Yup, I loved it. There are so many interesting facets of this book. First and foremost, there's a good story. I think the book would stand alone on that fact. However, there's more. It is really funny, too. The social satire is biting... taking the biggest bite out of the movie industry. Michael Deane's character is villainous, and the continued descriptions of him are hysterical. Here's just one example:
“It may be impossible to trace the sequence of facials, spa treatments, mud baths, cosmetic procedures, lifts and staples, collagen implants, outpatient touch-ups, tannings, Botox injections, cyst and growth removals and stem-cell injections that have caused a 72-year-old man to have the face of a 9-year-old Filipino girl.”
Richard Burton is also portrayed as a villain, and in a tragically funny way. It is interesting that all the Hollywood characters are ALWAYS mentioned by the author with their full names. So it's always, "Richard Burton did this, " and ," Michael Deane did such and such." The only time they are called by their first name is if a character is speaking to them or about them. I loved this device as yet another way to show their soul-lessness. They only seem to exist as their Hollywood character and not as a human being with a heart. The only Hollywood character who escapes this naming device is Dee Moray, and this is because she is NOT just a Hollywood-type character and is actually one of the "good guys" in the novel.
The book is also romantic and thought provoking. I love the way Richard Burton's villainy provokes Pasquale to "do the right thing." He thinks back to when his mother talked to him about “how much much easier life would be if our intentions and our desires could always be aligned. “ Later in the story, he acts on this lesson. I felt like this was the highlight or climax of the book, what it was really building up to, at least as far as the Pasquale story goes, and it made me sob, which I love. (spoiler alert here; couldn’t help including this.)
“And when beautiful Amedea lifted Bruno from the stroller, Pasquale thought again of his mother on the beach that day—her fear that, when she was gone, Pasquale wouldn’t be able to bridge the gap between what he wanted and what was right. He wished he could reassure his mother: a man wants many things in life, but when one of them is also the right thing, he would be a fool not to choose it.”
The title: it can refer to so many things, but mainly it refers to the ruins of people's lives and dreams. Almost everyone in the book has dreams of “making it big,” and the dreams never turn out to be what they expected, BUT in large part their lives are beautiful in spite of it.
I love the descriptions of the paintings on the WWII bunker and when Dee at Pasquale realize that the impact of the paintings would not be the same if the wall were displaced into a museum. It is the whole geography of the paintings that makes them so special, and somehow I think they represent the longing to have love and a beautiful life that Pasquale and Dee Moray have throughout the book. And the paintings are also "beautiful ruins." Will the girl in the paintings get reunited? Will Pasquale and Dee ever find their true love or see each other again? The paintings are "ruins" also, but they immortalize the longing and beauty of love. At the end we find out that this story, too, isn’t quite what we thought it was. Another “Beautiful Ruin”?
And then there is that Donner! story. The story itself is pretty lame, as it's supposed to be, but what I liked is how when Michael Deane's group goes to Idaho to find Claire, the author describes them all in terms of the Donner party. That cracked me up. For example, the author starts out the chapter called “Front Man” with a comparison, “At 11:14 A.M., the doomed Deane Party departs LAX on the first leg of its epic journey… “ (location 4938) and he doesn’t let us forget the comparison to the Donner party as Shane considers ways to get more money for his Donner! story.
“In the Emerald City the tragic Deane Party changes planes, Shane ever so casually mentioning that the ground they’ve covered so far in just over two hours would’ve taken William Eddy months to travel.
‘And we haven’t even had to eat anyone’, Michael Deane says…. “ (location4959)
The various writing techniques the author uses are interesting. The Donner! story as a chapter is one example, and then using Michael Deane's first chapter of his autobiography as a chapter in the real book is another. This first chapter is also hysterical and adds to the reader's already poor opinion of MD. It also adds another perspective to the story of Michael and Dee Moray.
Variety of perspective is definitely on display throughout the book. The stories of the various characters constantly illuminate different elements of the plot, and sometimes one character's story reaches back in time and finally unveils what we've been wondering about another character. I like that convoluted way of moving the plot forward. It is interesting.
Michael Deane says his great epiphany was "People want what they want." This revelation shaped his career. His talent is to divine what people want and get it for them. This comes into play in several areas of the book. The "Lydia play" at the end of the book demonstrates how this is true for several people. First of all, Pat Bender and Lydia want what they want: each other over all those years. But then the play makes Claire realize her love for Darrell, and also Shane realizes how he messed up with his first wife. The play causes them to re examine their lives. The Michael Deane theme that "everyone wants what they want and they won't/can't be dissuaded from it” portrays all these couples and their continued love and longing. Even though MD is a despicable character, I did recognize that he had this special ability, and he made quite a career out of it.
Lit Lovers book club questions
Jess Walter interview, Salon
"Richard Burton appears in the book, to great effect. How much research did you do on him? How many of his films had you seen, and did you watch after you decided to include him as a character? I love that the title comes from the piece describing Burton on Dick Cavett (I watched the clips on YouTube…there are worse people to be on a boat off the coast of Italy with).
I always do a lot of research, immerse myself so that I believe it, then set the nonfiction aside and let it become fiction. So, yes, I read books and watched Burton films and interviews and, my favorite, old footage of him on stage (Burton’s “Hamlet”, in black and white, filmed from a distance with an unmoving camera, is stunning … you can’t believe the power coiled in that body and voice, especially when compared to the craggy old sot who appears in that Cavett interview). His relationship to his art (acting) and fame really hovered over the entire novel, over all the characters and their attempts to express themselves through novels and stories and music and plays and acting and painting. He was sort of a talisman for the book but I didn’t know if the chapter with him in it would make sense. I wrote and jettisoned so many chapters along the way (including Dee dying in the 1980s and even a po-mo chapter in which I entered my own book to pitch a film version of “The Zero“ … it was like crawling down a hall, finding a closed door, then backing up and trying another hall. But as soon as I wrote Burton, I felt like I was crawling in the right direction."
This book has a few too many whiplash moments where the plot veers off in an unexpected and sometimes unrealistic direction, but I will admit to being glued to “Defending Jacob” by the end. There was a strange mix of extreme tension and yet extreme annoyance at how contrived certain key elements seemed.
The narrator, Andy Barber, is so stubborn and is in such denial about his past and also his son’s very nature that it made me not like him very much and brought down my enjoyment of the book a notch. Also, Andy’s whole relationship with and the portrayal of his father was so unappealing that it really colored the way I felt about Andy and the whole book. I don’t always have to like the main character of a book. In this book, I didn’t really like Andy or his father very much, and his son, Jacob, was a creep. I also felt like the whole Father O’Leary episode was unrealistic. It seemed a convenient mechanism to resolve a tricky spot in the plot.
On the other hand, I was completely drawn in by the plot, couldn’t wait to find out what happened, and had to keep reading to figure that out.
The ending was shocking, and I really want to talk to someone about it! I keep thinking about the whole book and about how the small details were planned out to add up to such an ending. I did find an interesting discussion on Goodreads about the ending, but I want a live discussion! Several issues are present in the book that could lead to a good discussion, actually.
The book is not only compelling but thought provoking - even if a little unbelievable.
Sonia Sotomayor won me over with her book. Not that I didn’t like her previously, but I just didn’t care about her before I read this. Although one can imagine that a Supreme Court justice is a hard worker and an extremely accomplished person, Sonia really does have an interesting story about her hard work and her accomplishments.
I was struck by her integrity. She’s the type of person who always did the right thing and her strength to follow the right and the difficult path as she did was so admirable. She did admit that somewhere along the line she might have gone over the speed limit or committed some other minor or meaningless infraction. Mainly, she seems squeaky clean! Not only did she not inhale, she never even picked it up ☺
Her intelligence was also very obvious. One of the things that stood out the most about her training and education was the importance of her being on the debate team in high school (I don’t remember the details of when it was, actually.) She mentioned it many times as a factor that influenced her education: her ability to look at both sides before making decisions, to organize her thinking, and then to write a paper in college. It was one of the methods by which Sonia moved from rote learning to critical thinking. That convinced me that debating is an important skill that more students ought to learn in school. The Great Debaters was a movie about an African American debate team in 1935 starring Denzel Washington. I came to the same conclusion then after watching that movie. Debating is great training!
Most of all I was impressed by Sonia’s determination! She was a hard worker who never gave up. She set her goals when she was young and never stopped working for them. I found it interesting that one of the influences on her desire to be a judge from an early age was watching Perry Mason shows. They were my favorites, too. Oh well, we had quite different outcomes!
Although I enjoyed hearing Sidney Poitier's story, I found this book somewhat rambling. It seemed like he spoke into a recorder, and then it was transcribed into a book. It WAS fun to hear his voice as the narrator. I listened to the book and also had the Kindle version. At times I followed the print and the audio, and I found that he was speaking words that weren't in the Kindle version! The two version didn't always match, in other words. That convinced me that somehow the editing/writing was haphazard. The sections on his life in Hollywood and his intersection with the civil rights movement were the most interesting. The "spiritual" part about his outlook on life etc was not as uplifting as I had hoped.
I can remember being a first year teacher way back when and thinking of Poitier's movie, To Sir with Love, and how he faces an unruly class. I remember asking myself, " What would Sidney Poitier do?" when a situation occurred that was similar to the movie where a student dropped a sanitary napkin or tampax on the classroom floor :) I need to find that movie and watch it now - so many years later.
This is the 3rd Harry Hole book I've read, and I continue to really be swept along by them. I liked this one because Harry is back in touch with Rakel, his "true love." I do have some questions about the old man/phantom character, and then the ending is pretty vague. BUT I think there is an opening there for another Harry Hole book. I did see something on the web about Jo Nesbo and a new book. I hope it comes out in English because I want to see what happens next to Harry!
This book was fantastic. The author was just scientific and scholarly enough to keep me reading and enjoying it without getting bogged down and losing my interest.
The basic premise of this book about the science of neuro-plasticity is that scientists used to think that brain functions were fixed and certain parts of the brain were always in control of the same set of behaviors. However modern scientists have found that our thoughts, actions, and feelings can be processed in different parts of the brain and are NOT tied to a fixed location. The notion that the brain is "plastic," or malleable is a fairly new one, and it holds so much promise for many areas – stroke victims, senior citizens, people with OCD, children with learning disorders to name a few. The discoveries shown in the book have totally changed what we know about the brain, and the impact on our lives and our future has been - and will continue to be -huge. The case studies used by the author to demonstrate all of this are fascinating. The chapter about the sexual masochist and how his brain was wired so that pain actually caused sexual arousal was only one example of the sometimes bizarre case studies. Most were a lot more “normal” than this but still definitely held my attention.
I found it particularly interesting that the scientist who did many of the neuro -plasticity experiments in the beginning of the book, Michael Merzenich, is also the person who founded Posit Science, the company that sells the “Brain Fitness” program that is advertised a lot on KQED/public television. After reading this book, I am convinced that that program is a worthwhile one and that I ought to get on the bandwagon!
Generally I enjoy historical fiction, however, I didn't really like this book much. For one thing, I felt like names and details were too overwhelming. After a while, I pretty much gave up on TRYING to figure out the characters, and I just let the story wash over me and the characters either stuck with me - or not. Yes, there were interesting parts, learning occurred, and parts were even humorous, but overall I just didn't care much.
Also, I found her writing to be problematic. Here is the best description of it that I could come up with:
From Googreads review by Isis, June 2012:
"Mantel still prefers to overuse her third person pronouns rather than use her main character’s name, which in the previous book could get considerably confusing, however, towards the end of Wolf Hall she begins using “he, Cromwell…” a lot more, and it’s that form that she utilises in Bring Up the Bodies. It admittedly clears up a lot of potential confusion, but I stick by what I said in my review of Wolf Hall, that it renders the “he” altogether redundant and it’s a clumsy solution compared to the simplicity and clarity of just using a character’s name where appropriate!"
Tracy Kidder is such a good writer. In this book he takes the massacres in Burundi and Rwanda and makes them personal through the eyes of a refugee, Deo Gratias. Deo grew up extremely poor but rose to become a medical student in Burundi when the massacres began. Kidder lived with and followed Deo’s life for a period of years. They traveled back to Africa together. He was truly embedded in Deo’s life in order to write this book. His gift is the ability to make the reader care about Deo and the whole, horrible situation through the personal story he tells. I have to admit that news articles about the African massacres seemed so frequent that I had become inured to them, BUT when you read this book, it’s harder to ignore.
Deo’s new life in America is well told also. The feelings and experiences he has as a refugee in Harlem are heart wrenching. I found it so interesting to read about the lives of the people who helped Deo, too. I wanted to know: what kind of people would put their life on the line for a penniless refugee like Deo? Deo’s response to these helpers was very interesting as well. Who can he trust? Who will be a spy from his country? Will he continue to put up barriers to block the helpers or be able to open up and accept what they want to give him? Will the helpers be able to accomplish what they set out to get for Deo? Kidder makes this into a good story.
Deo’s first job in Harlem was as a grocery delivery person. It is interesting that in an earlier autobiography of Sidney Poitier which I’m currently reading, he, too, delivered groceries as his first refugee job. He, too, experienced having the front door slammed in his face and being told to go to the back door. Neither man was prepared or understood why this was so. It was a rude awakening for a black refugee. Of course, this wasn’t the worst of their experiences, either.
Deo had the additional fear of retribution from the Hutus from back in Africa. At first the reader thinks he is paranoid (and understandably so) and later we find out that, in fact, he DOES have reason to fear being sought out even in America.
It is amazing that after such a horrendous childhood and immigrant experience, Deo’s life becomes one of such giving and selflessness. It’s either makes one feel motivated or else perhaps that I could never live up to that degree of selflessness.
I like it that the title is from a William Wordsworth poem:
Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
Then sing, ye birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
And let the young lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound! 175
We in thought will join your throng,
Ye that pipe and ye that play,
Ye that through your hearts to-day
Feel the gladness of the May!
What though the radiance which was once so bright 180
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind; 185
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death, 190
In years that bring the philosophic mind.
I was thoroughly engrossed in this book and couldn't wait to keep reading/listening to see how it ended! I love that anticipation! I thought the premise was somewhat unbelievable, however it was written in such a way that it was convincing, so I just let myself go and went along for the ride. It was also perhaps a little too long - too much back and forth on the part of the "unreliable narrator." That did work to confuse me about how it would turn out, though, so it kept me guessing and listening. Overall it was a really fun read.
I would never have read this book if it hadn’t been a book club pick, but I’m so glad I did! I thought that since I’d lived through the period of time covered in the book, I didn’t need to read about it. Wrong! Gail Collins really gave a lot of info and background that both added to and made all my memories come alive.
For example, I knew Billy Jean King had played that “Match of the Sexes” with Bobby Riggs in 1973, but I’d forgotten who he was and how he’d first beaten Margaret Court. I turns out that I really didn’t know much about Billy Jean, either. So it was extremely entertaining for me, especially as a tennis player, to read about her upbringing, how she really was the genesis of women’s tennis as a pro sport on a par with men’s tennis, and then about this match. Billy Jean really knew how to play it up and make a satire of the whole Bobby Riggs’ challenge. The author said, “Whether women had strong backhands was secondary to whether they could stand up to people who wanted to make fun of them.” So when the producers proposed that she be carried in to the tennis court on a cheesy Egyptian style litter held up by 6 scantily clad young men, she said, “God, that would be great! “ She beat Riggs at his own game, literally, in front of 48 million TV viewers! Fantastic!!
Collins talks about how the book Our Bodies Ourselves grew out of a group of women who got together in 1969 to discuss the shortcomings in the way doctors treated women in that era (paternalistic, judgmental, non-informative). Who doesn’t remember that book about owning our bodies and all sorts of things about the biology of being a woman that grew out of that group! I had a copy, that’s for sure. Then she tells about a woman who showed up for a meeting of the campus women’s group at Antioch and said, “We all got little mirrors and examined our cervixes.” Great quote from Nora Ephron, who said, “It was hard not to long for the days when an evening with the girls meant – bridge.”
The book was very well researched and factual. Collins did a great job of treating all races and classes fairly and painting a full picture of the women’s movement. She really started before 1960 with background information that helped to put the coming changes into perspective. That early part was really interesting and helpful. Then, as she moved into the 1960’s and onward, I think she summed it up pretty well when she said that the post war economy, soaring expectations of the post war boom, the declining income of men in the 70’s, the birth control pill, and the civil rights movement which made women aware of their own lowly status all came together to form “a benevolent version of the perfect storm” and resulted in all the cataclysmic changes of the 60’s and 70’s. I found the beginning chapters that dealt with the years up through the 70’s were the most fascinating. I supposed the reason I only gave it 4 instead of 5 stars is because I felt the later sections on the 80’s, 90’s, and the new millennium didn’t have as much cohesiveness or drive as these earlier sections. At 480 pages/15 hours, it’s a long book, and perhaps this first part would have been enough – at least for me.
Also, I felt like the titles of the short sections in the book were too cutesy and distracting. A more descriptive and academic way of naming the chapters and sections would help the reader – and especially the listener – to mentally organize the huge amount of information while listening.
This book was disappointing. I thought James Patterson would be a better writer than this. He has such a great reputation. I would say he was a step up from Harlan Coben… but it’s a small step. The characters and their relationships are not believable. Their dialogue is hackneyed and trite and sometimes laughable. The plot was bearable in the first half, but it started to take so many bizarre twists in the last half that I thought I might get whiplash. It seemed Patterson was almost trying too hard to make the plot exciting; instead it became ridiculous. One of the only things I did enjoy was the setting: San Francisco and the Bay Area where I live. Much of the action took place on streets I knew, places I've been, etc.... even Lake Tahoe and the Napa Valley played a part. That was fun.
It was easy reading, and I did want to find out “what happened,” so I kept reading. It wasn’t horrible, but I can’t say I’d recommend it. For the mystery genre, I’d go for Michael Connelly or James Lee Burke before I’d read another James Patterson.
I also found the narrator's voice to be annoying for some reason. I think her voice was overly melodramatic. Also, it somehow did NOT fit the main detective/character's personality, and I found this distracting. It is rare for me when a narrator's voice gets in the way, but this was one of the times. I think she did a good job, BUT I just couldn't appreciate it.
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