Sunday, August 29, 2010

What is Family?

If you asked a five-year-old this question, the child would have no problem answering it - family is the people who live with you at home, the people you're related to, the people who love you. The words would roll glibly off the child's tongue, and the child could return to its' play. As you grow older, however, the answer seems to grow increasingly complex, and the words don't always come as easily as they did when you were five.

"What is family?" seems to be the question asked repeatedly in Jennifer Vanderbes' novel Strangers at the Feast.

Strangers at the Feast is the story of a family gathering on Thanksgiving, 2007. It is told through the voices of many of the family members, as well as a black boy named Kijo is breaking into a house that Thanksgiving. The voices are interlocked, and the perspective changes frequently -- it could be dizzying, and hard to handle, but instead, it works together beautifully.

This book makes you ask yourself: "What is family?" It also causes you to wonder: "What if?" With all of the different opportunities to make choices in your life, how can you be sure you've made the right choice? And does it matter if your choice was the correct one or not?

I opened my blog post with the idea that to a child, the answers to questions that can really make us think as adults sometimes seem ridiculously easy to answer. I find it interesting that the only child's perspectives we receive in the book are flashbacks from characters who are now adult - and there aren't many where the adults are thinking back on a time when they were truly children.

I adored this book. It is written clearly, elegantly. It is interesting, it contains detail, it makes the reader think. Overall, this book is one that I highly recommend to anyone who is looking for good writing, as well as enjoyment.

One of my favorite qualities of this book is that it makes you think about very difficult issues, provides many perspectives on those issues, but doesn't really give a definitive view as to what perspective is the correct one.

Have you read this book? Did you like it? Why or why not?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

While some people secretly indulge in masturbation (in the living room with their friend sleeping next to them on the couch: or more dangerous activities such as self-inflicted harm, I am referring to the comparatively tamer pleasure of enjoying a book that's not very well-written.

We all have a few, right?

As a former fan of the Sweet Valley High and Fearless series(es), I probably shouldn't ever poke fun at what others read (but, of course, still do. Frequently).

For a long time, Stephen King was a guilty pleasure for me. I have recently come to terms with my love for the King, even writing a few blog posts about what an idiot I was previously. The best thing about guilty pleasures, however, is the ways that our mind attempts to find reasons that it's totally okay for us to like these things we think, for whatever reason, we shouldn't like.

If you're a more sophisticated person than me, you probably shrug, say: "It's not very good, but I like it," & continue to indulge yourself.

If you're of a more crazy variety (possibly like me, though I don't think I'd admit to it), you probably come up with "theories" explaining your liking for your guilty pleasure.

All of this babble is an attempt for me to explain my theory as to why Stephen King is the modern-day Shakespeare.

It sounds pompous, I know.

The Bard:

Stephen King:

It might be a little pompous. But I haven't had anyone shoot it down, yet, so my theory still flies around in my brain. (So if you're going to shoot it down, be gentle, lest you cause my brain to hemhorrage.)

My theory mostly has to do with quantity. I am amazed at the sheer amount of work that these two men have managed to create (for King, thus far) in their lifetimes.

Both Shakespeare and King are fairly literary. They were/are smart men who were/are well-read. (From henceforth, I'm going to refer to both Shakespeare's & King's qualities, attributes, & accomplishments in present tense.) They know how to make allusions, and to what they should allude.

Shakespeare and Stephen King also both write about the world in which they live. When you read The Dead Zone, you're reminded that things like speed limits on the highway, and a drinking age of 21 are relatively recent additions to United States law. You can imagine, 200 years from now, people reading King's books in history class, both because it was popular literature, and because it describes the time period we live in very well.

I think Shakespeare and Stephen King are good writers, but not amazing ones. My reasoning for this is probably entirely superficial - it's too easy to understand their work. Maybe I don't get all of the allusions made, but I also don't feel like I have to read a sentence twice to comprehend the meaning, or even just take in its' beauty again. Personally, I have never had trouble exchanging "thee" for "you" in my head, and so Shakespeare has never really seemed like a huge deal to me. I read a book like Nabakov's Lolita and think to myself: "Wow. That was amazing. I will have to read that book again." I read Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet and think to myself: "Wow. Those two were so STUPID. Just like my 18-year-old sister with her boyfriend-of-the-month." Both works have good writing, both works made me feel something, but Shakespeare and King don't make me think as much as I think a literary work needs to in order for me to hail it as something that NEEDS to withstand the test of time. There are the works I WANT my future children and other people's children to go on reading because they open your mind to new possibilities. And there are works like Shakespeare and King that I know my future children and other people's children will read because you can't go into a bookstore without seeing works by those authors, and so they will have some sort of opinion on the authors, just as I do.

With the amount of words that King has had published, I think the likelihood of his work surviving is high, just as Shakespeare's words have thus far survived -- and this is why, in my mind, King is the modern-day Shakespeare.

What is one of your guilty pleasures and/or conspiracy theories? I would love to read it/them in the comments below...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Who the hell cares about vampires anymore? Give me werewolves...

Today, I am going to be looking at a young adult book entitled Nightshade. I was lucky enough to receive an advance uncorrected galley, but the book itself will be released in October of this year, 2010.*

Nightshade was written by Andrea Cremer, a history professor who lives in Minneapolis, home of the Mall of America.**

To summarize, Nightshade is the story of Calla, a "guardian"*** who is very beautiful, has a pack of friends (also werewolves) over whom she presides, has been engaged to a very hot, very popular boy named Ren her entire life, and is fine with her life of glorified slavery until...

...she meets another cute boy named Shay.

I loved this book. I honestly wasn't expecting to like it very much, but I read it in its' entirety in two days.****

Andrea Cremer did a wonderful job of writing teenagers who are teenagers, rather than precocious pseudo-adults or annoying twats who learn all of their SAT vocabulary from bloated novels about sparkling vampires. Her teenagers seem like teenagers who are still interesting to those of us who aren't teenagers anymore.

At the same time, Mrs. Cremer writes about so much more than a group of teenagers and how they interact, entertaining as such subject matter is on its' own merit. In her writing, and the pact society she has created, Mrs. Cremer writes about feminism, and the importance of freedom as opposed to the easiness of tradition.

The complexity of this novel, paired with the wonderful characters whom the reader comes to know and care deeply about, make Nightshade a must-read.

So make sure you read it.

*Unlike L.J. Smith's Strange Fate, which I am STILL waiting on. I'm beginning to think her publishers just hate me.

**This is probably weird, but that is seriously the only thing I ever remember about Minneapolis, Minnesota.


****which, considering that it was in the middle of the work week, is quicker than it sounds

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

First Impressions: Jodi Picoult

So because I occasionally read another blog with an awesome name, I decided to try reading a Jodi Picoult book.

I had never read her work before because, quite frankly, I had seen a Lifetime movie based on one of her books called "The Pact," and it was really, really horrible, despite having the funny chick from Will & Grace, and I didn't think that the woman who wrote the book that inspired it was my style.

BUT, I trust Possum, who recommended her work to me.

To be fair, it was not as horrible as I expected. At the same time, I did not consider her work to be genius, nor particularly probing.

Jodi Picoult is lauded as a writer who makes her readers really think about difficult issues. So I guess I was expecting something new while I was reading Salem Falls.

In a nutshell, Salem Falls deals with the topics of rape and witchcraft.

I wouldn't say that Picoult dealt with it in a horrible manner. I thought she was sensitive, and I thought that she did a pretty good job of showing multiple facets of rape.

I also, however, thought her book was fairly predictable. The very end of the novel feels like it's supposed to be a twist, something the reader didn't see on a first reading. Well, I saw it, and I saw it within the first third of the novel, which is relatively early.

I did like that the ending wasn't quite so black and white. I was kind of expecting that all of the bad guys were going to be outed, and that the good guy (there was really only one) was going to be exonerated, and if the book had ended that way, I would be decrying it as a piece of unrealistic tripe.

Overall, I can see why Picoult is a bestselling author. Really, I can. It's because she writes like a romance writer, but one who can pretend her books aren't just about love and happy endings and sex. The core of her novels, however, is that love is redeeming. That it "lifts us up where we belong" as some idealist once sang. It's a nice message. Picoult doesn't present it in a very interesting way, however. She presents it in a predictable way.