Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Boat ~ Nam Le

It took me two months to get through The Boat, Vietnamese-born Australian writer Nam Le’s debut collections of short stories, a fact at complete odds with how much I enjoyed it.  However, this just means that I had time to savor, a verb that this collection certainly deserves.  The Boat consists of seven carefully written stories, all of which revolve around a single character in various settings.  The stories are more about character development that plot, though there is a point of conflict in each story around which the narratives revolve.  In each you can sense the care that Le gave in writing and the efforts he made to get inside the characters’ heads.  A note about each story:

“Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice” takes place in Iowa, and is about a character named Nam Le struggling to write the final piece for a writers’ workshop, in which he struggles with his conflicted feelings about his father and writer’s block.  He takes risks, changes his perspective, and comes to understand more about his father, though disastrously.

“Cartagena” is about a Colombian hit man on the verge of a promotion.  I didn’t think that I would like this one but it was shockingly revealing, both about the main characters and the drug and crime culture of Colombia.

“Meeting Elise” focuses on a famous artist who is trying to deal with his art and his lost daughter while getting a cancer diagnosis.  This was also excellent, but the number of euphemisms for anus got a little hilarious distracting.

“Halfhead Bay” was a little confusing.  Though I enjoyed the story and the perspective of the character, there was a lot of distracting slang and I spent a good amount of the story trying to figure out where it was set, which was annoying.  The ending is a little jarring, but probably more honest than what was expected.

“Hiroshima” stands apart from the rest in that it utilizes stream-of-consciousness to follow a young girl in the time leading up to the bomb dropping.  One thing that really struck me about this story was what a lot of people would call “brainwashing” and what is really ideology, which Americans spout just as much as anybody but misunderstand in others.  This was extremely powerful, no less because I knew what was coming from the first word.

“Tehran Calling” was probably my least favorite of the collection.  The focal character is a weak woman who never grows and whom I couldn’t like, and the portrayal of Iran seemed stereotypical (though to be fair, I’ve never been there).

“The Boat” is hands down the most disturbing of the collection.  It tells of a girl on a fishing boat escaping from Communist Vietnam and the horrors that occur on board.  This isn’t the tale of heroism that another writer might make it, but a brutal story of the truths of what many people have and continue to suffer in the effort to find freedom (ßideology).

This was a powerful collection, and I recommend it to anybody who likes intense looks into characters’ subconscious.  Beware: there are no happy endings here, only truth.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top Ten Reads of 2011

Two posts in two weeks?  It's been months since I've managed that.  Go me!  Apparently, however, my inspiration is limited to top ten lists hosted by The Broke and the Bookish (and insomnia) but that's okay.  This week, I get to reflect on what I read in 2011.  Whoopee!  Apparently I read 22 books in 2011, including two that I have yet to review, as well as assorted short stories and at least eleven audiobooks, most of which I did not review (because most of them were Harry Potter and been there, done that).  Except for the audiobooks, most of this reading was done in the first eight months of the year.  Here are my top ten favorites, in semi-reverse chronological order:

1) The Boat by Nam Le: I finished this collection in an airport a couple of days ago and haven't had time to review it yet (maybe in the airport later today), but trust me, these stories were absolutely wonderful.  I can't wait to tell you more about them.
2) H.P. Lovecraft stories: I only read a few, but they were freaking awesome.
3) Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: I know that my review of this tome was rather ambivalent, but I tore through it and on reflection, it's really grown on me.  There may actually be a super-belated follow-up post on my original review - that's how much my feelings about it have changed.
4) Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier: This novel was just beautiful.  I recommend it to anyone who loves to get lost in beautiful writing.
5) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: So the internets have been all aflutter about this book, and not just in the good way.  The industry and some reviewers (including myself) were all like whoa guys, read this, it is the bestest and then people read it and were like well it was nice but what about this and that and that other thing and then the industry and some reviewers I was all like wow maybe you have a point NO I WILL NOT LET YOU TARNISH IT FOR ME AND SINCE WHEN DID YOU GIVE A CRAP ABOUT PLOTS.  I also had the advantage of a pre-hubbub ARC, which probably helped.
6) Room by Emma Donoghue: This book was creepy and disturbing and fed into some news-related obsessions of mine.
7) The Cider House Rules by John Irving: This book was long and awesome and also fed into thought-interests of mine and made me rethink some things, which is a tall order for a work of literature.  Nicely done, Mr. Irving.
8) The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde: A fun, silly, literary start to a fun, silly, literary series!  Yay!
9) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: This was oddly done (in a good way), disturbing, and really snuck up on me.  It's amazing how for most of the book I could be all meh and then just be struck dumb at the end.  Wow.
10) The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood: I read this nearly a year ago, but I still remember how much I enjoyed it.  This was Atwood's first novel and a really interesting look at how much her writing has changed while her core persona still remains so much the same.  I love how her feminism comes across in this novel and how she doesn't have to write dystopia to be awesome.

Phew!  That's ten!  As I was going back through my archives, I thought that I would go over, but February and March seem to have been dry months for me and I just managed to stay within the limits.  It was a good reading year, even if I've hardly managed to read anything for the last four months.  Here's to an equally successful year of literature in (the summer of) 2012.  And to me managing to get up those last two reviews before this year is out.  Happy reading!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

So Apparently Santa Publishes Now...

That's right folks, it's time for my first post of December!  It only took me three weeks, and to be honest it probably would have taken longer if it hadn't been for ladies at The Broke and the Bookish reminding me how much I want a select few books and how much I'd like to talk about that.  Get ready for my most covetous bookish post of the year...

(ranked for Santa's convenience)

10) Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose: This has been on my wish list for years, longer than anything else on this list by far.  I think it's probably never been bumped to the top of the list because it's not actually a novel and that tends to be what I read but I'm so attracted to the blurb on the back about examining why certain stories carry on.  Plus her last name is Prose - how convenient is that?

9) Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: So I read The Road (like every other good American) and it was horrifying and excellent and I finished it in two days and I'm not really sure why I haven't read anything else by him because I finished that years ago.  Anywho, I hear that this is the Cormac McCarthy book to read and who am I to argue?

8) Zone One by Colson Whitehead: So I'm not all that into zombies but literary zombies (funny story: I told my husband about how this is a literary zombie novel and isn't that awesome and he was all "Haven't those been out for like a year?  Like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies?" and then I punched him).  Plus, Whitehead is freaking hilarious (I saw him do a "reading" and it involved a whiteboard and charts and it was fantastic) and I love both Apex Hides the Hurt and dystopia, so how could this go wrong?  It can't, I say.

7) Fables Volume 1 by Bill Willingham: Fairy tales.  Graphic novel.  Highly recommended.  Need I say more?

6) Design Sponge at Home by Grace Bonney: So in my advanced age (ducks punches) I find myself becoming crafty.  Not crafty in the knitting kind of way (as I have neither the patience nor the mastery of my own neuroses to handle that) but in the hang stuff on the wall and make scrapbooks kind of way.  Plus, I like things that are hand-crafted and one-of-a-kind and how can I be sure something is one-of-a-kind unless I'm the one that hand-crafts it?  Okay, I'll probably just look at the pictures but I still want it.

5) The History of History by Ida Hattemer-Higgins: I don't know very much about this except that it does funny things with history and the description remind me of a story in Fragile Things and it comes highly recommended in a cult kind of way (by cult I mean you must be special and superior if you like it [man I hope you know I'm not being serious {it's hard to tell online sometimes}]).  Plus, I like the cover.

4) 1Q84 by Haruki Marukami: So I've only read one other book by Marukami and it was short stories and I loved it and that means two things: I'm not actually sure that I enjoy his longer fiction and I have a whole plethora of his other writing to enjoy without having to buy a gigantic hardcover copy of this but... I want it all the same.  It's kind of named after Nineteen Eighty-Four which means awesome in my book.  Though if Santa does give it to me, I'm really going to have to learn its name because I keep calling it IQ84 and wondering why it won't come up in online searches.

3) Possession by A.S. Byatt: I honestly can't remember what this is supposed to be about but I am absolutely confident that I must have it.

2) Vegan Diner by Julie Hasson: Did you really think that I could get through a list of books I desire without including a cookbook?  I myself am astonished that only one book made it on the list.  This book looks like a yummy way to have greasy diner fare at home (or just in NJ, as I don't know of any meatless or even veg-friendly diners in this state).

1) The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: Even though this book has only been out a couple of months, I already feel like I'm the only member of the book blogging community who hasn't read it yet.  What I've heard about it - Victorian literature, and English major, mental disorders, and a man named Mitchell* - makes this the number one book on my list.

*My husband's name is Mitchell; I'm not some creepster who makes book purchases based on random men's names.