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Review: Sabriel

200px-Sabriel_Book_CoverI’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.

Review (kind of): The Fellowship of the Ring

fellowship-of-the-ringSo 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'!

Why We Broke Up

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. 

The Metamorphosis

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.


2011 Book #1: One Hundred Years of Solitude

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.

2011 Book #2: Franny and Zooey

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.


2011 Book #3: The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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.

2011 Book #4: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

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.

2011 Book #5: Good Morning, Midnight

I've been wanting to read Good Morning, Midnight for a long time. Years ago, I randomly picked up another Jean Rhys novel, After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (which doesn't have a Wikipedia page!), and I really liked it. Later, I was assigned Wide Sargasso Sea, which, it turns out, is a sort-of prequel to Jane Eyre, for a modern fiction class. I liked that one too, though at the time I hadn't read Jane Eyre, and when I finally did, I was kind of disappointed in the fire part.

Anyway, back to the current novel. It's about the Loneliest Woman on Earth living in Paris, and it's Very Modernist. The woman, who calls herself Sasha, lives off money from friends and former lovers, as she seems emotionally incapable of any sort of work, though she tries a couple of times. She thinks everyone in Paris dislikes her, thinks something is wrong with her, and she tries her best to be alone and avoid their critical eyes. And, of course, things happen. She goes back to London for a time and falls in love with Enno, who is at times very loving and at others emotionally abusive. She marries him and has a baby who dies shortly after birth. Enno leaves. Sasha becomes more and more depressed, eventually slipping into a sort of drunken madness.

This novel surprised me because of what there wasn't. Several people told me that it's really disturbing, and I didn't find it that way. Nobody ends up dead. What did disturb me, though, was how much I identify with Sasha. Okay, not currently, thank God, but when I was younger. If I had lived alone in 1930s Paris, leaving what friends or family I had behind in England, the same things would have gone through my mind, and my life might have been a lot like hers. After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie is a similar novel, though its protagonist isn't so terrifically lonely. I guess I just tend to identify with Jean Rhys's characters, and that's why I like her so much.

2011 Book #7: Oryx and Crake

I really enjoyed Oryx and Crake . It's a dystopian, post-apocalyptic-type novel about one of the few men left on Earth. He calls himself Snowman, and the plot bounces back and forth between him and the man he used to be, before the catastrophe, Jimmy. This part is set in the near-future, where everything is genetically spliced together - food, animals, medicine, etc. Jimmy and Crake had been good friends since they were kids. Crake was really intelligent. They grew up, and Crake worked on what he claimed would cure all of the problems caused by humanity. Then Things Happen. Snowman survives with Crake's humanish creations, called Crakers, who think Crake is a god and Snowman is almost one. Then there's Oryx, who might or might not have been sold as a slave into the sex industry when she was a child and who is revered as a near-god, too.

I tend to like dystopian novels. I read Atwood's most famous novel, The Handmaid's Tale, when I was fifteen or so, and I liked it so much I even remember some of it. I've noted before that I rarely remember what books are about after a few years. I think 1984 was the first dystopian novel I ever read: my high school freshman English teacher assigned it, and I actually finished reading it. Another feat.

I bought Oryx and Crake in 2003 when it was first published. I tried reading it but lost interest after the first chapter or so. I don't know why: this time, I had a hard time putting it down. I ordered The Year of the Flood , the events of which are contemporaneous to Oryx and Crake, from Amazon, but I think I'll save that for later.

Oryx and Crake really sucked me in - moreso than most novels do. It's the usual dystopian warning of sorts, but it's not preachy. I'm not sure of a comparison - maybe a not-so-grim On the Beach. I really like Atwood's writing style: it's very easy to read, though I guess I'm comparing it to the two dialecty novels I just finished reading. I'm really looking forward to the sequel.

2011 Book #8: The Satanic Verses

Well, I finished it. I guess all it took was my public realization that I might not finish it to get me reading again. Note that I wrote that post yesterday and still had about halfway to go. I've done a good bit of reading over the past couple days.

The Satanic Verses is a long, hard read. Very long, very hard. My main problem with it is the plot is overly convoluted: I'm not quite sure about what exactly happened, and while I'd like to read it again to put it together, I know I won't. I won't be running back to Rushdie anytime soon, either. It's not really what I expected, kind of like One Hundred Years of Solitude wasn't. And the two novels have more in common: they're both examples of magical realism, though Marquez's novel is much more convincing. And, in general, better.

If you want a thorough rundown of the plot of The Satanic Verses, I'll direct you to Wikipedia because I couldn't do it without writing much more than the short blog post I've planned. Rushdie's novel consists of two-and-a-half storylines involving Bollywood actors Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, a plane crash, one turning into a goat, and one developing paranoid schizophrenia and possibly being, at some point, the Archangel Gabriel. And that's only one of the plotlines. It ends up really confusing.

It's not that it's a bad novel: it's just not as good as some people say it is. I have a feeling that a lot of people with strong opinions about it haven't read it. I can totally see why Khomeini issued a fatwa to kill Rushdie: The Satanic Verses is fabulously blasphemous.

In Rushdie's defense, the language is nice - even beautiful in some places. Here's my favorite part:

The landscape of his poetry was still the desert, the shifting dunes with the plumes of white sand blowing from their peaks. Soft mountains, uncompleted journeys, the impermanence of tents. How did one map a country that blew into a new form every day?

And that's about all I have to say about it. I didn't really like it, though I didn't hate it either. I might reread it someday and get more out of it: I have a feeling that if I did read it again, I'd like it more. Maybe an abridged version would suit me better, though.

2011 Book #9: The Hunger Games

Well, The Hunger Games is certainly a quick read. It's the first kids' book I've read in a while, and I liked it well enough. Suzanne Collins isn't an especially good writer - it's purely pop fiction like Dan Brown and all those other authors I usually can't bring myself to read. That said, I was entertained, which I guess, is the point of novels like this.

The Hunger Games is a dystopian novel set in an Oceania of the United States. There was a war between the capitol and thirteen districts after a rebellion, and the capitol won. Each year, to punish the districts, two kids between twelve and eighteen are chosen to compete in the Hunger Games. They're put into an arena and forced to survive in the wilderness as they kill each other off. The one who kills all the others wins. The two main characters, Katniss and Peeta, both from District 12, survive and fight and all that. It's violent and gory at times. It ends ambiguously, halfway making me want to pick up the trilogy's second book immediately to find out what happens.

But I won't because it's really not that good of a novel. And I hate novels that end with cliffhangers. I think that one reason I liked the Harry Potter series is that Rowling provides a relatively neat ending - except in the sixth book, and I remember being frustrated because the seventh was a year away. I think Philip Pullman tidies things up a bit more at the ends of the His Dark Materials books, too. And Ursula LeGuin with the Earthsea trilogy. The City of Ember series is a little better about it than The Hunger Games. I consider Lord of the Rings to be one giant novel, so the same standard doesn't apply. I like what Terry Pratchett does with his Discworld novels: each is on its own, but there are enough recurring characters and places that it's still a series. But that's neither here nor there.

I knew The Hunger Games wouldn't be particularly good early on. Or, at least, not particularly well-written. I tend to judge writing style by how authors describe their characters. If it's a crappy novel, it might go something like this:

I knew my brother would turn into a panther before he did. As I drove to the remote crossroads community of Hotshot, my brother watched the sunset in silence. Jason was dressed in old clothes, and he had a plastic Wal-Mart bag containing a few things he might need - toothbrush, clean underwear. He hunched inside his bulky camo jacket, looking straight ahead. His face was tense with the need to control his fear and his excitement.

File:Dead as a Doornail.jpegIn case you're wondering, that's the opening paragraph of Charlaine Harris's Dead as a Doornail , one of the books in her Sookie Stackhouse novels and of True Blood fame. I got through maybe ten pages of it and decided I'd be incapable of reading it. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by like-minded friends, and we passed it around, reading random passages aloud. A good time was had by all.

Anyway, good authors tend to do things a little differently. Being a good English major, I should root around and find an example, but being lazy, I'm not going to. Think about Faulkner - or even Rowling: would you ever see a description like that? Of course not. I didn't have to wait long, though, for Collins to disappoint:

I watch as Gale pulls out his knife and slices the bread. He could be my brother. Straight black hair, olive skin; we even have the same grey eyes. But we're not related, at least not closely. Most of the families who work the mines resemble one another this way. That's why my mother and Prim, with their light hair and blue eyes, always look out of place.

Urgh. I will give Collins credit here: her writing gets a bit better as the novel progresses, and I can't think of another instance when I was that irritated. Descriptions like that make me think of bad romance novels - of which I've only read half of two because the writing is so horrid.

To sum things up: The Hunger Games isn't a terrible novel, though it's not that good, either. The plot is interesting, but the style is mediocre at best. I might pick up the others, or I might not. I'd put my money on the latter.

2011 Book #10: Popular Hits of the Showa Era

I really liked Popular Hits of the Showa Era. It's short and a very quick read, and that's exactly what I was looking for. It's also fast-paced and seemed more like a long short-story than a book. Murakami doesn't waste time with in-depth descriptions but still gives the reader enough information to enter the world of the book.

It's about two groups of six. One is six guys in their late twenties who are bored and numb in a very postmodern way. The other is a group of unmarried women in their late thirties called Oba-sans. They all enjoy karaoke, and the guys have made up a party ritual of sorts in which they determine who dresses up and sings through games of rock-paper-scissors, and whoever loses drives them to a secluded part of the beach where they videotape performances. The parties get progressively weirder and creepier. One day, one of them randomly (and violently) kills one of the Oba-sans. The Oba-sans figure out who he is and kill him (also violently). Then there's an all-out war between the two groups with increasingly sophisticated weapons. The last battle-of-sorts is really interesting, but I won't ruin the novel for you.

Popular Hits of the Showa Era is really, really violent and gory. It's what I'd expect from Ryu Murakami after Coin Locker Babies, the only novel of his I've read. And I'm not sure I even finished it. Actually, that's not true. I read In the Miso Soup , but I don't remember anything about it. That was my introduction to him. Popular Hits is as light a read as a book about murder can be. I think, though, that I won't remember anything about it a year from now because it seems forgettable. Not that it's bad: it's just not that great, either. I gave it four stars on Goodreads because I enjoyed the process of reading it, but I don't have much to say about it. It's certainly not a "deep" book, and I think I might have liked it so much because that's exactly the kind of book I needed to read.

2011 Book #11: Labyrinths

Borges makes my brain hurt. Labyrinths was a really difficult read. It reminds me a lot of Italo Calvino, especially Invisible Cities. Evidently, Calvino was heavily influenced by Borges. Labyrinths is a collection of short stories, essays, and parables. I really enjoyed some of the short stories, but lots of the lost me because I don't remember enough about philosophy or what philosopher said what. At a certain point in several stories, I had to turn my brain off and go with it Tao-style. That said, I even liked some of those.

My favorite story is "The Immortal," which is about a man's journey to find The City of Immortals. He enters their city, which has been abandoned and is like a massive labyrinth. He discovers them after he leaves lying, waif-like outside its walls. They have stopped talking because there's nothing left to talk about, but he eventually gets one of them to start, and it turns out he's Homer. "The Immortal" is one of the longer stories, and after the plot extinguishes itself, it becomes more like a philosophical essay. I really enjoyed it. I also liked "The House of Asterion" and "The Library of Babel." I'd been told that "Emma Zunz" is best, and, while it's probably the most easily accessible in the collection, I found it unrewarding. Enough for the short stories.

I found the essays much easier to read and surprisingly interesting. Borges is a fan of Don Quixote, so he mentions it several times, and one of the essays is about it. "The Wall and the Books" is my favorite, but I've already written about that one. Many of the essays are about time and whether it exists or not. Five years ago, I'd have been excited about them, but I'm over it. I've read that kind of theory before. (If you want to read a novel about theories of time, read Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams, which is fantastic.) I don't really have much to say about the essays because I kind of sped through them.

The parables are my favorite part of Labyrinths. They're very short, but they also made me think. Borges discusses the same ideas in the parables as he does in the rest of the book, but the parables are much more accessible, which is probably why I liked them so much. Here's the first one:

Inferno, 1, 32

From the twilight of day till the twilight of evening, a leopard, in the last years of the thirteenth century, would see some wooden planks, some vertical iron bars, men and women who changed, a wall and perhaps a stone gutter filled with dry leaves. He did not know, could not know, that he longed for love and cruelty and the hot pleasure of tearing things to pieces and the wind carrying the scent of a deer, but something suffocated and rebelled within him and God spoke to him in a dream: "You live and will die in this prison so that a man I know of may see you a certain number of times and not forget you and place your figure and symbol in a poem which has its precise place in the scheme of the universe. You suffer captivity, but you will have given a word to the poem." God, in the dream, illumined the animal's brutishness and the animal understood these reasons and accepted his destiny, but, when he awoke, there was in him only an obscure resignation, a valorous ignorance, for the machinery of the world is much too complex for the simplicity of a beast. Years later, Dante was dying in Ravenna, as unjustified and as lonely as any other man. In a dream, God declared to him the secret purpose of his life and work; Dante, in wonderment, knew at last who and what he was and blessed the bitterness of his life. Tradition relates that, upon waking, he felt that he had received and lost an infinite thing, something he would not be able to recuperate or even glimpse, for the machinery of the world is much too complex for the simplicity of men.

If you're going to read any of Labyrinths, check out the parables. They're beautiful and undeniably brilliant.

I'd never read any Borges until now. I'd heard his name associated with Calvino and Lightman, so I figured I'd probably like it. Labyrinths was a harder read than I'd expected, and I had a hard time getting through it, but it was immensely rewarding. Borges is like T.S. Eliot and Yeats in that he draws the whole of history into a very short form, and I can see how he's a poet at heart.

Borges was also a librarian.

2011 Book #12: Catching Fire

Okay, I was wrong. I said I probably wouldn't bother reading Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. In my defense, Borges made my brain hurt, and I needed some serious leisure reading. This one certainly qualifies.

If you haven't read these books and think you might like to, you should probably stop here. My guess is that if you're reading this blog, this series probably isn't on your list.

So. In The Hunger Games, Katniss won, but the dictator interpreted the way she did it as an act of rebellion, and so did the twelve districts, so uprisings began. (To catch up on the first book, read this post or check out the Wikipedia summary, which, I'm sure, is better than my halfhearted attempt.) The dictator and the Capitol start treating the residents of the districts even worse, and Katniss has become a symbol of the rebellion. The next Hunger Games are coming up, and they're the seventy-fifth. Every twenty-fifth Hunger Games is called the Quarter Quell and is especially nasty. This time the districts are forced to choose their tributes among previous victors, and Katniss and Peeta, the tributes from The Hunger Games, are thrust into the arena again. And we get to read about another year of Hunger Games. Then, things happen, and Katniss is rescued (the Capitol got Peeta, but I'm assuming he's probably not dead), and she learns about the rebellion that's been going on during the Games. The End.

Catching Fire is basically a repeat of The Hunger Games. It has the same general structure, the same general characters, and basically the same ending. The style didn't bother me as much this time, but I'm not sure if it's because it got better or because I realized I'm reading for the plot, so the style is good enough if I can stand it.

I think that Collins's choice of writing these novels in the first person is a misstep. Sure, it adds immediacy (they're also in present tense), but we know, from the outset, especially since there are sequels, that Katniss has to win or, at least, survive. That idea bothered me more in Catching Fire because it's so repetitious.

It's also ridiculously predictable for other reasons. Besides the first-person POV, Collins is over-the-top with clues about what's really going on, even for a book aimed at seventh graders (Wait. Why am I reading this again?).

Despite its flaws, though, I enjoyed it. It's the kind of book I needed after Borges, and I know I'm kidding myself if I don't think I'll read the third one. I even have Mockingjay on my Kindle. The plot is good enough to hold my attention, and, hey, it only took me a couple days to read. I haven't decided whether to read the next one immediately or to put a few books in between. I'm kind of in the mood for another crack at Garcia Marquez.

2011 Book #13: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

I liked Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? much more than I thought I would, though I don't have too much to say about it. It's about the difference (or lack of) between real humans and animals and electronic, man-made androids and animals. It's a really interesting read: I couldn't put it down. This morning, I had at least half of it left to read. I went to Starbucks (as usual) planning to do some GRE work along with the reading, but I simply couldn't stop. I read through the rest of the novel in two or three hours. This is one of those books that I'll remember more like a movie than a book, though I'll probably barely remember that I read it at all in a couple years.

This novel isn't my first Philip K. Dick experience. I tried reading The Man in the High Castle a few years ago, but I got bored not far into it, and I quit. He's the kind of novelist I should like more than I do. It took me quite a while to get into Electric Sheep, and I'm wondering if I would have liked The Man in the High Castle if I'd been a bit more patient. But patience isn't my strong suit.

A side note: I think I'm becoming more fond of reading books on my Kindle than reading the real thing. More on that later.

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