The grass is always greener… or creepier.

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman (2002)

So this book is supposed to be awesome, or so I thought. But, frankly, I just thought it was weird. So, so weird.

Young Coraline is bored over summer vacation. Her parents are busy doing other things, her neighbors are quirky and never get her name right, and there’s no one to hang out with. One day, she finds a small, locked door in the parlor, and when she asks her mom about it, her mom shows her that the door leads to a wall of bricks, an old, boarded up passage between the apartments. But later, Coraline opens the door again to find the bricks gone, and the passage clear. When she wanders through, she doesn’t find the empty next door apartment, however, but an exact replica of her own apartment, complete with a man and woman who look just like her parents. Except for the eyes: their eyes are big, black buttons.

And it just gets creepier. This “other mom” is terrible, although she puts on a good facade. The rest of the book is Coraline exploring this new “other” world, realizing her “other” mom has trapped her, and trying to escape to her real home.

I’m not really sure what the purpose of this book was. A lesson to make your own fun? Or to be happy with what you have? To give kids nightmares?

What ever the purpose, I don’t really feel like it was successful (unless it was the last one). Can someone explain this to me, please?

Weird and scary, but somewhat captivating… 1 star, I guess.

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Retail Therapy: Books Bought Today

So, I think I’ve mentioned before how I buy books by the armload full for no reason but to have them around. Of course I read some of them, but for the most part, they just become stacks on various shelves. In fact, I’m running out of book space in my apartment, and will soon be adding books to the top of my kitchen cabinets. I’m not saying I have a problem. I have absolutely no problem with this habit of mine. I think it’s perfectly legitimate, especially when I never buy them full price and rarely buy them for more than a dollar a piece. But since I’m participating in this Off the Shelf Challenge this year, and I’m starting to struggle with remembering what I bought this year and what I’ve bought previously, I thought it might be a good idea to track what I’m buying when. And since you’re interested in what I’m reading, maybe you’re interested in what I’m buying, too.

Today I bought:

  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
  • Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Purchased from: Champaign Public Library Friendshop

Total money spent: $3.50

The Great American Novel…or something…

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

It’s hard to know what to say about this book. I hardly need to tell you why I read it, as I often do at the beginning of reviews. I’ve never read, it’s been burning a whole on my bookshelf for a while, and John Green did a series of vlogs about it over the summer that I purposefully didn’t watch even though I wanted to because I hadn’t read it yet. So, Christmas break (after doing a lot of no-thinking-required reading) seemed like an appropriate time. Oh, and the new Leo movie is coming out before too long, so you know I had to read it before that happened.

The basic plot points are as follows (for those few of you, like me, who somehow missed reading this in high school): Nick Carraway is the narrator. Young and somewhat rich (from inheritance), he buys a house on Long Island, situated next to millionaire Jay Gatsby’s mansion. On the other side of the bay lives Nick’s second cousin or something, Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom. They’re super rich. Nick attends various dinners/teas with the Buchanans and Daisy’s friend Jordan, who he sort of dates throughout the novel. Meanwhile Gatsby throws extravagant parties every weekend, and Nick finally goes to one. Soon he and Gatsby become friends and he learns that the fact that he lives next door is not a mistake. Gatsby has been pining for Daisy Buchanan for the last five years (they were in love before he went to war), and he needs Nick to set up a date. And then a lot of roller coaster stuff happens with Nick often being the third wheel to multiple affairs, people mowed down in the street by hit-and-runs, and bullets being shot at the wrong people. It’s very messy.

It helps that I live alone, so the fact that I read the majority of this out loud to myself (yes…using voices…) was a lot less embarrassing. (I’ve always found though that reading somewhat dense or confusing stuff out loud helps enormously with my comprehension. I think it must be the dual tracks of both seeing and hearing it… All I know is that I would never have made it through as many Shakespeare plays as I did. Or sonnets for that matter.) But, as I’ve been told by lots of people, there’s a reason this book is frequently assigned in high school. It’s the kind of book you have to read with a class. Or a book club at the very least. It needs to be discussed. And I feel like I kind of missed out on a lot by reading it as a solitary person.

Here is what I did get out of it though: Fitzgerald is so very purposeful about his writing. I was drawn in by his subtly, his foreshadowing, and, yes, his symbolism.  More than a few times I looked back to previous passages to re-read something I wasn’t sure if I had caught before but had a gentle impression of. The variance of his pacing is methodical, too. At times the parties seem to drag on for an eternity, but then the violence at the end is so quick, you will definitely miss it if you aren’t paying attention. And by the last chapter, like Nick (the narrator), you’ve come to care about Gatsby without really being sure of why.

So while I feel like some of the actual meat of the book was lost on me, I still really appreciated it. I’m glad I finally read it. And although I still think Grapes of Wrath is a much better “Great American Novel”, I’m okay with this being up there.

2 stars

Apologies for the rambliness of this post. No excuses.

Seeing the world from someone else’s skin…

  To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (1960)

I. Loved. This. Book. Oh, gosh, it was so wonderful.

Most of you are probably like, Duh, Emily, it’s To Kill A Mockingbird, of course it’s wonderful. But I skipped the English course that read this book freshman year of high school, and just never got around to it. My bad.

For those of you in similar boats, do yourself a favor and go get one of the hundred copies probably at your library and check it out. But in the meantime, here’s a quick summary:

Scout and Jem Finch live with their lawyer father, Atticus, in small town Alabama in the 1930s. Always a tomboy, Scout spends the summers playing with Brother Jem and their quirky friend Dill. One of their favorite games (much to their father’s disappointment) is trying to make Boo Radley, the town recluse, come out of his house. Meanwhile, Atticus is busy preparing to represent Tom Robinson, a black man who has been accused of raping a white woman. Although Atticus is normally a well-respected member of society, his decision to represent Tom leads to rumbling among the townsfolk and taunts toward Scout and Jem from the local kids. The reader gets to watch the case unfold and the reactions from the racist village from Scout’s point of view, giving a fresh, innocent, often humorous perspective to the well-known struggle between black and white in our county’s history.

It’s nearly impossible to read this and not wish you were able to share the porch swing with young Scout, watching the fireflies, kicking your dusty bare feet, and contemplating the wild wonders of the world around you.

Charming & challenging…three stars.

A long time coming

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte (2001, originally published 1847)

It happened. I finally finished Jane Eyre. After starting it almost three months ago (you’re not the only one, slw) and renewing it twice, I turned the final page this morning. I had originally sought out the book because of the impending feature film with Mia Wasikowska. The trailers reminded me of how much I love time pieces, like Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Sense & Sensibility, the list can go on and on… The costumes and language and romance always makes me feel like I’m in a completely different world (which is nice when I am banging my head against the wall after reading the tenth article on social responsibilities of libraries and information services). It seemed that the movie would be the perfect excuse to read the book.

In my head I had always classified the Bronte sisters with Jane Austen, although academically, I knew that Austen was in the Romantic period, and the Brontes in the Victorian period. But in my mind, they were all British female authors from a long time ago when corsets were making waists tiny and men’s trousers gave us all a pretty picture. I was surprised, then, when I started Jane Eyre and found a completely different environment.

For those of you who have not read it, a quick synopsis: Jane, an orphan living with her terrible aunt and cousins (think Cinderella), has a strong imagination, or so she is told, that allows her to perceive ghosts/spirits/evil to the point where she makes herself ill. Her aunt, anxious to be rid of her, jumps at the chance to send her away to school, where she lives for many years, as a student and then a teacher. But after teaching for two years, Jane becomes bored and answers a call for a governess position at Thornfield Manor, where she is greeted by the housekeeper and a young energetic French girl, Adele. It is quite a while before Jane meets her employer, a dark and handsome man (obviously), Mr. Rochester. Secretly, Jane finds herself falling in love with him (duh), and much to her surprise, he seems to return the feeling. But strange things start happening at Thornfield: one night Jane saves Mr. Rochester from a fire in his room; on another she keeps watch over a wounded friend of Rochester’s while he attends to the mysterious assailant; and once Jane wakes to find some strange creature in her room trying on her things. And the whole time, the reader is like, WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON? At least…I was. And when you do find out what’s going on, you’ll still be like, WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?

Despite the fact that it took me three months to read (I had about 12 other books to read during that time, I promise!), this classic text is a page-turner, spurred on by Jane’s somewhat sassy narrative in which she often addresses the reader directly, justifying the somewhat unbelievable events of her story to make them utterly convincing. I’m glad I stuck it out, even though the MOVIE NEVER CAME TO MY TOWN. Guess I’ll have to wait for the RedBox, and in the meantime, watch the trailer over and over.

2 stars

A scandal of creation

Night, by Elie Wiesel (2006, orginally pub. 1958)

A couple days ago, I finally sat down and read Night. We all know of Night, whether or not we have read it. Last year, a friend of mine who was interning in D.C. got to meet Elie Wiesel and received a kiss on the cheek from him and I thought, “Aww, good old Elie Wiesel.” I felt like I knew him, even though I had never read anything he’s written. He’s one of those authors. We all know him, and we all know Night.

Night was one of those books that I always felt I should read, but never got around to it. Perhaps I was sub-consciously putting it off. I mean, who wants to read about suffering so great that death seems preferable? If I read Anne Frank or Devil’s Arithmetic in middle school, do I still need to read this? What will “one more book about the Holocaust” do for me?

But I found a copy of it at my local library’s FriendShop (where books cost between $0.50-$1.50), and thought, “It’s time.”

So one evening last week, I cracked open Night. I am a before-bed reader, always have been, but as I started to read it, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to finish it before going to sleep. It isn’t a restful read. Only 115 pages, broken into short one-or-two-page sections, it’s hard not to read Night in one sitting. I had to stop reading only a little way in, for fear of horrifying dreams I would surely have. I had to finish it the next day, with the sun shining through the windows.

For those of you who don’t know, Night is Elie Wiesel’s memoir chronicling his  time spent in Auschwitz, the famous Polish concentration camp, as fifteen-year-old boy from 1944-45. The story starts in his small village in Transylvania, Sighet, where Wiesel and his family lived. Assured that the rumors they were hearing would not find their way to Sighet, the Wiesels stayed in their home until S.S. officers came to their village and set up Jewish ghettos. Later, those in the ghettos were loaded onto cattle cars and unknowingly taken to Auschwitz. Upon getting off the cattle car, Wiesel and his father were shoved to the left, while his mother and sisters were shoved to the right, marking the last moment Wiesel would see his female relatives. The rest of the story follows Wiesel and his father while they work at Auschwitz III, the labor camp, their march to Gleiwitz (so as to avoid liberation efforts), and their final move to Buchenwald, where Wiesel’s father dies a mere three months before the camp’s liberation. Wiesel does nothing to gloss over what he saw and felt, including the flames of the crematoria, the stench of burning flesh, human waste, and decaying bodies, the life slipping from a child’s eyes as he hangs from the gallows, the pain of a running on a puss-filled foot, the temptation to let his father die…

As I was writing this, I ran across the interview that Oprah conducted with Elie Wiesel in 2006 at Auschwitz on YouTube (split into parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Watching Wiesel talk about his book and his experiences brought me some perspective. Why do we read Night and Diary of a Young Girl ? Why do we watch The Pianist and Schindler’s List? The “scandal on the level of creation” deserves constant recognition, Wiesel reminds us, because it is only then that when we see similar scandals, as we always will, we will “be there to shout, ‘No. We remember.'”

Somehow, I don’t feel right giving Night a rating. Did I absolutely love it? Am I angry that it is over? No, and no. But how can I give it anything but the highest rating? How can I rate a person’s experience?