Posts Tagged ‘history’

Love to Hate

October 3, 2010 - 12:31 am 4 Comments

I made my tri-weekly library trip a little while back and picked up some new books, all of which I have currently set aside in favor of reading (or at least giving enough of a chance to) the ones I can’t renew anymore (see: at Carnegie Library, you can only renew books twice, for a totally of nine total weeks of check-out).

I’m currently really digging A Monster’s Notes by Laurie Sheck, which is sort of an experimental novel that poses the premise that Mary Shelly did not invent Frankenstein and his monster, but instead met the creature when she was young.  It’s a very esoteric collection of letters, journal entries, and notes, from the monster, Mary, her family, and other people encountered throughout the monster’s life.  It’s extremely literate and references many historical events, persons, and philosophies, especially those popular in the Victorian era.  It’s a big, thick book, but like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, a great deal of it is dramatic white space.  That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s quick to get through.  Much of the subject matter – leprosy, miscarriages, the deaths of children, a ship’s crew lost to die in the arctic – has kept me picking up the book, reading for hours, and putting it back down for days to digest.  Fans of horror or literary analysis, pick this up.

I also picked up Love Will Tear Us Apart by Sarah Rainone which tells a story of a group of friends through some popular alternative rock (hence the title).  It’s a good book, so far, but it brings me to the topic of this blog:

What do you do about characters you hate?

There’s a character in the novel who is exactly the kind of person I can’t stand.  He’s rude, crude, un-clever, doesn’t seem to care too much about women, and furthermore, he hates hockey.  The way the book is written, it gives brief insights into the mind of each character as first-person narrative, and every time it gets to him, I have to admit, I don’t really read anymore.  I skim the way you skim paragraphs in a math book before the actual explaining is done, the way you read the introduction of an anthology.  And I can say, it doesn’t make the book better for it.  It’s to the point where I very nearly am compelled not to pick this book up again (and probably wouldn’t if the concept weren’t so… me).

So what do you do about books you like with characters you hate?

Finally, a short list of books which I’ve read since my last book blog and feel are suggestion-worthy:

The Moon Opera by Bi Feiyu, translation by Howard Goldblatt – A very tiny book about a woman with a dark past and a big voice.  Xiao Yanqiu destroys her career in opera by throwing boiling water in the face of her understudy.  Twenty years later, when the opera is restaged, a wealthy benefactor insists Xiao Yanqiu return to the role that destroyed her.  A very quick read, extremely emotional, extremely dark.  Triggering themes, mostly self-destruction.  Graphic.

I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Young-ha Kim, translation by Chi-Young Kim – A disturbing, gripping tale of sex and suicide, of how lives are tangled up together even when they seem unfathomably far apart, and the people who can’t bear that tangle anymore.  As you might have guessed, very bleak, but impossible to put down.  Triggering themes are prominent.

The Trade by Fred Stenson – If you enjoy historical fiction at all, you have to read this book.  It’s the story of the Hudson Bay Company, the leading enterprise from England involved in the Canadian fur trade and how the wilderness, the native peoples, and the unforgiving winters shaped the lives of the (real, but fictionalised) people who lived it.  This is one of the most compelling things I’ve ever read, and it’s completely out of my usual favorite genres.  This is a masterpiece.

So go get your read on.

People of the Book and The Black Death

July 4, 2010 - 12:48 am No Comments

As promised, I did finally finish Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, and let me tell you, it’s just as amazing as my previous post, written at about the 2/3 read mark, would lead you to believe.  In an effort not to repeat myself, I’m actually going to skip reiterating the plot points and make mention of a few other things that really stood out to me.

First of all, this book is absolutely brimming with strong female characters.  For all of the pain and torment most of them have suffered, the female protagonists seem to be the strongest, most noble characters one could hope to come across in such a text.  They are not perfect by any means, and often they allow themselves to be weak, but that’s what makes them strong, in the end.

Second of all, the book is inspiring.  The sheer coming together of religions for a common cause, even though (or perhaps more because) it was completely a non-issue to those involved in the rescue of the book, the displays honesty, of respect, and of understanding are really an inspiration.  Even if all of the characters are fictional, the journey the book took, the number of times it had to be saved, is fact.  It really happened.  So whether or not the events went down exactly as Ms. Brooks speculated or not is only half of the story.

Third, it’s simply amazingly well-written. It switches easily, un-jarringly between main character Hanna Heath’s first-person slang-laden Australian internal dialogue to other POVs, sometimes third person, sometimes first.  It doesn’t interrupt the story at all, and actually serves to enhance it.  Point of view is something I’m really sensitive toward in books, so the fact that this didn’t throw me off or even bother me at all is a tribute to its fluidity.  In addition, Hanna’s internal narrative, when situations allow it to be, is absolutely hilarious, drawing away (but not discounting) some of the darkness from more heavy sections before and after her internal monologue.

I have to be honest: I picked up this book because the cover had glitter on it (oh don’t even pretend you’ve never done the same thing) and it ended up being one of my favorite books of 2010 so far.

The book I’m working on right now is John Hatcher’s The Black Death (you know, for lighter, summer reading material).

I’m about a 1/3 of the way in and I want to avoid saying anything which might change in the remaining two-hundred pages (but come on, it’s the goddamn plague; we know how it’s gonna end) but what I have to say is this: this book is so. incredibly. dry.  It’s an historical narrative, but it is very historical and very little narrative.  There is a non-fiction, italicized insert at the beginning of every chapter, and to be honest, with the way the actually prose is written, it feels kind of redundant.  It’s good for explanation, but I feel like if the narrative is this flat, the disclaimers could have some how been worked into the body of the story itself.

That being said, it’s not a bad writing style, it just feels like its doing itself a disservice by having blatantly un-story segments followed by the story, which is written in almost the same voice.  The content is heady and dark enough, pressing enough, to carry the story by itself, but I almost feel like it shouldn’t have to.

Finally, a note on the blog: I failed to mention this in the previous post, but I’ve instituted the use of categories; they can now be found in the sidebar.  So if you’re looking for something specific, you won’t have to fumble through all of my posts about food to get to a particular book review.

Stay tuned: next time I’ll be talking about An Arsonists’ Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England and, if I can just man-up and finish it, the third and final installment in Christopher Paolini’s Inheretance Trilogy, Brisingr.

Hope my Canadian friends had a great Canada Day, and I hope my American friends find an excuse to blow something up later today (they always do…).