Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “literature”

Katie’s #CBR4 Review #49: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Title: Eat, Pray, Love
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Source: library
Rating: ★★★★★
Review Summary: A humorous and relatable story with such great characters it’s hard to believe they weren’t invented just for this book.

What do you do if you have everything you “should” want and are still unhappy? In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert shares her story of leaving it all – a promising career, a comfortable home, and even her marriage – to travel the world in search of happiness. Like Cecilia Ahearn, I expected Elizabeth Gilbert to be too “girly” or emotional of an author for me and was pleasantly surprised. Of course, the book includes many emotional topics, such as the author’s agonizing divorce proceedings, but she describes everything in a relatable, humorous way. She comes across as very down-to-earth and comfortable laughing at herself and never became too angsty.

Read more on Doing Dewey.

 

Jen K’s #CBR4 Review #18: Q

Time travel, love story, New York.  Definitely recommend this one, though don’t necessarily read it if you just want an epic love story in the vein of The Time Traveler’s Wife.  While the love story frames the novel, there is also a certain amount of satire and humor.  Also, Freud and eel testicles.

Samantha’s #CBR4 review #13: The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov

What would happen if Satan came to town? Well, in Moscow, at least, various members of society find themselves either dead or in an insane asylum; a sold out seance at the Variety Theatre exposes the greed and hypocrisy of the upper classes, an entire office finds that they are compelled to break into song every five minutes or so, and there are some exceedingly strange goings-on in a certain apartment building  recently occupied by Mikhail Berlioz, whose death signals the opening strains of the madcap symphony wrought by “Professor Woland” and his merry band, and that’s just for a start. Meanwhile, Ivan Homeless, a poet who is among those committed, meets his neighbor at the asylum, an unnamed “Master” whose life disintegrates after Moscow’s literary critics lambast his opus magnum, a novel about Pontius Pilate. The Master mourns the loss of his beloved mistress, who he believes has forgotten him. She, however, when approached by one of Woland’s henchmen and offered a chance to make her dreams come true, finds herself the hostess at Satan’s ball. If she manages to get through a never-ending night of hobnobbing with a glittering company of evildoers, Margarita will have the opportunity to reunite with her lover. Would you make a deal with the devil for eternal happiness?

Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, published posthumously in 1966, is a completely fascinating and mind-boggling read. I will admit that I spent the entire first half of the novel asking my husband, who’d read it before, when it would start to make any sense. After a while, though, the beautiful language (apologies for not remembering which translation I read), the entertaining characters, and the wildly imaginative story won me over. In the end, while The Master and Margarita is still slightly confusing, it proves itself to be a incredibly constructed study in the dichotomy of human nature, and a biting critique of Soviet society. The story-within-a-story, about the judgement and execution of Jesus Christ from the perspective of Pontius Pilate, is equally fascinating. Bulgakov paints “Yeshua” as merely a kind of free-thinking hippie who manages to run aground of important people, and Pilate himself as a political pawn. He’d rather have hired Yeshua on as a kind of philosophical advisor, but circumstances beyond his control force him to condemn the man to death.

This notion of Pilate as merely human instead of one of history’s most well-known bad guys exemplifies Bulgakov’s theme of good and evil, but the more fascinating example is Woland himself. Throughout the novel, there is no real instance of him being responsible for any evil-doing; rather, it is his henchman who cause all the trouble. There is a point at which Woland refers to himself as a “department,” suggesting that (much like Pilate) he, and by extension his opposition, are merely doing a job that may or may not reflect on any personal ideal. His treatment of Margarita and her Master, in fact, suggests that he is more a sympathetic soul than anything else. I think that one could persuasively argue that Woland, far from being the villain of the story, is in fact its hero. He and his compatriots come to Moscow to punish the guilty and enact justice for those who have been treated unfairly. That their means are, well, devilish may give the lie to their ends, but that doesn’t necessarily appear to be what Bulgakov wants us to believe. His obvious contempt for the bureaucratic society he is satirizing comes through at every turn. That the novel was heavily censored in Russia upon its original release may serve to prove his point.

Russian novelists, regardless of what century they were writing in, seem to be a wordy bunch. Bulgakov is no exception here, but unlike some of his predecessors, I think the events of The Master and Margarita keep the novel moving along at a good pace. There’s something for everyone here: politics, poetry, romance, humor, drama, sex, violence…  If one can avoiding losing patience with the early chapters, which seem rather disjointed and haphazard,  this is a truly imaginative and fantastical novel; a little confusing, but ultimately worthwhile.

 

 

HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Book Review #42: The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

This book was fascinating. It was one of the more challenging things I’ve read recently. The book tells the story of a teacher who has an affair with a high school student. The book covers the reactions of the other students, and a local theater that uses the story as inspiration for a wildly creative play in the spring. The chapters about the girls are told chronologically; the theater pieces are non-linear. And it becomes increasingly difficult to identify the line between what is real and what is the play as the worlds start to collapse in on each other.

Part of what made this so gripping was that the books discusses the girls’ reaction to the scandal in an uncomfortable way. Some of the girls find themselves jealous, wondering why the teacher told her and not them. And some find themselves recognizing their own sexuality for the first time, although they’re still so young (is high school young? it feels far away to me).

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HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review 40: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending is a story about memory. The book has a simple premise: the narrator tells us about events that happened in his life roughly while they are happening. And then, many years later, while in his 60s, the narrator revisits those memories – adding in what he forgot, embellishing, and seeking out the truth about the gaps in his knowledge.

The idea of the book itself is fascinating. Memories really do change over time. Sometimes, as time goes on, you look back on certain events and re-imagine them happier. Or re-imagine them as more tragic. Or assign them a meaning or significance that only becomes apparent as you get older and you start to learn more about yourself.

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HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #36: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

I’ve been tabling this review because I truly loved this book, and I’m not sure how to review it in a way that does it justice.  The Dovekeepers is a work of historical fiction that tells the tale of the Jewish resistance during the Roman’s siege of Masada in the first century.  900 Jewish men and women held out against the Romans for months, and ultimately, 2 women and 5 children survived.  Hoffman used meticulous research to weave a mystical tale of desire, family and friendship that gives a voice to the women who participated in the siege.

The book is told in four pieces.  Yael is the lion, a young girl who’s mother died in child birth who flees her home city with her assassin father and her brother’s best friend. Her illicit romance, her betrayal of her confidant, and her seeemingly magical ability to attract both humans and animals with her silence is oddly compelling.  Revka, the baker’s wife, serves partially to set up the romance of the book but also as proof of a mother’s capacity for vengeance.  Aziza is a warrior, disguising herself as a boy to defend her people and falling in love with a man everyone else thought was broken. Shirah is a “witch” of sorts, who uses her powers for good – like aiding women giving birth to illegitimate children – and her own ends – like protecting her children or ruining her lover’s wive’s life.

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Katie’s #26 #CBR4 Review: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr. Ripley is not a book I would have picked up on my own for fear it would be too dark.  However, I’ve been enjoying doing group reads a lot and this was the next book for the Constant Reader Group on Goodreads.  The book tells the story of Ripley, a man sent to Europe to talk an acquaintance into returning to the United States.  Instead, he begins desperately wishing he has his acquaintance’s life and even murder won’t prevent our amoral protagonist from achieving his goals.  I’m sure you can see why I was worried about it being too dark!

Read more here…

Katie’s #18 #CBR4 Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn follows Francie Nolan as she grows up in Boston as part of a poor, second-generation, American family.  A major theme running throughout the book is Francie’s mother’s focus on seeing her children educated and giving them a better life than she herself had.  Francie’s own love of reading and education was to me one of the most endearing parts of the novel.  As a bibliophile, it’s hard not to fall in love with a precocious little girl who’s decided to read through every book in her library – what she thinks is every book in the world.  This is a small spoiler, but I think the fact that Francie eventually got her education was crucial to my enjoyment of the book.  I’m someone who prefers happy endings any way and to have someone so in love with learning be stuck working menial jobs forever would have just been too heart breaking.

Read more here…

trib’s #CBR4 Review #4: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

Everything about The Swerve hits the right places for me – mysterious documents, Renaissance treasure hunters, the humanist movement – and it’s a real pleasure to read. Inspired into reading this book by attending the fantastic Renaissance exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia and it’s little cousin Handwritten at the National Library nearby, I was not disappointed.

More than anything, reading The Swerve evoked memories of reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, minus the murderous activity, but with no less intrigue, church suppression and attempt to control the intellectual agenda. I’m now more than tempted to track down a good translation of LucretiusDe rerum natura and read it, just to see what all the fuss is about.

You’d have to imagine a professor of English literature can turn a word, and in Stephen Greenblatt we have someone who can do just that. He tells a rollicking tale, exploring not only the search and emergence of Lucretius’ epic, but also of the intrigue and harshness of the Papal curia and those in orbit about it.

If the Renaissance, history, literature or humanism are at all your bag, I commend The Swerve to you unequivocally.

It’s worth noting that there are extensive notes in the book, referenced back to the text. However, my copy had no forward referencing or footnotes, so they stand somewhat isolated in the physical book. The Kindle edition, however, uses extensive hyperlinking throughout; both forward to notes and back to the text.

Oh, and if you are in Canberra, I cannot recommend highly enough that you visit both Renaissance at the National Gallery of Australia and Handwritten at the National Library.

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