Monday, March 28, 2011

Vernon God Little, D.B.C. Pierre

Vernon is the "skate-goat" for sixteen deaths during a school shooting his buddy committed before he then kills himself in this offbeat Man Booker winner. Vernon's small Texas town goes wild with opportunistic media and outrageous locals that make for an oftentimes maddening cast of characters. I can't say that I loved the prose of this novel, but I certainly agree that it offers some conversation. It'd be a fun book club read if your group doesn't mind some heavy discussion.

Pierre pretty quickly throws certain aspects of Western middle class culture under the bus with his witty attacks, making for the bulk of the novel; the media's role in painting Vernon's guilt is the most obvious. Opportunism in the face of tragedy rears it's ugly head as everyone fights for shreds of gossip, or even the newest piece of damning evidence that'll fire the young man off to death row. Most of the adults in the novel are motivated by entirely selfish reasons, as is young Vernon in his quest to escape to Mexico at all costs with the coed he's been lusting over.

The novel obsesses about consumerism; from over eating, sexual deviancy, or spending into bankruptcy. Most of Vernon's hometown is plagued with these sorts of consumptive fixations, thus their selfishness and inability to protect Vernon from an unfair verdict or himself. Poor hopeless foreign born attorney Abdini is the only hero at the end, even after having been abandoned for a more showy, glamorous attorney when the hailstorm of the media frenzy is unleashed. Any one else want to jump to conclusions about why Pierre does this?

The atmosphere of this book is pretty entertaining given the tragedy that sets events to unfolding. Vernon's madcap exploits do have a sort of Huck Finn youthfulness to them; it's just distorted and ugly once it filters through the brand-obsessed, foul mouthed vernacular of adolescent boys. There isn't that innocence in growing up, and Pierre pretty deftly handles such a heavy task of rendering the oftentimes disturbing culture that permeates our media and every day lives.

I know the diction was meant to be coarse, but it did affect my enjoyment of this novel. That sort of thing matters a lot to me. Some of the characterizations were wonderfully subtle in their depictions, others were not so efficiently rendered and went a bit overboard. I felt like Ella and Lally didn't need to be quite so bizarre! I like it when an author can show some economy. At the end of the day, this novel is brimming with discussions for book clubs, but wasn't the dense masterwork I would have expected from a Man Booker award.

The fun part is that I found whilst browsing that the novel has been adapted for theater, and here is the oh-so appropriate design for the show! If you find yourself in London, maybe look into it!

Vernon God Little, D.B.C. Pierre
ISBN: 0156029987

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Series #1: Rabbit novels, John Updike

Disclaimer: I'm attempting to read every novel that's ever won the Pulitzer Prize. I know. Absurd.

The Rabbit novels capture something special for a reader; a literary journey of four novels that make up the span of a man's adulthood: forty years. Updike's four novels each capture a new decade in the life of Harry Angstrom, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the final two [Rabbit is Rich(1982) and Rabbit at Rest(1991)]. I stubbornly read the entire series over a two year period, and am quite proud of that for a simple reason: while I can appreciate this sampling of Updike, I loathed the protagonist. 

My hatred is stronger for the earliest, and was slowly chiseled into a patient appreciation. Having said that though, I will never reread these novels. I know Justin Bieber, I should never say never (even if Fievel sang it first). 

On that note, what better way to start my blog's exposure to my Pulitzer novel insanity than with a post about all four books! The fun part of this post is that I'm not editing my blurbs to account for the fact that I've completed this project; you're seeing my response to each novel as I progress through the series! I wouldn't expect a high volume of "Series" posts, though... four novels that make me want to throw the books across the room got exhausting.

Rabbit, Run
I'm about 1/3 of the way through the list of Pulitzer novels (better to go slow than rush this), and I couldn't have timed the Rabbit novels better. They're pretty heavy, for my tastes. The style of Updike's writing is amazing to behold; but God, I hate these characters. I don't suppose many people like the weak Janice, and certainly not misogynist Rabbit. The problem of this novel is I can't make any excuses for this jerk who possesses the longest list of flaws I think I've encountered (but would be happy to wait for someone to prover me wrong, perhaps I have previously been this frustrated with a fictional character). I enjoy a novel if I can find someone to relate to. I think Eccles' confusion is the yin to Rabbit's yang, and I enjoy that particular relationship. Otherwise? Oi. Perhaps Rabbit shapes up with age, and let's hope so, for the sake of my Pulitzer list... because there's three more to go.

Rabbit Redux
I finished Rabbit Redux and feel soooo much more excited about Updike. I must admit to having felt a nice chunk of shame at feeling so grumpy towards Rabbit Run... but the plot of Redux was so much more full of politics, compassion, and rebellion! Every character bared something brand new, and that for me made Redux so much more enjoyable than Run! I'm pretty sure things will only get better as I read Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest!

Rabbit is Rich
Harry Angstrom is still a git. He needs a swift punch to the gut... although it probably wouldn't change much. Three books with Updike's selfish, cowardly protagonist amounts to three decades Rabbit-time, and the only thing that's getting me through this series of novels is the writing. The third installment of the Rabbit novels very much merits the Pulitzer because of the amazing fullness of the relationships developed between Rabbit and his immediate family, as well as the more enhanced sense of timing that sets such a specific era around the plot.

I think on first read you can be struck by how much of a horrid person Harry Angstrom is; but as he gets a tad less ego-centric in his old age, the scope of the novel expands, becoming a frighteningly realistic portrait of American politics and white suburbia at the end of the 1970s. I think that sense of timing has improved this particular novel of the series; the period and it's politics seems a more integral part of what is happening to the Angstroms.

Rabbit is thoughtless in his discriminating, snobby tendencies, and leaves no question of society unmolested by his bitter, grumpy thoughts. That's the thing with Updike; he covers pretty much every little thing that a guy could think of in this novel, giving unparalleled insight and really crafting an incredibly whole family, however dysfunctional: drugs, swinging, mid-life crisis, parental resentment, etc. Updike isn't shy about fleshing out Rabbit's deepest thoughts, and while you may hate the guy, I can't help but step back from this novel and be floored by how it all makes for such an intense portrait of an American family. I'm glad Updike kept the whole family so involved in this installment. Nelson is such a mirror to how Harry was in the first, offering brilliant perspective. All said and done, this feels worthy of the Pulitzer, as opposed to the previous two testosterone-propelled adventures. 

Rabbit at Rest
I will never say that I enjoyed this series of novels, but the final installment in Rabbit's life made the series very rewarding. Updike's an amazing writer. He captures so many social dynamics; Mt. Judge and Brewer are true American towns, successfully fleshed out with real people. The first two novels were so focused on Rabbit Angstrom specifically that I felt his selfishness and ego were overdone; but through the eyes of his family and friends, so much more an active component of his life, the portrait of the man becomes a richer experience, full of the dynamics and complications that all relationships entail. Yes, Rabbit is probably the meanest, jerkiest dude in literature. Updike continues to let you into his protagonist's psyche without flinching away from any thought, fantasy, or misdeed. That's what makes these novels a rewarding experience; four decades of a guy's life, of American history. 

Rabbit Novels Vol. 1
ISBN: 9780345464569
Rabbit Novels Vol. 2
ISBN: 9780345464576

Monday, March 21, 2011

Movie Monday #2: The Reader, Bernard Schlink

Schlink presents a wonderful analogy to the German World War II experience via a young man's coming to terms with who and what his first love is, as a lover, and as a woman on trial for having been a member of a Nazi guard. The emotionlessness of Berg when he is confronted with the woman whom he was involved in, parallels the stoic narrative of the Third Reich as it was told in the decades directly following the war. Indeed, until recently history there has only been a rather delicate acknowledgment of the extent of misdeeds during this era.
Berg's polarities in loving Hanna, and guilt in loving a woman responsible for so many deaths, mirrors the struggle between German patriotism and an equally powerful national guilt. An interesting read, and a refreshing analysis of the post-war interpretation of war crimes. I've always been fascinated in how societies discuss their involvement or reactions to atrocities; there's a lot of interesting discussion regarding Nazism vs German patriotism, akin to that of Japanese patriotism after the bombs. Hanna's shocking illiteracy evokes the claims of so many German citizens about the Holocaust: their ignorance. It's a brilliant commentary. I suggest this novel as a testament to the complexities of post-war constructions of nationalism.

The movie... phew. What a great drama! I thought I was biased because of my unwavering love of Kate Winslet!

Some scenes were added, yes. It made it more of a growing up story this way. It showed the confusion and disillusionment that a German youth of the '50s and '60s were liable to have; a struggle with how to articulate and move forward from the atrocities committed. The film is less of a commentary and more of an account. The suspense is keener. To be honest, the changes they made for the movie make it stand stronger on it's own. Both mediums succeed in conveying a very powerful message.

The acting is spectacular; poor David Kross got shafted. Ralph Fiennes is only marginally a player in the film. He's a fantastic young talent. Obviously Ms. Winslet won the Oscar; she's so emotive in this role. The scenes in the court room during Hanna's testimony were incredibly well acted.

It's a great movie! I love it when a wonderful book can be turned into a movie that stands strong on it's own account.

The Reader, Bernard Schlink
ISBN: 037540826

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Thought Gang, Tibor Fischer

Fischer's sharp from the first sentence and never holds back. A self-proclaimed lay-about (who's doctorate in philosophy from Cambridge does nothing to protect him from mayhem for most of his life), Eddie Coffin begins his journey into midlife crisis with a bang: he is found by one eyed sociopath Hubert who's prosthetic leg and hand don't stop him from being seriously violent, and driven to bump off French banks for an easy Franc (published before the Euro). Sound like a Guy Ritchie film yet?

Our fat, balding middle aged man doesn't just loose his way into bank robbing like some other hapless novel's protagonist; he's the kind of guy that's been using ancient philosophy and argument as a means to all sorts of drama his whole life. The novel bounces back through Coffin's past for crazed interludes, just in case you thought that bank robbery would be the height of Coffin's illegalities. He may be a genius, but Coffin's ceaseless cynicism and lack of ambition have landed him in heaps of trouble that seem to get more unbelievable with Hubert and Coffin's amped up heists!

The situational comedy abounds. Imagine the bank robbers walk in and lecture you on philosophical theory before calmly strolling out with all the cash. Imagine a football match: cops vs crooks. If you haven't been imagining a chubby Jason Statham in the newest Guy Ritchie, it's because you haven't read this book.

Fischer's quick with his word play; every sentence is a bomb of sarcastic wit that will make you laugh. The formatting (philosophical argumentation) serves up sarcasm by the slab. It's pure entertainment. I found it to be a bit of a cold novel, though. I'm confident that my ranking of this novel has more to do with my state of mind than the novel itself. It's a fast paced read that should never have taken me a week to read.

The Thought Gang, Tibor Fischer
ISBN: 0684830795

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Movie Monday #1: Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Welcome to the first official segment from Reading Loves! Watching movies based on books I've enjoyed is always fun for conversation, especially with my husband who doesn't read. I find myself going through the differences, what was left out, changes in mood, etc even though I'm positive he's only humoring my interests! Now, you can be subjected to it also!

Very different fromThe Remains of the Day. I also appreciate that Ishiguro didn't take the extreme,Oryx and Crake route with this plot. It did, however, feel more like a slow build up in a 'M. Night Shyamalan's The Village' kind of way... OK, so reviewing this novel without giving anything away is difficult. 

Ishiguro is still very delicate with his prose style, even if I do agree with other reviewers that it's sort of a tease to haze over the many interesting questions and issues that a concept like this stirs up. In other instances though, I've been known to appreciate it when the author leads you in a particular direction but allows the reader to make of it what they will. I guess Margaret Atwood makes me lazy. 

Ishiguro's novel doesn't even come close to scaring the reader as much as Atwood or Huxley do, because he barely scratches the surface; and it's pretty apparent by the aforementioned delicate prose that he does in fact intend this to be the case. I love how colloquial the protagonist Kathy is in her anecdotes, but she's not a very strong voice for such a heavy concept. I suppose the showcase of the novel wasn't supposed to be those ethical questions brought up by the "sci-fi" element, but more so a truly unique look at uncertainty whilst growing up.

The screenplay for the film by Alex Garland certainly seemed to angle the focus of the movie in that direction. The colors in the film were so beautifully muted, it really did have a gray, unknowable feeling. 

Kathy's final narration before the credits was quite beautiful: "I  remind myself I was lucky to have had any time with him at all. What I'm not sure about, is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we've lived through, or feel we've had enough time."

Some scenes felt a little disconnected from the whole of the film. I feel like the only reason they included Kathy's tape in the movie was to explain the title; it really didn't do much for Kathy and Ruth's relationship, as the movie didn't have time to dive into it until Ruth created a love-triangle. 

Also, the book was far less explicit about what was up with Hailsham than the movie was. Miss Lucy sort of let the cat out of the bag quick in the film.

All told, I enjoyed the film; it didn't change anything substantial. It evoked just the quiet, thoughtfulness that Ishiguro's novel did.

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
ISBN: 1400078776  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Anastasia: The Lost Princess, James Blair Lovell

I've recently gotten a bit upset at myself for not having read much history or non fiction. It's a new goal to read one non fiction title a month. Seems reasonable, right? A week ago, I figured what better way to attain that goal starts on the correct footing than with one of history's mysteries... hopefully the previous sentence also maintained my History Channel cliche quota!

I realize that Lovell's research may seem irrelevant. Our more modernized, conclusive means of verifying bodily remains has proven that all the children of Czar Nicholas were killed with he and his wife, a scene rendered as quite harrowing within the early chapters of this particular book. However pointless nearly five hundred pages may seem with that in mind, the life of this woman and the struggles she faced surely makes for an interesting analysis of all of the historical research and legal proceedings that centered around Anna Anderson's lifelong journey to have herself recognized as the lost Romanov Princess, Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Lovell truly did this woman's life story justice, without ever really taking for granted that her story may not be the truth. He may seem to be taking Anderson's story as gospel, but what he's doing is merely presenting the facts as they could be interpreted. He painstakingly researches all of Anderson's correspondents, allies, contributors, and supporters.

There were decades of arguments with varying Romanov relatives and Bolshevik officials, votes of authenticity from the whole range of different European royals that could qualify for an opinion about Anastasia's fate. It's quite dry reading at times, but easy to keep up with thanks to Lovell's clear, concise prose. There's a fascinating barrage of characters, coloring the whole scope from perfectly malicious maniacs (Youssoupov, anyone) to former servants of the house of Romanov that remain loyal to Anderson their entire lives (Gleb Botkin).

The most disturbing part of this book is that so many relatives, friends, and Russian emigres did in fact believe Anderson; the whole world watched her while her case was argued over decades, and as she suffered numerous breakdowns. Onlookers were desperate to believe that the Revolution would not have so violently murdered the entire royal family, and clung to the image of this confused and lost young woman for solace in a war-torn, socially demoralized world.

Lovell died before the DNA test results came through, yet fully believed he had done the right thing in telling this woman's story. It is truly a revealing look at the process of untangling a historical mystery. Beware, though: sometimes the details of all the proceedings can seem a bit repetitive!

Anastasia: The Lost Princess
ISBN: 0312111339 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens is typically an author that requires a lot of my attention; it can be hard work. Our Mutual Friend, though, wasn't too bad. Probably not the light reading I should have gone for on that eight hour flight, but it made for an interesting look from airport security when I had to empty out my purse! I digress...

Dickens' scope in characters alone is remarkable in this novel; the middle/lower class of London and it's inhabitants make for the bulk of the story, as we watch them attempt a renegotiating of their stations, by hook or by crook. The silliest of the novels chapters was the Greco-Romanesque chorus, made up of the aristocracy, lords, etc of London life. Their shallow banter highlighted the difference in life experiences to be had based on social status; they cajoled and bantered as the more central characters to the plot struggled for life and love.

Also, Dickens tips his hat to the ever problematic racial issues of London with his character Riah; he continues to persevere in his wisdom despite being scorned by most characters for his being Jewish, and helps to rescue Lizzie Hexam from Bradley Headstone's attentions for a while. I found the saddest moment in the novel to be Riah's conversation with Miss Jenny towards the end of the novel, when he apologizes for having fooled her, but was sad that it was so easy to fool everyone that he was a cold-hearted man, simply because it was expected of Jews.

Dickens' novel is ever mysterious and full of life. While it is a good chunk to read, don't be too intimidated; it's worth the effort!

Our Mutual Friend (Oxford World Classics)
ISBN: 0199536252 

About the Author...

In recent years, I've been a dedicated Goodreads reviewer. Last week an author (whom I will not name) I greatly respect wrote something kind about my review of their book, and it inspired me to begin a book blog!

I didn't go to school for literature or English, so please bear with me. I may not have the vernacular down, but I hope to be able to lead you towards titles you'll enjoy or appreciate! My passion for reading knows no bounds!

My reading goals are quite ordinary, I think: read all novels awarded the Pulitzer and Man Booker, and during the year 2011 I hope to read at least one hundred books. So far, I've read twenty two. Here's hoping!

I suppose I should introduce myself! I read for pleasure and the broadening of my own mind; I don't read for fluff's sake very often. I like literature, both classic and modern. I enjoy the odd biography from time to time, although I admit even four years after graduating from university, I am a bit burnt out on nonfiction. I'm happily married, and an avid hiker and gardener! I read like it's my job. I set myself daily reading goals, aiming towards the annual book total. I buy books second hand and new no matter how many I all ready own that I haven't gotten to yet. I'm not an e-reader, but I'll keep my opinions on those little devices to myself; whatever keeps the masses reading is O.K. by me!

If there's a book you think I'd like, share. If you disagree, share that too! I love discussion; I've tried joining a book club previously but I wasn't overly impressed with the choice of books. Goodreads has served me well in that capacity!

I hope to post a review every Wednesday and Saturday, however long or short my blurb may be. Expect some guest posts once in a blue moon, too! Thanks for stopping by!