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Archive for the tag “literature”

Review: The Book Thief

Image from the NY Times Book Review, published March 27, 2006.

In her review of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin writes, ” “The Book Thief” is perched on the cusp between grown-up and young-adult fiction, and it is loaded with librarian appeal. It deplores human misery. It celebrates the power of language. It may encourage adolescents to read. It has an element of the fanciful. And it’s a book that bestows a self-congratulatory glow upon anyone willing to grapple with it.” [Full review]

The Book Thief is a rare work of literature indeed, dancing on the line between adult and young adult literature, yes, but dealing with topics of death, of hope, of loss, of ethics, and yes, of literacy. The narrator is death, the time and place Nazi Germany, a horrifying combination until you realize Zusak’s touch is both tactful and realistic. At times the narrator switches back and forth between his perspective and that of the characters, even interupting himself to provide a bit of clarification.

There are both breathtaking and heartrending descriptions throughout the narrative. Death describes colors using smells and vice versa. At points, it turns graphic novel as we read a books written for Liesel.

Not every moment in the book is spot on. It drifts here and there. But that does not at all hinder it from being one of the finest works of literature I’ve read, and among the most creative. For that reason, and so many others, I give The Book Thief and its celebration of the written word five stars.

The Books that Shape Us

In my wanderings today, I came across this post by Nathan Harden “Five Classic Books Every Smart Person Should Read” on the Huff Post blog. I am not going to lie, I felt like it took some audacity on Harden’s part to title it as he did and I almost didn’t read on that basis alone…but I was too curious to see his list to not finish the post.

For those curious, Harden’s list includes:

1. Homer’s Oddessy

2. Plutarch’s Lives

3. The Bible

4. Dante’s Divine Comedy

5. Shakespeare’s The Tempest

What I appreciated about the article is that Harden advocated that individuals read these books not because they were his favorites, or because you should have read them as one of  the elite, but because they have shaped our intellectual and moral history. He pointed out that these books are no longer required reading, and that, “Consequently, we are less likely than ever to understand where our political and moral ideas come from.” Often, we are willing to read books that agree with our moral, intellectual, and political ideals, but we don’t fully explore where those ideals originated from. Americans especially seem to disconnect from history, aside from our own.

I will confess, I have not read the bulk of this short list, the exceptions being The Bible and Dante’s Divine Comedy, but I am curious to pick up each of the books mentioned, and to consider them for what they have been- books that shaped the intellectual history of generations.

What about you- have you read any of Harden’s list? Would you add any to this list, and why?

Review: Anna Karenina

I originally started Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy in 2004 when it was taken up by Oprah’s Book Club. It was the only book I ever picked up for Oprah’s Book Club, and I didn’t get far before I decided it would be better to quit. Anna Karenina moved with me from my parent’s house, to my first apartment in Baltimore, back to their house, and later, to New York where it would be packed and unpacked, all the while collecting dust between moves. Until this summer when I decided I needed to finish it.

When I stumbled onto Five Alarm Book Reviews Anna Karenina Read Along for July, I decided I had found the perfect solution, something to keep me motivated, and an opportunity to discuss the rather thick tome. What I did not anticipate, however, is how easy it would be to fall behind. Mid-July I got behind on my reading, and never recovered, but these last  two weeks, I found myself determined to finish.

Tolstoy is a story teller, and a wildly ambitious one. The Russian novelist creates an obscene number of characters for his eight part epic novel, all with overlapping lives, and formal and informal names. It was necessary for the first half of the book to pay close attention to character names and nicknames.

The novel begins,

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

It is an appropriate opening line, as Tolstoy unfolds the story of three families, each unhappy in its own unique way- Dolly and Stiva as they deal with his infidelity, Anna and Karenin as they deal with her unfaithfulness and her continued relationship with Vronsky, and Kitty and Levin, as they navigate what was a difficult start for both of them as they seem surrounded by infidelity. The backdrop of this magnificently complicated series of stories is the changing political climate of Russia, Tolstoy’s own thoughts on religion, and Europe’s art and culture scene.

In spite of it all, I found myself drawn into Tolstoy’s storytelling, wanting to see how things played out in each of the character’s lives. Would Karenin allow the divorce? Would Anna continue to manipulate Vronsky, and everyone around her? Would Levin and Kitty live happily ever after? I had to know. And though I found myself bored at times, such as when the perspective would turn to Levin whose primary internal monologue involved farming, or when the political discussions took on too many references that I was unfamiliar with, I still read on.

Tolstoy draws the reader in with his narrative arc and complex characters. He changes the perspective and internal monologues the reader observes, giving a fuller picture of the characters relationships and interactions. And he builds the novel to such a climax and holds it that you really start to wonder if anything is going to happen. When Anna does finally take action, it was nearly impossible to believe.

Although I may not have always enjoyed the characters and found myself bored as Tolstoy sought to make a point I really didn’t care about, Anna Karenina is without an amazing piece of literature. I admire Tolstoy’s boldness and his use of narrative and change in perspective in adding depth to the story and characters.

Austen in August Announcement

Having finally completed Anna Karenina, albeit just a bit late, I have decided in August to participate in the Austen in August Reading Event, hosted by Roof Beam Reader. After failing to make my last three Anna Karenina posts in a timely way, you’d think I would back off from participating in reading events for a bit, but I saw this one and I just couldn’t resist. The good news is that its a fairly loose structure, and I think I can manage at least two Jane Austen novels, even if August is incredibly busy.

According to the Roof Beam Reader,

“…the goal is to read as many of Jane Austen’s novels as you want/are able, during the month of August.  Biographies and re-reads also count. “

So, I’m in for the following books:

Emma (this one is on my Summer Reading Challenge list…that’s right…bonus)

Sense and Sensibility

A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz

Possibly Northanger Abbey

If you are interested in joining the reading event, head over to Roof Beam Reader to sign up.

Summer Reading Challenge Progress Report

Well, it has been over a month since my post announcing my participation in the Summer Reading Challenge and I thought I should update all of you on my progress to date.

So far, I’ve finished:

6. One Classic All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

8. One New Release Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by AJ Jacobs

And  I am nearly completed with:

10. One Chunkster (A Book That Is Over 400 Pages) Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 

It’s not a bad start considering one of the books on that list is over 800 pages, but there are still 7 books that remain on the list, and of course, a few of the remaining could fall into the chunkster category as well. I also have quite a stack of books in my to be read pile, as well as, two books from publishers to be finished and reviewed. With this challenge, and that big stack of library books, I’ve decided to suspend my holds for the next few weeks at my local library.

Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying the challenge because it presents such a wide variety of books, but I have found that one of the things I also desire during the summer is some light reading. So I think my compromise is that I will press on with my Summer Reading Challenge, but I will also weave in some lighter fiction as well, more than likely on weekends when I have more time to read.

If you’ve taken up the challenge with me, what are you reading, and how are you progressing so far?

Summer Reading: Anna Karenina Read Along Announcement

The chunkster on my Summer Reading Challenge (see post here: https://thenerdreports.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/summer-reading-challenges/) is Anna Karenina, a rather daunting read I attempted a few years ago. I was trying to figure out how I was going to tackle this one when I was on the Five Alarm Book Reviews blog and noticed an announcement for an Anna Karenina Read Along in July (see post here: http://fivealarmbookreviews.com/2012/06/12/anna-karenina-announcement-and-sign-ups/).

According to Steph over at Five Alarm, here’s how it works:

“This is summer, so we are keeping it fun and easy.  There will not be any official questions, although I will post some each week if you would like to use them for conversation starters.  We will each write up our thoughts on the book on the scheduled dates and link up.  If you link up within a few days of the scheduled date, that is fine too.”

You DO NOT have to be a blogger to participate.  You can sign up by using a link to where you will be posting.  ie: Goodreads, Amazon, Shelfari, etc.

We will use the hashtag #ReadingAnnaKarenina on Twitter.

Post and Readding Schedule

Start Up Post/Announcement Post – Now through July 1

1st Post for Parts 1 and 2 – July 7

2nd Post  for Parts 3 and 4- July 14

3rd Post  for Parts 5 and 6- July 21

4th  For Parts 7 and 8- July 28

Final Review – July 31

So…be prepared to follow along as I, and others, work through Anna Karenina together. Please feel free to join- I would love for all of you to be reading along!

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