Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Review: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The only way to read during a blizzard :)
     Beautiful writing and intensity of feeling were the major traits of this novel.  It is set in an abandoned Italian villa after World War II.  The villa is inhabited by a Canadian nurse, Hana, and a war patient whose entire body has been burned black.  Hana has chosen to nurse him alone rather than return home.  The patient is erudite and appears to be English.  Two other men, an Italian thief and a Sikh sapper, stumble upon and move in with them eventually.
     These five characters slowly reveal the traumas of their lives to one another.  But the most captivating story of all is that of the English patient, who narrates in bits and pieces his life in the desert and the love affair that changed it.  The speaking style of the patient is tense, intimate, and precise.  For example, while at the edge of a great loss, he "feels that everything is missing from his body, feels he contains smoke.  All that is alive is the knowledge of future desire and want" (157). This description of his pre-grief floored me.  Lots of other passages floored me as well. I admire Ondaatje's use of commas (which is a weird thing to admire, haha).  He separates images with commas so that his sentences pour into you like waterfalls.
     This book moves slowly, but I didn't mind because it took me on such a beautiful journey.  And by its end, you are rewarded for your patience with lots of plot twists.  Read The English Patient if you want a romance novel/historical thriller with good writing.
   
     - Carly

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Book Review: The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore

    
  
     You're reading my first review of a graphic novel!  Yay!  This will be the first of many because a) I want to read more graphic novels and b) sometimes I don't have time to read and review a novel every week.
   
     Anyway, I'm a fan of the Walking Dead TV show (despite being woefully behind this season) so I thought I should try reading the comic book series on which it's based.  I picked up the first volume at the library and read it in an hour.  It was so, so good.  The premise of the book is that while the protagonist, a sheriff named Rick, was in a gunshot-induced coma, some kinda zombie epidemic broke out and he must now find his wife and son.
     However, the story is less about the shock value of a zombie apocalypse and more about the impact of life-threatening circumstances on human behavior and civilization.  The book got me thinking about issues like private property, gun control, and women's rights.  Specifically, it challenged my absolute beliefs on these issues.  For example, does it make sense for people in danger of zombie attacks to carry firearms?  Probably.  Does it make sense for little kids to carry them?  I don't know, but I like how these questions are explored over the course of this book.
     I also enjoyed some of the very tender scenes depicted by the illustrator, such as the one shown above.  Judging from this image, the institution of family is likely to survive anarchy, disease, and even zombies.

     - Carly

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Best Reading from my First Semester

   
     Ok, my only excuse for this long-ass hiatus is that I started college, and what with exams, essays, friends, newfound independence, and minor dramas, I nearly forgot I had a blog until this week.
But I'm back now, and here to tell you about the best books and stories I read during my last semester.

Novels
1. Citizen: An American Epic by Claudia Ward - A multi-media masterpiece about modern racism, with a particular focus on microaggressions.
2. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward - The story of a young girl coming of age in an impoverished area of Mississippi, on the brink of one of the great natural disasters of the last decade.
3. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison - A classic allegory of the racial justice movement in America.
4. Beloved by Toni Morrison - Possibly my favorite book ever, Beloved is based on the story of Margaret Garner, a woman who escaped slavery with her children and, when recapture seemed inevitable, killed her children to their being returned to slavery.
Short Stories
1. "A Temporary Matter" by Jhumpa Lahiri - So, so beautiful.  A kid in my class said that after reading this story, he had to take a walk to calm down.
2. "How to date a whitegirl, blackgirl, browngirl, or halfie" by Junot Diaz - Diaz's depictions of women are controversial, but I think that he writes in a way that is nuanced but also true to his experience and the worldviews of his narrators.
3. "How to Become a Writer" by Lorrie Moore - A good story to read if you're a writer experiencing an identity crisis, because it reminded me that all writers are perpetually in crisis, which was reassuring somehow.
4. "A Clean Well-Lighted Place" by Ernest Hemingway - Isn't that a nice title?  The whole story is written like that.  Oh Hemingway, I don't want to love you, but I come back anyway.

     - Carly

Monday, May 30, 2016

Book Review: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink


     This is the kind of book you have to read as neutrally as possible.  It is told like the memoir (I really want to know if it's a thinly disguised memoir; I've done some digging and Schlink's life bears some similarities to that of his protagonist) of a fictional German man, Michael Berg, who grows up during World War II and who, at the age of 15, has an affair with a thirty-year-old woman named Hanna. Hanna is manipulative, tender, distant, playful, and guarded.  One day she disappears, and years later, when Michael is a law student, he discovers that she is on trial for hideous crimes.
     There is so much guilt in The Reader - Michael's guilt over his small betrayals of Hanna, the guilt of Germans who tolerated the Holocaust, Holocaust survivors' guilt for having survived when others did not, etc.  Most central and mysterious of all is Hanna's guilt - does she repent?  Should she repent? Can she ever be absolved?  And was her relationship with Michael another crime, or did he hurt her more?
     My reaction to their affair, which would be considered statutory rape in the modern US, contrasted with my reaction to HH's affair with Dolores Haze in Lolita.  Because Michael enthusiastically consents to the affair, and also, I guess, because Hanna is female (I know, that's a terrible reason), I sympathize with Hanna far more than I did with HH.  However, Hanna manipulates Michael.  One time, she hits him.  Their relationship is secretive, imbalanced, and unhealthy.  Furthermore, Michael never totally gets over Hanna.  Add to that the crimes for which she is on trial, and I should hate her. But Michael's sympathetic portrayal of Hanna and her great, strange, poignant secret insecurity make hating her hard.
     I guess The Reader wasn't written to point blame in one direction.  It was written to present readers with a moral puzzle, and I, like many readers before me, am deliciously stumped.

     - Carly

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Me + gingham + book
     Sex and solitude.  This book primarily occupies itself with these topics.  Not that I mind, of course - both are interesting, and Marquez does it so well.
     Solitude chronicles several generations of a family, the Buendias, living through political unrest, wars, and technological advancements in an unnamed South American country.  Each family member's life and character is precisely and tenderly captured.  This careful character-building impressed me because there are so many family members.  But attention is paid to practically every aunt, relation-by-marriage, adopted daughter, illegitimate son, concubine, and parent.  I loved all of them.  Additionally, I love the book's magical realism style.  It gives the story new and enchanting depth - for example, yellow butterflies cling to one character, and another is pursued by the cloc-cloc-cloc sound of her parents' bones.
     Returning to the topics I mentioned earlier, the story seems to deal particularly with the ways in which sex and solitude intersect.  Unrequited love, taboo love, illusory love, faded love, and hollow lust all appear on Solitude's pages (often between two members of the Buendia family).
     I loved this book for its fearless exploration of taboo subjects.  We fear isolation and desire, we are ashamed of these feelings, but great writers know that shameful, forbidden topics are the ones that deserve to be discussed.

     - Carly

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Exploring Setting

     Hey guys!
     So my English teacher assigned the book Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko for homework over spring break.  The book is set in the American Southwest, which by chance is where my family spent this break.  Specifically, we are in Arizona.  Reading Ceremony while exploring its setting was an enlightening experience - I've never had my reading material fit my location so well, except for the occasional NYC-based novel. Visiting Native American ruins and museums was especially helpful because the book's protagonist is  a young Pueblo World War II veteran.
     From now on, I think I'll make an effort to match my travel novels to my travel destinations.  Here are a few ideas:
     -The Dubliners by James Joyce in Dublin, Ireland
     -Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov on an American road trip
     -The Odyssey by Homer in Greece
     -Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell in Southeast Asia
     -Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden in Kyoto, Japan
     -Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card on a spaceship (JK!)

     And here are some unrelated pictures from my trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona!




     - Carly

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Book Review: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

Preach, Arianna Huffington!
    I owe the New York Public Library $4 thanks to this book.  I returned it a couple weeks late.  But whatever, it was worth it!
     This book read like a horror story, but it's actually a well-researched non-fiction investigation of "the problem that has no name" - basically, sexism in the 1960s'.  Mystique has the distinction of being one of the catalysts of the American second-wave feminist movement.  It explores how women were conditioned - through advertising, women's magazines, phony college courses, pseudo-Freudian psychology, peer pressure, etc. - to expect marriage and child-rearing alone to fulfill them.  Even wealthy, college-educated women were encouraged to find a man ASAP and embrace domestic life at the expense of personal identity.  But Friedan noticed that women who did so became depressed and destructive, so in this book she argues that women need intellectual pursuits outside the home in order to be happy and healthy.
     Everyone should read this book.  Of course, it is flawed in that its brand of feminism focuses on white, educated, wealthy housewives, but no single book could possibly encapsulate all of feminism and deal with the problems of all women.  Instead, Mystique should be appreciated as part of a tapestry of feminist texts, a tapestry which includes works by women of all classes, races, and sexual orientations.

     - Carly