Fizzy Thoughts

Archive for the ‘book un-love’ Category

Wild

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Wild
Cheryl Strayed
March 2012
336 pages

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My issues with this book:

  • You are not the only person in the world who is an “orphan.” Get over yourself.
  • Being an “orphan” does not give you a free pass on the heroin. Or the unprotected sex.
  • Who sets out to hike a serious hiking trail without first testing the weight of their backpack? I mean, really, even I’m not that stupid.

Oh…did you want a summary? Here it is:

Sex. Death. Sex. Sex. Sex. Grief. Drugs. Sex. Drugs. Divorce. Hiking. Sex. Sex. Hiking. Sex. Sex. Sex. Drugs. Hiking. Grief. Grief. Grief. Sex. Sex. Sex. Hiking.

On the one hand, I read this book in a day. It was quite readable in a train-wreck kind of way. On the other hand, I Could. Not. Stand. the author and her whiny self-pity and the poor choices that she continuously made.

The hiking was mildly interesting, in an “ouch ouch ouch your toenails are falling off” kind of way. But even then, the author made so many poor decisions (hiking alone, running out of water, abusing her feet, losing her shoes) that it was a hard book to like. I’m also left wondering if there might have been a bit of James Freyishness happening, because…seriously?

Ti and I were pretty much bashing this one on twitter last week, so I know I’m not alone in my dislike. Although I think it’s fair to say Ti had issues with the book. My issues were more with the author’s personality.

Written by softdrink

July 2, 2012 at 6:00 am

In the Garden of Beasts

with 16 comments

In the Garden of Beasts
Erik Larson
May 2011
365 pages

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I’d been looking forward to reading this book because I loved The Devil in the White City. Loved it so much, in fact, I defended it in a grad school class to a bunch of stuffy history students who didn’t think it was a legitimate historical text. I thought Larson’s approach made potentially boring history accessible and interesting to readers who otherwise would shun non-fiction, especially non-fiction that deals with history. In Devil, Larson juxtaposed the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 against the story of a serial killer. The reader alternated between chapters on the fair (the first Ferris wheel!) and a charming con artist who lured women into his diabolically engineered hotel and killed them. I thought it was a great way to set up the book.

But.

While In the Garden of Beasts starts off hinting at a similar design (American ambassador William Dodd hies himself off to Germany with his family in tow…and it’s a Germany where Hitler is consolidating his power), it bogs down in trysts and name after name after name after name of minor and not-so-minor Nazis. See, Dodd had a grown daughter, Martha. And Martha did like her men. She had no qualms about carrying on with a French official, a Russian (and a communist, at that), and the head of the Gestapo…all at the same time. Which is good for Martha, but bad for the reader.

Larson is also overfond of foreshadowing. He hints at “impending doom,” but never really illustrates the doom. Or he seems to assume that you already know. For example, he discusses a dinner party and how it will have Very Bad Repercussions for the attendees, then he dismisses the consequences of the party in one final sentence by mentioning of the 7 attendees, 4 were murdered, 1 fled the country and 1 was sent to a concentration camp. There was no mention of who and how, just the numbers. Why were they murdered?? Who was sent to a concentration camp?? And did he survive???

Ultimately, Martha just isn’t exciting enough to focus on, and the parade of Nazi officials becomes overwhelming and confusing. The only reason I finished the book is because my uncle lent it to me, and I didn’t want to disappoint him by returning it unread.

Written by softdrink

December 22, 2011 at 6:00 am

The Prophet

with 22 comments

(No cover image today, because it creeps me out, and I don’t want to remind myself of either the creepiness of the cover, or the crappiness of the prose.)

The Prophet
Kahlil Gibran
1923
96 pages
Published by Alfred A Knopf and purchased by me, to my everlasting shame.

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Hamburger’s dad is a musician, and a bit of a snob about music. Whenever he hears any type of alternative or rock music from pretty much the 1980s on, he’s notorious for saying “That’s just crap.”

And that’s a pretty accurate summary of how I felt about this book.

I know that many people love this book. It was our book club choice for October, and one person in particular just raved about it. And it’s not that I don’t think people should love one another and be kind and help each other. I totally do. I just don’t need it phrased like this:

You were born together and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Ay, crap.

And then there’s this:

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to muse.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

Dude obviously didn’t work for a government agency.

And finally, one last torturous excerpt…

Like the ocean is your god-self;
It remains for ever undefiled.
And like the ether it lifts but the winged.
Even like the sun is your god-self;
It knows not the ways of the mole nor seeks it the holes of the serpent.
But your god-self dwells not alone in your being.
Much in you is still man, and much in you is not yet man,
But a shapeless pygmy that walks asleep in the mist searching for its own awakening.
And of the man in you would I know speak,
For it is he and not your god-self nor the pygmy in the mist, that knows crime and the punishment of crime.

To say I didn’t like this book would be a massive understatement.

Written by softdrink

October 5, 2011 at 10:48 am

Great House

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Great House
Nicole Krauss
October 2010
289 pages
Published by W.W. Norton & Company (can I have my money back? pretty please??)

I’m not a big noticer of language when I’m reading. Oh sure, there are exceptions (The Disappeared), and I certainly notice when the language is clunky, but as a general rule, I don’t fawn all over authors who others might call lyrical or whatever. I’m much more into the story and the characters and the setting…I want to be grabbed and flung into the world of the story.

And if any of the following occur in the course of a book, it’s pretty much a sure thing that I’m not going to  be raving about it.

  • Confusion – especially about who’s telling the story. Jumping from narrator to narrator without making it clear who is telling the story does nothing but piss me off.
  • Wondering about people who never appear – there’s nothing worse than waiting for someone’s story, only to get to the end and still be waiting.
  • Too much self-reflection – Good grief. Get on with the story!

I will admit to being a little biased, though, as I’d already one other book (and not the Love one) by Krauss that left me feeling meh. So I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down in excitement over the thought of reading this one.

In other words, this was so not the book for me. I read it for the Indie Lit Awards, and while it wasn’t my least favorite of the line-up, it was close to my least favorite. (In case you’re wondering, my least favorite was the one I compared to mayo).

I know there are many people who were eagerly anticipating this book (I wasn’t in that crowd), and while some were disappointed, others loved it. But, for the reasons listed above, and many others, this just isn’t my type of book. To be fair, there were moments when I thought I might change my mind, but in the end? Still meh.

Written by softdrink

February 3, 2011 at 6:00 am

C

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C
Tom McCarthy
September 2010
320 pages 
Published by Knopf

Note: I read this book as part of my panelist duties for the Indie Lit Awards. This review in no way reflects the opinions of other panelists.

***Also, me-mer-me-mer-mer (that’s European for siren going off) – major plot points will be revealed, so read at your own risk.***

You know how I occasionally mention that I don’t like mayonnaise? I don’t like the taste, or the texture, or the smell, or even the thought of what it’s made of (not a fan of egg whites, either). Well, for me, this book is mayonnaise.

The style is not to my taste, I didn’t care for the story (or the lack thereof), the cover is vaguely creepy, and I’m so not into symbolism or post-modernism, which is apparently what this book is made of. Of course, many people love mayo, just as many people love this book. In both cases, I fail to see the appeal. In fact, by the time I got to the end of C, I was scratching my head, wondering what the point of it all was.

The best way I can think of to describe this book (other than as mayonnaise) is sex and drugs, but no rock and roll. Our main character, Serge Carrefax (C…get it?), does a lot of both (and not very attractively, either). And I’m sure he would’ve been into the rock and roll scene, had this book not been set in the early 1900s.

I struggled through the first 60 pages of the book, which describes the minutiae of Serge’s childhood. His mother is deaf and his father is an odd duck, who runs a school where he teaches deaf children to speak. Serge has a brilliant older sister that he adores. There is much talk of things I do not understand. Or even find interesting. At about page 50, there is a scene featuring the school pageant, which goes on and on and on. I gave up on the book, because the story was going nowhere, the pageant bored me to tears, and the writing was driving me batty. However, Ti told me it gets better (both the story and the writing) at about page 100, so I picked it back up and soldiered on.

And it’s true. The writing clears up, and I no longer felt like I was trudging through mud (well, there were a few relapses, but overall, it was way more readable after I was tortured with the pageant). Serge goes to war, which was mildly entertaining, has a few orgasmic experiences with drugs (and I’m being literal when I say orgasmic experiences) (also, there’s cocaine, which also starts with a C. Gee, isn’t that special?), becomes a prisoner of war, where he likes it when he’s assigned tunneling duties as it gives him privacy to jack off, and then returns home.

From there, he attends college, gets involved with a girl who likes to attend séances, does a heck of a lot of drugs, gets totally wasted and crashes dear old dad’s car.

Then he’s sent to Egypt, to do something involving radio communication (more C’s!). He has a final one-night stand in a tomb (yes, really) where he gets bit on the ankle (serves him right). Then he has bizarre dreams involving insects and incest. And then he dies.

And I wasn’t sorry, at all. Does this make me a bad person? If so, I think I can live with that.

I never did feel engaged by the story, or sympathetic towards the characters, or even impressed by the writing. And I know I’m being harsh, but honestly…mayonnaise.

Written by softdrink

January 13, 2011 at 6:00 am

Grounded

with 11 comments

Grounded
Seth Stevenson
272 pages
2010
Published by Riverhead

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I bought it. And read most of it on an airplane, which would probably appall the author, who is down on air travel…and gets pretty high and mighty and obnoxious with his stance.

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The author and his girlfriend, Rebecca, circumnavigate the globe without flying (well, this isn’t entirely true, as Rebecca is forced to fly, once). They take a cargo freighter across the Atlantic, trains and ferries in Europe, a train across Siberia, ferries to Japan and then China, trains, busses and bicycles in Southeast Asia, a cruise ship to Australia, a car across Australia, another cruise ship across the Pacific, and then the train across the US.

However, Stevenson doesn’t seem to spend much time experiencing places. He seems to be more focused on the gimmick of circumnavigating the globe.* The end of their journey, especially, is a rush across Australia so that the couple doesn’t miss the cruise ship which is their only option for not flying back to the US. Stevenson will sacrifice time spent in foreign lands just to avoid the evil of air travel. He takes jabs at it constantly, and it gets old. Here’s one example:

“Teleporting from airport to airport doesn’t allow for the same kind of spiritual transformation you undergo whenever you make an overland trip. When you take a seven day vacation bookended by flights, I would in fact argue that your soul never completely leaves home. You’ve experienced it, I’m sure: Your airplane has landed in Quito, but your heart and mind are still stuck in Boston.” p. 269

As I mentioned, I read this book on a flight to Hawaii. And trust me, my soul left home. And my mind was elated to be on Oahu, too.

Stevenson also brings up the whole issue of how wasteful and expensive flying is, and I’ll admit he has a point, although I’m not quite ready to give up flying for that reason. He also argues that real travel is not done by plane. And this is where I really disagree with him. In fact, I ended up getting pissy and not liking the book because of his attitude. I’d counter that real travel is not racing across Australia in four days in a car without stopping to spend any time in a place. Nor is it found on a cruise ship with people of your own culture, or holed up in a compartment on a train as you travel across the wonder that is Siberia. The author should consider slow travel. Which, even if you fly somewhere, means you stay in one location for an extended period of time, fully experiencing the place and its people.

But that’s just my opinion. Unlike a certain someone, I’m not going to you beat you over the head with it.

Written by softdrink

December 31, 2010 at 6:00 am

The Hiding Place

with 12 comments

hiding place

The Hiding Place
Trezza Azzopardi
2002
288 pages

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Bonjour, FTC: I bought it, much to my dismay. Can you hook me up with a refund?

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Set in Cardiff, Wales in the 1960s, The Hiding Place is the story of the Gauci family. Frank Gauci is a Maltese immigrant with a gambling problem. On the day of his youngest daughter’s birth, Frank gambles away his restaurant to a local mobster. It is this youngest daughter, Dolores, who narrates the story.

Dolores begins the story with her return to her childhood home, where she awaits the arrival of her sisters. Dolores then goes back in time to tell the story of her family, full of hardship and abuse and emotional problems. Frank is a heartless father, selling off his daughters to cover debts and obtain advantageous business relationships. His wife, Mary, is at times an emotionally absent mother as she deals with her own problems. Their daughters grow up wild and troubled and abused.

Dolores claims to remember everything, including the circumstances of the house fire which caused her to be badly burned when she was a month old. Yet as the novel progresses it becomes evident that her observations may be shaded by a child’s interpretation of events. At this point in the novel, I became hopelessly confused (it all has to do with rabbits, and who did what to the bunnies) and I’ll admit to slogging through the last quarter of the book. I was hoping that it would all resolve itself, but by the end of the book I was just glad it was over. I had lost any sympathy I once had for Dolores, and the fate of each of the sisters really came as no surprise.

Of course, a more careful reader would probably pick up on some of the rabbit clues, but I just kept waiting for life to get better for the Gaucis. It never did.

Written by softdrink

April 25, 2010 at 7:21 pm