Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tournament of Books - this week's votes

I feel like I've already discussed the books, and since I'm still me, there's not a lot more to say.  So I'll just post who I would pick for each round this week!

  • March 18 - Hill William v. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia(My round is different since I picked Asia and the judge picked A Tale for the Time Being) - I think these are about even, but I guess I'll pick Hill William.
  • March 19 - The Good Lord Bird v. The Signature of All ThingsWell I never read Bird so I'll go with Signature.
  • March 20 - Eleanor & Park v. The SonEleanor & Park was wonderful, and The Son is so full of violence I may never even try it. E&P!
  • March 21 - Long Division v. The People in the TreesI had selected Long Division rather than The Goldfinch.  It had some issues and while I am looking forward to the author's next book, The People in the Trees is the best book in the tournament in my opinion, so it wins.  And it will keep winning. Um, spoiler alert.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tournament of Books: Atkinson vs. Yanagihara

I'm playing along with the Tournament of Books

Today's book match:

Life After Life v. The People in the Trees

I do not envy John Green his decision as the official Tournament of Books judge for this round.  I think these two books are the strongest in the tournament. The two novels are very different, but have some interesting similarities in the way truth changes based on who is telling a story, how history can change (literally in the Atkinson), and how perspective can be everything.

I have already <a href="">discussed Life After Life</a> in the pre-tournament round, so I won't repeat myself.

The People in the Trees, on the other hand, is probably the book I have been the most conflicted about in my entire life. It's written like an annotated memoir based on letters from jail, about a scientist who does research on immortality on a newly discovered Micronesian tribe. So the style is cool, you would almost think it was real non-fiction but its all fiction and therefore a novel. I even got tricked a few times into looking up books that are mentioned. They don't exist. Nothing is real. But throughout the reading of the book, I would forget and indulge my librarian side..

The scientist, Dr. Perina, is really unlikeable. You know at the beginning that he is in jail for abusing his children, but you don't know the story or if it's true until the end.

Along the way though, along with imaginative jungle descriptions and tribal culture, are pretty explicit scenes of violent sexual abuse. The author made them central to the plot. I ended the novel feeling like I'd witnessed something awful, something that since it didn't even happen, I never needed to have read, so unnecessary.

So okay my question is this... Is this brilliance, If I'm shaken to the core? Or was I just manipulated? Could it have had the same emotional impact without those scenes or if she'd implied them? Either way the author willingly put it there. I think I hated it yet feel like I was supposed to. 

I brought the book up to several trusted book groups and readers, asking their opinion about what it MEANS when you react this way.  I still haven't rated the book in GoodReads.  I'm not sure I'd recommend anyone to read it, but I secretly think it might be brilliant.  So the winner I will choose is People in the Trees.

ETA: See John Green's official choice as judge for the Tournament of Books. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Visiting the history of a place: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(I received a copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

This book by Sue Monk Kidd is a story based on Sarah Grimke, an early Charlestonian abolitionist. It is told by alternating chapters from Sarah's perspective (starting from childhood), and of her personal slave Handful. While some of the story is imagined, much of it comes from the history of the Grimkes, pre Civil War Charleston, and the slave rebellions of the time.

I was excited to get a copy of this book because I was heading back to Savannah and Charleston for Spring Break. Little did I know that I would encounter details from the novel in my tourism! I spent part of a day at the Boone Hall Plantation, one of the handful of plantations that can be toured along the rivers and marshes in Charleston. In the row of slave houses, where each one focuses on a different era in slavery, abolition, and advances for African Americans in the south, I found pictures and bios of the Grimke sisters, Denmark Vessey (an important figure in the novel), and even a representative quilt similar to the one created by Handful and her mother. I know the author lives in the area, and while she did not specifically mention Boone Hall, the world of The Invention of Wings felt very alive in that moment.

People who lead change have a rough road. What I liked about this novel was that it wasn't just about the conviction of a rich southern child, but the difficult journey. From the beginning of the novel, Sarah is denied access to the world of learning, with her father banning her from his library after she taught Handful how to read.

"'The truth,' she said, 'is that every girl must have ambition knocked out of her for her own good. You are unusual only in your determination to fight what is inevitable. You resisted and so it came to this, to being broken like a horse.'"

Sarah Grimke ending up speaking for the rights of women alongside the abolition of slavery, a move that ostracized her from communities like the northern abolitionists and Quakers. She was forbidden to return home, as was her sister Angelina. They would only live long enough to see the tough times of the Reconstruction Era, but not the long-reaching impact they had in both areas of human rights. Kidd does an excellent job of telling their story in a way alongside the often overlooked story of the larger slave community, not just on one plantation but Charleston-wide, where slaves outnumbered white people at incredible numbers.

Slave Row at Boone Hall Plantation

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Library Books Mid-March Edition

This pile of books makes me wonder if I am getting too caught up in the Reading Shoulds again.  What are the Shoulds?  Any time you are doing something because you feel you should, of course.  I kick the Shoulds to the curb on a regular basis in many areas of my life, but it is more difficult with reading.  Of course I want to read the books everyone is reading.  I joined book clubs with themes that interested me so that I could read more books along those topics.  But too many of those and my reading list becomes cluttered with books I need to read for those groups!  There are only three books on this pile that did not originate as a Should.  I may feel less overwhelmed by the others once I have tried them, but in this moment I am feeling a strong feeling of "Why did I do this to myself again?"

This weekend I will be reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, all 477 pages of it, because my only in-person book club meets Monday evening to discuss it.  I was not planning to read this book, not because I don't enjoy Adichie (I do!) but because I have read multiple books set in Nigeria and want to expand my African horizons if I spend time reading authors from that continent.  As of this writing I have pushed through 100 pages, and it is good, but it is not the book I'm in the mood to read.

Dreams in a Time of War, The Sand Child, and Dead Aid are all from my Great African Reads group in GoodReads.  I don't tend to read along with every selection, so I will probably try these out and only read what grabs me.  Dead Aid is non-fiction and short, and might be interesting.  Altered Carbon is this month's pick for the Sword and Laser group, and it has been a while since I've read along.  I started that book and liked it but it was getting mixed up in my head with the audiobook I was listening to at the time, so I put it aside for later. 

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia was the last book I read for the Tournament of Books, and I already discussed it earlier this week.

The book on the top of the pile, Palimpsest, is actually one of my favorite books from one of my favorite authors, Catherynne M. Valente.  I loaned my paper copy to a former student and I was thinking about how much I love the language, and thought it might be nice to hear in audio.  On a whim I searched the catalog of my local library and voila! 

The last two books are not Shoulds but I have not yet tried them.  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a book I've been circling for a while, thinking about checking it out, knowing I have enjoyed previous books of her stories (What I Didn't See.)  Then a friend e-mailed me to reassert that I should definitely read it, and I checked it out.  Ironically I'm not reading it because it is on the list of Nebula nominees, as I'm not pushing myself to read everything Nebula and Hugo as I have done in years past. Nearby I found the Diaries of George Orwell, and I just couldn't help myself.  I hope they are slightly paranoid and obsessive or I will be disappointed!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tournament of Books: The Goldfinch v. Long Division

I'm playing along with the Tournament of Books

Today's book match:

The Goldfinch v. Long Division

Kiese Laymon was a new author to me before the Tournament of Books, while Donna Tartt was a definite known entity with books like The Secret History and The Little Friend.

Neither book is perfect.  The Goldfinch spends almost 600 pages being a literary thriller and then attempts redemption in the end by being insightful and "deep," but I felt like the ending was the least successful part.  There is no shame to a well-written literary thriller!  I also felt like the main character was difficult - he isn't a good person, but he's had a hard life.  Tartt does an excellent job of making him complicated and imperfect, where I wasn't sure if I wanted him to succeed or not!

In Long Division, I loved the characters absolutely, particularly Citoyen "City" Coldson, the 14 year old who becomes internet-famous overnight.  The basic framework of his story with time travel didn't always have the consistency I need in a good time travel book.  I would have been just as happy living with the characters in one decade or another, in other words I think the author was compelled to stretch the boundaries of the world his characters lived in, but they didn't need it.  He had created a solid story as it was.  

This is a hard round to call, because the books are so different.  I guess it comes down to which author would I pick up to read again, the one I look forward to the most, and I think my answer to this leads me to select: Long Division by Kiese Laymon as the winner for this round.  

See official judge H├ęctor Tobar's verdict at the Tournament of Books site.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tournament of Books - Skipping this Round

I'm playing along with the Tournament of Books

Today's book match:

The Son v. At Night We Walk in Circles

I shamefully did not read either of these books.  I gave the Alarcon 50 pages but didn't finish, and The Son never became available at the library.  This one is a draw!

ETA: You can read the opinion of official judge John McElwee and his verdict at the Tournament of Books site.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tournament of Books: Lahiri vs. Rowell

I'm playing along with the Tournament of Books

Today's book match:

The Lowland v. Eleanor & Park

The Lowland is a story about a man whose brother dies, and he marries his brother's widow and moves to Rhode Island while he attends school.  It is a familiar type of story for Lahiri, but to me, not as emotionally connected with the characters (neither with each other or with the reader) as previous books such as The Namesake.

Emotional connection.  That all important bond between reader and author.  One of the education professors where I work said it better than I ever could in his review of Eleanor & Park, because he connected on such a deep level with the novel. I can't imagine anyone ever having such a strong connection with The Lowland. It simply isn't there.

I loved Eleanor & Park because it took me back to high school - the long bus rides, convincing the people who intimidated me that I did not care what people thought, enduring comments on my appearance and feeling awkward - Rainbow Rowell doesn't shy away from any of it.

I can't believe the book has been as heavily censored as it has been; honestly I didn't even notice any profanity or overt sexual content if it was even there because it's all written so realistically.  Librarians are compelled to fight censorship, so I connected with it on two levels - shared experience and protective librarian!  There's just no contest, this round goes to: Eleanor & Park.

ETA: See the opinion of official judge Jami Attenberg at the Tournament of Books site.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tournament of Books: The Signature of All Things v. The Dinner

I'm playing along with the Tournament of Books

Today's book match:

The Signature of All Things v. The Dinner

I wasn't going to read the Elizabeth Gilbert because I hated Eat, Pray, Love.  I got an audiobook in the mail for review and then it ended up on the Tournament of Books list, so I gave in and listened to all eighteen hours of the thing.  While absolutely nothing like Eat, Pray, Love, I ended up feeling like I'd spent too much time with it and felt it went a weird direction.  The best part of the story probably didn't need to be in the novel at all - the adventure story of the main character's father growing from poor to wealthy.

With The Dinner, I was probably misled because I read it after finding it on a list of books recommended if you enjoyed Gone Girl.  For me, the parts I liked of Gone Girl were nowhere to be found.  The only similarity were unlikeable characters, but who wants to spend an entire book with those?  There is a central mysterious event, which the author only maintains the suspense over what happened until halfway through, and then you know and the rest of it rehashes said event through various characters' perspective.  By then I was so over with it, I ended up feeling like I'd spent too much time with it.

So who gets to win?  Elizabeth Gilbert looks at botany and feminism and trade and spiritualism and relationships and travels all over the place.  Herman Koch looks at guilt and privilege and stays in one room during one meal.  I suppose I should vote for the book that was better than I expected, rather than letting me down from a preconceived notion.  For that, I give this round to: The Signature of All Things.

ETA: Roger D. Hodge picks a winner at the Tournament of Books site.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Tournament of Books: The Good Lord Bird v. The Tuner of Silences

I'm playing along with the Tournament of Books

Today's book match:

The Good Lord Bird v. The Tuner of Silences

This is difficult to call.  Okay, okay, I never even cracked the cover of The Good Lord Bird.  I just have no interest in the subject material.  I know I should give it a chance, after all baseball didn't ruin The Brothers K for me, but I never found the motivation.

The Tuner of Silences, on the other hand, was awful. Probably the worst book I've finished in years. I should have given myself permission to abandon it, but it wasn't very long.  The author was obsessed with the father-donkey relationship, the world is confusing, and I found it to be pretty misogynist. 

The Good Lord Bird won the National Book Award.  People must like it! I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and let it win this round without having read a single word.  Spoiler alert: it won't win the next.

Winner, by default and lack of interest: The Good Lord Bird

If you think I should read it, tell me why in the comments.  I'm willing to be proven wrong.

ETA: The official judge did not convince me I should read either book, but she did have to pick a winner at the Tournament of Books site

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Reading Envy 003: 3 of 5 Stars

On our third episode, we were joined by Julie Davis, referred to fondly on this podcast as Sister Julie Loquacious (gold star if you catch the reference).  Julie has a multi-faceted internet presence indeed!  Scott knew about her several years ago from her blog, The Happy Catholic, and then she showed up on an episode of SFF Audio.  They started their own podcast, A Good Story is Hard to Find, where they examine film, television, and books through a Catholic lens.  Two Catholic lenses.  Julie also records books you should know about on Forgotten Classics.  She is always reading a wide variety of books, so we were very happy to have her as our second guest! 

Julie whittled down her list to three titles she has been reading recently:

Jenny selected three from her last month, okay five:

Scott expounds on his three selections, and on the self-publishing world:

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 003: 3 of 5 Stars

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Tournament of Books: Ozeki vs. Hamid

I'm playing along with the Tournament of Books

Today's book match:

A Tale for the Time Being v. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia


This is an interesting pairing of books, both of which I originally gave 3/5 stars.  Both have to do with a very modern Asia, one that has been deeply effected by significant change.  In A Tale for the Time Being, it is natural disaster - the tsunami and earthquake in Japan.  In How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, it is the economic shift, providing new opportunities where they may not have been any before.

Both novels employ unique storytelling styles - the Ozeki is told in pieces through a discovered journal addressed to the Time Being, and the Hamid is told as a self-help style book, written almost entirely in second person.  The Ozeki is overly complicated and the Hamid is deceivingly simple.

How complicated?  You wouldn't believe everything that is crammed into A Tale for the Time Being - the journal of 16 year old Nao living in Japan, her great-uncle's diaries from World War II, a biography of her grandmother Niko, and a later-parallel story of Ruth, an author living in Canada who finds Nao's journal and other ephemera washed up on her island shore. Just these ideas and concepts were almost one too many, and then the author decided to throw in a touch of bizarre quantum mechanics, people struggling with Alzheimers, memory loss, suicide attempts, bullying, and a bizarre character trying to plant ancient plants.

How simple? The tone of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is pretty basic, with each chapter focusing on a different topic a person would need to rise from slums to a self-made success in business.  It wasn't until after I finished that I realized I had also learned the story of the character in there, that I knew about his lifelong obsession with the Pretty Girl, and just how far he would go to try to make a buck.  In the end, it wasn't as simple or as positive as it felt while reading it.  I think this kind of writing, and any time you get a story down to its bones, takes a masterful turn.

I'm not sure how the official judge will think, but for me, I wanted to tell Ozeki to go back, remove all but one accessory, and pull it back into a cleaner story.  There were good parts but in the end all the angles muddied the waters.  I'm giving this round to How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia!

ETA: The official ruling over at Tournament of Books.