Book Review – The People of the Book

Wow – Geraldine Brooks has so far not disappointed me. Mind you, I’ve only read Year of Wonders and this one so far.

This book touched me in very different ways. I loved the writing. I thought the language was wonderful, and I really enjoyed the story for the share narrative joy of it.

But more than that, this book put into a novel what I feel about books in general. The premise of the novel is that of a manuscript scholar studying an ancient book (or manuscript). She finds clues in the manuscript that correspond to vignettes in the novel. It is a testament to Brooks’ writing that I usually forgot about the overall story when I was reading vignettes. That’s how much she pulled me in. We are taken to Spain in 1492, to Venice at the end of the Inquisition, and to the mountains outside Sarajevo during World War II. With a deft stroke of her pen, Brooks brings to life characters that are immortalized in the manuscript her main character is studying.

And the vignettes corresponding with the microscopic pieces of evidence illustrate soooo well why I love a hand-held book so much better than a Kindle. The history, the love, the triumph , the heartache that is attached to this volume is amazing. What potential is there for that in an electronic copy? How can an electronic copy ever convey the drama attached to a reader’s experience when reading the work?

If you love books, if you love mother-daughter drama, if you love a good coming-of-self novel for women, this is a MUST read.

Hell, even if you hate all those things, you should read it anyway. For the joy of the Book.

These Books Were Made for Walking – February 2009

So, it’s already the third Wednesday of the month (well in some parts of the world … not here, here it’s still Tuesday!). I was thrilled with the response that my little idea received last week! Thanks to all of you who contributed. I really don’t care if you arrive late to the party, as long as you come … leave a comment with a link to your post to let me and others know what gems there are to read out there.

Just to refresh our memories … I am inviting you on the 3rd Wednesday of every month to think about a topic that has to do with books and travel. So, here is the topic for this month:

Is there a place that you have always dreamed of visiting specifically because of a book you read? It can be any kind of book: fiction, non-fiction, travelogue, you name it. If you have been to the place, did it live up to your expectations? If you haven’t been, do you think you’ll ever make it there?

My own reply:

I actually found this much more difficult to answer than I was expecting when I wrote the question. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now. I’ve thought of a lot of places I really want to visit, but not really any one book that would sum it up. But I have picked one to illustrate my point!

When I first read this book I started totally longing to go to St. Petersburg and Russia in general. Anna captivated me when I was 16 – my heart broken into a thousand pieces for her. The tragedy is just exquisite! And I was mesmerized by Anna’s world. Imagine the beautiful homes you could see there. The problem, of course, is that that St. Petersburg and that Russia does not exist anymore. So, what I would really like, I suppose, is to time travel and see the Russia as it was in the 1800’s. Imperial Russia. I think it must have been spectacular.

And this problem has repeated itself in many of the books I thought of: Shogun for example. I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to for one day visit Japan in the 1600’s … not as a peasant of course. But again, that would be time travel. Modern day Japan doesn’t fascinate me at all.

I do, however, still want to go to Russia. I would love to see the Winter Palace:

And walk grand staircases such as these:

Then maybe, just maybe, I could imagine that I really had done a bit of time travel … it worked for a few magical moments in Versailles, so why not here?

For now, it will probably have to be a dream. Russia is way, way down on hubbie’s wishlist. And it doesn’t seem like the safest place to go at the moment. But, maybe someday ….

Weekly Geeks – The Classics

I have decided to start participating in Weekly Geeks. This week has to do with Classic literature … the topic explanation is rather long, so if you’re interested in reading it, let me point you there.

I think I have always loved the ‘classics’. The first I remember really LOVING was Wuthering Heights. The tale of passion between Heathcliff and Catherine is heart-wrenching. The depth of feeling that Emily Bronte portrays between the two is amazing. I think it determined for me what real love should feel like. A lot of people don’t get past the first few chapters of the novel. They are a little difficult to get past, but believe me, as soon as you get past them to the real story of Catherine and Heathcliff, it is definitely worth it!

A little later, I read A Tale of Two Cities, which in my opinion is Charles Dickens’s best work. It has all the right ingredients: it is set in a turbulent time in history (the French Revolution), it is a wonderful love story, and, like most of my all-time favorite novels, it makes me cry every time. Anyone with a romantic soul should read it. I love it so much that I actually own a first edition, first issue copy. The first edition, first issue has misprinted page numbers. Page 213 is misnumbered 113.

I’m always on the lookout for a first edition of Wuthering Heights as well. They’re always extremely expensive, but one day I’ll find one I just cannot resist.

I by no means read ONLY classics. I think the last one I read must have been a reread of Macbeth at some point last year. These days, I read mostly ‘literary fiction’, which I suppose is what the ‘classics’ were once upon a time. After all, what defines a classic? Is it simply something that is old? Or is it literature that has timeless value? If someone told me they only read the classics, that’s the argument I would make. And then I would hand them Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and dare them to tell me that that is not a classic! It may have been written in the last few decades, but it is nothing short of marvelous!

I also want to thank Marg for reminding me that I REALLY have to read Mr. Pip!! It’s been on my list for far too long now!

Teaser Tuesday and Third Culture Kids

It’s Tuesday, and here are the rules:

Grab your current read Let the book fall open to a random page Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!


*** Do NOT post anything that could spoil the plot of the book!!! ***

And here is my teaser, coming from page 217:

“Under the stress of raising kids in settings markedly different from their own upbringings, parents often go to extremes.”

The book is “Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds” by David C. Pollock & Ruth E. Van Reken.

I have to thank my high school friend Eric for bringing the book to my attention. I would not normally read ‘psychology’ texts, or child rearing texts, but this one is a ‘must’ for me. I am probably what can be classified as a third culture kid. It can most simply be defined as someone who grows up in a culture that is not the culture their parents identify with. Expat kids that become attached to the community they grow up in rather than the community their parents call ‘home’.

I’m only a little ways into the book, but I already think it will be very interesting. And anyone who is a parent to a third culture kid should probably consider reading it!

What’s on Your Nightstand?

So, 5 Minutes for Books asks What’s On Your Nightstand? on the fourth Tuesday of every month.

There’s a handy little view of my own nightstand there. Essential lip balm, water glass, Ipod, and books.

It’s actually a week old this picture … I took it while I remembered to prepare for this post, which is why The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is on there, even though I have actually finished it.

There is Snow by Orhan Pamuk, who won the Nobel Prize for literature. The award is admittedly why I have bought the novel. It keeps sliding further down my pile though, as I’ve tried the first 3 pages and it hasn’t gripped me yet. Obviously three pages isn’t enough to speak intelligently about it, so that will have to wait.

Next is Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, which is next on my list actually. I have really enjoyed Ghosh’s previous books, especially The Hungry Tide. From what I’ve understood, this one is the first of a trilogy, but can have accessibility issues. Can’t wait to start it.

The next two are for when I’m feeling intelligent. The first is After Theory by Terry Eagleton, which my darling sister got me for my birthday. Reminds me of my post-grad university days. Just as was the case when I was at university, however, I always liked the IDEA of reading theory so much better than actually doing it, so I usually manage only a few pages at a time.

Criminal Law is a throwback to law school days, and I really really enjoy it. Usually I pick up a passage or two to read when I get annoyed by the increasing amount of criminalization going on in society. I read some Criminal Law theory to confirm my suspicions and shore up my opinion, which makes me feel better – or worse – all depending on how angry and worked up I get.

Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell has been on the bottom of my pile for a very long time. I’ve read a few chapters, but I had a really hard time with it. It seemed very contrived to me. It’s still on my nightstand and not in my unread books shelf though, so it still has a chance.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Or, if translated directly from the Swedish, “Men who Hate Women” – by Stieg Larsson.

This is an out of the ordinary mystery/suspense novel. It should, however, please readers who do not normally read that genre, as well as those who do. It is very well developed, the characters have a great depth and originality, and it is certainly not one-dimensional.

The mystery is set in a village in Sweden. While the main action takes place in 2K, the plot stretches back into the the 20th century, centering around Harriet Vanger’s disappearance in 1966. That’s about all of the plot I’m willing to give away … suffice it to say that there is no shortage of surprises, intrigue, and probing into the human psyche. Do not, however, expect a thrill ride from the very beginning. The story is allowed to simmer slowly, making the ending all the more delicious!

I did have issues with the translation at times. I found the English awkward far too frequently for a truly great translation. As a native Scandinavian speaker, it was easy for me to see where the translation had been much too literal and word for word – often taking the easy way out instead of searching for a better English phrasing. And it really annoys me when titles are changed to the degree that they are in this one. The original Swedish title is a direct quote from the novel … and the English language title shifts the emphasis of the novel completely.

That being said, I loved it, and towards the end I definitely couldn’t put it down. I’m looking forward to reading the second in the series.

Brilliant Book Cover!

This is hands-down the best book cover of the year!! I am not a raving feminist in any sense of the word, but I love this!

Thanks to my friend Monty who shared this with me.

And Muck it certainly is

I have recently had the task of reviewing this memoir by Craig Sherborne. I only have myself to blame, since I chose it myself from a list of options – and I was enticed by someone the publisher had dragged in who said that it was a ‘masterpiece’. Well, masterpiece ain’t what it used to be.
The book is a memoir – set in Sydney where Sherborne lives and goes to a swanky private school. And it is also set on a ‘large’ dairy farm in New Zealand, where the family spends their holidays building a legacy for the family. Here, they manage to antagonize a whole community by flaunting their wealth and looking down their noses at the way things are done.
The thing is, the memoir could have been funny. Sherborne’s observations of his parents, Feet and The Duke, are achingly scathing and pointed. What stops it from being funny though, is the remembered teenage boy himself. I found that I intensely disliked him. To the point where I really didn’t feel any sympathy for him at all, and his could-have-been funny observations of his family became just petty insults from a spoiled rich kid brat.
Sometimes, if a protagonist is unlikeable, they can redeem themselves in the eyes of their audience by having some sort of pathos – I’m thinking Holden Caufield here – but this guy has none of that. He is just plain unlikeable.
I can’t recommend this book at all – sorry Sherborne, but I kind of thought it was muck.

More Norwegian Literature

I just finished Anne B Ragde’s Berlinerpoplene. It is available as Berlin Poplars in English if you prefer of course! This family drama is not like other family dramas. The story of these three brothers is gripping. It is stark and warm at the same time. Set in the north of Norway on the farm that has been in the family for generations, it weaves a story with unforgettable characters. It is both stark and warm at the same time. Ragde treats her characters with a gentleness that lets them unfurl on the pages in all their strengths and weaknesses. I absolutely loved this book … I think everyone should have it! The link on my Shelfari bookshelf on the left should take you to where you can get a copy.

Out Stealing Horses

A while ago, I said I wanted to read this amazing book. And I was FAR from disappointed … Per Petterson’s novel is truly amazing. I read it in the original Norwegian, but I have heard that Anne Born’s English translation is very worthy. The Independent certainly thought so, awarding it the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for 2006.
The novel is about finding yourself, understanding yourself, and accepting yourself. The story unfolds in Norway, along the border with Sweden, traveling smoothly back and forth in time between the 1940’s and late 1999. Nature has a strong presence, but it does not invade the story.
Mostly it’s Petterson’s economy of language that highlights the depth of feeling in the novel. When Trond moves in his twilight years to an isolated cottage along a river that he expects to make his final home, he runs into someone who evokes memories of his past.
I could not put it down, and it touched me deeply.