February 28th, 2011

Reading feet

Books 1-6

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a beautifully written book! But also so sad and eye opening. I had, of course, heard of the Japanese interment camps in the western US during WWII, but I had no idea what was involved, really. It's so difficult for me to imagine that such things went on right here in my own country. I do think the book has the wrong title, although I have no idea what title I would give it. I just don't think the title conveys much about the book, or the right impression of what is inside.

I cried multiple times during the course of the book, but really enjoyed reading it. I absolutely loved the characters of Sheldon and Mrs. Beatty - the author's favorites as well :) And I loved reading the interview with the author at the end about his family and his research, and also the short story he wrote (for Orson Scott Card, no less!) that eventually became this book.

For those who don't know the basic idea - Henry (born in America to Chinese parents) and Keiko (born in America to Japanese parents) become best friends as the only two Asian students in an otherwise all-white school. They bond over their similarities and their love for jazz. Henry's staunchly traditional Chinese parents (his father in particular) do not approve of his friendship with Keiko because he considers the Japanese to be "the enemy", and actually end up refuses to speak to his son for years because he persists in the disgraceful friendship even after Keiko and her family are placed in an interment camp. The story is told in both the 1940s and the 1980s, alternating, which for me really enhances the tale. Oh, and you get a lot of fun stuff to read about the jazz scene in Seattle in the 1940s, which is maybe the best part!

The only real qualm I have is near the end when his son [does something that I won't say because it's a SPOILER] and it says "... but to Marty, a few hours on his computer, a few phone calls ..." A few hours on his .... COMPUTER?! In 1986?! I -might- have gone for that in 1996... but 1986? No.

But I suppose it's a small thing. Read the book anyway.

Devil WaterDevil Water by Anya Seton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. On the one hand, I found the story (meaning the plot and characters) fascinating, and moreso because it is based on real people and real events. I found myself looking multiple things up on Wikipedia during each sitting. And yet... it was an INCREDIBLY slow read. It kept putting me to sleep. Partly because it seemed to drag on and on - events seemed to take far more pages than needed (spoiled by the internet much?) and ... I don't know, I guess I just didn't care for the writing style. Which makes me sad, because this author has been recommended by many people. Then again, they have never recommended this book in particular, so perhaps this one isn't really representative.

The story revolves around Charles Radcliffe and his daughter, Jenny. Charles is the grandson of King Charles II of England, and his older brother is the Earl of Derwentwater (translated as Devil Water) at Dilston. They are fervently Catholic in a time when England is moving quickly toward Protestantism, and are supporters (to the death!) of "The Pretender", "King James III" (in quotes, because he was never recognized as King although he was technically next in succession, but he was Catholic and there was a new-ish law preventing Catholics from taking the throne).

But the story more surrounds his daughter, Jenny (Jane), who was the result of a childhood affair with a country girl named Meg, whose father forced a marriage between them when he discovered her pregnancy, of course causing a scandal in the upper class life of Charles and his family. Jenny is torn in many ways due to her mixed heritage - between country life and life as "a lady", between Catholicism and Protestantism, between life in the north country and life in London, between romantic love to a childhood companion and fixed marriage to better her status and that of her family. I cried at multiple points in her story, and ESPECIALLY a lot at the ending... I began to believe I was in love with Rob myself, and was horrified by his reaction [to a spoiler], but glad of how he 'remedied' it.

And the historical details thrown in are just fascinating. I do think it's worth struggling through the writing style, but be prepared to take forever reading this. It -is- broken up into six shorter "Books" by timeline, so that gives good stopping points, where you can stop and come back to it months later like I did :)

The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1)The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a wonderful book! As I was reading, I found myself laughing aloud at all the literary references, and wondering how many MORE references were simply whizzing by over my head. Fforde's writing style is wonderful and the story itself is quite entertaining. I find that I don't have much to say about it, but I'm glad I've picked up a few more of his books recently and am looking forward to reading them all!

The Worthing SagaThe Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally got around to reading this book, which I purchased many years ago after reading Ender's Game. And I'm glad I did. If I could give it 4.5 stars, I would!

The chapters in this book began as short stories all about the same universe, where the invention of Somec allowed people a strange type of immortality -- Somec is a drug that would put people, those who "deserved" it for being rich or famous, into a sleep state for many years in which they would not age a day. The more famous you are, the more sleep you are allowed -- 5 years asleep to one year awake is fairly common. It was originally created for star pilots to allow them to sleep during the long journey through space without aging, but made its way through the population.

And yet, this story is not REALLY about Somec. The first ... two thirds or so of this book focus on Jason Worthing, a star pilot with the controversial Swiper ability allowing him to read the minds of others. It is the story of Jason and why he was chosen to help populate a far away planet, and the accident that leads the planet's inhabitants, thousands of years after he reaches that planet, to believe him to be God.

Yes, it has a lot of religious undercurrents, common to Card's writing in general -- but it's done in such a way as to not be pushy. Rather, it's really interesting, and made me think a lot about the parallels to our world's religions. It's a wonderful dystopic novel, and I found myself contemplating a world without pain, or a world where I could fall asleep and wake up many years later without aging a bit. Some of the stories, especially in the second half (backstory) part of the book are horribly sad and really got me all emotional.

Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming SentencesSister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences by Kitty Burns Florey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I was young and complaining about my homework, my mom told me about sentence diagramming. I don't know whether it was supposed to show me how lucky I am that we no longer had to do this task, or if it was supposed to give me renewed interest in my homework. At the time, I found it interesting, though I didn't fully understand why the lines went where and what went on them. I think I may have been a bit too young for the lesson, which crammed a lot of information into a small time period. But I did find it interesting, and occasionally my thoughts would drift back to those confusing lines my mom drew on paper -- mostly because of my love of madlibs, and my peers utter inability to remember what adverbs and adjectives are, or what it means for a verb to take an object.

This book was cute. It gives a neat history of the art of diagramming sentences, and the author's enthusiasm for the task makes the book that much more interesting. It doesn't really teach you -how- to diagram sentences, although it does explain a few things about the shapes and directions of certain lines so that you will understand some of the nuances and situations where sentence diagramming doesn't work all that well. I loved the last chapter, where a modern day teacher is using sentence diagramming as a tool in her classroom. What fun!

It's definitely not the sort of book I'm going to read over and over again, but it was interesting and I learned a few things. And I found the complex, two-page diagrams of real sentences from real authors simply fascinating to follow. My only real complaint is that she describes many instances of "bad grammar" (to show that it is perfectly easy to diagram sentences using incorrect grammar and that sentence diagramming cannot by itself make you a better writer) but she doesn't always explain what is wrong with them. In fact, she almost never does. Now, actually I believe I have a pretty decent grasp on most grammar rules (with the exception of comma usage... though I don't usually take the time to use proper grammar -- too much work and I'm lazy) and probably 80% of her examples I could spot the error. But there were some that looked fine to me and I would love to know what the problems were! And I'm sure there are other people out there (reading the reviews here shows I am right) who also missed some of the "bad grammar" of the examples.

[For example, she describes a situation where E.B. White, another stickler for grammar, asks his granddaughter when she is moving into her new apartment. She replies, "Hopefully, on Tuesday", which causes Mr. White to nearly choke on his lunch. What is so wrong with her answer? I suppose I will never know.

Hi Deana -

Mr. White is very very picky. Hopefully is an adverb. So he will insist that it modify a verb. As in, "She looked hopefully at her teacher, who was about to announce the winner." But he didn't consider hopefully could modify the verb - move - in the sentence mentioned. To move "with hope" sounded funny to him. I'd say he was an awful stickler ! Glad he wasn't my teacher. : )

Love, Mom

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was very interesting, and kind of fascinating. As a story, I didn't much care for it. But then, I don't think that was the point of the book. I do think I liked it, but not for the story. In fact, there wasn't much story - and the "mystery" I had figured out on page 5 or so. Whenever he tells his dad that he is going to do the detective work and figure out who killed the dog.

In some ways, I related to how Christopher thinks about the world. In others (like what he thinks about when he stands in a field) I couldn't relate at all, and found it amazing. His voice came through loud and clear in the writing and though I am not autistic I could see the world from another, very strange, point of view. Some of the chapters flat out ignored me - complete non-sequiters that had no relation to anything that came before or after, like the chapter about God... which was really interesting actually and I've had similar thoughts. But it didn't belong there. Then again, maybe that's how an autistic person's brain works.

I found it incredibly strange that the word "autistic" never appears in the book, or any variant of it. I found it especially strange that no one mentioned it to the police officer, and I wondered if the old lady who told Christopher about his mother knew. Speaking of his mother, I really did not like her character, but obviously I can't go into details without spoiling the book. But I hated that she took the easy way out and just left the father with a disabled son. And she obviously wasn't too smart...

The father, yes, he did some horrible things - but I think if I were to live with someone like Christopher day-in and day-out I might end up doing some horrible things too. Christopher was made to be fairly likeable in this book - I empathized and sympathized with him and really liked him as a character, but to be honest, I'm sure that's only because the book is told from his point of view, and he doesn't find himself annoying. He glosses over "I did the groaning" in a single sentence for something that took hours. If the book had been told from the point of view of the police officer, or his father, or the nice lady on the subway who tries to help him and he pulls a knife on her, or any of the people in the store where they try to buy pajamas and he ends up rolling around on the ground screaming and groaning, I think perhaps people might feel differently about him.

But I hope this book has opened some people's eyes and helped them be less judgmental when they see such children in their own lives.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

# 12 Mister Pip

Mister Pip

Lloyd Jones

When Matilda is 13, revolution strikes the island where she lives.

After the school was forced to close, Mr. Watts, the only white person left on the island, re-opens the school, though he has no experience teaching.When he begins to read from Great Expectations, Matilda becomes enthralled with the story of Pip.

As the war progresses, the village, which had remained largely unaffected, is visited in turn by both the rebels and the soldiers. When questioning by the soldiers leads to a misunderstanding directly related to the reading of Great Expectations, tragedy results.

I loved this book, which drew me in from the beginning. I loved the character of Mr. Watts, who, at first was saintly - almost too good to be true. The author did an excllent job of showing him to be less than perfect later in the story, creating a much more well-rounded character.

I've heard a lot of complaints about the ending, but I think it fits beautifully with the transformative theme of Great Expectations. The only weakness I saw was with the character of Matilda's father, as pointed out to me in a discussion with a friend. It felt as though the author, having created the character, didn't know what to do with him. Otherwise, the book and the ending were excellent!

Library reader

Books 9-12 for 2011

12 / 50 books. 22% done!

I didn't account for the way in which going back to school would up my total so quickly!

Book #9 was Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment by Patricia Hill Collins

From Amazon:
In spite of the double burden of racial and gender discrimination, African-American women have developed a rich intellectual tradition that is not widely known. In Black Feminist Thought, originally published in 1990, Patricia Hill Collins set out to explore the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals and writers, both within the academy and without. Here Collins provides an interpretive framework for the work of such prominent Black feminist thinkers as Angela Davis, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde. Drawing from fiction, poetry, music and oral history, the result is a superbly crafted and revolutionary book that provided the first synthetic overview of Black feminist thought and its canon.

My thoughts:  Read this one for my Epistemologies class, but given that it's a classic in Women's Studies, I'm also reading portions of it in at least one other class this semester. The first chapter is a bit dense, but from there it picks up and is very approachable and readable. I like Collins' strategy of examining central themes such as Family, Sexuality, Work, and Controlling Images and the role they play in developing both an epistemology and real-life survival strategies for African-American women (and Black women worldwide). She liberally uses literature, poetry, and other writings by African-American women to illustrate the ways in which narrative is central to the knowledge system she describes. Definitely a must-read for anyone wanting to engage with feminist theory and womanist theory.

Book #10 was The King's Mistress by Emma Campion

From Amazon:
Alice Perrers scholar Campion debuts with a dynamic fictionalization of the life of Alice Salisbury, who, at 14, leaves family and best friend Geoffrey Chaucer behind to marry Janyn Perrers, a prominent merchant who has the patronage of Isabella, the Queen Mother. Alice accustoms herself to the royal lifestyle, grows close to her husband, and bears a daughter. Her happiness is destroyed when royal fortunes shift, Janyn disappears, and Alice is summoned to court by Queen Philippa. To secure her daughter's safety, Alice complies and is quickly drawn into the machinations and extravagance of Edward III's mid-14th-century court, where she captures the king's interest. Campion stays true to the facts of Alice's life as the mistress of Edward III, the mother of his son John, and a successful businesswoman. This is a detailed rendering of Edward III's court, one that provides an empathetic but realistic portrait of a colorful and, if Campion is to be believed, misunderstood woman.

My thoughts: This was a Christmas gift through a community here on LJ, and it was a lovely surprise. I have been on a Tudor streak for about  three years, as anyone who reads me here knows. It was nice to get into a period I know next to nothing about. Campion provides a helpful list of the characters, which is especially helpful to someone like me who can't keep her Plantagenets straight. I found myself looking up historical information on Alice Perrers to compare to the story -- that's a mark of a very compelling historical novel for me -- and I found myself even dreaming about her. This story is gripping, rich, textured, and haunting. I could literally not put it down. I will be interested to see what Campion offers next.

Book #11 was Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee

From Amazon:
This novel relates both the odyssey and the metamorphosis of a young immigrant from rural India. Her story is often shocking: the violence of the rape that greets her on her first night in America is certainly no greater than that of the crazed Sikh extremists who made her a widow at age 17 in India. Yet neither the character nor her story is held back by this violence. Along the way Jaze acquires three children, including Du, a Vietnamese boy who like herself is an immigrant. Finally, still only in her early twenties, Jaze takes off to pursue her own version of the American dream. The novel has a delicious humor and sexiness that make it a treat to read. The author is this year's winner of the National Book Critics Circle fiction award for The Middleman and Other Stories ( LJ 6/1/88).

My thoughts: My sweetheart gave me a copy of this book as part of an exchange we did of "5 books that have impacted me most" when we first started dating, but I hadn't gotten to it yet. Then it kept being referenced in my readings for my Women of Color Theory class. So I pulled it off the shelf. It is a beautiful book but it is one of the most brutal reads I've had in a while. Mukherjee does not spare the reader -- she takes you right into the world that Jasmine negotiates as a young woman in India and then an illegal immigrant to the United States. It's a compelling read, and in spite of the ugliness in its pages, it's a gorgeous, textured, sensual, and moving read.

Book #12 was This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust

From Amazon:
Battle is the dramatic centerpiece of Civil War history; this penetrating study looks instead at the somber aftermath. Historian Faust (Mothers of Invention) notes that the Civil War introduced America to death on an unprecedented scale and of an unnatural kind—grisly, random and often ending in an unmarked grave far from home. She surveys the many ways the Civil War generation coped with the trauma: the concept of the Good Death—conscious, composed and at peace with God; the rise of the embalming industry; the sad attempts of the bereaved to get confirmation of a soldier's death, sometimes years after war's end; the swelling national movement to recover soldiers' remains and give them decent burials; the intellectual quest to find meaning—or its absence—in the war's carnage. In the process, she contends, the nation invented the modern culture of reverence for military death and used the fallen to elaborate its new concern for individual rights. Faust exhumes a wealth of material—condolence letters, funeral sermons, ads for mourning dresses, poems and stories from Civil War–era writers—to flesh out her lucid account. The result is an insightful, often moving portrait of a people torn by grief. Photos. (Jan. 10)

My thoughts: I heard an interview with Faust on NPR's "Fresh Air" when this book first came out, and have been waiting to read it. Faust is an engaging writer and she manages to present a wealth of information in a way that the average reader can approach it. While her scholarly rigor cannot be faulted, Faust has created a book that will appeal to the professional academic and the armchair history buff alike. Not to mention the fact that her subject matter is, quite simply, fascinating. Death is one of the few human universals, but the ways in which we deal with it are so myriad -- it's amazing, for instance, that not long ago death was the province of the family, and it wasn't until World War I that there was a requirement for US soldiers to wear dogtags. Faust paints the tale of those who died and often lay unburied -- in one case until 1996! -- on battlefields, of families searching for the missing, of thousands of unnamed dead, of the attempts to observe the niceties of the Good Death in the midst of unimaginable horror. Matthew Brady and Alexander Gardner photographs bring the images home across the 140 years since the Civil War. At times this book is not for the weak-stomached, but it is a must for any Civil War history enthusiast.
El Corazon

28. Death in the Afternoon; 29. The Third Part of King Henry the Sixth; 30. The Bookman's Wake

Death in the Afternoon
by Ernest Hemingway

Started: February 22, 2011
Finished: February 28, 2011

Bullfighting is a subject I could care less about, but that's the beauty of Hemingway in this book. He writes with such love and understanding of the subject that I now want to go see a real bullfight in Spain. 487 pages. Grade: A-
The Third Part of King Henry the Sixth
by William Shakespeare

Started: February 5, 2011
Finished: February 28, 2011

This is the first Shakespeare play in a while that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Intriguing plot, interesting characters, some great lines. Maybe it just took me till this third play to really get into these characters and story. 29 pages. Grade: A-
The Bookman's Wake
by John Dunning

Started: February 22, 2011
Finished: February 28, 2011

I think I enjoyed this just as much as the first Cliff Janeway mystery. It was a good story. I like how Dunning does such a good job of showing what goes into making a truly great book. 351 pages. Grade: A
Total # of books read in 2011: 30
Total # of pages read in 2011: 7,560