Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Death With Interruptions by Jose Saramago

I don’t care what you say about Portuguese communists, they write good books. Having heard of the passing of Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago earlier this month I thought I would kick things off with a review of his book about…well, death. That, and because we’re all going to die. Unless I’m wrong, and we end up living forever…but historically speaking it doesn’t look good for us.

For those of you not familiar with Saramago’s work, he is famous for exploring dark themes and human responses to the unimaginable. In Death With Interruptions, death (that’s with a lowercase “d” to you – she’s picky) takes a holiday and no one dies for a year. How do you face the possibility of not being able to die long after you’ve lost the ability to live? Is death doing us a favor by letting us linger at her door? And if there was a way to die, what price would you pay to make it happen?

There are not just personal consequences. Life insurance companies and funeral homes fear the collapse of their businesses. Hospitals scramble to cope as people continue to age and become terminally ill. Religion is hit hard. How can faith strongly steeped in the idea of death and resurrection exist when death is taken away?

In the second half of the book, death returns with a new plan. She resumes her duties, first by eliminating her backlog of overdue deaths and then by implementing the one-week warning. If you are slated to die in the next week, she will send you a lovely notice in a purple envelope so you can get your affairs in order. Is this really helpful? Is death again trying to do us a favor by giving us a head’s up before we die?

And from death’s POV, what happens when the living refuse to die? What does it mean when the purple envelope is returned unopened? And what, ultimately can cause death to discontinue her work to begin with?

A note about style: It will become very obvious very quickly that Saramago did not grow up with Schoolhouse Rocks. The book is marred by lack of appropriate punctuation, run-on sentences, and missing capitalization. Saramago is part of the Pulitzer club that likes to test the boundaries of proper writing style, not to mention the patience of his readers.

To conclude, this is a book I’m not likely to forget soon. Given our fascination with dying, Death With Interruptions makes for an interesting, compelling read if you can get past the author’s writing style. You will not be the first to think “Great story, but would it kill this guy (pun intended) to write normally?”

Posted by: Anne-Marie

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is a Young Adult book about a world called Panem, believed to be North America. Panem consists of The Capital, which governs twelves districts. At some point in the past, the districts rebelled against The Capital. The Capital squashed the rebellion and as a reminder of the failed act of defiance, they hold the Hunger Games. This is an event in which each of the twelve districts sends a boy and a girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, to compete in a battle to the death. Only one survivor remains and the winner's district receives enough food for the rest of the year.

The book has a Big Brother feel to it with a little bit of Running Man and even Alice in Wonderland mixed in. I felt at times that I was (along with the protagonist Katniss) the only sane person in a world of madness. Collins is able to weave contrasting images such as taking an event that revolves around violent death and mixing in extreme makeovers and romance without a second thought.

This book confused my sensibilities. In a way, it's a lot like a bad accident. I felt guilty for enjoying it but couldn't help but read on with morbid interest. Suzanne Collins created an entirely new world with its own customs, rules, and even animals. Her characters are colorful and her herione, Katniss, is a strong and complicated person. Using these things, Collins makes strong statements about war, violence, power, and humanity.

A great thing about this book is that it's the first in a three part series. So read the Hunger Games now, then the sequel Catching Fire, and you'll be just in time for the Mockingjay release in August!

Reviewed by Cathy

Monday, June 21, 2010

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Many, MANY people told me to read this book. For some reason I avoided it like the plague because it just seemed like it would be boring. But I will tell you now, I have never been so happy to be proven so wrong. Coming from me, that says a lot.

This book is slightly like The Notebook in the sense that it switches between past and present and is told through the eyes of 90 year old (or 92…or 93…he's not sure) Jacob Jankowski. When he was 21 Jacob's parents were killed in an auto accident the week of his final exams for Veterinary School. Like it would with anyone, this tragic event changed the course of Jacob's life. After the accident, he ran away and joined the Depression Era Circus (The year is 1931). I am a total sucker for historically accurate details, and it is clear that Sara Gruen has spent her time researching the way animals were kept, treated, and the general atmosphere of working in a circus during this time period. At times you will smile, but at many other times it will break your heart. You listen to Jacob's journey and the characters he meets along the way. While reading this, I got such a vivid picture from Gruen's details that you will start to get strong feelings (whether good or bad) about each person. I completely fell in love with Jacob as a character. He fights for the good of the animals and the performers in the show, especially an elephant named Rosie that the circus acquires along the way and her eventual human sidekick performer, Marlena.

I get a lot of people who ask me for book suggestions, and this is always at the top of my list. Whenever someone reads this they always come back to me to say they love it, and what a great suggestion it was. Believe me when I tell you that like me, you will not be disappointed by this book.

Posted by Amy

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer

Ok, let me start this by saying I'm a huge Twilight Saga fan, so it was going to be hard for this book to disappoint me. That being said, while it is not the best of the Series (They can't all have Edward's, Bella's, and Jacob's) it is still worth reading before Eclipse if you have the time. Being only 178 pages, that's probably doable for most people.

The biggest difference between this book and the others, is that it's written from Bree's point of view. In a way that was a breath of fresh air. As much as I love Bella (believe me I do) it was nice to not hear a character constantly putting themselves down. Bree is independent and had a lot more spunk. Because Bree was such a small character in Eclipse I was surprised that Stephenie Meyer devoted an entire Novella to her, but she was really the perfect character to learn how the newborns work. Stephenie Meyer created such a different type of vampire compared to the typical vampire folklore (burns in the sun, can be staked in the heart), you want to learn about how these vampires work. You will learn the back story of how she and Riley met, how she became a vampire, and how Riley trained the newborn army for the eventual showdown in Eclipse. While you learn about a few more vampires along the way, there aren't many characters you care to remember besides Bree, Riley, and Victoria (possibly one other depending on your preference, but I won't give the other characters away).

I think the only thing that bothered me is that I wanted to know more! I thought it would go more into the Battle scene and interaction with the Cullens and Volturi. You spend all of the Twilight books seeing through Bella's eyes, and when you finally get to see it from a different perspective the details come up short. Overall, it was a fun quick read that will prepare you for the movie Eclipse. But real Twilight fans will be waiting for the holy grail of the Twilight Saga to be released….Midnight Sun.

Posted by Amy

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

This is my all-time favorite book. I've read it four times. I know that's probably pathetic to a lot of people, especially Stephen King who said he doesn't reread many books because life's too short. Yet he'd reread The Story of Edgar Sawtelle which I haven't been able to get into after 179 pages (about 79 pages longer than I give most books). Of course, this is the man who goes on chapter long digressions in his own books, whereas I only digress for a sentence or two...

Anywho, this book is written by the man who prosecuted Manson and his co-defendants so there is a lot of detail and background information about the legalities of the case and how it was prosecuted. I recommended this book to a friend and she thought there was too much detail to hold her interest so I guess it just depends.

But the book has it all, drugs, sex, serial killers, creepy-crawling, cults, swastikas, Hollywood, and even The Beatles. I don't know how anyone couldn't love this book but if you read it based on this review and don't like it, don't worry, I'll finish it for you.

Reviewed by Cathy

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Book I'd Love To Read...

Pajiba asked its readers if you could recommend one book, what would it be? Along with a great list of books is this, my personal favorite:

Sisterhood of the Traveling Whatchamafrick - by Me. I'm writing it right now.

It's got everything a book needs - story stuff, sexy words, pages, people doing stuff, screaming people, cars, a Yeti, a relaxing canoe ride, two dudes talking about some things while their wives kiss each other, a wisecracking cow, explosions, a kind-hearted amputee, some stuff about morals, and a poem about a tire swing being a metaphor for Communism. Once I get a typewriter, all other books can take a goddam hike - this baby's gonna win one of them Prulizers or whatever...

Posted by: Skitz at June 14, 2010 4:13 PM

I wish I could be that inspired sometimes. Check out Pajiba to read more.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls had an eccentric life. Some would say her childhood was one of neglect, others might say what she endured was child abuse. And still others might see how a family tried to make the best of a bad situation, in which they might say the book is about a strange brand of hope. I think the book is about perspective, and how it can change depending on your attitude, your age, what you're told, or a million other things.

I am glad to say, I can relate little to Jeannette's upbringing. My family didn't constantly move in the middle of the night, my parents didn't let me cook when I was three, we never adopted a wild buzzard, I never ate the same food for weeks at a time (heavily spicing it when it started going bad), and I never had to worry about sleeping in a cardboard box or using a tarp as a cover because the roof leaked so badly. But what I like about the book is that because I cannot relate to much in it, I'm educated through Jeannette's narrative of a world I knew little about. I feel like my perspective on poverty, homelessness, and mental illness is a little bit different now.

This is one of the best books I've read lately. Jeannette Walls' upbringing is amazing, tragic, and funny at the same time. And it brings up a lot of interesting questions whose answers would be controversial at best; Do some people choose to be homeless? Is it better for a child to live on the brink of starvation in poverty with loving parents or to be in foster care? Can parents who treat their children the way they treated Jeannette and her siblings really love them?

You know you've read a great book when you want to learn more about it and find yourself searching the internet for more info. There's a lot online but here's one interview I found interesting: Jeannette Walls interview on gothamist.com

Reviewed by Cathy