Friday, December 2, 2011

Book review - "Up in the Air"

"Up in the Air" by Walter Kirn
My grade: B

I presume many will already know what this book is about as it was made into a movie. For those of you who don't, here's a brief synopsis: the hero fires people for a living and his main objective (and in many ways only) is to earn 1 million miles as a frequent flyer. It becomes a sick obsession of his, even though he has no idea what he will do with the miles. But he desperately needs a goal to cling onto, because his world (and life) is otherwise empty.

 It is a sarcastic take on a certain class of business professionals and America, painting a rather glum and pathetic picture. Aside from the sometime overdone jargon, the book is mostly entertaining and largely depressive. Worth the read, though.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Book Review - "The Pillars of the Earth"

"The Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett
My grade: A

This really is one colossal novel. Taking place in the 12th Century, the action revolves around the building of a cathedral in England, although it isn't necessarily about that. More poignant (at least, for me) were the details of the uncivilized and unstructured ways of life, the mindsets of the people and the peak into a world that is so unfamiliar to our own. Those with an interest in history will really appreciate this book! It is very well-written and is highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book review - "Horns"

"Horns" by Joe Hill
My grade: C-

I'm not much of a tree hugger, but this novel is nothing short of a complete waste of perfectly good paper! The writing is lousy at its best, full of cliches, flat characters and poorly chosen words. The story itself, which initially seemed to have some potential, came completely undone quite early on; and as much as I had hoped, there ultimately came no redemption. Don't waste your time, or your money, on this!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book review - "The Collector"

"The Collector" by John Fowles
My grade: A-

This is an incredibly disturbing novel! I had to say that straight off the bat. It's disturbing and difficult to read in the same way as "Lolita", and probably, even more so. It is, often, quite sick! But very well-written.

The story is that of a butterfly collector, although that plays no crucial role. Mostly, he is a psychologically ill man, and the story is that of his demise. He convinces himself that he is in love with a girl, someone he barely even knows the name of. And in his obsession with her, he kidnaps her in an effort to make her fall in love with him and live a normal life together with him.

I don't know if Fowles was writing in a time that is much different than ours today; my guess is he was. The relevance that a novel of this nature has to current events is striking; and yet, one thinks that Fowles would have done and said so many things differently had he (in his mind) not been writing about a removed, hard-to-imagine scenario. The scenario is, sadly, imaginable, although entirely not understandable. And Fowles neither sheds light on the psychology of such an individual, nor arouses an ounce of pity for the protagonist. But yet, the novel is a page-turner!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review - "cloud atlas"

"cloud atlas" by David Mitchell
My grade: B+

This is a very interesting book indeed. It is broken up into different pieces of writing - letters, diary entries, traditional narration, etc. - told from the perspective of different people, living in various times, in various parts of the world. The pieces are initially seemingly unconnected, but slowly begin to come together; at least, in theory. In my opinion, it is a mere formality that joins the pieces to one another, and I failed to catch a single meaning or message from the book as a whole, although it was clearly intended as such. It, nonetheless, remains a very interesting and worthwhile read, excellently-written.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review - "Water for Elephants"

"Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen
My grade: A-

For those of you who don't know what this book, or the movie that's based on this book, is about, here's a quick synopsis: the times are the 1930s, in middle America, and everything that comes with it - Depression, Prohibition, etc. The setting: a train-traveling circus. The plot: a kind of love story.

Gruen does a great job of capturing the time and place, and mentality of the people. She really took me there. The story, generally, is very well-written, but not altogether important. The ending, unfortunately, is rushed and unrealistic; it just seems like a wrap-up only for the sake of wrapping up. It's likewise a bit too idealistic and romantic for my taste, considering also that the tone through most of the book was everything but.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Review - "Wives and Daughters"

"Wives and Daughters" by Elizabeth Gaskell
My grade: A

As the name suggests, this is definitely women's literature. The genre is that of "The Forsyte Saga", although in my opinion, this novel is even better. It is a classic English family saga, taking place in the early 1800s. The unfortunate part of this novel is that the author died prior to finishing the last chapter. Her editor included a note at the end, describing how the novel should have ended based on what had been known from the author herself. It is very unfortunate, nonetheless, that the author was unable to finish the novel herself, with her beautiful style of writing. Despite that, it is still worth a read.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review - "The Ask"

"The Ask" by Sam Lipsyte
My grade: C+

Hmmm... I'm not sure what to say about this book. I finished reading it two days ago, and have already forgotten the character names and most of the plot. I think it's because there wasn't much to either. It's a mediocre book, in a genre full of such tales; corporate America, average Joe, pointless life, etc. I often come back to this subject, but it's only because I find it crucial to any successful novel: the protagonist has to either be loved by the reader or hated, or at the very least, be an incredibly interesting persona. If he is just an average Joe, and not very likable at that, you're going to have a tough time winning the reader over. Lipsyte, in my opinion, failed at that. There is no message here, no interesting insight, no wonderful plot; by and large, there's nothing outstanding about this novel, it's simply incredibly mediocre.

Book Review - "The Great Wall of China"

"The Great Wall of China and Other Short Works" by Franz Kafka
My grade: A-

This collection makes me incredibly sad, because Kafka didn't publish anything during his lifetime and even left orders for his friend and literary mentor to destroy all of his writing after his death. That friend, in turn, published his works, much to my appreciation. Some of the stories in this collection are absolutely amazing and very inspirational (from a writer's perspective). All of them, however, are unfinished, often to my great dismay. It was extremely aggravating at times to be left mid-thought, and I was angry at Kafka for leaving it at that. Nonetheless, he was obviously an extremely talented writer and this collection is worth the read!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book Review - "Suite Francaise"

"Suite Francaise" by Irene Nemirovsky
My grade: didn't finish

Not that there is too much hype over it, but whatever little hype there is over this novel, it is entirely lost on me. This is the second Nemirovsky book that I read (or attempted to read), and although I found the other one to be mediocre at best, it was still manageable. I found "Suite Francaise", on the other hand, to be unbelievably boring, which in itself is quite a feat considering that all of the action takes place during WWII. She does a lot of stating and scene depiction, but there is little emotion in all of it. She seems to be quite a detached observer, so much so that the reader doesn't even get a hint of any emotion.

Nemirovsky was writing the book during the war itself and perhaps at that time, there were few, if any, novels about the subject matter. But today, there are countless novels on this subject, and Nemirovsky's is probably the least poignant account that I have ever read.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Review - "The Green Mile"

"The Green Mile" by Stephen King
My grade: A+

In one word, this novel is superb! Truly and honestly outstanding!! This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I have actually not seen the movie; at least, not in its entirety. I had only seen bits and pieces, remembering only Tom Hanks, a jail, and a big black man with kind eyes. Needless to say, the novel overshot all of my expectations and forthcomings.

From the technical perspective, I found not a single flaw in the writing. Definitely a new-found respect for King! Not only does he have an excellent command of the language in written form (which is the only form I can judge), but his application of it is simply amazing and awe-inspiring.

As to the actual content, it is no less impressive than the writing style! He tells a horrible story, but one that is very believable. The narrator is a man in his 100's, and it really is wonderful how King captured his voice so well (although King himself was only 49 at the time of publication): one of wisdom and old decrepit age. The story is likewise told in a very humanitarian way, with a lack of politics (from the narrator himself); I find this also to be very age-appropriate (coming from my 28 years).

I regret that I cannot compare the novel with the movie, but I cannot help but feel that no movie could every do this work justice! I don't think I have it in me to watch the film, knowing what happens in the end and throughout, but I recommend the book to everyone.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Book Review - "The Men Who Stare at Goats"

"The Men Who Stare at Goats" by Jon Ronson
My grade: B+

I'm sure a lot of you have heard of the movie, by the same name, which is based on the book. I have personally not seen the movie, but enjoyed the book (in a kind of way). For those of you entirely unfamiliar, this book is about special agent units within the U.S. army, who have supernatural inclinations. The army attempted, and according to this book, still continues to use supernatural means to fight the enemy and attain information from them (through special types of torture). I found the book quite interesting because I was previously unaware of such tendencies within the army. It is, however, rather disturbing at times, particularly when torture is the subject.

Although the writing is clear in itself, somehow the structure of the book is confusing (if not altogether lacking). I was completely lost during parts of the book and couldn't remember all of the different 'characters' that appeared and disappeared throughout. Overall, a good read though.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Review - "The Hand That First Held Mine"

"The Hand That First Held Mine" by Maggie O'Farrell
My grade: B

This novel is definitely chick lit, with the concept of motherhood at its core. It's a decent story, although badly written at times, and ultimately, not very believable. Firstly, what is meant to be a twist at the end isn't much of one; the reader sees it coming. Secondly, the whole thing is about three notches too farfetched. And finally, O'Farrell didn't succeed in evoking the England of the 1950s and 60s, the setting of one side of the book.

There are some nice moments of the novel, though. And at some points, she really seems to capture the essence of motherhood beautifully, but loses the moment soon after. It would be interesting to see some of her writing in ten years or so.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review - "The Collected Stories"

"The Collected Stories" by Grace Paley
My grade: B

To begin with, I'd like to say that I didn't finish this collection; I simply couldn't! Not because the writing is bad, though. In fact, I found the stories to be written really well, and I do like Paley's style. But, mostly I found the stories to be completely outdated. I couldn't relate to them at all. As opposed to long-length novels, which can reinvent a world and give you their own confines of it, short stories either have to work with a world that people know or (very) briefly define the world. As Paley doesn't do much definition, my guess is that she wrote in a very different time and place. Her world and her struggles are, at least partially, lost on me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review - "invisible"

"invisible" by Paul Auster
My grade: A-

I have to say, this novel started out for me much more promising than it ended (although I'm not entirely disappointed). The writing is superb in itself, but the voice remains the same throughout, even though there are several narrators. For this reason, together with too much telling and not enough showing, the characters don't fully come to life.

The ending, for me, leaves much too many questions in the air and suddenly introduces new twists in a novel that is, technically, not a mystery. There is also quite a large piece about incestuous love, which to be honest, was harder to swallow than Naboko'v "Lolita". And it remains unclear to me what purpose it really served. Finally, I'm not really sure what the title is really referring to, as invisibility doesn't play a central role in this novel; unless, I missed something big.

Despite having said all of that, it was still a good read with a well-developed plot. It reads very fast, and left me thinking about how the story would develop. I will definitely read more books from Auster.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Book Review - "The Forest for the Trees"

"The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers" by Betsy Lerner
My grade: A

If you're a writer or an aspiring writer, you should read this book. I found it mostly excellent! It provides a lot of insight into the world of books, writing and publishing. It is written by an editor-turned-agent, as opposed to a writer, which provides a different perspective. It answered a lot of questions for me regarding publishing and the process of it. Lerner also brings up a lot of books and authors, and offers interesting quips from their lives/publishing experiences.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review - "The Corrections"

"The Corrections" by Jonathan Franzen
My grade: C

In one word, this novel is disappointing. So much hype over nothing! It's a long story, that doesn't end in a significantly different place than it started out. The characters are entirely unbelievable and flat. The writing is mediocre at its best. And the only emotion I felt at any point while reading this novel was boredom. In general, a waste of time.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Book Review - "nice big american baby"

"nice big american baby" by Judy Budnitz
My grade: B+

My relationship with Judy (yes, I'm on a first-name basis!) is not simple. After reading, and loving, "The Flying Leap", I thought: those are exactly the kind of stories I want to write! And needless to say, Judy became a kind of hero for me, a writer I really looked up to. As often happens in situations like this, though, I'm somewhat disappointed. What I really liked about Judy before is that she took something normal, and slowly went into the absurd with it. And she did it so nonchalantly, that we weren't even sure at what point the change took place. Some of the same can be found in this book, except Judy bypasses the absurd, and goes straight for the abstract. In my opinion, she went one notch too far.

Aside from that, I found the writing too raw in some points. Really, unpardonably raw. My favorite stories, nonetheless, remain the first one, "nice big american baby" and "preparedness". I likewise have to say that Judy has an incredible depth of creativity, and I would definitely read another book of hers, especially short stories.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Book Review - "Everything is Illuminated"

"Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer
My grade: A-

I'm not really sure where to begin with this.

This, to me, is the epitome of modern literature. I think books in the future will always be written like this. It is amazing, and abstract, on a number of different levels. But remains, at the same time, very much tied down to this earth and to the past century. Foer utilizes a very interesting style of writing, and one that I have not previously encountered: he essentially has two narrators, telling more or less the same story, each from his perspective, and the story continues to evolve as they write letters to one another, in this way actually revealing important parts of the whole.

The book is hilarious in parts, even laugh-out-loud funny. Foer's main punching bags are Jews and Ukrainians, more so the former than the latter. I would even contend that this book would be difficult to understand for a person who is not at all familiar with these cultures and the histories of these peoples.

I have several big problems with this novel, though (isn't that always the case?). I'm a bit upset that Foer brought the Holocaust into this. The tone of the novel is changed dramatically when it becomes mostly a Holocaust story, and I'm not sure that I can reconcile the beginning tone with the end. Nor do I see it as entirely fitting or appropriate. I understand the message he was trying to make, but I think he overdid it by bringing in a subject that is so loaded. Perhaps he could have sent the same message using a less tragic event? Not sure about that. But then the tone and the people and the lives he describes need to somehow fit more into their fates and the events that ultimately unfold. His ultimate message about Jews is lost on me; does he have one?

I likewise found the ending unconvincing. I don't want to go into too much detail because I don't want to spoil the book for those who haven't read it yet. But I have a philosophical problem here. I wholeheartedly disagree with the author on the premises he builds his ending around. If one disagrees with that notion, the power of one important character, along with the whole message of the book, is largely jeopardized. Foer didn't exactly convince me throughout the novel of this point.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Book Review - "The Tartar Steppe"

"The Tartar Steppe" by Dino Buzzati
My grade: C

This is the Seinfeld of books, except a lot less entertaining, and never funny. It is a book about nothing, where essentially nothing happens. On top of that, the nothing happens in a very very boring way! Alright, perhaps I'm being a bit unfair. The book is not exactly about nothing; it does have a message, but one we've all heard a billion times. The message is: don't live waiting for great events to happen in the future, but live in the moment, live today. There, I just summed up the whole book in less than 20 words. Why did the author need 265 pages?

Here's my general perspective, especially fitting to this novel: if you don't have anything unique to say but want to say it anyway, say it quickly. For example, write a short story (and by that, I mean really short). If you insist on writing a longer narrative, without a huge meaning in there somewhere, you're going to have to incorporate some literary maneuvers. For example, give us a plot. Or give us great characters. Or, at the very minimum, tell the story in a captivating manner. Just throwing words on paper, in a generally inoffensive manner, is simply not going to cut it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Not Living (FICTION)

He's neither living nor dying. He's just floating in a space that's not quite here, and not quite there yet either. What's the point of this, I imagine him asking himself somewhere deep in his subconscious, and I can't help but wonder the same thing myself. What is the point of life if you can't live? Why does he continue to hang on, what is he clinging to?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Review - "Open"

"Open: An Autobiography" by Andre Agassi
My grade: B+

For all you tennis fans (particularly Agassi fans) out there, this is definitely an interesting read, with a lot of insight into the professional tennis world, and more specifically, the Agassi world. Can't say very much more than that about it; this is probably not the kind of book that will change your life. Oddly, though, I have to say that I somehow like Agassi a little less after reading it; somewhere in the process of learning who he really is, I lost some respect. I especially didn't like him using the book to fire some cheap shots at his opponents - i.e., Pete Sampras, Brooke Shields - and portraying people from an obviously-subjective perspective without crediting the subjectivity. If you ask me, Agassi still has some more growing to do.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Human Worth (FICTION)

With my death, how many families will be shattered? Let me count. There will, of course, be my parents. That's one. My husband will too be a bit sad. He's young and good-looking, though, so there is every reason to believe that he will soon recover and remarry. God only knows what kind of a wife he's going to bring home to my children and what she will raise out of them. That's two, three and four. There is also my dog. Oh sure, in the beginning, someone or other will think tenderly of me and walk him for my sake or throw him a bone. But in the end, all sentiment will run out. That's five.

On the corner of my street, there is a small bakery. The shop is owned by a lovely elderly couple, Joe and Fran. Their children are horrible scum, who deserted their parents in old age. I help where I can, including watching the shop for them on the weekends, buying groceries and odd jobs around the house. That's six.

I work in an office, the same office I've worked in for fifteen years. My boss doesn't remember my name - I won't put him on the list. But I've got a co-worker, Becky, my friend. She's a mess of a person, going through her fourth divorce. She's got five kids, all from different men, three cats, a snake and a parakeet. I help keep her feet on the ground, knock some sense into her now and again. That's seven.

I've got an ex-boyfriend, Dan, hanging around. We dated back in high school, for three weeks. It was nothing special, but Dan fell in love, and can't seem to fall out. He knows that I'm married, but he comes by on birthdays and special events with a bouquet of flowers. My presence sustains him. That's eight.

Everyday, as I walk to work, I smile at people I pass by. Often, they smile back. I like to think I've made their day somehow better, their lives a bit happier. There are countless of people there, not to mention all of the potential to meet more in the future. Those are the people, the families, that will be shattered if I die. That is the price of one human life. Are you sure you want to have that on your hands?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Book Review - "A Thousand Splendid Suns"

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini
My grade: A

For those of you familiar with Hosseini's previous work, "The Kite Runner", I am happy to report that this novel complements the first. If the former is a view of Afghanistan through a man's eyes, the latter is a similar story in a similar time, told by two women, whose fates intertwine. It is not so much political as it is humanistic; not so much intelligent as it is real. It's incredibly sad and moving, so much more so because it describes an atrocious world - one that exists today. It brings to light particularly the struggles women in Afghanistan faced in recent history, up to the present day. It is a work of fiction, but I'm sure, sadly, that it tells the story of many women. Hosseini poignantly accomplishes his aims: to portray war, barbarity and (racial/gender-based) inequality so commonplace in his home country, and to evoke compassion and understanding for a culture/religion knee-deep in human atrocities.