Reading Roundup: January 2009

I'm taking a class on 'multicultural American literature' and one on trauma in literature & film, so that will explain why most of these books and movies are on the list this month and next.

Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson

This book hasn't aged well, but it's interesting as a social phenomenon and as an excellent example of nineteenth-century social fiction. It was also a fascinating book to read while travelling in Southern California, in order to compare what things were like two centuries ago with how they appear now.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

I read this book a number of years ago and remembered little about it. It is not an easy read, but an excellent study of the trauma of war and the betrayal of a generation of young people by their leaders.

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

I was surprised by how much I liked this book (I've had mixed experiences with Cather). The writing is beautiful and the characters are fascinating. I didn't want to put it down and I was sad to see it end.

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

This wasn't a book for school; Edgy reviewed it on his blog and I thought it sounded interesting. It did have a slow start, and I struggled with the fact that I didn't really like any of the characters. But the character development was stellar and the writing strong. It read like a classic noir novel combined with a more general coming-of-age story, and I thought the combination was great.

y no se lo trago la tierra/And the Earth Did Not Swallow Him by Tomas Rivera

The edition of the book I ended up with had one of the worst covers I have ever seen. It still turned out to be a good book, although the writing style makes it difficult to really get into the story and connect with the characters. It represents well the migrant experience, particularly the alienation felt by immigrants in a new land.

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

I had a great time reading this book; it's long and took me a while to read, but I also didn't want it to finish. It's a classic family saga and coming-of-age story and the characters are all fascinating. Plus it's just a fun book and I think would be a great experience for anyone, even readers who are completely unfamiliar with Mexican or Mexican American culture.

The Man Outside by Wolfgang Borchert

This is actually a play, and one of the first written and produced in post-WWII Germany. As such is fairly bleak and not what I would call an enjoyable read. Stylistically it was fascinating and we had a good discussion of the issues it raises.

Movies

Little Women

I've seen this movie a few times already, but since I just got the DVD for Christmas we watched it again. I think it's a pretty decent version of the story (admittedly I'm not very familiar with the book), although Susan Sarandon as Marmee mostly just hangs around spouting Women's Lib platitudes. Other than her character I like the rest of the acting and I think the film is very well-done as far as technical stuff goes. Plus Christian Bale is pretty swoony as Laurie. Mmm..

All Quiet on the Western Front

This movie is pretty old and some aspects of it haven't aged well. Nevertheless it's still pretty stunning visually and has a strong impact even today. Despite the fact that war movies have advanced considerably since this one, it still deserves a spot on the list of top films.

Prince Caspian

I haven't read the book yet so I can't compare the two, but I actually wasn't a big fan of this movie. It felt slow: I kept checking my watch to see how much longer it was going to go on. Plus it just felt very conventional and like many other similar movies that I had seen; it was like they were going through the motions trying to recreate the story but with little investment in the film itself.

Murderers are Among Us

First of all, this movie is impressive because it was the first production to come out of Germany after WWII (only 2 years later). Secondly, I was surprised by the boldness of the storytelling and the issues of guilt and responsibility it raises. The plot and resolution were fairly standard Hollywood fare, but I thought that it was quite a good movie.

Night and Fog

This is a short documentary on the Holocaust, shot only ten years after the end of the war. It's also one of the most powerful films on that subject I've ever seen (it's not rated, but the content is very 'adult' just in case you are wondering--there are graphic photos from the war). We talked a lot in class about the style of the filming and I have to agree that it is one of the more unique documentaries I have ever seen, and that these particular qualities make it so compelling.

Sophie's Choice

I've heard a lot about this movie but never had a chance to watch it. I'm not sure it has aged very well (it came out in 1982); Meryl Streep is amazing in her performance, bu the rest of the movie didn't feel that great to me. Yes the backstory during the war is pretty shocking (there's a scene in there that I never, ever want to watch again), but overall I didn't really like the movie for a lot of reasons.

Comments

Th. said…
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The old b&w All Quiet?
Th. said…
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Amen on the bad cover.
skylark said…
I'm so glad to see your good review of Caramelo. I picked it up at a used book sale in Chicago about a year and a half ago and just haven't gotten around to reading it, partly because I wasn't expecting anything great from it (not that I was expecting it to be bad, either). I think I'll move it up a few slots on the ol' list.

Also, something about a rowboat. The word verification is scull.
Anonymous said…
When Jo and Laurie kiss there is a long string of saliva hanging in the air. I saw that movie in middle school and will never forget that
FoxyJ said…
Anonymous--I've watched the movie a few times and never noticed the spit string! I guess I'll have to look a little closer or get a bigger TV, LOL.

Th--yes, the oldest version

Skylark--I think you'd like the book; I thought it was a lot of fun.

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