Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “notice_evrytree”

notice_evrytree’s #CBR4 Review #11: Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage The Bones is a violent, emotional journey. The Batiste family’s struggles, compounded with the weight of Hurricane Katrina are tragic beyond fiction. Fifteen-year-old Esch and her brothers, Randall, Skeetah, and Junior live in Bois Sauvage, a rural town in southern Mississippi with their alcoholic father. Their mother, who died giving birth to Junior, is incredibly present despite her absence. Esch is alone in a world of men, but her strength as a woman is steadfast.

The women of this novel, Esch, Medea (Esch’s constant literary companion), China (Skeetah’s white fighting Pitbull), and even Katrina are relentless. Their physical strength and the power of their bodies give life and have the power to destroy. After the hurricane ravages the town, narrator Esch describes her as “the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.” The reckless force of the mother is unhinged, creating chaos instead of life.

As dark as the scene is painted, there is incredible hope in these characters. They are intentional, loyal, strong. Real. They are a reminder of the fragile strength that imbues the living. That once broken, we can salvage the pieces and live.

Ward’s prose is lyrical, detailed. She reminds me so much and yet so little of Faulkner (the voice is irrevocably female), invoking a world that seems so real and far away. Political, powerful, and poignant, Salvage The Bones is simply a classic.

notice_evrytree’s #CBR4 Review #10: The Book of Laughter & Forgetting by Milan Kundera

I know I’m not going to make a lot of friends by saying this, but I was not a huge fan of this book.

Ok, yes I get it. I get why people love this. It’s the type of book that you feel like you “get” or “gets you” or whatever. But it lacked the honesty that I really crave when I make the time investment to read something. And I feel that way about most postmodern literature. It is too preoccupied with what “is” that it only means one thing, and if you don’t “get” that one thing, it makes it almost impossible to enjoy.

Like, ok, I get that in Kundera’s universe, there is no inherent meaning. We are bound by our physical states, so the only real discoveries we can make are of the body. Sexual. Humor. What have you. I think, fundamentally, as a Christian, I just don’t buy this. But moreover, as someone who has read a lot of fiction and a good amount of postmodern literature, Kundera’s idea reads like any other postmodern author’s. It’s a different iteration of the same idea. People read this because they’re looking for the thing they already “get.” I get that, too.

It’s funny because I’m reading Salvage the Bones next, and 70 pages in, Jesmyn Ward’s vision is broad and original and funny and emotional. I can’t wait to finish something that feels real.

Also, I just noticed how many comma’s I used in this post. I wonder how many were used correctly.

notice_evrytree’s #CBR4 Review #09: You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik

Will and Marie’s passionate and illicit affair is brief but tangibly experienced by the reader in You Deserve Nothing. These two people play roles they’re uncomfortable with; the implications of power, desire, and expectations as teacher and teenager are too much for them to bear individually. The way they are drawn to each other is obvious, but no less understandable.

Alexander Maksik’s You Deserve Nothing has some lovely moments of raw emotion and lucid prose. However, overall, I found the story contrived and without true intent. It wasn’t until about two thirds through the novel did any true forward momentum present itself, and even then it was with a clear trajectory. The moments of pure shock seemed dropped in to elicit said feeling.

All that said, it’s always enjoyable to read the words of someone who truly loves literature. Maksik’s references to Camus, Donne, and Thoreau were lovingly and intelligently inserted. I wish these quotations felt more directly tied to the story Maksik tells.

notice_evrytree’s #CBR4 Review #08: The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe

Lena Dunham, filmmaker and best-ever-tweeter, was profiled in NY Mag this week to promote her new show Girls on HBO. It is, essentially, this generation’s answer to Sex And The City: premium cable comedy about friends, romance, and the greatest city of all. The article states:

Dunham hired “oversharers” as writing staff, then handed them a syllabus, which ranged from books like Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything and Mary McCarthy’s The Group to movies including Party Girl, Me Without You, My Summer of Love, Clueless, and Walking and Talking.

Having seen/loved Tiny Furniture and obsessed over every airing of Girls teasers, the moment I read this list I knew I needed to read/revisit everything listed. There is something incredible and fresh about Dunham’s approach to twentysomethings. Yes, we’re smart, and we know it. Yes, we’re entitled and spoiled. We’re lost. We’re unkind. And selfish. It’s unglamorous to be this age. We just spend every moment convincing ourselves we have it figured out.

I found The Best of Everything truly exceptional. I don’t read a lot of “chick lit,” which this wonderful book would likely be categorized as if released today. This didn’t feel trite or easy or forced. It was simply honest. I know what it’s like to live in New York and be twenty-four and have no money and so many friends and no one to answer to but myself. As fun as it can be, it can be incredibly lonely. The Fabian Publishing girls in The Best of Everything are just the same. Replace the people, places, and things with modern pop culture references, and this story remains stark, blunt, and true.

notice_evrytree’s #CBR4 Review #07: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

The mysterious dynamic between the decay of the body and the infinite nature of the soul is difficult to quantify. The Unnamed examines one man’s struggle between the two–Tim Farnsworth’s belief in the soul waxes and wanes over the course of this deeply felt and masterfully paced tale of human relationships, psychology, and the unknowable realities of the self.

Tim clings violently to things he knows–his job, his family, his basic survival needs; hoping that he can regain his sense of purpose or loyalty, something inside himself to overcome the terrible, unnamed physical affliction that haunts him. This resolve dissolves as his disease claims victory again and again over his mind. He is freed from the “obnoxious certainty” that plagues our minds, that nagging voice that narrates the shoulds in our lives. The way we should move, think, hope, love, walk.

I loved this story. The ultimate hope, the presence of the soul, sustains the body even through the most difficult of tests. It is less a question if the soul exists, but the personal experience of being in the body and knowing once we face the mortal test that it isn’t the end. Though the answer doesn’t come easy, Tim remains, with or without his body’s permission. This spiritual journey is heartbreaking, uplifting, and challenging–overall, completely worthwhile.

notice_evrytree’s #CBR4 Review #6 – Wonder by RJ Palacio

I don’t regularly read YA fiction.

THE HUNGER GAMES DON’T COUNT, OK.

I tried to read Twilight once. It just made me sad. This is what we have to offer our young readers? Sparkly vampires and angst? Barf, just barf.

Wonder came as a recommendation from a friend who works at Random House in YA marketing. Lady knows a lot about what 11-17 year old’s read. I was immediately drawn to the story’s protagonist August Pullman, a fifth-grader with extreme facial abnormalities (the children he encounters in his neighborhood call him names like “orc,” “Freddy Krueger,” and “mummy,” to offer some visual comparisons). His struggle is not unique, though his situation is.

What struck me most about this book (besides a narrative structure that I found surprisingly sophisticated, though fairly conventional for standard contemporary fiction) was its emphasis on kindness. I find the “message” of most of the books I read now (let alone YA fiction) run along the lines of “be yourself no matter what,” “it doesn’t matter what other people think about you,” “everyone is special,” etc.Wonder deals with perception in a totally unique manner. It does matter what other people think of you. The way you treat others and your deeds speak volumes about your character. It is more important to be kind than to be right.

This book offers an incredible lesson to it’s target demographic and to any other person who happens to read it: Be more kind than is necessary.

notice_evrytree’s #CBR4 Review #5 – Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer

It is easy, when we are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough, it is your God-given right to have it.

I have this in common with Christopher McCandless. Having “worked hard” for everything I’ve accomplished in my twentysomething years (oh the sacrifices I have made, staying up late to study for the SATs, missing parties for weekend water polo tournaments, traveling to Paris only once over spring break so I could return in time to adequately prepare for school), I also feel entitled to what I want. If I worked for it, I deserve it, no?

People (non-me generation) are right to call out my demographic for our whining, our childish need for instant gratification, our demand for everything we want. It isn’t until we are faced with any kind of real responsiblity, hardship, or other maturity-inducing event can we wake up from our self-indulgent hazes, stop being brats, and grow up. Just because it is desired does not mean it is deserved. Once we being living for others, learn to be kind, and make actual sacrifices/concessions/compromises that alter who we are, we being to earn what we desire.

Christopher McCandless, so damaged by his relationship with his father, abandons his life, his family, his everything, to find Truth. I love that Jon Kraukaer, in his exhaustively researched account of this episode, does precisely what McCandless attempted to avoid by escaping to Alaska–Kraukaer connects the reader to Chris, drawing an incredibly intimate and emotional portrait of a lost twentysomething, misguided in his attempts to discover Truth by himself. The relationship between McCandless and Kraukaer, though never realized in person, is deeply felt by the reader. Kraukaer’s amazing journey to unearth the secrets of McCandless’s trip into the wild is stirring and dramatic. It is clear throughout the narrative that while many wrote off McCandless as an insane, underprepared, overprivelidged youth, Kraukaer understood the appeal of this type of quest. Having experienced a similar desire himself in his twenties, Kraukaer notes he too, “was stirred by the dark mystery of mortality. [He] couldn’t resist stealing up to the edge of doom and peering over the brink. The hint of what was concealed in those shadows terrified [him], but [he] caught sight of something in the glimpse, some forbidden and elemental riddle.”

It is tragic that McCandless died in the way he did, so far from those he loved. Though we can’t know exactly how he felt, Kraukaer’s book takes us inside his own struggle with his desire for Truth.

notice_evrytree’s #CBR4 Review #4: When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is simply an incredible comedy writer. He has a distinctive point of view, meticulous detail, and a brilliant eye for story. I find myself in stitches nearly every time I read his books. Though Sedaris is unarguably prolific in his writing, each anthology of comedic vignettes seems fresh.

I was particularly drawn to this anthology because of his focus on domestic life. Beyond tales of childhood, Sedaris talks at length over many stories of his life with his partner, Hugh. Their daily existences, fights, events, magical moments with crazy characters are all expertly illustrated so their relationship seems vividly real.

This anthology is a great introduction to his work because Sedaris gets more personal in this volume. Every story in every anthology is indeed about David, but his point of view as an adult is heightened in When You Are Engulfed In Flames. Many of the stories have a more clear, philosophical edge regarding what it means to be human in this insane world. And, of course, there are plenty of outrageous tales of sexcapades, dentures flying out of windows, and dressing as a hobo from the Depression Era with the explicit intent of pissing off your parents.

But isn’t that what being human is about?

notice_evrytree’s #CBR4 Review #03: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks

About 95% of what I read is fiction. The rest is mostly magazines. I’m taking the opportunity with CBR4 to expand my horizons. This time with science. I know, hear me out. The friend who recommended this book to me posited that scientists and artists are moving towards the same greater goal, just in different practical ways. At its core, bodies, ecosystems, solar systems are all the result of relationships. How does Body A communicate/relate to Body B? Isn’t this was Shakespeare and Tolstoy were also after? Demystifying the mysteries of the human condition by the careful examination of individuals? I hypothesized that I would find the text dry and quickly return to the next item of fiction on my list.

What surprised me most about The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat is how dramatic Sacks’s prose is. He writes of men and women who no longer recognize their lifelong loves, cannot use their hands or legs, or are trapped in the memory of one moment of time of their lives, refusing to accept an alternative (real) present. The writing is imbued with the same empathy and heart employed in the greatest works of fiction. Sacks moves beyond the circumstances of disease and draws the reader into the person’s altered narrative. How do we cope with tragedy? Loss? Anger? Suffering? He believes the larger goal of science is to look beyond the facts and figures:

“It must be said from the outset that a disease is never a mere loss or excess–that there is always a reaction, on the part of the affected organism or individual, to restore, to replace, to compensate for and to preserve its identity, however strange the means may be.”
I was completely engrossed in each clinical tale. I found myself drawn into these people’s lives, hoping the best for them and learning from their trials. I can’t wait to read another of Sacks’s books — Awakenings is on the list for later in my CRB4 journey!

notice_evrytree’s #CBR4 Review #02: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling is a first class example of a funny, hard-working woman in comedy. Along with Tina Fey, Maria Bamford, and Amy Poehler, she is probably one of my favorite female comics who also happens to be an impressive role model (nary a DUI on record). I strongly dislike the comedy of some women (not to like, name names, but maybe women whose names rhyme with Tarah Tilverman) who base their jokes on racial slurs and rape victims. Kaling knows how to keep it smart. I follow her on Twitter and read her blog religiously. Lady has it going on.

All of this said, I was not a huge fan of her book. Unlike Fey’s Bossypants, I didn’t find myself doubling over with laughter or running out of my apartment in my trackpants the second I was done, offering to buy a copy for everyone on the street (okay, I didn’t actually do that because I likely was wearing trackpants at the time, and I try to keep that in the home. No one wants to see me in my trackpants. Not even my roommate). Yes, I have also bought something that costs less than three dollars with my debit card because I never ever carry cash with me. I get that, Mindy. But I really did think your book lacked the depth necessary to be called really great comedy.

It’s an incredibly speedy read (clocking in for me at less that 24 hours to complete), so if you’re interesting in some (very) light reading, I recommend you pick it up.

Or, you know, read Bossypants again.

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