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Archive for April, 2008

Sunday Salon: Theme of the Day "Essays"

April 20, 2008 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Miscellaneous

Well I would say I finished Jed Rubenfeld’s book, but I didn’t. Yes I read the beginning and the ending…but not much in between although I tried. If interested, you can read my review here.

I finished Twilight and will be working on the review today. I think this is the first young adult book I have read – or can remember reading. Holy schnickes, what a book! I’ve actually re-read several sections. Not that it could ever be considered adult content, but some of the scenes between Edward and Bella, were, well, uh…very steamy – but a good way. I am no prude, but sometimes I really think less is more, and the way Stephanie Meyers handles this love story, well her less is soooo much more!

About my plans today, and here is the part where I get real goosebumbs: I love reading essays. I also like writing them as I am inspired from time to time by ones I have read or by quotes that pop up from time to time on my Google home page. So today, I planned to catch up on a couple that I have been intending to read. Low and behold several other Saloners have mentioned doing the same. Hmm…great minds thinking alike? Hehe.

For me, I would like to read a couple and see what shakes loose in this ol’ noggin of mine:

“Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self” by Alice Walker
This essay derives from an experience Walker had as a child which left her with physical scar that turned out to go much deeper, as this excerpt clearly shows:

This comment of the doctor’s office terrifies me. But it is really how I look that bothers me most. Where the BB pellet struck there is a glob of whitish scar tissue, a hideous cataract, on my eye. Now when I stare at people – a favorite pastime, up to now – they will stare back. Not at the “cute” little girl, but at her scar. For six years I do not stare at anyone, because I do not raise my head.

The essay continues, and shows how Walker gets to the point of realizing that she is not disfigured, but transfigured into a new and better person, especially on the inside. It is a beautiful essay, and for a breast cancer survivor such as myself, left with scars of my own to deal with, Walker’s words have a significance beyond what I can express here.

“Writing and Reading” by Richard Wright
This is not so much an essay as it is a lengthy excerpt from this autobiography Black Boy. This section chronicles how writing his first story affected his life and of those around him. Unfortunately it was not a very positive experience. Yet he persevered. It was through this experience that his resolve was tempered into a strong determination to succeed, even though it alienated him from family and friends. This excerpt also talks about how he discovered his love of reading and how it changes his life, as he is able discover new worlds, literally and figuratively. Along the way, he also speaks of the prejudice encountered as he strives to become the writer he intends to be, and to read those books that will help him get there:

I was building up in me a dream which the entire educational system of the South had been rigged to stifle. I was feeling the very thing that the state of Mississippi had spent millions of dollars to make sure that I would never feel; I was becoming aware of the thing that the Jim Crow laws had been drafter and passed to keep out of my consciousness; I was acting on impulses that southern senators in the nation’s capital had striven to keep out of Negro life; I was beginning to dream the dreams that the state had said were wrong, that the schools had said were taboo.

Looks like I do have a nice Sunday ahead of me, except for the fact it snowed last night and it is only supposed to make it up to 45 F, but here inside its cozy, I have my reading and of course, the NHL playoffs.

GO SHARKS!!

(I just had to…I really did.)

Review: The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

April 18, 2008 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld (2006)
Fiction, 464 pages
Picador USA, Trade paperback (2007)

Read for the To Be Read Challenge and the 888 Challenge

Preface of the book according to the back cover:

In the summer of 1909, Sigmund Freud arrived by steamship in New York Harbor or a short visit to America. Though he would live another thirty years, he would never return to this country. Little is known about the week he spent in Manhattan, and Freud’s biographers have long speculated as to why, in his later years, he referred to Americans as “savages” and “criminals.”

Author’s quote regarding writing a historical novel of this kind:

The main thing is that readers of historical novels nowadays aren’t content merely to be entertained by a good, inventive story. They want to be educated too. In a way that’s a strange combination, and it creates a tricky task for the author, who has to simultaneously write fact and fiction. On the one hand, the facts can’t get in the way of the fiction; on the other, the fiction can’t lie about the facts. My solution as in part to write an Author’s Note, explaining the main lines of division between reality and imagination…

Of course there is much more to this than what I have provided above, regarding the premise of the book and his thoughts on this genre. However, none of it was enough to keep me interested in this novel. Now, I do agree with his sentiment that readers wish to have a good story that interweaves facts in away that also educates. But I do not feel he accomplished this goal – or at least did it so seamlessly that I felt compelled to finish the book. I have to ask myself, if he had done it in such a way, would that lengthy Author’s Note at the end of the book been necessary to “explain the main lines of division between reality and imagination”?

You know, I think I prefer to be entertained in a way that if I really wanted to discover where reality and imagination parted ways, I would Google my way around the ‘net, or better yet hit my local library in order to better inform myself about the actual facts surrounding the setting and theme of the novel. But that is just me. Perhaps it’s that a lot of people don’t have the time to go traipsing around, wasting time in such a manner. They want it all laid out in front of them. That’s fine. I’m just not that person.

After reading a book like Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, I have a comparison to what I feel a historical novel should be – or do, to entertain and educate. Rubenfeld is not a bad writer. And the research done to ensure accuracy was phenomenal. His book simply did not provide the kind of story-telling I like when weaving fact and fiction together.

My main issue was with the plot and sub-plots. Also, there were shifting points of view during the book that was handled well, but not quite well enough. Other issues I had involved thinking that Freud would be the one handling the case and solving the mystery. He was not. Which would have been fine if the author had created and developed the narrator into someone I was interested in and who, in turn, kept me interested in the story. Neither occurred.

The tone and language used was also a problem for me. The author explained why he used the tone he did in an interview in the back of the book, but it was of no matter to me. I didn’t care for it. If he had used the word erudite or derivatives thereof when describing Freud one more time, I…I…digress. (He probably only used it two or three times, but there were other words like “repair” – no not that kind of repair – that he would use more than once and I don’t know why, it got to me.)

I did skip to the end of the book just to see how it all turns out. Wow. I had to re-read it several times. I guess if I had read the whole thing it would have made more sense, or at least I hope it would. But I’m not. I have several other books I’ve read or started since then, and I am enjoying them so much I really cannot see picking this one back up and literally forcing myself to finish it. I simply can’t.

For this reason this novel will be the first to receive a 1 Star rating. *Sigh* I knew this would happen someday, but it kind of saddens me that I actually had to give this rating. But as readers, we have these options, and we have our opinions. Thank you for listening to mine.

Until the next review…Happy Reading!

Sunday Salon: My Sunday so far

April 13, 2008 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Miscellaneous

Oh dear.

I have several books to get through; three very promising, and one I am debating on whether or not to finish.

Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina García which I am reading for the Slaves of Golconda. Discussion will start April 30th.

This looks like it will be a very interesting read, and not simply because of the publisher’s synopsis. It is the words of the author herself. Here is an excerpt courtesy of barnesandnoble.com:

“I often thought of the book in musical terms. For me, I fueled this by reading a lot of poetry and paying attention to the musicality of each sentence. I also wanted to capture in English something of the rhythm and syncopation of the Spanish language. I wanted the book to feel as though the reader were experiencing it in Spanish.”

I speak English, but I have also studied Spanish and French. I love language. And, I must admit, that there are qualities about the Romanic languages that seem to be missing in English, for as I have grown in understanding of the others, I have learned of the subtle and beautiful ways of conveying tone and meaning that I just don’t always find English. (Or should I say American-English as anyone will tell you we certainly have developed our own way of, uh, saying things.)

There is also the poetic nature of some of her passages such as:

“Celia reaches up to her left earlobe and releases her drop pearl earring to the sea. She feels its absence between her thumb and forefinger. Then she unfastens the tiny clasp in her right ear and surrenders the other pearl. Celia closes her eyes and imagines it drifting as a firefly through the darkened seas, imagines its slow extinguishing.”

It is my hope that the rest of the book can fulfill the promise of this passage. If it does, I am in for a very good read! I can’t wait.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

“When Isabella Swan moves to the gloomy town of Forks and meets the mysterious, alluring Edward Cullen, her life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. With his porcelain skin, golden eyes, mesmerizing voice, and supernatural gifts, Edward is both irresistible and impenetrable. Up until now, he has managed to keep his true identity hidden, but Bella is determined to uncover his dark secret.”

It doesn’t take much to figure out this hidden identity, as the back of the book clearly states it: Edward is a vampire. However, after flipping through the book to take a look at a couple of passages, I know already that I will probably finish this in one sitting, if not in one day. This also is a novel I am really looking forward to reading.

Dubliners by James Joyce
I began reading this collection late last month as its last story, The Dead, as part of the Novella Challenge. Already several stories in, I know I will finish, but it will take me a little longer to do so, as Joyce is not one to take in all at once.

Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld
Ah, my problem child. I am developing a like-dislike relationship with this novel. And right now I am hovering more toward the dislike portion. (I didn’t use love-hate as my feelings toward this book are really not that strong one way or the other.)

It has an excellent premise. The author is quite knowledgeable and has obviously done a lot of research. However, I am finding he cannot hold my attention for very long as I get a little frustrated with the language, tone, and the continual change from a first person to the third. Not that I am easily put off by such issues. If I can make it through The Time Traveler’s Wife and still consider it one of my favorite books, I should be able to deal with Rubenfeld’s continually going from one POV to the other. However, Niffenegger was able to put forth her story in a way that was much more seamless than Rubenfeld.

Then there is the plot.

Somewhere, in another review, the word ‘convoluted’ was used to describe the plot, subplots, and the turns each takes. Now convoluted may be a bit strong a word to use. I have to admit though, that the variegated nature of some of the happenings detract from the well written story that lies underneath all the complexities. And there is strong writing and a good story here, it’s just that you are made to work a bit in order to see it.

This is why I am unsure about finishing this book, especially since there are several others in the wings, which look so much more inviting and enjoyable.

I think I will give it one more chapter before I decide. Either way, it is not the end of the world. I am the reader darn it. It is up to me what I want to read, how I interpret what I read, and for good or bad, right or wrong, I don’t have to finish a book I don’t care for, regardless of how many other people like it, or whether or not it’s won all sorts of awards and acclimations.

Oooo…can you feel the empowerment?

I can.

Happy reading!!

Review: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

April 08, 2008 By: J.C. Montgomery Category: Reviews

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (1991)
Fiction, 384 pages
First Anchor Books Edition (2003)
A division of Random House, Inc.
1992 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Read for: The Pulitzer Project and the 888 Challenge

A successful Iowa farmer decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. When the youngest objects, she is cut out of his will. This sets off a chain of events that brings dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions. An ambitious reimagining of Shakespeare’ s King Lear cast upon a typical American community in the late twentieth century, A Thousand Acres takes on themes of truth, justice, love, and pride, and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity. – Copy from back flap

Jane Smiley writes a contemporary novel with many similarities to Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Lear. Not only will the plot details be familiar, but also the major themes as well as the main characters. What makes this story contemporary, is that it is told through the eyes of Ginny (Goneril). Considering the strong patriarchal theme of the play, this retelling from a female point of view offers to challenge those familiar with Shakespeare’s tragedy. It is almost as if you are getting to hear the other side of the story; one that would seemingly change the dynamics completely.

However, when reading this book, I became aware that when it comes to power, manipulation, generational conflict, obsession, and madness, gender really is not the determining factor nor are the ramifications significantly different than if this were as male dominated as the play.

Conflict in any style, by any means, has its own ‘life’. It feeds upon hate, and thrives by the inability of those involved to forgive. As noted by Ginny:

We’ve always known families…that live together for years without speaking, for whom a historic dispute over land or money burns so hot that it engulfs every other subject, every other point of relationship or affection.

An aging father’s decision sets into motion a series of events that ultimately cost lives and destroys relationships. This is the similarity the novel has with the play. What differs is how it is told, and who dies, although I would mention that there are different types of death; spiritual and physical. Thus the correlation between the two becomes even more apparent.

I must admit I did not read every page of this book. However, I have never really gotten through all of King Lear either. The subject matter is dark, depressing, and at times frustrating. Smiley does well in updating and expounding upon Shakespeare’s tragedy. This was not an easy book to read, and I could not do it in one sitting as I have with others. In addition, I am guilty of ‘flipping’ through and speed-reading many passages.

Although deserving of a Pulitzer, I am only going to give it a 3 Star rating as I did put it down and often. But I always returned and did my best to muddle through. Any difficulty I had in dealing with the subject matter was my own, and in no way reflects upon Smiley’s skill as an author.

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