Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates

Wow. Joyce Carol Oates knows how to write a novella. I enjoyed every page of Black Water and didn't want it to end - partly because it was so good and partly because Oates reveals the inevitable in the first chapter - our protagonist Kelley is involved in a horrible accident and will die. After meeting a handsome senator at a 4th of July party, Kelley leaves with him to go to his hotel, only to end up at the bottom of a river. The book then teeters between her past and her present - outlining where she came from and what brought her to where she is now. The accident mirrors that of the Chappaquiddick incident - when a young girl was found dead inside of a sunken car driven by Senator Edward Kennedy. In Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates gives Mary Jo Kopechne a voice that utterly heartbreaking and impossible to forget.

Black Water is a powerful book - revealing the human truths of a 26-year-old idealistic young woman and a powerful, untrustworthy older man. The entire novella permeates with a sense of urgency - mostly because it is told in prolepsis - making it (for me) unputdownable.
How crucial for us to rehearse the future, in words. Never to doubt that you will live to utter them.
Black Water was nominated for the 1993 Pulitzer Prize. It highlights themes of fate, vulnerability and the mutability of life. This book is both fascinating and terrifying. I am eager to discover more titles from Joyce Carol Oates.

Black Water was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1993.

Publisher: Penguin, 1992


Trailer: Everything Is Illuminated

Yesterday I posted a review of Everything Is Illuminated. A few of you recommended the film so I went ahead and googled the trailer. After wathcing the trailer, I'm not sure if I'm going to hunt down the movie anytime soon. Everything Is Illuminated doesn't feel like a book that would translate well to the big screen. Am I wrong?


Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Everything Is Illuminated is Jonathan Safran Foer's first novel. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Safran's second novel) was my favorite read of 2010 and of Foer's two works, I've got to say I enjoyed his later work more than his first. However, that's not to say Everything Is Illuminated should be missed. Like EL&IC, this is a truly powerful story that I won't soon forget.

Foer has a knack for creating unique and memorable characters. In Everything is Illuminated we meet Alex, a Ukrainian who struggles to speak English (he tells us "my second tongue is not so premium"), yet acts as a translator for the character named Jonathan Safran Foer - a young American Jew in search of a woman, Augustine, who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Alex offers a lot of comic relief, as his spoken English sounds more like a misplaced thesaurus than the colloquially spoken English Americans often hear.

Foer combines a few different stories into this one book - that of Alex and Jonathan, as narrated by Alex and his broken English, and their search for Augustine and also the story Jonathan the character is writing. Then there are a series of reflective letters between Alex and Jonathan throughout. The novel as a whole evoked many different emotions, particularity the story the character Jonathan Safran Foer is writing that centers around Brod. It's both beautiful and heartbreaking, detailing the life of a girl who struggles to find happiness:
She felt a total displacement, like a spinning globe brought to a sudden halt by the light touch of a finger. How did she end up here, like this? How could there have been so much - so many moments, so many people and things, so many razors and pillows, timepieces and subtle coffins - without her being aware? How did her life live itself without her?
Everything is Illuminated explores themes of identity and memory, and how our relationship with the past affects our everyday present. It challenges preconceived notions of what it means to be intelligent and also offers a bold vision of the Holocaust. It questions what love really means and asks how we know when it's real:
If there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it walls, and we will furnish it with soft, red interiors, from the inside out, and give it a knocker that resonates like a diamond falling to a jeweler's felt so that we should never hear it. Love me, because love doesn't exist, and I have tried everything that does.
This book is anything but ordinary. As I mentioned earlier, it is a complex work of post-modern fiction, but well worth the effort. If you are looking for a book that will move you and encourage you to think about ideas in a new way, this is it.

Publisher: First Perennial, 2002


Top Ten Book to Movie Adaptions

There are a ton of book to movie adaptions - hundreds. However, I am going to limit this list to movies that I have seen and books that I have read. I'm tempted to include movies of books I haven't read, but then I couldn't really say for certain if it was a good adaption, only that I enjoyed the movie.

1. Memoirs of a Geisha: The book is fantastic and the movie is right behind it.

2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Roald Dahl was my favorite author growing up. This movie was spot on.

3. Les Miserables: I read the entire novel in French class then watched the movie - maybe it's because we devoted so much time to studying Hugo's classic that I feel like it belongs on this list, but I don't think the movie nor the book should be missed.

4. A Little Princess: Seriously. Loved the book and may have loved the movie even more. Of course I read the book circa 1995 and fell in love with the movie shortly thereafter.

5. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: A book and movie that is both heartbreaking but truly touching.

6. Harry Potter Series: Some movies are better than others but overall I feel like they've done a great job with the movies, and we all know the books are gems.

7. Orlando: I find anything written by Woolf to be amazing, and the movie lived up to the book in my opinion.

8. 10 Things I Hate About You (Adaption of The Taming of the Shrew): The Taming of the Shrew is my very favorite Shakespeare play and while the movie 10 Things I Hate About You is loosely based on the work, it's still awesome.

9. Polar Express: A childhood favorite of mine, the movie is great and perfect for Christmas time.

10. The Notebook: Yes I read this book in the 9th grade and cried my little eyes out. Today I still love the movie, but don't know if I could stand the book.

Honorable mentions:

The Witches, Roald Dahl
Jumanji, Van Allsburg

I also want to take this opportunity to list movie adaptions that are set to release in 2011 whose books I loved:

Water for Elephants (Gruen)
One Day (Nicholls)
The Yellow Wallpaper (Perkins Gillman)


Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

I may be one of the last people to discover how funny Davis Sedaris is. HILARIOUS. Choke-on-my-soup-laughing-during-lunch hilarious. And I'm not even one of those people who laugh out loud when she reads. Enter David Sedaris.

Me Talk Pretty One Day is a collection of personal essays that detail irreverent instances of Sedaris' life; from coping with a speech impediment, to taking guitar lessons from a midget, to living in France while struggling to speak French:
It got to the point where I'd see a baby in the bakery or grocery store and instinctively ball up my fists, jealous over how easy he had it. I wanted to lie in a French crib and start from scratch, learning the language from the ground floor up. I wanted to be a baby, but instead I just talked like one, a spooky man-child demanding more than his fair share of attention.
Sedaris is so funny because he's clever and he's witty. It's not hit you across the face funny, but goes just far enough without being presumptuous or overwrought. He's got the act of self-deprecation down to an art.

I enjoyed the book from the beginning, however I found part Duex especially funny. It is in this section that he details instances in his adult life, while living in New York City or France, with his partner whom he met when he borrowed his ladder. The stories in part Duex seem to flow a little nicer, creating a more cohesive storyline than the first half.

My very favorite essay in the book is entitled "Today's Specials" details the presumptuous food culture that exists in Manhattan; quarky ingredients in small proportions arranged on a plate to look like art but taste like cardboard:
What I really want is a cigarette, and I'm always searching the menu in the hope that some courageous young chef has finally recognized tobacco as a vegetable.
This is a refreshing little read, and I will continue to go back to Sedaris when I am craving something smart and funny.

Publisher: Little, Brown, 2000


New Books!

It has been exactly one month and one day since I visited Half Price Books and for me, that's great. I also had a February coupon that I didn't want to waste so I finally went and here are the goods listed from top to bottom:

Farewell Summer, Ray Bradbury: Ever since this video I've been meaning to read more Bradbury.

Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer: I loved loved loved Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. In fact it was my favorite read of 2010. I could not be more excited about this one.

The Razor's Edge, W. Somerset Maugham: I read The Painted Veil in January and fell in love with Maugham. Many readers recommended this title after reading my review of The Painted Veil.

The Game, A. S. Byatt: I've never read any Byatt and thought this would be a good place to start since it's one of her earlier works.

Falling Man, Don DeLillo: I read White Noise in college and have yet to revisit DeLillo. This one is listed in my 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die book so I think it's going to be good.

Mr. Muo's Traveling Couch, Dai Sijie: I loved Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and after reading the synopsis of this one I'm guessing it will be great as well.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck: I've had this one on my TBR forever but have been hesitant to press go because of it's daunting size. I decided I'm going to tackle it in '11.

The Age of Innocence: Book One

The Age of Innocence Read-along is hosted by Beth at Bookworm Meets Bookworm. Today we are posting our thoughts on Book One.

The Age of Innocence earned Edith Wharton the Pulitzer Prize in 1921. Set in "Old New York," we meet Newland Archer, who represents the ultimate figure in New York society. He is recently engaged to May Welland, a marriage that will unite two of New York's oldest families. Enter Countess Ellen Olenska, May's unconventional cousin who has just returned from Europe after a failed marriage.

From the beginning of the novel Wharton evokes the feeling of high-society New York through imagery and language. The opening scene takes us to an opera, an event attended by good society; a place where one can be seen in high fashion, displaying astute manners - while also keeping a close eye on their company, keeping up with the latest social news and gossiping about others when prompted. The opera has the benefit of being "small and inconvenient," thus keeping out the "new people whom New York was beginning to dread and yet be drawn to".

Countess Olenska is one of these characters who is dreaded. She and her cousin May could not be more different. While May is eager to please with her understanding of New York society and it's social expectations, Countess Olenska is more vivacious, understanding New York to be a place where one is taken on vacation "when one has been a good little girl and done all one's lessons". Of course the passionate and unusual (if not sometimes offensive) qualities of Olenska begin to enamor Archer, intriguing him more so than his traditional and meek fiance. Soon he beings to question his engagement.
He saw his marriage becoming what most other marriages about him were: a dull association of material and social interests held together by ignorance on the one side and hypocrisy on the other.
The idea of freedom from society is a prevalent theme in book one. Early on, when defending the Countess, Archer states, "Woman ought to be free - as free as [men] are". He then goes on to feel increasingly oppressed - oppressed by societal expectations and its ridged, unimaginative mores.
And he felt himself oppressed by this creation of factitious purity, so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers and aunts and grandmothers and long-dead ancestresses, because it was supposed to be what he wanted, what he had a right to, in order that he might exercise his lordly pleasure in smashing it like an image made of snow.
It isn't until Archer is able to free himself from the city and it's social constrains that he allows himself to fully admit his feeling toward Olenska. It's not suprising that Olenska mimics these this feeling of constraint and yearning toward freedom. After returning to New York her Grandmother wanted Olenska to live with her, to which Olenska explains she had to live on her own - she "had to be free".


So far I am really enjoying this novel - more so than I thought I would. It's almost a work of observational anthropology, critiquing our inherent societal values and rejection of the unusual. It's like society itself is a main character, because it's that prevalent throughout book one. It has a constant weight and pull on each character and their actions.

Of course I am hoping Archer ends of up the Countess in the end, but he's dug himself into somewhat of a hole. After he convinces the Countess not to divorce and sue her husband (a case in which he would have headed), he realizes he is in love with her, but isn't able to marry her as long as she listens to his advice and doesn't divorce.

Also, I like the bits that describe Archer as an avid reader - getting excited about a new box of books and preferring the "prospect of a quite Sunday at home with his spoils". Later, when he can't get his mind of the Countess after his return from Highbank, he tries to read and while he "turned the pages with the sensuous joy of a book-lover, he did not know what he was reading". I think this is a feeling that all readers can relate, and I enjoy these "bookish" descriptions Wharton includes.

I've also got to say that of May and the Countess - I really relate to the Countess. I'm quite outgoing - sometimes, but rarely, to the point of obnoxious - but have never regretted this quality of mine. I think it's better to be oneself than try to squeeze into a mold that doesn't quite fit. Some of my all-time favorite literary characters have been carefree women who forge their own path regardless of what people think and Countess Olenska is certainly one of these characters. I don't think that she doesn't recognize her "misbehavior" in the sense that it goes against scoietal norms - I think it's that she doesn't care. She would rather stay true to herself and seek freedom from these constrains.

I'm really looking forward to book two. I'm hoping Archer can man-up!


Top Literary Love Stories

In honor of Valentine's Day, The Broke and the Bookish decided to go sappy - which I'm ok with. This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is top ten literary love stories.

1. Lady Chatterley's Lover (Lawrence): I read this a few weeks ago and was blown away: a smart and steamy view into the lives of two lovers who simply can't live without each other.

2. Wuthering Heights (E. Bronte): Obsession and tormented love at its finest.

3. The Time Traveler's Wife (Niffenegger): I'm guessing this is going to be on top of many lists. The unique love between Henry and Clare captures my heart every time.

4. Jane Eyre (C. Bronte): An unconventional heroine finds the mysterious Mr. Rochester and falls in love, only to find out he is already married.

5. A Mid Summer Night's Dream (Shakespeare): Set in the whimsical woods outside of Athens, this is a perfect mix of romantic comedy and fantasy.

6. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Safran Foer): This isn't a traditional love story, but I think the love Oskar has for his father can surpass any modern-day love story.

7. One Day (Nicholls): Another love story told in a unique way, Nicholl's novel gives us a glimpse of Emma and Dexter's lives and the love they build on the same day every year.

8. Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare): Probably the most famous classic love story out there.

9. Ethan Frome (Wharton): A heartbreaking love story that ends in tragedy, equally as devastating as Romeo and Juliet.

10. Lolita (Nabokov): A story of seduction and selfish love - between a 12-year-old and a middle-aged man.


The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

I finished this book last week on my flight to California. Then I left it with a friend to read. I'm usually pretty good about writing reviews within 24 hours of finishing the novel, but since I was on my way to a 5-day bender weekend in the South Bay, this wasn't the case. I also don't have the novel in front of me and I am working on lack of sleep from my red-eye back home last night so be warned, this review will be lacking.

So, here is what I can tell you: I loved this book. Adored it. It is all at once captivating, heartwarming and depressing. The Namesake examines the immigration experience of a Bengali family with a focus on the second generation. It speaks to the psychological disjucture and cultural displacement that is associated with belonging to two very different cultures.
For being a foreigner, Ashima is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy—a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing reponsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been ordinary life, only to discover that that previous life has vanished, replaced by something more complicated and demanding. Like pregnancy, being a foreigner, Ashima believes, is something that elicits the same curiosity from strangers, the same combination of pity and respect.
From the very start of The Namesake Lahiri's prose sucked me in. It is unusually dispassionate - but the tone doesn't work to disassociate the reader. Rather, I felt even more captivated - at times forgetting I was even reading.

Lahiri won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for her short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies, which is a book I am going to track down asap. I really can't recommend The Namesake enough. It's a fascinating story that opened my eyes to the struggles of immigration and they cultural conflicts it imposes.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2003


Blogger Break

I am leaving town for a long weekend and will not be toting my computer. I'll see you on Monday!


A Human Library

"Always innovative the Toronto Public Library lets us check out humans as well as books"

"The idea of a Human Library first emerged in Copenhagen about a decade ago, as a way to break down prejudice by bringing people of different backgrounds together for one-on-one conversation. The Toronto Public Library held its first Human Library event at five branches on Nov. 6, attracting more than 200 users who checked out the likes of a police officer, a comedian, a sex-worker-turned-club-owner, a model and a survivor of cancer, homelessness and poverty. They're all volunteers whose lives would make good reading, but even better one-on-one chatting. The library is considering make the program long-term, so a supply of human books will be regularly available to readers."


Marginalia: Use or Abuse?

mar·gi·na·lia (n) - marginal notes or embellishments

I'm a big fan of marginalia. I never write in pen, or use a highlighter, but you can bet any book I love is filled with penciled annotations and underlined passages. I find the more I like a novel, the more marginalia I scribble inside of it.

Word has it marginalia began as a result of the scarcity of paper. Authors who were poor borrowed the blank spaces of the page to write their own words. Voltaire composed in book margins while he was in prison. Then it adapted into a way of remembering and finally, a means of noting interpretations or enthusiasms. Edgar Allen Poe titled his fragmentary work "Marginalia". Samuel T. Coleridge's marginalia were published in a five volume set.

All of us mark our books somehow - whether that be dog-ears, post its, scribbles or stains. To me, marginalia makes used books more interesting and borrowed books more personal (let me be clear I don't write in books I borrow - I am referring to my own books that I borrow out, or books I borrow from others who have written their own annotations). It marks ownership and reveals reader's nuances. It's also a way of connecting and responding to the author - alive or dead.

So there it is - my short defense of my marginalia. If you're interested in more detail, check out H. J. Jackson's Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books.


I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was a well-known activist throughout the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's. She wrote I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a way of dealing with his death and to highlight her own personal struggles as an African-American woman. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is the first book in a five part autobiography and is considered a milestone for African-American writing. It details Maya Angelou's troublesome childhood in the segregated south during the 1930's.

One of the things that makes Maya Angelou's childhood particularly interesting is that she experienced two different worlds growing up. One living with her grandmother in a segregated community in Stamps, Arkansas, where she remembered "never believing that whites were really real" and a second after she turned 13, when Maya's lived with her mother in San Francisco, a place that quickly became "California's Harlem" when WWI began and the majority of the Asian community left the area and African Americans began to dominate. While the people who surrounded Maya had a great impact on her life, these two places also proved to be influential and ultimately had a great effect on her - changing the way she viewed the world and viewed herself.
In San Francisco, for the first time, I perceived myself as part of something. Not that I identified with the newcomers, nor with the rare Black descendants of native San Franciscans, nor with the whites or even the Asians, but rather with the times and the city.
What I related to the most in Angelou's story was her passion for literature and it's capacity to heal and inspire. Throughout her childhood, Maya Angelou experienced traumatic events that no child should have to endure. However, she coped with her feelings of displacement and uncertainty through literature. Ultimately her reading helped to shape the strong, secure woman she grew to be.

Even though this novel was published in 1969, Angelou's prose feels fresh, employing anecdotes that made me frown in sadness and laugh out loud.
Ever since [my brother and I] read The Fall of the House of Usher we had made a pact that neither of us would allow the other to be buried unless 'absolutely, positively sure' (his favorite phrase) that the person was dead. I also had to swear that when his soul was sleeping I would never try to wake it, for the shock might make it go to sleep forever.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a story of a young girls evolution of her own identity as an African-American woman
The fact than an adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even billigerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.
It's a book about persistence, perseverance and tolerance. While some instances were hard to stomach, overall I enjoyed the book very much.

Publisher: Virago, 1969


Penguin: 10 Essential Classics Redux

Last year Penguin compiled their 10 Essential Penguin Classics, a list of book they believed everyone should read. After announcing the list they received a lot of push back from disgruntled readers who complained the list wasn't accurate. So Penguin asked it's readers to vote and today they announced the 10 Essential Penguin Classics Redux. On the list:

1. Pride and Prejudice - Austen
2. Hamlet - Shakespeare
3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Twain
4. The Odyssey - Homer
5. Jane Eyre - Bronte
6. Romeo and Juliet - Shakespeare
7. Great Expectations - Dickens
8. Little Women - Alcott
9. Wuthering Heights - Bronte
10. The Canterbury Tales - Chaucer

So what was bumped off the list? Of Mice and Men, Moby Dick, Metamorphosis, Oedipus Rex, Walden and The Inferno. Me? I prefer the redux. I'm especially happy to see The Canterbury Tales make the list, as that was the title I voted for. However I am sad to see Of Mice and Men and Oedipus Rex go.