Reading Roundup: April and May 2009

My waning enthusiasm for school is clearly evident in the amount of books I've read during the last two months. I wonder if I'll keep up the reading habit now that I don't have anything to avoid.

East of the Mountains by David Guterson

I picked up this book because one of Guterson's other books, Snow Falling on Cedars, is one of my favorites. This one has equally beautiful writing, but the characters and plot just weren't as compelling. I also thought the ending felt a little too pat and didn't seem to fit with the protagonist's personality.

The Country Ahead of Us, The Country Behind by David Guterson

I happened to be in the short story section of the library and decided to grab this since I had just finished reading the other book by Guterson. As in his other work that I've read, the writing was beautiful and very evocative of time and place. But most of the stories felt just like most other short stories I've read recently and did not impress me much. There were a few that were really good, and some had details that still stick in my mind.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

I knew nothing about this book before reading it, and I'm still not sure what to think of it. It is just as much a 'travelogue' as a true-crime story, and a lot of fun to read. Probably not for the squeamish due to some of the more colorful characters, but still a good read.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

This felt like many other similar fantasy books I've read recently; it had echoes of Beauty and Goose Girl, since it is also a retelling of a fairy tale with a strong female protagonist. That doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it or that I didn't think it was a good book. Just because fairy tales have conventions doesn't make them inferior; for what it was, I thought it was a fabulous book and I couldn't put it down or stop reading it. I would recommend it for those who love fantasy and a good adventure with a satisfying ending.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

I've read this book four or five times now; it's become one of my 'comfort' books, despite the fact that it's really long and dense and full of made-up Victorian poetry. No rereading is as good as the first, since it's both a romance and a mystery, but it's still a great book. Especially if you're into literary criticism, but even if you're not I think you'd still enjoy it.

Movies

Vera Drake

This is a movie I'm still pondering, nearly two months after watching it. First of all, from a technical standpoint it's fascinating. The acting is superb and the cinematography just perfect. It's a 'small', understated movie about a small, understated woman. It has an obvious political slant, and yet it doesn't shout at you and you don't even realize what the message is until the movie is over.

Doubt

This is another character-driven movie with great acting. I'm still not sure how I feel about Meryl Streep's performance; it is over-the-top like she always is, but I'm not sure that's out of sync with how her character should be. She is the hysterical one in a sea of people who are not. It's also a movie that leaves you feeling unsettled, because the ending is ambiguous. After all, it is about doubt.

Changeling

I didn't know much about this movie other than the fact that I really like what Clint Eastwood does. I was not disappointed, though I still don't think this measures up to some of his other stuff. For one thing, the story is kind of long and meandering. It probably could have been tightened up. And I didn't like Angelina Jolie very much in her role, which is a problem because she's the main character. The portrayal of Los Angeles also felt a little slick, like it was trying to look like a movie about L.A. and not historical L.A. itself. That said, I still enjoyed the movie and didn't feel it was a waste of my time.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Sadly, this movie did feel like a waste of my time. I thought it was absolutely beautiful, Brad Pitt and the cinematography. But I just didn't like the story much; it felt too much like the main characters didn't do a lot, and I didn't find Benjamin to be a very sympathetic character at all. I have a feeling that this will be the sort of movie people start falling out of love with in a few years. Also, I guess I feel bugged because it felt like a higher-class Forrest Gump. And that bugs me for two reasons. First of all, Forrest Gump is aware that it's cheesy and yet it doesn't care; second, Forrest just seemed like a more likeable character and he was generally trying to help other people and he was loyal to his family.

Australia

This was our third historical epic in a row, but we made it through unscathed. It certainly felt like Baz Luhrmann film and kept us on our toes with delightfully unexpected things throughout. At the same time, that was a bit of a weakness for the movie because it felt disjointed and weak in parts. But overall it was a fun movie and we enjoyed watching it.

Cinema Paradiso

I've seen this one a few times before, but had to watch it again for a class. It's a fun movie about the power of movies and the power of nostalgia. I love both the actor playing the protagonist as a kid and the one playing him as a teenager.

Comments

Amira said…
I've been meaning to read Possession for years. I'll have to pick it up this summer.
Th. said…
.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: On the shelf, meaning to read it. I remember when it wouldn't leave bestseller lists alone.

Possession: One of the best books ever written? Yes.
Courtney said…
I completely agree about Benjamin Button. It was so beautiful, but I really didn't care what happened in the end. Definitely disappointing.
I'm glad to know you liked Australia. It didn't get great reviews, but you're the first person I know who's actually seen it.
Mary said…
I really liked Doubt. I did not see Meryl Streep's character as hysterical, just somewhat unsympathetic. In most schools these days, teachers and other employees are required to report any suspected case of child abuse. I see her character as the only one committed enough to the welfare of the child to do anything about the situation. That took great strength when everyone else was saying don't rock the boat.
Kristeee said…
I felt the same about Benjamin Button. I wasn't attached to him.

We watched Cinema Paradiso in one of my college classes. Good ol' Toto.

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