Thursday, March 29, 2007

I haven't disappeared.....

I'm just reading "What is the What" which is a very long and dense book. Must say, though, it's the first book by Dave Eggers that I've really enjoyed.

More to come.....

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

NYT Notable Review: Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala

A horrible and shocking little book. At 142 pages, it sure packs a wallop, and is a book I probably won't forget for a long, long time. Set in an unnamed African country, it is the story of a young boy who is conscripted to be a soldier in some unnamed war. Placed in a terrible dilemma - go along with the soldiers or die - you journey with him into hell.

One of the difficult things about reading this book is that it is written as the character would think -- in other words, in a type of pidgin English. You get used to it very quickly, but here's a small sample:

This darkness is so full like it is my mother's hug. Heya! I am remembering my mother and how she is so good to me that each time she is hugging me that is all I am needing to see the dark skin of her arm holding me close to her and I am knowing that the life I am living is so good. I am walking with my hand stretching out in front of me because I am trying to catch all of those thought that is floating around me so I can make sure no part of me is missing.

On a side note, the author of this book - notable by the New York Times, was born in 1982. So that's what it's come to. I'm reading books by people born when I was in high school. Boy, do I feel old.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Review: The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

Absolutely fascinating concept for a book. In alternating chapters, Kevin Brockmeier tells the story of those who have died and are living in an after-life city, and the story of a woman alive on the earth, stranded in Antarctica in what was supposed to be a corporate exploration. I greedily devoured each chapter of this book. It was a quick and absorbing read. At the same time, I found myself deeply disturbed along with lost in philosophical thought about exactly what I think happens to us after we die.

The rest of this review will have some pretty major spoilers -- it's just too hard to discuss the book without them -- so stop now if you don't want to know!

So here's this huge city of people who have died, and are in some type of "holding" city. They remain there as long as someone on earth still remembers them, so some people are hanging around in this city for many decades. They still eat at diners, do jobs, or remain homeless, still have their bodies, still have trouble sleeping, still have love lives, and so on. I don't know about you, but this depresses me. I believe in an afterlife, and I sincerely hope this is not it. I'm not down on life, but I sure hope "heaven" or even a "holding place" for heaven doesn't contain the same endless mundane details that are required to make a life work. Frankly, I'm looking forward to a new body!! :)

And then there's the alternating chapters. Here's Laura, the last person left on earth. I mean, at first she doesn't really know that, but at some point she has to realize that no one else is left but her. It's fascinating to me that she still had such a will to live....that she'd choose the slow death rather than just throwing herself down a crevasse. Who knows if this is how a person would really feel, but I certainly wouldn't want to be the last one left standing, if this is any indication of how it would feel.

And then - the plague that killed them all. Could anything be more chilling? Someone finally found a germ warfare that would spread like wildfire. They put it in Coke and there goes the world!! It's one of those "I hope Al Qaeda isn't reading this" moments. One of those moments where you realize that something like this is probably only a plan away at any given moment.

The world is a scary, lonely and horrible place in this book. What's disturbing is that the after-world isn't too much better. What an amazing, innovative idea for a book. But.....pass the anti-depressant, please.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

5th TBR Review: Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller

I've never read any Sue Miller, although whenever I see her books, I always feel like I've already read them. How bizarre is that? Anyway, I put this one on my TBR list some time ago and have avoided reading it for unknown reasons.

It is basically a "coming of age" novel, mixed with a portrayal of how people deal with grief. The book starts out with Eva's second husband being killed in a car accident, and the rest of the book is about how Eva and her (first) ex-husband Mark deal with it, along with their two teenage daughters, and Eva's small son Theo. It is well written, pulls you in and along. I felt connected to the characters, and how they acted and the choices they made made sense to me.

Having said that, there's nothing extraordinary about the book. I liked it, I'd read it anew, I'm not sorry I read it. Nothing like that. It's just that there seems to be a group of women writers who write fairly similar material...Jodi Picoult, Alice Hoffman, Joyce Carol Oates, Sue Miller....I'm really not saying "if you've read one, you've read them all". I enjoy these books, I think they have good themes, great stories, sometimes I even learn something. They are just not extraordinary.

Maybe the problem is that I've read some extraordinary works lately (The Book Thief, Doomsday Book) and these books seem a little run-of-the-mill by comparison. I don't know. I guess I'm just trying to say that I'm not panning the book. It's good. And sometimes we do need a relaxing read - like in between Half of a Yellow Sun and Beasts of No Nation. Good timing for this one!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

NYT 2006 Most Notable Books Challenge

Finishing "Half of a Yellow Sun" marks the end of my Chunkster Challenge books. I wasn't very ambitious there because this is my first year doing challenges and I didn't want to overwhelm myself. Anyway, I think I'm ready for a new challenge (along with the still-going TBR challenge). So I'm joining the NYT 2006 Most Notable Books challenge. Looking at the list, I see that I've already read three of the books on the list (links are my reviews):

Black Swan Green

Half of a Yellow Sun
The Inheritance of Loss

I'm adding the following books, all of which are already on my reading list. In other words, I'm joining a challenge that just gets me in gear reading books I already want to read anyway!! Here's what I'll read from this list in the remaining months of this year:

Beasts of No Nation
The Echo Maker
The Road
Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Suite Francaise

There's a blog dedicated to this challenge - you can find it here. As soon as I'm a contributor there, I'll cross post this list to the other participants!

3rd Chunkster Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

I really liked this book. I don't think I liked it as much as some other reviews I've read. Most people talk about it grabbing them from the first sentence and so forth. It took me awhile to get into it. I hate to admit this about myself, but I sometimes have trouble identifying with characters when I can't pronounce their names. It's kind of a crazy thing to say, but I think that is part of what I experienced here.

This is the story of the Nigerian civil war back in the 60's. I was slightly embarrassed to be American as I read this book, since it was made clear that we didn't really intervene much or care much about the atrocities that were happening at the time. Late in the book, when one of the reporters mentioned that his brother's body had been sent home from Vietnam, I remembered that we had some other pretty serious issues on our plate at the time.

I have to confess that I went and looked at my son's globe while reading the book to see if Biafra ever actually became a country. It becomes clear as you reach the end of the book that it did not.

This is the kind of book I love -- a well-written absorbing story in which I learn something (actually many things) about countries and peoples that I know nothing of. I highly recommend the book, and don't think anyone would be disappointed. While reading this, I received "Beasts of No Nation" from Paperback Swap -- a story of a child soldier in an African nation. I think I need to read something a little lighter in between before I take that on.....