Monday, April 26, 2010

38. 2/23/10 The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (561 pages)

I've been meaning to read this one for a long time, but had never gotten around to it. Then, while reading the bookseller of Kabul, it became clear that the one thing everyone could agree on what that The Satanic Verses was evil and Rushdie should be killed. That really bothered me, so I needed to read the book on principle. I think that Mr. Rushdie's clever/manic style sometimes prevents me from identifying with or feeling close to his characters, but I really liked the framing of Gibreel and Salahuddin's stories in a surrealistically religious but not morally absolute framework. Basically, an angel, the devil and God are throughout the entire novel, but questions of faith are never claimed to be definitively answered. My kind of story. Is it harder to be an angel than the straight up devil? Or, I have no idea what I'm talking about. Either way, I found the novel thought provoking, and certainly believe that anyone should be allowed to read it.

37. 2/14/10 Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 2: The Sea of Monsters ( 279 pages)

This is, possibly, my least favorite Percy Jackson novel (Hey, that's also like Harry Potter! Book 2 is my least favorite!). Although its excellent when Percy is discovering all of his badass sea powers, there are very few parts that I actually love. Pretty much just Hermes. That being said, there are cyclopes and pirate ships full of dead soldiers and hippocampi and all, so its not like there's nothing going on.

36. 2/11/10 Fire by Kristin Cashore (461 pages)

By the author of Graceling, this book is more a companion than a sequel, but its very similar in tone. The writing isn't superb, but the story is effortlessly feminist and entertaining. Fire is the last Human Monster- she's so beautiful she mesmerizes people, and she can control their thoughts. She makes some new friends, falls in love and learns to use her powers for good and not be afraid of them. What did I like so much? The casual sex. The evil father who was actually really good to her. The not-shying-away-from-killing; no one likes it, but they know they have to do it. I also loved the casual positive use of birth control, and the mention of abortion as just another choice. My one problem is that I felt like Fire sort of breezed by the idea of sterilizing herself. She probably made the right choice, but it didn't seem like that much discussion (even with herself) went into it. Talk about emotional issues. And I know its a fantasy novel, and I need to stop worrying about Aslan's Red Silk Tent and all that, but I would like to understand, chemically and physically, how she sterilizes herself with herbs, but still menstruates. I'm just saying.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

35. Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman (385 pages)

Shockingly, this is, in fact, a biography of the Duchess of Devonshire. And although I haven't seen it yet, I'm guessing its not quite like the version with Keira Knightley.

So Georgiana (great-great-great-something-or-other to Princess Diana) had some issues. An overbearing mother, social pressures, a gambling problem, an intermittant drug problem, and being married to Voldemort. (COME ON! How can I not make a Duke of Devonshire=Ralph Fiennes=Voldemort joke? Or did I just out myself as three different kinds of nerd?) Her life was very much like a soap opera: she married an incredibily rich, powerful man under pressure from her family. Although she became the toast of the town and the leader of fashion, she and the duke were never tight. So she got involved in politics and made some good friends. Then the duke got to know her friends too. And they moved in. Hints of homosexuality? All over the place. Menage a trois? Check. Illegitimate children? Like four of them. At least. (you know, between the Duke, the Duchess, and their live-in "friend" Bess). There was spousal abuse, flights to Europe, crazy politics, dramatic deaths, revenge, excessive gambling debts etc etc.

Despite all this, however, the Duke and Duchess choose to stay together rather than get divorced. In the end they seem to have been closer than ever- which doesn't seem very dramatic at all. It wasn't all anachronistically girl-power, 'I'm going to leave the jerk', and, for lack of a better word, I enjoyed the realism of it.

I also enjoyed the straight historical nature of the book. Foreman illustrates how Georgiana was a strong and powerful woman in her own right, but she would never have considered herself a feminist. It wouldn't have occurred to her, and it was nice to hear that straight up without pretending she was another Mary Wollstonecraft.

Monday, February 8, 2010

34. 2/4/10 Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (375 pages)

I have never suffered from a learning disability, or any kind of hyperactivity disorder (unless you count Restless Leg Syndrome, which I am dead convinced that I have), but that doesn't mean I've never daydreamed about finding out I'm the child of a god. Huh. That sounded a little bit psycho. Still, I think you know what I mean. In that sense the first installment in the Percy Jackson series is classic kid-wish-fufillment fantasy. Percy's life with his loving mom, not-so-loving step-dad and ADHD and dyslexia problems is tough, and when he finds out his father is Poseidon it doesn't get any easier. It does, however, become...more. (I don't think this is a spoiler, because this is the set up for the ENTIRE SERIES) Percy lives his life with pizazz, once he settles down to his destiny of fighting monsters in between difficult terms at school. Isn't that what most of us want, even as adults? On another level, seeing a kid with ADHD and dyslexia get to be the hero of a story has to be heartening for kids struggling with it every day.
I am prepared to concede that I'm a sucker for anything where the gods appear in mortal guise (Dating waaay back to Hercules and Xena. Admit it, you watched them too...) but I also really like these books for themselves. The first one in particular may feel a little like a high quality Harry Potter knock off, but by the time I reached the end I wasn't connecting Percy with Harry at all, despite their similarities. I cared about Percy, Annabeth, and Grover for themselves, not just as stand ins for Harry, Hermione and Ron. The way the Greek mythology is continuously slipped into both the plot and modern culture is really clever. And in the end, although Harry and Percy have loads in common with one another, they don't really feel the same. Harry is an earnest young man, trying to save the world, because he's the only one who can, by making the best choices. Percy feels more like a borderline juvenile delinquent yelling at adults to shape up and act like adults (or in this case, gods), because he can't clean up this mess all by himself. Anyway, I would recommend giving it a try- worst case scenario, it won't take very long to read.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

33. 1/31/10 The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad (288 pages)

This book wasn't quite what I thought it was going to be. The story of an Afghan family from the inside, the author lived with them, but took herself out of the narrative completely. It was a good source of information for processing the news these days, but I spent most of the book angry about the lives the women in the family were living. I don't know if that was one of the purposes of the story, or if that's my personal beliefs informing how I'm reading it, but it was hard to feel emotional attachment for people who were enraging me. I was expecting an unrealistic tale of a super-enlightened bookseller, and what I got was yet another unwanted dose of realism.

32. 1/30/10 The Onion Our Dumb World Atlas of the Planet Earth (240 pages)

I don't think this was meant to be read straight through, more like a hilarious reference book. That being said, I couldn't help myself- didn't want to miss anything, and some of the funniest bits are in the fine print on the maps or captions. It was worth all the time it took to get through, but I do feel a little but like a horrible person for laughing at some of those jokes. But "France: One Nation, Above God."? HILARIOUS. "Wales: Land of Consonant Sorrow." And they just keep coming, right up to "this is where Santa Claus would have died of exposure, if he was real." at the North Pole.