21 August 2013

Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell

I read this entirely in one day during the Mini Readathon at the beginning of July (it was great, we'll do another one, hurrah for permission to read and eat all day!).  My justification for this being "mini" was that it is about teenagers, who are basically mini-humans in mind if not in body. And while, yes, that is technically true, oh lord.

Ladies, you know how sometimes you're like, "WHY am I sobbing at this? What is going ON? How do I FEEL SO MUCH RIGHT NOW?!?" and then two days later your least favorite aunt comes to visit and you're like, "oh. Maybe I won't die alone and pathetic and be eaten by wild dogs after all. Bring me the chocolate and ibuprofen, feline companion!" 


Those first few days of feeeeeeels are not the ideal time to read Eleanor & Park, people, because Eleanor & Park is a book about... 

Ok, here's the thing. I got into a Twitter discussion with Rainbow Rowell last night about the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, and I said that the Ramona books are ABOUT Ramona, but Judy Blume's books are ABOUT growing up, and that is why Ramona sticks with us ladies of a certain age: because she is a real kid with a real range of kid problems. She's also the reason I can't look at a crop of Shirley Temple curls without wanting to boing them.

Which brings me back to Eleanor & Park, and what this book is ABOUT. The title characters are complete, which I really liked and which is surprisingly rare for most books - I was going to say YA books, but let's be honest: characterization is not currently in style in fiction, is it? 

But Eleanor and Park are not only well-defined and realized, they're also genuine teenagers. They do stupid shit, they think stupid things, they get stuff wrong, they're just trying to survive being teens, which is - as you may remember - HARD ENOUGH. But wrapped in all of this is Eleanor's family, which is broke and broken in a way that made me uncomfortable because I grew up poor and broken but not the same kind, so I empathized but also felt weird about my empathy because the shit that happened to me when I was a kid is nothing compared to what she is going through. Empathy is an odd thing.

So, Tika, what is this book about? You got all excitable about telling us and then went off on a tangent.

Well, my dear reader, first of all you cannot be surprised that such a thing would happen. And secondly, Eleanor & Park is a book about growing up and first love and whimsy and the awkwardness of being a teenager and parenting and preconceived notions and a definite hint of pride and prejudice (the emotions, not the book). It made my heart sore, and soar, and I had to stop a few times to ugly cry - sometimes for Eleanor and sometimes for Park.

It's a book teachers of high school students should read to remind them of what it's like to be the beings they're trying to connect to, and that's about the highest praise I can think of.

10.5 of 11 Mix Tapes from the Radio

13 August 2013

The Golden Mean - Annabel Lyon

I picked this up after my cat knocked The Interestings off of my nightstand on the very day I was considering DNF'ing it. "Just a few pages," I thought to myself. "It's important to know if this is a reading rut or if it's just that book in particular."

Yea, fuck you glasses case!

Well, it was that book in particular.

Wolitzer's use of language was fantastic, but I found her story to be lacking. Similarly, Lyon's writing is engaging, but the story wasn't the crazy revelation of ancient hijinks that I was (for no particular reason) expecting. Instead, it was what I can only describe as... hazy. As if Aristotle were telling his story through the fog of old age, describing events and loves of his life without regard to things that didn't really affect him.

Things that affect teenaged me: Jared Leto's earnest face. And eyeliner.
Also hazy in that sense of, everything felt really hot and languid - that's the word, languid! Don't say it too many times or it won't sound like a word at all. It was a fascinating re-telling, in which Alexander the Great figured hardly at all - a bold choice for a story about the time in Aristotle's life when he was Alexander's tutor.

A tutor who neglected to explain about hairstyles, obvs. LORD that is some bad hair.
And Aristotle himself? Noooooot super-likeable. He was kind of a dick to his wife, Pythias, and there was this weird homoerotic tension between him and... well, everyone else. And then there was this awesome maid but she said something snappish to Aristotle while his wife was having their baby, so she got dismissed, end of her part in the story.

This is the weird thing about writing based on the actual life events of people: there's not really a purpose for a lot of things that happen IRL (as kids these days say), but I like fiction and tidy bows on things and emotionful reasons for dismissing your wife's favorite servant who may or may not have saved her life that one time. But instead? Aristotle dismissed her and we hear no more about her at all.

This is not why I read books.

But EVEN SO, I liked the writing and the book didn't make me grumpy even though I sound that way. ARISTOTLE makes me grumpy, with his servant-dismissing ways and his bizarre treatment of Alexander the Not-Yet-Great's seriously fucking weird behavior. How much of that is based on historical record? It sounds like that guy was seriously disturbed. Everything I know about him, I learned from reading Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George, and now this strange novel.

You would think I would know more about Alexander; many of my paternal relatives carry that name, and I have not one but TWO brothers named after Mr. the Great. But the more I learn, the more I think that maybe... not such a great guy.

Staaaahp being such a jerk, Alexander the Worst.
You'll have to forgive me, I've been watching New Girl all day and I'm feeling witty after a couple of glasses of wine and a very successful experience with my new Le Creuset stockpot. It'll pass soon.

7.5 out of 11 Literal Caves - Not Those Mind Caves Like Plato, Who Was Aristotle's Teacher

06 August 2013

The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I don’t remember who it was who recommended I read this book, but I DO remember that it was more than one person. So good job, all of you.

The thing about well-translated works is that they sing in the second language as well as in the first, and this is a VERY well translated work. As an at-one-time fluent Spanish speaker, I have a soft spot in my heart for Spanish idioms and expressions, which Lucia Graves has maintained to my UTTER DELIGHT.

I dunno what you might have heard, or whether you might have (like I did) mixed this book up with Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, which is an honest mistake because seriously, authors, get your naming conventions together. But if what you probably have heard is anything like what I heard about this book, you might be shocked to find out that the somewhat fantastical novel you expected – full of Cemeteries of Forgotten Books and whimsical quests to keep books alive is, in fact, NOT THAT THING. Instead, you will discover a Gothic romance complete with what may as well be Laurentina’s skeleton behind a tattered curtain.

Soooo scaaaaary! 
In 1945, Daniel chooses a book on his 10th birthday from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He is promptly accosted by many people who want the book, for mostly nefarious reasons, and the plot unfolds from there like the Marauder’s Map – all bits over here and a folded part over there, that come together to make a whole picture, but not of Hogwarts.

More's the pity.
Daniel goes along, finding stuff out about the author of the book and falling in and out and in and out of love along the way as he grows older. And it’s so, so beautifully written that when it drags about 2/3 of the way through you won’t mind much, and when you slowly narrow down the various culprits juuuust ahead of Daniel, you’ll be smug, and when it ends, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s part of a trilogy.

The second book of which is waiting for me at el biblioteca right now.

8 of 11 Brains Rotted by Reading, Just Like that Sancho Panza