I’m in the middle of writing a review while on breaks from cleaning out my waterlogged basement (finding the soaked inspection report from when we bought the house five years ago, with its recommendation to replace the water heater, which at 12 years had exceeded its life expectancy, was the cause of much bitter laughter), but I thought I’d take a few minutes, at the start of this new month, to review my 2008 reading goals:
1. Read 100 pages a day, or 36,600 over the course of the year. I am far behind on this, at an average of 87 pages a day. Although I started the year off like a house afire, life, and some slower books (particularly Tom Jones and Sacred Games), got in the way. However, I’d rather not get tied up in numerical goals, and find myself reading short, quick books in order to achieve an arbitrary number of books or pages, and I’m pleased with the quality of what I’ve read thus far.
2. Read more books I owned coming into 2008 (60%). I’m not doing so well on this goal, either–exactly half of the books I’ve read thus far were purchased this year. Even worse, though, is my book-acquiring trend–although most of the books I’ve acquired have been from BookMooch or the library, the fact remains that I have acquired 49 books so far this year, and read only 32. (I’m not counting audiobooks in these calculations.)
3. Read 25 books of nonfiction. I’m closer to target here–I’ve read 9 thus far, and I’ve been eyeing a number of others.
4. Get more global, and read more in translation. While this could be defined in a number of ways, I have not counted anything from the U.S., England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, or Australia. I’ve read 8 books so far that would qualify (from the Middle East, Egypt, Cuba, Iran, Nigeria, India, and Israel).
5. To write reviews of the books I read. So much for good intentions. I still have 13 reviews to write!
I still have seven months to achieve my goals, so I’m not concerned. And they’re arbitrary goals anyway, so I’m still not concerned (well, except for the one about whittling down Mount TBR). But I will try to catch up on some of those reviews over the next couple of weeks . . . after I finish mucking out the basement.
Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde (fiction, audiobook)
I love the Thursday Next series–the literary allusions, the punny prose, the various plot threads and the way they all tie together at the end. When Something Rotten ended with no indication of more, and Fforde moved on to his Nursery Rhyme Crime series, I was disappointed (not least because The Big Over Easy, the first Nursery Rhyme Crime book, didn’t have the charm of the Thursday Next books), so imagine my excitement at hearing another Next book was coming out.
Thursday is 14 years older in this next installment, and unfortunately (for this reader at least) she seems to have lost some of her magic along the way. The story itself seemed to take a long time getting started, and once it did more than a few scenes felt like plot filler. I was quite shocked, all things considered, to find myself at the end with a cliffhanger–after a three-year wait, I didn’t expect the book to just be a set-up for another installment. It’s possible Fforde recognizes this himself, and is tweaking the reader about it in a couple of scenes (in one, a character is stuck in an endless time loop waiting in line for a register at a TJ Maxx store, and in other a character is trapped on a boat in the middle of a deserted ocean).
While I highly recommend the series, particularly to book nerds, First Among Sequels is a disappointment. I’m sure I’ll read the next book in the series, but shall probably do so with arms crossed, insistent on getting a better experience than this go-round.
Love Marriage by V.V. Ganeshananthan (fiction, LibraryThing Early Reviewers, 302 pages)
“In this globe-scattered Sri Lankan family, we speak of only two kinds of marriage. The first is the Arranged Marriage. The second is the Love Marriage. In reality, there is a whole spectrum in between, but most of us spend years running away from the first and toward the second.
Among the categories that bleed outside these two carefully delineated boundaries: the Self-Arranged Marriage, the Outside Marriage, the Cousin Marriage, the Village Marriage, the Marriage Abroad. There is the Marriage Without Consent. There is the Marriage Under Pressure. There is even Marrying the Enemy, who, it turns out, is not an Enemy at all.
You cannot go unfettered into a family’s history if you are one of them. The nature of certain unions will be hidden from you, rephrased to you, the subject dropped, the music changed. There is Proper Marriage; there is Improper Marriage. This Tamil family speaks of the latter in whispers.” (Love Marriage, page 3)
V.V. Ganeshananthan’s first novel, Love Marriage, paints an elliptical portrait of a Sri Lankan family through their marriages and family history. Yalini, the American-born daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants, is gathering the oral history of her family as she nurses her dying uncle Kumaran. Kumaran, a Tamil Tiger who married and fathered a child while part of the militant group, has fought his whole life for the identity of his people, an identity that Yalini only understands at a hazy remove.
Unfortunately, that hazy remove is passed along to the reader. In this first-person narrative, it always feels like the real story is tantalizingly out of reach. Yalini sketches her story through a series of little vignettes, introducing us to characters and then abandoning them, and rarely getting to the heart of any one story.
Yalini’s voice, while naive at first, grows in strength as the novel progresses. And yet, she remains the observer. The marriage structure, as outlined above in the quote, really restricted the narrative–the reader gets so much less of Sri Lanka and the current conflict, because it is all seen through the filter of the marriages. And, unfortunately, Kumaran’s marriage, which I was most interested in learning about, is never discussed. The reader learns nothing about his wife or their life together.
Is Ganeshananthan a writer worth watching? Absolutely. But this work is immature, and I think her next book will be so much better. I hope that she embraces her subject matter and her story, and learns to impart it with more immediacy, because I can see her talent yearning to break through.
Remember Flat Stanley–the kid who gets flattened when his bulletin board falls on him while he’s sleeping, which leads to many exciting adventures? Well, Stanley has been musicalized. Blocking my memories of the horror that was Dora the Explorer: Pirate Adventure, I bid for and won five tickets to The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley at our school’s silent-auction fundraiser, and dragged the whole family out for an evening. (My conversation this afternoon with Tom: (Tom) “I could be going out tonight.” (Me) “I’m sorry. But there were five tickets. It was perfect!” (Tom) “No, four tickets would be perfect.”)
So, how was the show? Well, let me give you a clue: here’s the touring company’s website. I dare you to find an actor listed anywhere. The first fifteen minutes were squirmingly bad, but after that it was tolerable. I don’t think it was that the show got any better as it went along–it was Owen’s rapt attention as he sat on my lap. At 5, he’s smack in their demographic.
At 12, Emma is unfortunately not in their demographic–she made it clear afterwards that this was an hour of her life she was never going to get back–and even Alice at 9 was a bit beyond it. I have to give the actors credit, though. I can’t imagine that performing in the touring company of a musical based on an early chapter book is any aspiring actor’s dream, but there was energy and perkiness to spare on that stage. Stanley got mailed to Hollywood, Washington D.C., Paris, and Hawaii, smiling and singing all the way. And for the under-6 crowd, at least, it was a magical musical adventure.
Strange Ways (Of fremde Vegn) by Rokhl Faygenberg (fiction, 192 pages, LibraryThing Early Reviewers program)
Strange ways, indeed. I don’t know if it was the writing or the translation, but I found this book very hard to follow. While I am not unfamiliar with narratives moving back and forth in time, Rokhl Faygenberg’s Strange Ways (written in Yiddish in 1925 and recently translated by Robert and Golda Werman) read more as if someone had taken each chapter, cut it into individual paragraphs, thrown them in a pile, and pasted them back together randomly.
Strange Ways takes place in a Polish shetl at the turn of the twentieth century, and follows several Jewish characters, but it is primarily the story of Sheyndel, a young woman who becomes a midwife and entertains various intellectuals in her salon apartment, and Borukh, her married businessman lover. Strange Ways also tantalizes the reader with the possibility of being about the shetl itself, and the rising tensions between the Jews who live in it and the Christians who want to move them out of it, but that story is strangely dropped without ever coming to an end.
I wanted to like Strange Ways, but I just couldn’t. Aside from the confusing temporal changes and the abandoned conflict between the Jews and the Christians, my modern sensibilities were too offended. Without giving too much away (but don’t read on if you really don’t want any spoilers) the burden of the forbidden love affair is all on the woman, while the man not only gets away with everything but is given the possibility of a second chance.
Faygenberg has some interesting points on morality and religion, and some of her prose is lovely. Strange Ways gives the reader a good sense of place and atmosphere. But most of her characters are viewed at a remove, and (possibly due to the translation) do not stay consistent from moment to moment. In the end, the reader is left without an emotional connection to any of the characters, and a feeling of disappointment for the story she didn’t get.
In honor of Mother’s Day, a poem by my Alice:
It’s Mother’s Day
It’s Mother’s Day, and I think to myself
What a nice little present I found on the shelf
I’ve looked and looked all through the store
And I’ve finally found what I was looking for
It looks so nice, it looks so pretty
It looks as cute as a little kitty
It’s red, and green, and around it is blue
From when it was tiny it grew and grew
The top is smooth, the bottom is spiny
The spiny parts are really tiny
In a blue vase sits my beautiful rose
As it is holding a beautiful pose
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
Below is a list of the top 106 books tagged “unread” on LibraryThing. The rules:
bold = what you’ve read,
italics = books you started but couldn’t finish
crossed out = books you hated
* = you’ve read more than once
underline = books you own but haven’t read yourself
- Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (according to my library I have 2 copies)
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
- The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Don Quixote by MIguel de Cervantes Saavedra (I read Book I but not Book II)
- The Odyssey by Homer
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Ulysses by James Joyce (I think I got 3/4 through)
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (I didn’t read the essay at the end, but I still count this one)
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte*
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens*
- The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville (It takes an awfully long time for them to get off the docks)
- The Iliad by Homer
- Emma by Jane Austen
- Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
- Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
- The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (I might have read the whole thing, but I doubt it)
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen*
- The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens*
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (hate is a strong word, but I wasn’t terribly fond of it)
- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel
- Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (but it’s Tom’s, and I have no intention of reading it)
- Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
- Dracula by Bram Stoker
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
- Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
- Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
- Middlemarch by George Eliot
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
- Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
- The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
- Wicked by Gregory Maguire
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce*
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
- Dune by Frank Herbert
- The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
- Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift*
- Mansfield Park by Jane Austen*
- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas*
- The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
- The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
- Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
- The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (but see Atlas Shrugged above)
- To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
- Persuasion by Jane Austen
- One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
- Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
- The Once and Future King by T.H. White
- Atonement by Ian McEwan
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
- Dubliners by James Joyce
- Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
- Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
- Beloved by Toni Morrison
- Collapse by Jared Diamond
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote*
- Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
- A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole* (but I’m sure I haven’t read it since college)
- Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (I had a copy at one time, but I must have lost it)
- Watership Down by Richard Adams
- The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
- The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
- Beowulf by Anonymous
- A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
- The Aeneid by Virgil
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence (I was supposed to read it in college, and have been carrying it around ever since. Someday . . .)
- David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- Possession by A.S. Byatt
- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (see my review)
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
- The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
- Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Candide, or Optimism by Voltaire (did I read this? I can’t remember)
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
- The Plague by Albert Camus
- Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
- Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (one of the worst endings I have ever read)
My final tally:
started, but did not finish: 4
read more than once: 11
own, but not yet read: 24
How about you? If you’re reading this, consider yourself tagged!