Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I finished reading this book over a week ago.  Actually, I listened to the audio version.  I really liked it, but I'm not sure what to say about it.  It is quite different from any other book I've read or listened to.  My first thought was, HOLY BIG WORDS!   There were quite a few words I didn't know the meaning of and quite a few French words too.  (I knew they were speaking French when the words started sounding like they had swallowed some Elmer's Glue.)  Anyway, combine those two things with some rants on philosophy the author gets into and the beginning of this book could scare you off.  Don't let it though.  I think you will like it if you keep at it.

It isn't a story that is plot-driven.  This one is all about the characters. The story has two narrators and the audio version I bought from Audible had two different readers.  The part of Madame Michel was read by an older woman, who, at first, sounded like she probably bought her cigarettes by the carton or maybe the case.  I grew to really like her reading though.  She was spot on with emphasizing the right words, making the pauses just right, and adding some dramatics to it without getting weird.  She really brought Madame Michel to life for me.  The younger narrator was really good too, but for me, her character wasn't as easy to like.

Renee Michel is a  54-year-old widowed concierge of  an upscale apartment building in Paris where Paloma Josse , the other main character and narrator, lives.  Paloma is the super-intelligent 12-year-old daughter of a diplomat and a socialite.  She doesn't relate well with her parents or her older sister and she plans to commit suicide on her 13th birthday unless she finds something in the world worth living for.  Madame Michel is a very intelligent, well-read, self-taught  lover of art, books, music and movies.  She tries to hide behind a mask of stupidity or at least a mask of averageness, if that is a word, and doesn't want the upper-class people of the apartment building to know about her secret life.

I kept wondering when the two characters would interact, but when the elegant Japanese gentleman, Kakuro Ozu, moves into the building, it finally happens.   All the other tenants are intrigued by him and they all seem anxious to be in his favor.   But it is Renee and Paloma that catch his interest.  The story really picked up as the book becomes more about the relationship of these three.

 Renee's character was my favorite.   She had this extraordinary mind, inside a such a  seemingly ordinary person.   A review I read said, "She's a character we can all relate to, because don't we all feel just a little bit misunderstood, and wouldn't we all like to say we are more than what meets the eye? "   She told herself she didn't want others to know the real her and went to great lengths to keep her secrets, yet, I think she actually enjoyed being discovered;  finally being seen and fully understood by Paloma and Mr. Ozu.  We all tend to keep parts of ourselves hidden until we totally trust another person and when we find a person we fully trust, we want them to know us, the real us. 

I think I will try to buy this book in print.  There were some passages that were worth reading  over a few times and really savoring.  It's not necessarily the philosophical stuff. I doubt I'd have missed that if the author had left it out.  Sometimes I thought she was just writing it to show off.  Having said that, it was nice to have a book that made me  think and one of the main things I discovered is that I don't really think enough.   It was a smart book, that sometimes made me feel stupid, but it is a book with feeling too.  I definitely give it a thumbs up.  

This would be a fun book to have a live discussion about.  There are so many interesting little passages and discussing them would broaden my understanding and my appreciation of it.  

The references to Tolstoy and especially Anna Karenina made me want to read that next.  I know it is long and I'm not usually in to really long books.  I'm just wondering if anybody has read it and has an opinion about whether it's worth the time commitment.

Here's a picture of the most elegant hedgehog I could find on Google Images; just for your viewing pleasure.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Peace like a River

Katie asked me to do this awhile ago but I was worried I wouldn't remember all the goodness that this book is. I don't read a ton and it is not so uncommon for me to never finish a book. I know, I know, you are all disgusted. I am currently in the process of reading the HP series for the first time every. Again, disgust. Well you can expect a post on HP 5 coming right up if you are interested. Anyways, Tyler (my husband) and I read Peace like a River together and it changed my life. I seriously loved this book from the very first sentence.

It is the story of a regular family in the mid-West. Reuben, an eleven year old, narrates so you see his family from his perspective. He adores his older brother Davy and spends most of his time with his 8 year old sister, Swede, who is so amazing. Their dad is a janitor at the high school but is the sweetest most humble dad ever. Throughout the book Reuben witnesses him performing a number of different miracles. There are some underlaying themes here but that is all I will say because if you haven't read it you should. Probably most of you have though. This is definitely the best book I have read for a long time. Maybe EVER.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Before Green Gables

This was a fun book. It describes Anne's life before she reaches Green Gables. Because I am a sucker for all things L.M. Montgomery and I love spinoffs, I was very excited when I found this book. In some ways, it didn't disappoint - the details about Anne's early life give dimension to characters that were previously flat, almost villainized, such as Mrs. Hammond and Mrs. Thomas. You learn that Mrs. Thomas loved Anne's mom and that Mrs. Hammond has 8 children under the age of 4 (for some reason, I always thought there was more space between her "three sets of twins in succession"). You learn that Anne's mother was painfully shy and that Anne's father, unlike Anne, is very good at geometry.

However, this book was high on the cheese. There were many "cleverly insert perfectly correlating detail" moments. I think they were meant to make the book seem more believable as a true prequel to Anne of Green Gables but they just made it seem contrived.

Still, I enjoyed it and would recommend it, especially if you love L.M. Montgomery. 3 out of 5 stars. For more detailed rantings and ravings go to The Story Girl.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Shanghai Girls

I'm going to start this out like a church talk: For those of you who don't know me, I'm Emily, Erin's friend. I finally finished a book, so I finally get to blog about it! (yes, I accidentally blogged about not a book the other day, if you saw a phantom blog post in your feed)

Shanghai Girls is about two sisters who grow up in China and emigrate to the United States. The story goes from the 1930s to the 1950s. I would say that the book is primarily about the relationship between the two sisters and their families, but it also is really interesting historically.  Overall I loved it, but I would warn anyone who doesn't like sad stories- China, immigration and communism are no picnic! It's not a very happy book, but a good one that makes you thankful. (Or as The Costco Connection said, "A powerful new story!")

I'd also warn that it gets pretty graphic at one point, which it pretty important to the story, but if you want to skip over it you'll still get the gist. There were some pretty annoyed ladies at the teacher book club who didn't like it, but it's not romance novel graphic, it's "horrible, awful, things happen to people and I feel bad for them" graphic.

Born to Run

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

All I am going to say about this book is that if you already love running, it will make you love it more. If you don't love running, but want to, this book can still make you gain a passion for running. And if you don't love running and don't even want to, I still recommend this book because I think you would still like it.

I listened to it on tape (while running sometimes) and the reader was good (it may actually have been the author, I forget) BUT the one thing I will say is that he does a lot of direct quotes from people and some of them swear and I don't know why but listening to it is worse than reading it for me. So, take that into consideration. But this is a definite must read.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Giver books 2 and 3

I hesitate to even call these 'sequels' to The Giver. I actually wouldn't call any of them sequels. The covers of the books say that they are 'companion' books, and I think that is a perfect description. They go together, but they aren't connected into one story. Gathering Blue and The Messenger are more connected than The Giver is to either of them. I hope that made sense.

Gathering Blue wasn't bad, but it wasn't memorable at all either.

I felt like 'The Messenger' was really rushed, and it just didn't have the beauty of the unveiling of the story or the surprises or any of the emotion that The Giver had. I felt like it could have been a lot better, but as it was I was a little disappointed.

Basically I would say, if you want to read them, go for it. They won't taint your view of The Giver, like I was afraid they might. But, they could just as easily be skipped, and you wouldn't really miss anything.

That is as long as you've read The Giver.

Did I mention that everyone should read The Giver.

Because everyone should read The Giver.

The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry is a beautiful story. It is about a would be 'perfect' society and one boy who is given a special calling within his community. It is written in a way that the differences in their society aren't stated, but are discovered as the reader sees things through the eyes of the protagonist. This story also has a very religious undertone also. What would life be like without the highs and the lows, with no opposition, no choice?

This is one of my top 5 absolutely must read books. Okay, top 2. It is technically a 'young adult' book, but I would never classify it as such. So beautiful and tragic, and just amazing. It will take you an afternoon to read, and you will thank yourself for it.

I found out a few weeks ago that this book is the first of a series. I was excited and a little disappointed at the same time. This book is so amazing on its own that I was worried if I read the other 2 books in the 'series' that I would lose a little bit of the love that I have for this book.

I did read the other two books, and I will post about them also, but this is my recommendation.

Read The Giver

If you haven't read it before I would say to read The Giver, and The Giver only. Don't read the other books.

If you have read it. I would say that it doesn't really matter if you read the other books or not. The Giver stands wholly and completely and wonderfully and beautifully on its own. The other books are good. Not great, but good, and I wouldn't call them 'sequels' at all. More like companion books. Gathering Blue (book #2) doesn't have any of the same characters at all. It isn't until book 3, The Messenger, that the characters of books 1 and 2 meet, and years have passed since The Giver took place.

The reason I give 2 different suggestions is that I wouldn't want someone who has never read The Giver to read all three books, one after another. I think you wouldn't fully appreciate The Giver, and just mush all 3 books together, as one continuing story. And that would be doing a sever injustice to one of my favorite books.

Make sense?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Glass Castle

Sorry to be a blog hog and post 2 days/books in a row, but I had to write about The Glass Castle.

I just finished it (like, 5 minutes ago), and I had to be sure all of you know that this is a must read. Casidy told me to read this book about a year ago, and I finally got around to reading it this week.

The very first chapter of the book has Jeannette telling how she was in the back of a taxi, headed to a party, when she saw her mother going through a dumpster, just another homeless lady in New York. She then told her driver to turn around and take her back to her apartment on Park Avenue.

She then goes back to the beginning and tells the story of her childhood, moving around all the time, mostly being practically homeless, her mom and dad never really having jobs, her dad as an alcoholic, etc. etc.

She has some truly amazing things happen in her life, this book is incredibly interesting. If you're like me, when you hear that someone wrote a "memoir," you're not really too interested, but this is a page turner. I really couldn't put it down. Like I said before, I made the mistake of starting this while I was still reading another book and had to force myself to finish the other one first.

One of the most remarkable things about this story is how she portrays her parents. She doesn't glamorize them at all, she tells it like it is, her mother's dramatic laziness, and her dad's alcoholism--but neither does she come across as bitter and angry, as many people would. She has an affection for them that the reader shares. By the end I would chuckle when her mom said something, thinking, "Oh, that is so like her." She really brought her family to life, and though you sympathize for their plight, you also kind of admire them. The thing I admired about her parents was their love of learning. They raised intelligent children because they had intelligent conversations about all sorts of things. There's a story in the book about how the mom was talking to someone else and mentioned Jackson Pollock, and the lady said, "I have Polish blood, so I don't appreciate you talking like that."

Mostly, they were pretty reprehensible parents, but the way she tells her life story made me love them too.

I give this a 5 out of 5 stars. I loved it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Their Eyes Were Watching God

I just finished this book, and I feel like I should have liked it more than I did. Because I've heard about it for years, and I feel like people always said, "Oh, you HAVE to read it." And I liked it, but it's not a new favorite.

For one thing, the dialogue is written phonetically to reflect the people's speech (Black people living in Florida, so probably from the Carribbean), and it makes it hard to get through for me. It was like 200 pages long but took me over 2 weeks to read.

The thing I liked the most was Janie, the main character. She is exactly what a heroine in a book should be, in my opinion. She was strong and loving and hard-working. The love story between her and Tea Cake is very sweet and I really liked that.

Something I liked, that I'm sure was a big deal, was the prejudice displayed of lighter skinned Black people toward dark skinned people. This book was written in 1937, not exactly a time when talking openly about race was common. I read online just now (while verifying the publication date) that some of the Harlem Renaissance writers criticized Zora Neale Hurston for highlighting this aspect of African American life.

As I said, it was a good book, and I enjoyed it, but it's not a new favorite. I didn't ever feel completely wrapped up in it, I almost felt obligated to sit down and read it sometimes. I started The Glass Castle when I had about 60 pages left in Their Eyes Were Watching God, and I was way more into The Glass Castle. I had to make myself finish Their Eyes Were Watching God rather than get into The Glass Castle.

Anyone else have a different experience with this book? What do you have to say about it?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Zookeeper's Wife (Work in Progress)

This is a book that I picked up on a whim at Barnes and Noble. It is set in Poland during World War II and is the true story of a zoo transformed into a refuge for many Jews during the war. It is a work in progress because it has taken me over a month to finish. I have been distracted by other books (especially The Hunger Games Trilogy), but I keep coming back to it. It is not a "stay up all night to finish" book or a "I can't put it down" book, but it is a book that you will want to read because it has a good message. It is a book that reminds me there are good people doing good things in this world.