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Book Review: Eric

ericEric was exactly what I needed after the torture that was Kafka‘s Amerika. A Terry Pratchett novel is always funny and enjoyable – and in this case, a relief. I had no idea where to go after Amerika. I wanted to take a break from books. I knew that if I did that, though, my goal of reading 50 this year would crumble. And there was the next Discworld novel waiting patiently on my Kindle. Eric is the 9th of 40 (so far), and it’s (also so far) my favorite. I loved Eric. I even had a Neverending Story-style lunch in my office to finish it. PB&J and the works! Oh, it was so good.

It’s the third Rincewind novel, meaning that it stars a mischievous wizard of that name. After the last one, he ended up in the realm of the demons, and he wanted to get back to the (more) real world of Ankh-Morpork. Turns out, though, that his ticket in is a demon circle opened by a 13-year-old kid named Eric, who has Faustian dreams. He is convinced that Rincewind is a demon and, if Eric signs his soul over, that supposed demon will grant him three wishes: live forever, meet the most beautiful woman in the world, rule the world. Except when Rincewind snaps his fingers, it works, and they visit the Mayans, the Trojan War, and Dante’s version of Hell. And it’s so much fun!

I can always rely on Discworld novel for a chuckle or twelve, and Eric certainly didn’t disappoint. This is an especially short one, too, so I finished it within 24 hours, which is an exception for me. One good thing about the Discworld novels is that you don’t have to start at the beginning and work your way through: though they’re all interconnected, you can pick any one of them up and enjoy it. If you haven’t read any of them yet, I’d say Eric is a good starting place.

Check it out!


Book Review: Amerika

amerikaI haven’t hated a novel so much in a long time. Amerika is quite possibly the most frustrating novel I’ve ever read – even more than Kafka‘s other novels. It’s considered one of his three principal novels - The Trial, The Castle, and this one (The Metamorphosis evidently doesn’t count because it’s a novella) – and it’s not even finished. I bet I can tell you why, too: Kafka knew it sucks, and he knew the plot couldn’t go anywhere worthwhile. It would just have to be an endless loop, so he gave up. Which is kind of what his novels are, anyway. They’re certainly frustrating. I’m beginning to wonder why I like the other two (and The Metamorphosis) so much. Maybe it depends on my mood. But I hated this one almost from the beginning. I’m not even sure why I finished it.

And what made it worse: I was done when I realized that it’s unfinished. I dislike unfinished novels, and I rarely read them. Not only am I predisposed to dislike it on that basis, but it just isn't any good. MEH.

It’s about Karl Rossman, who is sent to America by his parents because he got a girl pregnant, and they don’t want to have to pay. And Karl trusts everyone, even if they’re obviously out to get him, so he ends up in trouble pretty quickly. He takes the side of one of the ship’s employees who thinks he’s being treated unfairly even though he (Karl) has just met the employee. As things go south, a businessman asks Karl to repeat his name then claims to be his long-lost American uncle, there to rescue him. Thus ensues lots of creepiness, and trusting ol’ Karl gets into trouble again, though he doesn’t mean to, and his uncle is entirely unreasonable. I really don’t understand the situation. It’s a ridiculous situation that only Kafka could pull off, and this time he does it badly. Then Karl ends up on his own and works in a hotel for a while, then becomes a kind of slave, and then on and on and on.

I seriously wanted to throw this book across the room when I finished it. I hated it that much. The last book I hated that much was Chinua Achebe‘s Things Fall Apart, but I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that because he just died. Except I did.

ANYWAY, Amerika is, as I said, Kafka’s first novel. And it’s not good. And I almost wish I hadn’t bothered to finish reading it just to find out that even Kafka couldn’t finish it. On to greener pastures.

Check it out if you're curious.


Book Review: Kafka on the Shore

kafkaontheshoreI’ve been meaning to write this post for about a week, now, but I keep putting it off. I think the lesson I’ve learned here is not to read a Murakami book twice because I won’t like it as much. The only other one I’ve read twice is Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which had previously been my favorite novel. Until that second reading, after which it was replaced by Kafka on the Shore. Well, I’m in the same position now, and all of this is rethinking my devotion to Murakami. It’s not that it’s a bad novel, or anything. I just didn’t like it as much. I certainly understood more of it this time around, even though it had been a few years since I’d read it, and maybe that’s why I didn’t like it so much. Or maybe not. I’m just a bit confused.

Kafka on the Shore is about a kid named Kafka Tamura (he changed his first name) who runs away from home, partially because he doesn’t get along with his father, a famous sculptor, who prophesied that Kafka would kill his father and sleep with his mother and his sister. Kafka ends up in another town at a private library. Then things start to get weird in a way only Murakami could think up. There’s also an older man named Nakata. When he was young, something mysterious happened to him and his classmates, and all of them recovered except him. He seems a bit autistic, and he can talk to cats. He gets aid from the state and supplements his income by finding people’s cats. On the trail of one of these cats, he finds himself in an empty lot where one had been last seen. A big dog appears and guides him to the house of a man who calls himself Johnnie Walker who does terrible things to cats to collect their souls to make a flute. (Yep, that’s the plot.) Nakata kills him, and it turns out later that Kafka’s father had been murdered, but apparently under different circumstances. And then more Murakami-ish things happen, some of them involving fish falling from the sky.

Yeah, it’s a strange novel – as are all of them. Most of Murakami’s work is magical realism, kind of like Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s One Hundred Years of Solitude. That’s one of the reasons I like him so much. He’s certainly one of the best living authors (and so is Marquez, though he quit writing). I’ve read every one of Murakami’s novels published in English, even the hard-to-find ones like Pinball, 1973. I didn’t especially like A Wild Sheep Chase or After Dark, and I’m still considering giving them a second read because I should like them. And there’s 1Q84, which plain ol’ disappointed me. All of the others, though, I really like. Even the two I’ve read twice – it’s just that I don’t like them quite as much as I did the first time I read them.

If you haven’t read any Murakami, pick up one of his books at the library. I read somewhere that Norwegian Wood is his most accessible because it’s the most realistic, and I can agree with that. There’s also the movie coming out sometime soon. My first Murakami was Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I was browsing the shelves at the Urbana Free Library in Illinois and thought the title was too interesting to pass up. I think The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is probably his best, and as much as I loved it, I don’t think I’ll read it again anytime soon because I don’t want to be disappointed on the second go-round.


Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

choleraI’ve been meaning to read Love in the Time of Cholera for a couple of years, ever since I read One Hundred Years of Solitude and declared it my Favorite Book Ever (or at least my favorite book of 2011). It’s my third completed Gabriel Garcia Marquez book of four attempts. I’ll somehow get through Autumn of the Patriarch one day and explain. Or you can try reading it. Believe me, you’ll understand.

So. Here we were with One Hundred Years of Solitude (have I mentioned it’s quite possibly my Favorite Book Ever?) and Chronicle of a Death Foretold, both of which I’ve written about in this blog. The former is better than the latter and the latter reminds me of the former and so on. I’ve talked about it before. Both are good and certainly worth a read. What all that means is that I had high expectations for Love in the Time of Cholera.

I’d put off reading it for a long time for various stupid reasons. First, when I’m trying to hit a goal of 50 books per year (as in 2011, the first part of 2012, and this year, I’ve tl;dr-ed most longer books. (Okay, there are huge examples of that being a lie, like Suttree, The Satanic Verses, and Crime and Punishment, to name only a few. I didn’t say that my tl;dr-ing wasn’t arbitrary). And Love in the Time of Cholera isn’t as long as any of those or as long as One Hundred Years of Solitude. But I digress. Anyway, Marquez isn’t exactly a fast, easy read – but he flows so smoothly.

Love in the Time of Cholera is about long-unrequited love. Florentino Ariza sees Fermina Daza when both of them are young, and he instantly falls in hopeless love. They exchange love letters for years, but she ends up marrying Juvenal Urbino, a more attractive, wealthy doctor from a “better” family. They live their separate lives, Florentino Ariza never giving up hope of winning Fermina Daza, until they meet again after Juvenal Urbino’s death. (I promise I’m not ruining everything – we learn about this at the beginning.) The point of view fluctuates (remaining third-person) from character to character throughout the novel, so we learned about the past and the present in very personal bits.

And now, the more I write about it, the more I like it. Though it’s not my favorite of Marquez’s novels, it’s very well-written. The way the perspectives interweave is amazing, and the language flows oh so smoothly (that is, of course, thanks, in part, to the translator, but hey). It’s not a fast read – no Marquez I’ve encountered is – but it’s a lovely one.

But here’s why I don’t like it as much as One Hundred Years of Solitude – or one of the reasons: I got annoyed with Florentino Ariza, his incessant romanticism of Fermina Daza, and his (sometimes gross) affairs with other women throughout his lifetime. I found him tiresome after a while. And I think I mentioned gross (you’ll know what I mean when you get to that part).

Check it out and read it. Curl up somewhere comfortable, and expect to spend several hours glued to this book. You won’t be sorry you did.


Book Review: The Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and Its Peoples from Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina

The Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and Its Peoples from Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina  (Oxford University Press) by Christopher Morris is a sweeping history of man and nature in the lower Mississippi Valley. Morris examines how people from hunter-gatherers to contemporary Americans viewed this landscape and acted on their respective visions. It is an ambitious book based on sources in several languages and multiple disciplines including history, science, archaeology and economics. This wide-ranging material is incorporated into a plain-English study grounded in centuries of personal experiences. I love this book.  


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