Oakland, CA | Member Since 2006
I ended up enjoying this book and getting some good insights to think about, actually. I have to admit that I did listen to the abridged version, since it was the only audio version available. I usually hate abridgements, but I just didn't think I could handle the 400+ pages on this topic. I was only reading it for my book club, after all! So, then the fact that I enjoyed it was a bonus, and I was happily surprised. There is a 1 hour talk available that the author gave about his experience, too; I may listen to that as well before the book club!
One of the things I liked about the book is that the author has a great sense of humor combined with some great insights. Sense of humor: He introduces his Jewish family by saying they aren't very religious at all; they are Jewish in the same way the The Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant. I liked his insights from his Biblical year, too. One chapter is "Love keeps no record of wrongs." Then he goes on to describe a list he has kept of various little arguments he's had with his wife and when HE was RIGHT and she was wrong. He decides that he will admit it to his wife and then destroy the journal. He tells his wife and asks if she's mad. She says no and laughs, saying it was just so heartbreaking that he needed this list. I liked his wife; he uses examples of her a lot.
He started the book saying he wanted to explore Biblical literalism since millions of people say they take the Bible literally. By the end, he comes up with a food metaphor to sort of summarize his year. The term "cafeteria Christianity", he says, is a derisive term that fundamentalist Christians use to criticize moderate Christians, saying you shouldn't pick and choose from the Bible but should follow it all. Fundamentalist Jews say the same thing about the Torah, he says. A.J. Jacobs says that what his year showed him is that EVERYONE practices cafeteria religion, moderates and fundamentalists, because it would be impossible to keep everything on your plate. Otherwise they'd kick women out of church for saying hello ("The women should keep silence in the churches for they are not permitted to speak." I Corinthian2 14:34) or boot out men for talking about the Tennessee Titans ("Make no mention of the names of other Gods." Exodus 23:13) So he learned that there is nothing wrong with choosing. They key is choosing the right dishes from the cafeteria. You need to pick the nurturing ones - compassion, the healthy ones - love thy neighbor - NOT the bitter ones.
I guess I feel like it doesn't take living Biblically for a year to figure this out, BUT is was funny, insightful, and somewhat inspriational to read this, so I'm glad he did it (and not I! )
This #2 book in the Harry Hole series was just recently translated into English. As with the 1st book in the series, The Bat, I think the reason they weren’t translated before is because neither #1 or #2 are as good as the later books written by Jo Nesbo. I started with The Snowman and was hooked! I had to wait for #1 and #2, and I hope now that I’m done with those two, the series will get better. That’s what the reviews seem to tell me. The Redbreast, #3, has been around for a while; I’ll move on to that one.
I enjoyed reading The Invention of Wings for two reasons. First, it was a good story. Second, when I realized it was based on the true story of the Grimke sisters, I appreciated it even more. As real characters, the Grimke sisters in this book were fascinating to me because they gave me a way to imagine how two women of the early 1800’s in Charleston could become such rebels! They became abolitionists, which was radical enough, but they also were some of the very early feminists. That part was fascinating to me. I liked the structure of the book: the way it went back and forth between the point of view of Sarah, one of the Grimke sisters, and then the point of view of one of the slaves, Hetty. I thought the writing was serviceable, but it was more the story and the history that stood out in my mind.
I wanted to read this book because it brings together two of Michael Connelly’s best main characters from two different series, Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller. It was enjoyable in a crime fiction kind of way, but I didn’t think it was as enjoyable as either The Lincoln Lawyer (with Mickey Haller), or most of the Harry Bosch novels I’ve read. Also, I thought it seemed a little too forced to have those two characters end up finding that they are half brothers. The origin of the title, The Brass Verdict is interesting: it simply means “street justice,” and it is how the bad guy in this book ends up getting his due in a twist of fate at the end of the trial .
Sorry, I just wasn't that impressed with Brene Brown. There's nothing wrong with the book per se, but I feel like it's all been written before and in a way that impacted me more powerfully. She definitely did a lot of research, but when it boiled down to making her points, well, as i said, it was nothing new.
Ryan McIlvain, the author of Elders, did a great job of writing the story of two Mormon missionaries and creating enough conflict between them to make a good book. The tension between the two characters builds and builds to a level where the reader just HAS to know how it’s going to turn out. The even bigger conflict is the internal one in the mind of Elder McLeod, the American missionary. It becomes apparent to the reader that Elder McCloud is not really suited to the Mormon way of life, but he’s been brought up in it and has to realize this in his own way and on his own timeline. It is a real feat that the author is able to make this timeline interesting by combining these two conflicts and coming up with a very readable, enjoyable book.
Elders is also an interesting look at the Mormon religion. Most of the rules that are revealed in the book are almost unbelievable to me, but I found it fascinating to read about them and how the young people, or all the people, in the book deal with these rules. I’ve been on the inside of the door which I’ve locked to avoid the Mormons because I do NOT want to hear their proselytizing, but this book gave me an opportunity, without having to open the door, to read about what they are like, and what it might be like to be a Mormon. I can’t help thinking of Mitt Romney and wondering if they told HIM to wear his blue jeans to bed at night to help guard against the evils of masturbation!
After reading Elders, I found an interesting interview with the author, Ryan McIlvain on Fresh Air with Terri Gross on NPR, by the way. That is worth a listen!
This book was billed as a “European Gone Girl, “ and at first I could not see why. However, as the plot evolved and the dinner went on, the comparison became clear.
(Spoiler alert - this paragraph :)
As in Gone Girl, the narrator starts out innocently enough. It seems he doesn’t care much for his famous brother and he has lots of musings and philosophies that seem interesting and make it seem like his goal of being a happy family is an innocent one. However, again like Gone Girl, the plot seems to take a turn after one particular incident in the book, and then the narrator becomes more and more “unreliable.” Whatever disease or condition he has makes him crazy, basically. It was annoying to not ever know what the name of the condition was supposed to be. Also, the way that the narrator won’t reveal what was wrong with his wife when she was in the hospital is annoying, as well. I wanted to know more about his wife. By the end, she seems as crazy as he is, but it is not clear why. She seems the more logical of the two, but in the end, she is not. Her evolution to this state is too unclear, in my opinion.
The book was like a manual in how NOT to be a good parent that is for sure. This father did everything possible to screw up his son, and it worked!
I really liked the structure of the book. It was built around one particular dinner, but in fact the plot ranges far back before this dinner. With each course, more is revealed. It is tantalizing in that way, and interesting to see what will come next.
In both books, though, the extreme actions of the characters seemed unbelievable, as did the endings. Overall, though, The Dinner wasn’t quite as exciting, or edgy, as Gone Girl.
I loved, loved , loved this book. I loved the plot, loved the characters, and loved her beautiful writing. This quote sums it up for me: “Donna Tartt is catnip for educated people who want to read entertaining but not difficult things about lofty topics and cosmopolitan people.” (Lydia Kiesling, The Rumpus, 11/30/13)
The goldfinch, it turns out, has been a symbol of Christ’s resurrection for hundreds of years. This may have started because of the thistle seeds that the goldfinch eats, which supposedly remind one of Christ’s crown of thorns. The painting, “Madonna of the Goldfinch” from 1506, exemplifies this Christian symbolism.
And even in ancient Egypt, this little bird was used to decorate coffins and remind the viewer that the soul is in the hands of God. This symbolism works perfectly in the book, The Goldfinch.
(Spoiler Alerts! )
The place where the symbolism becomes the most apparent is in Amsterdam. I love the way the final scenes there take place in the winter. Theo has hit bottom, he is about to commit suicide. It is cold, there is snow –traditional literary symbol for death. THEN it is Christmas day, and that is when he has his awakening, conversion, or rebirth. “ … after Amsterdam, which was really my Damascus, the way station and apogee of my conversion as I guess you’d call it, ….. “ (p. 768 ) A snowy Christmas: how perfect for a symbol of rebirth and regeneration.
That scene in Amsterdam is the main crisis in the book. For the rest of it, he pretty much tries to sum up the philosophy of life that he’s developed in going through all the horrors and yet the beauties of his life. This is a wonderful, emotionally moving, section. The painting of The Goldfinch has been symbolically representing how Theo’s soul has been in the hands of God – bumping from city to city and crisis to crisis - and now he’s wrestled with his demons and come out on the right side and can continue with his life in a better way. He’s doesn’t necessarily have a positive or happy outlook, BUT he is surviving, has reset his moral compass, and is ready to move on. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, he has had a conversion.
In addition to thinking about the Christian symbolism in the book, I am also trying to figure out if it could be considered a “picaresque” novel – the part about the bumping around from city to city like Don Quixote. The Goldfinch does take the main character, Theo Decker, to many locations on many strange adventures. First it’s NYC, then Las Vegas, then back to NYC, and finally to Amsterdam, and then other locations around the globe are tacked on at the end. So , that part qualifies as picaresque. However, in looking up the characteristics of that genre on Wikipedia, it is not quite so clear. I’m not sure if I have a point or not. Here’s a list to help make a decision:
1. Written in the 1st person as an autobiographical account.
Check this one as a YES. Theo tells his story and reflects on his life.
2. Main character is of low social class, gets by without and rarely deigns to hold a job. This is not so clear. Theo Decker is not of low social class, however, he is often very poor and he does many things that could qualify as “low class.” The picaresque hero is usually a rogue, BUT he is a lovable rogue and so doesn’t really seem like a “picaro.” I would put Theo Decker in this category, since he IS lovable, he does get by on his wits , and he DOES commit many roguish acts. He does have a job at some point, however, he commits some of his “roguish” acts on the job.
3. There is no plot. The story is told in a series of loosely connected adventures or episodes. This doesn’t work for “The Goldfinch. ” It has a plot, although, again, this is somewhat ambiguous since the plot does wander all over the globe. I guess, to me, the plot seems to be about Theo Decker growing up and finally coming to peace (of sorts) with his life and what has happened to him. This is a story of redemption, and that is the plot. So, I think this is NOT like a picaresque novel in the area of plot.
4. Little character development in the main character. Once a picaro, always a picaro. NOPE. Theo definitely has a conversion – a redemption. In fact, that is the major point or theme of the book, so this part doesn’t work as picaresque.
5. The picaro’s story is told with a plainness of language or realism. I would say this is true. The writing is lovely, but it is very easy to read, and it is realistic. There is no magical realism; there are no obscure passages. In fact, that is one of the things I loved about the book: it was a good story, easy to read, but still it contained many beautiful passages, literary references, figurative language, symbolism, and interesting thoughts on the nature of existence. So it was a great combo of the simple and the complex.
6. Satire might sometimes be a prominent element. At first I didn’t see it as a satire. However, I’m re- reading it, and now I can see the satirical elements: the social workers trying to help Theo; Dave, his therapist; the characters and the very geography of Las Vegas (the Playa, the empty houses, Xandra) and the snootiness superficiality of some in the art world. It is dark in parts and could be considered to be critical of life or segments of society. Although overall it doesn’t read like a satire, I’d say parts of it seem to be written in a satirical vein.
7. The behavior of a picaresque hero stops just short of criminality. Carefree or immoral rascality positions the picaresque hero as a sympathetic outsider, untouched by the false rules of society. This one seems true to me. Theo is thrown outside of society by the explosion in the beginning. He is always lovable, even when he commits his worst acts in the book. Although he seems to be taken in by others (his dad and Boris, mainly) he is always sympathetic, innocent, and lovable.
It will be hard for me to find a book that I like as much as The Goldfinch! Maybe I’ll try Donna Tartt’s other books…..
What a fun book! I liked it BETTER than The Shining. Of course, that could be because I already read and vaguely remembered The Shining. In any case, Dr. Sleep transported me to another world… the world of a good book. It was a good story, and Stephen King knows how to tell good stories. I really appreciate the naturalness of his writing.
Although a person would not HAVE to have read The Shining first, I DO think it adds to the enjoyment to have the details from The Shining in the mind while going through Dr. Sleep. It adds to the fun to remember Dick Halloran, Wendy Torrance, Horace Derwent, and even Mrs. Massey from room 217!
I loved the writing in The Dog Stars! The author did such a great job of evoking the main character’s personality. Hig was a combination of an outdoorsman and “man’s man,” and then also a poet and philosopher. He was sensitive and often compassionate; I really loved his character.
The Dog Stars reminded me of “The Little Prince” in which the narrator flies around the world in his airplane, is stranded in the desert, and meets the little prince who expounds on the beauties and also the frailties of the world. Like The Little Prince, The Dog Stars presents a lesson about life. This famous line from The Little Prince is really the theme of that book: "One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye." In the Dog Stars, it seems like the apocalypse has made Hig’s past life “invisible, “ and somehow allowed him to live more in the present, appreciating every small beauty, like the little prince said! Hig is has a poetic nature anyway, and so his observations throughout the book are poignant and touching.
At the end of The Little Prince, the prince tells the narrator that when he leaves it will make the narrator sad, but it will be consoling to look at the stars and think of the prince's lovable laughter, and that it will seem as if all the stars are laughing. It seems like Hig uses the stars in this way, as a sort of consolation, and that the name of the book refers to the nostalgia and beauty in the memories of all the stars he has named that console him in his current, post apocalyptic life.
The Dog Stars is the type of sci-fi that I like. I think you could call this science fiction in that it takes one aspect of the world today and fictionalizes it, but still lets all the characters interact in totally realistic way, and the lessons learned apply to us today in the real world. All the ruminations that Hig dished out over the course of the book seemed to be useful not only in a post apocalyptic world, but also in our modern day world.
I loved Hig’s relationship with Bingley. They are forced together, and they both learn from each other. The evolution of Bingley’s character is interesting and heartwarming.
I only vaguely remember having read The Shining back when it first came out in 1977. The movie version is more firmly stuck in my mind, but it is hazy, too. So I decided to re-read this classic Stephen King book before trying the sequel, Dr. Sleep.
Although I really enjoyed reading it, I was somewhat disappointed as well. I thought I’d be on the edge of my seat and terrified. The first half or 2/3 of the novel seemed almost overburdened with foreshadowing and character development. The final 1/3 was much more exciting, and so I did come away feeling that the book almost lived up to its reputation.
Also, as usual, I really appreciated Stephen King’s writing and the structure of the novel. He is good! Now I can’t wait to watch the movie again! And then on to Dr. Sleep!
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