Reading Roundup: March 2010
This was our book group pick for the month; I've read it a few times before, but it's been a while so it was nice to revisit it. I think Ishiguro is one of the better writers out there simply for his ability to so fully inhabit a character's brain and thought processes. He writes characters that really feel like people and not just book characters.
The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy EganHave I mentioned before how much I dislike the subtitles on most nonfiction books? I'm not a big fan of the 'title-colon-long subtitle' trend, and I didn't like the subtitle on this book because even after reading it I'm not sure how the fire 'saved America'. It did save the Forest Service, though, and I enjoyed learning more about that part of American history. Other than the subtitle, this is a good book. I have recently enjoyed reading more books about American history, if nothing else for realizing that politics really haven't changed that much in 100 years and that our popular culture is very adept at forgetting anything that happened more than a decade in the past.
Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian
I'd read a lot of good reviews of this book, and I've enjoyed other things by the author, but in the end I didn't really like the book. For one thing, I didn't like most of the characters; I know an author doesn't have to make them 'likeable', but they didn't feel very believable to me. The book is told from the point of view of four characters, and none of their voices felt very nuanced or realistic. The theme of the book is domestic violence, and even though I've read other books dealing with similar difficult topics, the constant descriptions of violence felt excessive.
The Vision of Emma Blau by Ursula Hegi
After reading Hegi's Stones from the River last month, I really wanted to read more of her writing and more about the characters from the novel. This book follows the lives of some of the supporting characters from her earlier novel, this time after they emigrate to America. It is a good book for a long afternoon; Hegi is very good at the small details and building up the layers of a long family history. I think I'm going to have to read even more of her books now.
Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
This is the second novel set in Ethiopia that I've read recently; I really didn't know much about the country or its recent history and I feel that both books have helped me learn a lot. When I first started the book I liked it, then in the middle I started disliking it, and then the end redeemed it a bit for me. The writing is beautiful and evocative and I think the writer handles the alternating sections between 'now' and 'then' well. My main problem was that I didn't like the main character for much of the book; I can understand her actions and attitude, but reading it was still painful since I spent half the book wanting to yell at her.
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse AndersonI've always admired Anderson's writing; it is beautiful, lyrical, and always painful to read. This book is like many of her others, and like her others it is about a teenager in distress. It's been a while since I read one of Anderson's books and now that I'm a parent it hit me in a different way. Hopefully my children will never be in the situation the protagonist in this book experiences.
The Surrendered by Chang-rae LeeI'm still trying to decide how I feel about this book. The writing is gorgeous, but the plot seemed weak to me. Horrible, ugly things happened to all of the characters. Over and over again. Sometimes books like that have some sort of redemption at the end, but this one didn't. I can see why it is getting so much acclaim, but it left me feeling unfulfilled.
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan
This is a relatively short book that only took me a few hours to read. The concepts are mostly things I've heard before or have been thinking about, but Pollan really seemed to bring them together in a way that helped me learn new things and see things in a new way. It certainly made me feel motivated (again) to be more careful about what I eat.
The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams
I think Carol is one of the better writers out there for preteen girls, and this book is no exception. It was a quick read, but powerful. I especially thought the characterization of the protagonist was wonderful, she really sounded like a thirteen-year-old. And, without giving too much away, I liked the ending and felt it worked for the book.Movies
Mr. Fob and I both agreed that this movie was better than we expected it be. It is about a reparative therapy center, and though it ultimately comes down on one side of the issue, it still manages to sympathetically portray both sides. It's a character-driven movie and all the actors do a great job; there are no obvious 'villains' and even those who are the least likeable are still understandable. I think that is the biggest strength of this movie: even if you don't agree with the characters' actions, you can at least understand them.
A Jihad for Love
This documentary about gay and lesbian Muslims is similar to one we watched a few years ago about Orthodox Jews. For me, the strength of both films is found in the exposure of different people and their struggles, and not so much in the craft of filmmaking itself. In some spots it felt kind of slow, and I kept want a bit more questioning or engagement of some of the issues brought up by the film, but it is still a good viewing experience.
The Remains of the Day
Since I was reading the book this month I decided it was time to watch the movie again. It is generally faithful to the book, which is both a good thing and a bad one. The choice of actors is perfect for the roles and is the biggest strength of the movie for me.
Mr. Fob and I were in the mood for something funny and so we decided to watch this one again. It was definitely funny and, in a way, thought-provoking. And it made me very glad to be done with high school forever.
A Very Long Engagement
This movie is by the same director as Amelie, and while the style is similar the tone and subject matter are completely different. The first part of the movie was slow and fairly violent so we weren't sure if we wanted to keep watching. But it got better and I decided that I liked it quite a lot. If you're expecting something like Amelie you will be disappointed; if you're expecting a unique historical film about World War I, you won't be.