Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(Extra Extra) Mini Bucket List: A Recap

The Books I Want To Read Before I'm Twenty Three Years Old
(I told you it was extra extra mini)

  • [X]Dhalgren, Samuel Delaney
  • [X]The River Why, David James Duncan
  • [X]Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (trans. Richard Pevear & Larissa Volohonsky)
  • [X]A Blade of Grass, Lewis DeSoto
  • [X]Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak (trans. Richard Pevear & Larissa Volohonsky)
  • [X]Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
  • [X]The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
  • [X]Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • [X]The Death of Ivan Ilvych and Other Stories, Leo Tolstoy (trans. Richard Pevear & Larissa Volohonsky)
  • [X]As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
  • [~]The Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers

Since I decided to most certainly nix The Hearbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius (I feel like that will get me some angry looks. I get that it's a huge deal for some people, but I tried reading it three times and each time fell flat on my face. It was boring. There, I said. Boring. To me, at least), then I have most certainly, definitely completed my (extra extra) mini bucket list!

Which is exciting, since I turn twenty-three this Friday (April First. Awkward, I know). I have a new list for the months of April, May and June. It'll be exciting. What's even more exciting, though, is that I finally finished posting all my back-logged book reviews! Yay!

Well, except my reviews of the Steig Larsson books. Those will take some time, since it was kind of a process.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Review: Three Dollars

Three Dollars, Elliot Perlman
3.21.11 – 3.22.11

Again, a book that felt more like a writer’s exercise (three in a row! Unfortunate). Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I think I might just be in the wrong mod for the particular genre, but it felt like all the author did was enjoy listening to the sound of his own (figurative) voice. He does remind me of Jonathan Franzen, a bit, in his attempt to capture a generation through a selected handful of people.

His protagonist was too perfect—he literally did nothing wrong, and he didn’t initiate anything. He would not stand up to [my friend]’s character screen wright test. The main protagonist was the center of the book, and yet he wasn’t an active character—his name was merely a placeholder for events to revolve around.

Now I have to re-read Seven Types of Ambiguity and determine if it’s any good, beyond its plot. TO see if the characters have any substance, that is.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger
3.20.11 – 3.21.11

This book was less enveloping than her other, The Time-Traveler’s Wife. I think it is because this one had less sympathetic characters. I liked reading it the way I liked watching Matchpoint—sometimes, there’s a morbid thrill in watching the bad guy get away.

That being said, the book felt more like a a writing exercise than a complete novel. She even wrote in the author interview afterward that it was put together more as a challenge, of combining various clich├ęs and seeing what type of book came out of it.

Also, this is the book I bought and was afraid I wouldn't finish reading before my rule of one month was up. I proved myself wrong (always exciting when that happens!)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Book Review: The Unincorporated Man

The Unincorporated Man, Dani & Eytan Kollin
3.19.11 – 3.20.11

My brother-in-law mentioned this book after we talked about The Wind-Up Girl. He hasn’t read it, but had it recommended to him. The main weakness, I think, is that the book settled definitively on a right and wrong. I think that Bacigalupi’s treatment of his topic was a lot more, if not open-minded, then exploratory.

But I suppose it asks the question—are there concepts, or moments, where having black-and-white definitions of right and wrong are important? The book answered yes, in regards to individual freedom. It declared that freedom and initiative is more important than a successful economic system.

I was also disappointed by the introduction of sentient life apart from humans and the complete failure to do anything with it. That storyline had a very Orson Scott Card-inspired feel, but then after two scenes I think the writers forgot about it. Or maybe they had a whole separate storyline, and then it was chopped in the editing process and they forgot to remove those two scenes. But I guess that’s life.

This book felt, the whole time, like a pilot for a book, rather than a book itself. It had the air of a project that was a little bit forced, and not particularly organic. Or it was as if it was written by people who, as imaginative as they are, are not in the least writers.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review: The Selected Works of T.S Spivet

The Selected Works of T.S Spivet, Reif Larsen
3.14.11 – 3.19.11

I had to get beyond the dislike I felt for the author (he felt so smug in his picture!), but once I did, the book was fabulous. It was sporadically unfinished in some parts, like the entire train of the story dealing with his mom and her work of fiction, but other than that, I really enjoyed it. I think having unfinished story lines within complex novels is the trademark of overly-ambitious authors, but what can you do? (Nothing. You can do nothing). I loved the use of the illustrations, and a lot of them made me laugh out loud. I like the innocence that the kid maintained throughout—remind the adults in the book that of course he can’t answer questions like that, he’s just a kid!

I feel, though, some doubt about how real his character could be. I get that he’s a genius little cartographer, and his prodigy status isn’t what pops the bubble of fiction, but rather, the whole setting and his upbringing and his responses to that upbringing felt bizarrely out of touch with the real world, but in an almost-perfect way. Like the author was trying for realism, but failed, rather than if the author had just umped straight into creating a fictional world.

I feel like incorporating the modern world with things like internet and cell phone is [proving to be a hard task for authors, and I’m not entirely sure why. It seems to clash with novel structures in some way. I wonder if it it’s a problem every generation of writers has when it comes to including technology, or if we’ve grown advanced enough in such a short amount of time that it sounds too much like science fiction. I think, in retrospect, that it’s one of the reasons I liked Franzen’s Freedom so much. He seemed to do it somewhat effectively.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Review: Equal Rites

Equal Rites, Terry Pratchett
3.16.11 – 3.17.11

The gentleman from my favorite used bookstore gave (not sold, but gave) the book to me after I told him I’ve only been reading depressing, heavy fiction.

His recommendation proved solid, and I enjoyed it for the entertaining evening it provided. It’s not my kind of book—at least, not for what I’m into right now. I might check them out from the library on occasion, but I don’t really want to make a financial investment in a book that felt on par with a bag of Skittles. Not if the book costs more than a bag of Skittles, that is.

As fun as the book was, and as renowned as Terry Pratchett is, I didn’t think it was a god, strong story. The humour was strong, and I laughed hard, for sure. But the plot felt so unfocused that when it finally reached the climax, I didn’t know what had happened. It was as if the story was so obvious to Pratchett that he never realized he didn’t actually type it out.

It did make me, quite literally, laugh out loud, though. And it cured me of my literary-induced depression.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review: Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Short Stories

The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories, Leo Tolstoy
2.23.11 - 3.16.11

Art is "that human activity which consists in one man's consciously conveying to others, by certain external signs, the feelings he has experienced, an din others being infection by those feelings and also experiencing them"

-The Prisoner of the Caucasus
Tolstoy claims this is his only (fiction/short story?) that fit in the definition of Good Art, as the second type: "universal art, which conveys the simplest everyday feelings of life, such as are accessible to everyone in the world". It seems like one of the plainer, parred-down even "boring" pieces he's done--the beauty of art is in the superfluous details, the artistic embellishments and interpretation, I think.

-The Diary of a Madman
I like that th etitle was almost The Diary of a Non-Madman, to make clear the point was his sanity--courts even ruled him sane, he said in the beginning. But because he didn't share what he felt was the truth. Which was?

-The Death of Ivan Ilyich
I really think Tolstoy is just so purely, simply genius. His prose has that simple cadence, it just captures small details in very intentional, or at least purposeful, ways to build a picture.

-The Kreutzer Sonata
This story struck me by its similarity to the relationship between Gary & Caroline in Franzen's The Corrections. It's really depressing, especially considering that means the relationship dynamics that make people that unhappy have persisted through the decades.

-The Devil
Also in line with the theme of hopelessness and crushing inevitability that seems to be the theme of all the books I've read lately. I like the two alternate endings, especially that Tolstoy made clear that regardless of who the character shoots, the point is that he isn't insane--his struggles are the same struggles as anyone's, that he is tormented less by what he does and feels, but more by his awareness of its larger impacts. In the end, his morality and repugnance at the situation is what gets misconstrued as insane. Which is a very strong, very sad social commentary.

-Master & Man
This one I'll have to think about some more. I feel like there are some very topical metaphors present, but also probably deeper ones buried in the text that I'll have to go hunting for. Most of this short story, as well as in his others, I feel like Tolstoy doesn't like people--that he doesn't find them, by and large, to be redeemable creatures. But I think, maybe he feels like societal influences--namely, wealth accumulation, is the root cause--that when faced with the bare bones, with mortality, they can be the best of themselves.

This story also confirms the suspicious I had in Anna Karenina, that Tolstoy uses muzhiks as symbols for inner peace and morality. He respects them so much more than the upper class.

-Father Sergius
Tolstoy's opinions of people baffle and elude me. The main character's biggest sine was awareness of his sins. Self-awareness is painful, and yet, he was punished for it. I understand the morality tale, but I disagree with the price of his sin. It's too high--it's as if he gets no credit for trying.

-After The Ball
Men (people) have more in them that is bad than is good, and it is the self-aware who suffer the most from this.

-The Forged Coupon
Felt more like a writing exercise than a short story, but it was interesting to read where Tolstoy deviates from his norm. I enjoyed it. Very moral-filled, though. Also, this was the first time I think I've ever read Tolstoy refer to muzhiks in a negative context.

-Alyosha the Pot
Annnnnd back to idealizing the poor. Good ol' Tolstoy

-Hadig Murat
This felt so very different from his other short stories. I feel like if I went and read War & Peace again, they would be in similar veins. What struck me the most was that throughout the story, Tolstoy waxed lyrical and he deviated from his normally dry descriptive prose. He might not consider it art, but I certainly do.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Book Review: The Corrections

The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
2.17.11 - 3.15.11

This book is taking longer than I anticipated. It's also growing abundantly clear that Freedom is better.

I feel like a month is much too long to spend on a book, but I have to factor in a couple of details. First, I didn't read it for the majority of the month, but rather I finished it in only three or four sittings. Secondly, I didn't read it consistently because I just didn't enjoy it. The whole book--the plot, the characters, and their interactions, were just so depressing.

It felt like the thing that was good in Freedom--that the characters were incredibly, convincingly real, was the downside in The Corrections. I don't want that to be real. There were no moments where he fixed messy ends, and while I understand that isn't how it works in real life, I'd like to argue that it's the entire book in books. I felt like The Corrections existed solely to remind you how unfailingly, unchangeably depressingly life is. Which was clearly not what I was in the book for!

This is the second time I've read the book, though, and I didn't like it the second time any more than I remember liking it the first time. i think he just didn't have his focus as clearly in his first novel, and it felt like a more unpolished version of his writing. His book Freedom was a better-donne version of The Corrections.

That being said, I'm pretty sure that I would gain a lot if I discussed this book with other people. It's the kind of book that I have really strong blinkers on regarding, and other perspectives would be nice.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Confession: I bought a book

**Update: Totally finished it! Woot! It helped that I was super bogged down with a cold for almost a week. Gave me plenty of time.

That's right, I bought a book. And I have two (three, if I don't give up on Staggering Work) before April first. The likelihood of me finishing this one, too? Slim.


It was at Costco, for super cheap, and I've been waiting for it to come out in paperback for a while. Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry. And I'm super excited about it. So we'll see. Maybe I'll squeeze it in on a quiet Sunday.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Book Review: The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon
2.27.11 - 3.4.11

[Everytime I go to Oregon, I get bit by the "want to read Pynchon" bug. Won't like, though--I'm intimidated. He scares me the way James Joyce scares me]

That I finished this makes me feel vastly more accomplished and proud that I should be.

There's a certain style of writing, a particular attitude that various authors have and I lump them together and analyze them with a particular lens. Vonnegut, Palahniuk, Pynchon. Danielewski. They all have this raw, unpolished attitude in their writing. That they might not be anarchists is true, but I'm sure they are all in love with the notion, and of chaos.

They all require readings to be understandable, they require a type of familiarity with the material that borders on memorization in order to see through the gauzy curtains of their literary chaos. It is clear to see why they have cults created around them. I enjoyed this book, most certainly. Finishing it make sme feel mildly more confident in my decision to add Gravity's Rainbow to my next batch of reading assignments.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Edit the (Extra Extra) Mini Bucket List?

I started reading The Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius, but I'm really not sure I even want to finish it... Maybe I'll change my mind soon. I only have one more month (my deadline is April 1) to finish my reread of The Corrections and The Death of Ivan Ilyvich (of which I've finished four stories).

I've also brainstormed my next batch of books that I will have until July to read (my exorbitant amount of free time will most likely decrease drastically in July, so I figure I should utilize that time while I have it).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Book Review: The Wind-Up Girl

The Wind-Up Girl, Paola Bacigalupi
3.1.11 - 3.2.11
*library book

I've been waiting to read this book for months, and I've been on the library's wait list for almost as long. I followed my sister's example and bought this book as a present for a friend's upcoming birthday but I read it before I wrapped it up. It was to make sure she would like it (she will, I'm pretty sure it's right up her alley).

When [the friend] and I went for pHo the other day, we were talking about books and what makes strong characters. She said that with screenplays (she graduated with a degree in theater), you cover the names of the people speaking and figure out if you can tell who they are. I kept that in mind with this book, and it passed the test. All of the characters (literally all except one) had their own personalities, agendas and motives. It made for a fascinating read.

The story itself was what I was the most excited about--I've definitely had an ongoing, growing fixation on post-apocalypse worlds. The story-line was a bit of a let-down, though. I think the author spent so much time developing the characters and the word that he had little energy left over for the plot.

It also felt weird that the entire novel is named after a character who plays such a small (albeit important--crucial, even role. And I liked that the main character was presented in two perspectives. Is he bad? Evil? Sympathetic?