Monday, January 31, 2011

The Ha-Ha

by David King

This is a good book. The plot feels entirely original and it's an interesting story line. However, this book for me falls every so slightly short. It isn't enveloping the way I'd like it to be. It's the kind of book you can pick up and read during commercial breaks or at a baseball game, paying half attention to both. I wanted more from this book.

I wanted Howie to make progress. He's a smart and incredibly observant, intuitive character, but very little of that gets expressed or noticed by anyone around him. I was hoping that he and Ryan would develop a kind of sign language to enable them to converse. But Howie sticks to nodding and shrugging and makes no progress. To be fair though, Howie did progress: Ryan's presence changed Howie on the inside and changed the whole regimen of the household, but little of that was evidenced though Howie's communication skills, and I think is should have. It was a little disappointing.

However I was very happy with the way Howie and Sylvia's relationship ended up. She was a manipulative, designing, ungrateful bitch. I hated her from the start and railed against Howie every time he thought of her lovingly. She wasn't deserving of his love and devotion. So in the end, I was satisfied.

The last ten chapters of the book are brilliantly written; they're the best in the book. Initially I was thinking this book reads like a first novel: it was lacking in fluidity and solidarity, which is why I couldn't get as invested in the story as I wanted. But the last ten chapters more than make up for any shortcomings and show that King is an excellent story teller and at times poetic.

"The Ha-Ha" has its moments of repetition and slow-going, but on the whole the book has a great story and has a completely satisfying ending. If you're looking for a way to fill up some free time during your day, if your New Year's resolution was to start reading more, I would say this is a good book to pick up.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

I do not especially like Jane Austen. I know this because I read "Pride and Prejudice" in high school (but, really, what does anyone know in high school?). I read it again for this month's book discussion. I put it off until I couldn't ignore it any more and plodded my way through it. And I have to admit, I like "Pride and Prejudice" much better now.

"Pride and Prejudice" is dense. Not to mention dated and trivial. This is not a timeless classic. Except, it is. Because if you've ever seen an episode of "Friends," then you know "Pride and Prejudice." It's all parties and dinners and balls and "she likes him, but he doesn't like her and he's really in love with that other girl but she's going to marry that other guy" and a desperation for marriage. And sadly, this book also supports the notion that, if she loves him enough, a woman can change a man. But that's a whole other conversation.

The only way to read this book is to forget its being a "classic" and take Jane Austen off her pedestal. Instead of reading it with so much seriousness, I read it as a more satirical look at society, sort of Oscar Wilde-esque. After all, Mrs. Bennet with her anxieties and "nerves" is quite stupid and comical. Even better are her exchanges with her worn-out, indifferent, yet still tersely funny husband. His sarcasm and mocking of Mrs. Bennet is completely lost on her, making him funnier and her all the more pathetic an typical. This book really is the original romantic comedy.

The other hang-up is the language. If you've studied Shakespeare in any capacity, you're told that reading the language of Shakespeare takes getting used to, but after a few pages you get into the rhythm and it doesn't seem quite so foreign anymore. For me, Shakespeare is cake. Victorian lit, on the other hand, is more of a foreign language to me and takes some getting used to. And I can't help but read it with a cliched, stuffy, melodramatic woman's voice narrating the action (if you can call it

All that being said, I will admit the book does become more engrossing after wading through the first 100 or so pages, with the introduction of Mr. Whickham and Mr. Collins (completely insufferable! To say that Lydia's being dead would be favorable to her running off! And then to go on to say, Thank God I didn't marry Elizabeth, otherwise I would be as much disgraced as the rest of you sad people. What a prick.) I do enjoy the intertwining of characters and connections, and it is easy to get caught up in the plot and the "he said, she said" once you trim the fat.

On the whole, the characters are actually pretty great. I started reading the book thinking they were going to be one-dimensional, but they're very fleshed-out. Miss Bingley, Mrs. Bennet, and Lydia are, to be blunt, stupid and make for a good laugh. Mr. Collins is awful in every way and fun to scoff at. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth (along with nearly everyone else, aside from maybe Jane and the Gardiners) are both prideful and prejudiced. Austen did create great characters and a plot of how the people of "society" related to one another.

I enjoyed this book much more than I expected too. It's frivolous and romantic and, dare I say, sort of fun once you get past the language and the pacing. Now I need a break from Austen, but maybe, in the near future, I'll pick another novel of hers. Maybe.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Girl With No Shadow

by Joanne Harris

This book is the sequel to Harris' "Chocolat." It has the same magical, mysterious atmosphere and tone. But also feels cozy and alluring.

I prefer this book to "Chocolat," Probably because there is no movie of it for me to have seen before I read it, so it feels original and authentic. Though I was a little sad to see there is a sequel because I wanted to believe Vianne and Anouk stayed in Lasquanet-sous-Tannes. I am glad that Harris resolved Vianne's relationship with Roux in this book, because the way it was crafted and left in "Chocolat" was, frankly, a little ridiculous.

"The Girl With No Shadow" is structured almost exactly as "Chocolat," but that by no means makes them painfully similar, as might be expected. Yet "Chocolat" and "The Girl With No Shadow" are very similar in terms of circumstance and characters. However the plot is thicker in "The Girl With No Shadow," it's more of a mystery, which adds some more depth to the book. There also is a much stronger sense of suspense in this book, which makes it nearly impossible to put down in the last hundred pages or so.

The one real issue I have with this book is the repetition. Certain thoughts were brought up over and over again by different characters. It made me wonder if she read her work from chapter to chapter. Or did her editor? But it gets better, or just becomes less noticeable as the book moves a long.

I really enjoy the way the fairytale stories from Vianne/Yanne's mother are told and then are woven into the plot of the book. It's a nice cohesiveness and adds to the magic of the book.

If you've read "Chocolat" and liked it, I recommend reading "The Girl With No Shadow." It ties up loose ends, and is a really fun, engrossing read.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


by Vladimir Nabokov
I have a confession to make. I read this book largely for the sake of saying I've read this book. That being said, it's no big surprise I didn't get a whole lot from it. It certainly made me uncomfortable though; success on that count.

I like the way the book is written, aside from all the French (even if I do understand some of it without the aid of a dictionary, it still bothers me), but it does get slow and bogged down by detail occasionally.

I can't say I enjoyed this book and I can't say I'd recommend it to anyone to read. It took a while to get through, and I can't help but think it was a bit of a waste. Although, I like it better now that I'm not reading it anymore. Maybe I'm missing the value and the substance of this book; if you feel so inclined, you can find out for yourself.

(Perhaps not the best way to kick off the new year...)