As some of you may remember, I started the Books on the Nightstand Summer Book Bingo challenge back in July. Well . . . it’s September now, and let’s face it, with university back in full swing, and work on weekends, the books in my TBR pile will have to get comfortable because they might be there for awhile.
So, after much deliberation, I have decided to throw in the bookmark this year, and say goodbye to the Summer Book Bingo. I mean, after all, summer is long gone now, and I STILL have barely grazed (ha, get it?) the first few chapters of Animal Farm. I definitely want to do this again next summer though, and I’ll start it earlier so I can get in as much summer reading as possible.
Check out my bingo card from this summer:
I didn’t get a single bingo this year, which is a little disappointing, but I still read some amazing books, and it was neat to read books I might not otherwise have reached for, or books that I had sitting in my TBR pile for forever.
If you’re interested in reading any of the posts about the books I did read, I’ve linked them down below:
As I mentioned in my Pre-Paris book haul, I picked up this book because I wanted a lightweight paperback that I could immediately get into, and some of you commented saying I would love this book. Well I did.
Five-year-old Jack was born in Room and has never left. He wakes up in bed with Ma, they have breakfast at Table, use Toilet, have a bath, move Rug off the floor so they can do Phys Ed., have lunch, read books off of Shelf in Rocker, and then have dinner. But Jack must be asleep in Wardrobe by 9, because sometimes Old Nick visits and creaks the bed. But then later Ma will bring Jack into Bed with her.
To Jack, Room is home. But for Ma, it is a garden shed-turned-dungeon that she has been stuck in for six years since Old Nick kidnapped her from the university parking lot at age 19. She has made the best of it, giving birth to Jack on her own, and raising him as best as possible given the circumstances. But Ma knows that one day they will need to escape so Jack can have a normal life and she can finally be free from her captor.
What surprised me most was the effectiveness of having the narrator be a five-year-old child. At first I was skeptical, wondering how such a tragic circumstance could be conveyed through the words of a child, but in fact that is a large part of what made this book so good. Through Jack’s naïve descriptions of daily life and of Old Nick, the horror of the situation is shown from the alternative perspective of a child who knows nothing else.
And now for some facts:
Today I’m five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I’m changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. “Was I minus numbers?”
What I Loved Most: This book is divided into five sections: Presents, Unlying, Dying, After, and Living. Each one of these sections marks a major change in the plot, and helped me to compartmetalize the progression of the story. When I first read the titles of these sections, they made no sense to me, but once I started reading each section, their meanings became clear within the first few pages. Not having chapters was an adjustment, but I found chapters would have chopped up the story too much.
What I Loved Least: At first, I really didn’t like all the grammatical errors, run-on sentences, and sentence fragments, as I found they made the text harder to read and distracted from the story. But as I got more into the book, I found that without these deliberate errors, it would be hard to believe the narrator was a young child, and would have taken away from the naivety on which the narration operates.
Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.
I look back one more time. It’s like a crater, a hole where something happened. Then we go out the door.
Final Thoughts: The New York Times book review said it perfectly: “Thrilling and at moments palm-sweatingly harrowing . . . A truly memorable novel.” It is one of those books you will want to read all in one go, but at the same time you’ll want to pause and think about the power of the noven. Such an amazing read. I would recommend this to anyone.
Next up is George Orwell’s Animal Farm for a book with a non-human main character!!!
I’m sure everyone has experienced this at some point: you start reading a book you’ve heard great things about, or have wanted to read for a long time only to get partway through it and find that it is not nearly as good as you thought it would be, and it is near impossible to get immersed in it. So what do you do?
Many people I know, both avid readers and not, abandon the book, with the logic of “why waste time reading a book you aren’t enjoying when you could switch to a book you’d like better?” That logic makes perfect sense to me but ever the optimist, I like to persevere, thinking that eventually the book will get better. And, if it doesn’t, well then at least I know how the story ends.
But with Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club, the book I had picked to read for Books On The Nightstand’s summer book bingo under the category of a book with only words on the cover, I quit partway through.
The gist of the plot is that Will Schwalbe’s mother is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he and her end up creating an impromptu two-member book club. They recommend books to one another, and discuss them during his mother’s chemo treatments. The story is incredible, but the writing style is so far from what I like reading that it dulled the story for me to the point where I was counting the number of pages left before the next chapter began. While I have stopped reading it for now, I wrote a post-it note with the title of the book and the page number I got to and stuck it on my bookshelf so that I can always go back and try it again.
In order to fill the gap of a book with only words on the cover, I substituted in Room by Emma Donohue, which I mentioned in my Pre-Paris book haul. I read it over the course of my trip, finishing it just yesterday on the plane home, so expect to see a review of that one soon. It is an incredibly powerful novel, and one that I would have read in one sitting if I could have, but the plane ride over wasn’t long enough.
So, my question of the day is what book did you start reading but didn’t finish???
Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you have a lovely day 🙂 🙂
Out of all the books published in 2015 thus far, I feel like, hands down, this one has generated the most hub-bubb amongst readers, both avid and less so.
The controversy around this novel comes from whether this long-lost manuscript can be considered a new novel by Harper Lee, or whether it is simply an interesting read to see what the story of To Kill a Mockingbird started out as.
Some people took the release quite well and just accepted the book for what it was; others are not taking it so well. For instance, as reported yesterday by The Guardian, the bookstore Brilliant Books in Michigan is offering refunds to its customers who purchased Go Set a Watchman, because they feel the book should not have been marketed as a new novel, bur rather as a source of insight into Harper Lee’s development as a writer, and the development of the story of TKAM. Click here if you would like to read The Guardian‘s full article.
This novel was written in the 1950s, and is what can be called the first draft of TKAM. Throughout this book, there are countless flashbacks to Scout’s childhood in Maycomb, and her editor advised her to focus on these rather than on Scout’s adult self. And so TKAM was born with the youthful Scout as narrator.
This novel takes place in Maycomb County, Alabama with a 26-year-old Jean Louise “Scout” Finch returning from New York to visit her aging father, Atticus. Many of the TKAM characters are in this book, including Henry Clinton and Calpurnia, though I will say that one of the major characters is dead early on, which upset me some, but I can’t really be mad since this character was dead in this version before he/she was alive in TKAM. The plot of this novel deals with the shock and anger that overcomes Scout when she learns of her father’s racist views toward Negroes. For many readers, I think this is what shocked them the most: reading that the heroic Atticus Finch who defended an African-American man in a rape case in TKAM could actually be a bigot.
Despite various responses to the new novel, Go Set a Watchman has been a number one bestseller since its release, and I think it deserves it. Going in, I knew that this book was not meant to be a sequel or anything like that, so I read it pretending like TKAM didn’t exist.
And now for a few factual tidbits:
Since Atlanta, she had looked out the dining-car window with a delight almost physical. Over her breakfast coffee, she watched the last of Georgia’s hills recede and the red earth appear, and with it tin-roofed houses set in the middle of swept yards, and in the yards the inevitable verbena grew, surrounded by whitewashed tires. She grinned when she saw her first TV antenna atop an unpainted Negro house; as they multiplied, her joy rose.
What I Loved Most: From reading this book long after TKAM, I found that the characters are almost richer and have more depth. Rarely do readers have a chance to get to know characters from such widespread ages, but with more than 20 years between Scout in TKAM and Jean Louise in GSAW, it is incredible to see how the youthful Scout developed from her older counterpart, and how her flashbacks into childhood were edited to become Scout’s account of how things happened.
What I Loved Least: Maybe it was just me, but I noticed a few weird grammatical errors and typos and such. I know that this is an early draft, and is not meant to be a polished novel, but even drafts are edited so things like this don’t slip in.
As sure as time, history is repeating itself, and as sure as man is man, history is the last place he’ll look for his lessons.
She went around the car, and as she slipped under the steering wheel, this time she was careful not to bump her head.
Final Thoughts: If you take away nothing else from this post, please remember that if you are going to read this book, read it for what it is, not for what it isn’t. If you start the first page thinking that it won’t be as good because it’s not TKAM, you will be right. It won’t be TKAM and it’s not supposed to be. It is just a super interesting way to see how the story developed, where Harper Lee made changes, etc. If you read it with that in mind, it is actually a very well-told story that still has a lot of powerful messages about racism in the South in it.
Next up is The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe for a novel with only words on the cover!!!
I picked this up at Chapters a while back off the award-winners table, but never really gave it much attention. I am awful at this, but sometimes I write off award-winning books as being too dense or heavy for a nice, light read. I mean, come on, if they win something as big as the Man Booker Prize, chances are the plot isn’t simply girl meets boy, girl loves boy, they fight a little, but then live happily every after. You know the story has to have some depth and a new perspective on the ordinary, which sometimes takes me longer to wade through, because I want to understand every word of it. But this novella is actually incredible, and not nearly as daunting as I made it out to be. Ha, and at only 150 pages, I figured I could make it.
This novella is divided into two parts. The first chronicles Tony Webster’s journey through sixth form, his friendship with the brilliant mystery Adrian Finn, and the failure of his first relationship with fellow university student Veronica. The second part takes place forty years later, when Tony receives a solicitor’s letter informing him that he has been left Adrian’s diary in a will. Because of this, Tony is forced to examine his life, and analyze the accuracy of his youthful memories, as his relationship with Veronica is reopened, a relationship he had chosen to erase from the memories of his life. This book largely focuses on the importance of documentation because, as Tony repeatedly states, corroboration is vital for assessing the truthfulness of subjective memory.
What I found really interesting about this novella is the development of Tony as a character. While many of us seek to be unique and stand out, Tony accepts that he is ordinary, and in some cases it can be argued that he is satisfied with being so. He has led a successful life in that he had a good career with a good retirement, a good marriage with a good-natured divorce, and a daughter, Susie, whom he escorted into the domestic safety of marriage. All in all, his life has gone ok. But “I had wanted life not to bother me too much, and had succeeded,” says Tony, because he knows his life should have been more than just ok. As the sense of his own ending begins to approach, Tony recognizes that the purpose of life is to help us come to terms with its consequent loss, i.e. life is meant to show us that it is not nearly as great and wonderful as we thought it would be when we were young.
Overall, this book is a wonderful rumination on memory, aging, and remorse, and one that I feel I cannot fully relate to yet. When reading the first part, I found it very easy to connect to Tony as he discussed how he believed his emotions should be like those of characters he read about in literature, and how he wondered if he had ever really been in love with Veronica. Those are emotions that make sense to me, because they are felt by all young people at some point. In youth, we map out our futures as being grand lives filled with adventure. However, when reading the second part, I was often left slightly confused, because the sense of my ending is still off in the distance. As a young adult who is still in my “I am invincible and the world is my oyster” phase, I have yet to have reflections on memory and aging of the same nature as those of Tony Webster. I definitely want to read this book again and again every few years, because I know it will be one of those books where I change my opinion of it and see something new in the story every time I read it.
Now for some nifty novella notes:
I remember, in no particular order:
-a shiny inner wrist;
– steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;
– gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall house;
– a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;
– another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;
– bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door;
This last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.
What I Loved Most: The brevity of this novella in no way compromises the potency of the themes. It may be short, but every sentence is precious, and adds a deeper level of understanding.
What I Loved Least: This is not a critique of the novella itself, but rather a critique of novellas as a whole: their length. Admittedly, I love novellas for the powerful messages they can convey in such a limited number of pages, but this also means that each page and each sentence is all the more important, and should be read with a focused mind, ready to make connections. Unfortunately, I read this book in several choppy sittings, when it deserved a read in one sitting with a cup of hot chocolate perched on a nearby table.
History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.
There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest.
Final Thoughts: Simply put, this is an amazing novel. There is no doubt in my mind why it won the 2011 Man Booker Prize, and I hope to re-read it again in years to come to better understand the second part, as Tony questions the veracity of his memories of his youth.
Next up isHarper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman for a book published in 2015!!!
Finding a romance or love story was actually a bit of a challenge for me, as the majority of by bookshelves house the brain children of authors like Stephen King and Margaret Atwood; not much romance to be found. It turns out I bought this book back in January (January 19th, to be exact, at 5:09pm), and it has been sitting in my TBR pile ever since. Luckily it fit the bill quite nicely.
This little novel is set in the late 1990s–ah, youth– and is told from a very unique perspective. 28-year-old Lincoln O’Neil is hired by The Courier, a local newspaper, for an Internet Security job. Much to his surprise, he learns that his job is to read other people’s email, and write a report every time an email triggers the filter. But why does he not report Jennifer Scribner-Snyder and Beth Fremont for their flagged personal emails? Because their emails are smart and funny, and maybe Lincoln is falling for Beth . . .
Every second chapter or so is the newest flagged email correspondence between Jennifer Scribner-Snyder and Beth Fremont that Lincoln is reading “for work.” Typically, the following chapter is then Lincoln’s reaction to the emails, as well as insight into his personal life.
This novel is the first written by Rainbow Rowell, and it is so impressive how authentic her characters are, while also being extremely likable. Lincoln is the kind of guy that I think many girls would want to read about; he’s geeky and cute, but has a huge heart.
This book may be contemporary adult fiction and have countless cute elements, but elements of sadness are just as abundant. Lincoln happens to hate his job, has moved back home with his mother, and his Dungeons & Dragons campaign members and friends all have families and independent lives. He wants to escape it all, but how can he? And how can he tell Beth how he feels about her when he’s never even met her?
Now for some little tidbits about the book:
From: Jennifer Scribner-Snyder
To: Beth Fremont
Sent: Wed, 08/18/1999 9:06 AM
Subject: Where are you?
Would it kill you to get here before noon? I’m sitting here among the shards of my life as I know it, and you . . . if I know you, you just woke up. You’re probably eating oatmeal and watching Sally Jessy Raphael. E-mail me when you get in, before you do anything else. Don’t even read the comics.
What I Loved Most: This novel is a cute, modern twist on love at first sight. Love at first email is a wonderful, modern chronicle of how love can be found through many mediums. With Facebook and Omegle and dating sites galore, meeting true love through technology is becoming more and more common. But back in the 1990s, I’m sure it was almost unheard-of.
What I Loved Least: At first I was irked that the chapters kept alternating between email format and then normal paragraphs from Lincoln’s perspective, but as I continued reading, I came to really like it, and found that it enhanced the uniqueness of the story.
“I didn’t know love could leave the lights on all the time.”
Closing Paragraph: I’m actually not going to share this one because it kind of gives away what I think is the cutest element of the novel. So you’ll just have to read the book yourself to find out this one 🙂 🙂
Final Thoughts: This is just a cute little easy read: perfect for a day at the beach or to pass by the miles of a road trip. But now I want to read Eleanor and Park more than ever. Added to the TBR list.
Next up is The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes for A Booker Prize winner (or made the short list)!!!
This might be kind of cheating, since I think the prompt of “set in another country” was meant to inspire me to read a book by a European or Middle Eastern author, but technically the United States is a different country, and I was dying (no pun intended) to read this book.
For some, high school is about getting the best grades possible to get into a good college; for others, it is about having the most friends and attaining a popular status. For Greg Gaines, high school is about remaining at the periphery of everything, gaining access to every social group, while not being actually friends with anyone in those groups; just civil and pleasant enough to not make any enemies. During his first day of senior year at Benson High School in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Greg lays out a plan for remaining at the fringe of every social group. The plan works pretty well, until he gets home and his mom tells him that his childhood friend Rachel Kushner, i.e. the girl he met in sixth grade at Hebrew school that he talked to to make Leah Katzenberg jealous and then invented numerous funny excuses to not hang out with her, has acute myelogenous leukemia. His mother thinks Greg should visit her, because she thinks he could cheer her up. And so the random friendship of Greg and Rachel begins. Also, Earl is this guy who Greg thinks of as less of a friend and more of a co-worker: they make parodies of classic movies together. Earl ends up befriending Rachel too.
What I love about this book is the conversational, first-person narrative. It isn’t until the epilogue of the novel that the reader learns why Greg is writing the book about how he came to know Rachel, but the story sounds as though Greg just sat in front of his computer and decided to crank out a book about everything that happened in his final year of high school, which is the entire premise of the book. I found the writing to be so believable, and relatable, without all the philosophical waxing or existential pondering that usually seeps into young adult novels to show that teenagers can have deep thoughts too. It’s just the story of a character and his life, told as though you might be interested in it, but maybe you won’t be, and that’s ok too.
“When you convert a good book to a film. stupid things happen,” writes Greg Gaines, but I highly doubt that happened with the movie adaptation of this novel, which hit theaters in the US on June 15, 2015, but hopefully it’s already playing in your city, or it will be soon. It turns out that the author of the book, Jesse Andrews, also wrote the film adaptation of the novel, which means that the movie should closely follow the visions the author had of the characters and such. I made sure to go out and get this book ASAP so I could read it before I watched the movie, but knowing the author played a huge role in the film adaptation, it feels less necessary. If you’re interested, below is the trailer 🙂 🙂
Now for my little random facts:
I have no idea how to write this stupid book. Can I just be honest with you for one second? This is the literal truth. When I first started writing this book, I tried to start it with the sentence “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I genuinely thought that I could start this book that way. I just figured, it’s a classic book-starting sentence. But then I couldn’t even figure out how you were supposed to follow that up. I stared at the computer for an hour and it was all I could do not to have a colossal freak-out. In desperation, I tried messing with the punctuation and italicization, like: It was the best of times? And it was the worst of times?!! What the hell does that even mean? Why would you even think to do that? You wouldn’t, unless you had a fungus eating your brain, which I guess I probably have.
What I Loved Most: The bluntness of Greg Gaines’ narrative, and the no-nonsense way he explains his past, and how elements of his past feed into the present story he is trying to tell.
What I Loved Least: There is an awful lot of profanity used throughout this book. I’m not naïve to think that teenagers make it through high school without these words coming out of their mouths at some point, but it seemed like a bit much. I would have liked for these words to have been peppered throughout the story when the situation demanded, like to add emphasis of frustration or complete lack of understanding, but they were littered all over.
There was just something about her dying that I had understood but not really understood, if you know what I mean. I mean, you can know someone is dying on an intellectual level, but emotionally it hasn’t really hit you, and then when it does, that’s when you feel like shit.
I guess I want to write one more thing about Rachel. Rachel died about ten hours after Mom and I left the hospital. She had a weird Jewish funeral service at our synagogue and no one, thank God, asked me to say anything, and they didn’t show the film that we made. Rachel was cremated, and her ashes were sprinkled in Frick Park, where apparently she loved to go as a kid. She ran away there once when she was seven–not because she was trying to get away from home, but apparently just because she wanted to live in the woods and be a squirrel. It was weird to be learning something new about her even after she had died. Somehow it was also reassuring, though. I don;t know why. Maybe I should try to put her in my next film. I don’t know. Honestly? I don’t now what the hell I’m talking about. FIN.
Final Thoughts: Just a really good read. I finished it in about two days because I couldn’t put it down, and then went back through to read some of the lines I found particularly witty or noteworthy. It may be about death, but it is in no way depressing; don’t let the title fool you.
Next up is Attachments by Rainbow Rowell for a romance or love story!!!
More and more, mental illness is becoming a hot topic of conversation in television, in film, and in literature. Stereotypical images of straitjackets and unethical electroshock therapy procedures are being replaced by very real portrayals and personal accounts of mental illness. That’s why tv shows like Dexter, movies like The Silver Linings Playbook, and novels like The Perks of Being a Wallflower have such a large fan base. People can relate to the characters and the circumstances surrounding them, whether or not they are diagnosed with a mental illness.
Craig Gilner, the 15-year-old narrator, like most teenagers, wants to succeed in life. For him, this means that he needs to get good grades to get into a good high school, to get accepted to a good college, to get a good job, to have a good lifestyle.Craig throws himself into studying to get accepted into Manhattan’s prestigious Executive Pre-Professional high school. Once accepted, however, the schoolwork generates too much pressure. Craig begins to stop eating, and then to stop sleeping, until one night Craig nearly kills himself. Instead, he checks himself into a mental hospital, and the book chronicles his time there, where he learns to deal with his anxiety, and what life is all about.
What I loved most about this book is how, through Craig, the reader gets an insider’s view of a psychiatric hospital, all stereotypes aside, along with insight into the mind of someone recognizing that they have a mental illness, and the ways in which they go about coping with it. This quality comes from the fact that the novel was based on the author’s time spent in an adult psychiatric hospital. A week after being released from an adult psychiatric hospital in Park Slope, Brooklyn, Vizzini began writing this novel, capturing the raw essence of his experiences. Vizzini suffered from severe clinical depression, and struggled with it for years until he committed suicide on December 19, 2013.
The richness of this story comes from the reader’s ability to relate to Craig. Whether or not you have a mental illness, everyone can relate to the inability to cope with peer pressure, and the journey of finding out who you are. Largely, this novel emphasizes the importance of accepting that mental illness is about being yourself and accepting who you are.
One passage that I love is:
“I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.”
For many people who suffer from a mental illness, this is a perfect description of how it can feel sometimes.
In 2010, this novel was adapted to film. I actually watched the movie first, a taboo activity that I try to avoid at all costs, but I saw it at my then-boyfriend’s house and learned in the credits that it was a movie adaptation of a book. After reading the book, I admit that the movie took a few cinematic liberties, but what movie doesn’t??? Point is, they don’t change the raw honesty or rye humour of the novel, or the powerful message it tells.
Check out the movie trailer here!!!
Now for the fun stuff!!!
“Its so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That’s above and beyond everything else, and it’s not a mental complaint-it’s a physical thing, like it’s physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out. They don’t come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people’s words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed-ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet.”
What I Loved Most: The wry honesty of the narrator is so relatable for any teenager, or any person really, who has been overwhelmed by life. I find that everyone, to a degree, is a Craig Gilner. We all want to succeed at something, and all fear buckling under the pressure of the expectations we set for ourselves and believe others set for us.
What I Loved Least: Nothing. That’s how much I loved this novel.
“I’m done with those; regrets are an excuse for people who have failed.”
Closing Paragraph: “Ski. Sled. Play basketball. Jog. Run. Run. Run. Run home. Run home and enjoy. Enjoy. Take these verbs and enjoy them. They’re yours, Craig. You deserve them because you chose them. You could have left them all behind but you chose to stay here. So now live for real, Craig. Live. Live. Live. Live. Live.”
Final Thoughts: Incredible novel. Just incredible. Whether you suffer from a mental illness, know someone who does, or are simply looking to better understand how it can affect someone, this novel is a prime learning tool.
Next up is Me and Earl and the Dying Girl for a novel set in another country!!!