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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Matched, One Day, The Film Club, The Crucible, AND Play It As It Lays…


 

Cover of "The Film Club: A Memoir"

Cover of The Film Club: A Memoir

 

I don’t know why, but for some reason, I keep reading such odd combinations of books. For example, in the last two weeks, I’ve read Matched by Ally Condie, One Day by David Nicholls, The Film Club by David Gilmour, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, and Play It As It Lays by Joan Didian. Each of them are INCREDIBLY different from the others, but they were all (pretty much) very good. So, without further ado…

 

Matched was a nice, fast-paced weekend read, the kind of thing that doesn’t take too much time or brainpower but nevertheless leaves you feeling satisfied. What bothered me about it, though, was that the plot just seemed to done. I mean, how many YA writers can put a twist on the old free-thinking-teen-rebels-against-his/her-dystopian-government plotline. I like these books as much as the next person, but only when they differ enough from this stale formula to chart new territory and not just feel like a tired rehashing of the same events. Compounding my annoyance at the book was its sassy girl/nice guy/bad boy love triangle that frankly, just felt like a tepid redo of the whole Katniss/Peeta/Gale storyline in The Hunger Games. I loved that series, but the downside of its crazy popularity is that now so many YA writers are sticking straight to its formula without adding enough twists and surprises of their own to keep things fresh. Okay, rant over.

 

• I just finished One Day last night and I have to say, it ENTIRELY lived up to the hype. It was glorious. Funny and realistic and interesting and sad, I completely believed the two main characters and their messily imperfect lives. Telling the story through yearly snapshots of Dexter and Emma’s lives on the anniversary of the day they met was an ingenious way to present the character’s lives and pique the reader’s interest throughout the story (“Ooh, can’t wait to see how this turns out next year…”) All in all, a great big fun romantic story with a heartbreaker of an ending.

 

The Film Club was another great book. A memoir of sorts about the years that Gilmour allowed his son Jesse to drop out of school as long as he watched three movies each week, this book surprised me in its smooth, assured style and the startling depth of its insights about family, love, and, of course, movies.

 

• We just finished reading The Crucible in school, and while I liked it, I can’t say I loved it. I tend to find highly subtextual novels somewhat exhausting, with their thinly-veiled references and wink-wink-nudge-nudge cleverness, and with this one, I just kept feeling like I was being hit over the head with its hidden agenda. But this one’s a classic, so that might just be me…

 

• Since I read The Year of Magical Thinking a while back, I’d forgotten how stark and bone-dry Didion’s writing can be. But Play It As It Lays brought it all back. Each sentence felt like it was trying to suck the moisture out of the air, the writing was that dry. I really respect Didion’s control over her work, and her obvious talent at creating tone and atmosphere, but when a books feels like Death Valley translated into novel form, it can be a bit of a trial to read.

 

So many good books this week! And so many more on the horizon! I just started The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner…Let’s hope the stay as good as they are now!

 

 

Fight Club and The Way of Life


 

Cover of "Fight Club: A Novel"

Cover of Fight Club: A Novel

 

This week I read two very different books: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk and The Way of Life by Lao Tzu. A bit of a a weird combination, but somehow it actually worked. Maybe because Fight Club was so apocalyptic/nihilistic whereas The Way of Life was so peaceful and serene, they ended up balancing each other out really well. Because I’m tired (but also because I love how both the books are written) I’m going to let the similarities and differences speak for themselves:

 

On Death:

 

“On a large enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero.”

 

Fight Club

 

“Death is no threat to people who are not afraid to die; but even if these offenders feared death all day, who should be rash enough to act as executioner? Nature is executioner. When man usurps the place, a carpenter’s apprentice takes the place of the master: and an apprentice hacking with the master’s axe may slice his own hand.”

 

The Way of Life

 

On Relating To Others:

 

“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.  You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile.”

 

Fight Club

 

“A sound man’s heart is no shut within itself but is open to other people’s hearts: I find good people good, and I find bad people good if I am good enough; I trust men of their word, and I trust liars if I am true enough; I feel the heartbeats of others above my own if I am enough of a father, enough of a son.”

 

The Way of Life

 

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I like that last quote from The Way of Life. I feel the heartbeats of others above my own if I am enough of a father, enough of a son…Perfection.

 

 

Week of YA


This week I was feeling super stressed and crazy, so I turned to the greatest of all comforts: YA. Now, I sort of have a love-hate relationship with teen books. I mean, for every glorious The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, there’s always a Twilight…or an Airhead…or a Gossip Girl…It’s sometimes like nobody ever writes books for teens anymore that aren’t about vampires, rich mean girls, or dystopian/futuristic worlds.

So I was happily surprised when BOTH the YAs I read this week were smart, well-written, and mature. The first one has one of the worst book titles I have ever seen: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. But don’t let that dissuade you, because this was one of the most realistic and entertaining depictions of the whole guy-and-girl-are-best-friends-but-maybe-more? thing I’ve ever read. Anna was a believable, quirky heroine, Etienne (the best friend/love interest) was refreshingly flawed, and their relationship was convincingly halting and imperfect.

The second book I read was The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. Though pretty different in subject matter from the first one, since in this one the main character is dealing with her sister’s unexpected death, it had the same mixture of the breathless joy at first love along with deep pain and loss. Joe Fontaine, the gorgeous and amazing sort-of-boyfriend in this one is an absolutely fabulous character.

Very good, solid, honestly written YAs! Perfect for this insane week!

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