amaryann21's List from The List version 2.0
This is a continuation of the topic amaryann21's List from The List.
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Ragtime is half story, half portrait of New York City (and some surrounding areas) in the early 1900's. The story focuses on a family who is never named (Mother, Father, Grandfather, etc.) and the people who come into their lives, including a young African American man who meets with some infamy.
The book is very readable, but there wasn't a good flow. The second half was better, because it focused more on the storyline, but I think Doctorow's style isn't my favorite.
Food: chopped salad. A lot of stuff thrown into a bowl, and while it all goes together because it's technically one dish, some bites are more harmonious than others.
302. Doctor Zhivago
I've been putting off the Russians for some time now. I didn't hear anything horrible, but I was afraid of getting lost in the sea of everyone having 5 different names. When I picked this up, I steeled myself for a long slog...
I was SO surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this. The writing is beautiful without being too showy or preachy. The story is of one man's life and starts before the Russian Revolution and ends with WWII. I really got to care about the characters, and a few times, I had to remember which person what being represented with which names, but it really wasn't so bad! I was really struck by the beauty of the writing. I also realized how little I know about Russian history and I love that books like this make me want to learn.
Food: borscht. Full of trepidation at first, because it's a new experience, but the more I consume, the more I like it. Delicious and I'm excited about a second helping.
By 'putting off the Russians' do you mean you haven't read any of them? Even the really famous ones like War and Peace?
Correct. I was never required to read them in school, so they are all on my TBR pile.
I only started reading Russian lit a few years back (and I am 43). I was always under the impression that it was dark and dreary so I never tried. But when I finally picked one up, I realised how very wrong I was. I have read quite a bit now and love most of it. Doctor Zhivago is on my list for this year - loved the movie.
I'm excited to see the movie. I've held off, wanting to read the book first.
303. Cloud Atlas
This is a masterpiece. The story, or collection of stories within stories, is complex and interwoven and each has its own style and voice, but never was it difficult to read or follow. Each voice in the chorus drew me further into the worlds that were created. I have not read a book like this before and I am a little in awe.
I saw the movie when it came out and, in retrospect, I think they did as good a job as they could. The book is so much MORE. I will continue to think about this book for a long time. I'm so happy to have encountered it.
Food: a progressive dinner, in which one goes to different homes for each course. This is more than a meal, because you are immersed in the experience of dining as well as appreciating the food.
>9 amaryann21: I loved this book too - one of my rare 5/5 books
I keep thinking about how it's written so masterfully. I haven't given a book 5 stars in awhile, and this was one. I also usually trade my books after I read them, but this one is going in the permanent collection. I kinda want to just hold it and hope some of the genius rubs off on me.
304. A Severed Head
Martin has a wife and a mistress and a psychoanalyst. Until his wife falls in love with his psychoanalyst and then they both want him to be part of their big, happy family... sort of. Not in a sexual way, but they want to be absolved of any negative feelings and they NEED him to continue to be part of their lives. And that's just the start of the bizarro love quadrilaterals.
I feel like this book is a product of its time and, perhaps, the British culture of that time. I feel like it's supposed to be cheeky, but it just feels sad. The severed head theme feels to me like these people either are all intellect or all emotion and can't reconcile the two. I didn't not enjoy the book, but I feel like I didn't entirely get it.
Food: the last, cheap beer of the night after too many shots and the only person left is the sad drunk who's recounting their tragic love affairs. After awhile, it's a bit much.
Have you read others by Murdoch? I'm curious how it compares to some of her others, as I have A Severed Head coming up in my tbr pile soon.
305. The Call of the Wild
This is the story of Buck, a dog taken surreptitiously from his home and stolen away to the gold rush in Alaska. Told from his perspective, this short novel gives us a brutal look at the life of a sled dog and how Buck goes from a domesticated pet to hearing the call of the wild, literally, and going back to the beast of his ancestors.
I loved reading about the care of the animals by some of the characters. Sometimes it feels like a modern attitude to care about the quality of life of an animal. London did a fantastic job making the story feel authentic and adventurous and didn't humanize Buck too much, which I appreciate.
Food: venison steak. Meat, a little gamey, a little wild, a little exotic (for some of us).
306. Silas Marner
Poor Silas. Accused of a crime he didn't commit, he exiles himself to a small village and starts a new chapter in his life, one where he keeps very much to himself. A crime is then committed on him, which brings him to the brink of despair until a small turn of events brings light back to his life.
I enjoyed this story for its provincialism. The simplicity of the townsfolk and the depiction of the rich squire's family being a little myopic felt more realistic than caricature. Silas doesn't show his full depth of character until the end, and I came to realize that I really liked the strange little man. The message is somewhat along the lines of, "Good things come to those who wait" and "Trust in the Lord" and when you're selfish, you lose out, but none of it felt preachy. I like a more subtly delivered message.
I think the reading of this book was enhanced by the antique copy I acquired. It was published in 1900 and is a small, red leather bound copy, very well aged. I love the feel of it, knowing that others have held this same little volume, enjoyed the story. It carries its history with it.
Food: a shortbread cookie. Simple, a little sweet, easy to digest.
Mikage has lost all her family and Yuichi and his mother take her in. Mikage is drawn to kitchens- clean, dirty, large, small, they have more meaning to her than any other part of the house. Slowly, she deals with her grief and, a few years later, is dealt another blow. She and Yuichi are pulled together and apart over the years.
There is a quiet, a patience in this story that feels Eastern. The emotion is allowed to be understated, which feels more genuine, than some of the Western writers techniques (I'm looking at you, Jodi Picoult) of smacking the reader in the face, screaming, "FEEL SOMETHING!". I am engaged in the story with this respect of feeling.
Food: clear broth. Flavorful, simple, delicious without pretension. Healthy.
Helga is looking for where she fits in. She's biracial in a world where civil rights haven't become a reality yet, and she isn't really a part of the Negro (her word) world and certainly not a part of the white world. She tries on several different cities and lifestyles and is happy for a time, until the same old uneasiness comes back. Life is like quicksand- the more you struggle, the faster you sink.
Reading this story was fascinating and sad. I wanted Helga to find her place and find happiness, but the dread was it was never to be achieved. The complicated picture of racism, particularly of how blacks viewed themselves in contrast to whites and the varied perspectives held, was something I hadn't considered much in the past. It gave me a lot to think about.
Food: heavy, dense cornbread. Tasty, but it sits in your stomach afterward, weighing you down.
As a note do you know that quicksand, as portrayed on all those old westerns, is imaginary? It doesn't, and never has, existed. It traps you, it doesn't drown you.
So, like quicksand, could Helga's uneasiness and sense of not fitting in also be just in her imagination?
Yes, I did :)
The analysis included in the introduction (which I never read first) states that Larsen's books are psychological rather than sociological. While I think Helga's perspective is influenced by the time she lives in, it's very much a personal journey for her, which suggests this may be entirely in her head.
Irene grew up with Clare, but when Clare's father died, she disappeared and no one knew what became of her. Irene runs into her again, purely by chance, and finds out that Clare is "passing" for white to everyone in her life, including her very racist husband. Irene's feelings about this are many- anger, disappointment, betrayal, and fear for Clare's safety.
I have mixed feelings about the story as well. It wasn't easy to read. Irene's perspective makes sense, but the conflict she feels is very well portrayed and is transferred to the reader. Ultimately, the story is sad. The underlying commentary on race is dismaying, and I understand that feeling is a result of the time I live in, though I think it brave of Larsen to be writing about it in the 1920's.
Food: a madeleine, looking yummy and delicious, but lacking in taste and a little dry. You aren't totally disappointed, but wish it could have had more flavor.
310. The Secret Agent
Usually spy stories are exciting, full of action. Leave it to Conrad to make a spy story boring. Mr. Verloc is a secret agent, but apparently not doing a very good job. He's married to Winnie and has taken on her mother and brother, who is slightly irregular in the head. He runs a shop and hangs out with anarchists. And then there's an explosion.
Conrad uses too many words. There's too much to sort through to figure out what he's actually saying and in this book, all the action, what little there is, comes at the end. It's not even that good of a payoff. I don't see the appeal in his writing.
Food: a dry cappuccino with no sugar. Bitter, too much foam, and someone must have used decaf espresso.
311. The Garden Party
The Garden Party is about a wealthy family throwing a garden party the day they've learned a neighbor, quite poor, has died in an accident. One of the children is quite sympathetic and feels it inappropriate to throw the party in light of the death.
The short story highlights class difference and values in a brief, effective way. The lavish party, real emotion for the family being distracted by a new bonnet, a gesture of sympathy that isn't really sympathetic (or is it as sympathetic as possible?) and an ending that's not quite satisfying make for an interesting story.
Food: a cream puff where the cream has just started to turn. Looks beautiful, but there's some sourness that'll stay with you.
>27 Nickelini: I'm not sure I'd describe it as bittersweet. Bittersweet means there's real sweetness in the mix, and this just felt like the wealthy family was... removed. Their sympathy was nominal. The difference in the class realities was stark.
I keep waiting for you to run out of these great food metaphors and start repeating yourself. But you don't.
Thank you! I think it helps me both remember the books better and really think about how I experienced them. And I've only done 170, since I didn't start them right away, so I'm sure I'll repeat soon!
312. The Kreutzer Sonata
The man on the train has killed his wife. He's honest about it, and he was acquitted. He has some very strong opinions about sex and marriage. Did his wife cheat on him? We'll never know...
This was a short story, but a long experience. I couldn't figure out if Tolstoy was advocating against marriage and sex or not, but I found an epilogue online after finishing the story that showed that yes, Tolstoy was not in favor of marriage and sex the way the "Church" set it up. Interesting. I did listen to the Kreutzer Sonata while reading the last third of the story, and the best part of the story is when the main character describes his response to the music. That helped me understand a little better (and makes me wonder, is that part autobiographical, Tolstoy?). My professional opinion is that the main character is crazy, though. Certifiably.
Food: stinky cheese. Not super stinky, but mildly stinky. You have some trepidation about trying it, but you want to be polite and adventurous, but you have to try it several times to figure out whether or not you like it. And the next day, you're still not sure.
This is the third McEwan I've read and my favorite so far. The story of Henry's day drew me in from the very start. Henry is a neurosurgeon and the descriptions of his work contain some large, impressive words (which I love). It's a Saturday, and he wakes early, sees an unusual sight, and goes about his day. The book is full of flashbacks that round out the story of his life and family.
The language of this book wrapped me up, flowed over and around me, and I wanted to take my time, pace myself, instead of racing to the end to see what happens. Most of the book is regular life stuff, which may be why it appealed to me so much. There is genuine love and care and what drama there is is handled with nobility. It's been awhile since I liked the characters in a book so much.
Food: a single square of high quality dark chocolate, 72% cocoa or higher. Thin, brittle, taking a few moments to melt in your mouth, but blooming with depth of flavor when it does.
>313 Your food description made me remember the book even better than your review. Spot-on!
>35 Simone2: Thank you! I intentionally leave most of the plot out. I like to read books knowing as little as possible beforehand.
314. The Temple of My Familiar
Beautiful, a story about women, oppression of people of color, love, magic, family, and life. The variety of characters in the story is like a buffet of humanity, and they all have redeeming qualities. The back and forth between the US and Africa sometimes confused me because it was hard to remember when and where we were in the story, but that is my only complaint. This book was like being immersed in a warm bath.
Food: whipped cream, the real kind. Sweet and airy and slightly sweet, lingering on the tongue for just a moment after it's gone. Delicious.
>36 amaryann21: I'm the same, trying to know as little as I possibly can about the book before reading it. So I usually just read your food description if I haven't read the book being reviewed! It's a good way to get a tantalizing (or not!) idea about the book.
>38 ursula: I'm glad you enjoy them! I often wonder how much my "taste" is the same as others.
Every time I've read a book that you have reviewed I've agreed with your chosen food.
Hmmmm. On one hand, I'm now looking forward to trying Temple of My Familiar, which is one of those 1001 books I own but wasn't sure I'd ever get to, so thanks for that. On the other hand, I don't like whip cream. And I do find your food descriptions more accurate than not. Hmmm.
>42 Nickelini: I think it's whipped cream because I LOVE whipped cream, so I hope it's a different lovely experience for you!
315. The Line of Beauty
Nick lives with the Feddens. Gerald, Mr. Fedden, is a politician and the whole family is wealthy. Nick lives with them on the suggestion of Toby, their son, with whom Nick went to Oxford. Nick is working on a doctorate on Henry James, kind of. Nick is gay. It's the 1980's. One is not openly gay while living with the upper crust in London. The book covers a span of 4 years, in which time things are very, very good, and then not so much.
Reading this book was interesting and painful. Nick's whole existence is due to the generosity or favor of someone else. He's a pet, never given any substance beyond what pleasure he can provide to someone else. He knows it won't last forever, but then again, why not? There's very little that's authentic about his life. It's frustrating to see him stuck in this loop, because he seems like a decent person and not actually trying to take advantage, but just used to where he is in his life and not in a hurry to get out.
Food: a display wedding cake. Beautiful, highly decorative, stunning in design, but actually full of Styrofoam.
316. The Once and Future King
Started in the late 1930's, this is the compilation of a four-volume set of the life of King Arthur, from his lowly beginnings as Wart, the squire of Kay, through his trials and tribulations with Lancelot and Guinevere and Mordred. White makes no attempt to stay solely in the time period and frequently makes tongue-in-cheek remarks about the differences between those days and modern times. This is a chunk of a book- almost 650 pages in my version, but very readable. The chapters are short and the action doesn't got bogged down too often.
White's portrayal of the characters in the story we've all heard is very human. Arthur is very noble, to be sure, but he isn't set up to be larger than life and we are privy to his struggles. White also lets us see Arthur wrestle with human nature and some philosophical treatise of war and conflict, might and right (though not often, thankfully- that can get boring). I enjoyed making my way through this saga.
Food: certainly a medieval feast. Venison, pheasant, sweetmeats, honey wine, stone fruit, both delicate and hearty bits of all varieties.
317. The Art of Fielding
I freely admit I've been delaying reading this book, despite hearing good things about it. It's about baseball, and baseball is boring, right? I devoured this book. It's over 500 pages and I finished it in a matter of hours. DEVOURED.
Yes, it's about baseball, but it's more about life. Henry might be the most amazing shortstop in history. Pella and her father, the president of Westish college, have a complicated relationship. Schwartz is an incredible guy, but where is he going? Owen... Owen is brilliant and the only one who might have his life together, but they're all so young and college is the time when you find out who you are. And they do. And it's compelling to read. My heart is full of these characters and their journeys and I'm not ready to let them go yet.
Food: a bacon cheeseburger. Delicious and filling and satisfying and just what you need every once in awhile. A lot to chew on, but you come away full.
>I loved this book too! (And I love bacon cheeseburgers) The characters, especially Henry & Schwartz, were truly compelling. A great read.
>46 amaryann21: I think I gave this a middle of road rating, but the more I think about it the more I appreciate it and remember it fondly. It was very well-done. Definitely one of the better contemporary books on the list in my opinion.
>48 japaul22: I think I was even more impressed because it's a debut novel. Perhaps I shouldn't be so impressed that someone could write that good of a book right out of the gate (and that isn't necessarily what that means, just that it's the first to be published), but I am!
>47 annamorphic: It's nice to stumble upon one that I really could sink my teeth into and be happy at the end. Doesn't always happen with the list, does it?
Really appreciate your review... I've been avoiding The Art of Fielding too for the same reasons. Your review gives me some hope that it will be enjoyable after all.
>46 amaryann21: Yeah I agree that the idea of baseball being part of the book put me off. But I enjoyed it quite a bit too once I convinced myself to start it!
I have no plans to read that because baseball. But I appreciate a book (or movie) that can make me feel, and think, and say it's wonderful despite a topic that bores me to tears. Good writing and good story conquer all. There's a baseball story in the Judy Blume anthology (not written by her, but by an author I can't remember) Places I Never Meant to Be: Original Stories by Censored Writers that blew me away, despite baseball. (This is an excellent collection, btw.)
So I can appreciate that this is a very good book, but I probably won't pick it up only because I have too many other books on my TBR.
ETA: Ah ha! I wrote a review of the Judy Blume book and noted the story in my comments: "Baseball Camp," by David Klass.
...do you have to know anything about baseball to read the novel? Could it be just as well about basketball or soccer or ice hockey or anything? (my knowledge about baseball is limited to what I have picked from Peanuts comics, one guy throws a ball, another tries to hit the ball, a third one tries to catch the ball...shortstop is apparently a player position?)
I don't think you have to know anything about baseball. I'm trying to imagine if it were about cricket (I know zero about that), and I think it would be fine. X position is important, so-and-so is good at it, Y thing happens, which is good, Z thing happens, which is bad. If there was any in-depth discussion of the sport, I skimmed it and totally missed it. :)
>55 hdcanis: Love your description of baseball. I grew up in Canada having to play softball (which for me is exactly the same thing as baseball even though I know they are not) from kindergarten until grade 10. Hated every second of it. Also, family reunions and church youth group. When I was in my mid-20s and climbing the corporate ladder, I was told "you really have to come out and play in the manager's softball game." I said no. Did I mention I'm not on the corporate ladder anymore? But other than all the politics (from wee young school age to adulthood), you have the general idea of the game down just fine.
I recently went to a pro baseball game. As a spectator, I didn't die, and it was almost interesting. But they gave me a drink and a meal, so there you go.
>56 ursula: I think with these types of stories, it's all about the human dynamics. Sure, they're setting it against a sport, but it's REALLY about something else.
I agree with Ursula- you don't need to know anything about the sport to enjoy the story. I know the basics of baseball, but that's about it. I think Harbach gives enough information about each of the things that come up about the sport to make it understandable.
Nickelini, I can appreciate that. I found it for 50 cents at a library sale, so I picked it up and took it to work with me, planning to read it sporadically on my lunch break. Until I couldn't put it down.
>59 amaryann21: I found it for 50 cents at a library sale, so I picked it up and took it to work with me, planning to read it sporadically on my lunch break. Until I couldn't put it down.
That's fabulous! A true find.
It's no secret that Joyce Carol Oates and I are not friends, but this book brought us more to an acquaintance level and reduced some of the negative feelings I have about her work. Blonde is a fictionalized account of Marilyn Monroe's life, inspired (of course) by the actual events of her life. I don't know how much is true, because I don't know much about Monroe. I've never paid much attention to her, despite her icon status. But this book intrigued me and now I want to know more. So, Oates, thank you for piquing my interest. Job well done.
Reading this book wasn't always easy. First of all, it's a chunkster and heavy. I mean literally heavy. I may have developed tendonitis. And secondly, Norma Jeane had a ROUGH life. The psychiatric illness of her mother, the abuse at her hands, getting married at 15 and never really knowing herself or her worth intrinsically, just made me sad for her. It makes me wonder what she could have been without all the things that troubled her, or if that's part of what inspired her gift.
Food: dinner theater while watching "Hamlet". Lots of rich food and drink while taking in the comedy, tragedy and insanity unfold on stage.
This was the first Oates I read, so I feel more more positively about her than you, lol. But I had also always been rather ambivalent about Marilyn, and wanted to know more after reading Blonde. And yeah, I felt like, had she not dealt with so agonizingly much shit, what worlds could she have conquered?? :/
I am hit or miss with Oates. But that may be because she is probably the most prolific & diverse writer I have come across. The woman will quite literally write about anything.
I have Blonde in my pile to read this year so thanks for the positive review!
>64 Yells: Maybe that's a better way to describe how I feel about her now. My initial experiences were overwhelmingly negative, so maybe it's tainted me.
And you're welcome!
319. Gabriel's Gift
Gabriel is a teenager whose parents aren't getting along. He's an artist who speaks to his dead twin brother. His dad was a rock star of a little fame. Gabriel doesn't like the au pair his mother has hired to watch over him.
Seems like disjointed facts, right? Yeah. The book kind of clunks along, and stuff happens with a few moments of feeling, but overall, it was just okay. None of the characters was developed enough to feel believable, especially Gabriel. He was inconsistent and it made it difficult for me really get into the story. I wanted more, and was left unsatisfied.
Food: a strawberry Pop Tart. Not actual strawberries, and not enough to be a real meal.
320. The Sorrows of Young Werther
Young Werther is a pretty happy guy, content with his life and delighted with nature, until he meets Lotte and falls madly in love. The trouble is, she's already engaged to Albert. Alas and alack! Whatever shall he do?
Blech. I'm sure this was scandalous in 1774, as it discusses suicide openly and as an option to get to Heaven (which would have been very much opposed to church teaching) and equates it with dying of a fever. The dramatic way in which Werther pines over Lotte is just too much for me. I want to shake him and tell him to get over it, find a hobby, find something else to occupy his time. Perhaps that's the pragmatist in me, or maybe I'm just too used to dealing with teenagers?
Food: tepid tea. Some flavor left, but you drink it to get it down, not because you enjoy it.
>320 I could very much identitfy with Werther, perhaps because I was twenty when I read it.
Your review makes me wonder whether it is the fact that it was written in the 18th century or the fact that you are older than Werther which makes this a less interesting read.
I won't reread it however, to find out. I guess it would not touch me as much as it did back then.
>68 Simone2: I think the time period in which it was written plays a part, and I don't think it's my age as much as I'm a therapist. I get it, I just don't like reading about it because it annoys me.
I'd say it's a bit of an age thing too, I read Werther well in my 30s and was already "oh, get a grip, why don't you" without having dealt that much with teenagers after I was one.
321. The Long Goodbye
This is my first time meeting Philip Marlowe, though not Chandler's introduction of this PI. Marlowe is a loner, unliked by most and not exactly a charmer. He commits an act of charity and finds himself entangled in a series of suspicious deaths.
"Hard-boiled" detective stories are not my thing. Those type of detectives tend to annoy me and I feel like they are caricatures more than characters. Marlowe wasn't so bad, though, and he grew on me a little. He had enough heart to get me through. As for the twists, they took their time coming, but they were pretty good when they showed up.
Food: a patty melt in a greasy spoon with a cigarette and strong coffee when you've finished. Dirty food, eaten on the sly, and afterward you feel like you've gotten away with something.
322. The Charterhouse of Parma
Fabrizio is the son of a nobleman and enthralled with Napoleon, so he sneaks off to join the army in France, but is soon exposed to the reality of war. The problem is, he has been branded a traitor by leaving to fight for Napoleon. And that's just the beginning.
Fabrizio is labeled the hero of the story, though nothing he does is what I would call heroic. He falls in love with every pretty girl who wanders across his path, and there's the weird relationship with his aunt that never really resolves. And he's a priest, but that's not serious, it's just to keep him out of trouble and give him status, because we can buy things like that. I get it, it was acceptable or understood practice at the time (and maybe still is, just not in the church?). I really enjoyed the bits where Stendhal talked to the reader about how he was going to skip over some parts because they were boring, or when he explained to French readers how Italian people are more emotional. Some parts of the story moved much more quickly than others. Overall, not a difficult read, but it sure dragged at times.
Food: salted caramel apple pecan pie cheesecake. Lots of ingredients and it's tasty, but you can't really find the apple because it's overshadowed by some of the other components, and you need to just take it slow because too much is too heavy. Satisfying when finished, but you won't go back for another piece for quite awhile.
323. Arrow of God
Ezeulu is the chief priest of Ulu and revered in all 6 villages, but this is a tenuous position and a fragile peace. The British are present and this changes the balance and calls alliances into question. Ezeulu himself is regarded as half man, half spirit and must also be the faith guide for his people.
The tribal practices, colonialism, and the wonderful (and sometimes cryptic) African proverbs were interesting and sometimes frustrating. I think that means it was well written and well-portrayed. I have grown to appreciate non-Western writers much more than before I started reading from The List, and this is a good example.
Food: kale salad. Bitter, sometimes taking some effort to chew, but ultimately you know you did something good for yourself when you're through.
324. Jacob's Room
Jacob Flanders is very distinguished-looking. And very awkward. Apart from those two things, we don't actually find out a lot about him, though this is about his life. Women (and maybe a man or two) swoon over him, of which he mostly seems oblivious, or maybe just doesn't care. There's lots of letter writing.
This is an experimental novel and I enjoyed it much more than I expected I would. The imagery is gorgeous and caught me by surprise again and again. My first go around with Woolf wasn't positive, so I wasn't sure how this book and I were going to get along. I felt like I was following Jacob through his life, watching him observe scenes in the lives of the people around him, and then moving along to the next.
Food: do you remember that thing (was it a salad?) at that party? Man, it was so good... I should find out what was in that. That was a fun night. What was that stuff? It was yummy...
325. Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Cephallonia is a Greek island, home to Pelagia and her father, the doctor in their tiny town. Everything is very quiet and provincial and Pelagia falls in love with a boy in town. Then World War II changes everything, forever. The Italians occupy the island and Captain Corelli stays with Pelagia and her father, who are intent on showing him their frustration and anger at being invaded. Corelli is a good man, a talented musician, and even performs opera with several of his men while in the latrine.
This is an epic tale, covering decades and many lives, lives that are very, very human. I came to care for these characters. The atrocities of war are not glossed over. Parts were difficult to read because they felt so real. I really enjoyed this book and it moved very quickly for me. There is a lot of humor to balance the darker parts of the story, and I appreciate the lack of sugarcoating.
Food: a Greek meal- tabbouleh, roasted fish, and baklava for dessert. There's bitter notes, salty and briny, charred and meaty, and sweet and nutty to round things out.
326. On Beauty
The Belseys are an interesting family- a mix of races and identities, leading to conflict in ideals and what they each value. Add to the mix the Kipps family, and the conflict grows. Howard and Monty seem to hate each other due to opposing perspectives regarding intellectual and prejudicial issues. But their families keep connecting, over and over and inappropriately over.
I like some of the characters- Kiki was very interesting to read, and the kids in the Belsey household seemed quite real. Harold, on the other hand, is not my cup of tea. I don't think he was supposed to be. But I wanted there to be SOMEthing likeable about him, and I didn't find it.
Food: peach salad with red onions and aged balsamic vinegar. It appears as though it's an odd combination of ingredients, and there are bites that are sharp and acidic and some that are sweeter and more mellow. In the end, it all works together, but I'm not sure how often I want to eat it.
327. The Remains of the Day
Mr. Stevens has served as a butler for decades and takes pride in his work, in doing it properly. Much of the story involves Miss Kenton, another of the staff in the household, and his recollections of their time together. Mr. Stevens served Lord Darlington for most of his life, and now the hall has been acquired by an American gentleman, and Mr. Stevens is having a difficult time adjusting. He takes a road trip and his musings make up the story.
I think Kazuo Ishiguro is quite a storyteller. The subtleties in how he conveys emotion are masterful. Mr. Stevens is wrestling with his identity in the story, in a way- he's a butler, but he's also a person, but he's SUCH a butler. Where does his duty to his profession and employer end and his own personhood begin?
Food: a proper cup of English tea with milk and arrowroot biscuits, by the fire, as the sun begins to set. Quiet, sustaining but not sweet.
328. The Buddha of Suburbia
Karim has an Indian father and an English mother and their life is normal, until Karim's father decides to affect the guise and behavior of a guru. This throws Karim, a teenager, into a new world of ideas and explorations.
The blurb on the back says that it's "sharp satire on race relations" in England, and I guess I have to take their word for it. There is a lot of discussion about race- at that time (70's-80's) Indians were called "black"- and the distinction between Indian and Pakistani, but it doesn't feel satirical, except in very small bits. Overall, this wasn't a difficult book to read, but it got a little tedious in spots.
Food: horned melon. Bright on the inside and outside, there isn't a lot of flavor, it's a little slimy, and the seeds get in the way of really enjoying the fruit.
329. An Obedient Father
Ram Karan is obedient- to his corrupt boss and the way business is done, to his appetites with no regard for consequences, to his own desires, but to little else. But he's not bad, per se, it's just how things are done and he's trying to make up for the wrongs he's committed... sort of. And Anita and Asha, his daughter and granddaughter, must live with him because there's nowhere else for them to go, even though the past haunts Anita to the point of madness.
As in most Indian novels, the government and its corruption play a large role. This feels more relevant than in the past, but it's still hard to relate to on a cultural level. There are parts of this story that aren't easy to read, but others that tug at the emotions a little.
Food: obligatory dinner with your depressed aunt. The food is a little lacking- burnt edges on the cake, the salad is pretty wilted and is the meat starting to turn? But you know she needs someone to talk to and you'll listen to her problems and try to be supportive. Getting out of there and knowing you don't have to go back for a few months is a relief, though.
>80 amaryann21: Great food comparison - again! I read the book and know exactly what you mean.
330. The Butcher Boy
Francie's dad is a drunk, and this makes life hard for his mother, but he and Joe are best friends and that's what matters. Joe and Francie pull a mean joke on one of their peers and Mrs. Nugent, the boy's mother, is very insulting to Francie's family when she comes to tell Francie's mother about it. And the tragic tale is set in motion- or just accelerated, because, really, it was already tragic, but Francie didn't know that, did he?
There is a brilliance about this book, about how madness is portrayed, that is worth experiencing. It is not an easy tale to witness, though. And it feels like it could be very close to the real lives of many.
Food: a sour ale in a chaotic bar, where you start a chat with a stranger and slowly, you realize you may have entered into a conversation of which you no longer want to be part. There's something compelling about it, but is this person completely seated in reality?
I found this rather a peculiar book as well; I felt sorry for Francie who really just wanted to be loved and to feel that there was something worthwhile about his family.
>84 M1nks: Francie is the exact kid who I work with in real life, as a therapist, so my heart hurt for him. He's a product of his environment and his genetics. And very well written.
331. The Kindly Ones
I finally finished it!!!! No more door stoppers for awhile! (What's that? I just bought IQ84? At least it's a paperback)
This is heavy. I mean it literally and figuratively- 983 pages in hardcover is a strain on the wrists. But this is also a fictional memoir of a former SS officer during WWII, where he participated in the extermination efforts of the Jews, the Russians, the Poles, the gypsies, the disabled and mentally ill. And it's graphic. But the premise, that you and I would have done the same things he did, were we in his shoes, is intriguing and gives one pause.
There's some really distasteful stuff in here, and that's putting it mildly. Aue is a twin and has an unhealthy fixation with his sister, his only sibling. She is the perfect woman, in his mind, and therefore he cannot have a relationship with any other female. His relationship with his mother is virtually estranged, and I've got my own theory on where the twins came from that she was fostering came from. And the war... I read a brief article about the amount of research Littell put in while writing this and I can't imagine he took too much license. If you can step back and view the story in a theoretical, philosophical light, it's very, very interesting. But so much loss, so much pain, so much hate.
Also, if you are unfamiliar with the mythology of the Kindly Ones (as I was), it's worth looking that up. But I would of it after you finish the story.
Food: cold meat and hard bread, but it's all you have. You take just a few nibbles here and there at first, because it's not what you want, but eventually, the hunger is enough to take bigger bites.
I have this one lined up for next month so your review is timely. Not sure I'm entirely looking forward to the experience.
Enjoying your reviews along with the paired foods. The only one I have read so far on this thread is Cloud Atlas and I 100% agree.
Thank you, Lisa! It makes me think about the book in different ways, which I appreciate.
This is Adam's story. He met a couple at a party in college, a couple with whom his interaction changed the course of his life, perhaps for the better, but at moments, it was definitely for the worse. We come to find out many of these events in his memoir, written and shared with a friend from college, and from an involved party.
What's real? What's fantasy? Who actually knows? I'm a fan of Auster's writing, so I enjoyed this story and it only took a couple hours to read. It's compelling, in a gentle, non-urgent way. His characters are complex and his plotlines take twists I don't expect.
Food: one spoonful of dandelion soup. Light, slightly bitter, with layers of flavor that take a moment to savor.
A short little sci-fi story about Matthew and Chocky, the being that starts talking to him, told from his father's perspective.
The story is handled well, I think, and Matthew comes across as age-appropriate and genuine. His parents' reactions also feel well-depicted. I wonder about the state of atomic energy and its development in conjunction with the writing of this story.
Food: cookies and milk. A little snack after coming home from school, nothing heavy, leaves a sweet and satisfying taste in your mouth.
334. There but for the by Ali Smith
Miles locks himself in the Lees' guest room. He was there as a guest at their dinner party and they really don't know him. He's provided no explanation. The story is told in four parts, each from a different perspective of someone who knew Miles in a different way.
Interesting and weird. Be prepared not to get closure, because Smith, in my experience, likes not providing answers. But it's a fun ride. Brooke, the child who appears in multiple chapters of the story, is precocious and intelligent and witty and curious and someone I would want to talk to for hours. Her perspective is the one I enjoyed most. The book feels more like a character study than a story, and if taken with that expectation, it's a good time.
Food: a handful of mixed nuts. Filberts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, cashews and a walnut or two, a good snack and something to chew on, but nutty. REAL nutty.
335. Animal's People
Animal will tell you he's not human. How could he be? He walks on all fours, and humans don't do that. His back was twisted after the factory burned and he's been this way forever. He lives in the slums and when the American doctor comes to town, it shakes things up. The battle with the Kampani comes to a head, and Animal finds out what he's made of.
There is so much life in this book, of all different kinds. Love and hope and loneliness and despair and hunger and hate and faith, and Animal has his own unique perspective. A little slow to start, the story picks up speed and with a mixture of Indian mythology and drunken and drug-induced bits, Animal and his people come to life. My favorite parts are when Animal tries to help Elli, the doctor, understand his home and their clash in culture and way of life.
Food: a charred lime flavored with chili powder and a bit of salt. Sour, sharp, smoky, biting and an explosion of all flavors at once.
336. American Rust
Isaac and Poe have been out of high school for a couple years in their dying steel town, and they are an unlikely pair of friends. Isaac is a genius, but small, scrawny, and looks far younger than his age. Poe is the high school football star who could've been a college football star- big, brawny, and no one messes with him. Isaac has decided he's done taking care of his disabled father and is skipping town, and Poe walks a bit of the way with him, until they meet up with trouble.
This story very accurately reflects the life of a town in the Rust Belt. I lived in one of those towns for a number of years, and the story felt disturbingly like home. Ambition has no target, and it's easy to lose all hope. Isaac and Poe and their friends and family all have chapters to themselves in the book as the story progresses, and more than a narrative, this book is a portrait of post-industrial small-town America.
Food: raw red onion. Sharp, pungent, stinging, but common.
337. The Midwich Cuckoos
Midwich is a sleepy little English town and nothing of substance happens there. Our narrator and his wife have a night in London for his birthday and when they make their way home, they aren't allowed to reenter their hometown due to an "incident". 24 hours later, the incident is over and life goes on... until the ramifications are made known, and they are far more insidious than first expected.
This story inspired "The Village of the Damned", so if you've seen it, you know the plotline. Early British sci-fi is fun and the character development is more of an emphasis than in some later science fiction. Wyndham does a great job at building plot tension and even though I'd seen the movie and knew where things were headed, it was still a great read. And I love the cuckoo analogy, adds a great creep factor when you think about it in the context of the book.
Food: an orange Tootsie pop. A quick little treat, and if you just have a little patience, the reward at the end is worth it.
338. The Summer Book
Sophia, her father and her grandmother spend the summer on a tiny island in Scandinavia. In short chapters, the book describes their adventures. Nothing huge happens- they plant a garden of lovely flowers and trees, they have a antisocial cat, there is a huge storm, etc. It's exactly this lack of drama that brings a little bit of magic into the book. Sophia and her grandmother are close because Sophia's mother has died. They are each other's companions and they have developed a way of communicating in stories and make believe that is charming. Grandmother takes lots of naps and smokes when Papa isn't around, and Sophia keeps Grandmother's secrets and Grandmother makes the fear and anger go away when Sophia can't handle it.
There is a charming innocence to this book. It's full of light, quiet, and familial love.
Food: salt water taffy. Take small nibbles and let it melt in your mouth to make it last a little longer. Sweetness and nostalgia abound.
339. Kafka on the Shore
Kafka ran away from home, with no defined plan and minimal money. He's 15, and just needs to be gone from his father's home before he's destroyed. Nakata is in his 60's and due to a strange incident in his childhood, can't read or write, but can talk to cats. The book alternates chapters in telling their stories and strange, very strange things happen.
I don't know how to talk about the plot of this book other than to say I just needed to keep reading. It's not a thriller, but there is a compulsion of the same sort (my copy is 615 pages, finished in under 24 hours). Are these characters connected? Why and how? What's actually going on? Music, reading, philosophy and the surreal are all incorporated into an amazing adventure. I think this book probably bears repeated reading, delving more into the depths every time.
Food: trying a new cuisine for the first time. It's literally foreign, but the more you taste, familiar spices hit your palate in a new, exciting way. You want to try the whole menu, because it's stimulating and wonderful.
340. Some Experiences of an Irish R.M.
Major Yeates tells tales of his life in the Irish countryside, mostly consisting of hunts and adventures with horses, feuds between family members, and a little bit of drinking. Easy to read, but not always easy to understand because of the age of the language, this is a window into late 19th century Irish country life.
Food: tea and biscuits. A nice little snack before supper.
341. At Swim-Two-Birds
An Irish college student is writing a story, recycling characters from other literature, to amuse himself and to procrastinate from his studies. The writing is choppy, weird, and I feel like I'm missing a lot, because it's not funny to me, though I get some of the ironic bits. There were parts that made more sense than others, but mostly, I'm just glad I'm through it.
Food: passed appetizers at a party. A variety, but they always seem hard to find, or you keep getting the same one over and over, and some of them are not to your taste at all.
342. Christ Stopped at Eboli
Levi's story is a combination of memoir and fiction of his year of exile in a small southern town in Italy comprised of peasants and gentry. He was a political prisoner and lived in this tiny fictional village, far from home, and painted, treated the locals (he was a doctor) and whiled away his time.
The writing composes a picture and song of the life of the people in the town, and Levi does them justice in his remembrance of them. He captures their drudgery, their hardship, and their acceptance of life as a forgotten part of Italy. The peasants (his word) feel no connection to their country, but instead feel as though they are an island in a nation that moved on years ago. The old superstitions and legends are their reality and they see no reason to live otherwise. A beautiful, rugged portrait of a time long past.
Food: honey and butter on a thick slab of coarse bread. Satisfying, lots to chew on, and a finish of sweetness and cream.
343. The French Lieutenant's Woman
Ernestina and Charles are engaged, and Ernestina reluctantly spent a few weeks with her aunt in Lyme Regis. Charles willingly went with her, and during their stay, he encounters Sarah, or "Tragedy", or the French Lieutenant's Woman. Sarah entrances him, and more chance encounters lead to an unburdening of Sarah's soul to Charles, which leads to more trouble.
This book is half story, half treatise on Victorian society, but in a very readable way. It was published in the 1960's, so it's Victorian with some tongue-in-cheek, not taking itself quite so seriously. Fowles takes us out of the narrative at times, reminding us that he's allowing the characters to choose their paths in his role as creator. Ultimately, I enjoyed this book far more than I expected to, and there was a little bit of a riveting quality to watching this love triangle unfold.
Food: ham and cheese sandwich. A little salty, a little meaty, nothing very high brow, but enough for a meal that can be consumed without taking too much time.
Mary Smith is the narrator in a series of stories about the village of Cranford, where the ladies all feel they are "society" and have a strict schedule of visiting at noon and only for 15 minutes, unless there are cards to be played. There are sometimes small intrigues and scandals, but it's a quaint, quiet village and the stories center around Miss Matty, who I came to feel tender toward.
This is easy reading and not a lot of it. Sometimes it felt a little tedious, but mostly because the ladies are keeping up the image that they are more than they are. It felt true to a certain age of women in a small community.
Food: tea cakes. Small nibbles, some dry, some sweet, fancy on the outside, but mostly plain on the inside.
345. Titus Groan
The first in the Gormenghast trilogy, this is the story of Titus Groan's birth and first year, as well as the emergence and rise of Steerpike, the shrewd 17-year-old who got out of the kitchen and literally clawed his way into the royals' lives. What a world this is! The descriptions of the castle alone are overwhelming, and the characters have so much life.
It took me a bit to get into the book, but once I did, I was pretty captivated. Peake gets wordy here and there, and sometimes I skimmed a little bit to get on with it, but I enjoyed the book and look forward to the second novel. There's a good building of suspense, which I appreciate, and Peake gives enough hints to anticipate the next move without giving it all away.
Food: lamb shank, roasted on a spit, with root vegetables. A hearty meal, a bit heavy at times, but lots and lots to chew on, definitely a meal that takes some time.
346. What Maisie Knew
Blech. This took too much time to read, and in the end, I couldn't find a good reason to have spent all that time. Maisie has two terrible parents who fight over her to get at one another, because neither really wants the responsibility of caring for her. When they both remarry and then betray those marriages, the pattern repeats with her stepfather and stepmother, who might love each other, but then they might hate one another just as easily.
There's just too many words, and I don't understand why this was important to write about.
Food: cold shepherd's pie, full of peas and corn. I despise shepherd's pie, peas and corn. A big pile of cold mush.
#346 Full agreement from me - I loathed it too. Though possibly I just cordially detest Henry James...
> Portrait has been the only James I enjoyed so far. The Wings of the Dove on the other hand.....
> That's encouraging, at least! Screw was the only one I'd read before Maisie.
347. Death in Venice
Gustav needs a vacation, and finally makes his way to Venice. Being a serious and acclaimed writer, pleasure makes him uncomfortable, so he only plans on being gone a short while. Life is for accomplishing things. Until... he sees the young, beautiful Polish boy on the beach, and becomes slightly obsessed. All his former theories and suppositions about sensuality and pleasure go out the window. In the meantime, rumors of an epidemic have started in the city. His dilemma- stay near his "love", or return to himself at home?
This was interesting to read, and there are a lot of references to Greek mythology. Having some knowledge of that topic helped, but Mann is wordy. There is a lyricism and flow that make it a bit easier than some, though. Venice is also a favorite city of mine, and I felt like I was able to visit with Mann's Gustav.
Food: a slice of slightly underripe peach. Firm, a little tart, bright and with a lingering sweetness.
This is a collection of stories and poetry of black life, mostly in the south, seen through the eyes of the oppressed. This was an eye opener for this reader, and one I'm grateful for. Published in 1923, the echo of slavery is loud and clear. And yet, there is beauty in this book, lots of it. The language, the prose begs to be read aloud and fill your ears. The whole of this collection is that life in this time was full of contradiction and struggle and pain and pride and beauty and life.
Food: black coffee at dawn, watching the sun rise. Bitter and strong, but energizing as a new day begins.
349. Where Angels Fear to Tread
Lilia's in-laws don't approve of her temperament and when she impulsively falls for an Italian son of a dentist, they swoop in to "rescue" her, only to find it's too late. They keep trying to influence the situation, all for the "right" reasons, but are they, really?
Forster does shine a light on the prejudices of the English middle class, especially in their perspective on Italian/Catholic/provincial life. The more subtle chauvinism is probably more Forster (and his time) than his efforts to be ironic. The book is short, thankfully, because some parts are just irritating to read.
Food: the dusty mints in the candy dish that have been there for God knows how long at your great-aunt's house. You've been coming since you were a little kid and they just might be the same ones that were there when you were 7.
350. The Sound of Waves
Shinji has grown up on the island and, being a very small island, knows everyone there. Hatsue comes back to her father after many years, and Shinji falls for her immediately. He is not without competition, however, and when a nasty rumor impedes his efforts, he must find another way.
Simple, preaching the power of honesty and perseverance winning over obstacles, this is a short and easy read. The ocean and it's many moods is the backdrop for everything that happens in the story and how the island functions with the power of the water.
Food: I make a slightly sweet cornbread with orange for the holidays, and this was a slice of that bread. Honey and orange with a coarse grain, light and delicious.
I read this book a while ago and enjoyed it as well. I would have made the food sushi myself :-) Plain, simple seafood flavours but filling and tasty, especially with a bit of tangy sauce.
>115 M1nks: Sometimes the flavor of the book ties more directly to setting for me, but this one didn't. I also don't enjoy sushi, so I can see what I would shy away from that comparison!
351. Under the Volcano
This is a tragedy of a story. Geoffrey, the Consul, has a tenuous grasp on his life, mostly because his alcoholism has nearly consumed him. Yvonne, his wife, has returned to try to make another go of things, but can Geoffrey even make sense of her return, in his constantly intoxicated state? Is he able to even try?
I fear much of the symbolism and many of the references to other works have gone over my head, not having read Faust yet. Also, the sense of intoxication was WELL written and spun my head around many times. I'm left feeling unfinished, as I think may have been intended- cut short.
Food: too many tequila shots. Starts out with a sense of control, but quickly things get away from you, and you're left feeling sour and unsteady.
352. The Wars
Robert Ross is just 19 when he enlists in the Canadian military and is sent to France to fight in WWI. Written in retrospect, as a researcher looking to piece together the bits of Ross's life, the story of a very young man fighting in the Great War is gritty, brutal, and inspires one to compassion.
The multiple perspectives told throughout the book, the little anecdotes and tangents, bring the characters to life. This could have been my great grandfather, or another ancestor. There isn't animosity toward "the enemy", just an unvarnished accounting of survival.
Food: one cold, sour dill pickle. Crisp, puckery, with a little bitterness, the taste lingers and though strong, cleanses the palate for sweeter things to come.
353. Fathers and Sons
The two friends visit each other's families. Their fathers are trying to figure out how to survive and not own serfs. They both (briefly) fall in love with the same woman, but then move on. They both declare themselves nihilists, but that doesn't entirely work out, either.
Some of my lack of enjoyment in this book is my ignorance of Russian history. Apparently, this book introduced the concept of nihilism to the populace, or at least made it part of more common culture. It reflects the change of thinking in just one generation in the Russian people. I'm sure it was quite revolutionary at the time.
Food: cold, boiled potatoes with a not quite enough salt. An okay snack in a pinch, but not a great meal.
We is told by D-503, a part of the community that no longer has individuals, because "we" are so much happier being part of the collective machine that keeps things running smoothly. No more messy nature to deal with (it's behind the Wall), all walls made of glass so "we" are operating without secrecy, just happy, happy, happy!! Until D-503 FEELS something, and then it seems as though he's lost his entire world...
Written in 1920-21, this novel seems well before its time, but it was written by a Russian who was watching his world change, and his reflections on revolution and control by the state (and the propaganda the citizens were fed) are astute. I felt D-503's world crumble when thoughts contrary to what he "knew" entered his consciousness. This book was easy to read and contained bits of philosophy designed to make you think, not to change your mind.
Food: ostrich steak. Meaty, rich, reminiscent of other meats you've had in the past, but with a slightly exotic flavor.
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