Tuesday, August 31, 2010

never let me go by kazuo ishiguro

i picked up this book because the preview for the forthcoming movie gave me chills. the book . . . . not so much.

the most frustrating thing about the book is that it had so much potential but didn't deliver pretty much on any account.

its a story about three friends. they are clones, raised for the sole purpose of organ donations. the story is told in first person by kathy. she meanders through memories of them growing up in a boarding school and later she cares for ruth and tommy as they go through their organ donation procedures.

my problems with the book were these:

- ruth is supposedly kathy's best friend. in fact, it's the relationship she talks about the most in the book. but all of the stories kathy tells about ruth reveal her to be selfish and malicious and manipulative. i couldn't find anything to like about her.

- tommy and kathy's relationship is supposed to be the main relationship in the book, but so much time is spent elsewhere you end up just kind of being told they love each other, you don't really see or feel it happen. it almost feels like they're only in love because ruth tells them to be. there was so much room for that relationship to be expanded and backed up.

- when the book started off i liked kathy. she seemed like a sweet girl. but by then end i was annoyed by her complacency and passiveness. i wanted her to get a spine, to do something, anything!

- the book is supposed to make you think about/question science progression and souls and stuff. i can see where it was headed, but it just got lost in all the mess of the story. there are two or three chapters toward the end where the real point of the book comes through, but then it just drifts off into . . . . well, nothingness. no questions really get answered. nothing is resolved. nothing is changed.

- the whole time i was reading the book i kept thinking, "what is the point of this narrative?" it felt like it was supposed to be directed to someone specific. i expected some kind of thesis or objective to come through in the end, but, again . . . . nothing. after i read the last sentence i thought, "seriously, that's it? . . . "

the book left me feeling frustrated and like i had wasted my time.


i originally put that i didn't like this book. and i can't say that i enjoyed it; i felt really let down by the ending. but i can say that i haven't stopped thinking about it since i read it a year and a half ago. it haunts you. it makes you think. i makes you question. so i have to acknowledge that it is an accomplished book; an important book. i would like to read this again with a group so i could discuss it with people. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

the thirteenth tale by diane setterfield

this book was pretty good. i loved the references to books i love: jane eyre, sense and sensibility, wuthering heights, the woman in white, etc. i'm always a fan of things that celebrate good literature.

i loved the weaving together of the different lives. the mystery. i kept finding myself torn between liking adeline and being appalled by her (until the end, of course).

i liked the exploration of the absence one feels at the loss of a twin/sibling/child.

i only wish i had read this book in the winter instead of the dead of summer. i kept wishing i could curl up by a fire with some tea or hot chocolate while reading. instead i was sprawled out in front of fan downing ice water.

haunting. engrossing. delicious.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

on gold mountain by lisa see

we picked this book for a book club.

i hated it.

a lot.

Monday, August 16, 2010

how i live now by meg rosoff

i don't even know how to talk about this book because i love it so much. it's one of my favorite books i've ever read. i limit myself to reading it once a year. gotta keep it special, you know?

the story is about daisy, an american girl, who is sent to live with her relatives in the english countryside since she can't get along with her new step-mother. as soon as she gets there a war breaks out.

at the beginning of the book daisy is stoic and resentful and narcissitic. through the book she finds something to love and life for. she becomes strong and protective.

i love the way this book is written. it's almost like a train of thought. random capitalization. run on sentences. it reads exactly how a teenage girl thinks. it's brilliant. odd, but brilliant.

incarceron by catherine fisher

incarceron is a prison. the story is about a group of people trying to get out of the prison, and a girl on the outside who is curious about the prison. lots of science and political intrigue. curious ideas.

there's a lot of hype around this novel. i'm still not sure how much i liked it. i didn't not like it. there's still just so many unanswered questions . . . . i'm interested to see how it evolves. i'm not very excited about waiting around for the rest of the books to come out.

wait till the whole series is out, then read it. that's be best policy.

the hunger games by suzanne collins

i picked this book up on a lark in target. i remember seeing that my cousin had read it and had good things to say about it. i finished it in one night.

it's kind of a dig at the entertainment industry, especially "reality tv." and if you know me at all, you know i despise reality tv.

the book takes place is a dystopian society after the united states has collapsed. there is a capitol with absolute power and twelve remaining districts. katniss, the main character, lives in district twelve which is a coal-mining district. the people in her district are generally poor, hungry, and hopeless. she is the primary provider for her family since the death of her father in a coal-mining accident. she illegally sneaks beyond the fences everyday to hunt and gather food for consuming and trading.

as a constant reminder of their absolute power, every year the capitol hosts the hunger games. every district must send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen. the twenty four participants engage in a televised fight to the death. the last child standing is allowed to return home.

it's a disturbing idea.

katniss' younger sister is selected to go and katniss volunteers to go in her stead.

what i liked:

i think katniss is a great character. through her experience we can learn to question many things. how much of what we see on tv is real? how much is skewed? are we being manipulated?

i can't understand so many of the television shows that are successful. survivor. real housewives of whatever county. jersey shore. bachelor/bachelorette. girls next door. the hills. etc.

we take the worst examples of humanity and set them up on a television show. we reward manipulation and lying and betrayal with a million dollars. we find the most vacuous and immature humans and videotape their lives and call it entertainment. we send out the message that dating 20 different people at the same time while intoxicated is the best way to establish a relationship.

(i do not watch any of these shows)

how many of these people would you actually want to associate with?

(my answer is none. you?)

i also liked the parts in the book where katniss found herself changing her behavior in order to be more appealing to the watching public in order to obtain support. it shows that even the most disinterested and sensible of people are affected by their surroundings. we have to be so careful about what we associate ourselves with. granted, she's trying to stay alive, so you don't hold it against her. but it helps you realize that people in the public eye are rarely behaving the same way they would if no one was watching. we should be careful how much influence we allow them.

i'm looking forward to the rest of this series.

eat, pray, love by elizabeth gilbert

i mostly liked this book. i found her self-indulgent and narcissistic at times. but i appreciated the general message and i enjoyed the way she phrases things. i took several quotes away from this book that describe exactly how i view things. she phrases it just right. i read this book out of curiosity, not because I needed help finding happiness. but i can see how this might really help someone figure out how to dig themselves out of an emotional hole. i would recommend it to friends who might be trying to find their way.

some of the quotes i loved from the book:

"the best thing we can do, then, in response to our incomprehensible and dangerous world, is to practice holding equilibrium internally – no matter what insanity is transpiring out here."

"flexibility is just as essential for divinity as is discipline."

"imagine cramming yourself into such a puny box of identity when you could experience your infinitude instead."

"the yogis, however, say that human discontentment is a simple case of mistaken identity. we’re miserable because we think that we are mere individuals, alone with our fears and flaws and resentments and mortality. we wrongly believe that our limited little egos constitute our whole entire nature. we have failed to recognize our deeper divine character. we don’t realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self which is eternally at peace. that supreme self is our true identity, universal and divine."

"the search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world. clearing out all your misery gets you out of the way. you cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else. only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people."

"a family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy, when both the young mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. when Catherine told me about this, i could only say, shocked, “dear God, that family needs grace.” she replied firmly, “that family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing that family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. i do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace."

my absolute favorite: " . . . people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like a fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. but that’s not how happiness works. happiness is the consequence of personal effort. you fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. you have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. and once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it."

Friday, August 13, 2010

little known facts about well known places: disneyland by david hoffman

i heard about this book after my friend natalie blogged about it. and since i love disneyland and i'm going back later this year, i decided to check it out for myself.

some of my favorite facts included:

- disney management still refers to opening day as “black sunday.” temperatures were unseasonably hot (well over 100 degrees), drinking fountains were dry (thinks to a plumbers’ strike), toilets clogged, food ran out, there was a gas leak in fantasyland, and woman’s high heels sank into the asphalt on main street. to make it easier for female guests to get around, they were given free pairs of moccasins, because those were the only shoes disneyland sold for adults.

- there is a regulation-size half-court on which employees can play basketball inside the matterhorn.

- walt was afraid of mice.

- although the majority of the officers are dressed in plain clothes and go unnoticed, disneyland’s security force has more members than the city of anaheim has police.

- among the items that have turned up in the disneyland lost and found: false teeth, a prosthetic limb, a glass eye, toupees, a waterbed, and a canary..

- r2-d2 and c-3p0, seen in the waiting area at star tours, are props from the original star wars film. the overlay on c-3p0 is real gold; it was the only substance that gave off the shine that director george lucas wanted, and the only coating guaranteed not to rust during production.

- the water in the jungle cruise is tinted brown, not only to make the river look more real, but so that the bottom – which is only 3 feet deep in parts – cannot be seen.

- when pirates of the caribbean opened in 1967, the fake skeletons available to the disney designers were unconvincing and looked like tacky halloween decorations, so real specimens, which had previously been used for research, were purchased from ucla’s medical center.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

little known facts about well know places: new york by david hoffman

i got this book on accident. i ordered the one for disneyland and received this one. i intended to send it back, but once i started reading it, i changed my mind. all sorts of interesting little tidbits. i look forward to going to new york someday armed with the inside scoop.

some of my favorite facts include:

65,000 - people who work in rockefeller center
175,000 - people who visit rockefeller center daily for business or pleasure
60 - cities in the united states whose population is greater than the daily population (240,000) of rockefeller center
- the tree in rockefeller center comes down two weeks after christmas, and is then recycled. the mulch (all three tons of it) is donated to teh boy scouts to create forest paths and prevent soil erosion while the trun either goes to the u.s. equestrian team to be used as a jump or is cut into lumber for habitat for humanity.
- in 1961, the matisse painting le bateau (the boat) hung upside-down for two months at the museum of modern art. none of the 116,000 visitors seem to have noticed.
8,872,244 - passengers who rode the new york city subway system on the busiest day in its history (december 23, 1946)
100 million - americans (roughly 40 percent of the population) whose relatives entered the u.s. through ellis island.
- when telephone area codes were first assigned, new york, the largest city in the country (and hence the most frequently called), was given 212 because it took the least amount of time to dial on a rotary phone.
- between 1980 and 2000, new tyork city had more than 2,000 inoperative fire hydrants (from 34th street south to battery park) whose only purpose was to generate revenue in parking fines.
- the most expensive real estate in new york city just may be the sidewalk underneath the pushcart on the south side of the front steps of the metropolitan museum of art. given the vendor's yearly license fee of approximately $350,000 for a space that is approximately four by eight feet, that would break down to a cost of over $10,000 a square foot.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

widow of the south by robert hicks

i mostly liked this book. there was a hint of a supernatural element, which kind of threw off my equilibrium, if that makes sense. i didn't know how seriously i was supposed to take it. and i think the way the story was divided up between the different voices interrupted my immersion into the story.

i enjoyed that it was based on a real person and a real place. funny story:

i was sitting in the living room reading my book when my dad walked in:

dad: oh! you're reading my book
me: this is my book. i bought it.
dad: oh. well i bought one too when i was there.
me: where?
dad: the plantation. don't you remember? i brought you back a mug.

fact. there was a mug from carnton plantation sitting on my dresser in my bedroom. funny how things in life connect sometimes.

i liked the recounting of different experiences in the battle. the motivations. the occurrences. the differing views of the same situation. the view of the civil war's effect on civil life.

i liked the juxtaposition of carrie finding something to live for among all the death. she discovered she was strong and able when everyone thought she was broken and crazy.

lovely memory: i finished this book on a cool sunday afternoon on a grassy patch in the plaza across the street from the panathinaiko stadium in athens, greece.

the book thief by markus zusak

this was a good book. i feel like maybe i didn't get quite as much out of it as i could have because i spread the reading of it out over several months. i began it before a semester started and didn't finish until almost the end of the semester. i think the emotional impact would have been much stronger if i had read it without being absent from the story for weeks at a time.

what i liked:

i liked that it was a story about a german family in nazi germany who didn't agree with what was going on. i think that voice hasn't gotten enough light as far as the wwii story goes.

i loved hans hubermann. so kind and gentle. his attention and instruction to liesel are the making of her. his selflessness and quiet strength are so reassuring.

i learned to really love rosa hubermann too. once you get through her harsh exterior there is this tremendous and fierce love at her center. someone you want on your side. she would go down swinging for you.

i loved the focus on the importance of words. their power and value. the longer i have max's story for liesel in my head the more and more genius it becomes.

ilsa hermann leaving the library window open.

the narration by death. the abstractness was a little distracting at first, but once i got it, it was brilliant. the idea that death was exhausted by the war and is haunted by humans . . . chilling.

i expect i will re-read this book again in the future. i would be interested in reading it with a group and hearing other people's reactions. hear what they pull out of the story.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

books for school fall 2009-spring 2010

during school semesters i have no time for extracurricular reading.
it's tragic.
i've decided to include the books i read for school on the blog.
some i finished, some i didn't.

civil war - fall 2009

i was so excited for this class. i've always found the civil war fascinating.
it probably stems from my love of the movie gone with the wind.
and the dresses.
oh, those dresses!
i was sorely disappointed with the class. it was less about the civil war
and more about the politics before and after the civil war.
i hate politics.
politics just remind me that most people are liars
and men should never be in charge of anything.
we maybe spent 2 weeks talking about battles and stuff.
on the plus side, my dad went on one of his random excursions, this time to tennessee
(i can't remember why)
and brought me back a crusty old used minie bullet from the battle of murfreeboro.
good man.

a lot of politics in this book if i remember correctly.
i guess there's information, so it's useful.
but other than there i don't remember much about this book.

another book mostly about politics.
don't remember much.

this book was kind of interesting.
it included the point of views of the soldiers on both sides.
black and white.
first hand accounts by way of journal entries and personal letters.
much more readable that some of the others we read for the class.

tragically, this book was the first time i heard about "redemption."
we always study the "reconstruction" period after the civil war
(which i hate, by the way)
this describes the period after "reconstruction"
in which the country digressed because we hadn't learned anything.
it's enlightening and enraging.

i was sure to love this book.
it was short, which is always welcome in the middle of a semester.
plus, louisa may alcott wrote one of my favorite books ever
(little women)
so i was likely to enjoy it.
louisa is a kindred spirit.
i'm sure we would get along famously, were we ever to meet.
this tell of her brief experience as a civil war nurse
before she got sick and had to return home.

this book was surprisingly really good.
i really wasn't expecting it.
lots of fun little known california history
and the surprising reason california was a free state.
it wasn't a moral decision at all.
it all boiled down to money.
the goldpanners didn't want slave owners coming in
with an army of slaves
bogarting space on the rivers.
i'm trying to convince my dad to read it.

tsarist russia - fall 2009

i was excited to take this class.
i really didn't know anything about russia
except whatever history you can glean from anestasia and that it's cold.

this is what i learned in my class:
russia was, is, and will always be a hot mess.
but they built some cool building in st. petersburg.

the class was a disaster.
my teacher, who seems quite knowledgeable on the subject,
could not lecture to save her life.
i never had any idea what she was talking about.
she would jump from century to century,
topic to topic,
without any indication or explanation.
over 4 weeks of the class were conducted online
in some weirdo experimental format.
the midterm and final were open book.

also, i had to critique 5 fellow students final project before they turned it in.
i do not know who allowed those people out of high school.
they should be shot.
highlights included:
a guy who used the word expunge to describe
the removing of people from a population;
the same guy wrote, "few records persist from this era;"
another guy who compared the defects of an
academic book researching the russian exile system
to harry potter;
and there was one that i quit reading half way through as i had
no idea what she was talking about.

i guess it's okay because i got an "a" in the class.
but at the same time, it's a little depressing, because i got an "a"
but i know nothing about russian history.

this book is an exercise in torture by written word. i didn't finish. it's very academic. i'm sure it would prove quite useful if you were doing a very intense research project on the russian exile system. but i wasn't. apparently this author isn't familiar with the whole idea that if your book isn't readable, people won't read it, no matter how much correct information you have inside.
david mccullough. look him up.

i started crime and punishment before the beginning of the semester in attempt to acquaint myself with russian culture and what not. i didn't finish. the only thing i could think while reading it was, "russians are crazy and their conversations don't make sense." i have no intention of going back to finish it. we had to read fathers and sons for the class. and the whole time i kept thinking, "russians are crazy and their conversations don't make sense." i didn't finish fathers and sons either, which is pretty pathetic because it's insanely short.
i don't think i will ever attempt to read a russian novel again.

Colonial Americas - Spring 2010

i was so excited when i saw we were reading this book.
i've been wanting to read it since i saw amazing grace.
(great movie)
so interesting. what an amazing life!

i actually enjoyed this book, which surprised me.
it's the story of the spanish conquest of the americas from the aztec point of view.
the spanish were pretty brutal. and their colonial policies were insane!
this book intensified my desire to go explore ruins in places like
peru and guatamala.