Posts Tagged ‘novel’

#CBR4 Cannonball 23: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little WomenLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some people might read Little Women and think to themselves that it’s outdated, old-fashioned, and out of touch. I mean, the book is basically a morality play about how to be a good, little woman and support the men, and learn how to be a real lady with manners and tact.

I enjoyed every word of it.

Maybe that makes me old-fashioned and backwards and an enemy of feminism, but I don’t care. Little Women is a sweet book about growing up and learning the ropes of life and dealing with tragedy and just loving the people around you.

Alcott used her own family as the inspiration for the characters in her books. You can see just how close she was to everyone in her family, but especially to her sisters and mother. Some people today might think that the way Alcott glorifies women in the roles of homemakers and wives and mothers is downright primeval, but I found it sweet. We’ve lost a little something in today’s culture with our constant pursuit of MORE. Look, I’m thankful to have the right to vote and work in corporate America and crack jokes in the presence of men, but I’m also a little sad that there’s so much pressure to do those things to the exclusion of making our homes pleasant and welcoming places and staying home with our kids and enjoying books like Little Women.

louisa may alcott

Louisa May Alcott

I’m not ashamed to say that I found the close relationship between the March sisters profoundly touching (esp. in light of the fact that my sister just got married, and although we both want to stay as close as ever, things are bound to change and will never be the same again). I’m not ashamed to say that I cried many tears through the course of the book (although I am a little embarrassed that most of those tears cropped up at the most inopportune times, like on the elliptical machine at the gym and whilst working the exit door at the Hurley Warehouse sale — *sob* “Thanks for coming.” *sniffle* “Bye, now.” *watery smile* “Come back soon”). I’m not ashamed to say that the romantic bits thrilled my chaste, little heart.

I loved that the March sisters occasionally bicker, but learn to forgive each other quickly. I love the lack of teenage angst. One of the things I dislike most about YA books these days is the heavy cloud of angst that obscures everything. No wonder kids are so sullen these days. Everything they’re reading (or watching on TV) is encouraging them to indulge in their angst, to become brooding and introspective and consumed with thoughts of themselves and their own problems. THOSE ARE ALL FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS, YOU BUNCH OF BABIES.

first world problems

You think the March sisters didn’t have problems? Their dad was risking his life in the Civil War, they were poor and nigh-on starving, and they lived in freezing-cold Massachusetts and had maybe TWO dresses each in their entire wardrobes. But instead of moping about and whining about how their troubles affect THEM, they try to make the best of it, and try to be cheerful for each others’ sakes. And they also find satisfaction in helping others wherever they can. Now, I know that this isn’t an antidote for everything, but it’s still better than whining.

Maybe others think that Little Women is antiquated, but I love it. I love its simple depiction of friendship, love, and family, and of many of the values idealized in it.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 21: George Knightley, Esquire, Book One: Charity Envieth Not by Barbara Cornthwaite

Charity Envieth Not (George Knightley, Esquire; #1)Charity Envieth Not by Barbara Cornthwaite
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: this book was written by a friend of mine. I read it as it was being written and gave feedback. I am thanked on the flyleaf for this service.

But I am doing my best to review it as if I were just reading any old book and had normal expectations of it. In fact, I was so afraid that I would be biased that I originally didn’t write a review at all, and rated the book only four stars, just in case the shine of knowing the author eventually wore off.

I just re-read the book for the first time in years, and I have re-rated it five stars. This book is fantastic, much more than mere fanfic, and a worthy sequel to Jane Austen’s Emma.

Emma is my favorite of Austen’s novels, mostly because the love interest, Mr. Knightley, is my ideal man. Witty, wise, thoughtful, generous, a faithful friend, never afraid to tell the truth for the good of those he loves, even at the risk of hurting them — Mr. Darcy ain’t got nothin’ on him.

George Knightley, Esquire, Book One: Charity Envieth Not is a retelling of Emma from Knightley’s point of view. We get to see what he was thinking throughout the events of Austen’s novel, and also get to take a look into the day-to-day life of a gentleman back in the Regency era.

mr. knightley (jeremy northam)

Jeremy Northam, in my favorite role of his

Cornthwaite’s book is well-written. She is very familiar with Austen’s style, but still gives Knightley a character of his own, without being too derivative of Emma (aside from dialogue written by Austen that had to be fitted into this book). We see Knightley’s thoughts and his interactions with characters that we either didn’t see much of in Emma or weren’t in Emma at all, as Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield would not have had any reason to make acquaintance with tenants of Donwell Abbey.

The book is also very well-researched. It was fascinating to take a deeper look at the responsibilities that the owner of an estate like Donwell would have had. He would have been involved in mediating grievances, making improvements to roads and bridges, in improvements to his own properties, in other matters of importance in Highbury, and would have had a full social calendar as well. Cornthwaite really did her homework, and it makes Charity Envieth Not a good primer on Regency era life as well as of the “he said” counterpart to a classic romance.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s available on Kindle, too. If you love Jane Austen and wish she had written more, this book is the next best thing to Zombie Austen.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 19: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I first heard the name Yossarian on Pajiba. He’s always been one of my favorite commenters; scathing, but fair. And now that I’ve finally read Catch-22, I love him even more.

John Yossarian is a bombardier stationed in Italy during World War II. Once you complete a certain number of missions, you’re supposed to get a ticket home, but his commanding officer, Colonel Cathcart, keeps raising the number of missions. Desperate to leave before he gets killed, he hopes to be deemed insane in order to be excused from flying any further combat missions. The only problem is Catch-22: You can only be excused from combat missions if you’re insane, but asking to be excused proves that you’re sane.

Heller’s a great writer with a gift for the absurd. Parts of the book are laugh-out-loud funny, and others are frustrating because they’re so convoluted. In between all the absurdity, there are moments where the reader, through Yossarian, is faced with the brutality of war, and of life in general.

It also satirizes bureaucracy. Most of us can identify with this, I think. It’s hard not to imagine that the powers that be are wasting their time on frivolous matters when the wheels of bureaucracy turn so slowly.

The book ends on a bit of a high note (considering the valleys of despair that it dwells in towards the end), but even that high note is couched in absurdity. It makes me wonder whether Heller just wanted to leave his reader smiling, or whether his point was that the only way to escape the absurdity was to embrace the absurdity.

Wait, isn’t that a Catch-22?

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Cannonball 38: Native Son by Richard Wright

Native Son (Perennial Classics)Native Son by Richard Wright
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I swore to myself that if I ever wrote another book, no one would weep over it; that it would be so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consolation of tears.” — Richard Wright, How “Bigger” Was Born”

Native Son is not only well-written and compelling, but I’d say that it’s one of the most important books ever written. By writing this book, Richard Wright confronted the America he lived in with the reality of a racism so deep that even the kindness of a white woman could drive a black man to think he had to kill or be killed. Reading this book will wound you (if you have a soul to wound), and the wound will be so deep that you’ll find yourself dry-eyed and struggling to reconcile it with what you thought about the world you live in.

On the surface, it’s a story we all read about in our high school history classes: Lincoln frees slaves. Slaves not really free. Freedmen struggle to make living in world that still thinks of them as second-class citizens. Freedmen commit crimes of desperation, are caught and condemned to greater punishment than the crime merits. We, safely on this side of history, exclaim over the horrors of such stories and aver that we shall never let such injustice occur again, all the while secretly priding ourselves in thinking that we are not so narrow-minded as the bigots of 1930s Chicago.

Heck, I’m not even white, and this applies to me.

The story of Bigger Thomas goes much deeper than the surface telling of a tale of injustice. Bigger, a poor black man, is offered a plum position chauffeuring a wealthy white family around. The Daltons are nice people, and they long to help the uneducated and oppressed blacks by offering them the opportunity to work and make a nice living. Bigger understands that this is a rare opportunity; rarer than once-in-a-lifetime. He’ll have a room to himself and more money than he’s ever made at any other job, all just to drive people around town in a car that he’d never even have the chance to see the inside of if not for this job. But their politeness makes him uneasy; he doesn’t know how to respond to them, and he responds to their kindness with suspicion and fear. Instead of helping him to let his guard down, it puts him even more on edge.

Then, the Daltons’ daughter enters the picture. A young university student, Mary has fallen in with the local communists. She and her boyfriend, Jan, insist on treating Bigger like their equal, insist that he call them by their first names, insist that he take them to a local diner that he and his friends frequent, and insist that he sit with them as they dine. He resists every single one of these advances, but ultimately feels powerless to disobey them. They think they’re treating him with the respect he deserves. He thinks they’re putting a target on his back. Even with the best of intentions, they’re displaying their ignorance of Bigger’s situation in life. Mary and Jan, for their part, are puzzled when he balks at being treated with the courtesy to which they themselves are so accustomed.

It’s the tension between all of these factors — the Daltons’ kindness, Bigger’s background and life experience, Mary and Jan’s desire to help Bigger to take what they think is his — that ultimately leads Bigger to commit a reprehensible crime. Wright doesn’t sugar-coat Bigger’s actions: it’s clear through the course of the narrative that Bigger’s first priority is self-preservation, and he does terrible things in order to ensure it. He’s not some hero forced to make a terrible decision by impossible circumstances. Yes, his options were less than limited. Yes, the situation was unfair and exacerbated by the strange coexistence of kindness and racism in the white folks around him. But Wright doesn’t make those excuses for Bigger, and he shows you the cruelty of Bigger’s actions in a harsh and unblinking light.

The book does a fantastic job of raising some important questions: Did Bigger really have any choice at all? What else could he possibly have done? How could the Daltons have treated him differently? It also raises questions that hit closer to home: Has the world really changed? Is it still like this for some people? Am I more like Bigger or more like the Daltons or more like Mary and Jan? Reading this book made me feel a gamut of conflicting emotions. I was embarrassed by the Daltons’ unwitting condescension. I was enraged by Mary and Jan’s insistence that Bigger do as they say, even though they were only insisting that he let them treat him as an equal. I was horrified by Bigger’s actions. I felt sympathy for Bigger. I felt sympathy for Mary and the Daltons. And, overall, I felt helpless to do anything to change situations like these that might be occurring in real life, right here in my own hometown.

This is where the importance of the book really lies. It shows you that it’s not enough just for you treat others with kindness and as equals. The Daltons showed Bigger kindness, and Mary and Jan treated him as an equal, and that’s what precipitated the events of the book. No, in order for that kindness and equality to make a difference, the entire society has to change. Bigger has to change, too. Bigger has to believe that the kindness is genuine; Bigger has to believe that equality is his right and is the norm. And the world we all live in has to believe that it’s a good and right thing for Bigger to be equal to rich, white folks.

It’s not often these days that you read a book that has to do with issues this deep. These days, what passes for literature is usually self-centered and individualistic; it’s all about how you, one person, has the power to rise above your circumstances. But Native Son shows the unavoidable reality that it takes more than just one man to change the world. It takes all of us.

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Cannonball 32: The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's WifeThe Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Man, I have been having the worst luck with Holocaust books, lately.

The Zookeeper’s Wife was recommended to me by a dear friend. The story itself is actually quite remarkable. It’s the true story of Antonina and Jan Żabiński, who ran the Warsaw Zoo during World War II. After Poland was taken over, Antonina (the titular character) and Jan began helping the Underground by harboring Jews in the zoo, in the animals’ empty cages.

It really was amazing, how they used their zoo and their wits to save lives and to survive themselves during this harsh and uncertain time.

So why did I only give it two stars? Because, dear God, Ackerman’s writing made me want to puke. I mean, it wasn’t Tatiana-de-Rosnay-bad, but it was pretty bad. Basically, what Ackerman did was read through Antonina’s letters and interview surviving relatives and stuff. Then she thought to herself, “What must Antonina have been thinking? What must Antonina have been feeling?”

But I highly doubt that Antonina thought of herself as a character from a book, and that she didn’t organize her thoughts as though her mind was a screenplay. There was a forced drama to Ackerman’s writing that, to me, cheapened the genuine gravity of the events of the book.

And maybe this part isn’t Ackerman’s fault, and I know I’m pickin’ nits, here, but I also took issue with the dust jacket book summary, which made a big deal of the Żabińskis being Christian. That’s actually why my dear friend recommended the book to me: “It’s a really great story and it’s so interesting and, oh, they were Christians and –”

There were nothing but cursory mentions of God in the book. I’m not saying that I think the Żabińskis were bad people just because they didn’t God it up enough to satisfy the likes of me — far from it; they were heroes — but I did feel a little misled. I’d expected there to be much more in there about how their faith informed their decision to join the Underground, and it just wasn’t in there. And, from what I could gather, they were Catholic. Get your facts straight, publishers. That’s just lazy.

I think that the Żabińskis’ story is incredible, and I think they deserved a better write-up than they got. I hope that, someday, some other writer does this story justice and washes the memory of The Zookeeper’s Wife from my brain.

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Cannonball 26: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall ApartThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was younger, I had a lot of conflict with my parents due to cultural differences. They were raised in a conservative, strictly Korean culture. But they didn’t have enough time to raise me in the same way, so a lot of American values and cultural mores seeped into my mind.

Whenever they demanded that I conform to their Korean values, I balked. I didn’t understand why they were so adamant about preserving a culture in me that they seemed too busy to impart to me in the first place. I didn’t understand why they made such a big deal out of being Korean, or why they got so angry when I rooted for the United States to win more gold medals than South Korea in the Olympics.

Gradually, we kind of learned to accept each other despite our differences, but I still secretly thought they were being a little unreasonable when it came to preserving Korean culture in our home.

high expectations asian father

Reading Things Fall Apart helped me to see things a little better from their point of view.

Okonkwo is a powerful man living in the Nigerian village of Umofia. His father was a deadbeat, so he has dedicated his life to being everything his father wasn’t: rich, powerful, strong, respected.

Everything’s going great for him until a boy from another village is taken prisoner and sent to live with Okonkwo. Okonkwo’s family becomes fond of Ikemefuna, and the boy begins to think of Okonkwo as his own father.

The village then decrees that the boy must die, and an old man warns Okonkwo not to have anything to do with his death, since the boy is like a son to him. But Okonkwo, unwilling to seem weak, participates in Ikemefuna’s execution, inflicting the coup de grace himself.

It’s all downhill from there for Okonkwo. When his gun accidentally goes off during a funeral ceremony, killing another man, he has to flee and live with his relatives in another village, losing all of his wealth. When he returns to Umofia, he finds that white missionaries have arrived in the village, and that the village is being changed by their influence. Okonkwo’s attempts to preserve his village’s culture end in tragedy.

chinua achebe

Chinua Achebe

Achebe not only tells the story of a driven man of a dying breed, but also of what shaped him to become so driven. The context is specific to Nigeria, but the basic tale is universal: not wanting to repeat your parents’ mistakes.

I also appreciated that he was very fair in his treatment of missionaries. Instead of painting them as either saviors of a savage people or as Pharisaical monsters determined to destroy a culture, he showed both sides: a good, kind missionary who simply wanted to help people and share what he believed, and a cold, proud missionary who wanted to force his views on a people that he saw as inferior. There have been both kinds, and it’s not really fair to ignore one or the other.

Most of all, Achebe was able to draw the reader into Okonkwo’s dying world; I was able to understand his despair and frustration at not only losing everything he’d worked so hard to gain all his life, but even the cultural structure that made his goals worth attaining.

It’s true that change is inevitable, but that doesn’t make it any easier to adapt when change does come. I can’t go back now and make myself more Korean. But when I have children and they don’t understand some of my cultural values, I’ll think about my parents and appreciate a little more how hard it was to raise a daughter of a different generation and culture.

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Cannonball 23: First Meetings: In the Enderverse by Orson Scott Card

First Meetings: In the EnderverseFirst Meetings: In the Enderverse by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Back when I was working my first real job as a receptionist for a small local homebuilder, one of my coworkers gave me a book that she said I just had to read. It was science fiction, and despite never having read any sci-fi, I chalked it up to books for geeks who were so engrossed in their own arrogance that they didn’t have time to develop any literary taste. But she was a nice lady, and so enthusiastic, so I read it just to humor her.

The book was Ender’s Game, and I’ve since devoured all of Orson Scott Card’s books about the Enderverse, as it’s so geekily called.

A friend of mine lent me First Meetings: In the Enderverse, and it was a nice look into how the character of Ender came into being, but it didn’t have the same weight as Card’s books about Ender.

The book is a compilation of four short stories arranged in chronological order. The first, “The Polish Boy,” is about Ender’s father, John Paul, and his Roman Catholic Polish family. There are parts that foreshadow his eventual openness to having a Third child (Ender, of course) in a day and age when most families were limited to two children.

“Teacher’s Pest” describes how John Paul meets and woos Theresa, who will eventually become Ender’s mother, and how the Intergalactic Fleet (IF) had a hand in arranging their meeting.

“Ender’s Game” takes us through the tail end of the novel by the same name, and how Ender ends the Bugger War.

“Investment Counselor” tells of how Ender first meets Jane, his artificial intelligence investment counselor, and how he becomes a speaker for the dead.

Perhaps because they’re short stories, you don’t really get too deep into the new characters introduced in these books. But they make for an entertaining read, even if they’re not as gripping as Ender’s Game.

If you simply can’t get enough of Ender, then reading First Meetings might be just the thing to take the edge off.

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Cannonball 22: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah's KeySarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A friend of mine recently observed: “You’re so funny when you don’t like stuff!” She’d just listened to me lambast the Lakers as they lost Game Two to the Mavs, and I was merciless in my assessment of their lazy passing and sloppy ball-handling (IMO, the Mavs didn’t win the series as much as the Lakers lost it). But the first thing she ever heard me lay into was this book.

We read Sarah’s Key for our book club. I was excited to read it; a Holocaust story? That’s like a free throw. If you miss that shot while standing still with no one defending you, then you have no one to blame with yourself.

Well, Tatiana de Rosnay’s shooting percentage must be awful because Sarah’s Key, a book that should’ve been an emotional slam dunk with de Rosnay hanging off the rim, mad-dogging the shattered reader she just posterized, was instead an airball that sailed into the crowd and beaned the reader right in the face.

kobe poster

Kobe Bryant posterizing Dwight Howard back in 2009. Those were happier times.

There are two main storylines in the plot. The first one is about Sarah, a young Jewish girl living in Paris during the German occupation. The second concerns Julia, an American expat journalist who discovers Sarah’s story. I like to call them “Vaguely Interesting” and “Rage-Inducingly Idiotic,” respectively.

Each chapter alternates between telling Sarah’s and Julia’s stories. Once again, the Sarah part of the book was tolerable; if the book had been entirely about Sarah, it might have merited as high as three stars out of five. But, no: about a third of the way into the book, the author inexplicably decides that Sarah’s story is finished, and the latter part of the book is all about Julia.

Just so you can get a flavor of Sarah’s story, let me sum it up for you. She and her family are rounded up by French police in the infamous Vel d’Hiv Roundup, in which thousands of Parisian Jews were held in the Vélodrome d’Hiver, an indoor bicycling track, and detained for several days without food or water. Before Sarah and her parents are hustled out the door, her brother Michel refuses to leave, so Sarah locks him into a hidden cabinet behind a wall panel. Because she doesn’t believe they’ll be there for long, she promises him that she’ll come back and let him out when it’s all over.

hiding

Of course, it’s not over for a long time. Sarah is separated from her parents, but she is able to sneak out of the Vel d’Hiv with another little girl. They wander around for a while until they’re taken in by an elderly French couple living outside Paris. But, all the while, Sarah remains determined to keep her promise to her brother. I’ll give you three guesses how that turns out, since it’s a Holocaust book and Sarah’s story ends in the first third of the book.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

Ehay iesday inyay ethay abinetcay ecausebay eshay ouldn’tcay etlay imhay outyay inyay imetay.

That part of the book was decent.

It was the Julia part of the story that I really couldn’t stand. Julia’s been living in Paris for many years, and she’s married to a Frenchman and they have an eleven-year-old daughter. Their marriage is rather rocky, and the most emotionally mature person in the family is, of course, the eleven-year-old daughter. I mean, come on.

But what’s really infuriating about Julia is that she is one of the stupidest characters ever committed to the printed page. She supposedly speaks perfect, accentless French, and complains that her in-laws still refer to her as “l’Americaine.” What do you expect them to call you? The Native Frenchwoman? Because you’re not, you know.

marie catoinette

When she finds out about the Vel d’Hiv Roundup, she excitedly chatters to her husband (with whom she already has a rather strained relationship) about how she can’t believe how the French covered this up and how she can’t understand why no one wants to talk about it with her. Um, maybe it’s because you’re an American writing a a news story about this shameful event in French history and it’s going to make them look bad. And, also, maybe it’s because your husband wasn’t even born when it happened and he really doesn’t know much about it.

Julia is the stereotype of the obnoxious American, always asking inappropriately probing questions and kicking in figurative doors without knocking first and then demanding that the occupants explain why they’re so upset with her as she tap-dances on their battered door.

And, somehow, she manages to make Sarah’s story all about her. Sarah’s story deeply moves her, and she demands that everyone else care about it just as much as she does just because she does. Look, I love the Lakers, but if you don’t, then we can talk about something else. I’m not going to force you to love what I love and then judge you for not loving it as much as I do (especially considering what a crapper their postseason was). But Julia insists that everyone around her obsess about what she’s obsessed with and then complains when people find that off-putting.

Tatiana de Rosnay is French, and she says that she has a lot of expat friends. Well, her friends must be serious bores if this is de Rosnay’s depiction of American women. Don’t do us any favors, Mme. de Rosnay. I may find the need to write a book about snooty French authors who think they can understand what it’s like to be an American expat in France who thinks that she knows what it’s like to be French. If I were friends with Mme. de Rosnay and I read this book, we would have a serious falling out in full “Jersey Shore” fashion with fingers in faces and shoving in high heels after I read this book.

lolcat jersey shore

Hint: I'm the dog.

Only slightly less annoying is de Rosnay’s portrayal of Julia’s eleven-year-old daughter, Zoë. Zoë is always there to comfort her mother and to reason with her and encourage her. She’s always calm. When she finds out that her parents are (SPOILER!!) ettinggay ivorcedday, she responds with understanding and reassures her mother that it’s the right thing to do. No eleven-year-old I know, no matter how precocious, would respond this calmly to this kind of news. Sounds to me like she’s a sociopath. I’m guessing that, when she’s not comforting her mother, she’s burning holes into her dolls’ eyes and torturing kittens.

Ultimately, I disliked the book because it was supposed to be a Holocaust story, and it wound up being about a whiny, self-absorbed American instead. It’s been a long time since I was this angry at a main character.

By the way, de Rosnay seems especially fond of a very thin trope in which she doesn’t tells us the names of people until it’s “naturally” revealed by others. We don’t even see Sarah called “Sarah” directly until the third or fourth chapter about her. “The girl” does this and “the girl” does that, and her identity is supposed to be a mystery, but it’s like, come on, the book is called Sarah’s Key. Obviously, her name is Sarah, so can we stop pretending we don’t know who she is and move on, already? I don’t know if de Rosnay was trying to make the book more mysterious or what, but, either way: FAIL.

fail

Writing a compelling Holocaust story: FAIL.
Moving the plot along effortlessly: FAIL.
Subtly revealing various facts about the characters: FAIL.
Writing a sympathetic main character: EPIC FAIL.
Book as a whole: You tell me what you think I’m going to say. If you’re a fan of de Rosnay’s you’re probably going to string me along without telling me what you really think before answering a completely different question that I didn’t even ask.

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Cannonball #21: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight ClubFight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first went to check this book out of the library, I was surprised to find it in the Teen section. I’d seen the movie, and I though that some of the subject matter was a little mature for teens.

But after reading it, I can kind of understand why it was in the Teen section of my library. Some of the scenes are, in my opinion, not appropriate for teens, but the writing had an oddly YA vibe to it.

If you don’t know the premise of the book itself, then maybe you ought to put the book down and watch TV for an hour a day to get caught up on the world of pop culture. A nameless insomniac meets a mysterious guy named Tyler Durden, and they start a secret club in which men beat each other within an inch of their lives in order to vent their daily frustrations. Through his friendship with Tyler, his life gets a lot more exciting: he participates in fights, and starts getting the respect he’s always wanted from his association with Tyler. But hanging with Tyler has a price, and, after a while, the protagonist begins to wonder if Tyler isn’t taking things too far.

Fight Club

Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden and Edward Norton as The Narrator in the film version of the book. If you didn't recognize the image immediately, go get yourself an infusion of pop culture, STAT.

The premise of the book is certainly intriguing. The writing, to me anyway, had a definite YA flavor to it, but it was an engaging read, and the characters were all fascinating. The major plot twist was certainly groundbreaking in its time, and the book is well-paced and well-conceived.

But I do feel the need to close by saying that Chuck Palahniuk is a total arrogant tool. In the edition of the book I got from the library, there was an afterword from the author. The entire afterword could basically be summarized as follows:

“People claim that I stole this idea, but I totally didn’t because I am an original genius and anyone who disagrees is in denial. My ideas are so fresh and original, and I can’t believe how influential I am! I am so relevant, and my ideas are shaping our culture. I am important, people, so don’t you dare imply that I am anything but a literary genius that deserves your awe. Bow before me, peasants.”

So, I liked the book, but I totally hate the author after that ridiculous, self-important afterword.

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Cannonball 13: Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Wonder BoysWonder Boys by Michael Chabon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can’t really put my finger on why I didn’t LOOOOOOOVE this book.

Excellent writing? Check.
Interesting characters? Check.
Laugh-out-loud moments? Check.

But, somehow, it just didn’t strike any real emotional chord with me.

The story is told in first person by Professor Grady Tripp (played by Michael Douglas in the movie). He’s fat, struggling, loves to get high, and just found out that his wife has left him and his mistress is pregnant.

He picks up his editor from the airport, who has picked up a transvestite on the plane. But at a party thrown by the head of the English department (Grady’s boss, and his mistress’ husband), they meet a young student of Grady’s, James Leer. Terry Crabtree, the editor, immediately ditches his tranny date to pursue young James.

Wacky hijinks ensue.

Maybe that’s what it was; the characters were a little too quirky for my tastes. As much as I enjoyed Grady, I couldn’t help but to be reminded at nearly every turn, “THIS IS FICTION! WINK, WINK!!” I could certainly identify Grady’s struggle to follow up his first successful novel with a second novel that was going nowhere fast. But, at the same time, it was hard for me to sympathize completely with him when he keeps making bad decisions while high as a kite.

And the ending seemed a little too neat for me. Meh, I don’t know.

At the end of the day, I still liked the book. I just didn’t love it the way I wanted to, that’s all.

View all my reviews

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