29 October 2012

October Reviews

Wow! Three reviews ALREADY -- and I still have a week and a half left in October!
I recently got a new job (ack! like a month now!) and since then, I have been reading like crazy. Why?
(You ready?)
I work in a library.
Oh man, it is so nice to be working in a library again! Really. Not only am I surrounded by my books again (and get to read over my dinner every day) but I'm helping students and that, I think, is really what I love. Still working on figuring out exactly what I love, but being around books and students isn't such a bad gig. 
Anyway, I've been reading a ton over the last month. I actually have a drawer in my desk that is full of books that I've checked out to read next. It doesn't matter that I have about 10 books in my room to read. No. I have to have more! It has finally gotten to the point when I have to make myself (ha ha) read the public library books first...because they won't let me renew them any more! So I am still working on The Amber Wizard, the first book due back. And even though a dear friend tried to stop me, the last time I visited the public library I picked up another book. The newest DekKer--how could I not?! 
Ok enough excuses. Back to the reviews. 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Where to start on this one?! It's been on my list for a while and was one of the first books I picked up at my new job. Back in 2006, two films were released about magic and a magician's life: The Prestige and The Illusionist. Two very different films but oh, so interesting. The Night Circus reminds me of these stories. Two master magician's have constructed a contest: two protege's are pitted against each other to discover which one is the best...and which one is dead.
I was going to write more but as I was reviewing the book, I came across a few reviewer's opinions of the book and a few of them caught my eye. 
Olivia Laing says that even if the book doesn't quite meet the mark, " it still functions as an eminently intriguing cabinet of curiosities." Her turn of phrase really caught my eye because she is right.
Laura Miller  likens the book to a beautiful piece of pottery...except it has been fired with the potter's thumb print on it. Craft without being art. She also says it is "an aesthetic fantasia with all the trimmings" but that the "plot is this novel’s flimsiest aspect."  And again, on both counts I must agree. It was a good and interesting read. I even got my mother to read it. Her images and scenes were beautiful, but the motivation was slightly lacking. 

Lenten lands by Douglas Gresham
I grabbed this book on a whim during my last bookstore trip. Well, not entirely on a whim. Hmm. Let me explain. 
The book is marketed as the story of Douglas's childhood with C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham. I'm not sure that is completely accurate, but whatever. If you haven't figured by now, I'm a huge C. S. Lewis fan. I have a lot of his books, written more than a few papers on him and his work and even had the opportunity to visit his home in England. So even though I didn't plan on getting the book at the bookstore, I've been meaning to read it for awhile. So...there's that story.
The book was a bit of a let down. For me, anyway. I guess I was expecting there to be more personal stories with Douglas and Jack (Lewis's nickname). Instead, I found it to be more of a general autobiography, mentioning Jack a handful of times through the whole thing. Actually there were more stories with Warnie, Jack's brother, than with Jack. And perhaps, that was the case. Perhaps Jack, though he tried, was just not around enough for Douglas and his brother. 
Insult to injury is that the book is a bit discombobulated and meandering. It comes out sounding more conversational than narrative. I believe he said that he recorded his story and from the transcripts came the book. It is very to easy to believe that that is indeed how the book came about, and with little editing.
I'm rather glad I didn't try to read this in school as research for a paper. I would have been sorely disappointed with the underwhelming amount of new information. 

I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
I kind of fell in love with Zusak's The Book Thief the other year in Gettysburg and I was convinced that anything he touched would be gold. This book does not disappoint. When a book speaks to me in a certain way, I struggle to explain it to people. Kinda of like when I tried (and possibly failed) to tell you about If I loved you, I would tell you this by Robin Black. It's haunting and beautiful at the same time. Ed Kennedy is coasting through life when we meet him in line at the bank. We discover that he is an underage taxi driver and the least successful and least loved child in his family (No, seriously. This comes out later in the book.). His life keeps to the same boring pattern until that day in the bank I mentioned earlier. He helps the police catch a bank robber. He thinks things might be looking up...until he receives an ace in the mail. The card has three addresses & times on it. Ed learns that these are three opportunities for him to make a difference in the world around him. But it doesn't stop there. 
While Ed is striving to reach out to members in his community and spread a little bit of happiness, he ends up discovering more about himself than the people he helps. It reminds me of something C. S. Lewis said: if you want to see what’s really in your basement, surprise your basement. The playing cards that gave him the instructions turned the light on in the basement of Ed's life and showed him what he was and what he could become. See? I told you I had trouble explaining books like this.

26 October 2012

If I loved you, I would tell you this

I just finished (and by "just finished" I mean I finished this book maybe 10 minutes ago.) If I loved you, I would tell you this by Robin Black over dinner tonight. I don't think it quite took me a week. I have three other reviews on tap for this month already but figured, since I finished it and had time to write, I should get a review up pronto. 
I have been speaking to many people about this book over the last few days. I don't always do that, talk to people about what I'm reading, unless people ask me. There are few books that demand my attention and require me to spread their story to others around me. It's like when I started Hunger Games or Why We Broke Up. Those stories gave me no choice but to go to all of my friends and say, unasked and possibly unwanted, "Have you heard of this book? You NEED to read it." When I told my co-worker that I had finally finished the book, she asked what I thought. I replied simply and truthfully: My emotions hurt. 

If I loved you, I would tell you this is a collection of ten short stories that Robin Black says took her nearly 8 years to write. Before they were a book, she tells us in the Acknowledgements, they existed individually in various literary journals. On their own, they are beautiful; in a bound collection, they are haunting. That doesn't even  come close to describing the book, really. 
Perhaps this is a better way to describe the book: 
What makes this such an exquisite collection is the way Robin Black brings unpredictable elements into the emotional lives of her characters, creating that special kind of literary magic where a reader experiences everything right alongside them and it all feels new. -- Hanna Tinti
 I'm sitting here, typing and re-typing, erasing and re-writing the same sentence in an attempt to properly describe this book. It's the story of love and loss, of joy and deep hurt. It hits and resurfaces emotions you didn't remember you had or tried so hard to forget. It is story of a father and his blind daughter trying to overcome the boundaries caused by her blindness, only to find that they seem to communicate more with what is left unsaid rather than unseen. It is the unsent letter of a woman with cancer to her uncaring neighbor who is disputing property boundary lines at the worst of times. She is shocked not by his actions, but with the total and complete disregard of common sense manners. Had he been kinder, maybe she would have explained their situation; as it was, she kept the situation to herself and tried to politely argue the age old lines that had been honored for years before the young man moved in next door.  

I will tell you this: it put me in a funk. I have been in a weird place, emotionally, for the week and I think I will need to blame the book. Not a "shame one you!" kind of blame. Just a "huh, well at least there is an explanation" kind of blame. 
Don't let me talk you out of reading this book, though. I promise, it's worth it.