at times, because I found myself reading it for an hour or so and then Mark would ask me how it is and I would say "You know what? I'm not really sure. I have no clue what this book is about or what it is that I just read."
It was an interesting concept and had the potential to be a great book - and clearly I stand alone in my opinion since the people who decide the finalists for the National Book Award thought it was worthy of the title. But I'm starting to get weary of those shady National Book Award people, so I am going to go back to reading what my gut is attracted to and not reading something because of its accolades. I thought it would help me find great literature, but I've just been disappointed as of late, so I'll back off a bit and see where it leads me.
So, sorry to post two negative Nancy reviews in a row, but I gotta' call 'em like I see 'em.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Feast of Love

Ok...I'm going to start this post by posting something from the author's website:
The Feast of Love is just that--a sumptuous work of fiction about the thing that most distracts and delights us. In a re-imagined Midsummer Night's Dream, men and women speak of and desire their ideal mates; parents seek out their lost children; adult children try to come to terms with their own parents and, in some cases, find new ones.
In vignettes both comic and sexy, the owner of a coffee shop recalls the day his first wife seemed to achieve a moment of simple perfection, while she remembers the women's softball game during which she was stricken by the beauty of the shortstop. A young couple spends hours at the coffee shop fueling the idea of their fierce love. A professor of philosophy, stopping by for a cup of coffee, makes a valiant attempt to explain what he knows to be the inexplicable workings of the human heart. Their voices resonate with each other--disparate people joined by the meanderings of love--and come together in a tapestry that depicts the most irresistible arena of life.

Now I'll tell you why this is a load of crap. I picked up this book because it was a finalist for the National Book Award and thought, after reading a lot of reviews and doing some dorky research on it, that it sounded interesting and like a story I might like to read. So I started. Right off the bat I didn't love the writing, though I thought it might be something I just had to get used to (I was wrong). It was choppy and disconnected, and the dialogue between characters was completely unrealistic. People simply do not talk the way these characters did. And that bugged me.

But what really bugged me is that I found myself not caring about any of these characters - they were all very one dimensional, though you got the idea that the author thought he was creating very deep, complex, and complete characters. I did not find this to be the case. They all had a "role" in this book and, other than fulfilling that "role", they weren't really very interesting. I like the idea of books and movies that have several stories going on that all intertwine at some point - unfortunately, I liken this book to the movie Babel - a great idea, in theory, but poorly executed.

This was supposed to tell the story of love in all of its various forms, and what we do (and don't do) for it. But when you get to the last page and read those last words you're left feeling... well, unfulfilled. Perhaps I was expecting too much from this book, or perhaps it was one of those situations where it just wasn't the right time for me to be reading it. But I got the distinct feeling that it was trying to be deep and meaningful for the sake of being deep and meaningful. The way I described it to Mark was like this: If you were reading this book in a literature class, I'm sure the professor, and other students, would be finding all sorts of deep meaning behind the actions of the characters, and the ways in which they interacted with each other. But I think searching for that meaning is giving the book too much credit. I think sometimes people just search for meaning in a book because they can't believe that it's just not a very good book. In my opinion, if the book is truly powerful, and really does evoke these emotions and deep thoughts out of you, it's on a very innate level. You simply feel it, you simply get it. And with this novel, you just don't do either. Or at least I didn't.

So, that's a big thumbs down from me. Maybe you all would have a different take; but I have a feeling you'd all walk away feeling a bit robbed....of time.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Kite Runner

This was a powerful book. I wasn't quite sure how I would feel about it when I read reviews on various websites, but decided to give it a chance. I sometimes shy away from "NY Times Bestsellers" when there's too much hype about it because I feel like it's just not as good as the hype (and usually I find that I'm right). But I was pleasantly surprised.
This is a very moving book that spans life in Afghanistan over 40 years (through present-day Afghanistan which, as you would imagine, is bleak). But it's much more a book about a young boy, Amir, seeking the approval of his father, feeling torn between his friendship with the son of his servant, and what his culture deems acceptable....but most of all it deals with choices and how those choices can haunt you, change you, and if you're lucky, redeem you. I was also struck by the hopeful feeling I came away with after closing the last chapter; even during the bleakest moments and the most horrendous crimes, humanity and compassion surrounded Amir and it contributed to why I didn't want to put this book down. I found myself turning the pages in anticipation of where the story was going... and sometimes cringing at the often graphic depiction of the unrelenting violence that is forced upon the citizens of this war-torn country.
I highly recommend this book, though I have a feeling Amanda and dad might prefer it over mom (since you expressed not-too-much interest in the topic, which is why I think you probably will pass). I already warned Amanda that there is some gruesome violence and some dappling with child abuse (can you simply "dapple" in child abuse? Maybe not the best choice of words) - so you are forewarned (I am forever scarred by your repulsion of Running with Scissors, so want you all to be prepared!).

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

Many books have been written about WWII but I think this one is unique and well worth reading. Written by a woman, who herself died at Auschwitz during the war, Suite Francaise is written in two parts (five were intended but she died before completing the entire suite). Book One describes the palpable confusion and fear of ordinary men and women who were forced to flee their homes and city (Paris) in advance of the impending Nazi invasion in 1940. I don't think most of us can really imagine ever being in a situation where we would have to abandon our homes, sometimes our family and most of our worldly possessions to an invading army. Yet, it happend to France during WWII and she was one of the most advanced nations and cultures in the world...

Book Two covers the period of occupation and shows how people were forced to find ways to either accept or simply coexist with their Nazi occupiers if they wanted any semblance of ordinary life. In some cases families were forced to feed and house German officers in their homes. And occasionally people actually started to see the 'other' as a just another fellow human being with the same needs, desires, and foibles-and sometimes not.

Since this story is based on the author's first hand experience (and knowing her ultimate fate) I found this book to be riveting. I didn't want to put it down...