Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Leap

The Leap by Jonathan Stroud (author of the Bartimaeus Trilogy): This is about a girl named Charlie, who witnesses her best friend's (Max) drowning. He falls into a pond in a kind of trance and she goes after him and sees these water ladies taking him away. They try to take her too but she escapes, though almost drowned. She tells people her story, but most think she might just be in shock from her friend's death. When she returns home after a few weeks in the hospital, she begins to have dreams where she sees Max far in the distance. She tries to catch up, but never can reach him. She meets a man named Kip, who says he can help her. He tells her about a fair that will soon start, that there is a dance where all the new-comers to this mysterious land dance. He says if she gets to Max before the dance is over than he will be able to return home with her. But if she does not, he will be in the land forever, and forget her completely. So she journey's in her dreams by night, and by day is quiet, to herself, and basically oblivious to the world around her. Many times while she sleeps, her brother James views her in a sickly condition. There is one incedent when Kip gives her a piece of fruit he says will make her wish to find Max come true. James is watching while she sleeps and at the time she is biting the fruit, she is slowly turning more pale and sickly before his eyes, so he wakes her up before she finishes it. Obviously something is wrong with the world in her dreams, but even though her brother warns her she stills thinks she can somehow bring Max back to life. So I won't give away the end in case any of you want to read it, which you should if you like youth/fantasy books. It's pretty interesting. It has the magic touch of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, and the writing is similar to the Series of Unfortunate Events, with its dark humour. It's great!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie is the story of Saleem Sinai, born at the stroke of midnight at the exact moment of India's independence. The mystical hour of his birth endows him (and 1,000 other children) with preternatural powers, first telepathy that facilitates a connection with the other "midnight's children," and later an uncanny sense of smell that allows him to sniff out danger, read emotions and interpret motives that others can't sense. Saleem is fathered by history, and he is handcuffed to it. He tells his story with "postmodern reflexivity" (flexing my academic muscles--they're pretty flabby!), but all the big moments in his life are mirrored in the changing fortunes of India's modern history.

This book is often compared to One Hundred Years of Solitude due to it's liberal use of magic realism, the thematic suggestion that reality is subjective, and the fact that it is a loose allegory of the history of a country. Magic realism is actually one of the features I found so appealing in this book. My favorite recurring example reminded me more of Like Water for Chocolate: the impregnating of food with the cook's emotions. Saleem's aunt cooks all her old-maid repressions into her chutneys, thereby disseminating her bitterness and discontent throughout the family.

It took me about 4 months to get through Midnight's Children because it really is not the type you don't want to put down, but it is extraordinary. It's complicated and unique and funny and tragic and optimistic. Knowing very little about India or Indian history, I was in unfamiliar territory, but I found Saleem's self-depracating narrative voice to be so endearing, and I enjoyed the way the story unravels in big swoops and digressions rather than being linear--it's an oral narrative style that really works. Anyway, this is a good book--the kind that leaves you feeling that you read something big.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy is an adventure novel about an enigmatic, daring, crazy-resourceful English aristocrat who has sworn to rescue the victims of the French Revolution's "reign of terror" which was sending men, women and children alike to its insatiable "Madame la Guillotine." He is relentlessly hunted (Javert-style) by the malevolent, implacable "human bloodhound" Chauvelin.

It's a very entertaining, suspenseful book--the kind you speed through because you can't wait to find out what happens. I recommend it if you're looking for a good "fluff" read, especially for those who enjoy a swashbuckler, but I do feel compelled to point out two fairly serious errors in judgment on the part of the author. 1) The character of Lady Blakeney is known as the "cleverest woman in all of Europe," so I assumed she'd be the type who could keep her wits about her. However, in the big denouement, she acquits herself very badly: she is hysterical and ultimately useless. She actually passes out, misses all the action, and then literally has to be carried out of France. It's all very romantic, but I would have preferred a real heroine. 2) The author uses a regrettable stereotype from the day--the greedy, sniveling, surprisingly grimy Jew. It's a tad unsavory. Overall, though, this really was a fun book to read, well worth the little time it takes. There's romance, intrigue, brilliant disguises and daring escapes--a good old fashioned masked-avenger tale.

Debbie: I know you're reading this book, so let's hear what you think! If you're interested, there's a sequel (El Dorado: Further Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel), in which the hero rescues the young Dauphin--that may ring a bell if you've seen the movie The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Geep's Quasi Top 10 List

For some reason I cannot access the blog when I login and I therefore could not insert my list (that is why it has taken me so long, not just b/c I am extremely forgetful). As you can see I am submitting this under Dan's name so don't be confused. Anyway, it's extremely hard for me to come up with a top 10 b/c I have read so many books and if I don't like a book I just stop reading it and move on to one I do like, in other words I only read books that I like. (There are too many books in this world to bother reading one that I don't really want to read!) Also, b/c I've read so many books it's hard to recall all that I've read and would consider favorites. So, as stated in my title, here is my quasi list of favorite books. (When I get back to Utah I'll check out what books I brought with me b/c I took the ones I couldn't bear to leave behind, but presently I cannot remember all of them.)

Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcom X w/ Alex Haley)
I loved reading about Malcolm X's life. The kind of person he was and the hardships he endured were amazing to learn about, especially from his perspective. It was also interesting to experience the dramatic changes he made thoughout his life, the events that shaped who he became, and his journey to discover and understand man, whether white or black. B/C of this book I appreciate and understand better what life was like for Malcolm and for other black people in the 60's. Malcolm X has become one of my favorite characters from history and, if you have read this book, you can understand why I admire him as a man and as someone who has changed the life of many people both within and outside of America.

The Princess Bride (William Goldman)
Of course this has to be on my list b/c, if you who were there remember, I cried when Ed gave it to me for Christmas! We cannot deny that we've seen the movie too many times to count and always loved every minute of it. This book is just as fun to read as the movie is to watch. It gives you a better understanding of the characters through detailed descriptions of their histories making them more real and likeable. It's also fun because it has the same kind of humor and the story is just different enough to make the book a whole new experience, yet it is still familiar. The differences are what help make it great. Things like the Zoo of Death, the sharks, and a giant whirlpool, oh and Fezzik is actually from Turkey.

The Neverending Story (Michael Ende)
Please! Please! Please, don't judge the book by the movie! The movie is terrible and should never have been made. I saw the move a couple times when I was like five and liked it, I think, but I read the book in early high school then saw the movie again and experienced the worst let down of my life! The book is so imaginative and the characters are so much more real. For example, the horse Artax was one of my favorites. He could talk for one thing and he didn't die after two minutes either, poo. Also, Falkor the luck dragon is not a giant flying pound puppy, he's a white dragon with a lion-like head, poo again. People should only make movies when they know what they're doing. (Sorry about the rant, but I am still pretty disappointed, if you couldn't tell.) Anyway, there is much more to the story and so many more great characters than the movie even begins to let on.

Seven Years in Tibet (Heinrich Harrer)
Now this is a movie of which we need not be ashamed. Of course I read the book before I saw it, so I know. The book was incredibly interesting to read and provided a lot of information about the culture and the history of the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama. It follows the Austrian-born adventurer Heinrich Harrer beginning in India around the time of the second World War. B/C of the turmoil thorughout the country and in Europe he was placed in camps where he, after a few failed attempts, escapes with a friend into the Himalayas and eventually into the private Tibetan capital, Lhasa. I think I loved this story becuase of the fact that it is a true account of one man's experience with the unknown, and now non-existing country of Tibet and its intriguing and kind-hearted people.

Dracula (Bram Stoker)
Despite popular belief this is not just a story about a blood sucking man who can turn himself into a bat and likes attractive young women, though this may be the case to some degree. It is also about the timeless struggle of good versus evil and explores the power of love and religion to expel that evil. I admit I was skeptical before reading it but I eventually decided to try it out because my friend Shannon liked it so much. It turned out to be nothing like what I had expected and it was one of those books that you want to keep reading to find out what happens next.

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
This book was a bit duanting at first because of its length and seeming potential to bore me but once I started I couldn't help liking it, and I had to keep reading. The heroin of the story, Jane, is not the typical rare beauty who captures the fancy of all who meet her but is rather plain and soft spoken. She is smart and good and, though she is not necissarily pretty, it is what is within her that makes her such a wonderful heroin. Jane's life is not easy and everything seems to go wrong for her as if to tell her she can never be truly happy, but because she is stalwart and does not give in she eventually gains the life, however different than she had hoped, and the happiness she deserves.

The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
Though this book is also long it is well worth the effort. It's exciting and the characters are either so good or so bad that you become enchanted by them and their story. The count himself is one of those characters that you can't help but root for even while he ruins others, of course they deserve it though don't they. If you've seen the movie you've only caught a glimpse of how amazing of a story it is. Edmund, later known as the Count, had such a happy and loving life that when the walls collapse around him he cannot see that it is because of people he trusted and even loved until an old priest teaches him the ways of the world. His turnaround from a young and naive man to a powerful and experienced one is amazing to read and the story that follows his clever escape from prison is captivating. And the end, though not what one would have imagined and/or hoped, is happy and charming all the same.

The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
This book I read as an assignment in my AP English class instead of the Awakening, becuase I had already read it, and boy am I glad I chose it. Of course I had to analyze it but, and this hardly ever happened, it actually helped me appreciate the beauty and symbolism of the story and its characters and I loved the story more because of it. Though I can't remember the exact symbols that I discovered and wrote about I remember really enjoying discovering them. The two main characters Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale are incredibly good and strong but are forced to face the secrets of their past that eventually bring Arthur to his death and Hester to an understanding of life. The end, though not entirely happy, is one where you are proud of the protagonists and know that they can live their lives in relative peace. It's a classic for a reason.

Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie)
I'd have to second everything that Cheri wrote about it, and I must admit I had forgotten how much I liked it until I read her entry and I stole the idea from her. Though it's been known as a children's story I loved reading every word. JM Barrie wrote it in such a way that every phrase is enchanting and exciting. It's one of those books that must be read aloud. Though I read it to myself, I couldn't help reading out loud to do the voices and hear the magic of the language bringing the charcters and dialogue to life. It's so much fun because it's so witty and clever and the characters, though you know they are entirely fake, become extremely real through the author's descriptions and diction.

Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston)
I loved reading this book! I got it for Christmas from Wendi and started it that night. It was so good that I didn't want it to be over when it was. This book follows a beautiful and passionate woman named Janie Crawford. She spends most of her life living her grandmother's dream for her with a rich husband and a high social standing, when he dies she gets plenty of suitors but she likes her new independence too much to bother and, to the surprise of the town, she begins to do just as she pleases and be who she wants. Eventaully, she meets a man twelve years younger who is the kind of person she has dreamed of her whole life. They marry and live happily together in the Everglades until a hurricane comes and, due to other circustances, Janie finds herself a widow again. The story ends with her return to her town as a woman who understands hardache and pain yet is content with her life and finds peace in a time when others would or could not.
- Thanks Wendi! -

This list is not necessarily my Top 10 of all time (b/c I honestly don't think I could come up with something like that) but they are definitely among my faves. This was fun to write, thanks.

PS The last entry was the book I most recently read and can also cover that part of this blog. That's why we started it, right? To share what we have most recently read? Well there ya go, I'm ahead of you all on that one at least!

Cheri's Top . . . 11?

Twelve, if you count both Cather books. And there were more I wanted to include (St. Maybe, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Bean Trees, The Secret Life of Bees, Cold Sassy Tree). I’m sure this list will change—the world is too full of great books, most of which I probably haven’t read yet. So anyway, here we go—

LOTR How could this not be on my list? As Lisa said, no fictional world has ever been realized so completely as Middle Earth. And Tolkien’s just as deft with his powerful themes—hope, friendship, courage, faith, loyalty, goodness. Most of all, I love the characters. I can’t imagine life without Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin, Gandalf. My heart bursts a little every time I think about Sam’s unfaltering commitment to Frodo and to their journey.

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen). You can’t beat the repartee. And I love Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth—but maybe that’s ‘cause I haven’t read Persuasion : )

My Antonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop. Willa Cather may be my favorite author. Both stories set a small (but great) human being against a vast wilderness. Each book is like a stack of paintings, showing the same subjects (person and landscape) in different moods, lighting, times. You see Antonia through the eyes of a guy who has loved her his whole life, so it’s sort of a ballad to the spirited, unfaltering woman who builds her life on the Nebraska plains. In Archbishop, a simple priest gently plants, over a long 40 years, the seeds of his faith in the harsh New Mexico desert. Both books show that life works out and is good in the long-long-run, and both characters are people I’m so glad to know.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith). I love it for the details, the little perfectly real tidbits of life in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. And Francie is so spirited and insightful, optomistic and resourceful in difficult times.

Watership Down (Richard Adams) worked for me as a rousing quest for home by a bunch of bunnies, characters I grew to care about in their own right, but it is also a large-scale allegory about leadership and community. Plus, Hazel, the rabbits’ visionary, self-sacrificing leader, has plenty of flaws to make him endearingly real.

War and Peace (Tolstoy). I read this the month that I lived with Eric’s parents just before we got married. I didn’t have much else to do while Eric was at work (Auburn didn’t offer the same employment opportunities or visitor attractions that I found during my month in D.C.), but I loved every minute of this book. I remember nothing of the story except that I was utterly captivated, especially by the growth of the characters. During the weeks it took to read, I lived inside the story.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Anne Fadiman, nonfiction) is the poignant tragedy of an American Hmong child diagnosed with epilepsy, whose well-meaning doctors and parents profoundly disagreed about the meaning of her illness and its treatment. Fadiman manages to warmly, respectfully, and thoroughly portray two very different cultures. Though the impact of the story is in the emotions and characters, I also learned tons about the Hmong in Laos during the Vietnam War, about their transplant to America, and about their culture.

Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie). The writing is so incredibly delicious it begs to be read aloud, which we did just last year. If you haven’t read it, set aside any Disneyfied notions of Peter Pan and dive in. The real thing is much wittier, darker (in an oddly lighthearted way), and quirkier. The real Hook is more sinister, the real Pan less charming. And be sure to read at least some parts out loud.

I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith). I stayed up until 3 AM one morning to finish this delightful first-romance story. The witty, self-effacing, insightful, fanciful, and completely authentic Cassandra may be my favorite narrator ever. And her family of quirky bohemians is utterly irreplaceable.

A Civil Action (Jonathan Harr, nonfiction). This page-turner is also a great education in legal proceedings, environmental science, and the slipperiness of medical causation. Written almost like a novel, it’s about a lawsuit over a leukemia cluster in Woburn, MA that was almost certainly caused by industrial dumping.

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee). Actually, I need to read this one again. As one of the first “classics” I ever read, it stands out as an important book in my life, and even after all these years I can’t forget Atticus Finch’s quiet strength or Scout’s rascally honesty.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Mich's Top 10

These were kind of tough for me to come up with and, unfortunately, it's not because I was too busy to think about it, but because I need to read more great books! So, I'm stoked for this book blog, for that very reason. :-) Here goes. They are also not going to be in any specific order...

1) To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
I think this is the only book I've read twice (at least after the age of 10...) . I really love the simplicity of the story, with it's applications to all of human-kind. It seems to be one of those "must reads" no matter who you are.

2) The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck amazed me like no author has. I've read other books by him, but nothing affected and enthralled me like this one. First, it tells of a history of our country that I wish I knew a lot more about. And Steinbeck tells it so poetically. I loved the intermittent chapters that were sort of his soap boxes, or his opportunity to bring the Jode's family story into a much broader perspective, and his opportunity to utilize the rhythm and poetry that made the book what it is. (This might be my #1 favorite.)

3) The Perfect Mile, by Neal Bascomb
I read this book during my last semester in college, and my last season in track, so it was very appropriate for me at the time. But, I still recommend it to anyone who wants to read a very well written, and inspirational story. The author tells the story of Roger Banister's breaking the 4-minute mile barrier. He weaves into it the stories of Wes Santee of the US and John Landy of Australia who were both hoping to be the first to run under 4 minutes, as well. So, you learn a bit about the history of sport at the time, in three different countries (and three continents), about the increased attention people gave to track & field at the time, and a look into all three men's histories and personal lives. It was a really fun read.

4) Daughter of Fortune, by Isabelle Allende
This is the only book I've read by Isabelle Allende, and I will definitely read more. This is the story of one young woman's journey from Chile to California during the time of the California gold rush... but it's so much more than that! :-) There's a history of Chile, California and China, and a great eye-opener to that era, to love, human nature, oppression on women, and social/gender hierarchies. It also helped that it was beautifully written and incredibly visual.

5) Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
I read this a few years ago during Christmas break, and no other (non-scriptural) book has effected me so spiritually. It really made me look into my heart and re-evaluate where I was going and where I want to go. It's the story of a man's journey (both literal and spiritual) to enlightenment, and a book I plan on re-reading a few times.

6) The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley
(Okay, so I love histories, non-fiction and fiction, and I like reading about "big" people.) Malcolm X is always someone who has intrigued me, and someone who I knew nothing about, so I finally decided to read about him. His life was much different than I had imagined it, and even his politics, and ideologies were a suprise to me. It wasn't the most eloquently-written book, but certainly enjoyable to read. (FYI: Alex Haley also wrote "Roots".) I definitely gained a respect for Malcolm X.

7) Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
First of all, I didn't know this wasn't a true story until after I had finished the book. :-) But, again, I really love reading historical fiction/non-fiction, which made this book so great to me. I love learning about cultures and societies that I never really think or hear much about. This is the story of a geisha (a Japanese sex slave, basically), who grows up knowing only this kind of life. Now... the new movie is describing it as a love story, which I don't remember being part of the book, but maybe I need to review it. To me, it was a sad story of sort of an imprisoned, yet glamorized life. ...any thoughts?

8) Marla Runyan - My Life as I see it, by Marla Runyan & Sally Jenkins
Another, less-than-eloquent book, but still a page turner for me. Marla Runyan really inspires me, and the fact that we met and went running together is really what makes this one of my favorite books. Despite the writing style, I started to sort of see her life, and especially her races, through her nearly-blind vision, which was both fun, and inpsiring for me.

9) The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd
I'm with Dan on this. :-) This is a really sweet coming-of-age story, about a girl coming to terms with her past, herself, and the society in which she lives. It also made me look at my own life, and the women that have affected me, and really appreciate all the women that have been those "mentors" to me. I think all of us should read this one. (Last note: I was really enchanted by bee-keeping, too and would love for it to be part of my farm someday.)

10) ...yet to be determined...

I had a few books that I thought of including here, but the truth is it would have just been to have 10. :-) So, I'll let you all know when I've read a book that for sure goes on my top-10 list. For now, it's my top 9.
Love you!