Saturday, January 21, 2012

January 2012 Books and Audiocourse

This post will be updated throughout the month as I finish books and write the mini review.

Anne Frank: The book, the life, the afterlife by Francine Prose
Published: 2009
Rating: 3
Goodreads review
Prose decided to re-read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl as research for her new novel whose narrator would be a 13-year old girl.  While reading she came to believe that this was "a consciously crafted work of literature" showcasing Anne's prodigious talent: "her technical proficiency, the novelistic qualities of her diary, her ability to turn living people into characters, her observational powers, her eye for detail, her ear for dialogue and monologue, and the sense of pacing that guides her as she intersperses sections of reflection with dramatized scenes." This is amazing - don't most people go to writing classes to learn how to do this?

I enjoyed the chapters that elaborated on why Prose made the two statements quoted above and skimmed over those which dealt with the drama surrounding the subsequent movie and theatrical productions. The chapters that covered the few short months between the last diary entry and Anne's death were tough.  Like Prose, I also marveled "at the fact that one of the greatest books about the Nazi genocide should have been written by a girl between the ages of thirteen and fifteen."

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Published: 2009
Rating: 5
Goodreads review
Author web site
I saw this book soon after Josh's death, and knew that I would want to read it as the story is about a girl hovering between life and death.  At the time, I was probably reading survivor of suicide and parental bereavement books.  At this point in my grief journey, I am fascinated with questions about death: what happens up to the point of death, what happens afterwards, can my Josh see or hear me?  And since no one knows, fiction is the genre in which this topic can be explored.  As morbid as it sounds, it is what I want to read.

Found in the inner flap is the summary: "While in a coma following an automobile accident that killed her parents and younger brother, seventeen-year-old, Mia, a gifted cellist, weighs whether to live with her grief or join her family in death."  The author handled this "in-between" state, the thin line separating life and death in a realistic and believable way.

This tear-jerker, told from Mia's point of view, was a quick read.  The following quotes made me stop and think:
I realize now that dying is easy.  Living is hard.  
I've heard people talk about the sleep of the dead.  Is that what death would feel like?  The nicest, warmest, heaviest never-ending nap?  If that's what it's like, I wouldn't mind.  If that's what dying is like, I wouldn't mind at all.  
I don't know if once you die you remember things that happened to you when you were alive.  It makes a certain logical sense that you wouldn't.  That being dead will feel like before you were born, which is to say, a whole lot of nothingness.
After finishing, I wanted to read the sequel right away so used an iTunes gift card received at Christmas to download it - then stayed up until the wee hours reading.  After I woke up, I grabbed my iPad and finished.  Isn't technology wonderful?

Where She Went by Gayle Forman
Published: 2011
Rating: 5
Goodreads review
In the sequel, Forman chose a different narrator to tell the story: Adam Wilde, Mia's emotionally scarred and vulnerable ex-boyfriend, whom we met in the first book and is another likable character.

The story picks up three years later and is told in present time and in flashbacks.  The writing is simple, direct and powerful.   The books are seamlessly tied together and the ending is extremely satisfying.

On Forman's website is a link to her blog on which the posts are candid and honest, giving a window into the life of a novelist.  The post where she asks readers to comment on whether or not a third book should be written and the one where she compares the launch of her two books are especially interesting.

Pamela by Samuel Richardson
Published: 1740
Rating: 5
Lists: 1,001
My review

The Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis by Professor Louis Markos
Audiocourse from The Teaching Company
Rating: 2

While I learned some interesting things about C.S Lewis (he was never given full professorship at Oxford University despite teaching for thirty years) and bought an anthology of his apologetic works, I found the professor to be a bit preachy and did not finish the lectures.  I did, however, find a gem in the bibliography where Prof. Markos referenced Tennyson's epic poem on loss and grief, In Memoriam A.H.H which I am now slowly reading.

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
Published: 1595
Rating: 3
Goodreads review

I read this for the Shakespeare Reading Month Challenge hosted by Allie at Literary Odyssey.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well I could follow along (only had to check out Wikipedia once and that was in Act 2, Scene 1, to figure out who Oberon and Titania were) and how quickly the story moved along.  When Helena told Demetrius, "And I am sick when I look not on you", I was reminded of what Mr. B said about Pamela, "This lovely creature is my doctor, as her absence was my disease."   I believe that authors write their masterpieces on the shoulders of previous literary giants.  I look forward to making more connections as my foray into the classics continue.

The Giants of Russian Literature: Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekov by Professor Liza Knapp
Audiocourse by The Modern Scholar
Rating: 3

The lower rating has more to do with my unfamiliarity of these author's works than of the course itself for I found the three lectures on Anna Karenina, a recently read novel, to be quite interesting.  The professor notes that not all translations are the same and suggests Constance Garnett or the husband/wife team of Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonsky.  She also points out why several names exist for one character, consistent with Russian culture but confusing to many readers.  She gives detailed background on the historical time period of these authors, their own backgrounds, how and when they intersected and what they thought of each other's works.  She also reflects on the following questions: What makes Russian literature unique and timeless and what was its impact on literature from other countries?  

I have been a bit intimidated by such tomes as War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, Fathers and Sons but after listening to these lectures, I look forward to tackling them.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Published: 2006
Rating: 3

I'm having a hard time rating this book, alternating between a 2 (it was okay) to a 4 (really liked it) so have settled on a 3 (liked it).

Why the 2?  Overall, I found this to be a heavy, dark and depressing book which could only be read a few sections at a time.  But upon closer reflection, this is not the reason for the low rating. Now that I am working on being a more discerning reader, I find myself reacting to certain things such as 1) uncharacteristic behavior that moves the plot forward but is unbelievable (I am thinking of when Hans does something very impulsive and stupid which puts his whole family and Max at risk); 2) when Death, who is constantly portrayed as a sympathetic character, finds Liesel's book and does not return it to her, an unsympathetic and therefore inconsistent action and 3) when the ending, as an attempt to tie the plot lines together, is too neat and therefore unsatisfactory.

Why the 4?  1) I found the author's choice of Death as the narrator to be interesting and his observations of human behavior, running the gamut from extreme cruelty to kindness, thought-provoking. 2) The character development of Rosa Hubermann was well done, a very round character, to use the definition put forth by E.M. Forster in Aspects of The Novel.  3)  Of course I loved the protagonist, Liesel Meminger, a spunky girl who works hard to overcome her illiteracy, becoming an avid reader and writer.  Because she is a book lover, and can only obtain them by stealing, she becomes a thief, preferring to steal books over food.

There is a character who commits suicide.  Death's comment about him and all those who chose to meet him in this way is haunting, but rings true.
"Have me," they said, and there was no stopping them.  They were frightened, no question, but they were not afraid of me.  It was a fear of messing up and having to face themselves again, and facing the world, and the likes of you.
There was nothing I could do.
They had too many ways, they were too resourceful - and when they did it too well, whatever their chosen method, I was in no position to refuse. 
Would I recommend this book?  It depends on who was asking and I would only do so with some caveats.

Update - I am rereading this review and wonder if it is a bit harsh.  I will leave it for now and see if time makes a difference.

1 comment:

  1. I just started A Midsummer Night's Dream for the Shakespeare Reading Month. I'm glad you enjoyed it and found it fairly easy to read.