Friday, November 30, 2007

Book Review: Blood Brothers

First, let me say that I don't know what it is about the weeks leading up to final exams that makes me read a ton of books, but there is definitely a pattern of such behavior in my history. I guess it is my way of avoiding what needs to be done without feeling completely lazy, I don't know. But I spent the better part of yesterday finishing Wuthering Heights and then reading this book in its entirety. Good times.

Second, there has been a slight estrangement between Ms. Nora Roberts and myself when it comes to her trilogies. She likes magic and supernatural stuff and I don't. But there was something about this trilogy that appealed to me. The basically story line revolves around three friends who were all born on the same day, July 7, 1977. On their tenth birthday, they go out into the woods for a campout and made a blood oath to be "brothers" for life, and in the process unknowingly awaken a demon that has been slumbering for centuries.

I know, I know, it sounds stupid. But what makes it better than your average magic story she writes about is that, after the demon was released, for seven days every seven years the town people go crazy and do weird stuff that they don't remember. And twenty-one years later things start escalating because now it is the third time this has happened. (Seven times three is twenty-one, there are three boys, etc. You get the picture.) I won't give too much away but I will say that this is all tied to something that happened involving the town founders in the seventeenth-century.

Despite the ridiculousness, I found myself enjoying this book quite a bit. The heroes of this trilogy are typical Roberts heroes—i.e., amazing catches, paragons of men. The heroines are shaping up to be interesting, too. All in all it was just a fun little read. There were numerous quips from the characters that made me chuckle out loud, so that was fun.

Book Review: Wuthering Heights

So, I have just finished reading Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and I have just one question:


Seriously, why was I made to read Jane Eyre in high school when that author’s sister had written this masterpiece? Why do Darcy and Elizabeth of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice get so much credit for being one of the great romantic couples in literature? ”You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you”? What is that? Is that contained, polite admission of love supposed to move me? Darcy and Elizabeth’s love had nothing on Heathcliff and Catherine’s wild, consuming, and uncontrollable passion!

Catherine on Heathcliff:
“What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning; my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and heremained, I should still continue to be; and all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger; I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath—a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind—not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”

Heathcliff on Catherine:
“Two words would comprehend my future—death and hell; existence, after losing her, would be hell. Yet I was a fool to fancy for a moment that she valued Edgar Linton’s attachment more than mine. If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day. And Catherine has a heart as deep as I have; the sea could be as readily contained in the horse trough, as her whole affection be monopolized by him.”

Heathcliff and Catherine together:
“You teach me how cruel you’ve been—cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry, and wring out my kisses and tears; they’ll blight you—they’ll damn you. You loved me—then what right had you to leave me? What right—answer me—for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart—you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine. So much the worse for me, that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you—oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?”
“Let me alone. Let me alone,” sobbed Catherine. “If I’ve done wrong, I’m dying for it. It is enough! You left me too—but I won’t upbraid you! I forgive you. Forgive me!”
“It is hard to forgive, and to look at those eyes, and feel those wasted hands,” he answered. “Kiss me again, and don’t let me see your eyes! I forgive what you have done to me. I love
my murderer—but yours! How can I?”

Swoon! How can you top that? Has any author ever topped that?

This book is nothing short of a masterpiece—it’s pure literary perfection. A part of me laments that I never read it before now, but then another part of me is glad that I didn’t. I’m not sure I would have appreciated it the way it deserves to be appreciated before now. I am in the middle of an obsession with reading right now, and this book deserves to be read in such a mood. There are so many things that I love about this book that I don’t even know where to begin.

First, the story is completely engrossing, and Brontë holds nothing back from the reader. We see all the violence and wretchedness that occurs in startling fashion, but are also treated to the most passionate love I’ve ever read about.

Second, the characterizations are fantastic. Every person in this story has their own personality, their own demons, their own motivations, and they all play vital roles in the story.

Third, the way that the story is told is excellent. There is less than a year between the events on the first page and the events on the last page, but decades are told in between. I think that starting the novel the way Brontë did was pure genius. I was totally enraptured the entire time I was reading.

Finally, this book is alive. I don’t know how to explain it any other way. The words leap off the page.

There is a fantastic introduction by Alice Hoffman in the version I have, and I agree with everything she says. We should hate Heathcliff, but we can’t. As Hoffman says, “He has become antisocial, selfish, jealous—a man willing to destroy himself in order to destroy others. And yet we understand the humanity of this ‘fierce, pitiless, wolfish man’ precisely because we know his emotional history.”

I don’t know what else to say about this book, other than it is quite possibly the best book I have ever read.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Book Review: The Awakening

So I've decided that I will read more classics, and as I was at the bookstore the other day trying to decide what my next read should be, I stumbled across The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I immediately thought that it would be a good book to follow Lady Chatterley's Lover, because without knowing more I thought that they would be interesting to compare and contrast given that they are both about self-realization of women in a sense, and also because one was written by a man and one was written by a woman.

Turns out, though, that the two books are not as comparable as I thought. For one thing, Edna's awakening in The Awakening is of a different sort than Connie's was in Lady Chatterley's Lover. Edna seems dissatisfied with everything in her life, with her identity as a person, while Connie is primarily sexually frustrated. Sure, that affects many aspects of Connie's life, but she is also just a completely different character. I'm not sure that I can write my thoughts down in a coherent fashion, so here they are in babble form:

—Edna came across as very unlikable to me. There was a part of me that was unsympathetic to her "plight" because she seemed unaware that, despite how unhappy she was with her life, she failed utterly to realize how blessed she was in the freedoms that she did have, i.e., she had a home, clothes, food, and didn't have to work to support herself. As a result she was able to go around and socialize and dally with her painting hobby. Connie, on the other hand, was a very likable woman. I felt that she was a cheerful woman that was wasting away in her marriage to a paralyzed, pompous man. Another contrast was that Connie seemed very aware of her position in society and her privileges.

—But to be fair to Edna, Connie was not defined by her role as a wife and mother. Clifford, Connie's husband, treated her more of an equal than Edna's husband did. He was pompous and annoying, yes, but he respected her as a person and appreciated her mind (when it was useful to him, at least). Edna was suffocating in every area of her life and had to make a change.

All in all I think that The Awakening is a very good book. Everything that is written is there for a reason and nothing is superfluous. The book flows nicely and is so coherent as to be utterly believable. Still, though, Edna is hard to sympathize with. I found myself forced to remember more than once that a woman's place in society was considerably different when this book was written than it is today. I think the only thing that protects Edna from my scorn is knowing that she probably didn't have much conscious choice in the way her life turned out. Women in her era got married and had children without really thinking about whether that was something that they wanted. Edna herself realized that:

She was fond of her children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them. The year before they had spent part of the summer with their grandmother Pontellier in Iberville. Feeling secure regarding their happiness and welfare, she did not miss them except with an occasional intense longing. Their absence was a sort of relief, though she did not admit this, even to herself. It seemed to free her of a responsibility which she had blindly assumed and for which Fate had not fitted her.

However, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Edna's situation is rather common in today's age, too.

The Bookseller of Kabul Revisited

Yesterday I awoke to a book piece about The Bookseller of Kabul. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading Asne Seierstad's work in the future. I think she is a brilliant writer, however the bookseller himself disagrees.
According to him, The Bookseller of Kabul has ruined his life and he wrote his own book to set the matter straight. I found the piece interesting and disturbing. There is a part of me that remains skeptical of what he says. I like how Asne sums it up as leaving "the truth" to the readers, because in the end all that really matters is how readers choose to read a book. Here is the NPR excerpt:

"Bookseller Shah Mohammed Rais is well known in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul. For more than three decades, he's sold books, posters and maps to Afghans and foreigners living there. He's nurtured his business through war, censorship and even a Taliban book burning.

But in the West, the bookseller gained fame in another way. A tell-all book called The Bookseller of Kabul paints him as a not-so-nice patriarch with two wives. He claims the book has ruined his life and forced his family to scatter across three continents. Rais decided to get even by writing his own book.

At his rickety shop at one of Kabul's busiest intersections, Rais says he's got just about everything you might want to read, old and new. Not just in Dari or Pashto, but in English, German, French and Russian.

Rais, 53, says he even carries Western favorites, including the Harry Potter series translated into Farsi. He got those books in neighboring Iran.

It was a trip to the Iranian capital, Tehran, at age 15 that sparked his love of books. A smile spreads across his weathered face as he recalls the moment.

"I never ... dreamed to see [so] many bookstores in a town, in a different city," he says. His first purchase was Othello. Shakespeare's tragedy, mixing different ethnicities and "different colors," captivated him.

"I found it very interesting and suddenly I purchased many other books and I started to read books," he says.

And to sell them. He says he returned to Kabul with three boxes of books. That trip led to many more — back to Iran, to Pakistan and later, to Europe and South America. His business grew.

He insists it's about more than profit. He calls it a moral obligation. It's why he says he bought a large bus to use as a bookmobile on visits to far-flung cities across Afghanistan.

"Because you know the soul of the society, the soul of the city, the soul of [Afghanistan], is books. In any country," Rais says. "Without books it's impossible to reconstruct Afghanistan."

There are few books he shies away from. He says he was jailed by the communists because he carried books penned by mujahedeen fighters during the Soviet invasion.

During the Taliban era, a postcard featuring the faces of Afghan men that he created led to his store being raided and his books being burned. But he persuaded the regime to let him reopen.

In 2002, Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad asked if she could live with Rais and his family to write a book. The bookseller agreed. He says he couldn't refuse a guest, even though his tiny home was crammed with 20 people at the time.

For five months he openly shared his life with Seierstad. But Rais says he was unprepared for her interpretation of what she saw. In the book, Seierstad paints an unflattering portrait of a controlling patriarch with two wives and the oppression of female relatives, among other things.

His oldest son, Iraj Mohammed Rais, says Seierstad is "like a typical Westerner, you know, no offense. She'll do anything for fame and money. That's it. This is not the West where you can just live with friends and all that. This is about the life of people."

He and his father say they fear being attacked by Afghans offended by the portrayal of Afghan family life in The Bookseller of Kabul. The elder Rais sent his first wife and several of their children to live in Canada. The second wife and several more children sought asylum — ironically, in Norway.

The bookseller says he is pursuing legal action in Norway, although Seierstad says no lawsuit has been filed. Rais turned down Seierstad's offer of $100,000 to set up a foundation in his name to benefit Afghans. He says he'll settle for nothing short of a public apology to him and his family and a declaration that the book is a lie.

But Seierstad stands by what she wrote.

So Rais tried a different tact. He wrote his own book and used his own money to publish it. The English version of Once Upon a Time There Was a Bookseller in Kabul came out this year.

Seierstad says she read it in Norwegian.

"There are things in his book that I could say, 'No, no that's not right, that's not true,' but I just leave it to that. I wrote my book. He will have to live with my book. He wrote his book. I will have to live with his book. This is the very best way to solve literary conflicts. Write books and then it's up to the reader."

But Rais says he won't give up until he feels his honor has been restored."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Book Review: Lady Chatterley's Lover

I started reading this book because I wanted to read more of the "classics," because as much as I enjoy contemporary fiction, there is a certain amount of snobbery in the book-loving world that makes you feel like you'll never be "well read" if you don't read the classics. But after reading this book, I'm kind of wondering if this qualifies as a classic.

While reading Lady Chatterley's Lover, I found myself getting the same impression I got when I read The Feminine Mystique. The book was interesting, particularly from a historical perspective, but I couldn't help but think that it was lacking relevance. It seems as if this book has the well-known reputation that it has because it was one of the first books of its kind of use graphic and explicit descriptions of sex. And from what I understand it was the subject of obscenity litigation involving publishers in the United States and the United Kingdom, which of course increased its fame.

But in the age of modern romance novels, that sexuality is not uncommon or remarkable in publishing. In fact, I personally felt as if there wasn't a whole lot to Lady Chatterley's Lover once that sex was stripped away. Frankly put, this is a book about sexuality and Lawrence relies heavily on descriptions of sexual encounters between the two main characters to tell the story.

Which leads me to my other complaint. There was something about a male author writing what is supposed to be this great liberation of a female character's sexuality that didn't sit well with me. More than once I felt that Lawrence was slightly patronizing, and I definitely felt that he, as a man, was ill-equipped to speak to the sex lives of women. Perhaps this isn't his fault, because from my understanding much of the hub-bub about this book took place after his death, so maybe he never intended for this book to be any kind of authority on female sexuality. Who knows. But I felt like there was a marked difference between this book and the work of modern female romance novelists. The approach to the relationship was 90% sexual, with little time spent explaining why there was attraction between the characters to begin with. I suppose that is where I became unsatisfied with writing, with his male perspective, because I personally think that the female perspective is different and Connie's viewpoint would have been more accurately captured by a female writer.

What's more, Connie came across as very childish to me (hence my impression that Lawrence was patronizing). And the way that Mellors spoke to Connie is not my idea of romantic in the very least. I was left utterly convinced about the love that was supposedly between these two, at least, regarding his feelings for her. All I can say, I guess, is that I'm not a fan of Lawrence's writing (very depressing and full of anger, in a lot of ways). However, while I wasn't a fan of this book, I do appreciate it for its historical significant. The social interactions described in the book were enlightening, and it reminded me that we are kidding ourselves when we want to believe that the past generations were not as "liberal" in sexual matters as we are now.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Book Review: Atonement

I'm not particularly eager to describe the plot of this book, partially because it's too detailed to sum up quickly. So I will just repeat the synopsis from the publisher (Anchor Books) that appears on the back of the book:

On a summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment's flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony's incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century.

The first three pages of the paperback edition I purchased are made up entirely of critical praise for this book. It's described as "resplendent," "extraordinary," "astonishing," "magnificent," and "a masterpiece."

I'm going to agree.

Here are a few of the reviews that resonated the most with me:
In the seriousness of it's intentions and the dazzle of its language, Atonement made me starry-eyed all over again on behalf of literature's humanizing qualities.
—Daphne Merkin, Los Angeles Times

Magnificent. . . . Memorable. . . . Suspenseful. . . . McEwan forces his readers to turn the pages with greater dread and anticipation than perhaps does any other 'literary' writer working in English today.
—Claire Mussed, The Atlantic Monthly

Atonement can't be laid down once it's been picked up. McEwan writes like an angel and plots like a demon. . . . He can write rings around most others writing in English today.
—The Weekly Standard

This book exemplifies everything that I love about novels. The writing is so exquisite, particularly in the first half, that it makes me despair about anything I have ever written. Not only are his insights so remarkable that more than once I found myself thinking, "Yes! Exactly! That's how I always feel, too!" but the way that he phrases them are pure perfection.

But the writing style aside, this is one of those books that stays with you when you put it down. Fiction will always be my favorite genre because no other genre is able to invoke such powerful emotions. I think of fiction writing like a chemical reaction is a way. The author is able to craft a story that combines characters, events, emotions, and these are the reactants that are thrown into the vessel. They stay there together, not reacting and existing separately. But then the author gives us the catalyst—it could be a fact that was withheld, or an event, or maybe just insight or character realization. But suddenly that catalyst transforms those reactants that had just been sitting there into the products of emotion and wonder. Suddenly there is something new to be seen from what had been there before, all because of that catalyst that the author gave us. It's this ability to manipulate the reactants and catalysts of a particular story that gives fiction writing its power. McEwan has done this in Atonement. That catalyst is given on the last three pages of Atonement, and it left me breathless.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

For awhile I read New York Times bestsellers just to see what all the hype was about. However I never had the chance to read this one until I found it at a thrift store. Hey, I like books but not enough to pay 15 smacks for a book everyone else has claimed to be phenomenal.
After seeing a movie preview I grabbed the book and began reading. There is just something to reading a book before seeing the movie that I enjoy more. I would classify The Kite Runner as an engrossing story of love, loss, regret and forgiveness within families. Hosseini does a good job at getting readers to empathize with the characters. I say "good" because I've read authors who've done this thousands of times better than him, but I suppose this is his first work. Although I thought it would be predictable I was wrong, thus making the story even more enjoyable. I enjoyed the tidbits of Afghani culture and history. I enjoyed the pace of things. I enjoyed this book.

Kim's Grade: B+

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gag-worthy Passage of the Week

Charley's people sat by the fire with Axe and his wife and ate the meal off wood trays with cane-stalk implements. Charley had a pattern to eating a squirrel. He kept it on its skewer and worked back to the front, eating the little hams first, each by each, and then he went at the body meat, eating it off the ribs as if it lay in rows like corn kernels. When he finally got to the head, he broke it off and put it in his mouth and worked it around for quite some time like he was gumming tobacco. And then when he was done, he reached in a finger and pulled out a bare little skull and showed it cupped in his palm like it was a fine achievement, his own creation worthy of favorable comment.

-Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier

How's THAT for imagery? Thanks, Chuck, thanks. For just about making me barf up my lunch.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Nancy Pearl's Sci-Fi and Fantasy Picks

Out of This World: Great Sci-Fi and Fantasy by Nancy Pearl

As usual, I heard this on NPR: Morning Edition and thought I would post it. It was a great story to wake up to. Nancy Pearl is always worth paying attention to. Her Book Lust books are fabulous. She also has mini-reviews of each of her recommendations on the story link above. Here she is:

"I am not overly fond of the word genre. Sometimes, of course, it is simply used to describe a type of book that makes use of certain conventions. However, for many people, the word has a pejorative taint — they see genre fiction as being somehow "less" than non-genre writing.

When these people find that they really like a particular work of genre fiction, they're inclined to use phrases like "transcends the genre." Though I am not a particularly violent person, hearing this always makes me want to throttle the speaker. Genre labeling not only ghettoizes particular books, but it narrows the world of literature for readers, rather than expanding it.

And speaking of genre, although I don't consider myself at all a science fiction/fantasy fanatic, I must say that selecting the books for this topic was harder than any of the others that I've done. There is simply so much excellent stuff out there — both new and old — that I know people would enjoy, that the list could have been at least four times as long. As it is, I know I've omitted some wonderful novels, like Ursula Le Guin's The Wizard of Earthsea, Dahlgren by Samuel Delany, George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, Robert Heinlein's novels for young teens, like Between Planets and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, Clifford Simak's Way Station, Dan Simmons' Hyperion and sequels, and on and on and on."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Slash it

Yes, its true the guitarist from Guns N Roses has a book out!! It is actually on the bestseller list at RIGHT NOW!! OMG!

I'm still shocked that this book would have an eager fan base. I actually spit up my coffee reading the book cover. All I could think of was a cheesy radio announcer reading the following with hints of Every Rose has its Thorn playing in the background. Brace yourself people!

"From one of the greatest rock guitarists of our era comes a memoir that redefines sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll

He was born in England but reared in L.A., surrounded by the leading artists of the day amidst the vibrant hotbed of music and culture that was the early seventies. Slash spent his adolescence on the streets of Hollywood, discovering drugs, drinking, rock music, and girls, all while achieving notable status as a BMX rider. But everything changed in his world the day he first held the beat-up one-string guitar his grandmother had discarded in a closet.

The instrument became his voice and it triggered a lifelong passion that made everything else irrelevant. As soon as he could string chords and a solo together, Slash wanted to be in a band and sought out friends with similar interests. His closest friend, Steven Adler, proved to be a conspirator for the long haul. As hairmetal bands exploded onto the L.A. scene and topped the charts, Slash sought his niche and a band that suited his raw and gritty sensibility.

He found salvation in the form of four young men of equal mind: Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin, Steven Adler, and Duff McKagan. Together they became Guns N' Roses, one of the greatest rock 'n' roll bands of all time. Dirty, volatile, and as authentic as the streets that weaned them, they fought their way to the top with groundbreaking albums such as the iconic Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion I and II.

Here, for the first time ever, Slash tells the tale that has yet to be told from the inside: how the band came together, how they wrote the music that defined an era, how they survived insane, never-ending tours, how they survived themselves, and, ultimately, how it all fell apart. This is a window onto the world of the notoriously private guitarist and a seat on the roller-coaster ride that was one of history's greatest rock 'n' roll machines, always on the edge of self-destruction, even at the pinnacle of its success. This is a candid recollection and reflection of Slash's friendships past and present, from easygoing Izzy to ever-steady Duff to wild-child Steven and complicated Axl.

It is also an intensely personal account of struggle and triumph: as Guns N' Roses journeyed to the top, Slash battled his demons, escaping the overwhelming reality with women, heroin, coke, crack, vodka, and whatever else came along.

He survived it all: lawsuits, rehab, riots, notoriety, debauchery, and destruction, and ultimately found his creative evolution. From Slash's Snakepit to his current band, the massively successful Velvet Revolver, Slash found an even keel by sticking to his guns.

Slash is everything the man, the myth, the legend, inspires: it's funny, honest, inspiring, jaw-dropping . . . and, in a word, excessive."

Excessive people! EXCESSIVE!


Monday, November 05, 2007


My mom's birthday was over the weekend. She always made sure I had books as a child. Maybe it was because we didn't have television. Or the fact that I was her oldest and used it as a tool to keep me occupied. It doesn't matter. But she did give me Anne of Green Gables and The Little House on the Prairie, and all the books in between. She even made sure my Book It! pizza certificates were used even though we had to travel thirty miles to use them. When my parents divorced she made sure I had every Babysitters Club book available and trips to the library were frequent. Books were how I escaped their unpleasant divorce and are how I cope with cold and rainy Saturday afternoons. Thanks Mom, for giving me books. Happy Birthday!

Thursday, November 01, 2007


I recently plugged all the book links back into the blog. I also found some new ones like Nonfiction Readers Anonymous and Pop Culture Book Reviews. They both are pretty good and consistent with postings. The Ornery Librarian also has short sweet book reviews with sarcasm plenty! Let me know what you think!