Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Geniusness.

Long-time followers of my blog should know by now that I love Edwidge Danticat. Her work is lyrical, powerful, original and it says something. Well. Now she's also apparently a genius. She's won a MacArthur grant genius award. Good for her!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Quiet beauty

Wow, I couldn't put it down once I got past that middle section. I flew through the rest of the stories, and while none of them alone hit me the way that "Winter Concert" one did, the book as a whole was heartbreaking and beautiful, an amazing meditation on love and aging and forgiveness and life. I think as a young person reading this, I was taken to a place of understanding, of compassion, like a world that I have yet to encounter, a life I have yet to live, was revealed to me -- I can't imagine what it might be like to be an older person reading this. Strout has done an outstanding job of painting a complete picture of a town and a family in episodic form. My heart breaks for Henry, and even for Olive, who is fatally flawed in so many ways, but trying the best she can to do what she thinks is right.

The book explores so many themes, but ultimately, I think the lesson can be summed up by this section which comes on the last page of the book:

What young people didn't know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that got passed around again. No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn't choose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.
--[Olive Kitteridge, pg. 270]


It's hard for me to put into words the way this book moved me, but it did. I guess that's the only thing I can really say about it. It moved me.

Well-deserving of the Pulitzer Prize, and the best book I've read all year.

A history revealed

I'm about halfway through Olive Kitteridge and I love it. The stories are all so quietly moving, illustrating these relationships and small currents of change that run through them. I wanted to write here though, because I just finished "Winter Concert", which is by far my favorite so far.

The picture of an elderly couple is painted with such care and tenderness. A lifetime together has made the two of them comfortable in their place with each other, augmented by the awareness of their mortality. It's a sweet picture, but what makes the story so remarkable is how a blip can come at them in the midst of all this, tilting this world that they've fought to have a little bit on its axis, reminding us that this kind of place doesn't exist without hardwork and years of trials. It's a won effort. And even though it isn't easily dismantled, nonetheless, it doesn't make them immune to hurt. An entire history of a time when their relationship wasn't so easy and wasn't so perfect and beautiful is encapsulated in this moment, this revealed past. Names aren't named, but we get a sense of what must have been a rough period in their lives together, something they've had to get through to be where they are now. The anguish it must have caused them at the time. There is nothing as poignant as the moment where he says, "Oh, Janie... I've made you so sad." (pg. 138). It is a line that is so full of sorrow in a world that has been so beautiful and perfect up until now, and you get the sense that he has tried so hard to make her happy to atone for past mistakes, to love her, and that this moment where he has disappointed her is a regret he can't abide by.

I loved this story. Truly, truly loved it. It made my heart ache from it's beauty. Loving the rest of the book too, but this was my favorite thus far.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Busyness makes one want brain candy

I've been busy for the past few weeks with settling into school. I'm at a new program that fulfills everything I've wanted in an MFA - intellectually, creatively, socially, supportively. However, with that has come a lot of work and a lot of stuff to think about in terms of my writing. Because of this, since I last devoured Jacqueline Carey's silly fantasy novel, I haven't bothered to pick up something new. Mostly because I'm slammed with work and don't want to start something that will suck me in when I should be doing homework (although in its place, I spend amazing amounts of time on facebook, hulu, useless blogs and managing my fantasy team), and also because I can't decide if I want something that will be brainless and fun to counter the literature I'm going to have to read, or if I want to read something that might help my writing, which sorta makes me feel like I'm always doing homework in a weird way. I came to this program to be immersed in the art of writing 90% of the time -- so is it ironic that part of me wants my pleasure reading to simply be pleasure? And by that, I mean, reading stuff that won't have me constantly be thinking about how I can integrate this into my own writing. But then again, I'm guessing there's nothing I'd read where I could turn that part of my brain off. Even if I decided to pick up The Lost Symbol, I'd be looking at how Dan Brown is so effective at creating cliffhangers (and thus an entire civilization willing to turn the page to his next two paragraph chapter).

I digress. Ultimately, thanks to a suggestion by Moonie, I've picked up Olive Kitteridge. I'm not sure if this is supposed to fall under linked stories, short stories or a novel, but I have high hopes for the Pulitzer winner.

So off I go to read one story before I sleep for tonight.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More from the author of Time Traveler's Wife

Audrey Niffenegger's new book, Her Fearful Symmetry, is coming out at the end of this month. Apparently it's about twins (which is what my novel is about! haha). Here's a video interview:



I'm looking forward to reading it! I so loved her first book...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Movie: Time Traveler's Wife

Oh, I totally forgot --

With great anticipation, I saw Time Traveler's Wife at the theater. I know I was going to be let down, but I couldn't help but be excited. In fact, I reread the book before seeing it (actually only got through half of the book before seeing it, finished the other half later). I hadn't read the book in about six years or something, so it was exciting.

They changed some of it (obviously) and couldn't spend as much time developing their relationship in the past, which was a shame. My friend who hadn't read the book said the development was poor, and so it was hard to tell what they saw in each other. I thought the first half was kinda weird just because it was impossible for him to say, "I'm from the future" without it sounding ridiculous. But once we got over the establishment hump, it was much better. I love Rachel McAdams anyway. And although the changed the ending (and I loved the original ending), I thought their take was also effective and still made me cry.

Of course, they left out so many elements that made the book fuller, but the core elements of the relationship over time and being affected by his travel was still there. I think maybe as a lover of the book, it fulfilled my dreams of seeing it on screen, but it's hard for me to see what people who hadn't read the book thought.

That's all folks!

Another slew of recaps

I've been off internet for all of the month of August, which is when I did a sh!tload of reading. Now I've started up school again, which leaves me little room for pleasure reading (already I'm swamped with work). But I figured that since I'm handicapped in my ability to catch up to food posts, I should at least catch up with my book posts. So here we go:

1. Oryx and Crake. Moonrat had mentioned to me that she had hated this book, so I wasn't sure what to think going in. Then again, she hates dystopic fiction whereas I love it. In any case, I enjoyed this book. Didn't completely love it the way I did Blind Assassin, but I found myself intrigued by the predicament and trying to figure out what had happened that led up to the present situation. As with any dystopic fiction, and especially Atwood's, there's a lot to ponder in terms of the direction of our modern society, and what we're heading towards. The need for things to be more and more artificial because we want to live longer, stay more beautiful, have more things that are modified genetically to meet our desires. It's a scary place she paints, but even scarier is the idea that somebody might someday believe that we as a race are too flawed that we deserve to be completely wiped out of existence. The ending leaves you hanging, similar to the ending to Handmaid's Tale, where you hope that the better possibility occurred but you can never be sure. I enjoyed the book, though I suppose there's little room for an emotional investment into the characters.

2. Love, Rosie. A Cecelia Ahern book. Okay, yes, I know this is total fluff reading, and that she's a poor writer, and that in a way I've in some ways pretty much just picked up a chicklit novel by reading this on my sister's recommendation. But I won't apologize for liking it! The whole thing is done in notes and emails and im convos and letters. And it's a bit silly and kind of cute, and it's totally My Best Friend's Wedding meets You've Got Mail with some Serendipity thrown in. But I enjoyed it. And I thought the use of no traditional narrative (until the end, which I'll get to) worked well enough for what it was. Did it more believably than other books I've read that have tried to employ a similar device. I flew through it, felt thoroughly frustrated where I was meant to, and got happy at the end when I was meant to. It's predictable, but felt like reading a romantic comedy, and therefore I liked it. My only bone to pick was the epilogue,which suddenly got a little overly wrought in its cheese, and besides, it broke out of its device and started using regular narrative which I felt was a copout and in poor choice. There could have been a better way to show they got together without doing that. But oh well. I liked it.

3. Shadow of the Wind. Zafon's first book. He paints a great little gothic Spain in this book, setting a perfect tone and mood. What I love about the book is that it's clearly a book for book lovers. The whole thing centers around a mystery started by a single book. But the world he paints is dark and slightly sinister, with some mystical magic properties that work around the edges. I enjoy his prose, or at least as well as I can in translation. The plot is intriguing and unique, in a way where it's hard to even tell where anything is going, or what the key to unraveling the mystery is. Some reveals at the end threw me for a loop, in fact. But really, the book is less about the plot or mystery itself, but rather immersing yourself in the world he's built. My only thing that I'll note is that he does this thing where the narrative changes to tell backstory, telling in such a way that the first person narrator couldn't have known those things. Or it'll do this thing where something goes off into italics and becomes a completely different narrative backstory. As a person focused heavily on craft, it amazes me he can get away with this. But other than that, I really liked his book. Can't wait to read the next one!

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. My sister loves this book, and it was a short read, so what the heck. I enjoyed it well enough, though I don't get why she raves about it. It had a bit of a Catcher in the Rye feel -- awkward kid with intense emotions, trying to relate to a world around him in a coming of age. It was reasonably well done, though I didn't personally become heavily invested in the character. Also, the ending reveal seemed surprising to me and I'm not entirely sure I bought it...

5. Living Dead Girl. My sister (again) gave me this book to read as one of her favorites. I read it and thought it was reasonably well-done, at least prose-wise, but found it intensely disturbing. The book, about a girl who is abducted at 10 and forced to be pretty much a sex slave to a disturbed pedophile, offers little hope, little redemption opportunity, and is just a story of horror after horror. My sister is apparently morbid and finds the book fascinating the way only a teenager with angst can. I, on the other hand, find it disturbing that such a book is on the market and is so popular. Not because I'm offended by the premise, but because the book seemed to be bent on simply telling a sobering tale, and there is little complexity or hope in the end. And forgive me if I believe that fiction should serve a higher purpose than simply telling horrors. I mean, I think the content is a story that is an intriguing premise for a story, but beyond her day-to-day attempt to escape before time runs out, there's a very insular paranoia, where the girl has become a creature we can only pity, and not one we can relate to. And I don't think a writer wants her characters pitied. It's only at the very very end when we get a moment, a glimpse of something redeeming, but then it all comes crashing down before we can even explore it. There's no uplifting moment, no moral to be told, no lesson learned, no message about humanity. I got nothing from it except a feeling of bleakness about the fact that this may happen to certain girls every day of their lives and we're helpless to do anything about it. If I want depressing stories that have no rhyme or reason, I'll turn on the news, thank you very much. I don't need fiction to do it for me. Fiction, I think, exists to make meaning out of chaos. So in that vein, while I think the writing in here is good, vivid, visceral, I'm upset by the way the content was plotted out and ultimately put together.

6. The Guersney Literary and Potato Peel Society. This book has gotten a lot of hype recently, so I started reading it with high expectations. Since it took place during the war, I thought I'd get another tearjerker, something that hits at that place in me where I like to cry. To be honest, while I was reasonably entertained by the book for the most part, I never felt like the book held any momentum. A lot of letters back and forth (and actually, I think Cecilia Ahern did a better job building her plot using this device), a couple of intriguing threads here and there. But it never mattered that much to me. I felt like I really was reading somebody's letters, and the thing is, in real life, most people's lives and letters are boring. Put in a compilation, they don't make an interesting story. And that's how I felt about the book. It was anecdotal, a few minor dramas here and there, but nothing that pulled at me or made me feel attached to the characters emotionally. It was a fine read for the airplane, but it lacked a plot that seized me. So while I enjoyed it well enough (no big complaints), I don't have anything overwhelmingly positive to say about it either.

7. Kushiel's Mercy. Yes, because I do read fantasy -- this is the last book in the series, and was my favorite one. Everything gets tied together at the end, which is satisfying. And what I liked about this book is that I felt Carey was tighter here. In the past, there would be these long descriptions about journeys, and talking to useless people, and exploring here and there, and whatnot, which I cared less about. But here, it was action packed, and I was constantly on-edge, wanting to know what happened at the next step and where it was going. I was rarely bored, and mostly just excited to see how things panned out. Her action scenes are still really awesome, and the way things fit together in the end (and the political stuff), works out so well, I'm impressed. I'm sad to see the series go (although she's doing a spinoff for a few generations later in the same world, though I don't know how that will work out). Laugh at me all you want for reading obscure genre fiction (well not that obscure bc it sells pretty well), but I liked it!

Wooo. Okay done for now!