Friday, January 30, 2009

"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

Summary: A father and his son travel alone in a post-apocalyptic world. They struggle to keep going and stay alive when the few remaining humans are all potentially dangerous.

Musings: The father and son in this book live in a solitary world, and the novel sets a tone that matches its subject matter. The writing is sparse and brief; the sense of isolation and loneliness is even present in the lack of punctuation (apostrophes aren't even used!). The father struggles to keep moving with his son's continued life his only focus. The son, who never knew a populated world, tries to retain humanity and care in a world that has none left.

The book addresses the issues many of us face at one time or another. Why live? Why keep going? Is there a purpose in life? These questions are all the more difficult for the father and son because there are no real answers. They keep moving, but with no real end in mind. There is no "secret" colony of kind humans and living life forms they want to reach. They keep moving and struggling solely because the only other option is death. I wondered throughout whether the father made the "right" decision. In such a terrible world without hope, is "giving up" such a bad option? Can the afterlife, whatever it may or may not be, possibly be worse? There are no definitive answers, but I rooted for the small family the entire time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky

Summary: A high school freshman, Charlie, writes letters to an anonymous person describing the ups and downs of making friends, surviving high school, and "participating" in life.

Musings: The book covers a litany of social "issues": child molestation, child abuse, domestic and partner violence and abuse, drug use, alcohol use, sex, homosexuality, abortion, suicide, bullying--but doesn't feel overwhelmingly heavy. I sometimes had a hard time connecting with Charlie because he, and his problems, were so unlike me in high school. And looking at my high school freshmen, I feel far removed from such complex personal issues. Charlie and his friends did remind me of people I knew in college, though, so in some ways I could see this being a realistic portrayal of high school.

I liked Charlie's voice although I wanted to shake him sometimes. He cries a lot and is impossibly patient with his friends. That's part of his problem, as his friend Sam points out at the end: he thinks too much and makes such little room for himself and his needs and wants in living life.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"The Story of Edgar Sawtelle" by David Wroblewski

Summary: A mute boy lives with his parents; they run a kennel where they train his family's special line of "Sawtelle" dogs.

Musings: A long book with distinct sections: Edgar's life in the kennel, the death of his father and discovery of his Uncle Claude's guilt, Edgar's run away from home and survival in the woods with several of his dogs, his life with a friendly farmer, and his return home. The story is very different from others I've read, and both the human and dog characters have distinct personalities. The book, in general, is more or less "realistic" (albeit far-fetched), but Wroblewski intersperses random moments of pure fantasy (Edgar is visited by a "mist-man" form of his death father who tells Edgar of Claude's murder) that I had a hard time accepting into the context of the book. The ending--a haze of different viewpoints, appearances from the dead, and lofty metaphorical sentiment--I found confusing and unsatisfying. I feel there was a greater "message" that I just didn't get (probably because I didn't put the work in). Worth reading, but discussion afterwards might help.

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Shakespeare: The World as Stage" by Bill Bryson

Summary: A biography of Shakespeare.

Musings: Bryson's book is an easy-to-read slim volume of Shakespeare's life and plays. I liked that he spends much of his time on what we don't know about Shakespeare. He lays out the few definitive facts available and covers the various theories for the many things we don't know. In that way it's a compendium of other academic research without purporting to have the right answer. Not a lot of new information is presented, but still informative.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga

Summary: An Indian chauffeur recounts growing up poor in the "Darkness" and struggling as a servant to masters. Recounted from the present where he has "made it" as an entrepreneur.

Musings: The book is narrated by the main character as he presumably writes letters to the Chinese premiere. He has a unique voice--blunt and evasive through most of the book; cynical and yet full of lofty philosophizing. While I had a hard time connecting to the present-day narrator, I sympathized with and felt drawn to the stories the narrator tells about himself. Much of his background reads like Slumdog Millionaire: poor in the slums of India, forever beaten down by the rich and powerful. In the end, this narrator makes a choice to refuse servitude--but only at the cost of others' lives and adopting many of the attitudes of the rich he himself hated. He has no regrets--do we begrudge him for making "dishonorable" choices in a world that lacks fairness and justice?

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Bel Canto" by Ann Patchett

Summary: A group of hostages are trapped together by terrorists. Among them: Roxane Cass, famous opera singer; Mr. Hasokawa, Japanese businessman; Gen, translator.

Musings: This is my third Patchett novel (having already read The Magician's Assistant and The Patron Saint of Liars), and it has similar themes. Roxane is irresistible to men; her opera appeals to every man's soul. She is annoyingly alluring to everyone. Interesting story line, but I found the actual reading dull. I couldn't finish it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"Hurry Down Sunshine" by Michael Greenberg

Summary: A father's memoir of his 15-year-old daughter's sudden psychosis.

Musings: Interesting discussion of what psychosis is. I liked his use of literary allusions (particularly to other famous/genius/crazy writers) as a way to understand his daughter. He contemplates: if we diagnose mental illness as varying from "average," how do we distinguish between sickness and genius? Short and little action, but interesting.