Reading Now

The Guermantes Way
A Clash of Kings
The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

16 January 2014

First Post of 2014: Summaries

It's been an awful long time since I've written, and I've read some amazing, very unique books since. I won't talk about all of them, but a few were particularly special. All the books I read are part of the bookshelf list on the bottom of the site (except for mobile version). Also, on my Dayre account I usually log what I'm reading, mostly through posting up pictures and quotes that are really worth your while!! 

Independent People, Halldor Laxness 
An Icelandic epic written by a winner of the Nobel Prize, this book took me a little long to get into. The first 10%of the novel I loved, but then the plot took a big down-turn and got really boring, with the main character marrying a girl who quickly died off. I became invested after her death, when the protagonist, Bjartur, marries again and has children. His relationship with his children and their growth dominated most of the story, as does Bjartur's fierce independent nature (hence, the title).

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
This novel surprised me. I picked it up at the airport, forgetting I had marked it on a wish list on Goodreads, expecting something good. It ended up being great. The confessional diary of a troubled Japanese girl (who feels distinctly American, having grown up in California) struggling with terrifying issues like extreme bullying and a suicidal father finds its way to the hands of someone very far away... Ruth is an author, though she recently denies this, since she feels she has lost her ability to write. The workings of a memoir lie uncompleted, a pile of memories on her desk. Ruth lives a very isolated, rural lifestyle on a Canadian Island with her husband. Finding Nao's diary is a moment of discovery for Ruth, and she learns to wake up to the life around her. The two protagonists, Ruth and Nao, are crafted very well; they are believable, endearing, but also human in their faults. Nao, though bullied herself, once or twice unabashedly bullies those who are even more "uncool" than her, and, as many teenagers are, is often snappy and unthinking. Ruth similarly toys with the reader's sympathies, as she is sometimes dismissive of her husband, a character for whom I felt a great affinity. She is picky, moody, and also occasionally shortsighted. These are very human qualities and ones that I cannot claim freedom from, and it is part of this complex characterization that made this novel so engaging. It was also a great story, one that I recommend to just about anyone. I enjoyed reading this book especially because one of the main things I got out of Ozeki's novel was the importance of every single moment, of every single second, of every day--the importance of awareness and conscious living. It was a message that went very well with two other books I read in this same time period, The Shipping News and, more particularly, Humboldt's Gift. 

The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
One of the more distinctive books I've ever read. The writing style was impressively beautiful, with an abundance of beautiful and striking metaphors. The sentences are short, clipped, and yet full of voice. I'll leave the description for this one minimal, but it's another great recommendation. 

Humboldt's Gift, Saul Bellow
A wonderful, exciting, hilarious, novel, HB served as my introduction to the world of Saul Bellow Books. I cannot wait to return. At turns riotous and stagnant (in the best way possible), the plot, though busy, is never afraid to make room for the workings of the mind of Charlie Citrine (another unbelievably memorable character; suffice it to say, this book blew me away). Charlie Citrine has been alive for around six decades, during which time he has managed to fall hopelessly in love with many people, become a famous author, win prizes and honors from America and abroad, get married and divorced, and then lose all the money he ever worked for. He is a passive man, content to think and do whatever to please those around him, always willing to experience the sensational. It was a pleasure to spend a few days reading this book and immersing myself in the beautiful words that comprise this novel. 
A Dirty Job, Christopher Moore
Humorous, light, and fun to read, this Christopher Moore novel, another first for me, chronicles the tale of Charlie Asher, who, on top of being a recently widowed new father, is now also a Death Merchant...

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
A romance between two sixteen year olds…loved this book intensely. I finished it last night and haven't stopped thinking about it since. It brings up some very important issues about gender, family, bullying, and love. 

There have been other books, but these were the most recent. I'm also still exploring short stories, which is great. I'll be posting pictures soon, and also starting a reading diary for an amazing book I just started reading: The Island of Second Sight

16 November 2013

Playing Catch-Up

I've definitely been a bad blogger! I have derelicted my duties for far too long. In the interim, though, I have read:

Breathless, Anne Sward 
* * * * * 
This novel was short and very unique. It follows a very strong relationship between a young girl and a boy who is older than her. Their relationship, though never sexual, is passionate and a vital piece of their lives. The novel takes some unexpected turns, and I felt the ending to be very satisfying. Though many readers may grant this book four stars at the most, I gave it five because it matched my expectations, if not exceeded them! I think I was an exceptional reader for this book; I very much enjoyed the writing style and organization, though by perusing other reviews I can see that that might have lost many other readers.

Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon
 * * * *

I wrote a post for Bleeding Edge way back when but I never ended up actually putting it up! Maybe I will do so soon, as late as it will be. As much as I loved this book, and Pynchon in general, I gave it four stars because, personally, reading about dot-com business and the technology bubble just was not my thing.

Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann
* * * * *
This was an experience I should have recorded per chapter. The third major book I've read on time (the first being A Search for Lost Time, which technically I still have to finish; the second, Nabokov's Ada, or Ardor), Magic Mountain might be my favorite of the three. I particularly enjoyed how long it took me to read this book--throughout the whole novel, the reader is made to think about the experience of passing time. When does time feel like it moves faster? Is it actually moving faster? What about the instruments that measure time? What happens when days blend into one another so that time no longer exists? I read this book for about a month but never experienced boredom. It was in many ways a random book, but all I can say was that it was my type of reading!

Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern 
* * * *

Super fun and easy read, I wouldn't call this book great literature. Regardless, it had its strong points, including a spectacular ending (in my humble opinion), really cool descriptions, and a neat cast of characters.

The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Alice Walker
* * * *

I had to read this book for school, so the fact that it was not a book I'd ever have picked up on my own automatically dampened the enjoyment I found in it. 

We Are Water, Wally Lamb
 * * * * *

We are Water was my most recent read. As a devout fan of Lamb (I've read I Know This Much is True, She's Come Undone, and The Hour I First Believed), I was beyond excited when I heard he was coming out with another novel. We are Water was a scathingly real book--the characters are brought to life for the reader in a way that few novels can achieve. Lamb is a master at what he does, at portraying flawed humans we can essentially root for, people who are trying to find ways to maneuver  the turmoil, pain, and secrets that make up human life. Pedophilia and molestation, abuse and divorce are only some of the topics that the novel explores. The style of writing is perhaps what is most Lamb-like. The book is written in the POV of many different characters, and you really get into the head of each, adopting their thought-processes. There were a couple of things/moments that I did not like, but overall I thought his new novel was a great success, on par with his older works.

I probably have to stop buying so many books. I have too many on my plate and I worry I won't finish all of them! Here are some of the books I can't get off my mind, most of which I already bought:
1- Artist of the Floating World, by Kazuo Ishiguro 

2- Independent People, Halldor Laxness

3- Spring Snow, Yukio Mishima

28 September 2013

Two Abysses

Hello, readers!

Last time I checked in, I had just finished Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy. Though the text can be found right under this post, it feels to me as if I'd read that book at least one whole month ago. Since then, I finally read my first Russian novel! This is something I find worth celebrating. I once tried to read Anna Karenina and failed miserably; I found it boring and dry. It was a while ago, so I may have been too young, who knows (and maybe one day soon I'll try it again). I recently read The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and I have to say I truly loved it!

On one level, I was surprised by how easy it was to read the book. By no means dry or convoluted, the book was simple to follow. For some reason, I had expected very dense material and to be confused by the names and the themes. To my delight, it was a straightforward, entertaining plot, though with a good share of philosophical, psychological, and religious explorations.

As for the story itself, most of the time I felt like I was watching a novella, not really reading a book. The phrase "in a passionate frenzy" does a good job of summing up of many of the characters' actions--whether it be falling to the ground in tears to kiss the floor, declamations of guilt and/or love, promises to kill or revenge, etc., etc. Not only were the actions passionate, the story itself was dramatic and truly worthy of a soap opera! The end section of the novel takes a totally different turn, resembling a murder mystery show or court-drama we'd find on TV today. Witnesses, jurors and lawyers play out a trial that aims to determine if one man is guilty or innocent, and the question has never seemed so important.

The Karamazov family is not known for being a set of clean, honest men. Fyodor Pavlovich, a lecherous man, is the father of four sons, three of them legitimate. The eldest son, Dmitry, takes much after his father and lives the life of a sensualist, until he has an encounter with and becomes engaged to an honorable, beautiful lady named Katerina Ivanovna. She, however, does not truly love Dmitri (or, rather, she sometimes does, sometimes does not). More importantly, Dmitri does not really love her either. He has actually fallen head over heels in love with a women who, lets just say, does not have the best reputation around town (her summary in Wikipedia refers to her as a "Jezebel"). Her name is Grushenka. The heart of the trouble of the lives of the Karamazovs, Grushenka is a wild girl who often admits that she enjoys laughing at the father and brother who fight over her. For it just so happens that Fyodor also is in love with Grushenka. Father and son, both loud mouthed, passionate men fighting for the same sly, beautiful woman leads only to disaster. To complicate matters, the middle brother Ivan is also romantically involved with Katerina. Alexei is the final brother, the "hero" of the story, who worries over the sin and destruction of his brothers but is essentially powerless to stop it.

If I were to really write about this novel, which I would love to, because there is an overwhelming possibility of topics to explore, I would examine the role of Alyoshka (Alexei). Though the narrator never fully reveals his own identity, we know that he think of Alyosha as "the hero" of the story. This is particularly interesting because Alyoshka does not (cannot) do anything to stop the terrible course of events that take place in The Brothers Karamazov. For the most part, the beginning of the book certainly focuses on him and his torn nature. On the one hand, Alyoshka is a Karamazov, through and through, meaning he understands the pull  of sensual gratification. On the other hand, he craves to be pure and so becomes a novice in a monk. A holy occupation--the complete opposite of his Karamazovian father, who owns many brothels. Alexei is caught running back and forth between the monastery, a holy place of peace and guidance, and keeping watch over his brothers, mediating between their disputes. Worried sick about the feud that has grown between his family, Alexei dreads the result and cries out for the souls of his brothers and father. Interestingly, he is consistently referred to as the judge and the redeemer, called on to sanctify or cast down characters based on their actions. But who is he to say, Alexei the virgin, Alexei the novice who knows not of sex or love? Though he is technically not part of the love triangles that play out, he does go through his own intense trials, where his faith is put to the test.

The Brothers Karramazov is not a simple cut story whose readers are left off with an ending they expect. It starts off with the novel only leading the reader to one place--it is inevitable that the book will end that way. That's how it seems, anyways, until suddenly it is not so. Something else happens that changes the whole novel, and it makes The Brothers Karamazov brilliant. As a novel that has been greatly lauded as one of the greatest achievements in literature, The Brothers Karamazov is written in such a way that you truly get an intense, full-depth understanding of the characters. None are truly good nor evil, repentance is seen even after terrible crimes. The divulging of intentions and emotions, fears and desires, becomes especially important when the novel is aiming to explore not just about the morality of its characters, but the morality of human nature.

Dostoevsky's final novel carries many central themes of heavy implications. Characters debate the nature of the soul, the existence of God, the introduction of neuroscience, and the need for morality. Towards the end of the novel, these ideas come together in the final trial, where a search for exactly how and why humans act the way they do is both presented and made fun of. The Brothers Karamazov truly shows the extremes that man can achieve: extreme goodness and extreme baseness. That his how the Karamazov man is, and that is how we all are. We can simultaneously be aware of the highest ideal, of right way to act, all while being driven by the pleasures that can yield from the most immoral of actions.

There is one passage that I want to type and print out, it is on the importance of loving all of creation. It really touched my heart and I will share it here with you:
Brothers, do not be afraid of men's sin, love man also in his sin, for this likeness of God's love is the height of love on earth. Love all of God's creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire universal love. Love the animals: God gave them the rudiments of thought and an untroubled joy. Do not trouble it, do not torment them, do not take their joy from them, do not go against God's purpose. Man, do not exalt yourself above the animals: they are sinless, and you, you with your grandeur, fester the earth by your appearance on it, and leave your festering trace behind you -- alas, almost every one of us does! Love children especially, for they, too, are sinless, like angels, and live to bring us to tenderness and the purification of our hearts and as a sort of example for us. Woe to him who affords a child….Always resolve to take it by humble love. If you so resolve once and for all, you will be able to overcome the whole world...Keep company with yourself and look to yourself every day and hour, every minute, that your image be ever gracious. -(318)
I truly, truly loved this book. Entertaining and funny, absorbing and profound, The Brothers Karamazov was a perfect example of literature that delivers quality story with timeless observations. Since my last post, I've read two other books. The first one was The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver. The first book of hers I've been able to get through, I thought this was a nice read, cute and uniquely written. I'd definitely recommend it to readers who are looking for sometimes a little lighter than Dostoevsky. The other book I read was The Forgiven, by Lawrence Osborne. Not my favorite book, this short novel was filled with unsympathetic characters and, I believe, often was a little exaggerated in its attempts at portraying cross-cultural tensions. I did, however, find the ending to be satisfactory and surprising, which is always a good thing! Not sure yet on whether I'd really recommend it, though. Until next time!

The Avid Readr

11 September 2013

Identity in Language

Who are you? What does it mean to ask such a question? And what about the fact that one can only answer it using words, which are not our own? What would that question mean for an author?

I was totally unprepared for reading Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy. Thinking it was literally a detective story, I was very surprised when I finished the first installment, City of Glass. Quinn is a mystery fiction writer who identifies with his pseudonym, William Wilson, who really wishes to be the protagonist of his fiction stories. One day, Quinn receives a misplaced call for a "Paul Auster." Obviously the name of the actual author, Paul is believed to be a private eye and is being contacted for a job. Quinn does not clarify the mistake and takes on the job--more importantly, he takes on the identity. Thus starts The NY Trilogy, which is similar to what happens when you look into a mirror that is behind a mirror--an infinite reflection of selves, all terribly similar but essentially different.

I really want to avoid giving away the crux of the story, but I will say that the third volume, The Locked Room, adds a dimension to City of Glass and Ghosts that makes the whole situation even crazier. There is so much to say on these works that I find myself hard pressed on deciding what I should write about. I am currently taking a Deconstruction class, which is a way of reading texts that focuses on highlighting the problems of certain metaphysical assumptions. I really started reading The NY Trilogy during a break in that class, and by some strange coincidence of God, this book works great for a deconstructive reading. Language and identity are already problematized throughout the text and questions are raised about how our words fall short in describing what they attempt to. Characters blend into one another, and the question of "who is the author" is also put into doubt.

I would recommend this book to everyone who is interested in theory and existential crises! I would only advise one thing: reading City of Glass by itself might first be a bit unsatisfying--push through and finish all three!

I have now started The Brothers Karamazov! I have never read any Russian classics, but Dostoevsky seems a great place to start. It's a funny book, half the time reading like a dramatic novella charged with family feuds and love triangles, but the other half is deep reflections on the nature and existence of God, immortality, sin, and suffering.

The Shelf: Books on the Blog