As promised, here’s part two:
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – Typically I try to read the book before seeing the movie but occasionally, it happens the other way around, which was the case here. I saw the flick and thought it was a good idea but too heavy-handed in its execution. After reading a couple of glowing reviews of the book, I thought I’d give it a look in the hopes that it succeeded where the film failed. Sadly, I did not find that to be the case. It’s a dark and sad tale set in the not-so-distant future wherein people who have the available funds can buy rights to clones of themselves. At any point, if they need a kidney or a lung or any other vital organ, they’ll have a perfect match on hand. Never Let Me Go tells the story of the doomed clones as they grow up in a boarding school, aware of their inescapable fate and still somehow trying to find some joy in life. The writing is beautiful and the story is not without merit but some passages just try too hard to convey the sense of loss that would come through much better without Ishiguro’s forcing it.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – I don’t know why it took me 30 years to read this but upon doing so, it immediately became a treasured favorite. Bronte’s Jane Eyre offers a narrative that’s warm and personal without ever being trite and the story itself is as much about a young woman coming into her own and finding a way to assert her own independent spirit over the course of her life as it is a dark and intoxicating love story.
War Dances by Sherman Alexie – Alexie’s greatest skill as a storyteller is to make the stories of utterly ordinary lives feel extraordinarily tragic and simultaneously funny. This collection of short stories deals with many of today’s pertinent issues – love, marriage, divorce, parenthood, racial conflict, substance/alcohol abuse, 9/11 and the War On Terror. It isn’t Alexie’s best (for me, that’s still The Lone Ranger And Tonto Fistfight In Heaven) but it certainly is worth a read.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – I’m not sure what finally got me reading this. It was different than I expected, more about the emotional aftermath for this poor dead child’s family than the capture of her killer. The writing itself is good and the characters very real and fully developed but I never got totally sucked in. There is no plot and at times, the story seems to just spin out in tangents. For those of who love a good character study, I recommend it.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Yes, I read this in anticipation of the upcoming film adaptation by Baz Luhrman. You know I’m a sucker for the classics so I’m sure I would have gotten to it eventually, anyway. I had no expectations going in, really knew nothing of the story other than it’s set in or around the roaring ’20s. It centers around a young man fairly new to New York and its high society. He happens to be neighbors with a man called Gatsby, who is infamously mysterious as well as exceedingly wealthy. He eventually witnesses Gatsby’s downfall along with the disintegration of the small circle of socialites that he briefly became a part of. Hailed for capturing the essence of an era, it belongs on everyone’s book list.
A Simple Plan by Scott Smith – Two brothers find an abandoned crashed plane and in it, a duffel bag full of money. Over $4 million, it turns out. Should they disappear with it? Is it marked or otherwise sought after by the police… drug lords… the FBI? Such is the premise for A Simple Plan and it sounds promising enough. Smith develops a fairly good story but the writing – the actual sentence by sentence writing of it isn’t good enough to make it great. There are a few plot holes, nothing monumental, but made more obvious by the overly descriptive explanation of events surrounding them. The action and every thought behind it were given too thorough a description, taking any semblance of nuance out of the work. I hear they made a movie some years ago but I doubt I’ll see it. Once through this story is enough.
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens – These 100 pages are a compilation of the very last writings of Mr. Hitchens, all written during the last 18 months of his life between his diagnosis with esophageal cancer and his untimely death. They contain some of his most personal work and his most poignant. By turns philosophical and musing, he never lost his ability to write with penetrating intelligence and unmatched grace.
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King – This was the second book King published and I’d venture to say that at the time of its writing, he hadn’t fully found his voice yet. Some passages went on far too long while others felt cut short. Still, it contains a few of those slow-to-reveal moments that King does so well, the kind that creep up on you and make you shiver with delight at the suspenseful, scary images you know are coming but still somehow feel fresh and surprising. In 1975, King may not have yet mastered his craft but he was already well on his way.
The Wettest County In The World by Matt Bondurant – This novel formed the basis for the film Lawless, easily one of 2012’s best flicks. The wettest county is Franklin county (Virginia) and during Prohibition, it spawned what would later be called The Franklin County Moonshine Conspiracy involving the Bondurant brothers and a deputy called Charley Rakes. That much (along with some other details) is true. But much more of the book is fictionalized. It centers around the Bondurant boys and rightly so; they are the stars of this story and my interest in the details of their lives is what got me to buy the book. It drags a bit in the beginning but stick with it – it’s worth it.
Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell – I enjoyed Outliers so much, I thought I’d go back and read this earlier work by Gladwell that studies the idea of “thin-slicing” – selecting the few most relevant factors from any number of variables in the first few seconds’ reaction to something – and how it affects our decision-making. Gladwell examines a psychologist who can predict a couple’s chance of divorce with shocking accuracy by listening to them talk for a mere few minutes, a museum curator’s ability to judge the authenticity of a piece of art within moments of gazing upon it and the tennis coach who knows the player will double-fault before he even finishes his serve. Gladwell also gives some examples of decisions made by those whose instincts lead to disastrous consequences and explains the difference between them. Each case study is well explained and thought-provoking, exploring the successes and failures of rapid cognition.
50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades Darker and 50 Shades Freed – Yes, I read them and no, I did not particularly enjoy them. The first in the series is by far the best of the three (in the way that the time you broke your finger was a more enjoyable experience than when you fractured your skull) and the best thing I can say for them is that they weren’t quite as awful as I had expected. The writing itself, while not anything I’d call good, isn’t the worst I’ve read but the characters are lifeless and underdeveloped and there is no story to speak of, just one pitifully contrived set of circumstances after another during which the girl worries she’s not enough for the boy and the boy worries she’s going to leave him and then they argue and make up and have kinky sex, some of which is mildly hot but not nearly enough to justify the time spent reading this schlock. I read them because I felt guilty about hating all over a series I hadn’t actually read. So I gave them a shot. And now I can knowingly say they’re a waste of paper.
Can’t wait to see what literary treasures 2013 will bring.