Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book Review: Freedom

Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
1.21.11 - 1.29.11

Franzen is one of the few authors I know capable of creating not merely characters, or even deep characters, but entire people. His books are these fascinating case studies that manage, inconceivably, to deal with all the relevant social and political issues of the period he's writing in. I'm not just in awe of how he writes, but there's actual shock that it is possible to deal with the entirety of a decade, and the viewpoints in it, in the way he does.

I've heard of authors, who, during interviews, respond to the question "did you know how the story would end before you wrote the ending"* or some such question, respond to it by saying they merely created the characters, and the characters created the story. I can't imagine Franzen giving any answer other than that one--his characters are so real and complete, I have a hard time imagining them doing anything Franzen asked them to, unless they originally wanted to.

I'm really excited to re-read The Corrections. Also, the last twenty-one words of this book make me feel sucker punched, and I'm almost started crying right there in the coffee shop where I finished it. That is a rare response to a book. For me, at least.

*Confession: my mom asks this question every time she goes to an author event, and I think it's a super interesting question. I also think that the way my mom interacts with her books is super interesting, but that's a totally different blog post.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Review: A Blade of Grass

A Blade of Grass, Lewis DeSoto
1.15.11 - 1.20.11

"Did you intend for A Blade of Grass to be more of a social and political commentary or a reflection on the inner lives of your characters? If a story unfolds in a country torn by conflict, is it possible for it NOT to be political?"

That was a question from the reader's guide in the back of the book. Good question--resonates, and I'm sure I'll ask it for other novels as well. It feels unavoidable, though, that politics will enter into the dialogue. Tembi's character was the most interesting to me. It felt, when reading her decisions and choices, the most apparent that it was written by a white, male South African. It was mostly the way the white woman, Marit, always knew more than Tembi, or how she always seemed to act in a morally superior way, despite the intentional parallels in their journeys.

It seems like that can't be explained by the novel being a character study. How inherently racism enters into someone raised in that environment, I really don't know. But it seemed like the author felt Tembi had a lot more to learn, both socially and emotionally, or at least had a much harder time learning it, than Marit.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review: Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
trans. Richard Pevear & Larissa Volohonsky
1.4.11 - 1.17.11

Rereading. Finished it so fast. The first time I read this, I was a freshman at Western, for a class taught by Professor Margaritas, about whom much is debated, particularly the origin (and authenticity)of his "accent".

He was an excellent (albeit exacting) professor, and this book was one of the five that we read (four? four and a short story?). I felt like I truly learned a lot from the class and felt I had a comprehensive (though far from complete) understanding of the novel. I read War & Peace on my own later on, and hoped I'd reread Anna Karenina before I died. I'm so pleased with (and proud of, truth be told) myself for getting to it three years later.

The parts that particularly struck me, aside from those that were the same from my initial reading, in particular were the ways Tolstoy described Levin in important moments--namely, with the preparation for his wedding and the birth of his son. I was so impressed with how he captured the bubble Levin was in, and he did it so sensitively and gracefully you knew immediately (without all of the indicators) that Tolstoy identified with him the most.

The other thing I noticed, or suspect, is that Tolstoy used the muzhiks intentionally, and the way Levin thought about them, as in, to work with them and understand his relationship with them, as a way of discovering his spirituality and beliefs contrasts so sharply with the fear Anna felt with the one in her nightmares, who also seemed to represent some kind of slow, inevitable natural process.

Which in turn makes me think, along with other moments here and there, that Tolstoy really wasn't at all sympathetic to Anna's character and decisions. Which isn't what I would have thought, initially. Especially because I feel sympathetic towards her. I know that as a woman in the 21st century I am bound to approach her dilemma differently than him, but it still surprises me that despite the different approach, we end up with different conclusions. I didn't think we would.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review: The River Why

The River Why, David James Duncan
1.10.11 - 1.12.11

Mary (my stepmom) gave me this book for Christmas after I saw she was wrapping it for an unnamed someone else. I told her how good, amazing, gut-wrenching his other book, The Brothers K, was. It magically became one of my Christmas presents from her. That really wasn't my intent, but I'm so glad it's what happened. I love this author.

For a book on flyfishing, it was utterly incredible. For a book, it was utterly incredible. ___________, it was utterly incredible. I finished it at The Woods, set it down, and took some deep breaths. The book literally (not figuratively!) left me breathless. I didn't even overly resonate with the message itself, which was a search for the main character's spiritual and religious awareness. I was so very, very, very impressed with how the author achieved this message. His style and execution, as well as his simple and pure metaphors, was so well done.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Book Review: Dhalgren

Dhalgren, Samuel DeLaney
12.8.10 - 1.6.11

Checked this book out of the library the day I turned in my very last college assignment (Senior Seminar paper on Liberalism and Scott's Politics of the Veil, ahem, not that it matters). What I loved was the introduction someone else wrote about it--comparing the city in the story to the Hippie movement in the sixties. How not everyone went there, but of those who did, very few (some say none) ever return.

The book made me think a lot about House of Leaves, and Dhalgren is definitely on my reread list. I looked for a used copy and the bookstore owner told me it was one of those books--many start, few finish. I want to tell him I finished, but (one) it feels like inappropriate bragging and (two) he wouldn't remember me anyway.

I had to buy the book new.

The writing itself struck me as very powerful. I know I'm naturally an escapist who loves to lose herself in literature, but this book captured me forcibly, whether I wanted to be or not. I remember reading it in my standard little coffee shop and afterward walking down the street to work, and looking at the sky. It was odd to have to remind myself that I don't live in an anarchist, post-apocalyptic, abandoned city. The writing was fluid enough to make me occasionally forget what was actually reality.