Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Where the Heart Is

Just a quicky note. This is the third time I've read this. Pretty sure it goes on my Top 10. I love it. So sweet and fun with great characters. Love it!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

What is the What

You know who should read What is the What? Um…everyone. Because it’s super good, not to mention important. It’s one of those rare books that are really easy to read, really gripping—it will grip you!—but also globally consequential.

What is the What, by Dave Eggers, is a docu-drama-type “novel” based on the real life of Valentino Achak Deng. At the age of seven (maybe eight) he watches his Sudanese village be attacked and destroyed by government-sponsored militia. Not knowing if his family is alive or dead, he's forced to run and ends up trekking (on foot with thousands of other boys) across the deserts of three countries. They walk for months, pursued by militiamen on horseback, government bombers and predatory animals, carrying with them almost nothing in terms of clothing, shoes, shelter, food or water. After this epic journey in which he faces down every imaginable hardship, Achak spends many years in desolate Ethiopian and Kenyan refugee camps before finally being resettled in the U.S. where he finds “a life full of promise, but also heartache and myriad new challenges.” (So lazy, I quote the back of the book)

I don’t know if Valentino is the unluckiest person ever, or the luckiest for having survived a lifetime of horrors you and I could only conjure in our worst nightmares. But whatever he is, his story is extraordinary. This book is suspenseful, intense, horrifying, heartbreaking, at times surprisingly sweet and funny, but always incredibly moving—if you don’t at least have the urge to make large donations to Mercy Corps after reading this, you’re an absolute robot. I don’t know if there’s a word strong enough to sum up this guy’s life—the tragedy, trauma, loss, deprivation—but it was crazy to read his story and know it had all really happened while I sat around watching Seinfeld and picking the onions off my cheeseburger.

Things that are really great about this book:
  • Eggers lays out the decades-old conflict in Sudan in a way that people like me who knew little about it can wrap their brains around. He weaves the history into his story really naturally and without ever making it a political invective.

  • The author drops his self-consciously clever post-modernist “thang” and assumes the voice of Achak telling his story in first person. And outside of a few overly sophisticated turns of phrase, it works—sounds authentic and believable, as if it really were Achak telling his own story. Eggers does a terrific job of creating a “character” that is super lovable and pitiable but also respectable.

  • Despite the fairly devastating subject matter, What is the What is not depressing or the type of horrifying that makes you have to put it down. As a work of literature, it’s incredibly impressive and I found myself reading on because I was wowed. And too, Eggers makes this young Sudanese so very human and real that I felt a strong sense of commonality that made me not want to turn away from him. And the book ends on a rather hopeful note.

So. I recommend this book to you and everyone you know. It really is amazing, definitely top 10 material. If you want to learn more about it or read a (way) more articulate review, visit McSweeney’s—they seem to have republished everything ever written about What is the What.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cold Comfort Farm and Twilight

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons was excellent. Great, crazy characters, hilarious, 1930 (or 50s can't remember which) setting, romance. It was quite unexpectedly enjoyable. Not much else to say about it other than its greatness. :)

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer was also excellent in a completely different way. It sounds silly...definitely a teenage girl book...but it was fun. I couldn't put it down. I finished it in a couple days and it's around 500 pages! They're making a movie of it, and I'm way excited!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love

As I mentioned to a couple of my sisses, this definitely won't make it on to my top 10 list, but it I think the author (Elizabeth Gilbert) accomplished her goal of writing a spiritual journey memoir through a year of travels, and it did offer a lot of personal and spiritual insights that hit home for me.

Things I liked:
1) The personal, and accessible narrative offered through her diary-esque memoir. As the reader, I felt like I was looking intimately into someone's life that I have never met, knowing and understanding things that only her dearest friends should know. In that way, I felt a bit of a connection to her personal journey, and felt like her experiences are the same as everyone's experiences.

2) The section in India. Since Elizabeth Gilbert planned to spend 4 months in each of the three countries (Italy, India then Indonesia), she wrote the book in equal thirds, as well. The middle third was what I enjoyed most. For one, it had less personal drama and more personal reflections and insights, which may be what I'm craving more right now. And, this is when the author really comes to rely on her own strengths and depend on herself, balancing her mind (full of self-deprecating thoughts, as we've all experienced) and her heart (which she comes to understand is her biggest supporter and life-saver). I found that idea comforting; an understanding and state of being which I can aspire for.

Things I didn't like:
1) I felt like her writing style, as accessible as it was, wasn't worthy of the #1 New York Times Bestseller. Like I said, it was almost like reading someone's diary, or maybe just the way someone would tell you the story in person, complete with all the juicy details of personal drama. Though I did get a kick out of it at times, it just didn't seem well-polished overall.

2) The whole premise seemed a little too planned out for me. For being a spiritual journey memoir, it was a little extreme in the happily-ever-after ranking.

(I'm trying to go easy on it, because I think a lot of what I didn't like is actually personal and unfair judgements of the author, who's writing often rubbed me the wrong way, and who I couldn't help viewing as spoiled and arrogant. Though, like I said, they're unfair judgements, and I imagine a lot of what she wrote and revealed - if it's all true - is extremely hard to make public.)

That's all I'll say. I do want to say that if you were thinking about reading this, I recommend it, with about 3 out of 5 stars. :-)