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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Cheating, and Book 7: 1Q84 vol. 1

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I’m feeling conflicted about how I’m categorizing 1Q84 for this project.

When I started reading it, I was not yet entirely sure what I was getting myself into. Mostly, I was unsure whether I was about to start reading one book or three books. See, it comes in this fancy little three volume boxed set, and prior to starting it, I had heard it referred to as both a book and a series. The word “volume” made me think single book, but then I remembered that I’ve definitely read or heard of other series that referred to each book as a volume, particularly comic books/graphic novels, particularly magna. (Of course, I could be mixing this up a bit, since I’m not really familiar with magna, but I seem to remember seeing “volume 1” on the sides of them in the comic book store instead of “book 1.”) So basically, that thought process led me to figure that the words “book” and “volume” in the way I’m using them here might be translated from the same word or something, and it’s a series. But then I thought, Wouldn’t each book at least have its own title? Like, each book in the Lord of the Rings series has its own title. Same with literally any other series. But of course, while that’s almost always true with books, it’s not with everything–Iron Man 1, 2, and 3 are all individual, stand-alone movies that happen to work well in a series. Maybe it’s like that.

Well, now that I’ve finished volume 1, I can definitively tell you: It’s not like that. Volume 2 doesn’t even start on page 1; it picks up right at page 391. Which means I’m definitely cheating by counting it as its own book.

Now, if this were like the Hunger Games series, and I read the entire three “books” in one weekend, I wouldn’t cheat. I’d suck it up and call it one book, because that’s what it is. But given that volume 1 took me two weeks to read–I finished it on Thursday–I’m going to go with an “It’s not really cheating since I made the rules to begin with” cop-out here. Volume 2 is slightly shorter; volume 3 is slightly longer. Even counting each as an individual book, I’m glad I have a few YA books on my to read list so I can catch up after finishing 1Q84.

So now, I’m at this awkward place where I’d love to write a review of 1Q84 volume 1, but how does one write a review of the first third of a book? I’m still not even sure what’s happening!

Here’s what I’ll tell you. I’m really, really enjoying 1Q84. It’s fascinating, and that’s why it’s taking me so long. I’ve read so many books in my life that, as soon as I pick them up, I am unable to put them down, and I fly through them and love every second. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is also absolutely nothing wrong with how 1Q84 is working for me, which is the complete opposite–I am unable to not put it down. It’s completely messing with my reading habits. For example, usually, I will read on my lunch break. I’ll heat up my food or go get my food and spend the rest of the break reading and eating. Now, though, I heat up or go get my food, sit down with it, start eating, read a few pages, and spend the rest of the break staring into space thinking. This happens almost any time I pick it up when I’m not about to go to bed. I read a little bit, then I stop and think and process and wonder. I’m thinking about the book, about what’s happening and what’s going to happen and how everything is going to end up being connected. I’m looking at the real world, thinking about this book as a mirror of the real world, wondering how accurate it is, wondering how I would behave in the same situations as the characters. I’m sitting on my couch imagining what it would be like to look in the sky and see two moons.

I’m also thinking a lot about culture and cultural differences. It’s hard to place exactly what in the book that I’m seeing as different is a difference in culture and what is just a difference in writer, translator, or character. For example, the language in 1Q84 is incredibly precise. This was the first thing I noticed when I started reading it. Is that the author’s style? Or the translator’s? Or is Japanese just a much more precise language than English, and that carries over in the translation? Then, I’ve noticed that both of the main characters seem much more aware of their flaws and willing to discuss them openly and matter-of-factly with others than most people I know. If it were just one of them, I would think, oh, that’s just something this character does. But since it’s both, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a cultural difference that I’m not aware of, or, again, whether it’s the author.

So far, I am completely in love with this book. It is so different from anything I have ever read before. I’m completely wrapped up in its world, and I’m glad there’s a lot more to go–though I am slightly worried that, by the end, I’ll be unable to distinguish reality from 1Q84.

And now, Book 8 of the 50 Book Project will be….

…Um…

…I don’t actually know. I mean, obviously I’ve already picked up Volume 2 of 1Q84 and I’m working my way through that, but I also have to read The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers for my book club meeting at the beginning of March, which means I’m going to be reading two books simultaneously. I don’t know which I’ll finish first, so I don’t know what my next post will be.

Confession, and Book 6: The Giver

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I mentioned at the end of my last post that I had never read The Giver before. I’ve been meaning to get around to it since 6th grade (which may have had something to do with it being the 6th book I read for this project) when close friend told me it was her favorite book, but it just never happened, and I’m about to be completely, 100% honest with you about why.

I didn’t like the cover.

No matter how many amazing things I heard–good reviews, recommendations from friends, comparisons to other books that I loved–I couldn’t get past the cover. No matter how intrigued I felt from what I’d heard, looking at the cover immediately un-intrigued me.

Everyone knows you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. There’s a whole cliché surrounding this fact. But the truth is, we do it. I read an article a while back pointing out reasons that J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym’s book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, didn’t really sell until people found out she wrote it, and one of the main reasons listed is that the cover was wholly inappropriate for the content of the book. The cover of a mystery novel shouldn’t look all swirly and romantic.

Similarly, I feel that the cover of a YA Dystopia shouldn’t be some bearded old dude.

Don’t get me wrong–I understand the cover. Having now read the book, the cover makes perfect sense to me. Even the trees in the corner make sense now. I still believe, though, that there could be a better cover design. Maybe in a few years, they’ll release a 25th Anniversary Edition with something more captivating.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Anyway, I loved this book, and it’s definitely a must-read for any lover of dystopian literature, whether you’re a YA fan or not.

As I usually find with dystopian literature, when I started reading The Giver, I found that the world sounded, well, not bad at all. I liked the idea of the feelings talk after dinner; it seemed like it would make for some extremely well-adjusted children if it were done right. I liked the amount of ritual involved in growing up–the yearly ceremony where you “graduate” to the next age–and I think that’s something that we’re lacking in modern American society. There’s no real coming of age ritual, and I can’t help but wonder if there’s a connection between that lack and the amount of people in their 20s and 30s who don’t feel like “real adults.” I know I’m not the only one.

I also didn’t hate the idea of being assigned to a profession. It sounds horrible, especially since I think I’ve heard that that’s what they do in China and thinking that anything they do in China sounds like a good idea seems decidedly un-American. But right now, and I’m sure this is another thing that stems from me being in my mid-20s, I occasionally wish that someone would just figure all this shit out for me and I could be off the hook. Now, this definitely isn’t something that I really want–it just sounds nice once in a while.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

The world started seeming horrible when Jonas’s mother gave him a pill to control his “stirrings.” It made sense, of course–if no one wants to have sex, no one will beat the shit out of anyone for hooking up with the wrong person, and no one will murder any prostitutes, and the Trojan War won’t happen. But it just really don’t seem worth it to live with no passion, and this was the point where I could really tell how flat everyone’s feelings were. I also wondered (though not until later) why people had mates when they didn’t make the babies themselves and they didn’t experience any sort of sexual desire. It seemed like the need had been eliminated, but the practice stuck around out of, what, tradition? Nothing else in this world really seemed to exist because of tradition.

Then I got to the point where the Giver explains to Jonas that what he’s seeing is color, and I realize (a) why the cover is mostly black and white, and (b) that I think this world sucks more than the world in The Hunger Games.

I’d had a feeling from the beginning that being “released” either meant you were killed or you were set free into a world that would definitely kill you, but I would be surprised to learn that anyone reading the book thought, as Jonas did, that people went and lived elsewhere once released.

I’m curious as to whether people think Jonas lives at the end. After finishing, I’m about 99% sure that he started hallucinating and he and Gabriel both froze to death. I don’t think there’s an elsewhere. I wish I could be more optimistic, but this book doesn’t really instill that feeling in its readers. I didn’t have a great feeling from the minute they started planning the escape–it seemed a bit rushed and short-sighted. I also thought the Giver’s decision to help Jonas escape and free his memories was a bit sudden, and I would have liked to know more about why he changed his mind.

Now, has anyone read the rest of the quartet? Should I check it out? I feel like I’ve heard so much about The Giver, but never anything about the other books Lowry wrote, so I don’t know if this is really the only one worth reading or if I just haven’t heard about them. Let me know if you’ve read them!

And, for book seven:

1Q84 volume 1 by Haruki Murakami. I’m honestly not sure whether the entire 3 volume set should count as one book or three, but since it’s three volumes, it’ll be three books for this project.