Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

the grapes of wrath
john steinbeck
c. 1939
619 pages (232 read)
stopped reading 3/28/2011

read for: back to the classics challenge, page to screen challenge, 1001 book, penguin classics

*may contain spoilers*

To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.

Tom Joad is released from prison after serving a four year sentence for killing another man in a bar fight. He returns home to his family in Oklahoma and finds them packing all their belongings in one lone truck, having been pushed off the land in favor of faster and more cost efficient tractors. Deciding to break his parole, Tom joins his family as they journey to California in search of the American dream.

It took me two months and I only got this far. Some of that I can attribute to the end of the quarter and finals and all, but that's mostly an excuse. I wanted to like this book so badly! So much so that I may actually revisit it at some point. But for now I'm deciding to put it down. Despite writing my senior AP English paper on Steinbeck when I was in high school, I haven't read a whole lot of his work (in all honestly, of the three major texts I discussed in said paper, one of them actually was The Grapes of Wrath even though I didn't read it). The two novels of his I've read are not even quintessential Steinbeck. Instead of East of Eden or Of Mice and Men, I've read The Winter of Our Discontent and The Pearl. Both I really enjoyed, and I looked forward to reading his more popular work.

And there were things about Grapes I really enjoyed. Steinbeck has a beautiful voice, and he has an incredible ability to transport his readers with his words. And his characters are complex and flawed and deeply relatable, even though I've obviously never lived in Depression-era Oklahoma. Those elements were alive and well in Grapes and in those respects I really enjoyed it.

My problem reading The Grapes of Wrath came from the supplementary chapters. Every other chapter followed the story of parolee Tom Joad and his family's exodus to the bounty of California. The ones in between explored the experience of the Depression and the Dust Bowl on a more national level. These chapters were often beautifully written and were I to ever become a history teacher, many of them would be read in my class during our discussion of the Depression. However, for me, the way they broke up the action of the story completely stalled the momentum. Everything would come to a screeching halt, and the fits and starts kept me from fully engaging in what was going on. Like I said, maybe at some point I will try again, but for now I need to put it down.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's Tuesday, where are you?

Les Miserables
Digne, France 1815

Are you There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume

are you there god? it's me margaret
judy blume
c. 1970
149 pages
completed 3/13/2011

read for: back to the classics challenge

*may contain spoilers*

Are you there God? It's me, Margaret.

Margaret is an eleven year old girl who moves to New Jersey with her parents. While her parents are determined to raise their daughter as neither Christian of Jewish, her grandparents are tugging her in both directions and Margaret can't decide which one she thinks she is. While dealing with this internal struggle, Margaret also has to navigate a new school and new friends all while trying to grow up.

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge (see sidebar) in the category of young adult classics, because I think this is often touted as like the ultimate young adult book. As such, I feel a little weird reviewing it (especially since I didn't love it), so this will be a short review. Somehow I missed Judy Blume when I grew up. I mean, I knew of her and her books, but I was always more of a Ramona Quimby or Alice McKinley girl myself. I think maybe that's one of the reasons I didn't enjoy reading Margaret more now that I'm older. I don't have any nostalgic blinders on. Like, my sister the literature scholar and I like to have dance parties where we jam to the Backstreet Boys. We used to love the Backstreet Boys when we were much younger and had questionable taste in music. Had Justin Beiber and the Jonas Brothers come out in the 90s when we were that age we'd probably love them too. But since they didn't and we're all grown up now and have still questionable exceptional taste in music, we can't judge them with our little girl brains. We judge them with our all grown up brains and know that our tastes are far too sophisticated for Justin Beiber (except that one really catchy song, and only because they sang it on Glee). So that's how I feel about Judy Blume. Had I read it as a young adult maybe I'd still think it was awesome. But reading it as an adult?

I felt like the issues raised never got resolved. Like her confusion about God and that fact that her new best friend was not exactly a very nice person. And I have to say, I never knew anyone who was 11 or 12 and was as obsessed with getting their period as the girls in young adult books. It was not nearly as big a deal as its made out to be. Neither I nor any of my friends used it as a marker of how grown up we were and no on I knew was super excited for it to happen, seeing as how when it's never happened to you it just sounds kind of gross and inconvenient. I think some good issues were raised in the book, things that are important to talk about with kids, but it ended kind of flat for me.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Music Mix Friday...Rebecca Black "Friday"

I promised my sister the literature scholar that this would be my music video this Friday. Possibly this is the worst song ever? I mean for real, girlfriend, no one cares if you sit in the front seat or the back.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Artist of the Floating World - Kazuo Ishiguro

an artist of the floating world
kazuo ishguro
c. 1986
208 pages
completed 2/26/2011

read for: i want more challenge, global challenge, historical fiction challenge, tbr challenge, 100 greatest novels, 1001 books

*may contain spoilers*

If on a sunny day you climb the steep path leading up from the little wooden bridge still referred to around here as "the Bridge of Hesitation,"you will not have to walk far before the roof of my house becomes visible between the tops of two ginko trees.

Ono is a retired artist living in post war Japan. One daughter is married and the other is just beginning her marriage negotiations. Negotiations fell through for Noriko a year earlier leading Ono to look back on his involvement in World War II and attempt to understand how his actions have affected his life and the lives of those around him.

This was an interestingly structured book. I often don't like books that aren't linear and this has a lot of nonlinear elements. It jumps back in time from what's considered the present (1948-1950 Japan) to different memories before, during, and immediately after WWII. But it worked out for me since there was still one underlying linear story: Ono working towards his daughter's marriage negotiation. It was through this one linear story that Ono visits his memories. This is a story with an unreliable narrator. He remembers things differently in 1948 than he does in 1950. He goes through a period of remembering himself as someone who acted with honor during the war to someone who claims to be able to take responsibility for working in a way that now is not looked on well, creating propaganda for the country. However, he never quite comes around to understanding the real root of his dishonor and what he did to so horribly tear apart certain people's lives.

Ono is an extremely complex character and despite thinking that he's changing his perception of himself, he actually continues on in a state of denial. Ono's daughters and grandson are less complex, but instead stand to represent changing attitudes in Japan (and actually much of the rest of the world). The older daughter, subservient and always at the very least acting as if she's giving way to her father's wants, is representative of pre-war Japan. The younger daughter, who constantly butts heads with her father, and Ichiro, Ono's grandson who dreams of being an America cowboy, are indicative of the vast Americanization that occurred as a result of the end of World War II. While their characters might not be overly complex, what they represent helps to shape Ono's character.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Music Mix Friday...Abba "Mamma Mia"

Am I the only one who thinks maybe they need to work on putting some emotion in their facial expressions? Brokenhearted doesn't mean bored.

The Holy Thief Movie Review

the holy thief
starring: derek jacobi, anthony green, benedict sandiford, and louise delamere

watched for: page to screen challenge

*may contain spoilers*

I know that I just said in my last movie review that I'm an advocate for people cutting movies based on books a break sometimes, but again I'm going to have to be a complainer for this movie. I've seen all of the Brother Cadfael episodes that were broadcast on "Mystery." In fact, I'd seen them all multiple times long before I ever started reading the series. But this is one of the few I've only rarely seen. I assumed that was simply due to Sean Pertwee not playing Hugh Berringar (because really, what's the point of watching if someone else is playing Hugh?), but after revisiting the movie for this challenge, I've decided there are two major problems, each containing LOTS of reasons to stay away. This movie installment is all kinds of terrible.

Problem One: Plot. TOTALLY, TOTALLY DIFFERENT! There's a somewhat different mystery (Daalny's been kidnapped, what?) and a completely different murderer and motive. Yes, I did feel like the motive in the book was a little weak and so I assume the filmmakers agreed which led to the change, and that I could totally get on board with, except what they changed it to made no sense to me. And became historically inaccurate.

Problem Two: Characters. Just about every character in the film is a major distortion of their print counterparts. In the book, Tutillo is mischievous and a bit of a rogue. You honestly feel there's a possibility he was the killer. In the movie he's nothing more than a wet blanket. Prior Herluin, though he's obviously in the wrong regarding St. Winifred and is a bit fanatically devout, is not nearly the ridiculous demonic caricature that's portrayed on screen. And Beaumont goes from being someone who's questionable and complex to a cruel and creepy creature. Even the regular characters are completely distorted. Hugh Berringar, Cadfael's best friend who's usually so fair minded and level headed and in basically ever way Cadfael's equal, is now an ass who inexplicably believes in ridiculous things such as dunk tests (where if you sink in water you're guilty) and cares less for justice and more for easy fixes. And saddest of all was Cadfael himself. I truely think Derej Jacobi IS Cadfael, but this episode had him picking fights and being snotty and cruel towards everyone and it was just horrible.

I really do mostly love these movies (especially One Corpse Too Many and The Sanctuary Sparrow) but this is the one to skip.

2/5 Read my review of the original book here.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Of Love and Other Demons - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

of love and other demons
gabriel garcia marquez
c. 1994
147 pages
original language: spanish
completed 2/17/2011

read for: i want more challenge, what's in a name challenge, historical fiction challenge

*may contain spoilers*

An ash-gray dog with a white blaze on its forehead burst onto the rough terrain of the market on the first Sunday of December, knocked down tables of fried food, overturned Indians' stalls and lottery kiosks, and bit four people who happened t cross its path.

Don Ygnacio de Alfaro y DueƱas is a marquis in Spanish ruled South America (what is now Colombia), fading into obscurity with a wife who has been drugged into a state of near constant delirium. The daughter neither of them wanted has been pushed out of the house to be raised in the slave quarters, growing up speaking the Yoruban language of the slaves better than her own family's Spanish. It is only after she is bit by a rabid dog that Sierva Maria really comes to the attention of her father. Though she shows no signs of having contracted rabies herself, her bizarre behavior and mannerisms lead her father to conclude she is possessed by demons. Sierva Maria is sent to a convent to by exorcised. There, she develops a close relationship with Father Cayetano Delaura, the priest sent to oversee her ordeal, who may come to be possessed by an even more powerful demon: love.

Gariel Garcia Marquez is a beautiful writer. Beautiful. The emotional aspect of the detail is amazing. I always feel (I say always, yet this is only the second work of his I've read) that he is able to incorporate so much mundane life into his prose that in less capable hands would seem both irrelevant and kinda gross (in both this and Love in the Time of Cholera there is a passage or two that goes into some detail regarding specific characters' bodily functions). Instead, Marquez is able to make passages like those seem like such natural inclusions and ones that are vital to the integrity of the story. I don't often notice an author's prose style too much unless it bothers me, but Marquez stands out.

The novel (novella really) is very short, so there's not too much room for character development, but for those characters who needed it (Sierva Maria, Father Delaura, the Marquis) it was there in spades. Sierva Maria was quite the enigma. It's never really explained what her demon possession really is. For my part, I think her possession was nothing more than a cultural clash. She had been raised in the slave quarters, completely neglected by her family, so she was raised with different values, cultural norms, beliefs, and language. While differences like these would be expected from the African slaves, these perceived peculiarities were incomprehensible in their own daughter. Plus, she was basically tortured with "cures" for rabies, and that will really mess a person up.

I enjoy books that look into the historical practice of exorcism. It's often pretty terrifying and horrific, but fascinating at the same time. There were some extremely brutal processes to get rid of demons, and it's no wonder so many of them were fatal. My sister the literature scholar and I were discussing exorcist horror movies briefly last night, and I really think sometimes they should go the other way, with the horror part not being the person who's being possessed but the exorcism itself instead. Well, maybe they already do. I'm not so much into the horror movies...Scary stuff.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

By the end of March...

Okay, so February didn't quite end up being the catch up month I thought it would be. No worries, though. I did some reorganizing of the reading schedule and it's not looking TOO bad. March might be a bit of a beast, but we'll see what happens...

 To be Read by the End of March

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde
Lady Chatterley's Lover - DH Lawrence
Against Nature - Jori-Karl Huysmans
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
Are You There God, it's Me Margaret - Judy Blume
Mirror Mirror - Gregory Maguire

Don't worry, I don't actually think I'll finish Les Mis by the end of the year month...

To be read...

Best Laid Plans - Terry Fallis
The House at Riverton - Kate Morton
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin
West of Here - Jonathan Evans
Silverlock - John Myers Myers
Independent People - Halldon Laxness
The Imperfectionists - Tom Rachman
The Tudor Secret - CW Gortner
Too Great a Lady - Amanda Elyot
The Ballad and the Source - Rosamund Lehman
The Book of a Thousand Days - Shannon Hale
Sins of the House of Borgia - Sarah Bower
When We Were Strangers - Pamela Schoenewaldt
No Exit - Jean-Paul Sarte
Look Again - Lisa Scottoline
The Hangman's Daughter - Oliver Potzsch
Lud in the Mist - Hope Mirrlees
Madame Tussaud - Michelle Moran
The Anatomy - Andrew Taylor
The History of History - Ida Hattemer-Higgins
Chess - Stefan Zweig
Daughter of Xanadu - Dori Jones Yang
The Tenderness of Wolves - Stef Penney
The Creation of Eve - Lyn Cullen
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown - Ruth Pennebaker
The Arrow Chest - Robert Perry
The Man in the Picture - Susan Hill
The Coffins of Little Hope - Timothy Schaffert
The Red Garden - Alice Hoffman
Letters from Home - Kristina McMorris
Death and the Running Patterer - Robin Adair
The Fates Will Find Their Way - Hannah Pittard
Three Sisters - Bi Feiyu
To Serve a King - Donna Russo Morin
The Doctor and the Diva - Adrienne McDonnell
Exit the Actress - Priya Parmar

36 new books added to the list...