Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Atwood’

11th Decade Roundup!

It’s that time of my reading life again, where I review the last ten books I read, pretend I can remember them all, and then take stock of what happened. It’s also that time of my blogging life where I’m incredibly frustrated because WordPress has eaten three of my blog posts in the last two days. C’mon, guys, get it together.

This was a pretty good batch of books. It was a good mix of books I knew I’d enjoy, books that were just enough of a digression from my usual taste to be a challenge without being annoying, and books that I really liked but never would have read otherwise. It’s pretty much what you’d want in a book grouping.

I started out with What I Loved, which was fine while I was reading it, but very much on the “meh” portion of the scale. It wasn’t awful but I didn’t love it. I’m glad I read it, I suppose, but I doubt I’ll read it again. Another book in the category of, “glad I read it, now let’s move on” was The Girls of Slender Means. It was more enjoyable than I expected it to be, but I’d be surprised if I ever revisited it.

Then there were the books about two very different boys who were actually pretty similar, in some ways. Huck Finn is always a classic, and if you dialed up Huck’s delinquency and sense of adventure and combined it with a bit of crazy, you’d have Francie Brady of The Butcher Boy

Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye was a bit of an emotional read, but it was okay because it was followed by two zany books by Douglas Adams. It’s always fun to revisit Dirk Gently and his friends, and it’s even more fun to try and explain what you’re reading to people who don’t know Douglas Adams.

Finally, I was thoroughly sickened and shocked by Lolitabefore being captivated by some Murakami magic in Kafka on the ShoreI rounded out the bunch with the amazing Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. I think Vonnegut is swiftly becoming one of my favorite authors.

My favorite book out the batch was definitely Breakfast of Champions. Vonnegut knows how to spin a phrase and play with language at least as well as Douglas Adams does, but there’s something about the way he weaves chaos through order and brings crazy insights into his work that I adore.

The reward for biggest shock goes to Lolita. I went in with bravado thinking that I was prepared and certainly wouldn’t be shocked like all those prudes who are sickened by books about sex. I was wrong.

And the book I liked the least was probably What I Loved. Like I said, it’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s just that it didn’t do anything for me. Not every book can.

Now I’m off to (hopefully) catch up on my post for the next book, House of Leaves, assuming WordPress stops eating my posts.

Quotes I’ve Loved, 2014

“…I attempted briefly to consecrate myself in the public library, believing every crack in my life could be chunked with a book.”
– Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

“…to this day there is something illusionistic and illusory about the relationship of time and space as we experience it in traveling, which is why whenever we come home from somewhere we never feel quite sure if we have really been abroad.”
– W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

“Darkness does not lift but becomes heavier as I think how little we can hold in mind, how everything is constantly lapsing into oblivion with every extinguished life, how the world is, as it were, draining itself, in that the history of countless places and objects which themselves have no power of memory is never heard, never described or passed on.”
– W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz

“Although I had no regrets, I told myself sadly, that growing up was not the painless process one would have thought it to be.”
– Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

“The twenties are as frenetic a decade as the teens. You have a voice inside your head repeating I want, I want, I want,  but you don’t know what you want or how to get it. You hardly know who you are. You go on instinct. And your instinct mostly pushes you toward adventures you won’t grasp until you look back on them. Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward, some sage once said.”
– Erica Jongafterword, Fear of Flying

“What you imagine is what you remember, and what you remember is what you’re left with. So why not decide to imagine it a little differently?”
– Jennifer Dubois, A Partial History of Lost Causes

“‘Louis XVI was executed because they considered him to be a criminal, and a year later his judges were killed too for something. What is wrong? What is right? What must one love, what must one hate? What is life for, and what am I? What is life? What is death? What force controls it all?’ he asked himself. And there was no answer to one of these questions, except one illogical reply that was in no way an answer to any of them. That reply was: ‘One dies and it’s all over. One dies and finds it all out or ceases asking.’ But dying too was terrible.”
– Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
– James Joyce, Ulysses

“By eight Greg and I were in Truckee. By eleven we were still standing on the hot side of the road trying to hitch a ride to Sierra City.
‘HEY!’ I yelled maniacally at a VW bus as it whizzed past. We’d been snubbed by at least six of them over the past couple of hours. Not being picked up by those who drove VW buses made me particularly indignant. ‘Fucking hippies,’ I said to Greg.
‘I thought you were a hippy,’ he said.
‘I am. Kind of. But only a little bit.'”
– Cheryl Strayed, Wild

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”
– Cheryl Strayed, Wild

“I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.”
– Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

“Knowing too much about other people puts you in their power, they have a chain on you, you are forced to understand their reasons for doing things and then you are weakened.”
– Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

“Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable, and see if we may not eff it after all.”
– Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

“I’ve had the sort of day that would make Saint Francis of Assisi kick babies.”
– Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

“Works that have a certain imperfection to them have an appeal for that very reason — or at least they appeal to certain types of people. [. . .] You discover something about that work that tugs at your heart — or maybe we should say the work discovers you.”
– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

“You’re afraid of imagination. And even more afraid of dreams. Afraid of the responsibility that begins in dreams. But you have to sleep, and dreams are a part of sleep. When you’re awake you can suppress imagination. But you can’t suppress dreams.”
– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Book #103: Cat’s Eye

Margaret Atwood is a great writer. Cat’s Eye is the third book by her that I’ve read. So far, it’s the one that I’ve enjoyed the least.

Cat’s Eye is the story of an aging artist, Elaine Risley, who’s returned to Toronto, where she grew up, for an art show commemorating her paintings. While preparing for the show, she reminisces on her childhood and wonders, especially, what happened to her childhood friend Cordelia.

Like most character-driven novels, I have a really hard time explaining much more about Cat’s Eye. Cordelia is at the center of Elaine’s memories, first as an elementary school “frenemy” and tormentor, and then as a best friend. Elaine reviews her life and the times that it intersects with Cordelia’s.

I’ll be honest: Cat’s Eye got a little personal for me. I have my own versions of “Cordelia” from elementary school and high school. When Elaine remembers some of what she was feeling as a little girl, feeling manipulated and tormented by her friends and how helpless she felt to do anything about it, it took me back to some of the things I remember from childhood.

Girls can be mean, especially to their friends.

That made Cat’s Eye a bit difficult for me to read at time. In spite of my connecting with Elaine in a pretty personal way, I feel a bit meh about Cat’s Eye. It didn’t do a whole lot for me, as a whole. Again, like I said with What I Loved, since Elaine is an artist, Atwood devotes a fair amount of time to describing her paintings. Since I’m not a particularly visual reader, a lot of this was lost on me.

The story wasn’t the best and I didn’t love the book, but I’m willing to be lenient since it’s Margaret Atwood. At least I know with her that even if I don’t like the story, the writing will be good.

Rating: ***
Up Next: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Super-Speedy Alias Grace

I’m coming at you from the free wifi in the airport as I wait for my flight.

I don’t have a ton of time, so this is going to be quick. I just want to get something out because I don’t know how much time I’ll have to write updates in the next few days.

I’m officially a Margaret Atwood fan. I read and liked The Handmaid’s Tale, but I’m always hesitant to make blanket statements about authors if I’ve only read one of their books. But now that I’ve read Alias Grace, I feel more comfortable saying that I like Margaret Atwood.

What struck me most about Alias Grace was how little I cared about the central “mystery” of the novel. The driving force behind the plot is probably supposed to be figuring out what actually happened when Nancy and Mr. Kinnear were killed. Doctor Jordan is unraveling some of the enigma that is Grace Marks. Usually when I read books where there’s some major question or mystery like that, I read frantically because I want to know the answer. That wasn’t the case here.

I found myself not caring that Grace hadn’t yet told us what she remembered of the day of the murders. I was just interested in her story. I could have read even more about her life as a servant and her changes between employers and not cared a bit. At one point I even forgot that there was a murder “mystery” (in quotes because the book isn’t really a murder mystery) that the plot was working towards resolving.

Oh man, flight boards really soon. Let’s see. Specifics.

Grace Marks was a real person. And she really was in prison for allegedly killing (or helping to kill) her employer and the housekeeper (who was her employer’s mistress). In real life she was an enigma. No one was sure of her sanity or guilt. Atwood does a great job of moving the book toward resolution while still keeping Grace enigmatic. The wrap-up is really, really cool, I think.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so all I’m going to say is that I read the “Spiritualist/hypnosis” chapter at 1 a.m. before bed. It was SO FREAKY. Wow.

What else?

I was struck by how well Atwood wrote the dream scenes in the book. A lot of times when characters in books dream, there’s really obvious symbolism that seems sort of forced or convoluted. Obviously in a book where a psychiatrist is talking to a murderess about her dreams the dreams mean something. But I don’t think Atwood made them overly obvious. At least, at no point during those parts did I sarcastically say, Gee, I wonder what THAT could mean…, which is a thing I do when there’s really obviously symbolism or foreshadowing in a book.

Overall, I’m a huge fan of Alias Grace.

Rating: *****
Up Next: A Home at the End of the World

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?
None!
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.

Book #19: Alias Grace

Next up, I’m reading Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.

I’m quite looking forward to it, I think. It isn’t my first Atwood; I had to read The Handmaid’s Tale for a class once. I liked it. I especially liked Atwood’s pacing and the way she revealed just enough about the world at just the right times. I’m assuming that Alias Grace will be like that. Except I don’t think it’ll be quite so dystopian, so maybe there won’t be quite so much to describe. At least not from the “This is totally different but a little familiar” standpoint.

As near as I can tell, Alias Grace about a young woman imprisoned for committing murders that she claims she can’t remember. She’s fairly enigmatic – some people think she is evil or insane or a femme fatale, others think she may be innocent. This is set in the mid-1800s, so perceptions of women were really different, and mental health as a medical field hadn’t really emerged yet.

A doctor in the newly-emerging field of mental health starts to question Grace. As he delves deeper into her mind and her past, he finds out more about the crime and the events surrounding it.

This book sounds fascinating. I read a chapter or two last night and I’m already pretty drawn in. I like Atwood, the book is really interesting so far, and I really want to keep reading.

We’ll see how much reading I can fit in between packing and getting ready to leave the country…

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