Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver
Lois Lowry


Newbery Medal

Rating: 4.5

I really, really liked this book. It is another "Big Brother" story similar to Fahrenheit 451 or 1984. Scary, scary.

Jonas is eleven years old. When he is twelve, he will receive his "assignment" or job from the Elders of his community. Everything is decided by the Elders. Who marries whom. Which occupation you will have. Which children you will raise. And even who has to be "released" from the community. When Jonas is selected for a special position that only one other person in the community has, it is considered a very high honor. What Jonas discovers about this "honor" changes his life completely.

I read this for the Banned Book Challenge. I'm not sure why it would be contested. Perhaps because there is some talk about the "stirrings" of beginning s* x u ality in Jonas. I didn't have a problem with this, but I'm really glad I read it before I gave it to my 13 and 12 year old sons to read. This book will make for a great discussion.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

Cornelia Funke

2003, 544 pp

Rating: 4

Meggie is a 12 year old girl whose father never reads aloud to her. He gives her books, he tells her stories, but he never actually reads from a book to her. One night a mysterious man comes to visit them--his name is Dustfinger. Dustfinger warns Mo (Meggie's father) that a man named Capricorn is after a book in Mo's possession called Inkheart.

It is then that Meggie find out why her father never reads to her. He has the ability to bring characters "alive" out of the book he is reading. The catch is, though, that someone else from the real world disappears into the book at the same time.

The adventure that follows includes Meggie's missing mother, her great-aunt Elinor, Inkheart's author Fenoglio, and several characters that have come out of their books.

I enjoyed this story very much and listened to it on CD with my entire family on a road trip this past week. The movie is being filmed now and will star Brendan Fraser, Eliza Bennett, Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, Andy Serkis, among others. I can't wait to see it!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury

Year: 1951
190 pp.

Rating: 4.5

I cannot believe I haven't read this book before. It deserves its "classic" status and should be read by all. This book is scary. Really. Scary. It is similar to 1984--a picture of what society could become if we let it.

Montag is a fireman who doesn't put out fires, he starts them. He burns books and the houses that contain them. His wife Mildred watches and listens to "the wall" all day, basically a huge screen TV. Almost all of the city dwellers are TV zombies, and then when they're not watching "the wall", to make themselves feel better they go out and ride their cars at dangerously high speeds. Most are on any number of pills.

Montag doesn't notice anything is wrong with his life until he meets 17 year-old Clarisse, his next door neighbor. She is different. She notices things he doesn't notice. Her family actually talks to each other. She is happy and asks him if he is. He says he is, but later at home admits to himself he isn't. He starts to question himself why, and from there he changes his life completely.

A quote that stood out because of its resemblance to today:

"I'm afraid of children my own age. they kill each other. Did it always use to be that way? My uncle says no. Six of my firends have been shot in the last year alone. Ten of them died in car wrecks. I'm afraid of them and they don't like me because I'm afraid. My uncle says his grandfather remembered when children didn't kill each other. But that was a long time ago when they had things different. They believed in responsibility, my uncle says. Do you know, I'm responsible. I was spanked when I needed it, years ago. And I do all the shopping and housecleaning by hand."

A world where all people do is watch TV and become progressively more violent. A world where books and ideas are "dangerous". A world where "happiness" is supreme, but no one is happy. A very scary world indeed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Everyman by Philip Roth


Philip Roth

182 pp.

Rating: 1

Everyman could have been a good book. If only. . . Had he not. . . I will get to those details later.

The book traces a 70-something man's history of his health problems, his three marriages, and his affairs. After doing some research on Roth, I wondered if it is a bit autobiographical. At the end of the novel, he regrets his life. His sons and his ex-wives hate him, and he doesn't get to spend time with the one person he does love, his daughter Nancy. He is even jealous of his brother's good health and stops calling him--a brother who has always been there for him. There are lessons to be learned from the novel, sure, but here is my objection to it.

He could have written this novel without the graphic s * x scenes. It really does border on p * r n. How such a le wd book could be awarded the PEN/Faulkner is beyond me. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

An NPR interview with Philip Roth about the book Everyman is here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

I've been wanting to read The Echo Maker for several reasons. I always like to read novels that are set close to where I grew up--on the prairie in the Colorado/Nebraska/Kansas region. This novel is set in Kearney, Nebraska, where my sister currently lives. I like to read award-winning novels, and The Echo Maker won the 2006 National Book Award. Also, it is one of the books in the New York Times Notable Book Challenge, in which I am participating. Lastly, it concerns Capgras and Cotard's Syndromes, and I have an intense interest in these because I know a person who experienced them.

Warning: there may be some minor spoilers below.

Mark Schluter has been in a rollover accident and has sustained a severe head injury. As Mark starts to get better, he insists that his sister is an impostor. He also doesn't recognize his dog, Blackie. He begins to think that his home has been duplicated and perhaps the whole community has as well.

His sister Karin (Mark calls her Kopy Karin and Karbon Karin) is devastated when he refuses to accept her as his sister, and she calls in a nationally known doctor who has written several popular books on brain disorders. "Shrinky" as Mark calls him, comes to Kearney, runs a few tests, consults with Mark's doctor, and then goes home. Is he truly interested in Mark's case or does he just want another "story" for his new book? Mark does trust "Shrinky," though, as well as his nurse's aide Barbara--two people he did not know before the accident. Much of Mark's time is spent trying to figure out who wrote a mysterious note found on his nightstand in the hospital.

"I am No One
but Tonight on North Line Road
GOD led me to you
so You could live and bring back someone else."

We do find out who wrote the note, how the accident occurred, and if Mark gets well again. Contrary to some bad reviews of the book, I liked how the characters were developed--even if some weren't likable. While I was interested in the various characters' thoughts and feelings, I thought some of it extraneous. I appreciated the setting (of course) and the descriptions of the birds. I didn't like the vulgar language and s*xual content, but I guess that is the norm in a modern novel today.

Also, I'm not sure why, when referring to prairie farm people, certain very negative subjects have to always be brought up. The people I know from the area are the most decent in the entire USA, and I'm always sad to see it when they are portrayed with negative qualities that might occur in less than 0.5% of the population of the region.

All in all, I'm glad I read the novel because of the reasons I stated in the first paragraph. I'm not sure that most readers would appreciate it, though.

Note: After doing a little research after I read the book, I found a book that contains very similar individual case descriptions that are mentioned in The Echo Maker:
Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind By V.S. Ramachandran, M.D., Ph.D., and Sandra Blakeslee. New York, William Morrow, 1998, 328 pp.

2006, 451 pp.

Rating: 4

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I normally do not like reading "war" novels--especially those about World War II. My heart breaks when I think of the evil that mankind can do. I did, however, love The Diary of Anne Frank, and I also loved The Book Thief.

The Book Thief tells the story of a German orphan girl named Liesel. Her brother has just died, and her mother gave her up because she couldn't care for her after "something happened" to her father, a suspected Communist. She goes to live with Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who also have two grown children. Their son is a solid Hitler supporter. Hans is a gentle man who tenderly takes care of Liesel. Rosa is a gruff German woman, yet we also see gentleness and compassion from her throughout the story.

At her new home on Himmel Street she meets Rudy Steiner, a boy with hair the color of lemons. He is a good student and an excellent athlete. In one incident he paints himself black because he is obsessed with Jesse Owens. Liesel and Rudy become best friends. They play soccer together and steal together--whether it be apples or the books that Liesel takes from a prominent town figure.

Another person close to Liesel is the German Jew they are hiding in the basement--Max Vandenburg. The relationship they have is one that transcends simple friendship or a romantic attachment. Their hearts are truly knitted together due to the horrible circumstances of the war. Their bond is unbreakable.

Each character in the book is so perfectly portrayed and so lovingly depicted. I fell in love with each one and cared deeply about what happened to them. I won't spoil any more of the storyline, because this book is a treasure to read and to ponder over long after the final page is turned. It is a story that will stay with me for many, many years to come.

2006, 550 pp.

Rating: 5