26. My Favorite Book Quote

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.” ~Oscar Wilde

Sage advice. And he would know; he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray solely based on this idea.

There you have it: a month long inundation of (some of my) favorite books. There are quite a few I didn’t get to. It really is impossible to name a favorite without following it up with about 30 more titles. Each book is so special in their own way; our personal circumstances at the time of reading color our perceptions of the author’s words. So not only is each book special, each time we read a book is special.

Don’t believe me? My favorite book at 19 was The Catcher In the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I read it again at 37 and absolutely hated it. That Holden Caulfield had no idea what he was talking about. How could I have ever thought these ideas were profound? That is exactly why I’ve attempted reading Mrs. Dalloway so often. Each time I’m hoping the circumstances are ideal for me to get why that book is a classic.

For more of my opinions about books, friend me on Goodreads. I’m still reading and writing. I also post reviews of the books my book group reads, so if you don’t agree with my taste you’ll get 10 other people’s opinions too!

 

 

 

 

29. A Book I Hated

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

This is actually the review on which I’ve received the most likes. It appears I’m not the only one who did not appreciate this novel.

Nine Reasons I (strongly) disliked this book:

1. There is a snowflake diagram of poetry. I’ll say no more.

2. The main character is a whiny, infantile, grown man who falls in love with every woman he encounters. As is the narrator whose name happens to be the same as the author, and two of the young men who play huge parts in what little of the plot I cared for.

3. The author made himself a character in his ownstory. I don’t like that. I always wonder if they had writer’s block and couldn’t invent a fictional character to take the reins.

4. In the same paragraph the female lead character is described as “seething in hatred” and “laughing adoringly” at said whiny, infantile grown man. Bad writing, bad translation or intentional?

5. This story had no cohesion. Things just happened to the main character without much exposition. The exposition that did come was mainly philosophical and seemingly tangential. And if I have to read another sentence about whether a Muslim woman should wear a scarf or how beautiful and terrifying snow can be, I will go batty.

6. I did not understand the motivations behind most of the characters’ actions. I admit this may be due to my ignorance of the social intricacies of the Turkish realm. This book did not inspire me to find out.

7. As a poet, I hated that the main character wrote 19 poems throughout the novel, but the reader never got to read any of them. This point is explained in the story, but it still bugged me.

8. The author inexplicably tried his hardest to make the novel seem like a biography even though A NOVEL is featured prominently on the cover.

9. From this novel I am to presume that every Turkish woman is profoundly beautiful and that Turkish men can only drag themselves after these creatures in the hope of being noticed.

Bonus reason: two years later I’m still angry I read this book!

30. A Book I Couldn’t Put Down

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brown

An honest look at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl via her relationship with her uncle.

Carol Rifka Brown places you firmly in the 80s and then proceeds to “tug your heart in a million different ways,” as one of the book group members put it.

__________________SPOILERS AHOY! AHOY!_________________

We cried.

I was worried at the beginning that this book would be just depressing hit after depressing hit. And it was. But Carol Rifka Brown balances the heartache with honest, tender, beautiful moments that don’t feel manipulative; they feel like a family truly wrestling with life.

This book was very nostalgic. For anyone that lived through the 80s, you’ll go back to the terror and paranoia of that time regarding the disease. The scene when Danni freaks out over Greta’s use of the Chapstick reminded me of all the rumors that were spread on how people were contracting the disease. And when the book announced the invention of AZT, I was reminded of how far we’ve come. Brown handles these complicated situations with a deft hand and successfully turns this horrible time in history into a book that celebrates life, love, and the necessary awkwardness of our teenage years.

As a group, we mostly revisited the moments in the book that rang true with us. We talked straight for 2 hours, which is rare for a book that all of us liked. Usually when we all like a book, the conversation peters out a half an hour in and we move on. But we wanted to linger with these characters a little longer.

One of the members said he was apprehensive because he didn’t want to read “another AIDS book.” I agreed; not because the stories aren’t important, just that there are so many of them now and hindsight is 20/20. This book is not another AIDS book. June’s POV expands the narration beyond the disease and examines its effects on the people left, the people living now. Speaking of which, I really appreciated how June’s awkward and self-conscious teenage years pushed forward the events of the novel.

Even the peripheral characters—Mr. Elbus, Ben, Greta—were given unexpected depth in the very few words that described them. Other complications in these three character’s lives are hinted at and written in a way that elevated the story’s tension.

We discussed whether we thought the narration was written from the standpoint of June as an adult, or from the standpoint of June as a slightly older teenager. Her heartache and guilt felt very immediate. But that kind of emotion lingers in the body a while. So, I believe there’s no answer there.

Then, we shared our ideas of the significance of the title of the book. Each of us that shared had a different take on its meaning. That’s the sign of a good title.

I can’t express enough how important I believe this book is. It will/should be a key source for people who didn’t live through the onset of HIV/AIDS to understand the world at that time. I think it will be a long time before I read it again because it was such an emotionally taxing read, but the shattering of June’s perception of her perfect Uncle Finn was actually the culmination of Finn and Toby’s life together will stay with me for a very long time. I’m tearing up just typing about it.

Read this book.

The Book I’m Most Thankful For

Atlantis by Mark Doty

I don’t remember when exactly I read this book—it may have been required reading for a poetry class in college; it may have been after college when I still read and wrote poetry on a regular basis. Either way, I will never forget this collection.

The poems were written while the author’s partner was dying of HIV/AIDS. Helplessness is saturated into every word. Doty delves into long descriptions of beautiful textures and colors to distract him from the horror of his life. But there are poems like “Two Ruined Boats” and “Crepe de Chine” highlight the idea that there is beauty in decline, there is hope.

I attribute this book as the cause of my deep appreciation for reading things that are well said. For motivating me to get emotion and tone and detail just right. I attribute this book as the reason I write; for showing me how much power there is in the written word. I attribute this book for putting the fear of God in me about HIV/AIDS. I would have been 22 or 23, freshly out, vulnerable; but Doty’s voice is powerful and ominous: Anything is better than watching your loved one die and not being able to prevent it.

19. A Favorite Author of Mine

 T.C. Boyle, author of The Road to Wellville

T. C. Boyle has been a favorite author of mine since I read his book Drop City, about hippies that move to Alaska to live off the land, only to have nature squash their idealism. The book is hysterical. T.C. Boyle finds a way to lampoon his naive characters while still folding in a love for them. The effect from the reader’s standpoint is sort of like the feeling you get when your opinionated father spouts off about something political and contrary to your beliefs. You shake your head, but you want him to tell you more because it’s so entertaining.

T.C. Boyle is also very good creating a fictional world around real people. For instance, his book The Women revolves is a fictional account of Frank Lloyd Wright from the perspective of his four wives. Here’s an excerpt from my Goodreads reviews:

The title references an entire gender, but more specifically it refers to Frank Lloyd Wright’s four wives/mistresses. While Mamah Borthwick is probably the most famous of FLW’s harem for having been murdered by a servant, Olgivanna, Miriam and Kitty’s voices provide a subtler perspective into an American icon. T.C. Boyle’s writing is markedly restrained in this novel; tight, unadorned, focused (much like Wright’s architecture). He uses the narrator, a Japanese apprentice, well to explain why fledgling architects wanted to remain the assistant of a proven deadbeat, media whore, and egomaniac. The apprentices were consistently socially oppressed by the Wright family, even while Frank’s sexual meanderings were splashed across every newspaper of the time. The conclusion of the novel wraps up nicely, ending at the beginning and letting each of Frank’s amours segue into the woman before her.

My other favorite books by him are The Road To Wellville, Riven Rock, and Tortilla Curtain.

25. Most Surprising Plot Twist In A Book

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

A man has to confront his faults when his wife goes missing.

You have no idea how long I picked apart that sentence to make sure I’m not giving anything away there. Gillian Flynn executes a riveting novel with a twist I’ve never considered before.

___________________________SPOILERS AHOY___________________________
____________SERIOUSLY, SPOILERS WILL RUIN THIS BOOK FOR YOU_________________

I was expecting a big twist and I wasn’t disappointed. It was clever and almost believable. It was one of those twists where you HAD TO TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT IT NOW. When Amy admitted the original plan was to kill herself, I had to stop taking her character seriously. It took me out of the story and reminded me that I’m reading fiction. When she changed her mind, she earned back some of my respect—however much respect a blazing psycopath warrants. Amy’s character is all about gratification by seeing how her manipulations affect people. And she is so conscious of people’s behavior that it seems like she would  never have even considered committing suicide just to get back at people she barely likes.

Also, I was a little frustrated that every manipulation Amy concocted worked with no hiccups. I think one major miscalculation would have given Amy’s psychopathic behavior more authenticity. Maybe Desi doesn’t come help her, or Go finds the shack early, something like that. Yes, some of her clues didn’t surface as fast as she intended them to, but she had the back-up plan of anonymously tipping off the police. It was just a little too flawless.

Speaking of barely liking, I hated every character in this book, except Boney and Nick’s mom. I believe the author intentionally wrote unlikable characters, for god’s sake Amy didn’t even like her parents. Before the twist was revealed, I was pretty tired of reading Nick and Amy’s miseries with each other. I don’t think I would have put the book down, but I was getting huffy. Which is why I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5. For me, it lingered in the wind-up with detestable characters a little too long.

I really like what the author had to say about the media slant on nationally-televised court cases. And I very much appreciate the well-planned and cerebral mystery in this book. Gillian Flynn has a criminal mind. Despite the minor things I have listed above, this book is very well done.

UPDATE: A movie has come out since I wrote this review. It’s done very well. The author also wrote the movie script and the changes she made were wise – cutting the lawyer’s wife and getting into Desi’s messed up relationship issues more. The only thing I missed was that thrill of reading Amy’s confession that she’d planned it all. It just didn’t roll out in the movie like it stunned me in the book.

23. The Best Book I’ve Read Lately

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

The best read I’ve had in a while. Quick summary: Family secrets come out when a man is found wandering outside a studio exec’s office. But it’s really so much more than that.

Dude. Read this book! It’s funny, it’s well written, and it’s got a beautiful message. It’s been 4 days since I finished the book and I’ve already recommended it to people 6 times. I even recommended it to a stranger on the El. Every person in my 8-person strong book group liked this book.

SPOILERS AHOY

On a shallow level, you could tell people it’s an unkind look behind a Hollywood picture, the epic disaster (at the time) of Liz Taylor’s and Richard Burton’s movie, Cleopatra. But on a literary level, it’s about the difference between right and wrong. This book is about creativity. This book is about the algebra involved in living; the choices we make that add to or subtract from the sum that is our life.

Every one of Jess Walters’ messed-up and enjoyable characters’ lives has a purpose: sometimes to their detriment, sometimes to their glory.

I’ve complained before about books that bring up other formats in the story arc that the reader never sees. Like in Snow, the narrator is a poet, but the reader never experiences a single poem (just an uninteresting diagram of poetry in the shape of a snowflake). This book mentions a play, a movie script, and a WW2 biography. And eventually each format is naturally entwined into the plot line. The other formats add a lot to the story arc and they are just as entertaining (read in: fabulously ridiculous!) as the main story.

One of our members mentioned the care the author took to use font and style choices appropriate to the time in which the play, script, and novel would have been written. For instance, the WW2 novel was in very blunt typewriter font – appropriate for a novel that was written in 1942.

The only criticism that was brought up was the scene with Valeria cursing Michael Deane over the water. Her reasons for cursing Michael weren’t clear. I believe as far as the reader knows, the two characters had never interacted.

 

 

22. My Least Favorite Plot Device In A Book

Authors writing themselves into their book.

There isn’t much that will get me to quit a book after the first 100 pages. But I can tell you that as soon as a character with the same name as the author arrives, I’m done.  Some authors may think it’s cute; I think it’s a cop-out. I also think their editor just went along with it so they could be done with the author already. Here are excerpts from two of the standout novels I’ve read that have resorted to this device:

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

The author made himself a character in his own story. I just don’t like that. I always wonder if they ran out of ideas and put themselves in because it was the easiest way to take control of the plot.

My Little Blue Dress by Bruno Maddox

The author wrote himself into the story. That tells me right there that he knew his book was crap.

 

21. The Book I Tell People I’ve Read, But Haven’t

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill

I’ve picked up Mrs. Dalloway six times to try to finally and officially say I’ve read it without that pesky asterisk at the end of the statement. I just can’t do it.

If you read my Day 11 entry, you know I have an unpopular view of classic books. Mrs. Dalloway is the book I was thinking of when I wrote that entry. I understand that Virginia Woolf was introducing a new style of writing with the book. I understand that it was notable at the time for its feminist leanings and its stream-of-consciousness style. It just doesn’t make very good reading in this time in my humble opinion. Or as I write in my Goodreads review:

Torturous. Just buy the freaking flowers, Mrs. Dalloway!

The other book I haven’t been able to finish, but still say I read is At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill. This one I admit with a little shame. You’d think a gay historical love story set in Ireland would be right up my alley, but the book is written in a dialect that I have a hard time focusing on for longer than a page. I’ve tried three times to get through it. Despite many people telling me I should stick with it, I have been unable to.

20. My Favorite Childhood Book

 Nate the Great by Marjorie Sharmat

I know I could sound completely self-absorbed by admitting that this book is my favorite, but in my defense I was one of four Nates in my class and it was all of our favorite. Here’s why it’s mine from my Goodreads review:

 I am serious when I tell you that Marjorie Sharmat predicted my life:

I had a Big Hex-ish cat. I don’t like girls (in that way). And I am very good at figuring out household discrepancies using my basic logic skills. I even looked A LOT like Nate the Great when I was 7 or 8.

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The only thing that didn’t stick was the hat.