Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather - 3M's Review

buyingafishing.jpgBuying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather is a short story collection by Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian. It's a short book, only 125 pages, and I read it to fulfill my books in translation requirement in the Reading across Borders Challenge, my "X" author [yes, I know the Chinese last name, first name deal, but it is filed under 'X' in bookstores], and as a book that meets the requirement for the Book Awards Challenge.

There are only 6 stories in this collection, and they were picked by Gao himself to represent his writing in an English translation. In the translator's notes, she indicated that Gao "warns readers that his fiction does not set out to tell a story. There is no plot, as found in most fiction, and anything of interest to be found in it is inherent in the language itself."

Of the six stories, I found the last two, "Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather" and "In an Instant" to be the most interesting. The first involves memories of childhood and the feeling that you 'can't go home again'. Here is a quote from that story:
Even so, I want to buy him a fishing rod. It's hard to explain, and I'm not going to try. It's simply something that I want to do. For me the fishing rod is my grandfather and my grandfather is the fishing rod.

The last story, "In an Instant," sort of feels like a psychedelic trip. I wasn't sure exactly what was going on in the story, but it sure was fascinating. Here is one of those 'fascinating' paragraphs:
He is sitting at the computer with a cigarette in his mouth. A long sentence appears on the screen. "What" is not to understand "what" is to understand or not is not to understand that even when "what" is understood, it is not understood, for "what" is to understand and "what" is not to understand, "what" is "what" and "is not" is "is not," and so is not to understand not wanting to understand or simply not understanding why "what" needs to be understood or whether "what" can be understood, and also it is not understood whether "what" is really not understood or that it simply hasn't been rendered so that it can be understood or is really understood but that there is a pretense not to understand or a refusal to try to understand or is pretending to want to understand yet deliberately not understanding or actually trying unsuccessfully to understand, then so what if it's not understood and if it's not understood, then why go to all this trouble of wanting to understand it--

Hmm, you tell me!

2004, 125 pp.
Rating: 4

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
His Dark Materials: Book One

Pages: 368
First Published: 1995
Genre: YA Fantasy
Award: Carnegie Medal
Rating: 3.5

First Sentence:

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

Comments: Lower class children are disappearing and when Lyra finds that her friend is missing she wants to find him and get him back. Lyra becomes caught up in her new life but eventually realizes that all is not as it seems and those she trusts are involved with the disappearance of the children. Lyra goes on a quest which ultimately results in her following her destiny. I wanted to like this book much more than I did. Honestly, I wasn't even close to blown away. The story was slow to start. Lyra was the only fleshed-out main character and I wasn't fond of her at all. Boring is the word that comes to mind. The book also ends with a cliff-hanger which is a technique I really do not appreciate.

I'm not saying this was a bad book though. Once the the pace picked up, I did find the story interesting and parts did read quickly. I'm finding it difficult to write this review as nothing really stood out to me as being great. It was ok; and I will be reading the next book, and most likely the last.


The Good Earth - Wendy's Review

Moving together in perfect rhythm, without a word, hour after hour, he fell into a union with her which took the pain from his labor. He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods. The earth lay rich and dark, and fell apart lightly under the points of their hoes. Sometimes they turned up a bit of brick, a splinter of wood. It was nothing. Some time, in some age, bodies of men and women had been buried there, houses had stood there, had fallen, and gone back into the earth. So would also their house, some time, return to earth, their bodies also. Each had his turn at this earth. They worked on, moving together - together - producing the fruit of this earth - speechless in their movement together. -From The Good Earth, page 31-

Pearl Buck's novel The Good Earth was published in 1931 and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932. It has been surrounded by controversy (mostly in China where Buck's work was banned for many years because of the perceived vilification of the Chinese people and their leaders). Having arrived in China as the child of missionaries, Buck grew to love the country. In 1935 she returned to the United States with hope of one day returning to the Orient...but this was never to be. She was denounced by the Chinese government in 1960 as "a proponent of American cultural imperialism." Later, just nine months before her death, her visa to return to the country of her childhood was denied. In 1938 she became the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature. More about Buck's life and work can be found in this excellent article published by Mike Meyer of the New York Times.

The Good Earth is the saga of Wang Lung, who is a poor farmer dependent on the land for his survival, and his extended family. The novel begins with this complex character as a young man when he marries a slave girl, and then follows him as he grows into a man with a family and wealth beyond his imaginings. Wang Lung is a man with a compassionate heart. I was touched by the love of his children, especially that of his developmentally delayed oldest daughter who he calls "the poor fool." In one scene, the family is faced with starvation and Wang Lung gives up his own food for his daughter...something that would have been highly unusual at that time in China.

Only a few of the beans did Wang Lung hide in his own hand and these he put into his own mouth and he chewed them into a soft pulp and then putting his lips to the lips of his daughter he pushed into her mouth the food, and watching her small lips move, he felt himself fed. -From The Good Earth, page 85-

Later, as he gains wealth, Wang Lung loses his path - and his inner goodness is challenged.

Wang Lung's pragmatic wife O-Lan represents the strength of the Chinese women during a time when women were considered to be a man's possession and slave. Throughout the novel, the idea of the cyclical nature of life is repeated, establishing a natural rhythm for the story.

Buck writes in simple prose which reads more like the oral tradition of story telling than a novel. Her understanding of character is evident throughout - and no character is all good or all evil.

I immediately was captivated by Buck's story; and even though at times the abuse and mistreatment of women was hard to read, I found I could not put the book down for long.

Buck wrote two sequels to The Good Earth: Sons (1931) and A House Divided (1935). I have put both on my wish list for future reading.

The Good Earth is a book I can highly recommend for its insight into Chinese culture during the early part of the 20th century, and for its high readability. Rated 4.5/5.

Kira-Kira, Newbery Award

As a book I listed as one of my Book Award Challenge selections, I felt inclined to sit and finish Cynthia Kadohata's Newbery winner, Kira-Kira. I was, however, so disappointed. There are times when I wonder what in the world the Newbery committee was thinking when it made selections, because I know several books listed as Honor medalists that would have made better winners than this book, and for so many reasons (Al Capone Does My Shirts anyone?!).

Katie Takeshima is growing up in the 1950's, a time where the Japanese are not exactly smiled at in public and where it is very difficult for her parents to gain good employment. When her uncle gets her parents jobs in a chicken hatchery in Georgia, they move from Iowa to completely new state, foreign to all of them. Katie grows even closer to her older sister Lynn, who just happens to be her best friend in the entire world. Unfortunately, Lynn slowly becomes very sick, causing her to pull away from Katie, and resulting in their parents working incredibly long hours in order to pay for Lynn's medical bills. As both girls continuously talk about their future dreams, the reader knows that none of the dreams can possibly come true for Lynn and subsequently will not come true for Katie, as she takes over the role of caregiver for the family, as Lynn's health declines.

Depressing and somber from the beginning, the novel just did not seem Newbery worthy to me. Unfortunately it did not even seem Honor Medal worthy. The reader did get to catch glimpses of life as a Japanese-American in the 1950's, as well as of a close-knit sibling relationship. I just think the book would have had a better chance at being likable if it hadn't started out with a dark feeling at the beginning, giving the reader upfront insight that tragedy was going to strike

The Store by T. S. Stribling 1933 Pulitzer Fiction

Miltiades Vaidan is the main character in this post-Civil War southern, racist setting. Milt is not a sympathetic character in his aspirations for wealth, he never achieves those goals and is more instrumental in the death and destruction of other people's fortunes and lives. The Store is the 2nd installment of a trilogy which may explain why it ends rather abruptly. It is a dark story. I wish there were more reviews and discussions available on this novel.

The World According to Garp - John Irving: Trish's Review

Title: The World According to Garp
Author: John Irving
Pages: 437
Rating: 4.25/5
Not really quite sure how to summarize this one. Or explain my feelings. I read this one for the Decades and Book Awards Challenges and put it off, put it off, put it off. I did like this book--a lot, but I didn't really know what to expect because I had heard so much praise for it. The best way that I can describe it is that it is like Tom Robbins but less blatantly metaphorical and less shocking. Although there is a lot of shock value in this book.

And sex. In fact it had a lot of the same sexual themes as Flesh and Blood (minus AIDS) although Irving is in many ways a little more subtle in his terminology and descriptions than Cunningham. The book begins with Jenny, a nurse taking care of patients during the war--particularly a Technical Sergeant Garp whom she has sex with in order to conceive a child (because she doesn't want to get married or have a baby the "conventional" way). The book is about her son, Garp, from the time he is a baby until...well...his whole life. :) The book discusses the intricacies of his marriage and affairs, his relationship with his children, the heartaches and joys of his life.

The rest of the review is on my blog.

"The Road"

I can sum up “The Road,” by Cormac McCarthy, with two superlatives—it is one of the best books I have read, and one of the most depressing.

The story (such as it is) follows a man and his son as they travel through the southern United States 10 years after an unspecified apocalyptic event. The land is gray and charred, the air is filled with ash, and seemingly the only other folks around are roving bands of cannibals. The sparseness of McCarthy’s prose perfectly matches the setting of the book, so much so that it is hard to read too much of it in one sitting, lest one sink into depression, or at least start outfitting a bomb shelter with canned goods.

But in spite of the grim scenario, the story is ultimately uplifting, much more than I would have expected when I started reading it. I read this for my book group, and we spent much of the discussion talking about what we would do in a similar situation. Most of us agreed that we would want to end things ourselves rather than face the daily battle for survival, high risk of enslavement/being eaten, and no hope for the future. But one friend, the only member of our group with a child, said she would have done just as the father in the book did, and fight to keep herself and her daughter alive.

Another member of the group was so traumatized by the story that she stopped reading after 100 pages, but everyone else found the book impossible to put down. For me, it was especially enjoyable due to my lifelong obsession with disasters/post-apocalyptic events (probably not the healthiest obsession, but what can you do).

This is the fourth book I have read for this challenge.
The Old Man and the Sea
By Ernest Hemingway
Completed November 24, 2007

Hemingway was always an author I wanted to tackle, so I decided to start "small" and go with The Old Man and the Sea. Overall, I enjoyed this novella and appreciated this story of perseverance and sheer will.

The Old Man has not caught a fish in months. Encouraged by The Boy, he decided to go far out into the sea, sure that his luck must soon take a turn for the better. The Old Man was right and snarls an 18-foot marlin. By himself, The Old Man must wait for the marlin to tire out before he can bring the fish to shore. The marlin and the Old Man start a cat-and-mouse game of who's going to last the longest.

I was fascinated with the way this story was written - it was mostly a narrative with very little dialogue. Less gifted writers could not have pulled this off, but Hemingway did beautifully.

Am I ready for more Hemingway? The Old Man and the Sea has definitely made me more confident. In any case, I am glad to have read this delightful little story. ( )

(Cross-posted from my blog)

Kristi's Reads #1, 2 & 3

I've recently finished the following books for this challenge:

The Giver by Lois Lowry - winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal. I would highly recommend this thought-provoking and wonderfully written novel about a 12-year-old boy charged with keeping his community's memories. A+

Charming Billy by Alice McDermott - winner of the 1998 National Book Award. Interesting story about a family of Irish-American Catholics living and loving on Long Island, NY. The story jumps back in forth through time to tell the story of Billy, an alcoholic, who's life is built on a lie. This book was good, but I didn't think it wasn't great. B

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - the 2006 National Jewish Book Award Winner for Children and Young Adult Literature. Another great book with an unusual narrator. A+

Update: raidergirl reads

I've been forgetting to post reviews here of award winning books for the last while.

Other Colors: Essays and a Story by Orhan Pamuk
Nobel Prize winner

I've only read Pamuk's nonfiction books, Other Colors along with Istanbul but I love his lyrical writing and the picture of Istanbul he evokes. This is for the fan who likes to read everything by their favorite author, and includes a wide variety of topics, including literature, day to day life, his own books, and east versus west. My full review, including pictures form my brief visit to Istanbul, are here.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Pulitzer Winner 2007

How can you enjoy such a bleak and depressing story? And yet, it stays with you, and was very profound. Many other people have reviewed this better than I, but my full attempt is here at my blog.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate diCamillo
Newbery Award Winner 2004

I liked this book so much, that after I returned it to the library, I went to the store to buy my own copy to have for my children. A little mouse who believes he can do what everyone else tells him he can't, and a princess who respects him.
My somewhat longer review is here at my blog.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shiver
Orange Prize Winner

This was a powerful book told from the mother of a school shooter's point of view. She tells things quite honestly, but there are no other perspective's to verify and she certainly wasn't very maternal. Sometimes I felt there was so much more I wanted to know. This would be a great book to have group discussions about. Here's my review from my site
Nicola here from Back to Books. This is my 8th book for the challenge.

Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry
Illustrated by Wesley Dennis

Pages: 224
Finished: Nov. 17, 2007
First Published: 1953
Awards: William Allen White Children's Book Award
Rating: 3.5/5

Comments: This is a story of the Grand Canyon during the early 1900s when it was the home of trappers, hunters, miners, and mountain men. The story is told through the eyes of a wild burro who lived the live of freedom yet sometimes lived alongside the men of the Canyon. This is based on a true story of real burro who even met Theodore Roosevelt. This is a wonderful well-written story with compelling characters. There is a continuing plot line involving a thief and murderer but much of the book contains episodic chapters of Brighty's adventures. The first half of the book is a slow, gentle read and I did find it hard to settle down with this book but the pace picks up at the mid-point and overall a good read. Recommended, especially if you are interested in this area.

#13 Restless - William Boyd

I reread this novel for my face2face book group.

We had a great discussion and while it was agreed to be a good entertaining book, we didn't consider it great.
More here.

A Fine Balance

This is an excerpt from my review, which can be found here.

Against the backdrop of a turbulent India of the 70's, we meet three men on a train. One, Manek, is a young college student on his way to live with a friend of his mother's so he can go to school. The other two are tailors, Om and Ishvar, on their way to find work in a small shop illegally run out of a woman's home.

The three soon find out that they are all going to the same woman, a young widow named Dina. In a series of flashbacks we learn how these four people are brought together and then we find out how, through a series of brutal events, they are torn apart.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Holley’s Review #5 of 12
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Alex Award 2007

OMG! I was by turns fascinated, repelled, grossed out, teary-eyed, and nauseated.

David is only 12 when his mother dies and he doesn’t quite understand things like his father’s loneliness, stepmothers and half-brothers. As he grows more resentful of his “new” family, strange dreams invade his nights and those dreams feature a man…a crooked man with a crooked hat who begins to appear outside his dreams as well. Soon he begins to hear his dead mother calling for him from the hole in the garden wall and of course he must investigate. So begins David’s quest to rescue his mother and it will take him on a deadly, horrifying journey through the heart of nightmares.

I loved this book. I would NOT let my teenage niece read it because she’d never sleep again. I’ll tell you this….the Crooked Man no doubt haunts Freddy Krueger’s dreams.

Happy Reading!
Holley's Review #4 of 12

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
Library Journal Best Books of the Year 2001
New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age

Sijie takes the reader back to China during the Cultural Revolution. The narrator (unnamed) and his friend Luo are sent to a community high on a mountain called Phoenix of the Sky. In addition to the insult of being taken from their parents and friends, these two boys now spend endless days hauling baskets of sewage on their backs up the mountain to fertilize the fields. A far cry no doubt from the lives the two boys must have previously led as the children of medical professionals. The boys' lives take a turn for the better when they discover a friend in a nearby village who has smuggled banned books of western literature into the village with him. These books open up new worlds of ideas and aspirations for the two friends and they discover the price of hope.

I really liked this book as I do not remember studying much about the Cultural Revolution in school and I have not read many books in that setting. It is such an alien concept to me that I've always been quick to read the fiction I come across that surrounds it. One of my absolute favorites in this area is Xinran's Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet, if you are interested in some related reading.
Happy Reading!

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
by Jean Lee Latham
251 pages
First Sentence:
Nat lay very still in the dark, trying to stay awake until his big brother, Hab, went to sleep.

Thus begins the story of Mr. Bowditch, the young American who wrote the definitive book of navigation during the time of President Washington. Nathaniel Bowditch was recognized as a math whiz at a very young age but was pulled out of school when he was 12 to serve an indentureship because the family was too poor to feed so many mouths. Along the way he was given some great advice that helped him to continue in his personal studies. He taught himself Latin, then French, then Spanish. He learned the particulars of navigation and then taught it to his crew aboard ship, making note of how he had to explain it so as to be understood by men with little or no education. He knew from experience that education gave men the ability to transcend their family backgrounds and current poverty. It was free but it gave endless benefits. Mr. Bowditch led a hard life but he never let it discourage him from continuing his own self education or helping those around him to improve their lives.

On the back cover of the book is this excerpt:
When Jean Lee Latham was told she couldn't possibly write an interestingbiography about a "human calculating machine,' she set out to do just that. She studied mathematics, astronomy, oceanography and seamanship beginning at the Junior High School level and "working up to Bowditch." ... Carry On, Mr. Bowditch further proves a contention of hers that a mathematician can be human and interesting.

This story was interesting and fun. It was positive and encouraging. I'm sure these were some of the qualities that made it the Newbery Winner in 1956. I very much enjoyed it and recommend it for anyone 10 and older.
Because I read mainly novels, the identity and experience of the author is usually immaterial to me. Of course, who they are and where they are from shape their words and the stories they tell, but seldom do I pay attention to these things. My belief is that the authors would want it to be so - that they would wish for their stories and characters to stand on their own, and to be authentic without our knowing anything about the artist who brought them to life.

Sometimes, however, this isn't possible. Having looked at the copyright of The Grapes of Wrath, for example, I know going in that John Steinbeck is writing in the here and now. He is writing a story about events that are going on around him, and he doesn't yet know what the future holds for the Joads, or for anyone else entrenched in the Depression.

I remember feeling this way when I read The Diary of Anne Frank. That I knew her tragic fate going in, but when she put her words, her hopes and dreams, to paper, she still clung to the hope of a future ahead, outside of the Secret Annex.

Which brings me to Suite Française, a novel divided into two parts, by Irene Némirovsky. The knowledge that while she was writing these words, the war was raging around her, and she did not know whether she would live or die, permeates and perfumes every page of this novel. That she intended it to be a novel in five parts, but died in Auschwitz with only two parts complete, makes it even more poignant.

The first part of the book, Storm in June, tells the stories of several families and individuals fleeing Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion. The stories told are from very different points of view, from the wealthy woman trying to keep her family heirlooms together, along with her ailing father-in-law, her children, and her servants, to the married couple who work at a bank, and fear mainly for their son, who is a prisoner of war, but also for their jobs, their security, and their lives. There is a priest, trying to transport a group of teen-agers from what can only be described as a correctional facility, to safety, while deep in his heart, he wishes to be far away from them, as he sees no evidence of God within them. There is the aesthete, proud of his figuring collection, and of the good luck (and smarts!) that conspired to leave him single and childless at a time when so much worry would be wasted on caring about another human being.
Some of his friends had gone, but he was neither Jewish nor a Mason, thank God, he thought with a scornful smile. He had never been involved in politics and didn't see why he wouldn't be left alone, a poor man like him, very quiet, very harmless, who never hurt anybody and who loved nothing in this world but his porcelain collection. He thought, on a more serious note, that this was the secret of his happiness amid so much upheaval. He loved nothing, at least nothing that time could distort, that death could carry away; he'd been right not to have married, not to have had children...My God, everyone else had been taken in. He'd been the only clever one.

The second story is Dolce, and takes place two years later, in a small village during the occupation. The families of the village are required to take soldiers into their homes, to live with them and adjust to their presence. The glimpse of both sides of this situation, and of a young (married) French woman who falls in love with a young (married) German soldier who comes to live with her, and the events that ultimately pull them apart, are gripping.
"He asked my permission to go into the garden to pick some strawberries. I couldn't exactly refuse. You're forgetting he's in charge here now, unfortunately...He's being polite, but he could take whatever he wants, go wherever he pleases and even throw us out into the street. He wears kid gloves to claim his rights as a conqueror. I can't hold that against him. I think he's right. We're not on a battlefield. We can keep all our feelings deep inside. Superficially at least, why not be polite and considerate? Ther'e something inhuman about our situation. Why make it worse? It isn' isn't reasonable, Mother." Lucile spoke so passionately that she surprised even herself.

These are unfinished stories, not polished or edited as Ms. Némirovsky would surely have wanted them to be. She had long term plans for some of these characters, as evidenced in her notes, included in an appendix at the back of the book. Some of them were to spill over into the remaining three stories. One was to be titled Captivity, and it sounds like it would have been the story of characters in a concentration camp. For the final two stories, she was waiting to see what would happen, wanted them to be based upon real events, and to have them talk to readers well into the future. I only wish she had been able to finish her book.
~ I'm not sure if this book is eligible or not, as the Prix Renadout isn't listed, but I've seen a few other folks cover it, so I thought I would as well.

Book: The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Genre: YA Fantasy
Award: Newbery 1985
Rating: A

Another Robin McKinley book that I just loved! I've been wanting to read this one for quite awhile. It's a prequel to The Blue Sword, which I read awhile book. This one is about Aerin, who lives with her father, the king of Damar. She has lots of questions about her mother and the circumstances of her birth, which no one seems to want to answer. She doesn’t really fit in with her father’s household and everyone looks at her as if she is an imposter. Meanwhile, in order to find her place, she learns how to fight dragons, which plague the people now and then. Eventually, she wins the heart of her people by.... well.... you’ll have to read the book for that part!

The Witch of Blackbird Pond (Dewey)

Title and author of book? The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Fiction or non-fiction? Genre? Young adult historical fiction, Newbery winner.

What led you to pick up this book? It was one of my choices for the Newbery challenge. I actually thought I had read it and this would be a re-read, but it turns out it wasn't familiar at all.

Summarize the plot, but no spoilers! It's the late 1600s, and Kit, who is a teen from Barbados, is left without any family or money after her wealthy grandfather dies. She takes a ship to Puritan New England to live with an aunt she's never met. The way of life there is very different from what she was used to. Not only does she work hard from dawn until bedtime, but even her clothes are shockingly bright and colorful compared to the dark clothes the Puritans wear. Somehow, in spite of her status as an odd outsider, a wealthy young man in the village takes an interest in her and starts to court her. Meanwhile, one of her two girl cousins is also being courted. Kit and the other cousin, Mercy, run a school for very young children. Eventually, Kit meets an older woman, a Quaker the town is suspicious of. Eventually, there are accusations of witchcraft.

What did you like most about the book? I liked the historical aspect best, but I also liked the characters, especially Kit and Hannah, the Quaker woman.

What did you like least? I found it implausible that the wealthiest bachelor in town would set his sights on Kit when she seemed so strange to the townspeople. I also found that, like in many historical novels, there were attitudes and behavior attributed to the main characters that are more in line with how people today think and act.

Share a quote from the book:This is Hannah, the Quaker woman: "'The answer is in thy heart,' she said softly. 'Thee can always hear it if thee listens for it.'" I liked that partly because it's sensible advice, partly because it seems in character for a Quaker, and partly because Kit does listen to her heart later, and finds an answer to something that is not what she and Hannah were discussing when Hannah gave her that advice.

What did you think of the ending? It ended just as I expected it to, but a younger reader may not have found it as predictable.

at my blog.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Empire Falls
By Richard Russo
Completed November 11, 2007

Having finished Empire Falls, I have been contemplating what exactly to say about it. It was a good book. It was a long book. It was very well-written.

But so what? I could say that about many books.

I think the thing that differentiates Empire Falls from other books is how Richard Russo is a master at character development. Empire Falls is the story of Miles Roby, a forty-something future divorcee who struggles as a manager of a local greasy spoon. Living in small-town Empire Falls, everyone knows his business: that his wife left him for the owner of the local health club, that the wealthy Mrs. Whiting holds Miles's future in the palm of her hand, that his daughter is struggling with high school, that he is a nice guy with a grumpy father, meddlesome town sheriff and enterprising brother. So many characters - but by the time the novel is over, Russo depicts them all completely. You really get to know them over the course of the 500 pages.

Another interesting aspect of Empire Falls is the mini-crescendos that occur throughout the story. Each tiny apex springs up every few chapters, until the last 50 pages when you get the "mack daddy" twist. The plot movement flowed liked a good TV drama, which is probably why HBO decided to adapt this novel into a mini-series.

Overall, I enjoyed Empire Falls, and I look forward to reading more of Richard Russo's other books. ( )

(Cross-posted from my blog)

Pulitzer 1999

I have just completed this book, the 1999 prize winner of the Pulitzer and Pen/Faulkner award. I have been completely immersed in the lives of three women as I have followed them to the end of a momentous day. This is a complex, hugely enjoyable yet deeply demanding book that begs as many questions as it answers.
As soon as a question forms reflections flood in. All through I was struck by recurring themes and ideas. I would love to study this book in depth to explore further many of the puzzles…..

Puzzles Queries and Thoughts …
Why hours?
Is this a book of middle age and the relinquishing of youth?
Kisses are laid before us with very careful almost precise language.
Creativity .., so wonderful yet here so close to sanity and the converse.
The joy of life and yet the shadow of death is never far from the writing.

Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh

I just finished this one. It is my seventh book for this challenge. In short, I really like this one. My full review is here.

Still Getting Organized

I only joined in October and since then I've been so busy, I can hardly think about which books I plan to read. I've been trying to read a fat novel for quite a while and want to get it done before I start this challenge with gusto. However, I have managed to read two kid books:
1) Zen Shorts by John J. Muth - Caldecott Honor Book - just beautiful both in its story and the illustrations (and has some great stories within the story).
2) Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary - Newbery Medal

I have some others waiting in the wings. I can't wait to get to them!
Carol E.

The Tenderness of Wolves
Stef Penney
371 pages

First sentence: The last time I saw Laurent Jammet, he was in Scott's store with a dead wolf over his shoulder.

Reflections: In the 1860s, Canada was a northern wilderness with fur traders and native people in tense coexistence. In the village of Dove River, a man is murdered. At the same time, a 17-year-old youth disappears and becomes a prime suspect in the murder. The disappearance rekindles memories of a long-ago tragedy, in which two sisters went off on a picnic and never returned. Local authorites and representatives of the Hudson Bay Company investigate the murder. And the boy's mother, Mrs. Ross, takes it upon herself to search for her son accompanied by a trapper named Parker as her guide.

Stef Penney weaves a character-driven tale of adventure and mystery. The characters are complex, and the story far from formulaic. Penney paints such a realistic picture of the frozen Canadian wilderness, that I actually felt cold and had to snuggle up in a blanket while reading. And while I did figure out one of the subplots early on, it did not mar my enjoyment of the book. This debut novel and 2006 Costa Book of the Year winner was a very enjoyable read. ( )

My original review can be found here.
I have just finished reading Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel and a 2006 Book Sense Award winner, “The Historian”, which was my fourth selection in for the Book Award Reading challenge, and because it has taken me an unanticipated three weeks to complete this tome, I am also going to include it as my third selection for sycoraxpine’s Unread Author challenge as well.

(you can read my complete review here)

I didn't enjoy this Georg-Buechner Award winning novel much ..... or did I?

I'm still not decided after writing my full review.

Anyway - challenge complete - or is it? I'm enjoying myself so much that I'm sure I can read another dozen before the end date. So that's what I'm setting out to do!

Amsterdam / Ian McEwan - 1998 Booker Prize

amsterdamThe premise of this book had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the format and perspective McEwan chose doesn't allow the characters to be fully realized. Their own personal issues and inability to examine themselves honestly leaves the reader's conception of them just as shallow as their own. In the end, this weakens the book and makes the ending seem out of place and essentially ineffective. Click here for my full review.

The Age of Innocence (Trish)

Wow, such a different look! I haven't had much time to blog lately. :( But I am getting some reading done... Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton (Pulitzer Prize)
I just finished The Impersonators, by Jessica Anderson, winner of the 1980 Miles Franklin Literary Award in Australia. I found it to be not only a good read, but an interesting group of characters. Maybe because it was closer in time to the previous book I read from Australia, but for whatever reason, this appealed to me much more, and I was engaged in the story from the beginning.

You can read more of my ramblings about it here, if you are interested. On to the next one!

Recent Winners

Giller Prize: Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
Booker Prize: The Gathering by Anne Enright
Nobel Prize for Literature: Doris Lessing
12 short stories about Latin Americans in Europe.

Back blurb: In Barcelona, an aging Brazilian prostitute trains her dog to weep at the grave she has chosen for herself. In Vienna, a woman parlays her gift for seeing the future into a fortune-telling position with a wealthy family. In Geneva, an ambulance driver and his wife take in the lonely, apparently dying ex-president of a Caribbean country, only to discover that his political ambition is very much intact.

In these twelve masterful stories about the lives of Latin Americans in Europe, Garcia Marquez conveys the particular amalgam of melancholy, tenacity, sorrow and aspiration that is the emigre experience.

My take: This is a fantastic book! If you aren't quite ready to plunge into Garcia Marquez's full length books, this one will give you a feel for how he writes. Despite some of these stories being only a few pages long, the stories will stay with you. They are beautifully un-verbose and showcase his gift for storytelling in magical, mystical prose. That is Garcia Marquez's magic.

If you've ever been in a foreign land, you can easily empathize with these characters' feelings of alienation and dislocation; of existing yet being unrooted from your realities and somehow making ones' self fit. The fit may not be quite right, but one manages.

Read more on the Read the Nobels. Also crossposted on my blog.

The Handmaid's Tale - Wendy's Review

It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time. Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control. - From The Handmaid's Tale, page 174-

Margaret Atwood's futuristic novel - The Handmaid's Tale - is timeless and relevant. Set in the fictional Republic of Gilead and spanning the Eastern seaboard of the United States after the collapse of the American government, the novel is narrated by Offred...a young Handmaid whose sole purpose in life now is to be the vessel for producing a baby for the upper classes. Atwood creates a terrifying hierarchy with men being "on top" and women being relegated to a variety of freedom-less classes such as Wives (top ranked married women who are unable to conceive), Daughters (the adopted offspring of wives), Marthas (infertile, single, older women whose skills at domesticity keep them from being shipped off to the Colonies), Econowives (low-ranked married women who must "do it all"), Handmaids (fertile women whose sole function is to provide babies for the upper echelon), Aunts (the only women who have any autonomy and are used to train and monitor the Handmaids), and Jezebels (the prostitutes who are hidden away in hotels and used for men's pleasure). Atwood uses irony effectively with Biblical references and play on words to craft a compelling story.

The novel questions how much freedom we are willing to give up in the guise of safety. Viewed in respect to our current world and political environment of red alerts, government lies to enact war, terrorism, airline security, phone tapping and the whittling away of individual freedoms...The Handmaid's tale is a thought-provoking expose on what could happen when we willingly give up our freedoms to supposedly ensure our safety. Are we on a slippery slope? Atwood also questions our sources of information (ie: the news media).

The anchorman comes on now. His manner is kindly, fatherly; white hair and candid eyes, wise wrinkles around them, like everybody's ideal grandfather. What he's telling us, his level smile implies, is for our own good. Everything will be all right soon. I promise. There will be peace. you must trust. you must go to sleep, like good children. He tells us what we long to believe. He's very convincing. -From The Handmaid's Tale, page 83-

Atwood is a genius at creating character. Offred's voice is pitch perfect, taking the reader step by step through her horrible story. Even Serena Joy, the Commander Fred's wretched wife, elicits sympathy from the reader. Atwood's skill with language has never been more spot on then in this novel where she twists words and phrases, showing the reader that all is not as it seems.

But all of that was pertinent only in the night, and had nothing to do with the man you loved, at least in daylight. With that man you wanted it to work, to work out. Working out was also something you did to keep you body in shape, for the man. If you worked out enough, maybe the man would too. Maybe you would be able to work it out together, as if the two of you were a puzzle that could be solved; otherwise, one of you, most likely the man, would go wandering off on a trajectory of his own, taking his addictive body with him and leaving you with bad withdrawal, which you could counteract by exercise. If you didn't work it out, it was because one of you had the wrong attitude. Everything that went on in your life was thought to be due to some positive or negative power emanating from inside your head. -From The Handmaid's Tale, pages 226-227-

I was hooked by the story from page one and read it straight through in two days.

The Handmaid's Tale
is on the ALA's list of 100 most banned books. It was short listed for the Booker Prize in 1986, won the Governor General's Award in Canada in 1985, and made the Orange Prize list of 50 Essential Reads. Brilliant, chilling, suspenseful, and masterly written - this novel is a modern classic.

Highly recommended; rated 5/5; read my original review here.

Title: Crow Lake
Author: Mary Lawson
ISBN: 0385337639
Publisher: Delta Trade Paperbacks
Pages: 291
Genre: Fiction

2002: winner, Books in Canada First Novel Award

I won this book from Framed and Booked in a book giveaway for BAFAB week. I had no idea of what kind of book it would turn out to be. As soon as I received it, the back cover interested me so much that I started reading it right away. I finished it around midnight. It kept me engrossed and I did not want to keep waiting to finish it.

The story begins with Kate Morrison. She is narrating it for us right from when she was six years old. She has two elder brothers, Luke who is nineteen and Matt who is seventeen. They have a baby sister Bo, who is eighteen months old. Right in the beginning, we see the children losing their parents in a car accident. Luke who had never cared much for his siblings gives up on his dream of becoming a teacher and brings up the younger kids with the help of his brother. Matt has always been interested to go to the University but due to some reason I need not elaborate here, he can’t. Kate follows Matt’s dream. She ends up becoming a zoologist.

This novel is set in the wild terrain of Ontario. Here heartbreak and hardship go hand in hand. The story of the Morrisons is tied up with the Pye family. The Pyes are a cursed lot where the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons. On the centre stage are the Morrisons undergoing tragedy but it is not brutal. In a way, it binds them together.

For more, visit here...

My Own Little Reading Room

The Bone People - kookiejar's review

This is an excerpt from my review which can be found here.

I think I've mentioned before that I really don't enjoy poetry, and strictly speaking this is not poetry. However, as Dana (and others) have so rightly pointed out, Hulme's prose has a peculiar rhythm that makes this novel feel like one long, beautiful poem. And when you think about it, this style is completely appropriate because the main characters come from a culture with a rich oral tradition.

Kerewin is a part Maori woman, estranged from her extended family, who lives alone in a tower on a New Zealand beach. She is very set in her ways and quite misanthropic, but she has a kind soul and a generous spirit. One day a little blonde boy (Simon) shows up on her doorstep. She takes him in, feeds him and contacts his people. Thus starts a chain of events that change Kerewin's solitary existence forever.

Lisey's Story - 3M's Review

liseystory1.JPGIt had been over 20 years since I had read a Stephen King book. I used to love horror and love his books. I really, really did. That changed and I don't like horror at all now. I like scary, suspenseful stories-just not horror. I think I had convinced myself that surely there wouldn't be that much horror because he put so much of his wife/marriage into the story. I guess there probably wasn't as much as in his other books, but it was still too much for me.

Stephen King had said that he wrote this after considering what could happen to his wife if he had died in the car accident that he had. I do think he put quite a bit of himself and her into this story. I liked the beginning of the book very much, but then in the middle there was a little too much of the horror element for me. Lisey's husband Scott flashes back to a horror-full childhood. There were some crazy things that happen to Lisey as well that bothered me because I kept thinking, "How can he think of these things happening to his wife?"

Anyway, it was a good book for the R.I.P Challenge, but I don't think I'll be reading another King book for awhile. If you know of one that is very tame, I might try it. Otherwise, there's just too much horror in King for this wimpy woman.

2006, 509 pp.

Rating: 3.5
halfyellowsun.JPGA beautifully told story of a savage civil war, Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun definitely deserved the 2007 Orange Prize.
They sat on wooden planks and the weak morning sun streamed into the roofless class as she unfurled Odenigbo's cloth flag and told them what the symbols meant. Red was the blood of the siblings massacred in the North, black was for mourning them, green was for the prosperity Biafra would have, and finally, the half of a yellow sun stood for the glorious future.

I resisted reading this book because I really just don't like war stories at all. I wanted to give it a chance, though, because so many bloggers had said they appreciated it. They were right; it's a very special book. Based on the conflict in Nigeria in the late 1960's, it not only depicts the horrors of war, it also hauntingly and lovingly depicts the lives of the participants. Apparently many of the characters were based on real people in Adichie's family history, and this authenticity very much shines through.There were some content issues for me in the book, but I'm very glad I read this story. I look forward to reading Purple Hibiscus and other books of hers to come. If you decide to read the book (and I highly encourage it), afterwards you might want to go to her website where you can find a lot more information about the true story.

2006, 541 pp.
2007 Orange Prize
Rating: 4.5


Bridge to Terabithia
By Katherine Paterson © 1977
Published by HarperCollins
1978 Newbery Medal winner

As one of the few who had never read the book OR seen the movie, reading Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, was not what I had expected. I had seen the movie trailers with the fantasy monsters and the children in historical garb, so I assumed it was a fantasy story. Actually, it’s a real-life story about two kids with fantastic imaginations.

Jess Aarons has a hard time fitting in. He’s the only boy in his family, stuck between four sisters. He desperately wants his parents’ acceptance, but never quite seems to measure up. He has a talent for art, which is considered a waste of time by his rural farm family. Deep down, he’d really like to make his father proud, and as the story begins, Jess has big plans to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He spends his whole summer training for the race on that first day back at school, imagining all the while how it would feel when he won.

"Maybe Dad would be so proud he'd forget all about how tired he was from the long drive back and forth to Washington and the digging and hauling all day. He would get right down on the floor and wrestle, the way they used to. Old Dad would be surprised at how strong he'd gotten in the last couple of years."

But there’s a new kid in town, a girl, named Leslie Burke. Leslie is different from all the other girls at Jess’ school. She comes from the city, she dresses differently, she doesn’t even play with the other girls at recess, but instead dares the boys to let her race.

And she wins.

Even so, Jess and Leslie become the best of friends. Leslie introduces Jess to the wonders of imagination, as they create their very own secret place in the woods, the kingdom of Terabithia, where they reign together as king and queen. In Terabithia, their real-life problems become monsters to be defeated, and Jess and Leslie gain strength from their imagined battles. In this way, they help each other through the typical struggles of fifth-grade life, and become as close as two friends can be.

But the story ends in tragedy, adding further to the impact that Leslie has on Jess’ life.

Bridge to Terabithia is incredibly well written, the ending is extremely touching (make sure you have plenty of tissues if you read it) but it was a bit of a downer for me. With all the magic in the kingdom of Terabithia, I had hoped for a little more “happily ever after.”

(Also posted at my blog, Needles and Pens.)

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

I read this book for both the Reading Awards and the Canadian Authors Challenges. It is the second book in the Canadian and my sixth in the Reading Awards Challenge. It is the winner of Pulitzer Prize.

Shields has written a pseudo-biography of Daisy Goodwill Flett and follows this character from her birth in 1905 until her death near the end of the century so her life stories spans the incredible changes in Canada and America in the 1900s. However, Shields chooses to tell the story in selected vignettes of time.

STRENGTHS OF THE STONE DIARIES: The writing is marvelous, and Shields is able to draw the reader into this story even though she changes point of view throughout the telling of this life. I call it a telling, but it really feels like a remembering - how memories are indistinct at time and sometimes skip around to what may, or may not, really be important. That is what I loved most about this story. Shields was able to capture the life of an ordinary woman without an excessive focus on her role as wife and mother.

Read the entire review here.

I'm in!

I found this blog's reading challenge via the Pulitzer Project Blog. I missed the 11/1/2007 deadline by one day for prize eligibility, but that's okay. I set a personal goal about two years ago to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction, and I am currently reading my 56th , The Store by T.S. Stribling. I've posted a few brief reviews on the Pulitzer blog on my current reads. I am reading them in no particular order, but some of the older winners will be at the end of my list because they are difficult to locate.

The June 30, 2008 deadline may be a long shot to finish the project, but that is what I will strive to meet rather than just reading a certain number. This has been one of the most rewarding endeavors I have ever undertaken, and in an odd way, I will not only be proud of the accomplishment but also appreciative of having had the opportunity to experience some wonderful and often long-forgotten stories.

A Single Shard

I read this last month and forgot to post it here. This is my seventh book for the challenge so I have now passed the half-way mark.

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

Pages: 152
First Published: 2001
Awards: Newbery Medal
Rating: 3/5

First Sentence:

"Eh, Tree-Ear! Have you hungered well today?" Craneman called out as Tree-ear drew near the bridge.

Comments: An orphan boy in 12th century Korea lives under the bridge with a crippled man. He is fascinated with the pottery made by the craftsman in the nearby pottery village. He is taken on as an apprentice and his life slowly changes. This was a good book, a nice pleasant read but I guess I expected something more from a Newbery winner. I enjoy pretty much anything written about ancient Asia and this did give a wonderful portrayal of Korean life at the time.

Come visit me on my blog: Back To Backs
Stranger in a Strange Land
Robert Heinlein

This is purportedly the most popular science fiction book of all times.

It won the 1961 Hugo Awards.

I've read this as part of my additional reads for the challenge. I know I keep saying that, so I apologize. I still wouldn't trade my Final Twelve list. I'll go through that, promise.

But as for this being the most popular science fiction book of all time, I do not understand why. I don't grok it at all.

With that I guess it's quite obvious I didn't have the pleasure in grokking the story of the Man from Mars.

Here's the link to my thoughts on the book.

Middlesex - Wendy's Book Review

I feel a direct line extending from that girl with her knees steepled beneath the hotel blankets to this person writing now in an Aeron chair. Hers was the duty to live out a mythical life in the actual world, mine to tell about it now. -From Middlesex, page 424-

Jeffrey Eugenides Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, Middlesex, is a rich family saga spanning three generations and takes the reader from Greece to Detroit on a whirlwind ride of rich, original language and spot on characterization. The story of Calliope Stephanides - an American born intersex individual with strong Greek heritage - is narrated by Cal...Calliope's adult male counterpart.

Middlesex is a tragic story which is comically portrayed using Greek mythology. Eugenides is a talented writer - his vivid descriptions are filled with the lush sensations of life. The characters who people this wonderful novel are fully developed; their flaws and imperfections revealed even through the names they are given: The Object (Calliope's teenage love interest), Chapter Eleven (Cal's brother), and a vast array of other characters based on mythical stories. Even the title of the book is steeped in symbolism.

Middlesex! Did anybody ever live in a house as strange? As sci-fi? As futuristic and outdated at the same time? A house that was more like communism, better in theory than reality? -From Middlesex, page 258-

The novel is essentially two stories: the history of a Greek family who carries a recessive gene; and the coming of age story of the main character - Calliope. At times it was easy to forget that this huge novel was written by a man. Eugenides wonderful insight into the thoughts of an awkward, self-conscious teenage girl is finely illustrated in this scene in the locker room after a field hockey game:

In front of me girls were entering and exiting the showers. The flashes of nakedness were like shouts going off. A year or so earlier these same girls had been porcelain figurines, gingerly dipping their toes into the disinfectant basin at the public pool. Now they were magnificent creatures. Moving through the humid air, I felt like a snorkeler. On I came, kicking my heavy, padded legs and gaping through the goalie mask at the fantastic underwater life all around me. Sea anemones sprouted from between my classmates' legs. They came in all colors, black, brown, electric yellow, vivid red. higher up, their breasts bobbed like jellyfish, softly pulsing, tipped with stinging pink. Everything was waving int he current, feeding on microscopic plankton, growing bigger by the minute. The shy, plump girls were like sea lions, lurking in the depths. -From Middlesex, page 297-

The novel is an exploration of immigration and the split loyalties that immigrants face. Eugenides parallels this theme with that of identity in general using the pain of adolescence and the confusion of sexual identity as spring boards to delve into the human psyche.

Middlesex is a vividly imaginative novel - epic in its scope and sensitively wrought. It is well deserving of the Pulitzer Prize.

Highly recommended; rated 4.5/5; read my original review here.