Sunday, September 11, 2011

Book Reviews 2011 Continued

Well, now that I am, for all practical purposes, done with Autumn quarter, I think it is time to finish, or at least continue, my 2011 book reviews. Again, I am not expecting my readers to actually want reviews, but more try to catalog the books I've read for future perusal and reminiscence. I think at some point down the line I will also post a general re-cap of 2011 and goals for 2012 because I love looking back at the end of the year to see what I've actually done that I said I would do.

Michelle's Reading List 2011 (Part 2):

The Kite Runner
by: Khaled Hosseini

The friends whom I have discussed this book with all have very differing views so know that the book elicits a wide range of opinions. Mine, for the most part, were pretty favorable. The story is heart-wrenching, make no mistake about it. It also contains graphic material so I wouldn't recommend it for the faint of heart or as a bedtime reading (although that's what I did and I turned out just fine.) The story follows Amir, who at the beginning of the story is a little boy growing up in Kabul. He has a close friendship with his peer servant, Hassan, but one day witnesses a horrible event involving Hassan which scars him deeply. He deliberately drives Hassan and his father out of the house and lives with guilt and cowardice for decades. Eventually once he is settled in America with a new wife he decides to confront this unresolved issue of his past and journeys to Afghanistan for what turns out to be a difficult, violent, painful, yet redemptive quest. The story line definitely was written to elicit emotional responses from the reader, but what I most loved about the book was the imagery and descriptions of the Middle East. At the end of the book, I felt as though I had been there beside Amir, smelling the stale air and feeling the grit of dust in my sandals as I walked the long roads weak from hunger and grief. Anyway, not to wax poetic, but I enjoyed the book and it would certainly be a great book for a discussion.

The Lovely Bones
by: Alice Seybold

This was one of the first books I read after beginning my resolution so it isn't particularly fresh in my mind. That being said, I remember it being a nice, mild sort of book. I had read Seybold before, for my memoir class in Running Start. Her memoir
Lucky, is the story of her rape and recovery in college and I found it a powerful and reflective book. This one, however, contains no trace of her past, and instead focuses on a fictional town reeling from the murder of a teen girl, Susie. The story is told from Susie's perspective, however, from Heaven. The plot wasn't particularly inspiring or original, but the perspective was refreshing. Seybold guides the reader through her work with a sort of gentle complacence. I always felt the story contained direction, but at the same time felt suspended in the clouds alongside Susie, watching events unfold from a sort of timeless reflection. Seybold also gets props for her depiction of Heaven. From my recollection, I doubt she is religious, but she paints a very interesting idea of Heaven being comprised of all the things on earth we consciously or subconsciously found happiness in and which gradually expands as our capacity for curiosity does. I'm not sure I would re-read this book, but I would definitely read more Seybold.

Emma by: Jane Austen

Again, another work I read toward the beginning of the year. This is the fourth Austen to grace the BBC's list of 100 Greatest Books. Unfortunately, I had already seen the play (fabulous) and the movie (witty) before reading the book, so it lacked the same suspense as her other works. I wouldn't have read the book at all, but in keeping with my resolution I decided to read it anyway so I could mark it off my list. The story is delightful and definitely more humorous than some of Austen's other work. Essentially Emma plays matchmaker with any and every of the other young men and women around her, but fails to take into account their own affections and desires when pairing them. This leads to unhappiness, confusion, and drama! When Emma starts to become intertwined in her webs of matchmaking she realizes it might not be the best idea and as she steps back all falls into place and everyone ends up happily ever after. The movie, in this case, was not the BBC version, but a 1996 film starring Gwenyth Paltrow who plays a fabulous Emma. Don't waste your time with BBC as this is where it's at. I think reading multiple Austen novels besides the great Pride & Prejudice really gives the reader a respect for her writing and allows us to appreciate how she always takes the same formula but book after book twists it into a fresh and intriguing storyline that has captivated audiences for centuries. That is the mark of great author.

Heart of Darkness by: Joseph Conrad

I actually ended up writing my final paper for South Asian Comparative Literature on this book and 1001 Arabian Nights so I studied it much more than I would have otherwise. Though only 38,000 words, Heart of Darkness is a dense and difficult text. The introductory author describes it as "unrelenting," a term which is quite appropriate. However, the book is quite powerful as well. The story centers around Marlow, who tells his fellow seamen the story of his expedition up the Congo River one night as they relax on board their trawler and wait for the tides to change. What makes Conrad's work so powerful and great, in this writer's opinion, is his vocabulary and word choice. It is vivid, provocative, and integral to his story. The entire text is built on a haunting, ominous undertone which increases as his tale goes on climaxing in both figurative and literal darkness. This is the sort of book which must be read 3 or 4 times to really begin to understand it and glean all the meaning and richness. His work is fantastic and it is definitely NOT light bedtime reading. Or bus reading. Or lunch break reading. So basically it's a school book. But such a great school book.

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