Friday, May 30, 2014

Books I've Read

Half of a Yellow SunHalf of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Extraordinary. We are in the presence of greatness with this author who has only just begun her journey. I could say more, so much more, but instead will end with what reviews of all truly great novels must state. READ THIS BOOK.

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Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I suspect that the film adaptation, which I look forward to seeing after keeping a promise to myself to read the book first, will be more melodramatic and pull on heartstrings to greater effect and purpose than Solomon Northup's telling of his life story. Northup writes in somewhat stilted prose, his style academic rather than evocative like great novels or movies. He is not trying to draw out our tears. He is not attempting with every stroke of the pen to stir up emotions. Northup is simply telling us like it was - straight no chaser. No need to exaggerate the brutality or the tragedy, no reason to willfully demonize people whose monstrous acts and barbaric attitudes speak for themselves. Is the reader outraged, astounded that people could casually treat others in such a manner? Only if the reader has a soul. Northup doesn't use his words to move us the way his violin playing moved people. He is both impartial reporter and the subject of his piece of journalism. He doesn't ask us to feel sorry for him, or to hate his oppressors. What he does is recount what it was like for a man to suddenly find himself in bondage and servitude, endure it for over a decade, and then miraculously find himself free again with a most amazing and devastating tale to tell. He tells the truth in as unbiased a manner as possible and allows us judge it for ourselves. How did any man ever convince himself that it was okay to treat another this way? How did they ignore the humanity they surely saw in the brethren they stole from another continent? How was a single one of them able to look in a mirror? Twelve Years a Slave asks these questions but is unable to answer them, nor does it bother to try. Nothing can adequately answer them. The mystery of such heartlessness has not revealed itself over a couple hundred years. This is what our country was founded on, inalienable rights unevenly dispersed with extreme prejudice. This is what we need to atone for and move forward from. This is the stain that will never fade. Yet quite tellingly, those 12 years are not what made Solomon the extraordinary man that he was. Those 12 years happened to him but did not become him. Otherwise he probably would not have been able to write his book. The past brought us to this present, but it need not define any of us. In even the most suffocating circumstances, we have the freedom to do that for ourselves.


View all my reviews Inferno (Robert Langdon, #4)Inferno by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I always have at least one brain candy author in my stable. Once upon a time it was Sidney Sheldon. Currently it's Dan Brown. He probably peaked with The Da Vinci Code. All I ask of his other books is that they come reasonably close to that level of addictive page turn-ability. More or less they have, and Inferno was no exception. It ended on more of a fizzle than a bang in my opinion, but the pace towards which Brown's prose raced to the conclusion was as swift as usual. I'm a fan of all things Dante and Paradise Lost (particularly Inferno) related in general, so I picked this book up as soon as I saw it on the library shelf. Now that it has been put back down I'll probably pick up something more substantive to chew on for my next read.


View all my reviews Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Fudge, #1)Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth grade nothing's brother Fudge is the clear star of the book, with his older brother being the title character who primarily serves as frustrated narrator. The antics of little Fudge were quite amusing to my daughter. I might have given this book a 5-star review had the (spoiler alert) death of a pet at the end of the story not upset her so much.


 

View all my reviews Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresFlora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked but didn't love this book. My wife and daughter had an even less favorable opinion. That has a lot to do with the fact that we were holding it up against other books by none other than Kate DiCamillo who holds a place of honor in our household. Since this was her latest to win the big prize we figured it would be loved just as much as Winn Dixie and Despereaux. Alas, this was not to be. I don't want to discourage others from reading it though. Kate DiCamillo on her worst day is superior to most other children's book writers on their best. So pick this one up and you may like or even love it, particularly if you're a big fan of quirky, and/or of squirrels. But in my house Flora and Ulysses needs to move towards the end of the end behind other DiCamillo classics.


View all my reviews The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle (The League of Princes, #2)The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this even more than the first installment, as did my daughter. The Princesses are much more involved in the story this time around. Emphasis continues to be on action, but there are budding romantic story lines as well. Will each Prince and Princess end up with who the fairy tales tell us is their destined soul mate, or will they claim for themselves who they are best suited to be with? The open end of this edition left the door wide open for installment #3 which has been purchased and is waiting patiently to be read.

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Harriet the Spy (Harriet the Spy #1)Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It isn't often that you come across a children's book where the author really doesn't pander at all. Harriet is not written as a character. That is, she is not a collection of traits and quirks that readers are sure to find endearing and will transfer nicely to subsequent volumes of a series. Harriet the Spy is a novel that happens to feature a child as lead character, such as To Kill a Mockingbird can be described. Fitzhugh doesn't go to places as dark as Harper Lee did, or Salinger, so Harriet the Spy is categorized as children's literature rather than a book one might recommend to adults. But an adult, particularly parents, will enjoy it because they know that kids along with being adorable can be real pains in the ass. They can be selfish. They can be bratty. They can be unreasonable. They can be cruel. In short, they can be a lot like immature adults. Being young, they will have more difficulty coping with a traumatic event like the sudden departure of a loved one than an adult. Not enough life wisdom and experience with disappointment has been amassed yet. A child is more likely to respond by acting out, magnifying their less endearing qualities. Kids start out being quite imaginative but this trait dulls over time until a great many end up as adults who have virtually no imagination. Often imagination is rekindled upon becoming a parent and revisiting that part of one's personality. But a few fortunate people (those who end up becoming writers and other types of artists, for example) retain the ability to sculpt universes with their minds. Harriet is an 11 year old with her powers of imagination still strongly intact even though she's reaching an age where more serious things are supposed to be of concern. That imagination is enhanced by power of observation. She is curious about everything and everyone, and she documents all that she sees and feels in an attempt to figure the world out. She is a spy of the human condition, which is just another way of saying that she's a writer. Since she writes unflinchingly about what and who she knows, this gets her in trouble when her beloved notebook falls into the hands of her peers. She is ostracized. Even her two closest friends abandon her. Rather than dealing with this in a cutesy manner that you would expect to find in a children's book, she responds with rage and indignation. If everyone is going to hate her, she may as well truly earn their disdain. But she's neither villain nor hero, just a girl who wants to understand and maybe also be understood, and who doesn't plan to change for anyone because she likes herself just fine. Kids will relate to Harriet. To them reading this book will be like looking into a mirror and discovering that their fears and insecurities and concerns are not so unique after all. They are what growing up is all about, unequal parts of wonder, delight, heartache and triumph. Harriet is a book character you'll remember because she feels like a flesh and blood person who has figured out at an early age not to try to be like everyone else or to be liked by everyone, and has learned that honesty can sometimes be a complex policy. She discovers as the best of us do that it makes the most sense to be yourself (even if that isn't always a particularly simple thing to do) and with any luck things will work out just fine.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Rite of Passage - Audio Short Story

I have already posted my short story RITE OF PASSAGE here at A Line A Day in written form. But for those of you who enjoy listening to audio story telling, since I recorded this story for Heist Magazine back in the day, here it is for your entertainment.  I even included a slide show down below to accompany it.  Enjoy!