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The Free Time Delusion, and Book 16: The Round House

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I know in my last update, I promised more updates soon. And I fully intended to have more updates soon. I thought, I’ll be unemployed! I’ll be packing and moving and unpacking, but it’s not like I won’t still have tons and tons of free time compared to when I’m working, right? Right? I will have so much time, I figured, to read and blog and read more and it’ll be awesome.

Well. You may have noticed that that post was almost a month ago, and I clearly haven’t written anything on here since. So I have come to the conclusion that I was deluded.

My delusion, though, was not that I would have free time. Free time, I have. And I have free time because I look at the still-enormous pile of boxes in our new living room and think, no rush. I got the kitchen unpacked, which was the most important thing, because it sure felt like we went two or three weeks without eating vegetables. Books, well, I have enough unread books that I either didn’t really pack or have bought since I got down here that I’m not so pressed for reading material that I need to hurry up and figure out right now what I’m doing with all my 15 boxes of books. Where do they go? How do I organize them? This house has a bunch of built in bookshelves, so I have options. Do I separate by genre? Do I put all the books that make me look smart on the first floor where guests are more likely to be? Do I just put everything in one place and use other shelves for things that aren’t books? What do you put on a shelf besides books?

The struggle, as they say, is real.

So if I’ve been putting off unpacking, what have I been doing? Well, I’ve been reading, so I was at least right about that–I actually just started book 28, so I have some serious catching up to do, blog wise. I’ve been exploring. We now live on Cape Cod, which is just absolutely beautiful. We’re right near the beach, right near an adorable little downtown, we’ve got the best fish and chips joint right near us. We’ve got two cute local bookstores that I’ve explored and a few more that I haven’t yet (you know, because I’m still unemployed, and going into a cute local bookstore inevitably means buying at least two books). Since we got the kitchen mostly unpacked, I’ve been cooking, and enjoying our wonderful little kitchen with room for absolutely everything. I have always loved cooking, but a bad kitchen just ruins it.

And, well, this is where I feel kind of guilty, the space where I could–should–have been blogging. Because when I’m done with all that, I’m exhausted. I’ve been exploring and cooking and kind of unpacking, and it’s summer and it’s warm (not, thankfully, disgustingly hot) and humid and I want to turn my brain off. So, well, I discovered that we now have HBO, and I’ve been watching Game of Thrones, which I previously had only seen Season 1 of because I didn’t have HBO. I’ve read the books, and I love the books, and it’s been long enough that the fact that I read and loved the books isn’t ruining the show for me–I’m not really having any “oh my god it so did not happen like that” moments. (Well, okay, a few.) And then, watching Game of Thrones makes me want to have some epic swordfights of my own. So. I’ve been playing Zelda. To be specific, replaying Twilight Princess.

What? I like games.

And this last weekend, I was down with my mom pet-sitting at my aunt’s house. I love doing this, because we’ve been going to the same place for so long that there’s not a whole lot of new stuff to do, so we can sit around and relax and read and not feel guilty about it. I meant to blog while I was there, I did, but when I finished book 26 (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) and asked my mom which of the three books I brought with me I should read next, she selected Gone Girl, because she’d read it, and she figured I’d get through it while we were there, and she wanted to know what I thought. She was right–I got through it while I was there. Damn that book was hard to put down.

So now, here I am, finally convincing myself to use my free time to actually post an update.

Book 16: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

This was absolutely one of my favorite books I have ever read.

I feel I should qualify this. Most of my favorite books–I mean, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you maybe have a sense of the types of books I read. I love fantasy. I like science fiction quite a bit. The Harry Potter series, obviously. Anything by Neil Gaiman. A bunch of Terry Pratchett. Zelazny. Even the classics that I’ve loved have had elements of fantasy in them–The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dracula are my favorites. And Susan Cain’s Quiet deserves a place on the list–it’s a nonfiction book about the power of introverts, and reading it made me feel like I’m normal, which was oddly empowering.

So to be a work of literary fiction with pretty much no elements of the supernatural (I say pretty much because…well, we’ll get to that) and make it onto my “favorites ever” list, that’s saying a whole freakin’ lot.

I never even would have picked this up, not in a million years, if it hadn’t been a book club book. A woman gets attacked, coming of age, blah blah blah…no thank you. But it was a book club book, so I did pick it up. And I started reading it, and then I almost immediately put it back down and read something else and skipped that month’s book club meeting altogether. Because what I did not realize was that when the back cover said a woman was attacked, it meant raped. Not robbed at gunpoint, or knifed, or anything friendly like that. And this, honestly, is probably one of the reasons I read so much fantasy. Once you get into realistic literary fiction, you start having to deal with problems in your books that people have to deal with in real life. I’m much more the type of person who likes to pretend real-life problems don’t exist whenever I can. I ignore the news as much as I can because it’s just too depressing, and I’d prefer for my fiction to–okay, I can’t say “not be depressing,” because let’s face it: A whole lot of fantasy is pretty dark. But I prefer it to be dark and depressing in a way that, deep down, I know is not even remotely possible. As soon as something happens in a book about which I can say, oh, yes, something very similar happened to this friend of mine, I shut out emotionally. So rape is usually off the table, with, what is it now, 1 in 4 women having actually gone through it? Why should fiction have anything to do with the real world?

So, yeah. I almost put the book right back down and picked something less horrific. For example, this may be the perfect time to introduce myself to some Lovecraft.

Why didn’t I put it down? Well, there was the fact that it was a book club book, but it’s not like I hadn’t ever missed a meeting before. To be completely, totally, 100% honest, I kept going because I had already written it on The List. The List is something that I have in the very beginning of the Moleskine notebook that I’ve been taking all my reading notes in for the past year. It’s a two-page spread, and I numbered the first 50 lines of this two-page spread. For some reason, it wouldn’t have been okay with me to just number as I went. This way, I can more easily visualize my progress, which is great! But if I decide immediately, as I almost did with this book, that I’m not actually going to read it, then my whole list gets messed up. I have to cross it out and then cross out and re-write every single number after it. The whole page would just be a mess, and since that would have been unacceptable, I kept going.

And at first, it was okay. It was clearly very well-written, but I was too worried that I’d hate it to realize how good it was. But as I kept going, I realized that even though the book starts with a rape, and the events of the book take place because of the rape, it isn’t about the rape. It’s not a Rape Mystery, as I originally thought it might be. It’s not even about the woman who was raped. It’s about her 13 year old son.

When a mother is raped, what happens to her kid? In this case, he has to grow up. He has to grow up and face the real world and learn how to take care of himself fast, because his mother had PTSD and couldn’t help him.

One of the things that I loved about this book was that the age and gender of the narrator had absolutely nothing to do with the intended audience. This wasn’t a book about a middle-aged woman for middle-aged women, or a book about a 16 year old girl for teenage girls, or a book about a 13 year old boy for tween/teen boys. It’s a book about a 13 year old boy for adults, definitely not intended for or even appropriate for a 13 year old boy. I loved that it put me in shoes so completely different from my own, shoes that I could never even think I could wear, and forced me to wear the shoes and identify with the shoes and understand the shoes and think of the shoes as equal to my own. It challenged me and dared me in a way that I honestly can’t think of a time that I’ve been challenged in before. I was absolutely blown away. I threw it across the room when I finished it.

Every character in this book felt real. Each of them was three-dimensional and inherently flawed; every single one of them had been through shit. It takes place on a Native American reservation in the 1980’s, so even if characters hadn’t personally been through shit, they dealt with all kinds of prejudice from the outside world, and even the young boys were aware of that. (That’s another thing I liked. I don’t like when people dumb down teenagers, acting like they can’t pick up on anything. They do, and Erdrich knows that.) The teenage boys will remind you of the boys you knew as a teenager, and if you had the good fortune to be a teenage girl, you might be a little shocked at some of the stuff that apparently goes on in a 13 year old boy’s head.

Now, I promised earlier that I’d talk about the elements of the supernatural in this book. The time for that has come. As I mentioned, it takes place on a Native American reservation, and Native American mythology is, accordingly, very important to the story, albeit in a purely metaphorical sense. There’s no point where any supernatural characters actually show up, but learning some of the mythology ends up being incredibly important to Joe’s personal development. It helps him understand what’s going on, and it helps him understand himself a bit more.

This leads me to my Funny Story About This Book. As I mentioned previously, numerous times, this was a book club book. Now, at the beginning of each meeting of Book Club, someone would ask, “Did anyone not like this book?” It’s a good question. Not everyone’s the same, and it usually makes for some interesting conversation, debate, deeper understandings, etc. So we started this meeting with that same question. Did anyone not like this book? And two older women raised their hands, and when pressed for reasons, one of them simply said: “Well, does she always write about…you know…Native American…stuff?” She was clearly incredibly uncomfortable just being at this meeting, and any time someone mentioned another one of Erdrich’s books as being worth reading, the woman would ask, “Does that one have…Native American stuff?” As if we can’t all tell that she’s just a horrible, racist bigot. (The other woman who raised her hand seemed to agree at first about the “Native American” part, but eventually it seemed more like she just couldn’t get into the more mythological aspects, which is slightly more acceptable than the tone of voice Woman #1 said “stuff” in.) So an important lesson, dear readers, is that if you’re horribly racist and your book club reads a book that takes place on a Native American reservation, you should probably just not go to the meeting.

And thus concludes my write-up of book 16! Has anyone else read it? I’d love to hear what you thought. And if you haven’t, you really, really should.

Here’s what’s coming up soon!

17. Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson
23. Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau
24. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” a.k.a. J.K. Rowling
25. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
26. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
27. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
28. Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny

The Blahs, and Book 15: The Fault in Our Stars

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Am I the only person who’s been feeling blah lately?

Whenever summer comes around, it seems like everyone I know is super excited about all the great weather we have, the prospect of going to the beach, shorts and flip flops, and all the other stuff that summer apparently means to most people. I guess I’m the worst kind of person, though, because as soon as it breaks 75 degrees, I find it disgustingly hot out. I can’t stand the idea of spending a day at the beach–the sun, the sand, the seaweed–it’s all too much for me. And I’d much rather wear jeans and a hoodie than shorts and a tank top. I’m just not made for summer, I guess.

It doesn’t help that we’re moving soon. I just put my work schedule for the week up on my refrigerator planner (which is the best invention ever, by the way) and it’s forcing me to think about the fact that Friday is my last day at my super-awesome job, because as much as I love it, I would have to be literally insane to try to make a 2.5-hour commute work. And no matter how hard I try, I can neither figure out how to apparate nor convince my boss to set the shop up on the Floo network.

So moving means leaving my job, which I love; my friends, whom I will miss; and this town, which I have grown fond of over the past three years. It also means needing to hunt for a new job, which could be difficult and stressful; having to make new friends, which is terrifying and will likely take a couple of years; and needing to adjust to a whole new area that I’ve only been to a few times before. Also? There’s no Target. How are there still areas with no Target?

Moving also means packing, which, surprise! We’ve barely started doing. And that’s okay, because after Friday when we both finish work, we’ve got about a week and a half before Moving Day, and that’s more than enough time to pack up our small apartment. What’s not okay is that everyone keeps asking me, “So you’re all packed, right?” Because, no, we’re not, and we shouldn’t be, because if we were, then we’d have nothing to do during that week and a half–there would be no packing left to do, and all our stuff would be packed so we wouldn’t have any way of entertaining ourselves. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t start having a panic attack every time someone asks.

All this stuff combines to make me feel a little depressed and much more anxious than usual, and that then starts making me feel weird physically, and I basically want to curl up and sleep until I’m magically all settled into our new house and bestowed with an awesome job and group of friends. So I’m trying to focus on positive things. Like, if it takes a while to find a job, I’ll have a lot of downtime to read in my awesome new reading nook in my house! And we’ll have a nice yard, and we’ll be near the beach, so if I want a change of pace I will have options for reading outside! Maybe I’ll get a job at a bookstore and be able to get an employee discount on books! There might be an awesome book club in the area where people actually read the book and I’ll meet people who like books!

And since that entire list of positive things to think about boils down to “hooray books,” does anyone have any ideas about other things I might be able to look forward to when moving? Because as great as books are, sometimes they are just depressing and not helpful when in a funk. Which reminds me, I have a book to write about.

Book 15: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Yes, thank you, I will take the non-movie cover.

Okay, first, can we very quickly talk about how this book came out in 2012, but the paperback just came out a couple of months ago? I don’t think I’m alone in greatly preferring to read paperbacks. I don’t know what other people’s reasons are, but I have wrist issues, so holding a hardcover for long periods of time gets frustrating. I therefore find it ridiculous that they seem to be waiting longer and longer to release the paperback versions of popular books. Are they hoping we’ll cave and buy the hardcover and they’ll make more money? I, for one, refuse to cave. Unless the paperback is only released with a movie cover, which at first this seemed like it would be (despite what Barnes and Noble’s website will have you believe, there is a paperback that looks like this one).

If you’re reading this and you don’t know what The Fault in Our Stars is about, I would like to thank you for making my blog the first thing you look at after you crawled out from the rock you’ve been living under. I’m flattered! But seriously, you know this, right? Two teenagers with cancer fall in love and go on an adventure and it all ends in tragedy and pain because, duh, it’s John Green. So I’m just going to go ahead and fill the rest of this post with SPOILERS if it’s alright with you.

REALLY, IF YOU DON’T LIKE SPOILERS AND DON’T ALREADY KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, STOP READING HERE.

The big spoiler was spoiled for me early on, long before the paperback version came out and I actually read the book. Unfortunately, in this situation, it did actually kind of spoil the book. Before I read that Augustus dies, everything I had read let me sit there believing that oh, well, Hazel has terminal cancer, and John Green likes to kill off main characters, so I mean this is pretty obvious right? And I would have gotten thoroughly attached to Augustus and thrown the book across the room and cried when he ended up being the one to die. Instead, as soon as he was introduced, I knew what was going to happen, didn’t let myself get attached, and was just waiting for him to get sick again and eventually die.

My whole experience got screwed up because of that spoiler, and because of it, the book that everyone seems to think is the greatest thing John Green has ever done ended up being tied for my least favorite of his books. Don’t get me wrong! I loved it. Like the media and about 80% of teenage girls, I’m a little in love with everything John Green. It’s just that I loved Paper Towns a lot more, and Looking for Alaska a whole lot more. The Fault in Our Stars and An Abundance of Katherines are tied, oddly, since they’re the two of his books with the fewest similarities. (I haven’t read Will Grayson, Will Grayson yet. I think that’s slated for book 25. We’ll see where that falls in the lineup.)

Of course, it might not have been entirely the spoiler’s fault. I found the characters in The Fault in Our Stars less relatable than his other characters, which I think may mean I failed at reading it. I didn’t relate, and I didn’t get attached–I was so afraid they were going to die that I kept them at arm’s length, which–

SHIT. John Green, you win. Okay. I see what you did there. Because, really, of all the characters in John Green’s books, Hazel is probably the one I should relate to. Of course, I don’t have cancer, but I can understand depression. I totally get the whole life revolving around a book thing. I understand being really introverted. I even completely agree with her philosophy as Augustus describes it in his eulogy for her: I see all these people who think they need to do something of enormity with their lives, that they need to be remembered forever for their lives to have mattered at all, and I simply don’t get it. I write, and if I eventually write something that people will remember, well, I don’t think I’d want that to be too big a deal (okay, let’s be honest: Van Houten is the most relatable character ever). But if I got hit by a car tomorrow, I wouldn’t be lying in the hospital thinking I was going to die and worrying that I didn’t matter, because I know I matter, and the people who would remember me are enough. (Then, of course, the surgeons would come over and fix the small thing that was wrong, and I’d get a cast, and everything would be okay and I’d live, because there’s still a whole lot more I want to do before I’m really okay with dying. I’m not saying that dying would be okay with me–just that I wouldn’t be worried about mattering and being remembered.)

So as relatable as Hazel was, I didn’t relate to her. I kept her at arm’s length because she had cancer and I didn’t want to get hurt if John Green ended the book in the middle of a sentence. I hid behind mild annoyance at her refusal to be a little bit introspective and realize why what happened after the end of her favorite book mattered so much to her. “Come on, Hazel,” I was thinking, “you obviously just need to know that the people who care about you will go on afterward. Talk to your parents. They can give you what you need.” I also had the, “Come on, Hazel. It’s a book. Nothing happens after. Books just end.” See? I told you Van Houten was relatable.

END SPOILERS

All this being said, I really did love The Fault in Our Stars. I don’t think my sudden mid-blogging epiphany is enough to move it above Looking for Alaska, but now, at the end of this post, I’m tying it with Paper Towns instead of An Abundance of Katherines. And I devoured this book. As in, I read it in five hours, curled up on my couch waiting to drive down to my mom’s. I went and saw the movie within a week of it coming out, and though I didn’t love it quite as much as I loved the book, I did cry more.

And so we come to the big question: Should you read this book? And the answer isn’t complicated: Yes, you should. It’s incredibly sad, but that’s okay. Read it, then think about it, and think quite a lot, because if you read the spoilers, you’ll realize that it took me until halfway through this post to get what I needed from this book out of it. And I think that that’s something that sad books have over happy ones: They generally contain something that we need to read. That’s why they hurt so much. We may not need it immediately, and I think at least part of the reason Looking for Alaska still outranks this one in my mind is that I needed the lesson from that one immediately, whereas the lesson I took from The Fault in Our Stars is one I’ll hold onto until it becomes a bit more relevant, which will hopefully not be for a very long time.

I’ve talked before about how much I love John Green, and in my last post, I discussed the importance of YA lit. So before I finish, I have to add one more thing. Remember the Madeleine L’Engle quote I used? No? Here it is again:

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

The Fault in Our Stars does exactly that. Can you imagine reading a “cancer patients in love” book for adults? Every time I try, it just seems like it would be overly pretentious, preachy, and/or saccharine. For young adults, it worked. It gave teens something they didn’t have yet, and adults a way to think about things in a way that we usually don’t have to. I believe that this book will help people connect and relate to their loved ones with terminal illness, whether that illness happens now or 30 years from now. And I think it gave kids with terminal illness a chance to relate a little more to something in pop culture and maybe feel a little more normal, though of course, I have no experience in that and may be way off base or even possibly offending someone (sorry). In all, it’s a worthwhile read, whether you’re a YA fan or not.

Coming Soon:
16. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
17. Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson

The YA Debate, and Book 14: The Graveyard Book

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If you follow bookish news on the internet at all, you probably know that, apparently, some supposedly decent website recently posted an article about how adults should be ashamed to read young adult literature. I’m under the impression that, according to said article, every minute that an adult spends reading YA lit is a minute they could have been spending serious classic literature, and it’s therefore bad. I’m also under the impression that this article went on to say that people who read Harry Potter as kids or teenagers will never read anything good in their lives.

You may have noticed my use of the words apparently, supposedly, and impression up there. That’s because there’s no fucking way I am going to read this article. I have two reasons for this:

  • Why would I read something that is so clearly just going to infuriate me? There’s enough crappy stuff in the world that I have no choice about being exposed to, so I do my best to avoid seeking things out that will just put me in a bad mood.
  • I have no desire to support the website that would publish such an article, and I mean this to the extent that I don’t want them getting the few cents of ad revenue they would get just from my click. I honestly believe that a lot of articles that push a lot of people’s buttons are published solely for the purpose of generating ad revenue, because what’s the first thing most people do when they read something that pisses them off? They share it on Facebook. And people who see an article title that pisses them off seem to always click on it. So I try to offset that by refusing to, and I wish more people would, too. Notice I’m not linking it.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that the person who wrote the article in question had never read Harry Potter in his miserable, boring, stodgy-old-classic-filled life, because if he had, he would probably realize that not only will the people who read it probably go on to read worthwhile things, but that the Harry Potter series itself is incredibly worthwhile.

You can obviously tell that I disagree with the article about as vehemently as it is possible to disagree. Now, personally, I wouldn’t want to read nothing but YA. I feel like I–again, personally–would get kind of bored after a while. However, even if someone does want to read nothing but YA, is there really anything wrong with that?

One of my favorite quotes: “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Madeleine L’Engle said that, and I think she’s right.

See, there are a whole lot of YA books out there that deal with dark, weird, depressing, terrifying, or otherwise disturbing topics, from the mundane to the fantastical. And I think that’s awesome. I think it’s great that these books are getting younger people thinking about topics that scare us. And I also think it’s awesome that adults keep reading them, because it forces us to look at them differently. Maybe it makes us think about things the way we might have as kids, when we didn’t feel like we already had all the answers. It gives us fresher eyes, lets us step back and consider something from a more innocent point of view. And that always makes me wonder why we live in a world where innocent points of view need to consider such horrible things.

I think there’s a reason why post-apocalypse dystopian literature hasn’t really caught on outside the young adult genre. It’s not as if the topic only interests teenagers; I know plenty of adults who devoured The Hunger Games series as readily as any kid. I find that this genre makes me think about the world we’re fucking up, and how the younger generations are the ones who will be left to deal with it. It makes me think about how Katniss is too young to be leading a revolution, but then I remember that 18 year olds are routinely sent off to die in war, and how is that okay?

So no, I don’t think anyone should be embarrassed to read YA lit. I think the people who should be embarrassed are the ones who look at the world in black and white, with a completely closed mind, and refuse to accept that other points of view might at least be worth thinking about. I’m pretty sure half the point of being an adult is being able to make your own decisions, so read whatever you want. I’m not going to judge you. And if you judge me, I honestly don’t care.

Book 14: The Graveyard Book

When I first heard of The Graveyard Book, and in fact until pretty much the time I picked it up in a store a few months ago, it was always as “an illustrated children’s book.” Now, I know Neil Gaiman has written illustrated children’s books, such as Blueberry Girl and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.

The Graveyard Book is not what any sane person would think of when told that something is “an illustrated children’s book.” The Graveyard Book is, in fact, a full-length novel (almost 300 pages) with occasional black and white artistic renderings scattered throughout.

The Cat in the Hat is an illustrated children’s book. The Graveyard Book is a young adult novel that starts with the murder of an infant’s entire family.

And, most importantly, The Graveyard Book is classic Neil Gaiman, so obviously, I loved it. If you’ve read a lot of Gaiman, you’ll probably find this quite predictable, but if you love Gaiman, you won’t care one bit. Once again, he has taken an ordinary human and put him in a haunting (pun definitely intended) and beautiful secret fantasy world that hides within ours, completely unbeknownst to the rest of the human world. Only this time, the ordinary human is a baby boy who gets adopted by ghosts (who name him Nobody) and raised in a graveyard, learning all the secrets of the dead and otherwise unalive. But danger lurks outside the graveyard’s gates…

So, if you love Neil Gaiman and haven’t read this yet, go get it right now. I’ll wait. Done? Okay!

If you’re unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman, does The Jungle Book in a graveyard sound like a fun story to you? If so, definitely read this! If not, probably still read this, because Neil Gaiman is a master of his craft and I’m sure you’ll be surprised by how much you like this book.

Coming Soon:
15. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
16. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
17. Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20. Lexicon by Max Barry
21. London Falling by Paul Cornell
22. Neuromancer by William Gibson

Meeting the Author, and Book 13: The Sandcastle Girls

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They say you should never meet your heroes.

I can’t really speak to whether or not that’s true. I mean, I met Amanda Palmer (twice!), and that was okay. She was clearly a little exhausted from the show she was doing, but she was laid back and friendly and signed a flowerpot for me. I still need to plant something in it.

However, I do now know this: You should never meet the author of that book that you just read for book club and didn’t really like all that much (well, if you’re honest with yourself, kind of hated).

I don’t imagine I would have felt as strongly as I did about the book if the author hadn’t been coming to the meeting. I doubt I would have loved it, but I would have maybe at least kind of liked it. So maybe the lesson (or at least part of the lesson) is: Don’t figure out that you’re going to meet the author until after you’ve read the book and formed an opinion, because knowing that you’re going to meet the author makes you feel obligated to like the book.

I would maybe have liked the book a lot more if I’d met the author before reading it instead of after. See, he gave this big presentation about the Armenian Genocide, and I felt like knowing the information that I got there would have been helpful. It’s a subject that I know absolutely nothing about, and while the book wasn’t written in a way that assumed I was a scholar on the subject, I could tell I was missing something. His presentation could have been very helpful. So, another part of the lesson: Don’t meet the author after you read the book, but before might be okay because you might learn something that will make you enjoy the book a lot more.

On a similar note, maybe what I did wrong was know anything about the author going in. Since it was a book club book, we’d briefly discussed Chris Bohjalian before starting this book. So I knew going in that he’s of Armenian descent, which meant that when the narrator is an American-of-Armenian-Descent author, my brain did this thing where it extrapolated and figured that any part of this book could have been autobiographical. So, every time I hated a character, I was worried that my book club would bring up that character in discussion and I would say, “Oh, that character was so obnoxious,” and he would say, “Excuse me, that character is a 100% accurate representation of my grandmother, thank you very much.” Or if I said, “I found the part where the narrator’s twin brother told his sister about his first erections that happened while watching their aunt belly dance kind of seriously fucked up,” he would say, “Who are you to judge how I got my first erections?”

None of this happened.

What did happen is this. At the end of the night, we got in line to have our books signed, and when I got up to the front I talked to him for about 30 seconds about how I want to be an author, and I lied and said I really enjoyed the book, and I’m a terrible liar so maybe that explains what happened next. I saw a pile of post-it notes with names written on them, and I said, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see any notes. My name is Rachael, R-A-C-H-A-E-L.” He said, “I know how to spell that.” I said, “Okay. It’s just an uncommon spelling, with the AEL ending.”

And he spelled my fucking name wrong.

So don’t meet the author, because he’ll be able to tell that you’re lying, and he’ll spell your name wrong in your book and you’ll have to find someone named Rachel who is interested in novels about the Armenian genocide to give it to so you can pretend that was your intention all along, and good luck with that.

Book 13: The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

The Sandcastle Girls is the story of a woman discovering her grandparents’ story.

Laura, a middle-aged, modern-day Armenian-American woman, tells us the story of her family as she looks back at her life. I found her memories disjointed and hard to follow. She talks about time she remembers spending with her Armenian grandparents as a child. Next time we’re with her, she’s discussing her Turkish high school boyfriend. Then she goes back to her grandparents, then to college, then back to the boyfriend, and then the grandparents. I found that the structure of the book was broken up enough from the frequent shifts in point of view that having one of them bounce around in time became extremely distracting. I also didn’t believe her as a female narrator. For example, there’s one point when, in discussing her Turkish boyfriend Bork, she says, “And two years later, he was the first boy I fucked.” Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t women out there who will refer to their first time as fucking, but I don’t think it would be all that common and I especially don’t think it fit with this narrator’s character. Of course, she then goes into a lengthy explanation about why she chose the word “fucked,” which sounded to me less like proof that the narrator used the right word and more like someone had read that part and said to Bohjalian, “No woman would talk about her first time like that,” and rather than accepting criticism and changing it, he tried to justify it with a big long explanation.

I found the parts that took place in the past much more believable, if not more likable. These parts of the book followed the lives of Elizabeth Endicott, a wealthy Bostonian woman who went to Syria to provide medical aid to the Armenian refugees after finishing college(and Laura’s grandmother); Armen Petrosian, an Armenian soldier and engineer who hopes for news of his family before he leaves for Egypt where he may be safe (and Laura’s grandfather); Nevart, an Armenian woman whom Elizabeth rescues from being sent to the death camp in the desert; and Hatoun, a young girl whom Nevart looked after after Hatoun had been forced to watch her mother and sister raped and murdered. There are other characters, but these four make up the bulk of the Syria 1915 plot.

These parts of the story are written in third person limited, but jumping from a focus on one character to another. At the beginning, I found this infuriating–there was one two-page spread that included four different points of view on it, which made it extremely difficult to get involved in any one character’s story.

I loved the Armenian characters in these parts of the story. Their lives sucked. Their families were dead. Everything was horrible. But despite that, they managed to keep going, and I found that inspirational. I don’t know how realistic they were, but they were well-developed and interesting. Likable.

I hated–absolutely hated–the Westerners who had gone to help. “But Rachael,” you’re asking, “They’re over there doing volunteer work. What’s to hate?” Well, let me tell you. They were wealthy. Like, extremely wealthy. And they were doing what they could to help, and that’s great. But their attitudes–and this is the #1 reason I just couldn’t like this book–were very, “Ooh, poverty! How exotic! I can’t wait to tell my friends at super fancy dinner parties when I go back home! They’ll simply die when they hear how I suffered.” Now, this may be a slight exaggeration, but it was how they felt to me when I was reading it. There was a point where even Elizabeth mentions that the others seem excited about how poor their accommodations are, which she seems bothered by, forgetting that it was not that long ago that she’s said she had been hoping her room would be a lot smaller than it was. Perhaps it was motivated by a sense of guilt–that she had so much, even there, when so many were suffering–but it read to me more like she was thinking, “Man, I’ll never get any street cred if people find out I’m living in a palace here!”

A friend of mine pointed out that I could have read these characters as satirical, which I’m sure they were at least partially meant to be. However, the reason satire is funny is that it reflects real life, and this isn’t a part of real life I find funny. I know there are people out there who are just like that, who go do volunteer work and think the poverty around them is something novel and exciting when really it’s something horrible, but that doesn’t sink in for them because at the end of the day, they can go home. But to a whole lot of people, that is home.

So, I’m sorry. I hated The Sandcastle Girls. I feel like it was 25% good and 75% awful.

However, I’m pretty much alone in my feelings there. Everyone else who showed up at the meeting (and the entire bookstore was packed) seemed positively enthralled with it, though there is the chance that the author’s promised presence had the opposite effect on them than it did on me.

***

Anyway, I have some exciting books coming up! Here’s the lineup:

14: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
15: The Fault in our Stars by John Green
16: The Round House by Louise Erdrich
17: Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18: Unsouled by Neal Shusterman
19: Skin Game by Jim Butcher
20: Lexicon by Max Barry
21: London Falling by Paul Cornell
22: Life after Life by Kate Atkinson (probably)

So tell me: What books have you read that you just hated? Did you finish them, or do you stop once it’s obvious that you’re not going to like it?

 

Transportation, and Book 12: Railsea

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I have this problem with writing blog posts on WordPress. If I put in the title of the post before I start writing, it will automatically create a permalink to said post using said title. If I don’t, it will create a permalink that just has a number instead of the title. Now, I’m free to go back and change that number to something having to do with the title of my post afterward if I want, but then it’ll really, really bother me that it’s not quite formatted in the way that WordPress would have formatted it if I had titled it first. And that wouldn’t be a problem if I ever knew what I was going to write about before I start writing. Blogging, for me, is a very casual, unplanned process. When I sit down to write write, I know what I’m planning, but in this case, I generally end up sitting and staring at a blank “new post” page and musing in my head for about 20 minutes to try to figure out where my stream of consciousness will take me before I start writing about the book in order to come up with an accurate title. And this time, I just kept getting stuck on one thought: Fuckin’ trains, man.

I don’t know what my problem with trains is. I don’t have a problem with any other form of transportation. I drive all the time. I absolutely love flying. I don’t mind buses in the least, though I haven’t had a reason to be on one in quite a few years. I’ve ridden in trolleys and gondolas and those little shuttle things they have at Six Flags and even the Monorail at Disney and I’m totally okay.

I love subways. Which are nothing but underground, overcrowded trains. (Okay, maybe I don’t so much love the overcrowdedness, but ignore that and I have absolutely no problem with them.)

Of course, put the “subway” above ground and I’m not so excited (I’m looking at you, MBTA Green Line), or up high on rails (ugh New York–though as I mentioned above regarding Disney, one rail is perfectly fine).

The weird thing is that when I’m on a train, it’s not as if I’m scared. I promise I’m not lying to you or deluding myself here: I really am not afraid of trains. There’s no panic or expectation of death. Not even a mild trepidation that something could go wrong during my journey.

No, I just hate them. It’s some sort of visceral, completely unexplainable loathing of trains. They infuriate me, and I have no idea why. It’s like that one person in your social group who, if asked for reasons for your hatred, you could come up with absolutely nothing, but you still want to punch them in the face every time you’re in a room with them, and probably feel like you deserve a medal for not doing so.

And maybe that’s why it took me so long to pick up Railsea by China Mieville despite having absolutely loved everything else I’ve ever read by him.

Railsea takes place in a world where, instead of oceans, there are train tracks. & not train tracks as we have them now, where they are few & far apart, but rather an intricate, patternless latticework of train tracks criss-crossing all over, covering the would-be ocean floor. Enough rails & intersections between said rails exist that trains can essentially sail all over, in any direction they want, steering as one would a ship. There are shores that lead to areas of increased elevation where all the people live, as the ground of the Railsea is filled with tunneling predators of various sizes, such as the Great Southern Moldywarpe, the Burrowing Tortiose, the Antlion, & my personal favorite, the Burrowing Owl.

Actual illustration of Burrowing Owl, (c) China Mieville.

The ground surrounding the rails is unsafe, but the animals leave the rails themselves alone. Train crews hunt these animals, with molers taking the place of whalers. There are pirates, salvagers, nomadic societies, & scientists studying the history of the rails. Religions try to explain the origins of the rails, and the nature of wood & how absurd it is that wood can be both rail ties & trees, & how trees must be sent by the devil to confuse us. (Mieville has fun writing, & the little one-page sections between chapters that help build the history and mythology of this world were some of my favorite parts.) Oh, & the word “and” doesn’t exist anymore, which you get used to.

Railsea tells the tale of directionless teenage orphan Sham Yes ap Soorap whose adoptive parents decide that being a doctor on board a moletrain is a good career for a young man to have, though Sham is much more interested in salvage. Sham ventures out on the moletrain Medes & is the worst apprentice doctor ever. But when the Medes comes across a bit of salvage, Sham finds a picture that changes everything. He skillfully manipulates Captain Naphi, using her own Moby Dick-esque quest to get her to take the Medes where he needs to go.

Despite my unexplainable hatred of trains, I absolutely loved Railsea, & perhaps now that I’ve read it, trains will be a bit more bearable because I’ll be able to imagine I’m on some sort of fantastical quest. I noted somewhat early in reading that I had taken almost no notes, & thinking about it, I realized it’s likely because the stuff I usually write down, particularly early on, becomes entirely unnecessary when you completely trust the author to answer all your questions and tell a perfect story. Granted, I don’t trust him to answer the questions in a way that I’ll like–I have some serious trust issues with Mieville, mostly thanks to Perdido Street Station hurting me many years ago.

Railsea is marketed as Young Adult, but I think that’s completely ridiculous. It is by no means inappropriate for teenagers; it’s just one of those books that would be perfect for any Science Fiction or Fantasy lover from age 12 on. If you were annoyed by how complicated my “Should you read 1Q84” paragraph was, you’ll love this:

Do you like adventures? Good! Definitely read this book.

Coming soon:
13. The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
14. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
15. The Fault in our Stars by John Green
16. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
17. Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter
18. Unsouled by Neal Shusterman
19. Depending on how long Unsouled takes me, probably Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Book #15 in The Dresden Files, which comes out on Tuesday), but if I finish Unsouled too fast, there’ll be something else for book 19 and Skin Game will be book 20.

Time, and Book 11: 1Q84 vol. 3

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I don’t understand how it’s late-mid-May already. I could swear I just put up the Christmas tree maybe three days ago. But I counted, and I have 39 days left at my awesome job, and my boss made me take down my little countdown because it was making everyone too sad. I tried to explain that sad is like happy for deep people, but it didn’t fly.

39 days left at work means 40-something days until moving day, and if Christmas was two or three days ago, well, shit, I’m pretty much moving tomorrow. My apartment? A mess. My stuff? Not remotely packed. Books? All over every surface in my house. And we’re making some progress–slow progress, unfortunately, but I’d rather not kill myself trying to get everything done at once, because I’m a little too much of a perfectionist and I’d rather not develop an ulcer trying to get ready to move.

All this means is that, when I have a little spare time, I’m reading. But when I have enough spare time that I could conceivably write a blog post in said time, there are more pressing things for me to work on. I’m on book 16, really. Almost done with it. It’s wonderful. And I’m just now getting to book 11’s post. (Well, I did try one other time, but I was just in such a bad overall mood that the post just ended up being all negative and whiny and that’s not what I want, especially when I loved the book. And that was over a week ago!

So: Time. It’s crazy. People always told me when I was a kid that when I grew up, a year would seem like nothing. I didn’t believe them, of course. A year was, like, forever. So I asked one of my coworkers, who is around 60, if this is just how it is. Will it slow back down? Is it just because I’ve been crazy busy lately? Or will the year 2029 go by as quickly compared to 2014 as 2014 is going by compared to 1999? Does time continue accelerating at a steady pace, or will it keep accelerating but not quite as fast?

Is being an adult about sitting around in 2014 still wondering what happened to 2012?

But today, I have some time. Today, my goal is laundry, and I can blog while that’s going. It probably won’t be too long, though. We’ll see.

Book 11: 1Q84, Volume 3

I’ll be honest: The other reason it’s been taking me so long to get this post up is that I just don’t know how to talk about this book. More accurately, I don’t know how to talk about this book without my post being 90% spoilers. I’ll try to keep them fairly minor, but fair warning: Spoilers Ahead.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I picked up 1Q84. I had never read any Murakami before. In fact, I don’t even know if I’d ever read any Japanese literature before. And then the type of literature–it’s sort of a magical realism, I think, but I honestly don’t know because I haven’t read a whole lot of magical realism before. It was categorized where I first heard of it as fantasy, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. And, really, I didn’t look into it much beyond seeing lots of positive reviews and the fantasy categorization. I had absolutely no clue what this book was going to be all about, which ended up being pretty cool, because really, how often do you read a book where you just have no clue what to expect? Not often.

It’s a love story.

I remember the exact point at which I realized it was a love story. Tengo was on a train and he saw a young girl who reminded him of his classmate in middle school whom he didn’t know well, but had clearly left a lasting impression on him. He remembers that she was a Witness, and I thought, “Wait a minute. Aomame said her family were ‘Believers’. This… This is a love story.”

But even then, I wasn’t sure. I mean, I was hopeful that our two point of view characters would eventually meet again, but given the style of the book, I had no idea. There was so much working against them: The Little People, Sakigake, Aomame’s task and subsequent need to hide. I was completely ready for Aomame to die and for 1Q84 to be all about Tengo and Fuka-Eri’s battle against the Little People and Sakigake.

But she didn’t die, and there was no big battle. 1Q84 turned out to be a story about two people who want nothing more than to be reunited, who suddenly find themselves in a world that’s just slightly off, where there are forces that they don’t know anything about or understand–the Little People and Sakigake–working to keep them apart for seemingly no reason, and one force–Fuka-Eri–working the opposite side, helping to bring them together. Aomame and Tengo never find out more about the Little People, and neither do you. You’re right there with them, confused and hoping for something, but you’re not quite sure what.

Should you read this book? I’m not going to put a blanket recommendation on it. It’s a case by case basis. I will tell you this: There was one thing that bothered me about it. I found that the characters jumped to completely insane (true) conclusions far too easily. From the very beginning when Aomame realizes she is no longer in 1984 but 1Q84 based on a few missed news stories, I felt a little bit like, really? You miss a few news stories and the only logical explanation is that you’re in a parallel universe? Is that really, as you are saying, the only logical explanation? And this happens fairly often.

Should you read this book? That depends. Are you willing to take leaps of faith when it comes to characters just knowing what’s going on when there’s no apparent reason that they should be able to figure things out that easily? If you’re willing to think of this as a book about characters with insanely good instincts, that’s a check in the “yes” column. Do you love well-written detail about characters’ day-to-day lives? If you’re unlikely to throw the book out the window the fourth time the author goes into precise detail about what exactly one of the characters is making for lunch (keep in mind here that the book takes place in Japan, so as an American, I found it interesting because I felt like I was learning a whole lot about a different culture, albeit a fictionalized version of one), then put another check in the “yes” column. Are you okay with not knowing? With what felt like the main plot ending up being a side story that leaves almost all its questions unanswered, and the apparent side plot being the point of the whole story–keeping in mind that it’s done really well? Another check for “yes.” Do you like love stories, but at the same time you hate love stories so much? Definitely “yes.” Are you ready to take on a huge reading project? This one’s important.

This book is absolutely wonderful, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. I, however, can’t wait to read more Murakami–maybe next year when I have a bit more time and less pressure on my reading schedule! Hey, I mean, next year is practically tomorrow, right?

And before I leave off, I did mention that I’m nearing the end of book 16, so here’s the coming lineup!

Book 12: Railsea by China Mieville
Book 13: The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
Book 14: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Book 15: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Book 16: The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Book 17: Warriors: Into the Wild by Erin Hunter

I’ll probably write soon! Railsea somehow wasn’t quite so ambiguous that I will have no idea what to say, so I don’t think I’ll procrastinate for nearly as long.

 

60 Hours! And Book 10: The Office of Mercy

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I’m way behind right now.

I’m behind both in that I am not nearly on track for the book-a-week thing I was aiming for when I started this project (thanks, 1Q84) and behind in that I finished The Office of Mercy about a month ago. Oops. Sorry. I’ve been busy.

See, the thing is, I work full-time at a candy store. One of those little, local, mom-and-pop everything-is-made-there types of candy stores. And I love it. I absofreakinlutely love my job. People sometimes look at me funny, because I went to college and got a degree and I’m pretty darn smart, so they think I’m crazy and/or lying when I talk about how much I love my job. Like I’m supposed to hate it just because it’s retail and therefore not a “serious grown-up job.” But I really do love it. I love the people I work with. I believe in the product we sell (I mean, who doesn’t believe in amazingly good, locally made, fair trade chocolate?). I love being able to discuss book 5 of the Song of Ice and Fire series with the store manager and the guy who signs my paychecks (though not well, since they both just finished it and it’s been a few years for me). So, if my boss says I can go in early, I do, not because I want a slightly bigger paycheck, but because I really love being there and feel good putting in a little extra to help the company out. And if they need someone to stay late, if I’m available, I’m there.

What I’m trying to say here is, basically, that with Easter being tomorrow and me working the job that I do and loving it as I do, I’ve been working a lot. A whole lot. I’ve had one day off in April so far, and I spent it apartment hunting–not relaxing. Exciting, but not relaxing.

And I just got home from the first 60 hour week I’ve ever worked. And I went a little insane from the sleep deprivation/amount of caffeine I was consuming in order to function fully. Mike went to get food last night and when he got home, he found me curled up on the couch crying over fictional characters because, well, sometimes when you’re really really tired and crashing from the caffeine you had that day and you see a picture of Rose Tyler or Kevin Tran, you just “can’t even.”

I may never work a 60 hour week again. I don’t know exactly where my life is headed from here–Mike and I are moving quite far away for his new job this summer, so I won’t have another holiday season at the candy store. And I’m sad about that, because it really is a lot of fun. We stayed open a little late today to let the stragglers get their last-minute stuff–I mean, if we can stay open, I’d feel bad depriving some kid of his chocolate bunny, you know?– and they absolutely did not believe us that we weren’t itching to get home/did not resent them for coming in so late. We were standing behind the counter like, no, we’re good, really. We love being here. And they said, no, we’re in the business (retail, I guess?), we know how it is. And my boss and I just kind of looked at each other, like, why does no one ever believe us?

Anyway, the point I’m trying to get across here is this: When I’ve been home over the past month or so, I haven’t really had much energy left, so I haven’t been writing. And, sadly, I haven’t been reading much, either. My brain is kind of tired. I have a few days off next week, though! So I can catch up a little.

I picked up The Office of Mercy on an impulse in my local bookstore. There’s this one person who works there whose staff picks are always amazing. “Ryan.” I had been looking over some of Ryan’s recommendations, and I’d followed a few and they had always been great, so when I saw this I grabbed it without a second thought. I had one of those staff-picks-brain-crushes on this Ryan person. So when the cute female cashier told me that she had just finished this book, I said something like, “Oh, yeah, well Ryan’s recommendations are always great so I had to pick it up.” And I’m really glad I didn’t use a gender pronoun, because she then says, “Oh, I’m Ryan!” And I suddenly felt extremely awkward and was glad I hadn’t mentioned my crush.

I’m struggling with how to categorize The Office of Mercy. It’s a dystopia, and I wouldn’t quite call it YA, but it’s definitely bordering on YA. YA-adjacent. Natasha, our protagonist, lives in America-5, one of numerous large underground communities that were built after a devastating apocalyptic event that destroyed most of Earth’s population called The Storm. She has been working at her dream job in the Office of Mercy in her community for a few years now, but she has doubts about the work they do “granting mercy” to surviving tribes of the Storm–and (small spoiler) as you learn very early on in the book, “granting mercy” means “killing with bombs.” She has been taught from a young age that life outside the America-5 is too horrible to be worth living–too filled with disease, hunger, loss, and suffering, and that it is cruel to force them to continue to live in these conditions, but there isn’t any way for their community to sustain potential additions to their population–and besides, the people of the tribes are barely even people compared to them. They’re more like animals. Death is the only way. Natasha’s doubts are understandable, but what will she find when she goes outside?

And I want to say, “holy crap this book was amazing!” Because I liked it. I really did, I enjoyed reading it, and I liked having a 24 year old female protagonist instead of a 16 year old female protagonist, mostly because I can’t quite identify with a 16 year old female protagonist simply because I’d feel really weird saying I identify strongly with a fictional 16 year old. But The Office of Mercy didn’t quite pull me in the way other dystopias have. There were a few spoileriffic things that bugged me, and I’ll get into those spoilers now, so if you don’t like spoilers, stop reading here.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about The Office of Mercy that made it not quite click for me. I’ve read a bunch of YA Dystopian Lit, and I’ve always really liked it, but it’s not like there’s ever a series that doesn’t have at least a couple of things that bother me. I’m not going to get into details because no one deserves to have things spoiled that aren’t even the things they mean to be reading about, but it’s not like I thought the Hunger Games series, the Divergent series, the Matched series, the Uglies series… hot damn, I read a lot of YA Dystopian stuff. Anyway, it’s not like I found them all to be flawless. So I have a few ideas:

1. Maybe I’ve read too much dystopian lit. The current trend is at least somewhat formulaic, so I find most of the book pretty predictable, and then by the time I get to the end, the big twist that makes it different from the rest stops being “Wow, I never saw that coming!” and becomes “Oh, there’s the twist they threw in to make their stand out from the pack.” In The Office of Mercy, I liked the big twist ending/”thing the author did differently” a lot. The society wins. The society’s never won before that I know of–it’s always basically a story about how a teenage girl successfully leads a rebellion. But Natasha isn’t a teenager, and her attempts at rebellion are unsuccessful. And not only does society win, but they win her. By the end, she absolutely believes that she’s doing the right thing when she blows up her erstwhile allies. And I liked that. I thought it was really cool and different. But by the time I got there, I still wasn’t quite hooked enough to… care, I guess.

2. Perhaps it was too short. Everything I listed up there was at least a trilogy, so maybe adding some bits and drawing it out longer would have given me more time to get fully absorbed in the story. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have. Maybe I just would have been annoyed because it’s not like I’m going to leave a series unfinished, but god this one is boring. I don’t know.

3. It might have been entirely that the romance sideplot pissed me off. Natasha’s love interest, Jeffrey Montague (yes, Montague, I rolled my eyes so hard) is two generations older than her. She’s 24, he’s 43. At the beginning, I got the sense that she was reading too much into a relationship that he saw more as a father-daughter type friendship–it was clear that he was a mentor of sorts. But then when he eventually returns her affections, it made me uncomfortable, especially when you find out that he saved her from a sweep and brought her in to the community. And, okay, I didn’t just roll my eyes at the last name. I actually stopped reading and found a pen and wrote down in my reading journal: “I’m really, really mad that Jeffrey’s last name is Montague.”

4. It could have been the numerous things that didn’t quite make sense. They were eventually explained, but I spent too long being bothered by them to have enjoyed the book as much as I could have. For example, no one is born. No one has kids, no one has parents. When the government decides that they’re ready to support it, they artificially create a new generation of babies in a lab. So why do they have last names, and why are their names so race-specific? Like Raj Radhakrish–that is clearly not a name that was randomly selected from the same pool as Jeffrey Montague. And it eventually explains that people are given names that are associated with the primary ethnicity of their genetic makeup in order to keep culture alive or something, but that just seemed kind of flimsy, like someone was reading the book and said “hey why do these people have such racial names or even have last names at all?” and the author made something up and threw in a line to explain it because she liked the names she had come up with.

5. Possibly, the stakes just didn’t seem high enough. Even when Natasha’s personal ties to the tribes were explained, and this is where I think it could have used some expansion, I didn’t feel her personal fire. I felt a general desire to fight for something and not the burning need for revenge. And maybe that’s why she doesn’t win. Maybe she doesn’t get invested enough, doesn’t get a chance to spend any time with her tribe family before they betray her trust, and America-5 just has too easy a time writing over her brief moments of “oh, look, relatives!” because of that.

And I know I sound dumb bitching about all these things and then saying, “No, really, I liked it!” But I did. I just didn’t love it the way that I was hoping to.

END SPOILERS!

So, would I recommend this book? It depends. If you’re fairly new to the dystopian lit genre but liking it a lot so far, then yes, I would, as long as you can let a few minor details wash over you. If you’ve read a lot of dystopian lit and love the formula, then yes absolutely! If you’ve read dystopian lit and are starting to get over it, then this maybe isn’t the book for you–it won’t surprise you until it’s too late for you to care. (Wow, do I sound like an asshole now? I feel like an asshole. Whatever, I’m tired.)

ANYWAY! Onto bigger and better books. Next up will be the review for 1Q84, volume 3, which means my reflections on the book as a whole! And after that, look forward to my post about China Mieville’s Railsea. I know I am.

See you soon!

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