Sunday, December 19, 2010

Book Review - "The Wild Duck"

"The Wild Duck" by Henrik Ibsen, a version by David Eldridge
My grade: A-

This is a short play, initially written by Ibsen in Norwegian. I have not read the original, but came across the Eldridge version of it. I found it very good, with very interesting personages, but in this case, I really wish it was longer and better developed. There is so much material here, and so many great directions that he has begun to go into, but has not fully arrived there. At least not for me. I would love to read a longer, more fully-developed version of this work, with a deeper analysis of the critical situations brought to life.

Book Review - "The Magus"

"The Magus" by John Fowles
My grade: B-

It goes without saying that this book is incredibly talented and very well-written. I won't even bother to say that Fowles has incredible control and skill as a writer. Rather, I will stick to the story and plot itself, wherein lies my problem with this novel/masterpiece. I, too, found the idea initially tantalizing: a magus, a series of unexplained strange events, strange people, etc. And I'll even admit that I remained well captivated through a good three-quarters of the book. But then it got boring. And just a bit (or a lot!) absurd/ridiculously over-the-top. I have to likewise admit: due to my poor knowledge of Greek mythology, many of the allusions were sadly lost on me. In this case, it would have definitely been of a lot of help, if not absolutely crucial to understanding this story.

I likewise found the ending disappointing. I wanted more, needed more. So many pages of mystery, to never really get a full answer. One almost gets the impression that Fowles himself got tired and bored with the story, and slapped an ending on there that wouldn't arouse too many questions; the ending itself is just as mystifying as the story. Perhaps you mythology experts out there could shed some light on all of this.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review - "A Fairy Tale of New York"

"A Fairy Tale of New York" by J. P. Donleavy
My grade: A-

In some sort of way, this book reminded me a lot of "The American Psycho", although I didn't like the latter at all. This novel, however, is quite amazing on several different levels. Firstly, I have to admit, its abstractedness left me quite lost at moments, and I think to fully understand it, one would have to read the novel a few times. Having said that, though, it at (many) times captured reality so poignantly that I found myself struck by its candidness and simplicity.

Hidden beneath layers of sarcasm and wit is both a story and commentary on New York in particular, and the U.S. and humankind more globally. It's fast-paced, unusually written (e.g., the author uses no question marks, although there certainly are questions asked), exceptional and smart. My one criticism of it is the unnecessary abundance of sex and sexual perversion, and the vulgarity that accompanies that.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Review - "Architecture of the Novel"

"Architecture of the Novel: A Writer's Handbook" by Jane Vandenburgh
My grade: B-

As the title cleverly suggests, this book is about the art of writing. As is likewise suggested, the focus of the book is almost exclusively on writing longer narratives, and I found a lot of the advice offered not at all pertinent to writing shorter pieces, such as short stories. Having said that, there was nonetheless useful information and tips on writing, in general.

I was a bit put off with Vandenburgh's style of writing. I'm not sure whether she teaches, but she definitely speaks to the reader as one, with a somewhat patronizing tone. She is also very closed-minded in her vision of what a novel is; for example, she constantly demands on pointing out that a novel must resemble real life because otherwise people wouldn't read books. I beg to differ! It's boring to read books that resemble life too closely, and one of the reasons I read books, personally, is to get a feel of surrealism. I am curious now to read what Vandenburgh has to offer in the form of fiction.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Book Review - "Medea and Her Children"

"Medea and Her Children" by Ludmila Ulitskaya
My grade: C

I really must begin by saying that the translation of this book is quite bad. Instead of reading it in the original Russian (which I could have done), I for some reason decided to read it in English. It was quite obvious though in many places that the author was translating directly from the Russian, and the wording of certain sentences was not very 'English'-sounding.

Additionally, the original work is quite lacking. I almost feel like the author ran out of things to say, and pulled this book together out of thin air. She tells the story of about 50 different characters, who are only slightly connected with each other. Their stories are neither unique nor interesting, and one is left with this question: what is the point/message of all this? In the end, I found none.

The characters are likewise entirely undeveloped, maybe only partially because there are so many of them. Medea herself, who I guess is supposed to be the protagonist, is undeveloped. Not a single one is believable or true to himself, and not a single emotion is evoked throughout the whole thing. Even when Masha herself (here's a bit of a spoiler...) commits suicide, one only asks: who cares? My overall judgment: not worth your, or anybody's, time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Are you a writer?

Don't know if any of you writers out there have (or had) this problem: I have a hard time calling myself a writer as I am yet unpublished. Since I work as a freelance writer, I do call myself that, but the implications are completely different for 'writer' and 'freelance writer'. It never fails to amaze me, however, how many people use the term (writer, that is) so freely. Every second person I meet is a 'writer'. And I always want to ask, "What does that mean exactly?" After all, if I play tennis once a month with a friend, does that make me a tennis player? Shouldn't we be more careful with the connotations and implications these titles give off? Or are titles too overrated in our drastically-politicized world?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Search - FICTION

Is this where we search for one another, in unpaid bills and abandoned rooms? Does one's absence say more than one's presence? Are we so quick with judgement to look for flaws and silence praise?

Vacancy - FICTION

We're sitting with each other, each of us alone. I wonder how it has come to this. It was so good before, it felt so right. And now I look through vacant eyes, once my shelter. They hold nothing for me now, no promise of a distant comfort, no hint of recognition. They are just... eyes.

Book Review - "De Profundis"

"De Profundis" by Oscar Wilde
My grade: A

As the title appropriately suggests, this piece is actually quite profound. Written in the form of a letter to his lover, Wilde wrote this while he served his jail sentence for sodomy. He describes, among other things, the tremendous sorrow he feels, and the nature of sorrow itself. He likewise discusses human nature as he sees it, in both its doom and glory. While I cannot agree with everything Wilde proclaims, he has certainly provided much to think about and offered an extremely erudite well-thought-out philosophy of sorts. One thing I may agree with him on: perhaps it really does take an experience similar to imprisonment to arrive at such conclusions.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Review - "Dreams from My Father"

"Dreams from My Father" by Barack Obama
My grade: A-

I suspect that the majority of you already know, or at least could guess, that Obama is a great writer and orator. It must be noted here. His style is neither poetic nor flowery, it is straightforward but full of emotion.

This autobiography covers Obama's, and his family's, history from before he was born up till his marriage to Michelle. I was pleasantly surprised by his candidness in discussing his life and upbringing. I have a feeling that were he writing this book today, as the U.S. president, at least half of the details would be omitted. I'm glad that such an artifact remains in print, however.

While I could virtually not relate to any part of Obama's story, I nonetheless found it extremely interesting and very telling of the person he is today. I am, likewise (if I am to be honest), shocked that a person with such a background could become a U.S. president. I am positive that his worldliness, among other things, greatly adds to his competencies. (I don't really want to start a political debate here. I'm speaking in very broad terms, and looking at an overall picture).

My only critique of the book is that Obama went quite in-depth about periods of his life, which I found to be quite boring. For example, a good chunk of the book is dedicated to his work as a city organizer in Chicago, where he worked on creating and implementing city programs to better the lives of African Americans living there. And while I obviously find his work to be important, I was still bored by the amount of detail he provided pertaining to the three years of his life that he spent there.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Life - Intro (FICTION)

I see you; can you see me? It's a game we play with one another, to see who can hurt the other more. Yesterday I won, but today a policeman stands at my door, uttering incoherent apologies, and I realize, as my world crumbles around me, he has the last laugh.

(to be continued...)

Slipping Away (FICTION)

He touches me nicely. Gently. And he has no idea what he is doing to me. He has no clue what a storm of emotions he is about to unleash.

I'm lonely. I'm very lonely. And I need him. But I don't want him to know. So I suppress the tears that are forcing their way out. What would he think if he saw me crying?

I want to curl up into a ball and crawl into his shirt pocket, to lie there quietly, listen to his heart beating. I want to feel small, and sense his overwhelming greatness cover me, protect me. He kisses me all over, and he is so kind, so gentle. So the tears roll down my face.

He sees them, how can I hide? But I still try. I give him a hug, as much to feel his warmth as to cover up my face, my shame. He pulls away, and immediately I see what's on his face, I understand. I have lost him.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Review - "The Butterfly House"

"The Butterfly House" by Marcia Preston
My grade: B

I guess this novel fits into the mystery/family saga genre. And while it is a bit of a page-turner and overall captivating, it still somehow has an air of mediocrity and occasional cliches. The writing is generally good, but the story becomes predictable at one point in time, and let's not forget the happy ending. You can read it, but if you don't, that's also ok.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Book Review - "Lunch in Paris"

"Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes" by Elizabeth Bard
My grade: C+

I'm not really sure what to say about this one. It's a mediocre book, full of cliches and a misguided purpose. Like so many writers out there, you get the feeling that Bard, too, wanted to just write something rather than actually impart a message. If this is a book about Paris or Parisians, there is neither enough focus on that (for my taste) nor enough sentimentality to win the reader over. If this is a book about Elizabeth Bard, her life story simply isn't interesting or unique enough to read. And if this is a cook book, I've seen better! Lesson to be learned from this: read books that have a purpose.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book Review - "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow"

"Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow" by Peter Hoeg
My grade: B

This is a thriller/mystery novel, taking place in Denmark and Greenland, with the original version written in Danish. This is a very educational novel on a number of different levels. Firstly, I learned a lot about Danish and Greenlandic cultures, and the relationship between these two countries, which I knew nothing about. Secondly, I learned a tremendous amount about different kinds of ice and snow, and large boats. If I haven't piqued your interest quite yet, then let me also say this: it's a very-well written novel, with exceedingly interesting characters (even if it is difficult to keep track of them sometimes) and an action-packed plot. Worth a read.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Book Review - "Bloodroot"

"Bloodroot" by Amy Greene
My grade: A-

For those of you not very familiar with 'hickville' of the U.S. (such as me), this is a good introduction. This is a novel, in ways quite deep, describing what many would label as typical American, and yet, a life I neither recognize nor can relate to. It's wonderfully-written, seldom sentimental, often times piercing and shocking, yet unpretentious. I'm very curious to see what else Greene has to offer.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Review - "A Mouthful of Glass"

"A Mouthful of Glass: The Man Who Killed the Father of Apartheid" by Henk van Woerden
My grade: B

This is quite an interesting book. As the title suggests, it's a kind of biography of the man who killed Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister of South Africa and the engineer of apartheid. This is, however, a novel that is based on the real events, although not limited to them. For me, it's really hard to say where fact ends and fiction starts because I know (or knew) close to nothing about the events concerning the aforementioned time and place. This novel did offer a look into the South Africa of the day, although it would perhaps now be wise to read a more historically-true account of what actually took place.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Book Review - "All Our Worldly Goods"

"All Our Worldly Goods" by Irene Nemirovsky
My grade: B+

This is a nice novel, full of ironic hope. It spans many years, from before WWI into WWII, taking place in France. The irony is that the author herself was murdered in Auschwitz in 1942, as she was a Jew. The novel has nothing to do with that, though.

I would say it is more akin to a family saga, at times reminding me of "The Forsyte Saga" and "War and Peace". It really is a tender novel, but there is still something missing. I would have preferred a bit more emotion, and I wonder if Nemirovsky would have been able to achieve that simply by adding another 500 pages or so.

The novel is very well-written, nonetheless, and the author carries a very distinct and confident tone throughout.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review - "Her Fearful Symmetry"

"Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger
My grade: B-

This book is along the same lines as "A Time Traveler's Wife", with no fewer supernatural and unbelievable bits. Although this is described as a ghost story, it's not exactly what I understood under that description. There is a ghost in the story, but the reader is familiar with it and there is no 'spookiness' involved, essentially.

The writing, in one word, is mediocre. The characters are not very well-developed. The story is at best unbelievable, if not downright absurd (and I mean that in a bad way). I will most likely forget what this book was about in one month. But, it is a fun and fast read, tear-jerking at moments and perhaps worth the time.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Review - "Born on a Blue Day"

"Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant" by Daniel Tammet
My grade: B

As the title clearly states, this is a book about a savant, a condition that is extremely rare. This is a non-fiction work, written by the man himself, which is quite a feat all in itself. I was definitely surprised to what extent Daniel is aware of his condition and conscious of the problems it imposes (speaking about autism here).

I did feel, however, that many of the behaviors Daniel described are somewhat common to children in general, or perhaps not that odd. I don't think that he knows that, though, and get the feeling that he considers all of his behavior to be unusual. Also, as the general public has become more aware of autism and its symptoms, his behavior is that much less striking. What I was personally most interested in are his thought processes related to the savant syndrome, which he could have focused more on. Again, I believe that it is difficult for him to differentiate between normal and abnormal behaviors and attitudes, as he is virtually incapable of getting inside another person's head. Nonetheless, I see this as a major shortcoming to the book.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review - "White Oleander"

"White Oleander" by Janet Fitch
My grade: A-

This book, in many ways, is very beautiful, while being ugly at the same time. Mostly, this is a story about a girl and her mom; it makes many statements about mothers and daughters, and human relationships in general. The novel is written almost like a poem, where the author has not only a wonderful control of the reader's reaction, but is also incredibly well-read. This is a very good read, although epic I would not call it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Book Review - "desert flower"

"desert flower: the extraordinary journey of a desert nomad" by Waris Dirie
My grade: B-

For those of you who don't know who Waris Dirie is, she is a model from Somalia and a special ambassador to the United Nations. She was one of the first women to speak out about and against female circumcision, having gone through it herself at the ripe age of 5.

Her story, in many ways, truly is extraordinary. At least to me, a person who is not so familiar with Somalian/African cultures and practices. Her writing, needless to say, is not all that extraordinary, but writing a book is quite a feat in itself for a person who learned to read and write as an adult.

I was especially shocked to learn about the practices that surround female circumcision, and just how many small girls and women are affected.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Review - "The Stranger"

"The Stranger" by Albert Camus
My grade: A-

Needless to say, this winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature is among the greats. His style is somehow reminiscent of Hemingway and Kafka, and perhaps even Dostoevsky for the literary experiments he undertakes. The main character in this short novel, and in many ways the only character, is quite absurd. If he wasn't so apt at life, I would want to call him autistic, even though that was clearly not the aim of the author. His life takes on a tragic fate, due to an accidental event. His analysis, and sometimes lack of, portray a dreary image.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Book Review - "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson
My grade: C+

Probably the majority of people have at least heard of this book. For those of you who haven't, this is the first book of a thriller trilogy. Honestly, the chances that I will read the second and third are slim.

The book is written well enough. Thrillers are generally not my genre of choice, although I occasionally read one or two. This one was not definitely not my style. Firstly, the style of the author allows for the reader to discover the resolutions to the several different parallel crimes at the same time as the investigators in this book. In other words, there is no shocking tada at the end, or anywhere in the middle either. I personally don't like that much.

Additionally, one of the main 'crimes' in this novel deals with financial fraud and the likes. Larsson goes into extensive detail (for my taste) on the subject. He largely lost my interest there. I prefer thrillers to be more of a murderous nature, although murder and rape are a great part of this novel as well.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book Review - "The Half Brother"

"The Half Brother" by Lars Saabye Christensen
My grade: A+

I struggle to remember the last time I read a book of this caliber. This truly is something huge! The writing is absolutely amazing, not to mention the translation from the original Norwegian. It's inspiring and intimidating to see how much control the author has of everything novel.

It's difficult for me to say what this book is about, because it's about so many things. To oversimplify drastically, the story is that of a family and the people that surround and compose it. The narrative is extremely Scandinavian and unsentimental, in a refreshing sort of way. But the novel is much more than just this single family; it's really a statement on life. A certain kind of life, without a doubt; would leave any advanced reader, though, with questions to reflect on.

I very highly recommend this novel to those with patience. It's neither a short nor an easy book, but well worth the time and effort. Especially to the writers out there, I personally found a whole lot of inspiration and ideas in this masterpiece.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Book Review - "The Empire of Angels"

"The Empire of Angels" by Bernard Werber
My grade: D

I have to begin by saying I read this book in Russian, as there was no English translation available in all the places I looked. Now I understand why. This book is, in one word, shallow. It introduces a bunch of potentially interesting ideas, along with a whole slew of useless ones, but doesn't develop, in any sense of the word, a single one through. Some relatively-loaded opinions he casually mentions without expanding on them at all, begging the question: why bring it up at all? To simply put your opinions out there, in the form of a disconnected novel, is not really enough to either convey any sort of message nor to convince anybody of it.

Certain moments in this book are, dare I say it, ridiculously cheesy. For example, Marilyn Monroe is one of these angels, for no apparent reason whatsoever. On top of that, at some point in the novel, the angels are fighting with the lost souls in limbo in a "Care Bear Stare" sort of way. If you have every watched Care Bears, you will know what I'm talking about; the angels send really great messages of love and all things nice to overcome the 'evil' coming from the lost souls. Unless this book was written for 5-year-olds, it's hard to believe that the author actually expected to accomplish anything with it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book Review - "To the Lighthouse"

"To the Lighthouse" by Virginia Woolf
My grade: didn't finish

For some reason, I simply can't read Virginia Woolf, although I've tried again and again. I think more than anything it is her style of writing that puts me off. I wish she did more showing, and less telling. She loses me in her tales. I'm also not too keen on the fact that she skips around from one character to the next, leaving the reader with a jumble of partially-developed people in their heads.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book Review - "Raw Shark Texts"

"The Raw Shark Texts" by Steven Hall
My grade: B+

This book is conceptually very similar to Scarlett Thomas' "The End of Mr. Y" and Murakami's "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" - both excellent books, may I add (reviews of both available on my blog). For those not familiar with these works, they are in a kind of genre dealing with a world within a world, a Matrix of sorts.

Hall's writing is absolutely exceptional! Not to speak of the endless creativity. The work is very conceptual and definitely requires a lot of concentration. This is also the kind of book that requires several readings, and I'm sure I will come back to it at some point in the future. What I did find on the negative side, though, was the underlying love story at the beginning and end of this. It was a bit too sappy for me, although very cute. In general, though, I definitely recommend this book.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Review

"Absurdistan" by Gary Shteyngart
My grade: D

I'm really glad to be finally done with this book. It's rare that you read a novel that hardly evokes any emotion whatsoever, and what little feelings there are, are entirely negative.

Firstly, this book is exceedingly disgusting, grotesque, crude and unnecessarily pornographic. I hardly say or think in this direction, but the author is clearly hung up on some sort of sexual and bodily themes. The language is downright offensive, especially to those of us who understand the connotations of the Russian words he insists on using.

Secondly, the characters are completely flat. Not a single one of them is developed. Most are based on stereotypes, which is fine. The others are completely middle-of-the-lane kind of folks, entirely unbelievable in their characterizations and arouse no sympathy whatsoever. In fact, I don't think I ever cared so little about the fates of these 'people'.

Thirdly, this novel is satirical only for the sake of satire. I fail to catch some great message here. Shteyngart hasn't opened my eyes to anything at all, and hasn't even really entertained me. Most of the time, I was exceedingly bored.

Finally, I want to say that I'm not sure what a person who has little knowledge of Russian mentality and way of life, Jewish culture and the American culture can gain from this book. Here is the ideal audience: an immigrant Russian Jew, living in America. Big problem: Russian Jews living in America don't care for your story because they've got their own (and that one is probably better). The saddest part of all is that the writing, itself, is quite good. There is clear talent here. The story, though, from beginning to end, is unrefined, uninteresting and from my perspective, entirely useless.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book Review

"A Moveable Feast" by Ernest Hemingway
My grade: B+

If you like Hemingway, you must read this book. This is a series of sketches about his early days in Paris. It provides so much insight into the kind of person he was, you fall in love with him in a whole different way, and grow to understand his writing in a whole different light. I was likewise really captivated by the other writers, poets and artists Hemingway was friends with at the time, and to hear him describe them.

If you are a writer, you should read this book.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book Review

"In the Dojo: A Guide to the Rituals and Etiquette of the Japanese Martial Arts" by Dave Lowry
My grade: didn't finish

Hmmm... you're probably asking yourself the question, why did she want to read a book about that? After I started reading this book, I struggled to answer the same question myself. But then I remembered. A while back, I watched a program on National Geographic about martial arts. Its focus was on which form of martial art has the most harmful bodily effect. As I watched the program, my curiosity grew as to how these martial arts, as well as their deeply-rooted etiquette and culture, originated.

In (partially) reading this book, I realized that its focus was likewise not exactly what I'm looking for. Or perhaps, my interest in the subject is not great enough to study it so extensively? I think this is a good book for people interested in getting involved in the Japanese martial arts themselves, or those already involved. If anyone knows of a good book that addresses this subject from a sociological perspective, I'd be happy to take on recommendations.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Book Review

"Message in a Bottle" by Nicholas Sparks
My grade: F

WOW... I don't remember the last time I read writing this bad! I'm not even sure where to begin... There's one cliche after another, entirely unbelievable and flat characters, not a single emotion evoked, a lot of telling and no showing whatsoever, all wrapped in less-than-mediocre writing. The saddest part of all is not that I actually finished reading this book, but that so many of Sparks' novels have had such great 'success' and have been turned into [less-than-mediocre] movies. I find it quite depressing to know that this is what sells!

Needless to say, Sparks is not a "writer" I will be coming back to in the future.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Book Review

"The Spoils of Poynton" by Henry James
My grade: C

This book was, generally, a big disappointment. Starting with the fact that I couldn't relate to a single character and all the way to, in my opinion, an incomplete ending, I'm not sure that great writing alone could save it. This is about a story taking place in the late 1800s England, and I think it is definitely outdated.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Book Review

"The Sum of Our Days" by Isabel Allende
My grade: A-

In one word, this memoir is beautiful. Allende correctly labels her family a tribe, and she has, as the matriarch of the clan, built a very close-knit tribe, with love as the basis for all of the relationships. This is the first book I've read of hers, and I don't think this is the right one to start with. Allende has a varied portfolio, composed of several memoirs, a book dedicated to her daughter (who died at 27 years of age), a trilogy of children's book, fiction and a sensual book about love and food. If going down the memoir lane, though, it would make sense to start with her earlier work, as this one essentially starts a couple years after the death of her daughter. It is clear to see, nonetheless, that Allende is not only an interesting and unique person, but also a great writer. Her fiction is definitely on my Amazon wish list.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review

"Faust" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
My grade: A- and impossible

Firstly, let me explain my grading. I really have to separate my grades for Part I and Part II of the tragedy; as can already be deciphered, I belong to the camp that claims that each part can really stand on its own, rather than each being only one part of the whole. Therefore, my grading can be understood as so: A- for Part I, and impossible for Part II.

For those of you who don't know, "Faust" deals with the age-old tale of one man making a deal with the devil. And while the first part is relatively easy to follow, although I would argue definitely tied down to an outdated place and time, Part II deals primarily with allegories and classic mythology. To understand the second part, one definitely has to be well-versed in the mythological world, which I am not. Additionally, the second part definitely leaves the world of people, and becomes completely submersed in the world of spirits, both literally and figuratively-speaking.

What I also found very interesting in the first part is to see just to what extent Bulgakov borrowed from and was influenced by this work when composing "Master and Margarita". It would perhaps be interesting to read the two books back to back; starting with "Faust, Part I" and moving on to Bulgakov.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Review

"The Calligrapher's Daughter" by Eugenia Kim
My grade: A

Although it took me time to get into this book, the final absorption was complete and long-lasting. I cannot shake off the images and the emotions this book has unearthed. It is a beautifully-told story about a woman growing up in Korea, starting in 1915 and spanning all the way to 1945. Although mostly fiction, the story is inspired by the life of the author's mother.

The details of people's lives, described in the book, are often unbelievable and always uncustomary in our western ideals. Kim defines piety and filial respect through the actions displayed, and puts into context a life entirely removed from present-day. Aside from the actual content of the novel, Kim is an amazing storyteller and writer! Truly poetic prose, even when describing terribly gruesome circumstances.

The only thing I didn't really like about this book was the central (and important) theme of Christianity. I felt it was overdone, and yet (or perhaps especially due to the fact that) I felt like the purpose of religion here was not to sway the reader in any direction, but rather portray how important religion was in the lives of these people.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book Review

"the curious incident of the dog in the night-time" by Mark Haddon
My grade: B-

My grade is based largely on the fact that I found this book boring, which is a terrible thing for a book to be. Especially a book of this kind, which has a very interesting concept to it. This is a fiction novel, narrated by a 15-year-old autistic boy. And while his perspective, habits and way of thinking are interesting and new, the book gets old quite quickly. I somehow had the feeling that it would have more success with a younger audience, for example school-aged kids, although technically this book is aimed at adults.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Review

"Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" by Haruki Murakami
My grade: A

It will come as no surprise to those of you familiar with Murakami's work when I say that he is somehow not of this world. And I mean that in a good way. I am not aware of another writer, who is better capable of creating such an outrageous world, with such conviction, profoundness and confidence. This is definitely a writer, from whom much can be learned, both about writing and life.

In some ways, this novel reminds me of "The End of Mr. Y". Both deal with a second reality lair inside people's heads and call forth knowledge of physics that is beyond me. Nonetheless, this was a very interesting book, to say the least and well worth the effort.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book Review

"The Geography of Bliss" by Eric Weiner
My grade: B

This is the true story of one man's quest for happiness. He takes you on a canny, and mostly amusing, tour of the world, as he seeks to find what makes some cultures happy and others just the opposite. He provides interesting, and often funny, insights into different peoples and their land.

In general, though, I would say this wasn't much of an eye opener for me. It's true, I wasn't exactly struggling with my unhappiness; I firmly believe I know where it comes from, and have it in grip (I firmly believe that). I found it interesting, nonetheless, to meet some of these cultures from Weiner's perspective, and will perhaps take a lesson or two from his conclusions.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Book Review

"Flying Leap: Stories" by Judy Budnitz
My grade: A-

This is a compilation of short stories, some of which are absolutely amazing. Budnitz seems to have a fascination with starting with something common and normal, and slowly (or sometimes quickly) warping it into something outrageous. She occasionally touches on something so profound, so fundamental, before leaping away from it, I would really love to read a deeper analysis (from her) on some of these topics. A very good read.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Book Review

"On the Road" by Jack Kerouac
My grade: C

Generally, I have to say this book is well-written. But good writing alone doesn't equal worthwhile reading. This novel makes no point whatsoever; at least, I didn't get one. It describes an America of the 40s, which is entirely unrecognizable to me, although perhaps nonetheless accurate. There is a huge lack of morality in virtually all of the events that take place, although the author seems to neither praise nor judge it, nor really comment on it one way or another. Additionally, due to the repetitiveness of the events, the book gets quite boring at some point, and getting through it became a feat of its own for me.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Book Review

"Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall" by Anna Funder
My grade: B

As a lot of you probably guessed, this book is about East Germany, and what took place there. Funder is a reporter, and carries out various investigations into the goings on of the GDR, obviously after the fall of the wall. She definitely provides a clear and honest lens into yet another dark time in Germany, and if you are not much familiar with what took place east of the wall, this is a good book to read.

Having said that, two things were lacking in this book for me, and technically they are tied in together. Probably due to Funder's journalistic background, she often times in the book doesn't make a statement and doesn't take sides, when I wish she would. Likewise, her reporting is often just that, reporting; I'm missing some emotion, although I wouldn't say this book is void of that altogether.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Book Review

"A Year in the Merde" by Stephen Clarke
My grade: A-

This book is very funny, at (many) moments laugh-out-loud hilarious. It is about a British guy, living and working in Paris for a year. He has an excellent sense of humor! Clarke seems to capture a lot of the essence of the French culture, among others. Needless to say, he makes A LOT of exaggerations, but there are many truths in the book, as well. If nothing else, it's a fun fast-read.

I do have to mention, though, that I liked the book at the beginning much more than I did as I kept reading it. I was asking myself why. I think my problem with it, is that as I got to know the main character, Paul (not sure why he goes by Paul, if the author's name is Stephen), I liked him less and less. I'm afraid his sense of humor doesn't even come close to compensating for many other negative qualities, but that shouldn't necessarily take away from the enjoyment of reading the book. We don't have to live with the guy!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review

"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak
My grade: B

When I bought this book, I didn't exactly know (or perhaps I have forgotten in the meantime) that this was another Holocaust novel. As probably the majority of us out there, I have read way too many of these, especially lately, and wasn't too keen on divulging into another one. And rightfully so: this book (as ALL Holocaust books) is not for the light of heart.

Aside from the story line, which I'm sure you at least have an idea of, stylistic twists are likewise present. In my opinion, though, they do not live up to their full potential. This novel is narrated by death itself - I love the concept - but Zusak doesn't take advantage of this fully. Most of the time, the reader forgets that death has anything to do with this, and the narrator could be absolutely anybody - fly on the wall, third-person omniscient, my grandmother. Likewise, Zusak tries to give death a kind of personality, and in my opinion fails. He doesn't stay true to character (death, I mean) and in the end, is by and large a flop.

Additionally, what I think Zusak tries to do is poke fun at, essentially, thrillers and working up the tension in novels, in general. I had a huge problem with this: a novel such as this, a Holocaust novel, is no place to poke fun at anything, really. One can definitely sense Zusak's attempt at lightheartedness, especially in the beginning, and his sense of humor, but I wish he had chosen a different subject, then, to display all of his talents.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Let the blog tour begin!

I am honored to have the opportunity to host a blog tour for the very smart and unique novel, "Resolution 786", written by Mohamed Mughal. Mohamed will be 'joining' us for the next three days, where he will answer up to three questions posted by you, the readers, about the novel and his writing approaches. As promised, the first person to post a question receives a free autographed copy of the book.

I'm very excited to have some thought-provoking discussions, and see what new light Mohamed can shed on his literary works and ways!

I hereby declare the blog tour open.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review

"The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls
My grade: A-

This is quite a memoir, of a life that is definitely not common. It's amazing what kind of circumstances Jeannette and her siblings grew up in, and still turned out decent. The parents are also quite extraordinary people. On the one hand, they are criminals for what they put their children through and the criminal activity they occasionally engaged in. On the other hand, though, they also have some redeeming qualities to them, especially the father, making it impossible to completely hate them.

I was at first really put off by the lack of emotion that seems to be Walls' style. Throughout the novel, though, I found that it was in fact quite emotional and powerful, in her own way. Walls is who she is, after the life that she has lived.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Review

"American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis
My grade: F

First off, let me say that I did not, and could not, finish this book. I struggled through the first 200 pages, wanting to give up on it almost everyday. This book is ridiculously vulgar, disgusting, violent, cruel and sadistic. I kept waiting for a reason for all of this to be revealed - and perhaps it is at some point - but not in the first 200 pages. I could not bring myself to read the remaining 200.

In general, I found no trace of this being 'an excellent novel' or addressing 'Dostoevskian themes'. In fact, I resent the fact that Dostoevsky's name is mentioned on the back cover of this book. Ellis describes a world I have never seen a trace of, and am not sure I can believe in. His characters are pointless, and if the message was that people are superficial and crazy, I would have preferred both better writing and a better plot.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Resolution 786" Blog Tour

Dear fans and readers,

Want a free book signed by the author?

I’m excited about hosting an international blog book tour for Resolution 786. American author, Mohamed Mughal, will be joining our blog from 21-23 March 2010 to answer questions about his novel and about his approach to writing. Mohamed will answer up to three questions from blog visitors during the dates noted above. The first visitor to ask a question receives a free signed copy of Resolution 786!

You can read more about the novel and the author in the interview posted at http://www.harfordneighbors.net/index.php?section=1&subtype=136&id=2732 .

Remember, this is an international book tour so if you miss Mohamed on my blog, you can still catch him in the U.K. or the U.S. at:

22-24 March 2010, “Not-quite-a-blog” by Imran Ahmad, United Kingdom, http://unimagined.typepad.com/unimagined/ 

23-25 March 2010, “Another Writer’s Life” by Austin Camacho, United States, http://ascamacho.blogspot.com

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book Review

"The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" by Max Weber
My grade: didn't finish

This is a book that was recommended to me by a professor in my MBA program. Contrary to what the back cover claims, though, I do not think every informed citizen would want to read this book. I found it to be too much of a textbook to be accessible to the masses. The language is very dry and boring, and I had a tough time focusing on the ideas being presented.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Book Review

"The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold
My grade: A-

As I'm sure everyone knows by now, due to the hype of this book and it being made into a movie currently out in theaters, this is a novel narrated by a dead 14-year-old girl. For those who know me well, this type of creativity alone ranks high in my book. Putting that aside, though, this is a well-written, interesting and thoughtful novel, which slowly becomes less of a thriller and more about life.

I do have a couple of criticisms of this book, nonetheless. Firstly, it is a bit romantic for my taste, and I don't mean in the traditional sense, although there are a couple of love stories. But I am referring mostly to the all-too-philosophical wrap-up of the novel. I wish Sebold made an even greater statement with it; is it conviction that is missing?

Also, Sebold touches on a very sensitive subject, which has become quite popular in literature nowadays (joining Jodi Picoult and Jacquelyn Mitchard, to name a couple): women deserting their families in their struggle with traditional feminine roles. While this is potentially a subject of interest to me, and something that I, as a woman, think about all the time (role of women in society - not leaving my family), I have yet to find a compelling argument in fiction. Feel free to recommend a book in that department, if you know of one.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review

"The Beans of Egypt, Maine" by Carolyn Chute
My grade: B-

This is an interesting book, mainly about the very poor and uneducated Bean family. There is definitely talent here, but just like the author has said, this work feels unfinished. Perhaps my problem with it is that the author is clearly and profoundly of a much higher class than the Bean family itself. Their overly simplistic ways of life have already been interpreted and are not exactly presented in an 'unbiased' manner, if a writer is ever unbiased. Chute was definitely trying to defend, and perhaps explain, the Beans' way of life, but she has presented it in such a complex way, that the message is often lost. This book would send a much stronger message, in my opinion, if Chute had let the Beans do more of the telling.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review

"Seven Notebooks of Life"* by Tonino Guerra
My grade: didn't finish

This book is a compilation of very short stories and poems of Guerra, who is, I guess, known mostly for the films he has made. The works are definitely not bad, but they are very neutral to me. The stories are those of his life, short snippets from here and there. Perhaps one has to really be attached to the cities/famous people he is writing about, but I personally found it hard to focus on a story that is half a page long. The writing is good, but not really exemplary. I know nothing of Guerra's films.

* I read this book in Russian, and the title given here is a direct translation from the Russian one. This is, however, a compilation of short works, a sample of which could be taken from any other compilation of short works by Guerra.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Review

"Child 44" by Tom Rob Smith
My grade: A

The saddest part of this book is that it depicts a reality that by and large was true, based on everything we now know, and what I know to be true from my parents, grandparents and their friends. This is a story of the life in Soviet Union, particularly during Stalin times. It is mostly a story of fear; but also of defeat, sadness, integrity and sadly, life. Since I have begun reading this book, I have not been able to stop thinking about it. What a terrible fate for millions and millions of people.

I wonder what sense this book makes for people who have no connection whatsoever to the USSR. Your opinions, and anyone's for that matter, are most welcome here. Perhaps it will not make an impact on you as it has on me. I would liken the utter gruesomeness one confronts in this book to the one found in McCarthy's "The Road", although this novel is completely different.

If I were capable of looking at this book unbiasedly, I would comment on the successful, but apparent, attempt at a page-turner and the somewhat absurd plot development towards the end, but since I'm not, I'll just say it's worth your time. This is a book, and a feeling, that will stay with me for some time.

Big brother, this is one for you!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book Review

"The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand
My grade: A-

This is one large project of a book, just to read, nevermind to write. If you don't love literature, don't even attempt to read this novel; you will not succeed. It is incredibly dense and complex, and probably some of the best writing I have ever seen - or, at least, comparable to the best. My only criticism of the writing itself is in the rather predictable and sappy ending, when plot definitely kept me on my toes.

Ayn Rand presents here her unique philosophy, objectivism. She introduces her concept of the ideal man. She has not convinced me of either. Firstly, I would argue that the ideal man is feasible to Rand only because he doesn't actually exist and in her world, there is only one such man. If the world were infested with Howard Roarks, Rand's main man, they would no longer seem all that ideal. In fact, I think most would agree that such a world is not possible. Rand's argument would have been more convincing if she placed Roark in a society full of others just like him and shown how well, if at all, such a society would function, and if a set of each-man-for-himselfs could even be labeled as a society.

Secondly, I believe Rand's argument flies out the window if one is to consider parenthood seriously. I think the majority of people who have children have felt at one point or another what it is like to put him/herself second. It comes as no surprise to me that Rand herself didn't have any children. To proclaim that the proper life philosophy is to pursue one's own happiness at any cost and to serve one's own ego goes against the basic animal instinct to reproduce, an instinct Rand seems to have been missing (ignoring?).

Having said that, I have to admit that I agree with Rand on a number of things. I, too, believe that each man should have the capacity to think for himself and not be led by the opinion of other people, but what to do with people who are lacking in this capacity? Likewise, I agree with her concept of personal integrity, and being able to face yourself in the mirror, although she is far from the first or last writer to focus on this subject.

In general, I believe Rand was a genius of a kind. Were she not, she would have been unable to write this novel, speaking from a literary perspective. I'm not sure how good she is at philosophizing though, mostly because I don't think her theory could hold in the real world.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Book Review

"Rosie" by Anne Lamott
My grade: C

Built largely around cliches and 'what-you-would-expect' scenarios, this novel is neither talented nor new. The story has potential, but the mediocre writing and the characters' unbelievability make for a neutral read at best. It's definitely a fast read, but I'm not sure anything is gained in reading it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book Review

"The Dying Animal" by Philip Roth
My grade: B-

I have very mixed feelings about this book. As one critic put it, I would definitely agree that it's disturbing, but I'm not sure about the masterpiece part. This short novel in many ways is an analysis of the primitive and instinctual man, which in itself has huge potential. However, the overabundance of vulgarity, crudeness and bad taste take away from it to such an extent that I considered giving up on the book several times. There are, nonetheless, nice and smart moments, compelling the reader to continue. And there is both a point and a statement, although I'm not sure that Roth's arguments are so convincing one way or another.

There was a movie made based on the book, staring Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley: "Elegy". The movie follows the book quite closely, although a lot of the vulgarity is definitely (and thankfully) omitted.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review

"Resolution 786: A Novel in Three Acts Telling Cuneiform Tales of Love and War and God and Lust and Loss" by Mohamed Mughal
My grade: A+

This is in many ways one of the most intelligent, and daring, books I have read in a long time. The concept alone - putting the Lord on trial - deserves an A for sheer creativity. What I appreciate most about this novel is that it assumes a smart and knowledgeable reader, one who will read actively. If you are not familiar with the Bible, however, many of the allusions and references will be lost on you.

While one of the central characters in this book is God himself, I would not call this a religious book. Rather, I think it is much more humanistic in both its form and goal. I also don't think you necessarily have to be a believer in order to appreciate its beauty. Beware though: while it reads like a fast-read, it is everything but that. This novel has many layers to it, both heartfelt and grotesque, making it quite genius.

Stay tuned for more information about a virtual blog tour with Mohamed Mughal, to take place in March. You will have the opportunity to voice your questions to the author, and get direct replies from him.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book Review

"Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy" by William Barrett
My grade: B+

I will admit straight out, I did not finish this book. But, it wasn't because I didn't find it interesting or well-written. In fact, the only negative thing I have to say about it is that my interest in existential philosophy expired before the book did (which says more about me than either the book or the author). I think this is a book I will come back to in the future, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about existentialism. I am judging, however, from the perspective of a layman rather than a philosopher.