Sunday, May 25, 2008
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is one of those books that I can't believe I didn't read sooner. Luckily, the Numbers Challenge gave me just the motivation I needed to jump it to the top of the To-Be-Read list. Not to mention, a friend had "So it goes." tattooed to his arm. I had to figure out what that was all about!
Slaughterhouse-Five is the great anti-war novel with a sci-fi twist. I never read sci-fi. This was a stretch... but I'm glad I did it. Billy Pilgrim is a veteran of World War II and a witness of the bombing at Dresden. He is also at the mercy of the aliens of Tralfamadore who have gifted him with the ability to travel to different points in his life (although he cannot control it!). The story is told by whipping around to different stages of Billy's life, a very effective and surprisingly not confusing technique. The repeated refrain of "So it goes." helps to move the novel forward, despite the many tragedies it details. (However, at each "So it goes." my mind would automatically reply, "Kevin...Kevin's tattoo...")
One of my favorite bits of this book, is the alternate title. "The Children's Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death"
Reccomendation: Now is the perfect time for a classic anti-war novel.
Friday, May 23, 2008
I first heard about Anne Fadiman while listening to Nancy Pearl on NPR. Pearl was actually reviewing a different work by Fadiman, At Large and Small: Familiar Essays. However, when Pearl was asked which Fadiman essay was her favorite, she referenced a piece from Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. The essay she spoke of sounded so charming (the moment she officially felt married was when her and her husband merged libraries), I added it to my choices for the Non-Ficition Five Challenge.
Now, I like to read... but I made the fatal mistake of comparing my reading habits and knowledge to Fadiman's. No contest. Reading this book made me feel like an ignorant novice. Many of the anecdotes were cute and thoughtful... but others left me thinking, "Now I'm sure I've heard of that book before...or have I?" Fadiman assumes her reader has read it all... at least twice.
Recommendation: Unless you are a fanatical reader, don't choose Ex Libris as your first Fadiman selection. That being said, the cover is adorable.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
About a month and a half ago I was offered a really fun opportunity at work. Would I like to join the Culinary Roadtrip going to Surrey, BC to learn about Indian culture and Indian food and get paid to do so? Um... sure! We visited a variety of Indian businesses and sampled some delicious Indian food and sweets. Not surprisingly, this trip reinvigorated my interest in A Passage to India by E.M. Forster.
This is one of those books where you keep reading and turning pages, but not a lot is really happening. It is the story of a young British woman, Adela Quested, who travels to India to decided whether or not she'd like to marry a childhood friend, Ronny Heaslop. Heaslop is a civil servant deeply tangled in the British ruling society of Chandrapore. In a desire to see "the real India," it is arranged for Miss Quested to meet several local Indian figures, including Dr. Aziz.
The turning point in the book occurs when Dr. Aziz takes Miss Quested on an excursion to the Marabar Caves. It is interesting to note that even during the turning point of the novel (Miss Quested accuses Dr. Aziz of attacking her in a cave) nothing really happens as Forster cleverly leaves the encounter vague. When Dr. Aziz is put on trial, the tension between the ruling British and the oppressed Indians elevates beyond the British comfort level.
Forster examines the disdainful attitude of the British towards the Indians, and the complex attitude of the Indians towards the British. It is interesting to following the fluctuating emotions of Dr. Aziz as he feels frustration, an eagerness to please and feel valued, and finally an intense hatred of Brits and British rule.
This book took me longer than usual to finish. (Even my roommate noticed!) I think it must be due to the relatively subdued narration. I also noticed myself craving Indian food.
Recommendation: If you're not in a rush, A Passage to India is an insightful read, worthy of it's lasting reputation.