a few words about miss chelsea elizabeth...

she likes: making kites, dancing in the rain, adventures, little-while friends, letters, whole-leaf tea, crayons, bare feet, jumping in rivers/streams/creeks/waterfalls, language, catching the clock as it changes numbers, sleepovers, trains (big or small), cuddling & waking up before the sun rises, among other random things.

oregon-born, seattle-raised, bellingham-bred and franco-refined, she had moved back to the states from her affairs across the atlantic & now resides in columbia city with french husband & love of her life rémy. they spend most of their time taming the garden, taking care of their three chickens & two cats, and preparing the urban homestead for a new little chick of their own.

Monday, July 13, 2009

reading rainbow

For one year I have tasked myself to read one book every week. At least half will be in french and at least one quarter will be non-fiction. Here are my reviews, simplified with a rating out of five stars. But as Lamar always said at the end of his own book reviews, don't take my word for it! (12,656 pages read so far = ~ 396 pages per book)

Week #32: Stupeur et Tremblements by Amélie Nothomb ***
(189 pages; French; non-fiction; 1999; read in one day)

Amélie has always been fascinated by Japan, the country where she was born and torn away from to return to Belgium where her family was from. So as a young adult she decides to go back and get a job in Tokyo and live the Japanese dream. She is thrown into the incredibly formal world of "the Orient" and forced to endure the submissive roles she is assigned inside a Tokyo megacompany. Funny and honest, it's a great account of the changing roles of women in Japanese society in the modern world, and the clash of the east and west trying to meet somewhere in the middle.

Week #31: Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson ****
(416 pages; English; non-fiction; 1998; read in two days)

I still remember the first Bryson book I ever read. I was in college, it was about Australia, and it was the first time I ever laughed out loud while reading a book. Since then I have read almost all of his books and have never once been unsatisfied. I don't know what it is about his style of writing but there are literally moments where I can no longer see the words on the page because I am laughing so hard there are tears streaming down my face. This book was no exception.

I found it in a local book store here in Clermont where I was happily surprised to find a huge section of books in their original language, and a few Bryson books as well. This one is a compilation of a column he wrote about his impressions of America after moving back to his home country after twenty years abroad in England. It seemed fitting; I was interested to see how his veiws compared to my own evalutations of my home country from abroad and my impressions when I went back home last year. It was fabulous. At one point I laughed so hard that I woke Rémy up (believe me, not an easy feat) and he thought something terrible had happened because I was crying and shaking all over the place. No, no. Just a dose of Bryson before bed to keep the bedbugs away. I recommend it to anyone who has ever traveled anywhere. (And I recommend every other book he's ever written, too.)

Week #30: Harry Potter et le Prince de Sang-Mêlé by J.K. Rowling ***/*
(747 pages; French; fiction; 2005; read in five days)

This end of this chapter of the Harry Potter epic had already been ruined for me by a friend before I even picked it up. The movie of the book came out this past summer and a friend of mine when to see it with her boyfriend. When I asked "Oh, which one is it?" I was expecting to hear "The sixth," but instead was horrified to hear: "Oh you know, the one where _____." If exclamation points could come shooting out of my ears and hover above my head anime-style, they would have. So suffice it to say, I was a bit deceived. I was not deceived, however, to discover how this shocking event happened as the story was slowly unraveled. I read this one a bit faster than I maybe should have (we rented the movie while I still had about two-hundred pages left, so I was under a bit of pressure to finish it quick) but I enjoyed it nonetheless. When it comes to the Potter books, that's almost the best way to get through them: quickly. I find it very very hard to put them down, and hardly ever realize that I've gone on to the next chapter. No complaining here; I already picked up the seventh and final tome and can't wait to get started!

Week #29: Un Jardin Dans les Appalaches by Barbara Kingsolver ****/*
(499 pages; French; non-fiction; 2007; read in three weeks)

One of my favorite authors takes on quite a challenge with her family: spend a year eating only locally, meaning either what they themselves produce or what they can find in their region produced within an hour's drive from home. Hilarious, moving, eye-opening, informative, this book has it all. The main story follows Barbara's account of their lives as they try to feed themselves, but interposed are snippets written by her husband about related issues; how to find local farmer's markets, how to find out if your food is organic, how certain movements work or certain foods are produced. And at the end of each section is a chapter written by her oldest daughter, followed by seasonal recipes and menu suggestions. I found this book in French at the library, and after finishing it I ordered it in English from a local bookstore. I have already tried a few recipes and browsed a few recommended websites and I am absolutely certain I will reference this book for years and years to come. I recommend it to anyone who has ever wondered where there food has come from or tried to tend to a garden of their own. It is simply fabulous.

Week #28: Le Lait, Une Sacrée Vacherie? by Dr. Nicolas Le Berre ****
(125 pages; French; non-fiction; 1990; read in five days)

This book has caused great changes in my life. I have gone through phases of being vegetarian/vegan, and to some degree I understood why milk is gross, but never at this level. I happened to stumble upon this book at work and couldn't put it down. I was shocked at what a dairy-free diet can do to cure health issues and have eagerly started my own trial. What pushed me this time was that it was written by a FRENCH doctor; I have read research from the States about milk over and over, but you can find anything in the US to support any diet if you dig deep enough. The fact that this came from the land of cheese made me look and think twice about it. I highly recommend this book to any Francophone who has trouble digesting milk or who has ever thought about eliminating dairy from their diet.

Week #27: La Route by Cormac McCarthy **
(252 pages; French; fiction; 2006; read in one week)

Not my favorite book ever, but that doesn't mean it wasn't good. I'm not a big fan of scary movies, or fear-enducing forms of entertainment in general. That being said, this book is filled to the brim with a very real fear: what would the world become after some sort of huge disaster? The answer this author provides is more than a touch negative, and it took me longer to read than it should have mostly because reading it put me in such a bad mood that I didn't really want to touch it very often. It was very well-written and the plot is intriguing, just not my type of fiction.

Week #26: The Circle by Laura Day **/*
(142 pages; English; non-fiction; 2001; read in two days)

I have no idea how this ended up on my bookshelf. Probably left by one of the many wandering travelers that pass by & stay with us, but somehow it did. It basically talks about the power of belief in yourself. It doesn't say anything you don't already know, but a lot of us stopped listening a long time ago. At times I felt inspired, at times I almost burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, and I can't decide if it was a waste of time or a blessing. That being said, if you are facing a problem, I'd recommend it; otherwise, not so much.

Week #25: Harry Potter et l'Ordre du Phénix by J. K. Rowling ***
(1031 pages; French; fiction; 2003; read in five days)

While I am always on the edge of my seat during the entirety of any Harry Potter book, I will say I could have chosen a better book to read while trying to catch up (I'm two weeks behind schedule) than a 1000+ page book. Still, I definitely enjoyed Rowling's newest creativity. The story gets darker, the characters get more complicated and hence more believable, and as my level of French gets better & better I find I'm losing my ability to speak proper English as each day passes. Peu n'importe. I cannot wait to dive into the sixth book of the series!

Week #24: Le Marin de Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras **/*
(430 pages; French: fiction; 1952; read in three weeks)

I technically read this book in college and even did a report on it for one of my French classes, but I really probably only read about 50-100 pages of it. I LOVE Duras, it was just an incredibly heavy quarter with a History thesis & a post-concussive syndrome. It's about a guy who meets this woman who has spent the past few years traveling around the world on her yacht trying to find a lost lover. He comes on board to occupy her in the meantime, but all the while they are searching searching for the lost sailer from Gibraltar she had fallen in love with so many years ago. This is obviously a bit complicated; whenever they get a lead and head off to some other part of the world to search for him, it sort of puts a damper on their relationship. This goes on for some four-hundred odd pages.

I love Duras & the way she writes, the way she describes, the way she rambles, but I will say I was pretty disappointed about the end. I mean it has been a few years I've been waiting to find out what happens, but it was a pretty big letdown. Hence the low rating. Other than that, typical Duras, typical whiny spoiled characters, typical love triangle, & I (as I typically do) liked it.

Week #23: Harry Potter et la Coupe de Feu by J. K. Rowling ***
(764 pages; French; fiction; 2000; read in five days)

The fourth book of the series and it finally gets serious. I love these books, and this one was no exception. Everyone knows the plot; if not, go out & read it for yourself!!!

Week #22: Carnets de mémoires: Enfances cachées 1939-3945 by Michèle Rotman ***
(283 pages; French; non-fiction; 2005; read in two days)

This moving collection is made up entirely of the stories of the "hidden children" of France during the Second World War. It shows the strength of children to adapt, even under the most horrible of circumstances, the resiliency of family, and the power of love. All across France people opened their doors to children in hiding, and these accounts show the little ways that their hosts, neighbors, school teachers and fellow citizens helped resist against the Axis powers.

Week #21: The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith **/*
(233 pages; English; non-fiction; 1998; read in one day)

A quick read, it was entertaining and cute, but not much more than that. Written very simply, it follows the life of Mma Ramotswe, a woman in Botswana who decides to use the money from her father's cattle to open up the only private investigation office in the country run by a woman. Her clients introduce the reader to modern life in Botswana, both in the capital and the bush.

Week #20: Les Thanatonautes by Bernard Werber ***
(503 pages; French; science-fiction; 1994; read in five days)

In a futuristic Paris, the French President has a NDE (near death experience) after an assasination attempt and becomes fascinated with life after death. He funds research on the "continent of death" and a few doctors/researches become the first explorers of this new terra incognita. Through a combination of induced comas, psychotropic drugs and/or meditation, the possibilities of exploring what has remained shrouded in doubt and fear for thousands of years of human culture: what happens when we die?

The ideas are incredibly creative, it's incredibly moving at times, but I felt the ending was rather "whan whan" (not sure how to make that failure/muted trumpet sound work in words...). This is much how I felt with the last Werber book I read. He certainly knows how to start a book, and is definitely in control for a good two thirds of the text, but I'm not sure he really knows how to finish his stories. If the book had ended after the second section, it definitely would have gotten another star.

That being said, he definitely gets props for originality and ambition. Trying to fit all main and many minor religions and their theories on death into a modern and highly interesting piece of fiction is a quite a challenge. He passed with flying colors.

Week #19: Harry Potter et le Prisonnier d'Azkaban by J. K. Rowling ***/*
(444 pages; French; fiction; 1999; read in four days)

This is the fastest I think I've ever read a book in French. I didn't pause to look up words and I didn't even underline words I didn't understand. The third book of the Harry Potter series, I highly enjoyed the adventure and the creativity. It makes me want to a) read all the other books in the series and b) have a giant Harry Potter movie marathon. I plan on doing both sometime in the future.

Week #18: Talk to the Snail: Ten Commandments for Understanding the French by Stephen Clarke ***/*
(258 pages; English; non-fiction; 2006; read in one day)

I've been studying France & their culture for about thirteen years now, I majored in French in college, I live in France, and I'm married to a Frenchman and I could not have written a better guide book myself. Extremely accurate and side-splitting at times, this is a great quick read, and a necessity for anyone who dares to be anything but a tourist in France. I highly recommend this to any expat living in the country, or anyone considering leaping the pond.

Week #17: City of Thieves by David Benioff *****
(310 pages; English; fiction; 2008; read in two days)

This book was incredible. I could not put it down, and still, a few books later, cannot stop thinking about it. The story follows the author's grandfather's life in the middle of the seige of Leningrad during the Second World War. After being arrested for stealing from an enemy officer, in lieu of being killed outright (as was the norm at the time; there was not enough food for the average citizen, let alone prisoners) he was given a rather odd mission. A high-ranking officer's daughter was getting married and refused anything but a normal wedding with a real wedding cake. This at a time when people ate sawdust, dirt and the glue off book bindings to try to stay alive. So the young hero is tasked with a mission to find a dozen eggs in just a week, or else be killed.

A story that makes you laugh, that makes you cry and that makes you wonder how such a world could ever exist, this is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. Maybe ever.

Week #16: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame ***/*
(220 pages; English; fiction; 1908; read in two days)

I had heard of this book or seen in on my mother's bookshelf for years and years, but I had absolutely no idea of the plot line or characters, didn't know what to expect, and was delightfully surprised. The stories, centering around the life of Mole, Water Rat, Toad and Badger, were originally thought up as bedtime stories for the author's only son, Alistair, who died tragically while at university. Though they were originally intended for children, I found much pleasure in reading of these animals' adventures. Grahame is incredibly descriptive, and many times his words take my breath away. A quick read, but a fun one.

Week #15: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho ****
(161 pages; English; fiction; 1988; read in three hours)

The first time I ever read this book a few years ago it was a gift from a friend and I hated it. I think it was a combination of seeing the words God and Allah in print so many times and the fact that I don't know how to turn myself into the wind. I felt like there was too much of a religious message, trying to convince me that if only I would become Catholic or at least devote my life to Jesus, then I would be able to float weightless around the world at my whim. Upon reading it a second time, I realize it's because I was bitter that my own dreams weren't being realized. Like Santiago, I, too, had always harbored dreams of traveling the world. And the first time I read the book I was holed up in Vichy, stuck in a life I wasn't sure how to get out of.

I truly enjoyed the way the book helped me learn what I already knew in my own heart, and rekindled the dreams I still carry with me of seeing far away places and meeting every day with an open mind. I highly recommend this book, especially to dreamers...

Week #14: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez ****
(422 pages; English; non-fiction; 1967; read in three weeks)

I am tempted to give this book five stars because at the end I truly appreciated what every sentence was trying to say, but I am holding off for two reasons. Firstly, it took me a while to get into it, perhaps because I knew it was fairly long and I was already behind on reading and I wasn't looking forward to losing any time. Secondly, because I believe that something is always lost in translation. I wish my mastery of Spanish was enough for me to read Cien Anos de Soledad, and hopefully some day it will be. For now, Marquez's colorful world will just have to remain seen as if through stain glass. I can see the images on the other side and sometimes the added color of not understanding makes it seem more beautiful, but sometimes the colors muddy and the meaning is lost. I'd still put this on my list of top ten, maybe even five books of all time, but, as with Nabokov, I feel I should return to this piece of work later in life when I have more perspective to better understand. Definitely a good read.

Week #13: 40 Days to Personal Revolution by Baron Baptiste ****
(250 pages; English; non-fiction; 2004; read in 42 days)

This book was part of one of my larger goals, which was to complete the entire forty days of revolution. It took me four tries to be able to make it through the whole forty days without cheating or giving up, but the fourth try was definitely worth it.

This approach takes on health holistically, which is my personal preference. The idea stems from traditional Chinese medicine in that all aspects of life are related to the body. What we eat, what we think, who we surround ourselves with, what our job is, etc etc. Disease is manifested in the body due to many causes, but not just specific bacterias. They form due to malnutrition, lack of sleep, excess stress, lack of movement, among other things. Seen in this way it becomes clear that prevention is truly the best method to maintaining optimum health.

This at-home-program is not just a quick fix, but a way to help push the reset button and reprioritize your life. The yoga is strenuous, but not the only part. Meditation, a conscious diet and some real soul-searching are just as integral to getting the end results. It was hard, very very hard for me to finally get through this. But I am so so so thankful that I did!

Week #12: Le Père de Nos Pères by Bernard Werber ***
(394 pages; French; science fiction; 1998; read in four weeks)

This book feels like something I probably would have really liked as extra-curricular reading while I was in high school. It feels "Ishmael"-ish, ideas David Quinn has probably jotted down on a napkin somewhere, and yet somehow written in simpler terms. This helped me get through the book, as reading about evolution and the possibilities of the origins of man in a foreign language can be challenging at times. But I feel like the simple way the book presented itself almost detracted from my overall impression. Maybe I'm just too old to read paleontological sci-fi anymore. Or maybe I just got overwhelmed reading a giant book in French. Either way, it was nonetheless quite well-written, thought-provoking and had some pretty good twists towards the end. And hey, what more can one ask from a decent book?

Week #11: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll ***
(136 pages; English; non-fiction; 1865; read in two days)

An easy classic, this was chosen as a quick & easy read, but one that I was surprised to find I had never actually read before. I believe we had a copy of this somewhere in my house as a child, but all I seem to remember are the illustrations and did not recognize a single line. Of course classics are usually classics for a reason, and this one is no different. Although reading it in print really makes me want to see the Disney version again for some reason, preferably while testing my theory that Mr. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Mr. Carroll's real name) was riding on some serious uppers while writing the majority of this story. I feel like there are probably a whole schlew of hidden meanings throughout every single page of this book, but I chose to read right on past them and enjoy it as a child would. Final verdict? This kid is definitely satisfied.

Week #10: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson ****
(155 pages; English; non-fiction; 1962; read in four days)

I remember when I was first introduced to the writings of Ms. Carson; it was thanks to the energetic and enthusiastic Ms. Lutz, my Environmental Science teacher as a senior in High School. I'm not sure exactly what the unit or the assignment was, but I remember being deeply influenced. Her writing was both informative and engaging; it literally moved me. My reaction this time around was exactly the same.

Eloquently written, there are moments where it's easy to forget you are reading the research of a scientist and not a simple novel about the beautiful and delicate globe we are lucky to inhabit. Once again I find myself coming away inspired, eager to change the world for the better and save ourselves from our self-destructive habits. This woman single-handedly inspired so much radical change in our use of deadly chemicals and our general approach to "nature" and biology, and is often seen as the founder of the modern environmental movement. She is one of my personal heroes, and it was a pleasure to read this monumental piece of work once again.

Week #9: Bamboo by William Boyd *
(627 pages; English; non-fiction; 2005; read in 18 days)

Having no idea who William Boyd was made no difference to me when I first picked up this book from the public library; I scanned the mini-bi op on the front page and the fact that he was born in what is now Ghana and spent most of his adolescent life in West Africa intrigued me. I was excited by the prospect of non-fiction, of short stories about the continent I fell in love with in college. And yet within the first fifty pages I felt like I had missed something important, not just in the literary world, but in film and art, too. The way he talked about himself made me feel rather silly to have never heard of him.

Now having finally finished the book (a rather tedious affair, I must say), I looked him up on the internet to see what the general consensus might be. I found a random interview on Youtube and what I had feared was solidified as true. He speaks of his life, and at one point talks about the thesis he was working on when he first came to Oxford just after his marriage. The title is absurdly loquacious and verbose, much like the book I just read. He scoffs at the image of his young naive self, and describes the title (and presumably the work) himself: "Dry as dust." I could not find a more perfect description myself. It has been a rather dry few weeks of reading, there is no doubt in that.

The fault does not lie, however, in his writing skills. The few short tales of his life in Africa that actually make it into the work are riveting, well-written and quite fascinating. The fault lies in that this book is not, in fact, a compilation of short stories. There are a few nuggets to be found, and sometimes moments of pure genius, but these moments are far and few between and on the whole, not worth the effort. For the most part this is a compilation of his critiques - literary, cinema, art - and for someone who has not read every book or seen every film or art exhibition by so-and-so it makes quite a dull read. He is an avid name-dropper, and the entire work seems mostly like a one-sided conversation one might have at one of his fancy art shows or the first showing of a dull movie. He repeats the same themes over and over and over, often taking entire paragraphs and reusing them in other articles, critiques or short stories. The redundancy gets tired after a while, and by the end is almost laughable. He desperately wants to succeed in the literary world, like so many of the authors he has made obsessions, and this publication is an obvious cry for posterity. A horrible horrible thing, it took me weeks to get through, and I would never ever recommend it to anyone I know (at least no one I like). Had this book been divided into two, one for short stories and anecdotes, one for his criticism, I would certainly have loved to read the former; unfortunately the heavy weight of the latter just drags this baby down.

Week #8: The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch **
(246 pages; English; fiction; 2005; read in two days)

I have to say I was disappointed, not so much in the book as in myself. A dear friend sent me this book from back home and I had wanted to save it for later, a little English treat amongst the many books in French I foresee in my future, but I had been so drawn to it for the past couple of weeks. I kept taking it off the shelf, opening it, and then forcing myself to put it back. And then yesterday I caved.

Let me clarify. The writing itself is good, the main character adorable and the story captivating enough for a quick read. Yet I couldn't help but find myself resenting little Miles O'Malley and his miles of beachfront, and that is hardly his fault. The book takes place close to home, you see. Too close. I scavenged the waters of Puget Sound myself as a child, and still as a young adult there is almost nothing as captivating to me than combing the pools at low tide. Venturing out on the mudflats at neap tide is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a few hours of your day, and was one of my favorite adventures with the friend who sent me the book. Which meant instead of really getting into the plot, I spent most of my time being jealous of the main character, who spends much of his time knee-deep in the same waters. But at the moment I am stuck literally smack-dab in the middle of central France, with no tides at all for hundreds and hundreds of kilometers in any direction.

It made me miss home.

Other than that, it was a pretty good read. I'm sure if I had read it in Bellingham it would have gotten about three stars. It may be a little pretentious to be the point of view of a thirteen-year-old, but it works. Rachel Carson is my hero, so I definitely liked his way of thinking. It's just that it inspires me to go out & get my own feet wet, and from where I'm standing that's pretty impossible to do. It would take the highest tide ever for that to come true.

Week #7: Harry Potter et la Chambre des Secrets by J.K. Rowling ***
(356 pages; French; fiction; 1998; read in two weeks)

I had also read this book already in English, and as usual Rowling delivers. It's still a bit tedious to not understand all the words, but that's how you learn. I was happy to find I had forgotten most of the plot, including who was the villain in the end, which made it just as exciting a second time. It took me longer than it should have. I spent many days at a time avoiding it, knowing reading further meant many more hours with my nose stuck in a dictionary, but I loved it and plan on reading the rest of the series in French as well.

Week #6: Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer ***
(754 pages; English; fiction; 2008; read in one day)

I'm satisfied. I thought the last book was fabulous. It was quite long, but I liked the way she split it up into separate books and added a different perspective in the middle. It would have been cool to be able to see different perspectives throughout the other books as well. What I had wanted to happen since book one finally happened, and I absolutely loved the detailed descriptions of the new lives involved.

I really enjoyed the end, but I'm torn. I love it because I was longing for a happy ending, but I'm not quite sure there was enough sacrifice for everything to turn out the way they did. We know there will be no more books after this, but it's hard to understand why. There are still a few loose ends left dangling at the end, possible future threats and the like, and there is no real reason to see why this ending is different from the others. Why we wouldn't expect more to come after. I want more, and it's slightly irritating. I feel like these books are laced with something and I am thoroughly addicted. At any rate, I'm satisfied. For now at least. I'm sure I'll be reading them again in the future...

Week #5: Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer ***
(628 pages; English; fiction; 2007; read in one day)

Yes. Yes yes yes. It's about all I can manage right now. Yes. I'm torn between loving and hating parts of this story but it's so real; it's real conflict and it's real human emotion and it's not always pretty and tied up in a bow. It's about the complications, the intricasies, and ultimately about choice. And I love it.

Week #4: New Moon by Stephenie Meyer ***
(595 pages; English; fiction; 2006; read in one day)

It's becoming an obsession.

I'm not sure what it is about these books. Of course the character development is painfully well-done. There is a nice use of vocabulary, and yet the dialogue is conversational and believable. The whole "forbidden love" story is captivating, for sure. And there's a part of me that thinks I may be hooked because it feels so close to home, as well. I know these places she describes; not only have I been there, but the Olympic Rain Forest (and the Peninsula in general) is one of my favorite places in the entire world. Not an exaggeration. That being said, when she describes the rez, or the foilage, or the Pacific Ocean, it makes me long for the home I've left behind. Here I am, oceans between me and the Pacific, and these books bring me back. I get lost in the pages, in the setting, in the characters, in the plot. I am hooked.

I hated this book for about 300 pages because one of my favorite characters was no longer a main player, but that just makes me love it even more. That's when you know an actor is really good - when you absolutely loathe his character. Believe me when I say I loathed this character for leaving, and that only makes me love him more. The hard choices, the decision of whether or not to stay with the one you love and consequentially leave the life and loved ones you have always known are familiar themes to me. So is the heartbreaking distance with your true love so far away. I know. I've lived it. And it makes this story that much more real for me.

That being said, what I wanted to happen in the first book still hasn't happened by the end of book two. I already have been to the library for books three and four, but if the author keeps this as good as it's been, I'm guessing if it happens at all, it won't be until the end of the very last one. And if I keep this maniacal ready frenzie up, you'll know my verdict before the weekend is through...

Week #3: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer ***
(434 pages; English; fiction; 2005; read in one day)

Alright, I admit it. I'm ashamedly hooked.

I wanted to read something in English this week, considering I didn't get to the library until yesterday and want to give myself a full week if I plan on reading anything in French relatively seriously. It takes me a while to look up words and the like, so I browsed the foreign language section and was about to leave rather disappointedly empty-handed when I came across the "just-in" section. Sure enough I saw all four of the Twilight series sitting on the shelf. I scoffed, thinking about how magic & vamires is so "in" right now, and picked it up to see how good of a job they had done on the translation. I was startled to see it was in English!

I contemplated my choices. I could leave empty-handed. I could go back & pick up Longman's History of the United States, or I could just take this, satisfy my needs this week, and spend more time looking into my choice for next week. I decided to go ahead and take the second book in the series, just for the hell of it, though I doubted I would get anywhere near it.

Let me go on a tangent for a bit here. I love vampire mythology. Maybe embarrassingly too much. I've definitely toned it down, I almost had to, but there was one point in time I was pretty obsessed, and rather convinced I was a vampire of some kind myself. This sounds silly, I know, but I was young & easily impressed and the folklore is all so romantic, if you can believe that. That being said, when I heard about this series sometime a year or two ago, I laughed. Vampire lore being mainstream?? It seemed the very definition of irony to me. The stories are so convincing because they are outcasts, shadows, and for good reason uninteresting to most of society. I saw mainstream society's sudden interest as a turnoff and refused to read the books.

Fastforward to yesterday. I went to the library in the early afternoon, picked up the books, and came home to read for a few hours before I had to leave in the early evening. And here I am, 434 pages and less than 24 hours later, ready to move on to the second novel in the series. It took a chapter or two, but I got sucked in. It's not the best book I've ever read, but the plot moves so smoothly and the characters are so seductive; their electriciy is catching and it's so hard to stop yourself - the end of each chapter left me always wanting more. Of course the ending is not how I wanted things to turn out, and now I'm turning to the second book to hope that I get my way. My ratings may change as the other books pan out; based on my elation or disappointment I may have to reasses. But for now this one remains strong with three stars. I was thoroughly satisfied, but it still left me hungry for more.

Week #2: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini ***
(340 pages; English; fiction; 2003; read in four days)

I remember watching a recent episode of Weeds where Shane, the main character's son, talks about having to read this book for one of his English classes in middle school. I have that on my bookshelf! I thought to myself. I tend to acquire books here. People pass through, visit while traveling and drop off extra weight. That's how I ended up with this one. I had heard good things but hadn't ever gotten around to reading it. If it's becoming a classic, being read it schools and all, it should definitely be added to my list. Well... I should have paid more attention to what the character says about the book. "Have you even read the book?" he asks his teacher. "It's really depressing." That's a pretty good summary right there.

The book is incredibly well-written, I'll give you that. Very descriptive. For someone who has never seen Afghanistan personally, I saw pre-war Kabul vividly in almost every passage. The characters are fascinating and not at all static. You simultaneously love and hate the main character, Amir, from the beginning. But it is SO sad. You read and you read and you read and you want to stop because at times it is so depressing, but you are just waiting for that moment when the clouds will lift, the war will go away and all the characters will hop in for a good session of counseling and all leave smiling & hugging each other. I'm still not entirely sure if the ending left me satisfied or unsettled or still looking for closure, but I guess that's the point. Life is messy and complicated and at times disturbingly ugly. Of course there are roses & sunshine & kite flying to take your mind off of it, but does that make the ugly go away or just mask it? I guess it's up to make that decision for ourselves each day.

All in all, I absolutely love it and I absolutely hate it. I love it because it's not a true story and I hate it because it easily could be. Not sure if I'm up for seeing the movie, but we'll see. One thing is sure: this story will haunt me for years to come.

Week #1: Harry Potter à l'école des Sorciers by J.K. Rowling ***
(312 pages; French; fiction; 1997; read in seven days)

I had already read the first of the Harry Potter series in English, which made this a good choice for me to slide my way into reading fiction in French. As youthfully entertaining as Rowling's books are, she still manages to find many many interesting & varied ways to describe similar situations. This extensive vocabulary (not necessarily advanced, by any means, but large nonetheless) was one of the reasons I was drawn to reading past the first few pages. A bit tedious sometimes as I had to stop a few times every page to look up a word, but in the end very profitable; my French vocabulary has now grown by at least a few hundred words. Beetles, doorhinges, oars & hems are not words that you are prone to learn in foreign language courses. I enjoyed the story, of course, but I enjoyed learning new words just as much.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like your book report. The Zookeepers Wife is a really good book. We just read it for our book club. It's one of the few books we all agreed to recommend.