Monday, September 21, 2015

Fates and Furies by Lauren Goff

I don't - and won't - understand anyone who calls this book "Gone Girl" with slightly nicer characters.  That's just lazy.  Sure, there is a bit of subterfuge, but it's not done purposefully, with malice aforethought, as in "Gone Girl."  In my opinion, these characters are both more subtle and more substantial that the "Gone Girl" characters.  At the same time, "Gone Girl" was ripe for film-making.  This book will require much more finesse from a director if it is to become a profitable movie.

Lauren Goff has chosen a very apt title to use with the literary devices she employs.  Our view in the first half is told largely from the perspective of Lotto, a tragic character who does not rot away as the main character in "The Goldfinch" did last year, but rather falls into (Fate) situations and the lives of people that help him become the best version of himself.

Mathilde, on the other hand, has scarier demons.  From childhood, she has known that she is not worth being loved, because of the evil she buries deep inside.  Whether this is true or not, her fate is to live life as though it is.  When the 2nd half of the book arrives (Furies), we are treated to an even more disjointed telling of what happens to such a person when the great love that has held them together is suddenly taken away.  So much of this second half draws on the multiple meanings of the word fury, and does it with subtlety and originality.

Unfortunately, the ending slowly fizzles, leaving us without much resolution, either tragedy or comedy, just letting the fury tire herself out and fade away.  That was the biggest disappointment for me.  I would have enjoyed a stronger ending, but have to respect the author's choice.


This is the October pick for NPR's "Morning Edition" Book Club, which I just discovered last week.  It sounded interesting, so I bought it and read it right away.


Monday, December 15, 2014

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan

This is the 2nd book I have read in my pre-deployment preparation for my year in Kabul.  I had expected it to be a primer on Islam.  It was that... But not quite what I expected.

Reza Aslan has done a very good job tracing historic anecdotes and examples of Islam through the ages.  However, I could never shake the feeling that each line I read was infused with Aslan's own prejudices.  I also kept asking myself, "Who is this book intended for?"

Honestly, I don't think Aslan's book was meant for someone like me - a hopefully open-minded reader who wanted to understand Islam and its roots better so that I am not completely ignorant of the community into which I will be inserting myself.  I think he wrote the book for fellow Muslims as a sort of existential argument.  I think he's trying to convince them, as he seems to be trying to convince himself, that the "Islamic Reformation is here."

I found the book too full of language that required multiple trips to the glossary.  It was too dismissive of some moments in history, and too concerned with others.  It had moments of inspired stories that clarified unclear situations, and other passages so full of names and dates and sub-religions that I needed to diagram the sentence to figure who was who and from where, etc.

If you really want some Islamic minutia, or you're better at skimming through books than me, you might try it.  Otherwise, for the basics, I'd check out something else.  Maybe Tahar ben Jalloun's "Islam Explained To My Daughters."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Le vol des cigognes (The Flight of the Storks) by Jean-Christophe Grangé

I read this book as part of the 2014 book bingo that I started in January.  To fill in the last square, I needed "the first book by a favorite author."  Grangé's books have been favorites of mine ever since I saw the movie "Les Rivières Pourpres" in 2000.

What always pulls me in to his stories are the complex psychological mysteries.  However, his first book is overwhelming.  There is too much violence, and a main character who seems drawn from comic book character rejects.  The ending is tied up in a little bow, which I have appreciated in Grangé's previous works, but is too tidy for this messy, messy voyage through hell and back.

If you'd like the best of Grangé, French cinema already chose the best for you.  Read Les Rivières Pourpres, and then go back to some of your own favorites.  

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind

by Scott Stossel

I inhaled this book.  I'm not sure why.  It's not what I would typically call a page turner, and though I did read it during two sick days, I actually could have put the book down and gotten some more sleep (strep throat does that to you), but I didn't want to.  I wanted to power through and find out where Mr. Stossel figures out the secret to curing his own anxiety and the anxiety that has plagued so many good people throughout the centuries.

Except he isn't... cured, that is.

And I want to be mad at him, but really, I just feel for him.  We've all been there - no, not to the extremes he has, but to those moments when we wanted to do something really badly, we were totally excited, and then the moment came and you thought you were going to pass out.  We've all had that experience at some point.  If you've never experienced anything like that, then this probably isn't the book for you. (and neither is this review)

For me, the book has its high points when Mr. Stossel weaves his own story in with the extensive research that he's done.  He gives a real example, and then traces it through the history of the scientific study of anxiety.  He has definitely done his homework.  I'm less thrilled about the parts where there are a litany of acronyms:  CRH; C/C; C/T; CRHR1; SERT; COMT; etc.  However, Mr. Stossel, if you're reading this, please don't get anxious.  Other people, like my husband, eat that stuff up.  I'm just more into the touchy-feeling history of your vomit phobia.  More of that please.

Personally, I feel like I've come away from this book inspired to look at new ways to handle stress in my life.  I realize that could just be the antibiotics taking care of the strep bacteria - which, by the way, seems to have a lot of the same symptoms of severe anxiety - but I don't think it's just that.  I really don't know how to meditate, but I can dig the medicate when needed and effective and under treatment by a doctor.  I hope that Mr. Stossel can cut back on the amounts of medications he mixes with vodka and other alcohols, but I say if it all helps him to keep doing the great work he appears to be doing, maybe a little excess in moderation is all right.

Seriously, my main take away comes unexpectedly from the story about his great-grandfather, who couldn't seem to grasp that he had a pretty good thing going.  I want to take from that a lesson that we all tend to be our own worse critics.  I know that I often easily forget that I've done some good things when I'm working on one that may not be going so well.  We need to try to focus on the fact that we won't always be perfect, and that's ok.  

I'm not sure that these are the lessons that Mr. Stossel intended, but I have enjoyed finding them through reading his book.

Thanks for putting yourself out there.  I don't know if this makes it worth it, but the book means something to me.  Good job!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

There is a Country: New Fiction from the New Nation of South Sudan

This collection of short stories, edited by contributor Nyuol Lueth Tong, was one of the few resources I could find on South Sudan.  Though I really don't enjoy short stories, I liked the idea of getting to learn something about the culture of the world's newest country.

I think that there are some talented authors in this collection, but most of the stories are cut off without an adequate resolution.  I don't need a happy ending, but I would like an ending. 

My preference was for the stories based on personal experiences.  It's hard to imagine the challenges of life during constant conflict and in situations of great poverty, but these snapshots give us a brief idea.

It's an easy, inexpensive read.  I recommend it for anyone looking to learn more about South Sudan