Reading Roundup: June 2008

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

I tried to describe this book to someone, and failed. The plot is easy: the book alternates between past and present as a retired historian researches his grandmother's life. I found myself liking the narrative in the past more than the frame story, but they work together well. It took me a long time to read it, and nearly a month later I'm still digesting it. It's a long, slow book, but the writing is fabulous and the story compelling.

Long After Dark by Todd Robert Petersen

After reading Theric's review, I remembered that I had read a few stories from this collection over the last few years and decided to buy it for myself. I actually didn't like the novella that much, although the quoted section and the theme were powerful. I mainly found myself not liking the characters all that much, though I'm not sure why. Also, as much as I like Mormon fiction, it's so refreshing to read fiction that's just about Mormons and not about "fifth-generation Mormons dealing with growing up in small-town Utah". Mormon culture has many facets and I like to hear about them, especially those people we would probably rather not label as Mormon in our families or congregations.

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwige Danticat

The writing in this book is beautiful and I thought the characters were well-written and interesting. But the story seemed a little heavy with too many deep topics and I thought the ending of the book felt rushed. I would like to read more by Danticat, but I'm not sure this is her best book.

Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen

I got a lot of good ideas from this book, and I felt like it was well-written. At the same time, though, I thought he replied way too often on his own example and could have used more examples of how parents can integrate their own personalities into his ideas about play and parenting.

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

I struggled with this book; I thought the story was interesting and especially liked the division of the book into three sections with different narrators. But I really never liked the main character, and it's hard to read three hundred pages about someone you don't like or understand.

Maus by Art Spiegelman

We read this for book club this month, and though I had read it a number of years ago I had forgotten about how powerful it was. Also, at this point in my life, I noticed much more the story about learning about our parents and dealing with our relationship with them. As the author points out, this is a family story, not a political one. It's not just technically brilliant, it's a fascinating story about family and love.

Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom

Yesterday evening our power went out, so I got the opportunity to sit and read this entire book straight through (by candlelight!). It's a beautiful book--simply written, but powerful and deep. Hallstrom explores the idea of how we are "bound" to those we love, in negative ways as well as positive. I like the fact that she takes for granted the idea that we are bound, and then goes on from there. So many other things I read seem to explore whether or not we are, but when we become involved in the lives of others we become bound together. One scene that really touched me was when a young man who has been struggling with mental illness talks to his mother-in-law; he expresses the fact that there is no option for him that will not hurt his wife--he could leave, stay, or die, and she would be affected. This felt very real to me; so often we try so hard to find solutions to our problems with people by trying to escape, but I think we should work harder on accepting our realities and facing our issues. This book feels very real to my experiences; we are all imperfect people trying to figure out how to love, how to connect, and how to live with each other. I definitely think you should buy a copy and read it.


Movies

Atonement

This was a beautiful movie and the acting is brilliant. I liked a lot of the technical aspects, like the editing and the music. But ultimately it seemed jumpy and flat, and I mostly felt like I wanted to reread the book to figure out what I was missing.

Into the Wild

I was pleasantly surprised by this movie; I liked the book quite a lot and didn't have high hopes for an adaptation. But the movie itself is great, and actually manages to capture the ambiguity of the book as well. The acting is fantastic and the technical aspects of the film are incredible. It's long and slow, but not in a boring way. More like an epic journey through America, and certainly worth the trip.

Insomnia

Another pleasant surprise for me. The first little bit of the movie felt like an episode of Law and Order, and the plot is just like most other police thrillers. But the acting and directing are excellent and make this movie just a little bit better than you'd expect.

God Grew Tired of Us

I think this review of the movie captures it well; the production values are excellent and the tone manages to find the middle ground between outrage and sentimentality. The film is a documentary about three Sudanese men who are resettled in the United States after living in a refugee camp for nearly ten years. It really brought home to me the immigrant experience and the vast imbalance that exists between societies in this world. At the same time, though, it gave me hope because the three men portrayed in the movie were so resilient.

Hairspray (the original)

After watching this one so close to the new musical version, I actually found myself liking this version better. The story is simpler and I like most of the actors better. I thought the music worked more subtly instead of blaring like so much of the other music did.

Following

We watched this because we thought it would be fun to see everything that Christopher Nolan has directed. This was one of his first films, and is a bit shorter than regular movies. I also thought it was kind of boring for most of the picture, until suddenly something shifted and I was totally confused for the rest of it. In the end I liked it.

Across the Universe

This movie is really, really weird. Weirder than I was expecting, but we still enjoyed it. I loved the music and I liked noticing all the little references throughout the movie. Because of the episodic format and the stylization it's hard to really connect with the characters, but it's still a cool movie.

Comments

Becca said…
Reading by candlelight is fun :)
I liked the original Hairspray better, too. It felt more real in it's fakiness.
Mama said…
I love your book reviews. I print them out and take them to Barnes and Noble. :)
Th. said…
.

I think your take on Bound on Earth will be the one that pushed me over the edge and made me read it. Was that your own copy? Can I borrow it?
FoxyJ said…
Yes--it's my own copy. You are free to borrow it, especially since I now have three books of yours.

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