Book Haul 2.19 / TBR 3.19

Two posts in one day, wait what? Who am I? Actually on top of things for once? Lol nope I’m still behind, but trying to catch up in the eleventh hour.

Fitting my TBR goal for the year, I’m making these new books hauled in February my March TBR. I’ve already read a few, but there are a lot left and I already know I won’t get to all of these within the month. I actually did better than in Dec. and Jan. but I’m really hoping I can commit to a downward trend in book buying because it would be nice to feel like my TBR is manageable for once. But until that time, here’s what’s new ->

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Already read:

  1. The Running Man by Stephen King. I read this in The Bachman Books last fall, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Other contributing factor to purchasing = it was one of the few remaining Stephen King books in the 2016 Gallery editions that I needed to complete my collection. The main reason my book hauls have been so large lately is that I’ve been trying to get all of these paperbacks and I mainly find them on Book Outlet, where I then feel the need to add enough other books to my cart to get free shipping. But I’ve found 8 now out of (I think) 9, so I should be better able to reign myself in going forward.
  2. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. I read this in 2016 I think, and it’s still one of my favorite mystery/thrillers of all time, primarily because of how well it thoroughly shocked me at the halfway-point twist even though I was looking for such a twist. I wanted a copy to lend and reread, as I originally borrowed it from the library.
  3. Paradise by Edna O’Brien. I ordered a few of these little books from the Faber Stories collection to get me started with that set, and I couldn’t wait until March to read them. I’m very happy with the stories I chose; you can check out my mini-reviews for more info. They also include:
  4. The Inner Room by Robert Aickman. And
  5. Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath. I had such a good time with these that I ordered another batch of three as soon as I finished, so expect those in March…

New to be read:

  1. The Dark Half by Stephen King. Another of the old Gallery paperbacks. I just grabbed it this month because I saw it was available and didn’t want to miss my chance. But I am trying to read my way through King’s oeuvre and this one looks interesting now that I know a bit more about King’s Richard Bachman pseudonym.
  2. Blaze by Stephen King. This one was available on Book Outlet when I was purchasing from there anyway.
  3. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. Also was available on Book Outlet (I swear this is not an ad, I just like their prices). A friend recommended this title to me, so I am glad I grabbed a copy.
  4. End of Watch by Stephen King. The same friend has been nagging me (in a nice way) to finish the Mr. Mercedes trilogy (this is the third book), but since I bought Finders Keepers (the second book) last year it was harder to justify picking it up when I’m behind on my current TBR system already. Having this one on hand gives me an extra nudge to just go for it anyway.
  5. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman. This is a YA contemporary with high ratings that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while, so finding it on Book Outlet seemed like fate and I grabbed it.
  6. Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee. This is an adult contemporary about sisters and mental health that I’ve been wanting to read for ages and decided it was time to get around to. Also, free shipping…
  7. 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster. I’ve been interested in this one for a while because it was shortlisted for the Man Booker a couple years ago and also because I’m highly intrigued by the premise of four mutually exclusive stories packed into one narrative.  This one’s massive, but I’m trying not to let that deter me.
  8. Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett. I picked this one up on a whim, as I remember wanting to read it back in 2016 when it started appearing as a nominee on several awards lists, but honestly it kind of fell off of my radar. I don’t remember anything about it other than that it was up for awards, so I have no idea what to expect and I probably should have looked into this a bit more, even if the shipping was free.
  9. Early Riser by Jasper Fforde. This was my Book of the Month selection for February; there’s been an intriguing trend with dream/sleep novels lately, and I’m on board for that. I just read and adored The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (review up soon) and can’t wait to try this one as well.
  10. A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum. I added this as an extra to my Feb. BOTM box because it sounded so promising (and one is never enough). This is a family/cultural story with an Arab-American MC.
  11. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. This one was recommended to me by another friend, who is currently rereading so we can talk about it together in March. I know literally nothing about it beyond the fact that she loves it and I’ve got a Murakami-sized gap in my reading life.
  12. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill. I read O’Neill’s Asking For It last summer and was absolutely stunned by it. Also a bit traumatized. It was such a meaningful book that I’ve been wanting to try another title from this author but it’s taken me a while to get past how sad and horrified the last one left me. I think I’m finally ready to dive back in. This is a sci-fi dystopia, which I’ve been in the mood for lately, with feminist elements, which I’m always in the mood for.

And that’s all for now, folks. At 17 books total, this haul is still larger than I’m hoping will be normal this year, but it is a 10-book improvement from last month. I think I could actually read all twelve of these in March, the only exception being the Stephen Kings; one or two of his novels seems like enough to handle in one month.

But I also have 4 library books checked out, and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist will be announced on March 4th- I’ll want to read at least some (if not all) of those nominees as well. Plus I’m still finishing two books from my February TBR- one (The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo) I should finish tonight, technically before the end of the month, but the other (The Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty) is a longer novel that’ll take me into March. So who knows what will happen with my TBR. It’s anyone’s guess.

And for anyone curious, when I post my February wrap-up tomorrow I’ll show a comparison with my Jan. book haul / Feb. TBR to see how many books I actually crossed off of this month’s list.

Any recommendations for me from the twelve books I *should* read in March? Let me know if you’ve read/loved (or hated) any of these!

 

The Literary Elephant

 

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Favorite Book Quotes Tag

This tag is pretty self-explanatory, so here we go!

Rules:

  1. Mention the creator of the tag: Celine @celinelingg
  2. Mention the blogger who tagged you: Rachel @paceamorelibri
  3. List 5 of your favorite book quotes along with the reasons.
  4. Spread the love and tag some people to participate and connect!

I actually thought this was going to be more of a challenge to narrow down; I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of the quotes I mark in everything I read for…seven years or so now? But I don’t often scroll through them without looking for something specific, so I thought I would have to choose between hundreds of favorite quotes- only to realize as I started sifting through that I have a tendency toward very morbid lines. Many of my favorites are downright depressing, and that wasn’t the vibe I wanted here. Fortunately, I did find some favorites that are more fitting.

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“Everything must have a beginning…and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.”   -Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Some of these quotes are meaningful to me because of the way they connect to my writing life. This first quote, from one of my all-time favorite classics, is a great reminder for a writer: nothing begins from nothing, and often the best place for a story to start is not the beginning. I also just love the romance of the notion that everything is connected to everything else, each story inseparable from the greater story that is life.

18925043“When she could see one of the sides, she was frightened; the ants had been working in all that blackness. She watched them swarm up and down, in silence, so visible, palpable. They were working away inside there as though they had not yet lost their hope of getting out.”

-Julio Cortazar, “Bestiary”

This one has haunted me, in a very lasting way. The girl in the quote is looking at an ant farm, but she is also stuck with extended family (I think) at a summer house, which is its own sort of ant farm. Some of them do want to escape. It’s such a quiet, horrifying moment born out of something that should seem ordinary. Somehow the hopelessness of the dark room makes the ants’ perseverance both better and worse. They never give up. They don’t understand that there’s no reason to keep trying. Are humans that way? In certain circumstances, perhaps. In any case, I’ve been unable to forget about these ants through the years, and “Bestiary” remains one of my all-time favorite short stories.

13547452“Coincidences happen, but I’ve come to believe they are actually quite rare. Something is at work, okay? Somewhere in the universe (or behind it), a great machine is ticking and turning its fabulous gears.”

-Stephen King, 11/22/63

This relates back to the “everything is connected” idea that I always try to keep in mind while writing, and also a reminder that coincidences in fiction rarely seem plausible. But I think it’s also a great image that depicts my love of sci-fi/fantasy or anything otherworldly/bizarre: a sort of double-image, the world superimposed over some all-encompassing thing. I have a weakness for fiction that touches on gods or dreams or fate or other big ideas that we can’t quite explain yet. There’s magic in the unknown.

18966806“And I wonder, in my last moments, if the planet does not mind that we wound her surface or pillage her bounty, because she knows we silly warm things are not even a breath in her cosmic life. We have grown and spread, and will rage and die. And when all that remains of us is our steel monuments and plastic idols, her winds will whisper, her sands will shift, and she will spin on and on, forgetting about the bold, hairless apes who thought they deserved immortality.”

-Pierce Brown, Morning Star

As invested as I am in humanity, there’s something so relieving in imagining that instead of humans wrecking this planet and moving on to another one, the world will be resilient enough to carry on after we’re gone. I know there’s some science about the sun and 8 million years and whatnot, so it’s really only a matter of time anyway, but it’s nice to believe something beautiful can outlive careless waste.

881655“Some of the best things are done by those with nowhere to turn, by those who don’t have time, by those who truly understand the word helpless. They dispense with the calculation of risk and profit, they take no thought for the future, they’re forced at spearpoint into the present tense. Thrown over a precipice, you fall or else you fly; you clutch at any hope, however unlikely; however– if I may use such an overworked word– miraculous. What we mean by that is, Against all odds.”

-Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

Here’s an optimistic one that’s actually taken from the midst of a tragedy. There’s something so easy and propulsive about Atwood’s writing that pulls me in every time, but The Blind Assassin pulls all the stops. It’s a dark, dual tale about fictional assassins on a faraway planet and a Canadian family ground down to ruin. And yet, as bleak as this story is, it still takes the time to remind its readers that even at rock bottom, all hope is not lost.

I must be in a philosophical mood today, as I’ve chosen quotes that explain some of my tastes and opinions instead of just beautiful words. But I suppose the quotes that I relate to this way inevitably have more impact and staying-power than the ones I mark simply for appreciating the way they sound or look on the page. I suppose I do read primarily to learn about and connect with the world in ways that I feel are more difficult in real life, so it must make sense that these are the passages that stick with me.

What quotes have made the greatest impression on you?

Tagging some new friends: Elysa @wordswordswords, The Constant Reader @theconstantreader, Jane @whatjanereadnext, and anyone else who wants to post some favorite quotes!

 

The Literary Elephant

 

 

Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before Trilogy

Back in December, I did something I NEVER do: I watched the movie before reading the book. Actually, I did this twice in the same day- to watch Dumplin’ and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. I enjoyed both, and committed to reading both books. Or, in the case of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the entire trilogy. I picked up Dumplin’ in January (and adored it), and I spent last week binging To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. 

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Since I read all three of Jenny Han’s (YA contemporary romance) novels back to back, I’ve decided to talk about them all together in one go instead of writing three reviews. So let’s take a closer look ->

About the book(s): Lara Jean is the middle of three sisters. Her older sister, Margot, is leaving the country for college at the start of Lara Jean’s junior year. Kitty, the youngest, is a fierce nine-year-old. The girls are very close, which means Margot’s absence is a challenge for them all; but the biggest challenge for Lara Jean comes shortly after Margot’s departure, when a box full of old love letters she’s written to all of her crushes goes missing, and the letters begin turning up in the hands of the boys she liked. One goes to a boy from camp, one to a childhood friend, one to a boy who likes boys, one to the most popular boy in school, and… one to the boyfriend Margot just broke up with.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before- this was my favorite book of the trilogy because it seemed the most unique and the least predictable. Having seen the movie (even though I wasn’t paying complete attention, knowing I would want to read the books later and then rewatch the film) ruined that a little more than I’d expected. The scenes are a bit different in the film than in the book, so it was still interesting to read and compare, but there weren’t really any important differences. I spent most of this novel just reading to get through to the next one.

“Gosh. To be sitting in the passenger seat of Peter Kavinsky’s black Audi. Isn’t that what every girl has ever wanted, in the history of boys and girls? Not Peter Kavinsky specifically, or yes, maybe Peter Kavinsky specifically.”

P. S. I Still Love You- A major character who didn’t make it into the first book comes into play here in book two, but not until halfway through the book. There are a lot of cute couple scenes as Lara Jean’s current relationship finds its balance after the drama that occurred in book one, but essentially the first half of this novel felt like a waiting game. This is also the point at which the trilogy started to feel very predictable to me. There’s a definite lack of nuance- if you were able to guess who sent out Lara Jean’s letters in book one (and come on, there’s really only one person it can be), you’ll also guess who Stormy’s favorite grandson is before he appears. You’ll see that Lara Jean’s jealousy/judgment is a bit misplaced before Gen reveals the truth about her “family problems.” But there is some quality commentary on high school relationships (romantic and platonic) beneath the teenage drama.

“You only know you can do something if you keep on doing it.”

Always and Forever, Lara Jean- I just wanted to know who she was going to end up with! But it becomes clear early on that the question is not “which of the five crushes will Lara Jean choose?” but rather “will Lara Jean and this one boy stay together after graduation?” This made the lead-up to graduation a bit tedious, though it still had its cute moments. Again, there was a lot of predictability in this one. Lara Jean has her expectations for college a little too set, very early in the novel. The end of high school will mean changes for Lara Jean and this boy, and somehow she’s the only one who can’t see that.

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for people who maintain neutrality in times of crisis.”

This is not my usual sort of reading fodder. I haven’t read this sort of cutesy contemporary romance since I was in middle school- I’m talking Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen. If I had read Jenny Han’s books at that time, when I was 11 or 12, I probably would’ve loved them. The biggest obstacle to my enjoying them now is that Lara Jean’s narration seems more like the commentary of a twelve year-old than a seventeen year-old. I don’t read middle-grade books anymore because I learned while trying to read Percy Jackson about five years ago that this sort of writing just does not work for me anymore. This was most problematic for me in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, though I think reading all three back-to-back helped keep it from becoming so noticeable in the sequels.

So why did I pick these up, if all evidence seemed to point to them not being to my current literary taste? Well, I did enjoy the film. And a friend gifted me the boxed set for Christmas so I couldn’t not read them. I know a lot of readers love these books, and I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Furthermore, I’m a completionist. Once I had started this story (by watching the film), I had to know how it would end. And last but not least, it is February. I wanted to read a romance.

But unfortunately, I didn’t get much from this trilogy beyond the cuteness, and that’s not something that tends to leave a lasting impression for me.

I thought that a lot of the plotting was flimsy. It should come as no shock to Lara Jean who keeps (and addresses!) personal letters that someone finds and sends them. All three of the sisters came off as much more selfish to me in the books- Margot is negative about every development at home while she is away, and the only things she does to further the plot are 1) break up with Josh at the beginning of book one, and 2) tell Lara Jean that their mother said not to go to college with a boyfriend. Kitty has one key moment, but otherwise her side plots (convincing their father to buy a dog, matchmaking between her single dad and divorced neighbor, even giving the boy crushes her seal of approval) seem largely unnecessary to the major issues in Lara Jean’s life. Lara Jean hopes for romantic gestures, and does nothing in return but bake, which is something she does for stress relief anyway. And the biggest disappointment for me is that the letters that started it all (which also feel like they were written by a twelve year-old, or younger) are just the catalyst to Lara Jean’s relationship dramas; most of the letters are out of the story already by book two, and there are only references to them by the third book.

Despite the fact that this is turning into a list of complaints, I didn’t hate the reading experience. Obviously, I was enjoying it enough to read all three books. These were super fast to get through, and I think I only spent 4 or 5 days on the entire set. I am glad that I was gifted the box set because I think I might have lost interest if I’d had to wait between volumes, but since I did have them all on hand I let myself succumb to the brief addiction. And I do know a few people who will probably want to borrow the set now that I’m finished.

Some things I liked very much: the assassins game and the USO party, Lara Jean’s impromptu trip to UNC Chapel Hill, Peter giving Kitty a ride in his two-seater on her birthday. I smiled through a lot of the dates/hang-outs and dialogue. I really liked John Ambrose McClarren, and Lara Jean’s dad- he’s a great YA-novel parent. And Jenny Han does a great job of encouraging young readers to take chances in high school, to work hard but also to try new things and talk to people you wouldn’t. I do wish I would’ve had these books when I was younger.

“I think that time might be different for young people. The minutes longer, stronger, more vibrant.”

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars, each. It’s hard to pick a favorite. I think book one probably would’ve been my favorite if I hadn’t already seen the film, but there were pros and cons to each that left them pretty evenly matched in the end. I’m glad Jenny Han says (in the acknowledgments at the end of book 3) that this series is truly finished, and not going to endure a spin-off “Lara Jean in college” storyline; she knew exactly where to end it. I am immensely looking forward to seeing what Netflix does with the next (and hopefully the third) film! I think this series will end up being one of those rare occasions of liking the movie better than the book, at least for me.

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: Pachinko

I love long, character-driven, cultural books, but I know I tend to put off reading them. I want 2019 to be a year for better habits though, so I finally picked up the much-recommended historical fiction novel Pachinko by Min Jin Lee… and it absolutely lived up to the hype.

pachinkoAbout the book: Sunja is the only daughter of a hard-working Korean couple who cherish her. But when she discovers she is pregnant and that the father is already married, she leaves her family and their hopes for her behind to move to Japan with an ailing minister in an effort to spare her family from disgrace. Through war and prejudice, she discovers how difficult life can be for Koreans in Japan, and also how difficult it will always be for her to avoid the influential man who impregnated her. Her choices will affect every member of her family in her own generation and beyond.

“Save your family. Feed your belly. Pay attention, and be skeptical of the people in charge.”

I didn’t know that Pachinko was a Japanese gambling game before reading this book. I didn’t remember that Japan annexed Korea in 1910 or that Korea split at the end of WWII- my memory for details (like dates) is vague at best. Honestly, I didn’t even remember this book’s synopsis when I picked up the novel earlier this month, which meant I was in for a lot of eye-opening surprises.

This novel covers a lot of ground, spanning from 1910 to 1989, with chapters set in Korea, Japan, and America. The historical background is filtered through the experiences of this fictional family- making this a story about people, community, and culture rather than a moralizing history lesson. The significance of events are made plain through the consequences these characters face, seemingly through little or no fault of their own. The history is important, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to supplement Pachinko with a little outside reading (or at least Googling) to brush up your knowledge, but Min Jin Lee has penned an ambitious emotional saga here, not a persuasive essay. She emphasizes the complexities of the relationships between countries, between immigrants, and between family members. She leaves the reader to decide what to do with it all in the end.

Balance is crucial in a slow-paced, 500+ page novel, and fortunately, each of the perspectives is as engaging as the next. Sunja remains the primary character throughout, but I found her parents, her lover, her husband and his family, her children and their families all as interesting to follow. Lee knows exactly how to keep the reader’s attention from start to finish, doling out details that make each character unique and compelling. Pachinko requires some patience, but it never bores.

The story as a whole focuses mainly on the challenges and prejudices that Koreans have faced in Japan over the last century. Sunja’s children and grandchildren were born in Japan, and yet they must carry alien registration cards, and can be deported at any time. Many jobs and careers remain closed to them. Horrendous comments are left in the children’s school yearbooks.

“He believed he could enjoy going to school if he were a regular person and not a Korean. He couldn’t say this to his father or to anyone else, because it was certain he’d never be a regular Japanese.”

Heart-rending moments pepper the book. Major blows are placed in the middles of chapters where they feel like just another hurt to overcome; Lee does not capitalize on shock value, which makes the various deaths and disappointments that much heavier- a weight that these characters will never be rid of. There are victories for the family as well, but the ceaseless hard work rewarded by suffering is present in abundance. “A woman’s lot is to suffer,” Sunja’s mother Yunjin says, and the others echo in agreement. There is very little for me to relate to personally in this book, and yet I cared about every one of these characters and their hardships. I felt that a crucial piece of world history had been missing in my education that I was glad to have found in Pachinko.

“This city is made of wood and paper. It’ll take no more than a match for it to incinerate. Imagine what will happen with an American bomb.”

The game Pachinko is looked at with the same disdain as many Koreans are by the majority of the Japanese in this novel. Those who play it, those who work in the Pachinko parlors, and those who have amassed fortunes in the industry are frowned upon by society at large. Many believe the Pachinko bosses to be crooked mobsters, each and every one. But the game also becomes a source of hope and a symbol for Sunja and her family. They make the best of what they’ve got, even when they know the odds are stacked against them.

“Man, life’s going to keep pushing you around, but you have to keep playing.” 

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I finished this book halfway through the month, with plans for more great reading before the end of February, but I knew almost as soon as I started that this would be my favorite read of the month. It’s probably going to be one of my favorite books of the entire year, although I know it’s still early. Pachinko is absolutely beautiful and evocative, and worth the time it takes to read. I haven’t enjoyed historical fiction this much in so long, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

The Literary Elephant

 

 

 

 

Mini-Reviews: Faber Stories

There are 20 short stories individually bound in a(n adorable) collection of Faber Stories that was released in the UK earlier this year. I read Sally Rooney’s Mr. Salary from the collection back in January and talked about it a little in my wrap-up for the month, but now I’ve read three more and they’re so short that I’ll just talk about them all together  here.

faberstories1

Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath. 3 stars. This is a story just published for the first time in 2019, although the introduction to the story mentions that another heavily-changed version has been published previously. This is the original, from Plath’s college days. It features a girl whose parents have sent her on a train with a ticket for the Ninth Kingdom; throughout the journey, the girl (Mary) makes a friend and considers where she will end up when the train reaches the end of its line in the Ninth Kingdom.

It’s been a while since I’ve read any Plath, and I was excited to get back into her writing, which may have skewed my expectations a bit. But even with my hopes way up, this story started out great. There’s a wonderful level of detail that’s just at the edge of ordinary and odd, and that mysteriousness kept me invested in the story.

Though the theme of the story does become clear in the end- a child’s grab for independence rewarded- there is so much left uncertain. What is the Ninth Kingdom? Who is Mary’s travel companion, and why do the rules not seem to apply to her? Why was Mary being sent away in the first place?

Though I enjoyed the weird imagery and the compelling sense of doom created by the train’s progress, I was hoping for some of the sinister hints to be realized in a more dramatic way; instead, the story veers aside, avoiding the impending chaos. Though it made sense with the point Plath seemed to be making, it also felt like a missed opportunity and I was left wanting a bit more.

The Inner Room by Robert Aickman. 4 stars. This story was originally published in 1988 in a collection of “strange stories,” and “strange” is certainly an apt descriptor for this one. It’s about a girl who is given a dollhouse that does not open and inspires some bizarre dreams/experiences. Years later, the same character has a very different encounter with the same house.

It took me longer to get into this one, as I was eagerly awaiting the appearance of the dollhouse and the hallucinations/dreams/supernatural elements mentioned in the story’s synopsis, but the story is slow to start. I thought the introduction to the story could have been abbreviated much further without losing anything, but it’s possible the family’s background and the car trouble that opens the story has more importance than I grasped.

But by the end, I quite liked this weird little tale and was also sufficiently creeped out, which I’m counting as a success. Gothic narratives are so eerie and fun, and though the build-up was a bit slow here, I liked the way it all came together in the end. My only qualm is that I wanted to know more about the dollhouse. Where it had come from, where it went after it left the girl’s possession, why her mother reacted to it the way that she did. Fortunately, these curiosities seemed less vital than the loose ends that nagged at me after reading Mary Ventura, so this was an improvement in my Faber Story reading experience.

Paradise by Edna O’Brien. 4 stars. A break from the horror/thrills. This story is narrated by a woman who has accompanied her lover on holiday, where she feels outside of the group of his rich friends. While the others go out in the boat, she takes swimming lessons in the pool; she is expected to give a demonstration of her swimming later in the summer, which is a test not only of her prowess in the water but her worthiness of the group.

This is the story I liked the most of this batch. The narrator never tells the reader outright how much is riding on her ability to swim by the end of the summer, and the other guests are cordial to her on the surface; but her thoughts and the letters she writes (but never sends) show the depth of her situation deftly. There’s a beautiful examination of the divide between the haves and the have-nots, and the way that wealth (or lack thereof) alienates.

The only aspect I didn’t appreciate was the writing style- O’Brien has a great sense for what should be spoken and what should be implied, but she uses so many sentence fragments. I can’t stand the choppiness that comes with sentence fragments, and it took me several pages of begrudging reading to get into the flow of O’Brien’s writing enough to look past them and just enjoy the shape of the overall story.

“We do not know what we feel at the time and that is very perplexing.”

Concluding thoughts: These stories definitely whet my reading appetite for more Plath (I think I’m going to try some of her poetry next) and Aickman (I must check out more of his “strange stories”); I’m on the fence about reading more O’Brien, because while I loved the essence of Paradise I’m afraid that I’ll have similar struggles with her writing style. Conversely, in a longer piece it’s possible that I would be able to get used to the style early enough in the story to enjoy the reading experience more. And it’s certainly possible that others of her works don’t include the abundance of sentence fragments that Paradise does. It might be worth looking into.

I’ll definitely be looking into picking up more of these Faber Stories in the meantime. I can’t resist a good tiny collection.

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Odyssey

I’ve had  a bind-up of The Iliad and The Odyssey on my currently-reading shelf for over a year, and I’ve finally reached the end of the book! I’ve recently set a goal for myself to complete bookish projects that I started oh so many moons ago, and the first objective is to clear off the books that’ve been hanging around on my currently-reading shelf for months. My focus for February was crossing Homer off of that list.

theiliadandtheodysseyAbout the book: After ten years of fighting in the Trojan War, Odysseus sails for home along with the rest of the Argives. But in his journey, he angers Poseidon, who dooms Odysseus to ten years of hardship at sea while his family suffers in Ithaca, unsure whether he is alive or dead. Finally Athena decides it is time to help redirect his course, and in the last stretch of his travels Odysseus describes the troubles he’s encountered at sea. Ithaca faces its own troubles as a mass of “suitors” attempt to squander Odysseus’s estate in his absence, eliminate his son, and marry his wife.

“I have traveled much, and have had much to do with heroes, but I have never seen such another man as Odysseus.”

I’ve read long excerpts from The Odyssey both in high school and college, but I didn’t know how very much of The Odyssey I’d already read until I managed it cover to cover this month. I recognized at least 16 of the 24 chapters of this volume from my previous readings.

But through the familiar and the unfamiliar, I struggled far less with this book than I did with The Iliad. Since I’ve already complained about my dislike of this translation in my review of The Iliad, I won’t go into all of that again here. I’ll say only that the translator of my edition, Samuel Butler (whose introductions to these epic poems are dated in the 1890s), used a very literal translation style that transformed Homer’s epic poems into rather flat English prose.

Fortunately, despite Butler’s style, I found The Odyssey much more readable. There is far less repetition in this story than The Iliad, and fewer lists of names and lineages that hold little interest for the casual reader. Battle scenes are brief and contained, and further the plot of this book. Though The Iliad seems to me the more accomplished and perhaps more memorable of these ancient texts, The Odyssey was far more fun and engaging to read.

Odysseus is known as a very wise man who can trick others easily. For this reason, a plot centered around Odysseus makes for a story full of puzzles and deceit. He must scheme his way past the obstacles that the gods set before him. This is a rather episodic journey, but we spend much more time with these main characters than with those of The Iliad simply because there are fewer of import. But as in The Iliad, we still witness the gods’ manipulations in the lives of the mortals; stories from mythology (The Odyssey included) balance gods so well, in some cases using them to explain what many today would probably consider acts of fate or science (weather, illness, personal strengths and weaknesses) but also presenting them as characters with physical presence. Of course, mythologies are interesting not only because of the stories they tell on the surface, but for the glimpse into historical cultures that they afford. Though we may harbor different beliefs today, there is still a timeless human connection in these ancient stories that can be found in the artist’s efforts to moralize and explain.

“Men live but for a little season; if they are hard, and deal hardly, people wish them ill so long as they are alive, and speak contemptuously of them when they are dead, but he that is righteous and deals righteously, the people tell of his praise among all lands, and many shall call him blessed.”

It was also interesting for me to read The Odyssey after picking up CirceThe Iliad, and The Silence of the Girls all within the last year. I love classic retellings, but the first step to appreciating them is to familiarize oneself with the original text. I made myself finish The Iliad before picking up Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, but I did let myself read Miller’s Circe before completing The Odyssey. She doesn’t see much page-time in The Odyssey, so I was glad to have Miller’s exploration of her character in mind as I went through that part of the classic. With The Iliad behind me also, I was more aware of the character and plot references related to the Trojan War that crop up in The Odyssey than I had been while reading stand-alone excerpts in the past. And after reading The Silence of the Girls, I was more aware of the women in this story, few though they are, and could more easily see the unspoken hardships that they faced.

“She screams aloud and flings her arms about him as he lies gasping for breath and dying, but her enemies beat her from behind about the back and shoulders, and carry her off into slavery, to a life of labor and sorrow, and the beauty fades from her cheeks.”

I think the order in which I read these related books improved my experience with The Odyssey, though they certainly aren’t mandatory prerequisites.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I can see why this story has survived so long, and will continue to do so. I’ll definitely want to reread both The Iliad and The Odyssey in other translations that are at least more reminiscent of the original poetic form; I’m sure that I could enjoy the actual reading process of both these stories more if I could find a style better suited to me.

 

The Literary Elephant

Review: Watchmen

I’m pretty sure my favorite art form will always be the novel, but I don’t want that to hold me back from enjoying other stories. One genre I’ve not spent much time with is the graphic novel form. I’ve been following along with Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (though I haven’t gotten to vol. 9 yet) and I’m loving it so much that I wanted to check out more comics. Preferably finished story lines, because the year-long “intermission” for Saga is going to be difficult enough. So I picked up a title I’ve seen around: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

watchmenAbout the book: The era of “masked adventurers” is grinding to a halt. The people are tired of costumed vigilantes, and the heroes have come to realize that crime is a bigger issue than can be solved by taking out a few stalkers in dark alleyways at night. Sometimes the people who steal are the good guys just trying to take back what belonged to them, and the people who follow the law are the bad guys building their empires on the backs of the poor. It’s a hopeless, endless battle. And so the heroes begin to fade out of sight, some by choice and some by government’s orders. But then The Comedian is killed, and the others begin to worry that someone is trying to wipe out the (mostly) retired heroes. Rorschach suspects a conspiracy and reaches out to his old cohorts- but can they solve the mystery before they’re all killed? And what will happen when the heroes are all gone?

“Well, me, I kinda like it when things get weird, y’know? I like it when all the cards are on the table.”

Watchmen is a sci-fi/superhero graphic novel comprised of twelve sequential volumes; I read a complete bind-up that included all twelve.

Essentially, this is a story about corruption, power, and humanity. Are there such things as “good” and “evil”? Does methods matter as much as results? These are timeless themes, though the book does have a bit of historical flavor as the politics and culture of its time setting factor into the plot.

It did take me a few volumes to find my stride with this story. There are a lot of characters, and I had to go back and forth a few times within the first three or so volumes to remember who was which hero and what was important about them. The masked adventurers are referred to both by their code names and their real names, and there are two Nite Owls. Jon / Dr. Manhattan actually has real super powers, and his “costume” is his altered human body. One of the heroes is the daughter of another. There are also a few side plots that don’t seem to connect until the end of the story. It took me a while to keep all of those details straight. But once I managed it, I appreciated the array of characters and their unique motives and personalities. These are “superheroes” like I’ve never seen them before. (Even though I’ve not read many comics I have seen quite a few of the movies.)

“As I see it, part of the art of being a hero is knowing when you don’t need to be one anymore, realizing that the game has changed and that the stakes are different and that there isn’t necessarily a place for you in this strange new pantheon of extraordinary people.”

I won’t talk about each of the volumes individually, as I read them all back-to-back in a short amount of time and was more focused on the story as a whole than on differentiating the chapters. But I will say that Vol. 4 was my favorite, probably because Jon was my favorite character and I love narratives that play with time- which Vol. 4 does. Rorschach was my second-favorite character, because I found him the most interesting and morally gray, though I wasn’t always rooting for him to win.

Though the story takes place mostly chronologically, there are a few flashbacks mixed in. The focus alternates between all of the main characters, who feature more prominently in some volumes than others. I also mentioned side plots, one of which includes a comic within the comic. That’s a lot to juggle, but once I could keep the characters straight I had no trouble following the story. And I absolutely loved the juxtapositions between everything going on. I don’t feel very qualified to talk about the quality of the artwork (though it was easy enough to follow and to recognize the various characters and settings, which is really all I need in a visual story), but I can say that the art seemed impeccably planned. The transitions are often brilliant, with the words of one portion of the narrative mingling with the images of the next, or vice versa. There are some beautiful splits and parallels between similar events happening to different characters, or different events with comparable tones, etc. This is definitely a story that belongs in the comic world- I love novels, but I can see that this story would lose its magic if removed from its graphic format. I suppose that is how someone unversed in comics can tell whether the art is “good.”

But as someone who has a general tendency toward longer text and fewer pictures, I  enjoyed that each volume (except for 12) concluded with a few text-based pages that related to the content of their respective volumes and offered further information about the main characters. There is an excerpt from a retired adventurer’s memoir, correspondence from another’s desk, news articles with adventurer interviews, etc. I wondered at first whether these sections were strictly necessary to the overall plot, but they do give helpful insight into the characters and played a large role in my ability to keep them straight, so in the end I was glad to have them for that reason as well.

All in all, I thought this was an engaging story with phenomenal construction, and well worth the read for anyone who likes to dabble in sci-fi.

“You get to be a superhero by believing in the hero within you and summoning him or her forth by an act of will. Believing in yourself and your own potential is the first step to realizing that potential.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Actually, this was nearly a 5 star read for me once I got the hang of it. I enjoyed it immensely. I can see why Watchmen is considered a classic of its genre. The cover states, “This is the book that changed an industry and challenged a medium. If you’ve never read a graphic novel, start with WATCHMEN.” Which is basically why I picked it up, and even without much experience in graphic novels it seems accurate to me. This book has definitely increased my interest in comics and graphic novels. I’d call that a success. Highly recommend.

 

The Literary Elephant