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I'm so glad that I finally succumbed to reading this after the whole series was published so I could start Catching Fire immediately! That's exactly what I had to do, and I'm sure that will be the case with Mockingjay. I resisted reading this because I was afraid it would be far too dystopian, science fiction, and YA for me (I'm well into my 50s), but Collins has managed to write a series that will appeal to the intended audience and adults as well. The Hunger Games has a taut, dramatic and thought-provoking storyline, but it also deals with much bigger questions of celebrity, morality, justice, and humanity. I used to work in a middle school library and I'm debating returning for a visit to make sure as many students (and staff!) read this as possible. The premise of the book itself is horrifying, but I hope that it will provoke thoughtfulness about the striking similarities between Panem and our own culture.
If you're interested in a book with unlikeable, unreliable characters, hints of possible drama, obsession, and betrayal, melancholy and whining, endless run-on narrative from the main character, a plot that bogs down completely, and a rushed ending, then have I got the book for you! I decided to read The Woman Upstairs after hearing an interview with Claire Messud on NPR; the book was touted as a "saga of anger and thwarted ambition". While there was plenty of anger, I couldn't find the ambition part. Unmarried, childless, elementary school teacher Nora Eldridge thinks, “It was supposed to say ‘Great Artist’ on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say ‘such a good teacher/daughter/friend’ instead.” She becomes infatuated with the whole Shahid family, and because of this association she resumes some of her own artistic endeavors, only to let them get crowded out due to her obsession.
There is a possibility that I didn't 'get' this book because I'm not terribly sophisticated and don't understand "Great Artists', but it seems to me that adjusting our aspirations is something every single one of us has to deal with as we grow older. I hope I'm dealing with it in a more mature, productive, and reasonable way than the deluded and angry Nora.
The View On The Way Down is a solid 3.5 stars, rounded up because Rebecca Wait was able to make me begin to understand depression and its many repercussions. The opening scene of a happy family enjoying a day at the beach shifts abruptly to what has become of that same fractured family five years after the suicide of older son Kit. Younger son Jamie was estranged from the family on the day of Kit's funeral; Emma, the youngest child, is left not knowing exactly what happened, but trying to cope with the losses of her brothers through Jesus and food, and parents Rose and Joe are understandably just barely hanging on. Jamie's ex-girlfriend has a chance meeting with him, and this encounter sets in motion the events that may begin to help these utterly broken people become less so.
I haven't had any personal experience with depression, so I know I don't fully understand it. I appreciate it is far beyond sadness, and I certainly recognize that "Don't worry, be happy" won't work with clinical depression, but through her character portrayals, Wait was able to give me at least an introduction to understanding the depths of depression, and how suicide could possibly become more attractive than living. The middle of the book details the back story through letters from Jamie to his father. These may not be entirely realistic, but they do provide necessary detail in a poignant way. I found Emma a bit too childlike in some instances, but she is forced to bear the brunt of absent brothers and uncommunicative, shattered parents, so immaturity may be the result of her circumstances. It's a bit ironic that many family members don't want to talk about things to avoid causing more pain for themselves or others, but by refusing to face the situation that is exactly what has happened. The ending is appropriate, especially for a book that deals with difficult subjects and can be uncomfortable to read at times. I love that Wait never resorts to platitudes or becomes maudlin in The View On The Way Down. This is a book that will make you think - about depression, loss, sibling relationships, and families.
I read this book as a child, loved it, and had wonderful memories of the excitement, mystery, and thrills that E.L. Konigsburg gave to Claudia and James. Like every other child that has read the book, I was jealous and dreamed of planning, saving, and running away to the Metropolitan Museum. When I heard that E.L. Konigsburg had passed away, I decided to reread the book. I hadn't thought about how different this rereading might be, 45 years later, but if anything I'm even more convinced that this is one of the best works of fiction ever, for children and adults. When I read this as a child, the poignancy of the ending went over my head, but as an adult and mother, this really stands out for me now. I'm not going to spoil it by spelling it out, but just want to say that this book is about so much more than running away, the Metropolitan Museum, and Michelangelo, and well worth listening to by children AND adults.
Thank goodness Audible has all 4 seasons of this BBC radio show (plus the Christmas Special!) available. I haven't yet met my son's girlfriend, but since she was the one to recommend Cabin Pressure to him, and he in turn told me I had to listen to it, I like her already! As far as I'm concerned, John Finnemore is a creative genius. His writing and the acting of all four characters is perfect and perfectly funny, across all four seasons. Some details about the characters are revealed as the seasons progress, adding depth to the extraordinary comedy. I've listened to all the episodes of Cabin Pressure multiple times and they never get old. I anxiously await Season 5!
My mother used to tell me that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing, and it seems as if a little talent may also be dangerous. The epigram by Mary Robison that Meg Wolitzer chose for The Interestings sums up the book perfectly, “That to own only a little talent … was an awful, plaguing thing; that being only a little special meant you expected too much, most of the time, and liked yourself too little." The Interestings explores the relationships and differentiation between talent and success, jealousy and envy, friendship and love, happiness and self-acceptance, and how luck, money (or the lack of it), and biology figure into our lives.
Six teenagers meet at a summer camp for the arts in 1974, where they can showcase and develop the talents (animation, acting, dance, and music) that make them special. In the self-centered way of teenagers, the group dubs themselves “The Interestings”, and this novel follows their paths for the next forty years. Much of the narration comes from Julie/Jules Jacobson, an aspiring actress, who attends the camp on scholarship and is self-consciously amazed at being included in the group of wealthier, cooler kids, even into adulthood. The lives of cartoonist Ethan Figman, theatrical Ash Wolf and her brother Goodman, musician Jonah Bay, and dancer Cathy Kiplinger intersect, head in different directions, and reconnect. Their secrets are explored and divulged. Jules marries an absolutely ordinary sonogram technician, Dennis, who provides some exceptional wisdom, despite or because of his ordinariness.
One of the best things about this novel is that Wolitzer writes her characters as human beings. Characters with genius, talent, and persistence are not completely perfect and completely ordinary characters have some moments of brilliance. I also love how she gives us insight into her characters’ intriguing thoughts, especially Ethan’s.
"Ash Wolf actually desired him. It seemed so unlikely, but then again, so did many things in life. Lying against her that first time, he started making a list:
1. The existence of peacocks.
2. The fact that John Lennon and Paul McCartney just happened to meet each other as teenagers.
3. Halley ’s Comet.
4. Walt Disney's unbearably gorgeous Snow White.”
Because the novel has a large scope, there are many cultural details and references. The characters discuss sexist attitudes about rape, child labor, the Moonies, and TED-like conferences. Politics, HIV/AIDS, restaurants, finance, and September 11 are mentioned, but some of these seem to be gratuitous ways to mark the passing of time. Forty years and six main characters plus peripherals is a long time and a lot of people, and sometimes the plot becomes a little thin. Wolitzer writes all this non-chronologically, which I’m still a bit ambivalent about. Overall, this novel of how we all have to realign our expectations as time marches on is a worthwhile and dare I say, interesting read.
With this story collection, it's clear that we're no longer at the Hotel Adequate View with Jess Walter. I loved Beautiful Ruins and think it showed the incredible range of Walter's writing ability, but these stories show mainly gritty realism, those broken and dispossessed, maladjusted and malfunctional. Some of these stories are very short, too short for me to understand the characters in any depth. Some of them also end very abruptly, which left me with the feeling that they were more verbal "descriptions" than stories. With the last story, "Statistical Abstract For My Home Town, Spokane, Washington", Walter does a good job tying the collection together. While We Live in Water is perfectly adequate, it's just not my personal favorite from Jess Walter.
I think that the title of The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America is a bit misleading. This is a story about the worst wildfire in US history, Teddy Roosevelt, Chief of the Forest Service Gifford Pinchot, William Howard Taft, the West, and the timber industry, but it is mainly a history of the Forest Service, told through all of the preceding personalities and events. Initially this is nonfiction that reads like exciting fiction, but during the fire chapters, it begins to read like the screenplay for a hyperbolic Hollywood disaster movie. In the end, Roosevelt and Pinchot saved the Forest Service, but not America or America's forests. "The Forest Service became the fire service, protecting trees so industry could cut them down later."
Pinchot was unknown to me before listening to this book, and he is also the most interesting person in The Big Burn. This book has made me want to look for others about Pinchot, but that is probably the best recommendation I can muster for it.
Let me start by saying that I am neither capable nor even allowed to pass judgement on such a personal memoir, thus Until I Say Good-Bye presents quite a paradox for me. If I could have given my perspective without first entering a rating, I would certainly have done so. I admire Susan Spencer-Wendel for many characteristics - her ability to live with ALS unflinchingly, her humor, grace, acceptance, desire, and perseverance in writing the book. The author states, "First and foremost, I wrote the book for my family and friends to have, to jog their memories after I'm gone." In this capacity, she succeeds immensely. In the face of her rapid neuromuscular decline until she is left with only the ability to type with her right thumb on her iphone, she manages to write this book with the help of Bret Witter.
The paradox for me is that I think this book is most successful as a very personal memoir, for the author's children, family, and friends, but the publication of this book, along with a movie deal, will allow Spencer-Wendel and her family the ability to "Live with joy. And die with joy, too.” This is such an intensely personal story that while I can admire the author, I don't think I can ever really understand her circumstances along with those of her family. It does serve as a reminder of how lucky most of us are, something which we will most likely not be able to acknowledge so personally until we experience our own unlucky circumstances.
I'll admit that I initially downloaded The Good House from Audible because I liked the cover and was semi-desperate for something new/possibly good to listen to, but found out that it is really a worthwhile read. Hildy Good, a 60-year-old realtor and lifelong resident of Wendover, Massachusetts, is a recovering (or not) alcoholic (or not) who narrates her story, along with the changing climate of Wendover and its inhabitants, old and new.
Hildy has recently returned from rehab, explaining to the reader that she is not really an alcoholic, it was simply due to the intervention (or "inquisition") by her mildly annoying and interfering daughters. She befriends wealthy newcomer Rebecca McAllister and they share some interesting secrets that really complicate Hildy's life. Through Hildy's eyes, we meet local psychiatrist Peter Newbold, local garbageman Frankie Getchell, and local electrician Patch Dwight, his wife Cassie, and their special needs child, Jake. Hildy excels at making acerbic, insightful, and very funny observations about her neighbors, but may not be quite as skilled at self-evaluation.
The excellent narration by Mary Beth Hurt (she is Hildy!) makes this one of those books that may be even better in audio than paper. Smart, witty, entertaining, and it made me think, all add up to a really good read.
Why should you listen to a book about an agoraphobic, morbidly obese former professor, his former student, and her son? Because Liz Moore excels at storytelling in Heft and she can make you care about all of these characters in a way that doesn't often happen in fiction, especially when the characters have all made some questionable choices. In Heft, Liz Moore writes of several lonely, misfit characters in an extraordinary way. She is able to tell the stories of Arthur Opp, a morbidly obese, agoraphobic, former professor, his former student Charlene Turner, and her son Kel Keller in simple, straightforward, yet beautiful writing.
Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds, sits on his couch and watches his home fill up with the detritus of his life. After September 11, he realized that he had no one to care about (or to care about him), so he isolates himself in his house and with his weight. He never leaves his house, orders everything he needs, but is clearly cognizant of his situation. His only contact has been letters from a former student, Charlene Turner. He hasn't seen her in twenty years, but one day receives a letter asking Arthur to provide some much-needed guidance to her son, Kel Keller. This letter provides the impetus for Arthur to hire a cleaning lady, Yolanda, who is a very interesting character in her own right. Keith Szarabajka does an amazing narration for Arthur. This is definitely a case where the audio makes the book an even better reading experience than print.
Every one of these characters is lonely in their own way, and their interactions and intersections may (or may not) change that, but Moore doesn't write their stories in predictable ways. She reveals the truth behind the facades that Arthur and Kel have chosen; it would be so easy to write all of these characters as caricatures, but Moore never does that.
"I considered the fact that men who come to excavate my house upon receiving complaints from the neighbors will find a fat old corpse who has no relations and nothing but a pile of papers to tell them this was a human being and this was a man with a story to tell."
Heft is a masterfully told story.
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