Monday, January 24, 2011

Wowza!!!!-- ROOM

Holy guacamole, what a story!!  Sometimes I wonder where these authors come up with the concepts for their books.  Emma Donaghue's novel, Room, takes the reader into an incredibly disturbing world but makes her feel completely at home in this world.  Donaghue tells a story from the perspective of a 5 year-old boy, Jack.  In doing so, we come to view the events that unfold with the same innocence that he does.

Without giving away much of the plot, I can tell you that Jack's world is very small.  He knows two people but his universe has many characters.  Jack's imagination brings him so far beyond his physical limits that I'd venture to say that he's seen more than I have.  His Ma has created for him such a lovely life.

When we discover why Jack's world is so compact, it's hard to maintain a comparable level of optimism and joy for his lifestyle as Jack.  But here is the brilliance of Donaghue's writing-- she helps us see clearly; through Jack's eyes, we understand that it's not what but who we have that matters in life.

This novel isn't one in which it's easy to find the bright side.  It's a difficult story and doesn't get any easier as circumstances change for Jack and his Ma.  But, I think that's necessary-- we live in a 24-hour news cycle culture.  We give attention to people's lives only when they're sensational, over the top and dramatic.  But, once we've deemed another bit of news more interesting, we move on, we forget, we ignore.  But, the original story continues, even without the news coverage.  And, sadly, just because the paparazzi have moved on doesn't mean that the drama has ended.  Readjusting, rebuilding, renewing one's life is a challenging and difficult task.  Unfortunately, it's one that doesn't often allow for much imagination.

Jack's story is powerful and heart-wrenching.  It's one that will draw you in and keep you on the edge of your seat until you finish.  There was actually a moment when I gasped out loud.  (Unfortunately, Andrew was asleep at the time and I woke him up.  That's a true sign of a good book!!)  Read it.  And tell me you don't close the cover and say "wowza..."

Monday, January 17, 2011


GONE WITH THE WIND-- Margaret Mitchell

I have always assumed that a character could not become a staple of popular culture if she were not a heroine.  Even Scrooge, miserly though he was at first, ended his miserable night having been redeemed.  
Gone With The Wind was, to me, a commentary on the roles of both Southern Norms and Values and of women.  I will speak to the latter first.

Scarlett was not a heroine in the traditional sense.  She was a strong, intelligent and independent woman.  She knew what she wanted, worked hard to accomplish her goals, and achieved finanical and professional success as a result.  Yet, she was not likable, kind or someone who evolves into a better person.  Throughout the novel, she carries with her a distain for others and remains incredibly unhappy. Let's be fair, few could have endured what Scarlett did and be supremely happy, but Scarlett continued to lose the relationships that mattered most to her as a result of her actions.  Scarlett eschewed traditional values in return for financial stability and her relationships suffered as a result.  To me, it appears as though Margaret Mitchell created a cautionary tale for all Southern women-- play within the system and you'll be happy.  Try to break the rules and you'll regret it.

In many ways, I see pieces of myself in Scarlett.  I'm fiercely independent and have always done things my own way.  While I adore my friends and family, I do realize that I can be a bit cold sometimes, especially to my mum, my closest ally.  While Scarlett was a bit more bold and callus than I'd ever be, I hope I'd have her strength of conviction were I ever faced with similar challenges. Scarlett had many admirable qualities and yet these are what led to her downfall.  Mitchell seems to send the message that women should be servile and docile in order to be happy.

Mitchell balances Scarlett's insubordination with Melanie's fierce loyalty to her friends and her Confederacy.  Melanie was everything that Scarlett was not-- kind, ladylike, docile, and seemingly weak minded.  In reality, we come to discover that Melanie was an incredibly strong woman, but she often chose to hide that strength in order to fit within the order of Southern society.  To Melanie, it was more important to be a Southern Lady than to be anything else.  Just as Scarlett was wealthy and unhappy, Melanie was rich only in her friendships and was, as a result, happy in many ways.  Certainly friends over money is a wonderful concept.  However, Mitchell makes it clear that Melanie is intelligent and hard-working.  Had she chosen to work outside the home, she could have succeeded in having both money and friends.  But, Mitchell's implication seems to be that a lady's place is behind her husband; a lady is to be seen and not heard and she should never act in any way that butts against the values of the South or the norms of a Southern society.

I could go on for many more days about this novel.  Mammy, Pork and the other slaves represented such an important historical perspective.  So, too, did Rhett. His work in trying to tame Scarlett, in helping her succeed within his own limitations, and his frustrations when she didn't fit in to the mold of a Southern wife, it was reminiscent of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.  I have no doubt that Rhett's character could also represent  the South as a whole (shunned from its English forefathers, forced to succeed on its own, finally accepted and lauded for its strengths and class.)  But, you know, this was Scarlett's story, her chance to stand up against the South and its often backward traditions.  So, really, about Rhett, I just don't give a damn.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"House Rules" Doesn't

House Rules- Jodi Picault

I've always hated to admit that I've been a Jodi Picault fan.  Even though she's no Danielle Steele, I always feel somewhat ashamed that I am reading such formulaic and predictable writing.  To me, a Picault book embodies Chick Lit, and not very original Lit at that.  Each story is the same-- there is some issue, usually somewhat controversial, there's usually a single mother (for the romance angle), and there's always a twist.  That said, The Pact was a fun, albeit sad, read and 19 Minutes was an incredibly good story.

Her latest book, House Rules, received a bit more publicity than some of her others.  The main character, Jacob, has Asperger's Syndrome and Picault's illumination of the Autism Spectrum created a lot of interest within the educational community. Knowing very little about the Spectrum, I was intrigued.

Unfortunately, the book didn't live up to the hype.  I was actually quite disappointed and, after a few weeks of reflection, I've narrowed down my frustrations into three categories: Predictability, Problematic Characters, and Inaccuracies.

First, Picault has become much too reliant on her formulary.  It's really not enjoyable reading a book knowing that there will be a twist but it's even worse when you figure that twist out super early in the story.  Good books are about characters and plot; I was too busy noticing the various hints to really enjoy the story.

Of course, the story wasn't very good, mostly because the characters were really annoying.  Jacob himself was fine, I suppose.  Having no familiarity with Aspergians, I can't say whether or not Picault created a realistic character.  Having familiarity with overprotective and annoying mothers (no, not my own.  I'm speaking in general, as there are many out there...) I can state with certainty that Jacob's mother, Emma, was the poster child for overprotective and annoying.  She coddled her son, ignored her other child, used Jacob's syndrome as a crutch, fought when she should have listened, and stayed silent when she should have tried to fight.  I know that I'm neither perfect nor a mother, but I truly hated Emma.  Thus, I spent a great deal of my time yelling at the book and telling Emma how stupid she is!  Due to the fact that I often read books in public places, Emma's stupidity was a problem not just for me, but for everyone around me!

Lastly, the story focuses on a murder and how the police proceed.  For the three of you who may still want to read the book, I won't give you details.  But, I will say that I've watched enough Law and Order to  know that Picault's  police and  district attorney were far more lenient on the suspects than would have been the case.  Charges of Obstruction, Hindering Prosecution, Breaking and Entering and many others would have been leveled at the suspects.  Because she chose to put plot points above accuracy, Picault lost my respect.

So, what it comes down to is this: 19 Minutes rules.  House Rules doesn't...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Exceptionally Good Book-- Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants -- Sara Gruen

It happens once every few years- the planets align just so and the result is that I err.  I know, I know, you're shocked.  But, rest assured, it really is a rare occurrence.  Some examples of my errors are as follows: "John Edwards seems like a really great family guy."  Or, "Facebook is stupid- only 16 year old high school girls use it."  Or, my personal favorite "this dog is so sweet.  I'm sure it won't disrupt our lives too much to give Copper a little sister..."  What makes this particular case rare is that it was a double whammy-- on one single day I made TWO mistakes:  I decided that I really HAD to have a bologna sandwich, even though I had a really bad stomach flu, and I thought that I'd not be at all interested in a book about the circus.  On the bright side, at least when I'm wrong, I'm really wrong!!  

Water For Elephants  is Jacob's story as he tells it from his nursing home seventy years later.  It's a love story, but not a traditional one.  Jacob loves Marlena, yes, but also Rosie, Bobo, Camel, Queenie, Silver Star, and so many others.  Suddenly thrust into the role of veterinarian of a second-rate circus during the Depression, Jacob finds himself learning about life in a very unusual manner.  Like many of us, Jacob finished college not at all certain of who he was or what he wanted.  Unlike most of us, though, he stowed away on a train car and changed the track of his future (pun fully intended.)  During his summer with the Benzini Brothers circus, Jacob discovers the depth of his character, learns what makes a person strong, and, most importantly, what makes someone good.  Perhaps the best lesson Jacob learns, though, is that words matter but not nearly as much as actions.  My mother always said that pretty is as pretty does-- Jacob learns about true beauty.

Jacob's 90 (or 93, he doesn't know for sure) year-old self yearns for the days of his youth.  Yet, he doesn't seek to return to legs that can sprint or to delicious steak dinners, though he misses both.  He wants to relive the joy that comes from surrounding himself with love.  As I sit here with Copper to my right, Ramona to my left and Andrew on the couch across from me, I can understand his desire.  There is nothing more special than the love of family, regardless of what species make up that family.  I may not ever eat bologna again, but about this, I am certain I'm not wrong.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Too Many Books, Too Little Time!!!!

It's been a while since I posted, but not since I last finished a delicious book!  Because I've read so many lately, I decided to give you a quick update on all there is to read out there.

So, below are a series of books I've read recently.  After each, you'll find two letter grades- one for the quality of the writing and one for the quality of the story.  Those that received good grades earned themselves dedicated blog posts in the near future.  Also, I've put stars next to the ones I suggest you read first.  Enjoy!

After the Fall, Kylie Ladd-- Writing: B, Story: B+

Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of your Common Cold, Jennifer Ackerman-- Writing: A, Story: A

The Company She Keeps, Georgia Durante-- Writing B-, Story: A

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell-- Writing: A, Story: A

**The Help, Kathryn Stockett-- Writing: A, Story: A

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, Nujood Ali-- Writing: B, Story: A

I Know This Much Is True, Wally Lamb-- Writing: A, Story: A

**I'd Know You Anywhere: A Novel, Laura Lippman-- Writing: B+, Story: A

**Little Bee, Chris Cleve-- Writing: B+, Story: A

A Question of Attraction: A Novel, David Nicholls-- Writing: A-, Story: B

**Room: A Novel, Emma Donoghue-- Writing: A, Story: A

A Scattered Life, Karen McQuestion-- Writing: B, Story: B

A Secret Kept, Tatian de Rosnay-- Writing: A-, Story: B+

Solar, Ian McEwan-- Writing: A, Story: C

Summer at Tiffany, Marjorie Hart-- Writing: B, Story: B+

The Understudy: A Novel, David Nicholls-- Writing: B+, Story: B

******** Water for Elephants: A Novel, Sara Gruen-- Writing: A, Story: A+

Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher-- Writing: B, Story: A-