Sorry this is such a long post. I will be sure to update with each book from now on.
The 19th Wife - David Ebershoff
Even though there were sections of The 19th Wife that were interesting and engaging to read, overall the book was underwhelming and in addition could not sustain much of a level of interest. It tells two stories simultaneously; one in the modern day of a murder mystery in a polygamous community called Mesadale and the other a historical fictional tale of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young. Making the book tell both stories is a major flaw. The murder mystery would have been more interesting if it had been a shorter read instead of being interspersed with another story. The half that is historical fiction becomes much too broad and on the surface because of the room necessary for the other half. Both are marred by being coupled with one another.
The Ann Eliza Young half of the book is more consistently interesting than the modern day half. One of its strengths is the way it weaves together the story from different sources like letters, official documents, journal entries, modern day thesis’ and more. It takes into consideration the flaws of Ann Eliza and also gives other characters a voice. The parts of the story with Ann growing up are the most interesting. When it comes to her escape and fight against polygamy, her story flounders by becoming too broad and for not being insightful enough. The parts of her story leading up to her escape managed to be interesting but the entire purpose these recollections were leading up to fail.
The modern day story was only intermittently engaging. Most of the time it failed to sustain any interest. The protagonist, Jordan was a dull character and the narration was a bit forced. His friend Roland was one big stereotype. The introduction of Johnny was annoying and Tom’s entrance late in the game was hard to care about. The mystery itself was engaging for a while but was ultimately underwhelming. By the end of the book I failed to care about anything going on and even though it had its moments it felt like it overstayed its welcome by the end.
Book 18: The Girl who Played with Fire - Stieg Larsson
The Girl who Played with Fire is a worthy sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo even if it does not live up to the original. A large part of the appeal to this series is Lisbeth Salander. The main plot of this book requires that Lisbeth be absent for a large chunk of it. While it is necessary for the plot, Lisbeth’s absence takes away a lot of what makes the series good. In addition to this, we are introduced to a ton of new characters working the case who Larsson really tries to make interesting. They do feel like individuals but it was hard to care about them. Miriam and Paolo were two welcome characters and everything involving Zala worked perfectly even though I wish there had been more of them. The plot was definitely interesting but it is hard to top the intrigue that came with the Vanger family murder mystery and it does not. The last 200 pages are the strongest part by far as Lisbeth comes back into the picture and some pretty great and intense events take place. The sequel managed to be engaging but it could have been a lot shorter in relation to the amount of story it had to tell. There were points when it felt like we were treading water. Overall a worthy sequel but not up to par with the first book.
Book 19 - The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired - Francine Prose
The Lives of the Muses is a consistently compelling non-fiction work. It both looks at the idea of the muse over the years and picks 9 muses to create short biographies of them and their relationship with their artist as a representation of the undefinable role of the muse. It also uses the muse to go into the role of the female, how the muse is quite obviously a sexist responsibility but how each muse either redefined it in their own way or submitted themselves fully to the idea of the muse. What makes this so interesting is how it functions as multiple biographies but also as theory. Hester Thrale and Samuel Johnson, Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson, Elizabeth Siddal and Rossetti, Lou-Andreas Salome and Nietzsche, Rilke and Freud, Gala Dali and Salvador Dali, Lee Miller and Man Ray, Charis Weston and Edward Weston, Suzanne Farrell and George Balanchine and finally Yoko Ono and John Lennon. My personal favorites were Thrale, Liddell, Siddal, Dali and Ono. Each of them have fascinating stories and it makes for a wholly satisfying read that makes you want to learn even more about each of them.
The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls
I have no idea what to say about The Glass Castle that is going to separate it from other memoirs. It must be said though that it is different from other memoirs because Jeanette Walls creates her portrait of her parents and upbringing with absolute objectivity and lack of judgment or reflection. This makes her stories untainted and easier to dissect as things that have happened. Every paragraph is filled with an incident that could have filled pages of a less intense memoir. Jeanette’s parents are both completely unaware of how to bring up children. Jeannette has two sisters (Lori and Maureen) and a brother (Brian). Her mother Rose Mary is a self-proclaimed ‘excitement addict’ who resents having children. Their father Rex is an alcoholic who seems to care about his kids more than the mother but is just as bad at raising anybody. I cannot explain how incredible this book is. Everybody who is alive should read it. Reading about the kids and their remarkable resilience is just a testament to humanity’s endurance and their obliviousness to the fact that they are not a normal family is disturbing and sad. However, their slow realization that their parents are not good parents and that their slow but steady search for independence is fascinating from a psychological point of view. This entire book is fascinating from a psychological point of view. The relationship between Jeannette and her father Rex is tragic and moving to say the least. It had me crying more than once. There is a reason that this book is so popular, so critically acclaimed and so universally read. It is amazing; absolutely amazing. I cannot even begin to get into the reasons that this book is as unbelievable as it is. Just read it as soon as possible. I know a lot of people hate the objectivity of this and the repetitiveness of it but I love the style of it and the sparseness in the description. It is just straight-forward and moving and encompassing. I apologize for all of this sounding vague but it is because I honestly would not even know how to begin talking about all of the stuff going on in this book.
Book 21 - Damage - Josephine Hart
Since I have wanted to see this film for a while both from my own interest and from my aunt and boyfriend having admiration for it, I decided to finally read this so I can watch the film. It was a very short read, only clocking in at 200 pages. Overall I liked it but did not love it. It seems that it could potentially make a great film though because it would be so simple to adapt. My problem with it was its repetitive qualities. I know it is supposed to be examining primal feelings and instinct but after a while it is annoying to be stuck with the protagonists point of view after a while. The prosw was nice and simple but quite effective which is what saved it. The conversations between him and Ingrid after the climax of the story are the highlights of the book. Also, the visit with Anna's mother and the protagonist (he has no name) and his conversation with Martyn later in the story. I liked how vague the sex scenes were. They were explicit but not explicit at the same time. I guess in the end it was just such a simple and predictable story that it was hard to fully engulf myself into it. Also, since the sexual relationship gets started immediately it is hard to be invested in them in any way, shape or form. Overall I definitely enjoyed this but I was not blown away by any means.
This was a great look at women in Pre-Code. The author clearly worships the period and heavily mourns it at the same time making it very satisfying to read. Basically with Pre-Code, women were in control of their lives and afterwards their freedom was taken away by the punishing and suffocating women’s picture to come after. Films were being made that actually had women making decisions for them and were doing what they wanted without being punished for it. Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo get the most attention. Shearer’s combination of life force, sexual freedom and carefree attitude made her a unique persona in Pre-Code that could not be matched by anyone. Unfortunately her brand of lifestyle could not be supported in Post Code films and she was delegated to the role she is sadly the most famous for. While I really enjoy The Women the end of it has always ruined it for me and Shearer herself called the role “too noble” and does at the end the exact opposite of what a character of hers would have done in Pre-Code days. Something that was interesting about Garbo was how her brand of character transferred over perfectly after the Code was enforced. She turned the vamp from an evil seductress to a more complicated figure. Eventually her character type was religiously symbolic and almost always sacrificial. This fit in very well with the Post-Code morals of a free lifestyle of a woman needing to be punished at the end. Thus, Garbo made some of her most successful films. The rest of the book goes through the different issues dealt with in Pre-Code films relating to women and the types of content that could be found. It also goes through a lot of the stars and the types of roles they found themselves playing. While the book annoyingly goes through the rest of film history citing everything that it wrong with subsequent films and actresses, the initial Post Code material was a fascinating read. I expect Dangerous Men, the counterpart to this, to be interesting but certainly not this interesting. Pre-Code was a women’s world and this book is a loving and authentic tribute to that.Book 23: The End of the Affair - Graham Greene
The End of the Affair was moderately enjoyable. It was an interesting look at religion but towards the end was so heavily promotional that it took me out of it. Up until the last 30 pages it went from being a love story or a ‘hate story’, depending on how you take Bendrix’s narration to being an examination of faith and how it comes into your life and how one chooses to adapt to it or reject it. The characters were all well drawn. I liked that Sarah’s diary was a section of the book which gave us a break from Bendrix and his hypocrisy. The prose was very strong with Bendrix being very self reflexive throughout. I liked how Bendrix was all over the place in his thoughts. It felt like an actual person thinking instead of someone who is clear-headed which so few of us are. Overall this was good but I cannot say I loved it because of the direction it ultimately takes.
Book 24: The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield
Overall I enjoyed The Thirteenth Tale. I had some issues with it that are slightly difficult to pinpoint. A lot of the story had me enthralled and consistently kept me interested. However, in her overwhelming attempts to both be in the vein of Jane Eyre and communicate an intense love for books, she kept her characters at a distance I do not think she intended. A lot of the characters were potentially very interesting and she clearly wanted them to be fully rounded but ultimately came up short. The modern day story with Margaret was uninteresting outside of her conversations with Aurelius. A lot of the characters names even were just too much; Setterfield is determined to come up with potentially iconic names. For all of this though the book kept be intrigued throughout and I read through it quite quickly because of my interest level. A moderate success; I am glad I read it but it was not quite what I was hoping.
Book 25: A Room with a View - E.M. Forster
In the vein of Frances Burney's Evelina, A Room with a View takes a humorous and altogether charming look at English countryside life versus London life, a young woman's journey to find her place in society and having to choose between two men in what is primarily a romance. While Evelina was boring, repetitive, outdated and tiresome, A Room with a View is everything but. It is filled with characters that jump off the page particularly Cecil and Charlotte. Even though Lucy is not very interesting, her lack of character is purposeful in that she is really discovering who she is throughout the book. While that has to do with, of course finding a man, the differences between Cecil ad George represent ways her individuality could have gone. The narration pays close attention to Lucy's reaction to all the things being said and her struggle to make a decision based on her own instincts and the reactions of those around her. The book is funny and full of wit with well drawn characters to boot. I cannot wait to see the film which should be arriving on Netflix on Thursday. Hopefully will read Howards' End later this year.
Book 26: The Known World - Edward P. Jones
The Known World, Edward P. Jones Pulitzer Prize winning novel from 2003 is a tapestry of observation. There is no main character and it I only in the final third where a story emerges. The novel simultaneously becomes very intimate but in a very distant way, never letting us truly get inside the minds of the characters but having us trust the omniscient narrator to be telling us the truth; his accuracy is never doubted. Jones is very much about describing a moment in a way that makes it come alive. This leads to many passages that I can still remember very well; his style has stuck with me. The synopsis given on the inside of the book is not representative of the book at all; I don’t blame them because it is impossible to give a sense of what reading it is like on the inside flap. Henry Townsend is not the main character but is at the center of everything. His death is used as a center point to launch us into the past, giving us a sense of the dozens of characters who populate the book intermittently. Once that is done, we go back to the days following Henry’s death and the disintegration that ensues there. Jones also takes the time to give us a look into what the lives of our characters will become; sometimes in one sentence teases and other times in several paragraphs. By the end everything takes quite very tragic turns but the last several pages are absolutely beautiful. Overall, this was incredible.
Book 27: Dangerous Men: Pre-Code Hollywood and the Birth of the Modern Man- Mick LaSalle
This was a fascinating read despite it not being as good as Complicated Women. Let's face it; the women of the Pre-Code era were a hell of a lot more interesting overall simply because what was being done for women was progressive and refreshing in that time. They suffered much more of asetback once the Code was enforced because patriarchal ideas were being established again instead of opposed. The men are still fascinating though and the book does a great job of going into all the different ways men were being portrayed and how they represented the views of society at that point. The shift of preferential male characters from the silent period to the early talkies is delved into quite quickly. Old-fashioned romantics were no longer wanted. Tradition was being rebelled against and was replaced with men who took what they wanted; who had a quick-talking, shifty, forceful and criminal side to them. The author does a great job, even better than he did with Complicated Women in this regard, of discussing the actor's work as well as their private life in ways that were relevant to the types of characters they would play.
Hearing about James Cagney was incredible because every time I read any quote from him I just fall in love more. There are so many other actors that I am a fan of that LaSalle goes into. What was even more interesting was when he discussed the actors that are not talked about as often. These included Warren William, Lee Tracy and particularly Richard Barthelmess and his constant desire to appear in film what politicized issues he cared about. Corrupt businessmen were hated and the underdog was preferred. Overall this was a great companion piece to Complicated Women, both of which pay the level of respect that Pre-Code film deserves and so rarely gets.