I’d never thought too much of Goodreads’ recommendations, but I think Sabriel changed my mind. Goodreads categorizes recommendations based on shelves, and it thought I’d like Sabriel based on my Favorites shelf. (I’ve been using Goodreads for years to catalog what I’ve read, and I’m pretty picky with the Favorite’s shelf.) After The Castle of Crossed Destinies, I was kind of lost, and I felt like reading a book about the Desert, so I started Sunset over Chocolate Mountains, which I’d tried to read at least ten years ago but couldn’t finish. This time, I went to Boston in the middle of it, was distracted by Frank O’Hara for a bit, and kind of lost interest. Which is how I ended up browsing through Goodreads’ recommendations.
ANYWAY. Sabriel is a fantasy novel geared toward teenagers. I know. But it’s really not bad! There are no vampires involved: Sabriel is eighteen and has just graduated from a girls’ school in a place called Ancelstierre. She is from what’s called the Old Kingdom, where magic is the norm. Sabriel’s father is the Abhorsen, a necromancer who sends dead things to actual death (they’re kind of like zombies! but not). He disappears, and Sabriel goes on a quest to find him. Okay, I totally did not do this book justice here.
This isn’t a book like The Hunger Games where I say, “Why are teenagers allowed to read this?” It’s pretty kosher, except for a bit of an unnecessary sex scene as heard through a bathroom wall. I really don’t know why that’s in there. Or at least in so much detail.
I really liked this novel. The only problem I had with it is that the characters are a bit flat. There are three main characters: Sabriel, Touchstone (Sabriel finds him trapped in wood on a ship), and Mogget (a spirit trapped in the form of a cat). Sabriel is okay, and so, I guess, is Mogget, but Touchstone is too important a character to be flat, and I was annoyed for a good chunk of the novel because of it.
Otherwise, Sabriel is a good adventure story for when you’re a bit jaded, and you want a fast-paced, easy read. And it’s not too teenager-y since Sabriel doesn’t really have time to be angsty. And it’s the first novel in a series of three. A fourth is apparently coming out sometime next year. I’m not sure if I’m going to read the rest of them, but I have a feeling that I will.
So this isn't my first time reading The Fellowship of the Ring, though, surprisingly, it's only my second time finishing it. I tried the first time when I was eleven or twelve. I remember it clearly: My mom and I were in the Waldenbooks in Pierre Bossier Mall (do they still make Waldenbooks?), and I pulled it off the shelf. I'm not sure whether I knew what I was looking for, or not, or even whether I had heard of Tolkien, though I don't see why I'd choose that one if I hadn't. I was about the right age to discover those novels, but without the internet or friends who read for fun, it's kind of doubtful. Anyway, I think I might have gotten a tenth of the way through it (I wasn't particularly fond of or good at finishing long books), and I quit. I don't think Frodo even made it out of the Shire.
Five, or so, years ago, I decided to read The Lord of the Rings as a challenge. I'm pretty sure that if you count all three novels as one (which I do), it's still the longest book I've ever read. It took me about three months, and I was so proud of myself for finishing it. I liked it even more than I thought I would.
It seems strange to write a summary of The Fellowship of the Ring because I think that everyone I know has read it or has at least seen the movie, but here goes. It begins fifty or sixty years after the events of The Hobbit. Frodo, a hobbit and Bilbo Baggins's nephew, inherits Bilbo's magic ring that makes its wearer invisible. Turns out, though, that the ring has a more sinister purpose and is trying to make it back to its evil master, Sauron, who wants to rule all of Middle Earth. So Frodo and his friends must take the ring to the one place it can be destroyed, the fires of Mount Doom, which happens to be in Sauron's domain. The Fellowship of the Ring chronicles the first part of that journey.
If you haven't read The Lord of the Rings, get yourself a copy. The novels are so much better and more detailed than the movies. There's a great part in The Fellowship of the Ring that's totally left out of the movie, and it's definitely worth a read. This novel is great for just about any age: it's not a kids' novel, but any kid around 12 or older will probably love it. I'm pretty sure I didn't finish it more because of my short book attention span rather than boredom, and I really wish I would have stuck with it for no other reason than having read the books before seeing the movies. So, even if you've read it before, pick up a copy and get to readin'!
Love seems to be most acceptable lately when the characters that are in love are supernatural or paranormal, but sometimes true love needs to be wrapped up in realism, awkwardness and nearly unbearable heartache. So at first glance a title like Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler would be a no brainer pick for a cry- along: let’s face it, we broke up , and if there’s an explanation worth writing, it will certainly have some detailed explanations about the awful things leading to the demise of the relationship- right? Perhaps. Min Green, our narrator is a sixteen year old foodie who enjoys classic films and obscure blues music. When she breaks up with Ed Slaterton , the Co-Captain of their high school basketball team, she packs every memento of their relationship into a box, and writes a letter explaining what each object is and how it plays into why they broke up. She then drops the box off on his front doorstep. It’s not all bad: Ed and Min had a pretty good thing going there for a while. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be, but the story of why they broke up is beautifully interwoven with why they got together in the first place. Each object in the box receives a beautiful full page illustration by Maira Kalman.
My first encounter with this lovely tale was at the tender age of twelve. It was a passage on a standardized test, and at that moment I was more focused on finishing the test before time was called. So naturally, I didn't appreciate it the first go around. The next time I read this book was in the eigth grade. I was in a word stunned. I wasn't stunned by the story itself, but with the concept that a man could be turned into a giant cockroach overnight without any explanation whatsoever. Another thing that irked me at the time was the fact that he isn't disturbed in the slightest that he has been morphed into a giant roach ( GROSSSSS!). Needless to say, I didn't like reading it that go around. On my most recent gleaming of the Metamorphosis, I loved it.
In order to have any understanding of the Metamorphosis whatsoever, you need to understand the concept of absurdism. Absurdism is a big fancy word for life makes no sense and has no meaning whatsoever. The idea that a character can be turned into a giant roach and have no one question it is a big nod to absurdism. Anyway, The Metamorphosis is about a man's transformation into a cockroach and his family's reactions to that transformation. They won't be the type of reactions you'd expect. All in all, once you get over the ick factor, the Metamorphosis is a good read.
I've certainly begun my 52 books with a bang. One Hundred Years of Solitude just might be the best novel I've ever read. It's definitely the most epic. It follows a family and a town from birth to death, through wars and colonialism and personal tragedy. The family line is so complicated, with the vast majority of names involving Jose Arcadio or Aureliano in every generation, that the publisher was kind enough to include a family tree just before the first chapter begins. At one point, one Aureliano begets seventeen more Aurelianos.
It's also very long and a rather slow read - not to say it's boring: it held my interest throughout. I should also say that listing it as the first book of the year is somewhat of a cheat because I started reading it at least a couple of weeks ago and only read the second half of it since the first of the year.
The funny thing is that most of the things I'm saying about it seem bad when I think I've found a new favorite novel. It beats any Murakami I've read hands-down. I read somewhere that Murakami lists Marquez as an influence on his own work, and I can see how: One Hundred Years of Solitude is infused with the same kind of magical realism that Murakami's is. It's like the supernatural elements - like flying carpets, benign ghosts, and an ascension into heaven - are fully integrated into reality.
I'm half tempted to gorge myself immediately on the rest of Marquez's books, but I'm not going to. I'll spread him out like I did Murakami, stretching his novels into a couple years, at least - and not ruining him for myself like I did DeLillo.
One Hundred Years of Solitude isn't my first Marquez book, though it's the first one I've finished. Years ago, I tried reading Autumn of the Patriarch, which I didn't finish because it seemed impossible to read. It's around three hundred pages, split into eight chapters, and each sentence is almost the length of the whole chapter. I read it for a challenge, and I lost. Reading this one, though, makes me want to give it another try.
After spending some time browsing at Barnes & Noble yesterday, I picked up Franny and Zooey and ported it to a chair thinking I'd never read it. I got through the Franny story, about a quarter into the whole thing, decided I'd finish it, and when I looked on Goodreads discovered that I'd already read it and rated it three stars. There's no date with the rating, but I'm pretty sure it's been over a year.
The funny thing is that I had no memory of it. As I was reading it at B&N, there were little parts that seemed vaguely familiar, but I didn't recall any of the plot or the characters. I didn't even remember that Zooey is Franny's brother or that they're Seymour Glass's family. (Based on Nine Stories, some of which I read when I was in high school, I romanticized Seymour Glass. Another book I need to reread.)
Which gets me to a general outline of the plot. In the first part, Franny goes out with her boyfriend and they argue about lots of things. She's all dramatic about a religious book. She gets sick and faints, and the boyfriend is suddenly nicer to her. In the second part, Franny goes home to stay with her brother, Zooey, and her parents. She's in the middle of a nervous breakdown of sorts, partially over the "Jesus Prayer" in the religious book she's been carrying around. And then people talk a lot about religion, college, and Franny, and Zooey calls Franny pretending to be another brother, Buddy, and is found out. That's about it. It's structured more like a short story than a novel.
I think I liked it better this time than when I read it a year or two ago. I can identify with Franny: when I was her age, around 20, I was a lot like her. Franny and Zooey reminds me that life is much more peaceful now that I've grown up a bit.
I didn't like this one. I should qualify that: I didn't like this one except for the last thirty pages. It's a novel about love and sex. I could only identify with one character and the dog because everyone else was busy sleeping with people who weren't their spouses. There are only a few types of novels I don't like: mysteries, novels about people being taken away or imprisoned (I find those incredibly frustrating, and it's why, as much as I love The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, I couldn't get through its sequel, Pigs in Heaven), and novels in which the principal plotline focuses on infidelity.
There are five important characters: Tomas, Tereza, Sabina, Franz, and the dog, Karenin. Tomas is married to Tereza, who adores him and is generally faithful, and he likes to have affairs with many women. He has a prolonged affair with Sabina, who, after Tomas dies (I think - the story isn't exactly linear) has a prolonged affair with Franz, who is also married to someone else. And then there's Tereza's dog, who is very nice and doesn't have sex with anyone, though, in Tereza's dream, gives birth to two rolls and a bee. Kundera explores the difference between love and sex and how love affects people differently. I wasn't enthused until the last thirty pages when the dog dies. That made me cry.
I probably should have liked it more. The only other Kundera novel I've read is Life is Elsewhere, which I adored, though I don't really even remember what it's about. I read it five years ago, or so, so I guess that's to be expected. The Unbearable Lightness of Being reminds me of the only Paulo Coelho novel I've read, Veronika Decides to Die, which annoyed me in its preachiness. A first-person narrator (Kundera himself?) tells the story from the first person: the novel is generally written in third person, but the narrator breaks in often with nonjudgmental ideas about what's going on. It was like inspirational nonfiction (which annoys the hell out of me) on top of what could have been a good novel - like Kundera was filling in all the spaces the reader should be able to figure out on his own.
I should probably start by saying I'm not a fan of historical fiction. I guess The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is an example of historical magical realism, though it's relatively skimpy on the magical part. It has echoes of Cloud Atlas, my favorite novel last year, though it's certainly more in the realm of the historical. I was bored through most of it. I read most of the second half today - it's really long - simply because I didn't want to be reading it anymore. After The Unbearable Lightness of Being, I was looking for a short, easy read, and this novel certainly doesn't qualify. That said, I usually avoid historical novels, and for a historical novel, this one isn't bad, though I found a few problems. I'll get to that in a minute.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is about the Dutch East India Company in Nagasaki around the turn of the nineteenth century. The main character is Jacob de Zoet, who is trying to win a bride in the Netherlands by getting enough money in the East. But things happen, and so on, and so on. He falls in love with a Japanese woman named Orito who ends up in a shrine that's basically a farm for babies born to be consumed by monks who are trying to live forever. I guess that's the magical realism part. It takes up the middle third of the book and is the only part that really interested me. There's a multitude of characters from both the East and the West, and their cultures conflict, etc, etc. No one knows who he can trust. And it just goes on and on.
The two storylines - Jacob's life and Orito's - are the novel's main problem: Mitchell doesn't seem to tie them together well enough. It's like two novels in one, and the only thing they really have in common is that they include the same characters. I also think the novel is simply too long and that lots of it seems like Mitchell did lots of research and doesn't want it to go to waste. I was bored, but it kept my interest enough for me to finish it, and since it's so long, that's something. As I'm not a fan of historical fiction, I'm not a fan of long books. That said, I've been reading lots of long books lately.
So, to the verdict: It's okay. I didn't dislike it, though it's certainly not in my list of favorites. It certainly wasn't as good as Cloud Atlas, and it's making me question how much I liked Cloud Atlas in the first place. I'm not sure what I think about reading more Mitchell: I first read him because of the comparisons to Murakami, but they're not really that similar except for the string of magical realism, which is much more evident (and interesting) in Murakami's works.
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