I buy books. And sometimes I read them. This blog is for the times when I do more than just store shelf candy.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I Flipped the Pages of Bernhard Schlink's The Reader

Bought: 2007?
Read: September 2009
ISBN: 0375707972
Reason for Buying: I liked the cover. Yes, because there is a book on it.
Reason for Reading: Husband was pressuring me to watch the DVD, so I had to read the book first.

I have a confession to make. I don't really like reading book reviews. They spoil the thrill of discovery and affect my judgment of the book. I prefer to be surprised. I don't really want to know much more than what's on the blurbs on the back of the book. For The Reader, however, I chanced upon some reviews -- and they were mixed. And that's why it took me some time to get to reading this.

My review is mixed as well. The Reader has a titillating beginning, a humdrum middle, and an ending that broke my heart into a million achy pieces. Overall? It just might end up in my 2009's best reads. Not because it is one of the best written, but because it got to me. Unexpectedly. Because it made me cry; no, bawl is more like it. And sometimes, that's a good enough reason for me to like a book.

The beginning: In post WWII Germany, 15-year-old Michael falls in love and has a torrid affair with Hanna, a woman twice his age. And even though this is no longer an extraordinary tale now that cougars are considered cool, I can't help but be drawn into the story as pithily narrated by Michael. Hanna's character is hard to like. But the part that makes me fall in love with their love affair, the part that makes it less indecent than it really is the part of their relationship spent reading. Michael read books aloud to Hannah, who seems to be more into those literary activities than into the sex and romance. Maybe it's just me; maybe it's because it's a constant source of frustration for me not to to be able to share my love of books with my husband, and so this part I found achingly romantic.

The beginning of the story ends with the affair abruptly ending.

The middle part is all tedium. Moralizing, contemplative, rambling tedium. Painful, please-stop-this-misery, teeth-gnashing tedium. On hindsight, maybe it was designed to be so. Because the end of their affair actually killed any sense of joy in Michael. But still. It was unbearable tedium.

And just as I was about to give up on the book, something about the ending struck me. And hit me hard in the gut. And reminded me again that I should not read while driving. More precisely, I should not read books with sad endings while driving because visibility could be terribly compromised. A sad, sad, beautifully sad ending that made me forget about that horribly tedious middle. But more than just being an ending designed to pander on the emotions of a hormonally imbalanced female who is a sucker for a good cry, it was an ending that had a message for me to chew on. A message about regrets and about how much we waste our lives not doing what we ought to do while we waffle about the things we think we ought to do. Okay, I don't expect you to understand that. Like I said, it's a message for me.

And that affirms to me what this year's reading journey keeps on telling me -- that for this reader, it's not always about how well written a book is that makes it worthwhile reading. It's not just about entertainment either. It's about how the book connects to me personally, emotionally, that makes it worth the read.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Flipped the Pages of Joyce Carol Oates' Zombie

Bought: July 8, 2008 from Book Sale for PhP40
Read: November 28, 2009
ISBN: 0452275008
Published by Plume/Penguin, 1996
My copy is a well-loved trade paperback with creases on the spine and dog-ears on the covers.

Reason for Buying: I collect Oates because my book snob friend, Naomi, says she does not like her. She also does not like Oprah Book Club books, but I don't collect those.

Reason for Reading: I was challenged to read any work of Joyce Carol Oates. This one was one of the thinnest. I'm on time pressure here.

Zombie is the diary of a serial killer. A very sick serial killer. To be fair, he really does not intend to kill his victims. He really just wants them to be his sex slaves. They just happen to have the misfortune of dying while he not-so-nimbly inserts an ice pick through the bony orbit above their eyeballs.

To divulge more about the story is to deprive you of the sheer glee (insert sarcastic emoticon) of discovering the depravity of its main character, Quentin. To divulge more is to relive the gruesome bits of this nasty, nasty novel and to go back inside the mind of a sexual psychopath. And I'm not keen on going back there. Surprisingly, though, I should probably have been more disgusted than I was. Though there were times, when I had to lay the book down, shake my head, and stop my mind's eye from imagining too much; more often I read with an unexpected detachment.

If you're squeamish and easily disturbed, this is not for you. On the other hand, it is pretty light reading as far as psycho-thrillers go.

I'm still figuring out if I like the book. It's enthralling reading, I must say. But if Nabokov's Lolita and Suskind's Perfume are the standards for novels that get you inside sick minds, then this pales by miles. It does not have the heft and depth of plot and characterization that enable Humbert Humbert (Lolita) and Grenouille (Perfume) to get under the reader's skin, to inspire strong emotions. Quentin's character is developed well enough; his motivations are made quite clear,
but as the novel makes him to be this ordinary-looking person, he comes across as rather ordinary for readers already jaded by Silence of the Lambs and too many CSI episodes. In the end, the story just does not discombobulate me as much as I think it should. Maybe because Oates writes in a tempered way that does not sensationalize. I like that the banality of narration is free from any attempt to manipulate. That's supposed to be a good thing; right?

I read this book as part of a reading challenge. The challenge was to simply read a book by Joyce Carol Oates. This work is probably not the best representation of Oates' body of work. Because it is narrated by the character, it uses crude, almost infantile language -- styled by Oates with weird punctuation and a lot of capitalized words. As such, it does not reveal Oates' prose, which I am curious to read more of. Though this book does not make me a fan, I would still be interested to read her other books.

First Entry

Welcome to the most creative post title in the world!

I tread slowly. Tiptoeing. Like maybe no one will notice how I am again adding to the world wide clutter. A little ashamed that I'm starting another blog.

Why a new one? Because I can. Also because I'm trying to reorganize my blog life. So here I am starting a new blog, which will be 100% dedicated to books. Yeay! Books!

It wasn't an easy decision to make. I felt that writing about books leads to writing about travel and food and art and people and thoughts and faith and feelings and and other things that fill my days and color my life, and so I wanted to put all of these into one mad jumble of a blog. But, it became a jumble too mad to handle. So here it is. My blog about books. Yeay! Books!

About books. Like I said in my shelfari profile, I can live without 'em. But really, what's the point? Books are great. They smell good. They look good lined up on my shelf. They're cheaper than shoes. Most of the time, they're non-fattening. Shopping for them doesn't make me feel fat. Yeay! Books!

But mostly, they're great because of what's inside them. Trees died so that I could read about other people's stories that make me think about my story. Thank you, trees. You didn't die in vain. Because of your sacrifice, I learn, I enjoy, I stay away from my other vices, and I become a slightly better/smarter/more informed/happier human being one book at a time. Uhm, all together now, Yeay! Books!

Okay, I'm being flip. And that reminds me of the Flippers (I'm glad there's no fine for cheesy segues). The Flippers luv, luv, luv books. Online and in our monthly book discussions, we just can't stop talking about books. You'll know more about them in my future posts.

Oh, future posts. There's those. So I better cut this short now and leave some for another day.

Yeay, books!

You might get confused. This is the first entry; why are there 2 million posts before this. Those posts were transferred from my previous blog.


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