Friday, October 26, 2007

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley: A Review

Title: Frankenstein
Author: Mary Shelley
Date Finished: October 21, 2007
Pages: 282
Rating: 3.75/5

I think that I put a stigma on classical literature. I expect them all to be difficult to read and comprehend or frankly just boring. Kind of like Howards End, which I struggled through last month. Because of these feelings, I put off this type of literature. In the case of this book, I wrongly judged the book.

The book begins with letters from a man, Walton, to his sister. He is on a journey, presumably near the Arctic, and he encounters a man who is in search of another man. The man, of course, is Frankenstein, and he relates his story to Walton of how he created a monster. While the name Frankenstein (often mistaken for the monster) is incredibly well-known, I was surprised at how little of the actual story I was familiar with. Frankenstein creates his monster--pieced together from parts of several beings--and when he first sees the monster hovering over him, he realizes the wrong he has done. The monster, lonely and misunderstood, leaves for a few years but reenters the story after he kills Frankensteins little brother. It seems he sees his strength and horror as a type of power of Frankenstein; he uses this power to his advantage after he realizes he has no place in society and thus bribes Frankenstein to make him a mate. Frankenstein refuses and the lives become devoted to chasing and hiding from one another.

While I really liked the story and felt myself being drawn into the details, I am not--nor never have been--a fan of romantic literature. Some of the passages are bogged down with romantic details (nature and such) that I started to become a little impatient with. Otherwise, it was a good and surprisingly quick/easy read. I kind of had a "seriously?" moment at the very end, but overall I thought Shelley did a fantastic job at probing at the depth of human nature.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien: A Review

Title: The Things They Carried
Author: Tim O'Brien
Date Finished: October 16, 2007
Pages: 246
Rating: 4/5

I'm not quite sure why it took me so long to read this book. I read the first chapter "The Things They Carried" for a short story class a few years back and really liked it. When my husband bought the book shortly after, I kept saying, "I'm going to read it this [insert break here]." Thanks to the Armchair Traveler Challenge I was finally able to get it read (even though I'm not sure Vietnam is a place I would like to visit for leisure).

The Things They Carried is more a collection of short fictions; while the characters remain the same throughout, most of the stories could stand on their own. Throughout the book, O'Brien explores the impact the Vietnam war had on a cadre of soldiers. The first story discusses the various things the soldiers carried while they were in Vietnam, but after finishing the book, I was struck by the things the soldiers carried with them after the war was over. Most of the war fiction I have read revolves around WWI, and I think this is my first book about the Vietnam War, so this book was a good introduction into the types of warfare and the psychological repercussions. O'Brien in the book talks about killing another human, the inability to discuss the war with others, being drafted rather than signing up, losing members of the platoon in battle and sometimes not in battle.

What was really interesting to me, and at times a little distracting, was the memoir-ish characteristics of the book. While the book is fiction, O'Brien sometimes pulls from his own experiences and even inserts himself as a character in the novel. Because of this, it was difficult sometimes to tell the difference between what was real and what wasn't. I think that O'Brien's point is that it doesn't matter. If these things didn't happen to him, they probably happened to someone during this war. He acknowledges his blurred lines between reality and fiction in his chapter, "Good Form." Other than the fact that he was a soldier in Vietnam, he notes "Almost everything else is invented." Further, "story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth" (179). I liked this book and I would certainly recommend it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

High Fidelity - Nick Hornby: A Review

Title: High Fidelity
Author: Nick Hornby
Date Finished: Oct 12, 2007
Pages: 322
Rating: 4.5/5

High Fidelity is one of my favorite movies--John Cusack one of my favorite actors--so I was a little worried about what my reception was going to be of this book, especially since I really didn't like Big Fish (the book). Anyway, I really enjoyed the book and am glad that I just happened to pick up some of his other books at a booksale a few months ago. (Incidentally About A Boy is another movie I really enjoy--just realized they are the same author).

High Fidelity is the story of Rob and Laura, a couple who has recently broken up. What I love about this book is that the perspective is all Rob's, and Rob is a little bit neurotic and way too analytical. He reminds me of my hero Bridget Jones--except a male version and not quite so silly. I loved the male perspective, even though I'm not sure if I really believe it. For example there is one part of the book where Rob states, "Women get it wrong when they complain about media images of women. Men understand that not everyone has Bardot's breasts, or Jamie Lee Curtis's neck, or Cindy Crawford's bottom, and we don't mind at all....We worked out very quickly that Bond girls were out of our league, but the realization that women don't ever look at us the way Ursula Andress looked at Sean Connery, or even in the way that Doris Day looked at Rock Hudson, was much slower to arrive, for most of us. In my case, I'm not at all sure that it ever did." He then goes on to say, "But it's much harder to get used to the idea that my little-boy notion of romance, of negliges and candlelit dinners at home and long, smoldering glances, had no basis in reality at all. That's what women out to get all steamed up about; that's why we can't function properly in a relationship. It's not the cellulite or the crow's feet. It's the...the...the disrespect" (274). Seriously??? Seriously??? Its our fault there is no romance?? This idea is way too much for me to swallow. :)

But back to the plot...So after Laura leaves Rob, who is a recordshop owner and salesman, he begins to look back at his life at the top five relationships he has had that have had the biggest effect on him. Curiously, Laura does not even make the top five list. Throughout the course of the novel, Rob realizes that Laura is on the list, and she is number one...or is she?

The book is humorous but also endearing. My only major disappointment was that one of my favorite moments in the movie is not in the book (which is actually a really close adaptation--really close). I love the end of the movie when Jack Black sings "Let's Get It On," but I thought that the way Hornby ended his novel was almost just as good. Great book, glad I read it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner: A Review

Title: As I Lay Dying
Author: William Faulkner
Date Finished: October 6, 2007
Pages: 261
Rating: 3.5/5

I chose this book both for the Book Awards Challenge and By the Decades Challenge (1930s), but I have been putting it off for months. I have a bitter-sweet relationship with Faulkner. I am fascinated by him, and in many respects he is one of my favorite American authors (at least non-contemp), but nothing about his writing is straight-forward. Frankly, sometimes his writing is exhausting, which usually tires and bores me, but with Faulkner its almost as if I know he is playing some joke on me and I won't be made the fool. Anyone reading this who is not a bibliophile is probably thinking, "Cuckoo!" :)

As I Lay Dying is the story of The Bundren family: Anse, Addie, Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman. Addie, the matriarch, is dying, and Cash, the eldest son, is building her casket while she watches. Once Addie dies, the Bundrens make an arduous journey to Jefferson to bury her-a journey which is the key of the story. What I love about Faulkner is his experimentation with point of view; I was first captivated with this years ago when I read The Sound and the Fury. Had I continued with my graduate studies, I probably would have focused on narratology. Throughout As I Lay Dying each character helps narrate the story giving his/her unique perspective on the events--which is why the reading can be so exhausting because the reader constantly has to be the judge of what is really going on and which narrators can be trusted. And Faulkner doesn't give anything to his reader for free. The reader must work for it (and I did my fair share of secondary reading while working through this book).

Did I like the book? Yes and no. I liked most of it, but it was difficult and sometimes I just need a no-brainer. But I love a good reading challenge. In terms of content? Faulkner is always depressing. I'm not sure if I have ever really liked any of his characters. He loves to show the dark and sinister, which I also like, but come on guy--can't you give just one character a break?? See what I mean when I say bitter-sweet?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

September 2007 Reads

September was a busy month with going to Alaska for a week, job hunting, starting a new job. But, I was able to meet most of my reading goals for this month, so ladida! Plus, I finished my Non-Fiction Five Challenge!! :)

40. Big Fish - Daniel Wallace (3.75/5)

41. The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield (4.5/5)

42. Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi (3.75/5)

43. Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert (4.25/5)

44. Travels with Charley - John Steinbeck (4/5)

45. Howards End - E.M. Forster (1.5/5)

Total Books: 6
Total Pages Read: 1,771
Books for Challenges: 5/6
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