Tag Archives: general fiction

Getting into a reading groove?

I have read two books and a novella in the last 7-10 days, which feels kind of amazing.  Before the Years Long Reading Slump, three books a week – or more – was nothing.

“Wonderment in Death” – eh, it was fine, very focused on procedure, which I like.

Welcome to Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan – It was sort of sweet in a fairytale kind of way.  I don’t know, maybe English village life is really like that, and it isn’t a fairytale or fantasy?  The romance angle seemed kind of forced and not really believable, but I liked most of the characters and even the ex-boyfriend wasn’t terribly vilified.  (Truly, I was more irritated by how passive Rosie was with him.)  I checked LibraryThing, because Colgan’s name looked familiar; I haven’t read her before, but I feel like back when chick lit was bigger I read other similar Brit chick lit writers.

The Martian by Andy Weir.  As much as I enjoyed the movie, the book is better.  The majority of the book, like the movie, is narrated by Mark Watney, and the voice and tone are just so funny and smart, without being maudlin or pedantic, and he makes what seems to me to be complicated science* simple.  I even liked the end of the book better; there are some wrap-up/HEAish type scenes tacked onto the movie, which were fine but not really necessary.  There are a few Big Things that occur in the book that don’t occur in the movie; I’m curious to know if they were filmed but edited out for time or pacing, or if they were not in the screenplay to begin with because they felt like Too Much.  (I didn’t think they were too much as a read the book over several days, but I can see how they would feel sort of overwhelming in the 2 hour span of the movie.)  One of my favorite things is Watney’s appreciation for duct tape.  Also enjoyable are his appreciation for how ridiculous his situation is and his eye-rolling at NASA as they micromanage him from 140 million miles away.

I’m not sure what to read next – I feel like I need to jump on this trend and keep reading, for fear of relapsing into The Slump.  I’ve got a book by Shelly Laurenston and translation of Mario Vargas Llosa by Edith Grossman, both library borrows, sitting on my coffee table.  But a bunch of Patricia Veryan’s Georgian and Regency novels have been digitized; I loved them when I was a teen, and I’m curious to see if they stand up to re-read and adult perspective.

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*Neil deGrasse Tyson says the astrophysics and other science is right, but The Biochemist says Watney’s comments about bacteria in your body being healthy is not strictly true all the time.  I’ll defer to Science People.

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Unrelated to reading, my NWHL jersey arrived today.  So excited.  I’ll wear it when watching games online after the Four Nations tournament.  And when I go to a game in February.  (Although I may have to check the schedule and get to a game sooner.)

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I finished the second staggered shawl for a friend.  So sick of the pattern by the time it was finished.  But someone else asked if I could make one for them.  I think I’m going to have to say not until December or January, because I’m not ready for another identical project.  I want to try making a hat or something simple.

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It was in the mid-70s today.  It felt like summer out.  And it’s apparently supposed to be similarly nice for the next couple of days.

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We have a bunch of international people visiting for a conference right now.  For some reason the host didn’t organize any kind of map of the neighborhood or suggestions for lunch, just said go to the food court at Union Station.  Which, uh, would you tell guests to eat at the equivalent of a mall food court?  I would not.  I took a couple of people to Cafe Berlin; good beer and wine and the tail end of their Oktoberfest menu (so good).  Definitely going back there.

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The Cry of the Dove

I added The Cry of the Dove (UK title My Name is Salma)to my PBS wishlist for a couple of reasons. First, because it was a contemporary novel set in the Middle East and Britain, with an interesting sounding plot — the story of a woman who is imprisoned and the exiled after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Second, because (shallow as this seems) the cover art is gorgeous.

The book arrived promptly, then sat in the TBR pile for a while. I dug it out as part of Keishon’s TBR Challenge.

The narrative style is very similar to The Saffron Kitchen, another tale of a Muslim woman exiled for violating the family honor, alternating between the past and present. It was well-written, and I sympathised with Salma’s alienation, isolation and adjustment to life in England. Overall, I found the book to be frustrating, though. If I had read the reading group questions first, my mindset while reading probably would’ve been quite different, as would have my reactions to the plot. (Why put the discussion questions at the back of the book? Why not at the front? Just wondering.)

Ultimately, my own pragmatism is the reason this book failed for me. Spoilers follow.

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The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa

I haven’t finished The Bad Girl yet, although I’m enjoying it a great deal. The language is beautiful. I’m never sure, when reading a book that has been translated, who exactly I should credit (mentally) for gorgeous turns of phrase. Vargas Llosa? Or Edith Grossman? I think maybe I’ll look for a copy of the original next, to compare the two.

The Bad Girl character puts me in mind of Scarlett O’Hara in many ways. Well, my memory of Scarlett O’Hara, at least, since I haven’t re-read Gone With the Wind since high school. Money is security for her, and security is the most important thing. Ricardo, the Good Boy, reminds me of Ashley Wilkes – sort of bland and good but extremely passive and without a huge amount of color (which makes him a good narrator).  She keeps reappearing in his life, so perhaps his obsession is not one-sided. Certainly she feels something or sees something in him that she needs -maybe just uncritical adoration- because Ricardito certainly doesn’t have the financial heft that her other lovers, husbands and companions have.

Between the Bad Girl and the Good Boy, VL has written perhaps the most awkward, painful-sounding love scene I’ve read in a long time. I haven’t really figured out the purpose, other than maybe to illustrate the unbalanced nature of their relationship. 

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Redux — The Reluctant Fundamentalist

My main thought upon finishing this book:  What a disappointment! 

The narrative hook, the beautiful prose…wasted on one big whine from a disenchanted twenty-something.  The narrator’s tale was bitter and boring, ultimately.  Frustrated in love, isolated by his own actions and (admittedly) by the xenophobia that most of America felt after 9/11, what starts as an interesting allegory for the dangers of American empire and hegemony descends into a self-indulgent rant.  Instead of feeling sympathy for Changez, all I could see was a self-loathing hypocrite who took advantage of all the opportunites that were offered to him, then reviled those who offered without ever seeing that he himself had contributed to and become a part of what he despised.

The only things that saved this book from itself are the beautiful language used to tell the tale and its mysterious ending.

C+ verging on B-.

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I picked up The Reluctant Fundamentalist because the title intrigued me.  And I’ve now been sucked in by the narrator, who is speaking directly to someone (an American, he guesses) about how he came to be who and where he is.   Before I started reading, I couldn’t figure out how the author was going to make this character (who sympathizes with the 9/11 attackers) sympathetic to an American reader.   Now I’m wondering how I’ll feel as the story approaches 9/11 and then moves past.

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