Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sense and Sensibility

So after I read Emma, I decided I just had to read Sense and Sensibility. And I'm pretty sure Pride and Prejudice will happen soon.

Also like Emma, I love the movie of Sense and Sensibility, but had not read the book. So I did. And of course the book is better, and deeper, and everything, but if you haven't seen the movie, please do. It is wonderful. (If you can get over Snape as Colonel Brandon. For me it was the other way around with the first few movies. Colonel Brandon can't be Snape! But now I think he is perfect.)

But this a blog about books, not movies, so I apologize. The point is, Sense and Sensibility is wonderful. I feel like Jane Austen is so good at writing an interesting story with a good plot, filled with charming characters, many of them hilarious, and also making you think about human nature, and the way people are. She's very observant about the way people act. And of course there are always lots of funny little thing about good society and the proper way to act, and who is unsuitable for who, and things like that.

Sense and Sensibility has so many endearing characters. I love both Elinor and Marianne Dashwood so much. And I love so so much the reversal of the way that they are by the end of the book. Throughout the whole thing, Marianne is romantic and whimsical and impulsive and only thinks with her heart. Elinor is exactly the opposite. She is very controlled in her emotions, she has a lot of sense. But by the end, we see Elinor sort of let go of that a little, and Marianne becomes more like Elinor, more sensible. I really liked that.

I loved how much the sisters were involved in each other's lives, and how much they loved each other. Because it's a story about lots of things--love, lies, London--but above all, it's a story about two sisters who care about each other very much.

Anyway, it was a wonderful book, and if you haven't read it, I recommend it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

I'm cross-posting this one with my other review site because I thought this was a pretty interesting book that not too many people had heard about! It wasn't my favorite but was still a decent read.

Title: Nefertiti
Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Crown, 2007
Source: Borrowed from my sister-in-law

The untimely death of the pharaoh's oldest son leaves the kingdom wide open for Amunhotep, the ambitious and heretic second son. Nefertiti, the beautiful and intelligent niece of the Queen of Egypt, is a logical choice as his chief wife. However, as Amunhotep (later Akhenaten) pushes his new religious ideas on his reluctant subjects, the political climate of Egypt grows more and more unstable. Nefertiti's cat-eyed sister, Mutnodjmet, is thrown into the center of it all as she struggles to escape the tumult of royal life and establish a peaceful family life of her own.

This book sat on my nightstand for months, and I'm not sure why. I think it was one part my overwhelmed feeling with everything I had to read, one part my lack of interest in Egypt in general, and one part my reluctance to get into historical fiction. This is kind of laughable to me now, because since reading this book I have read practically nothing but historical fiction since.

To me, Nefertiti was mildly entertaining. The setting, however, was fantastic. In my mind I had a preconception that I wasn't interested in Egyptian history, but once I became swept up in the story I found the scenery and daily-life tidbits fascinating. Moran inserted little details of culture that made the events more believable. Her scenes were vivid - I could picture the city Nefertiti and Amunhotep were building and Mutnodjmet's herb garden.

I had mixed reactions to the characters. Mutnodjmet herself was an enjoyable character to read. She only wants to enjoy her life as a loved and fulfilled woman, but her family expects her to be willing to sacrifice everything for their social status, The Other Boleyn Girl -style. While she does have a few weak moments enjoying a triumph of beauty over Amunhotep's Second Wife, Kiya's, ladies in waiting. She has interests beyond the family's status, growing medicinal herbs and setting up a business to help women with various problems. She wants to have a family and enjoy a life married to a man that she loves. My one complaint with Mutny was that she was too perfect - she never made a mistake, never showed a dark side. She was consistently either devoted and dutiful or righteously indignant.

Nefertiti and Amunhotep, on the other hand, were selfishness personified. They ignored all political life and cut a pathway of destruction, debt, and death through Egypt. Their horrible deeds, which could have been entertainment for shock value, become predictable. You know that Amunhotep will do something stupid and selfish, and you know that Nefertiti will go along with him to keep power over him. Their story, presumably the central story, was occasionally tiresome because of the endless tirade of horrible acts.

However, the pace picks up in the last hundred pages as Nefertiti and Amunhotep's misdeeds escalate to a horrible climax. The story becomes like a train wreck (please realize I'm referring to the horrific events, not the writing). I knew just what would happen, but I had to keep reading. I was originally thinking that perhaps I wouldn't read the sequel, The Heretic Queen, but the last 100 pages convinced me to stay invested in Amunhotep and Nefertiti's tragic story. Be warned, however, that the first several hundred pages are a slow ebb and flow of Mutnodjmet trying to assert her right to happiness and Nefertiti and Amunhotep wreaking havoc.

This was an enjoyable read, perhaps not quite living up to my expectations or the time invested in the high page count, but nevertheless one that is staying with me still. I am still looking forward to reading Michelle Moran's other works, although I am hoping her next books hold my attention a little better.

3 stars

Monday, June 13, 2011

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

This book was written by Aron Ralston, the guy who cut off his arm. I'm pretty sure you all know about him, but just in case, here's a little re-cap. In 2003, he was hiking alone in Southern Utah, and got his arm trapped by a boulder in a slot canyon. His right hand was completely trapped, he couldn't move the boulder or chip away at it to free his hand, so on the 5th day of being trapped there with very little water and only a tiny bit of food (he thought it was about 500 calories spread over a few days), next to no sleep, and obviously his hand being crushed, he cut off his arm with a pocketknife to free himself. And then he had to rappel down a cliff and hike like 7 miles before he found other people. Insane.

I was really interested in this story when it happened (I'm sure Katie remembers me convincing her to accompany me to hear him speak at UVSC, after I assured her I didn't think he was going to discuss the gory details of the amputation. And then he totally did. This was before she was a nurse, though), and I am still totally fascinated by it. I want to see the movie, too, but I wanted to read the book first and get all the facts before I watched the movie, which I know has some extra theatrical elements. But I've found that I really love books about how amazing humans are. Our bodies and our minds. When I read Unbroken, I thought over and over that I couldn't believe that guy could survive everything that he did. And when I read this, I was really just amazed at the will to survive humans have. I don't think any other animal has that as much as we do. I mean, this guy was dying. He thought it was going to happen within a matter of hours. It was his 5th day of being trapped, he was dehydrated and hallucinating, but then he decided to take action, and he did it. It was amazing how quickly it happened. He had thought about cutting off his arm every day but always talked himself out of it. But then the day he did it, he just DID it. It took like 2 hours, and then he was free.

He interspersed the chapters about each day in the canyon with other memories of his adventurous life. It was pretty cool. I knew that he was an experienced hiker, but I didn't realize HOW experienced. He had solo climbed a whole bunch of mountains in Colorado, sometimes in the winter, he had this crazy experience with a bear stalking him in the Tetons, he graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in engineering, but then quit after 5 years of working as an engineer because he loved the outdoors too much. He moved to Aspen and worked at an outdoor gear store and spent several days every week hiking, biking, and skiing. I have to admit, I skimmed through a lot of these chapters, partly because I just wanted to get back to the main story, and partly because I had to get the book back to the library. But it was interesting.

And the part I really could NOT stop reading was when I finally got to the amputation. It is pretty detailed, so if things like that will make you squeamish, do not read this. But if they don't, it is fascinating. And just incredible. I cannot believe a human being can cut off their arm, rappel down a cliff, and hike through a canyon, and be alive still. It is amazing.

Another favorite part of it for me was the pictures he included. He had a camera and a video camera with him, and he took pictures of himself. A couple of them are included in the book, including one of a blood spattered boulder in the canyon, taken after the fact. I love that he had the presence of mind to do that. And obviously he didn't include the videos in the book (because we are Muggles and don't have the capability), but he did transcribe everything he talked about. It's a message to his family and friends, tying up his financial affairs, and sharing memories with everyone, stuff like that. And I just love so much that it didn't end up being his funeral video. He would get it out and say, "Well, I think today might be the day," and stuff like that. But then he didn't die. He is ok. And that is so cool to me.

So anyway, if reading about someone cutting their arm off with a knife that is very unfit for the task will make you squeamish, don't read this. Or just skip that part, it's only like 4 pages long. If that. But if you like stories about people being inspired to live by hallucinations of their family and friends and future, you will like this. It was pretty awesome.

Also, one of my favorite passages from the book is when he finally does it. I found an excerpt online and copied and pasted it here:

It is 11.32am, Thursday, May 1 2003. For the second time in my life, I am being born. This time I am being delivered from the canyon’s pink womb, where I have been incubating. This time I am a grown adult and I understand the significance and power of this birth as none of us can when it happens the first time. The value of my family, my friends and my passions well up a heaving rush of energy that is like the burst I get approaching a hard-earned summit, multiplied by ten thousand. Pulling tight the remaining connective tissues of my arm, I rock the knife against the wall, and the final thin strand of flesh tears loose; tensile force rips the skin apart more than the blade cuts it.

A crystalline moment shatters, and the world is a different place.

Where there was confinement, now there is release. Recoiling from my sudden liberation, my left arm flings downcanyon, opening my shoulders to the south, and I fall back against the northern wall of the canyon, my mind surfing on euphoria. As I stare at the wall where not 12 hours ago I etched “RIP OCT 75 ARON APR 03”, a voice shouts in my head: “I AM FREE!”