Friday, February 26, 2016
This was one of the rare books I first found browsing in a bookstore. Rare in that I hadn't heard any of my Booktube friends mention. Trying to save money, I put it down. A few months later, Jen Campbell talked about it on her YouTube channel. I was sold. All the editions of the cover are beautiful, but I love the design of this particular one. The cover, deckle edges of the pages, and the french flaps are stunning.
This is a quietly haunting read about mental illness, extreme survivalist practices, and the lies we tell ourselves and our family. It also highlights the weird dichotomy of children. A generalization from the book and my own limited experience: while they often have seemingly endless questions about the mundane, in terms of food and safety they blindly trust. This unswerving loyalty is present in Peggy, who at eight years old is taken into the woods for a "vacation" with her dad while her mom is playing a concert in Germany. She ends up staying in the forest for nine years. The reader flips back and forth from present day 1985 to her departure with her dad James and their solitary experience over the years.
The ending is quite thought provoking, and obviously trauma abounds. However, for a lot of the novel I didn't have feelings one way or the other- and I'm not sure why. I was disgusted by her dark circumstances, but felt mildly disconnected. Perhaps it was the monotony of their days that made me feel a bit desensitized. I can't think of anything I would have had the author change. Monotony is realistic, and her coping mechanisms seemed accurate as well. I feel like my rating might change over time, since this is a book that I won't soon forget. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for this author's future work.
I'm a privileged white girl in my 30's. I'm blessed beyond measure and have never experienced prejudice of any kind. That in itself can feel shameful, and only through reading the struggles of others who are different (racially, culturally) can we learn and increase empathy.
It feels silly to review certain memoirs, this being one. We all have our own thoughts to differentiate a review, but it's hard to adequately discuss the importance of this memoir. Instead, here are some notes that struck me as I was reading. Angelou's character study is impeccable. When discussing a respected peer: "Anyone, I reckoned, sufficiently afraid or sufficiently dull could be polite. But to be able to operate at a top level with both adults and children was admirable."(pg 170). So true!
The sense of solidarity was powerful. As outsiders, the black community had to take care of their own. One might think that oppressed people would be introverted and concerned only about their own families. This isn't the case in her small Arkansas town. Friends and neighbors make the graduating kids their pride and joy. Going beyond the usual parties and food, garments are made and homemade gifts shared.
The tent revival was an informative look at status and belief. "People whose history and future were threatened each day by extinction considered that it was only by divine intervention that they were able to live at all. I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God's will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate speed." (pg. 118 in my edition). Wow.
One of my favorite parts was Maya's joy in finding an unexpected friendship in Mrs. Flowers. Finding someone outside of your own family who likes you is a wonderful coming-of-age experience. I was also humbled by the thankfulness and humility her people had, when it would be easy to live in a blind rage over the injustice of it all.
While I expected to be furious and heartbroken at times for her plight (and I was!), I was also surprised at the joy and strength found in her childhood journey. The ignorant white people who sneer at her as she attempts to procure her first job wouldn't have the resourcefulness she was forced to learn in order to change her situation. This memoir ends rather abruptly when Angelou is sixteen, so I would definitely be interested in reading her further memoirs and poetry. I'm sure this is just a small taste of her genius.
Thursday, February 18, 2016
I was looking for running inspiration for my two half marathons this year. I also needed to read this before the sequel on my shelves, Again to Carthage. After receiving it from interlibrary loan, I excitedly began reading. I was a little letdown. I believe the blurbs overhyped it a tad with the promises of "best novel ever written about running" and also that it could "inspire a couch potato to run". Both are lofty statements and didn't quite hit the mark for me.
I think this is relatable to a small group of super elite competitive runners who are all-consumed with achieving excellence in this field. The anecdotes of eccentric characters, the breaking down phenomenon, the runner's high, and self-care were interesting from an outsider perspective, but most was truly insider baseball (perfectly phrased by David's The Poptimist's review on Goodreads). I love the feeling and joy that comes after a long run, and I also love a challenge. I was looking forward to vicariously experiencing the power of feet pounding the pavement, and not as interested in the reading about seconds shaved off a mile. I understand this is just a reader preference, and not a fault of the book. This was more technical training, male group dynamics, and commentary on the good ol' boy network of a college campus in the 1970's.
Parker was discussing odd behaviors and personalities that can occasionally come with people who have a singular pursuit, but the style was slightly snarky and show off-y. I tried really hard to connect to the runners and their endeavors, but there seemed to be a wall I couldn't get past (like Andrea, Cassidy's girlfriend in the book!) I'm going to give this three stars because I do think it has value to a select few, but not for this amateur runner. I would definitely be curious to hear what regular marathoners and ultra-marathoners think of this work.
Sunday, February 14, 2016
I was supposed to read this book last year as part of my failed Booktuber Recommends Project, wherein I requested twelve booktubers recommend me a novel. I would then read one a month over the course of a year. If you're reading this Michael, I'm sorry! I'm slowly making my way through that list now. I have read Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry series and was anxious to see how this would compare.
Since this is my fourth of Kay's works, I have to say that I wouldn't recommend him as a place to start for Fantasy. I find the worlds beautiful and detailed, but often dense and sometimes grandiose. The Gods, Goddesses, and fates can be a little overwhelming. If you are willing to put lots of concentration into your reading, you will be rewarded.
There were interludes I found unnecessary, only to realize that Kay quite intentionally placed them there for a purpose in the masterful ending. I'm lucky enough to have the ten year anniversary edition. In the Afterword, Kay discusses his influences, references, and themes. The intensity of memory, love of family, the meaning of a culture, and the emotional toll of war are such themes. Kay highlights that most people are not wholly good or bad, but both in varying degrees. The relationship between Brandin of Ygrath and Dionarra was perfectly developed, and showed that the line between love and hate can be thin indeed.
While I was lukewarm for the first 100 pages, my awe grew at the unraveling of the story. Kay's endings are extremely strong, with the conclusions appropriate and meaningful. Kay discusses his surprise at the strands of the story coming together in the way they did, feeling like fate. I think this deserves to be a classic of Fantasy. We can learn so much from about human nature and honor, as well as a slew of other life lessons from these high fantasy elements.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
I snatched this up from the library upon Rachel from the YouTube channel Shades of Orange's recommendation. We both have love Caroline Kepnes' thriller You, which was published in 2015. I figured I would sandwich this in between that and the follow up release of Kepnes' Hidden Bodies later this month.
This story focuses on Sheila Tao, a soon to be married sex addict who breaks off relations with her grad student assistant, Ethan. The affair lasted a mere three months. Needless to say, this does not go well for Sheila. The writing was okay, but I felt a little let down by the "creep" factor of Ethan. Is he evil and twisted? Yes. However, it's so blatant that it lacked nuance for me. Joe (the main character in You), was pathological and truly believed he was justified in taking certain actions. The rationale in the Kepnes books, and plot in general, was quite a bit stronger. Reading this suffered because of my constant comparison to Kepnes, which I gave five stars and hold in quite high esteem.
There was a nice little twist that added some entertainment, and I appreciated the last page or so. The majority of the ending felt highly unrealistic. I don't think this thriller blows anything out of the water, and it didn't help that I wasn't rooting for the victim or her boyfriend. I know we were supposed to feel sympathetic to their circumstances, but I frankly found them gross and pathetic. Tao ignores all her training as a PSYCHOLOGIST and falls deeply for a truly, and obviously deranged man. However, this is a mostly okay, quick read. Perfect between long, dense novels or for a readathon.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
I finally read Fangirl!!!! While this is my third of Rowell's works, this seemed to receive the most unanimous praise from my peers. I loved Eleanor & Park, and thought Landline was okay. I really enjoy this author's signature style. I know what kind of writing I'm going to get, and it's nice to enjoy consistency every once in awhile. Simple, fun, engaging dialogue is one of her specialties.
I like the cultural references that pop in and out of the story. A conversation over the comfort and unabashed appeal of Uggs in Nebraska was one such scene, as well as the dining hall scenes that brought back a lot of memories from my time at Virginia Tech. Rowell does a superb job of including a sweet, but manic father figure. His job in advertising provided fun banter, with serious touches included. As for Cath, I found her often too whiny, and Levi was a little unrealistic in his ardent devotion...but still cute.
I'm sure this is an unpopular opinion among die-hard fans of this book, but I didn't connect to the interspersed sections of Carry On with Simon and Baz, nor Cath's fanfiction. I know this was necessary to the subject of the story, but it pulled me out of Cath's actual life, which I preferred. I did enjoy the sweet parts where Cath read to Levi...what a great love language for avid readers.
I connected to this story in reverse. I was social in college, but feel introverted now that I'm older. This is partly due to stage of life with small children and being a stay at home mom, but I found the irony interesting. Again, this was a fun and simple story that went exactly as I expected. I was a little curious at the ending. It seemed to just taper off and stop. I've never heard anyone else discuss this, perhaps Carry On was already a known follow up at the time of this one's publication? I think this book will delight all Rainbow Rowell fans, and isn't a bad place to start. Eleanor & Park is still my firm favorite.