Going paperless with my list. Here’s my paper notebook from October 1, 2007 through April 1, 2015. Sad to see it go….
In October of 2007, when I came home from my honeymoon, I started keeping track of the books I had read in a paper notebook. I’ve kept it on my windowsill for 7 and a half years and have recorded 310 books in it during that time. Tonight, I picked it up to add some titles I’ve read in the last few weeks, and I noticed tiny holes in several of the pages where something has BEEN EATING IT. The horror. I’d seen some silverfish recently, and I googled whether silverfish eat paper and found pictures that look exactly like the holes in my notebook. *shudder*
So, I’m scanning the pages of my notebook into this website and throwing out the book. Then, I’ll keep track of the books I read on the page listed above as Books I’ve Read.
Eat that, bugs.
Now, I’m off to exterminate the entire house….
I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn’t. The characters were not believable. The main character, Mireille, is a Haitian American woman who visits her wealthy parents in Haiti along with her American husband and infant son. While there, she is kidnapped and held for ransom, but her father refuses to pay on principle. She is held for 13 days, and she suffers all of the horrible things you could imagine happening to a woman kidnapped by a group of ruthless men. The story itself is compelling and dramatic. There were times it made me cry, and I certainly wanted to see what happened, but Mireille is just not realistic. She’s too passionate and colorful before her kidnapping, too injured and crazed afterwards. There’s no subtlety to it. I didn’t underline a single passage, which is highly unusual for me, and I think speaks to the type of writing used in the book – simplistic, unbeautiful. The short sentences – rather than make the story feel fast paced and raw – seemed gimmicky. An Untamed State got a lot of attention when it was released, so I was really looking forward to it, and I almost went ahead and bought Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist when I bought An Untamed State, but now I’m glad I didn’t.
Oh, I liked this book. The main character, Leo Gursky – a large, old, lonely, Jewish, Polish immigrant living in New York City – reminded me of the protagonist in A Confederacy of Dunces. Alternate chapters focus on fourteen-year-old Alma, holding her mother and brother upright after the death of her father and, meanwhile, searching for her namesake. The novel bounces back and forth between Leo and Alma, slowly and remarkably bringing their stories together in a very satisfying way.
Some passages I underlined:
“No jew was safe. There were rumors of unfathomable things, and because we couldn’t fathom them we failed to believe them, until we had no choice and it was too late.” p. 8
“I started to write again. I did it for myself alone, not for anyone else, and that was the difference.” p. 9
“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” p. 11
“…she’d be there, looking out the window or into a glass of water as if there were a fish in it that only she could see.” p. 44
“Perhaps that is what it means to be a father – to teach your child to live without you. If so, no one was a greater father than I.” p. 164
While at a single’s event at a museum, Benjamin Ziskind steals a million-dollar Chagall painting that once hung in his parents’ living room. While this begins the story, be forewarned – this isn’t a fast-paced art theft novel. Instead, its a slow-moving, gentle story of Benjamin and his family. Through the book, you learn how their history intertwines with Marc Chagall. I picked this book up after noticing it in the bookstore of the Tenement Museum in NYC and seeing that Lev Grossman wrote a blurb for the back cover. Overall, the main story didn’t capture my attention, but this book did make me want to find out more about the history of Jews in Soviet Russia. Additionally, there is a small section at the end (Chapter 19) that is so well-written and thought-provoking, it made the whole book worth reading. The chapter could stand alone, and I don’t know for sure, but I imagine it was a short story at some point. It salvaged the book.
Some lines I underlined throughout the book:
“…from the days when he had been a child prodigy, before he had learned the horrid truth that there is no such think as an adult prodigy…” p. 44
“You are seduced by beauty, and you think if you can write a pretty sentence about something, then it doesn’t matter where the story goes or how it ends.” p. 84
“As he walked back up the narrow staircase to his own home, he wondered if it was even possible to have happiness in a story, when one was required to imagine both a beginning and an end.” p. 88
“One night when he was still a young man, the headmaster dreamed that he had died, and had arrived in the next world. When it was the headmaster’s turn to appear before the divine throne, the Holy One took him by the hand and brought him to a small door. The door opened, and the headmaster found himself in a luminous room filled with books: shelves and tables loaded with books, manuscripts in high stacks all over the floor. The headmaster looked around the secret library and smiled. He was sure this room was the place that had been reserved for him in paradise. But as he reached to take a volume off the shelf, the divine hand suddenly grabbed his shoulder and held him back. ‘These are all the books you were supposed to have written,’ the Holy One said. ‘Why didn’t you write them?'” p. 194
A few months ago, I discovered BookRiot.com and, soon thereafter, the BookRiot weekly podcast. I listen to podcasts or audiobooks every morning while getting ready for work (my tiny reward for getting out of bed), and the BookRiot podcast has quickly become a favorite. I’ve even started following the hosts – Rebecca Schinsky, Jeff O’Neal, and Amanda Nelson – on Twitter. Yes, I know, I’m a nerd, but my husband is currently watching a tv show on paper airplanes, so at least I’m the least nerdy person in my house. Anyway, Rebecca Schinsky has mentioned The Sparrow no less than five times, so I finally decided to pick it up. It is, in short, a story about Jesuits in space. The long description isn’t much different – a group of individuals, including several priests, discover the planet of Rakhat and, funded by the Jesuit order, set off on a secret mission to make contact with the people of Rakhat – the mission trip to beat all mission trips. Early on, the reader learns that the trip goes wildly wrong, and only one member of the expedition returns. “The Jesuit scientists went to learn, not to proselytize. …They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the farthest frontiers of human exploration. …They meant no harm.” (Prologue).
The Sparrow is fascinating but dense. Its contemplative but humorous. The story is meticulously detailed, I suspect because the author has a science background. At times, it was to the point that I felt I could skim whole passages, but the writing is so beautiful that to skim would be a waste. The last 150 pages were fascinating and exciting, so I came away from the book loving it because of those last pages; however, I do remember that there was a point during the middle that I thought I may never finish it. It seemed ploddingly slow at times, but it rewarded with the ending.
If you enjoy speculative fiction or science fiction, this book will be an enjoyable challenge for you – its more difficult than other books I’ve read in those genres (excepting Margaret Atwood). If you’ve never spent much time with speculative fiction or scifi but like to read philosophical fiction, The Sparrow is a good cross-over novel for you. Set aside a good chunk of time – it took me a couple weeks to get through, which is an anomaly for me. It certainly won’t be a book that I re-read anytime soon, but I found it thought-provoking and am glad I made the effort.