Posts Tagged ‘favorite books’

Book #109: Kafka On The Shore

I love Haruki Murakami. In fact, my first ever post on this blog was actually about his 1Q84 It’s not on the list, but probably only because my version of the list predates the book.

I like Murakami because his books are really metaphysical and they always take me to this weird headspace where I’m never quite sure what’s real or what’s going on in the book. Reading Murakami can really mess you up for a bit, if you let it.

I read Kafka on the Shore in college. It was my first Murakami, and I loved it. I liked it just as much this time around. Murakami does something where he takes you into a world that could be ours, and it seems like it is ours, but things are just different enough that you wonder if there are so many things we don’t know about in this world.

It’s actually really hard to write about Kafka on the Shore, because there’s a lot going on and so much to think about, but it’s hard to get anywhere without just describing the entire book in detail. Certain books can only really be discussed with other people who have read them. This is one of them.

Kafka on the Shore deals with two separate storylines that converge in the end. The first story is driven by runaway Kafka Tamura, the “world’s toughest 15-year-old.” Kafka runs away from his wealthy father, hoping to escape a horrific prophecy. He winds up at a small library in a small city in Japan, where he’s offered work by the mysterious owner and her assistant.

The second story is driven by an elderly man named Mr. Nakata, who, following a mysterious incident when he was in elementary school, has been left mentally challenged but with a special talent – talking to cats. After a disturbing event, Nakata meets up with a trucker named Hoshino, and they embark on a mysterious journey in search of the entrance stone, which must be closed before reality is affected.

The storylines converge in strange ways as the world becomes stranger and less and less like ours. It rains leeches and fish, ghosts exist and interact with the living, and spirits break free from their bodies. It’s really a book you have to read to appreciate.

It’s also a book that I can’t say more about without giving things away, and I really want people to read it, so I’m not going to.

Kafka on the Shore is beautiful. It’s well-written and metaphysical and metaphorical, with beautiful observations about music, reality, love, and so much more. At the same time, it’s also a page-turner in parts, and as Kafka, Nakata, and Hoshino are drawn closer to the center of things, it gets really hard to stop reading and return to reality.

Rating: *****
Up Next: Breakfast of Champions


Book #104: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

I. Love. Douglas Adams.

I first encountered Adams in high school when I went to see the movie “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” with my friends. It was silly and ridiculous and the humor was just my style. I fell in love with it and immediately read all the books in the series. They were awesome. I even named my car Marvin, after Marvin the Paranoid Android.

I read Dirk Gently in college, and it was such a pleasure. It was clever and fun, and I especially liked how well Adams worked in all the stuff with Coleridge and “Kubla Khan.” This was also about the time that I was into old-school Doctor Who, and when I figured out that Douglas Adams wrote the serial “City of Death” for the Fourth Doctor, I was surprised at how similar the plot of Dirk Gently was to it.

I enjoyed Dirk Gently just as much this time around. I still thought it was fun and clever, and I was still absolutely tickled with the connection to Coleridge and how Adams managed to tie up the threads of several seemingly unconnected and equally ridiculous plots.

It really is about the fundamental interconnectedness of all things

For me, I think, reading Douglas Adams is always going to be a sheer pleasure. He’s always zany, clever, witty, and hilarious. So much so that I read Dirk Gently’s sequel immediately after this one.

Rating: *****
Up Next: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Book #89: Fingersmith

Oh man.

Oh. Man.

For as much as I didn’t have anything to say about Christ Stopped at Eboli, I’m afraid that I’m not ever going to be able to stop talking about Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith.

I want to rave about it and scream about it from the rooftops so that everybody reads it.

Perhaps a more fitting title for Fingersmith would be “What?! No!” because that’s what I found myself saying repeatedly.

Fingersmith is a Dickensian-type story about con men (and women) and thievery that is riddled with plot twists and absolute shockers. I wouldn’t recommend reading it before bed, because there are all sorts of crazy what?! NO! moments that happen roughly every 60-70 pages. One night I accidentally stayed up until 3 am reading because there was an insane plot twist and I had to stay up and keep reading. And then I was so freaked out about what I read that I still couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was great.

Fingersmith is about Sue Trinder, an orphan who was raised by Mrs. Sucksby – a “baby farmer” who takes in abandoned children and sells them to people looking for children. Sue is raised to be a “fingersmith,” a petty thief who roams the streets of London stealing valuables and reselling them for profit – think Fagin and the Artful Dodger and their gang in Oliver Twist. When Gentleman, an “honorable” con man, comes to Mrs. Sucksby’s house with a brilliant con, Sue is tapped to help.

A young gentlewoman named Maud Lilly is in need of a new personal maid. Miss Lilly lives with her uncle in an isolated country house, and Gentleman has plans to woo her, marry her, commit her to an insane asylum, and make off with her inheritance. Sue will help convince Maud to fall in love with Gentleman and make sure the plot goes off without a hitch.

That’s the basic plot, but Fingersmith goes off in all sorts of CRAZY directions, until you’re not sure what’s going on. It’s crazy.

And I love it. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much fun reading a book. I literally could not put it down. I want to buy copies for everyone I know, give them to them, sit them down, and make them read it. I will watch them read it so that I know they are actually reading it.

I recommend this book to everybody. EVERYBODY. I need someone to talk to about it. So read it. It will go fast because you won’t be able to put it down. You’ll be shocked.

I guess I should also add this disclaimer (that’s only a tiny spoiler compared to the HUGE turns this story will take): there might be some lesbian undertones. But don’t let that be the whole plot. People on Goodreads are all, “IT’S LESBIAN DICKENS!!!!” That’s true. There are some lesbians. But that’s not at all the sole focus of the book.

Read it. Read it, read it, read it. And then freak out to me in the comments.

Rating: *****
Up Next: Call It Sleep

Fifth Decade Roundup!

Here we are at the end of the fifth set of books I’ve read for this project.

This was an interesting group. I had several really long books, so it took me a lot longer to get through this set than others.

It wasn’t a great decade for my mental wellbeing. There were a lot of books that made me feel pretty nervous: a creepy stalker novel that made me never want to look a stranger in the eye again, an excellent nonfiction account of a cold-blooded killing. and a sci-fi book that made me feel like I was going insane. And then, of course, there was the confusing, intriguing, and wonderful book about a hermaphrodite, which completely rocked my world.

With The Pilgrim’s Progress and The Enormous Room were very philosophical and religion-based. They were good for making me think about the world in a pretty cool spiritual way. Virgin Soil also painted a frighteningly prophetic picture of pre-revolution Russia and the revolution to come.

Then, of course, there were the behemoths: Parade’s End, the monster four-books-in-one tome about the social upheaval caused by World War I and the death of the Victorian Age; and Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s monster of a book. Of course, neither of them were actually tomes because I read them on my Kindle. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get to physically see the progress I made with these 800-and-900-page monsters.

Howards End also dealt wonderfully with social changes in turn-of-the-century England, though pre-war, if I recall correctly.

This was, to say the least, a great set of books. There were very few that I didn’t totally enjoy. In fact, I absolutely loved most of them. It’s going to be very hard to pick a favorite (though I think I have).

The biggest surprise was Howards End. I’m not usually a fan of novels like this, but I really liked it. The quotes and the reflections were good and, against all odds, I found myself caring about the two main characters and actually being interested in their lives. For some reason, when the main characters are Victorian-ish women, I just never care that much about them. Usually they bore me. But not so with Howards End.

The book I liked the least was The Pilgrim’s Progress. I was excited to read it because of its religious importance over the years, but it really didn’t do much for me. I think the “metaphors” were just way too strong and I didn’t get the joy of drawing the parallels and conclusions myself. I need that in a book.

I’m adding a category this time, in honor of Les Miserables. This book has the honor of being voted least likely to be turned into a musical.

The book that, I think, I would most enjoy seeing in musical form was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It could, of course, turn very silly, but I think that with the right songs and the right writer, it could be interesting to see on stage. Can someone get on this, please?

And now, I suppose, I have to choose a favorite. It really was quite close. It hasn’t been this close since I couldn’t choose between A Home at the End of the World and The Shining (which, by the way, after like six months I finally settled on The Shining). This decision was even harder. I love, love, loved In Cold Blood. It was fantastic. But I also really liked MiddlesexSo I’m going back and forth between these two.

But I think I’ve decided on MiddlesexEugenides is a great writer and the story was so unique. Not only was the subject interesting and the narrator totally different than anything I’ve read before, but the way Eugenides told the story was also different and unique. It was a new, exciting read and I enjoyed it very much. You all need to go read it. Right now. Please.

Book Survey!

1. Favorite childhood book?
The Harry Potter series. Or The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews
2. What are you reading right now?
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.
3. What books do you have on request at the library?
4. Bad book habit?
Sometimes I read ahead.
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
Alias Grace and Foundation.
6. Do you have an e-reader?
I just bought a Kindle. I feel like a book nerd sellout, but I’m moving to a non-English-speaking country and I need a way to keep reading. Reading on an e-reader isn’t ideal, but it’s better than not reading at all, or only having access to the 2 or 3 physical books I’m bringing with me.
7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
When I was little, I’d get a stack of five or six of those Mary Kate and Ashley mystery books. I’d read a chapter of one, put it on the bottom of the stack, and read a chapter of the next. And in college I also had to read tons of books at once and I never minded. But lately, I’ve found that if I’m reading more than one book, I get stressed out about which one I should read and if I’m neglecting the other one.
8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
This is an interesting question. I guess I still read as much as I normally would, it’s just that now I have to make sure I’m making progress with all my books. I guess if anything, it’s changed my reading selection.
9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
Out of Africa. I wanted to enjoy it, but I didn’t.
10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Oh, man. It’s a three-way tie between Corelli’s Mandolin, Dandelion Wine, and Lamb.
11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Since I’ve started this blog, fairly often. Though I don’t think I really have a comfort zone when it comes to reading. I’m willing to give anything a try.
12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Like I said, I don’t really have a “comfort zone.” I mean, I’ve read and enjoyed Faulkner and Virginia Woolf and some postmodern stuff. And that’s pretty damn uncomfortable. But if this is a way of asking my favorite genre, it’s Fantasy.
13. Can you read on the bus?
I’m not in a place where there are buses to take, but I’m sure that I would if I took the bus.
14. Favorite place to read?
Here it’s on the deck overlooking my back yard. At school it was in the fort under the spare bed.
15. What is your policy on book lending?
I don’t like lending people books. Probably because I suck at returning books I’ve borrowed (I borrowed a series from a friend three years ago. I still have it. Oops.). But often, when I love a book that I’ve read, I all but force people to borrow it from me. Once I even went out and bought a copy of a book I’d just read so I could lend it to someone.
16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
I used to, but I don’t so much anymore.
17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
I did for school. And I did when I was reading Pynchon. I would do it again if I ever feel like I have interesting things to add. I like annotations.
18. Not even with text books?
Yes, I even do in text books. Well, I was an English major, so most of my class books were novels. Actually, I’m far more likely to write in the margins of a novel or book of poems than I am a text book. Because with text books I just take notes.
19. What is your favorite language to read in?
English. It’s the only language I’m able to read much in. But I’m working on reading in German!
20. What makes you love a book?
The language, mostly. And the story. I like books that make me laugh, then cry, then throw them across the room in frustration, only to immediately run over and pick them up again. I like books that make me think and see the world in a different way. Also, if a book sucks me in so completely that I have trouble getting out of its world, that’s good too.
21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
See what I said in #20.
22. Favorite genre?
Fantasy. Like I said.
23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
Historical monographs. I majored in history as well as English, and I don’t read enough historical books as I think I should. Especially because when I do buckle down and read them, I enjoy them.
24. Favorite biography?
I haven’t read a lot of biographies, actually. I’ve read several memoirs, though. So I guess if we can count those as autobiographies, my favorite would be If This Is A Man by Primo Levi. If we aren’t counting memoirs, then I can’t answer this.
25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
I had to read a few for a rhetoric class.
26. Favorite cookbook?
I….don’t have one?
27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Oh, wow. Um. I think
28. Favorite reading snack?
I don’t really have one, I don’t think?
29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
I can’t really think of any. I don’t usually base my decision to read or not read books based on hype. But I guess usually if I hear people talking about how a certain book is SUPER amazing, I build it up too much in my head and then I’m underwhelmed.
30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I don’t really pay attention to critics. In my experience, they like all the weird things and don’t like many of the good things.
31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
Fine, as long as I have reasons other than, “OMFG diz book so stupid lolz TV 4evr.” There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I didn’t like this, and here’s why.” I’m going to read things that I don’t like.
32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
All of them. But probably German and Russian most of all.
33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read? 
Probably To The Lighthouse. I knew it was stream-of-consciousness and kind of “out there” and hard to understand and I was so afraid that I wouldn’t get it and then I wouldn’t be able to discuss it in class. I really wanted to be one of those people who likes Virginia Woolf (because, you know, liking Virginia Woolf is such a Type) and I was afraid that it would go over my head. Thankfully, it didn’t (does being intimidated because of my impression of a book count as hype?).
34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It’s just so big and it’s supposed to be so good and his mind is so awesome and what if I’m not good enough for it??? Also pretty much anything by the Russian writers. Except now I’ve conquered Brothers Karamazov so I’m not as afraid.
35. Favorite Poet?
T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman. Also, John Keats if I’m in the mood to swoon.
36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Usually between 4 and 6. When I was younger it would be more like 10-15, but I could never read all of them before I had to return them, so I learned to scale back.
37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
Not that often. Just when I checked out too many and couldn’t read them all in time. That happened a few times in college when I’d be like, “I’m going to read THESE FOUR BOOKS for leisure” and then my courseload would be like, “Heh, no you’re not.”
38. Favorite fictional character? 
This is a hard question. I don’t like this question.
I guess I’m going to fall back on Rhett Butler. Because, well, Rhett Butler. You Austen-heads can take your Mr. Darcy. I like my scoundrel Rhett.
39. Favorite fictional villain?
Does Satan from Paradise Lost count as a villain? Because him. Otherwise, Ambrosio from The Monk because he’s just SO bad.
40. Books you’re most likely to bring on vacation?
In college it was always the books I wanted to read but couldn’t because of school. But it would probably be something in the fantasy genre, like part of the Song of Ice and Fire series.
41. The longest you’ve gone without reading.
Not longer than a few weeks.
42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Hmmmmm. I don’t remember. Since I started using Goodreads, I usually force myself to finish books. But I didn’t finish this really dense history monograph called A Consumer’s Republic
43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Sound, the TV, thoughts, the internet.
44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
Lord of the Rings. Also, for some reason I really thought they did a good job adapting Atonement.
45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. They didn’t win the Quidditch Cup, left out most of the stuff about the Marauders, and what the hell was up with that clock?
46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
More than fifty dollars.
47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Depends on the book.
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
If it was poorly written or I really wasn’t enjoying it. But, I mean, I fought my way through The Corrections and Zofloya (though that was for a class), so we know I’m capable of forcing myself through just about anything. I suppose if a book was really offensive, I’d stop.
49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Semi-organized. I organize them in a way that makes sense to me, but not to anyone else. But I’m not especially strict about it.
50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
I keep most of them. But more and more, I like the idea of passing them on to someone else. I have to balance that with my dream of having a HUGE personal library someday.
51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
A Casual Vacancy. I’ll probably wind up reading it, but I’m so afraid that I won’t like it. JK Rowling was SUCH a big part of my childhood. I know that there are some prose issues in Harry Potter, but I love those books so much that I’m able to ignore them. I’m afraid that I won’t be able to do that if there are problems in A Casual Vacancy and then JK Rowling will be ruined for me. I kind of want to just let JK Rowling stay in my childhood.
52. Name a book that made you angry.
The Tao of Pooh. He spent a whole chapter hating on scholars and being like, “There are all these people who feel like they have to KNOW things and who want to just keep learning and learning and knowledge is worthless and does them no good.” It just sounded SO anti-scholarship and academia, and that’s the world I want to spend the rest of my life in. It bothered me.
53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
A Separate Peace. I read it in my freshman English class in high school and did NOT like it. I reread it a few summers ago and it turned out to be one of my favorite books ever.
54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. I read an absolutely beautiful New Yorker piece by him and had heard great things about him. I expected to love The Corrections. It turned out to be kind of terrible. More recently, I expected to like White Teeth more than I did.
55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
All the reading I do is for pleasure. But I guess any young adult literature would fall under this category. I’m probably being unfair, because there’s really good YA stuff out there.
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