Sunday, July 19, 2015

Joint Book #3: The Night Manager

This is not the version I have.
I just like tigers.
Dear Jenny,

We chose this book back in the comments of this post when we decided to do four shared books this year -- this is our third (the others were The Sandman #1-20 and On Beauty). I diverted from our normal numbering scheme because I have not quite finished my #6 (finally fell behind with Roald Dahl) and you're on #8. So I've called it "Joint Book #3," as you can see.

So... why this book? Well, my grandfather was a big reader. Like... stacks of books all over the house, all the time (sound familiar?) I never saw him without a book tucked under his arm or by his side. He read all kinds of books (as you'll recall, Tess was one of his favorites) but he loved the spy/thriller/mystery genre most of all... and John le Carré was at the top of that list. This is not a genre I usually (or ever) read, but since it was on that original Top 100 list, this has gotta be one of the good ones.

It's set in 1991, which means... pre-easy-access-Internet and pre-mobile-phones-everywhere. I look forward to how they perform their spy antics without those forms of communication!

Discussion Schedule

Here's our schedule for reading and discussing the book -- the first three are Skype dates and the final one is in person. (Yay!)
  • July 24: Chapters 1-8
  • July 31: Chapters 9-16
  • Aug 7 (maybe push to Monday, Aug 10? We'll talk.): Chapters 17-24
  • Aug 14: Chapters 25-31  
So we'll chat about the first 8 chapters this Friday. 

Some Random Facts

"John le Carré" is a pen name. Before becoming an author, he worked for British Intelligence and The Night Manager was his first "post-Cold War" novel. He's got a pretty terrific "About" page on his site -- check it out.

The Night Manager going to be made into a miniseries in 2016. It got green lit in January 2015, so I'm pretty sure they saw it on our blog and thought it was a good idea -- why else would they dig up a 22 year old book to make into a new miniseries, right? Heh.

This might explain why you were unable to find a copy of it -- they're probably phasing out old versions and will soon be selling new ones with the actors on the cover (doesn't explain the lack of Kindle version, though...)

Speaking of the cover -- I wish I had the tiger version pictured above. But mine looks like this.

All right! Let's get reading -- are you a regular spy novel reader? I think this is my very first!


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jenny's 7.15: Command and Control


I know we have The Night Manager on deck for July, but I ended up feeling a little panicked about the back half of the year. As it turns out, I'm going to have to take 2 classes in the fall quarter, and I thought if I could maybe be ahead of the game, it would be better.

The first week of summer vacation, I read a bunch of books---along with The Shining Girls, I read at least 4 or 5 others. SO SATISFYING. One of the books I read was called Voices from Chernobyl, which is an oral history of those who survived the disaster. Um. Harrowing. But, it also reminded me that I have another nuclear book on this year's list, Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser. I was also reminded of this book when I read another nuclear-themed article in the New Yorker by the same author.

I had picked this up in March and read the first 30 pages, but then the rest of the school year happened and I just never got back to it.

I've read about 150 pages so far, it's very readable and fascinating. I hope to finish it this week before starting The Night Manager. 

Any ideas about our plan to tackle that one?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Completed: The Shining Girls


What are we to make of the time-travel trope? Obviously, it speaks to very real desires, perhaps the most human desires of all: to know what will happen and to fix what has happened. I can trace my love of the time-traveling genre pretty much straight back to 1985, Marty McFly, and a time-traveling car. Of course, there was also A Wrinkle in Time, but the thing I remember the most about that book was a giant, creepy brain at the end. [You know, we should reread some our favorite childhood books here, saying what we remember from them, and then read them and see if we were right.]

It's funny, though, although I like time-traveling movies, as a general rule, I don't love time-traveling novels. The only real exception is Long Division. (Although I do remember a bunch of hilarious time-traveling romance novels that I read a long time ago. Memorably, in one book, after deciding to stay in the past with some stud muffin, a woman sends back to the future for tampons and Advil. Lol.) I think the time-travel genre works for me when it's "fun" rather than serious. Obviously,  Long Division wasn't a "fun" time travel book, but it was saying something profoundly interesting to me about race and growing up in America. The only other time-traveling book I have a strong memory of is The Time Traveler's Wife, which is a book I never finished. People loved that book! But it was so meh for me.

One thing that's interesting to me about time-traveling books is that I have a lot of patience for mechanicians of the time-travel plot. I mean, a DeLorean fueled by banana peels or 1.21 jigawatts? GREAT! I mean, obviously none of it makes any sense, so I really don't usually worry too much about that---as long as the story doesn't try to hard to explain it, I'll be fine with it, too.

That brings us to The Shining Girls. Honestly, Kelly, it was fine. It's the story of a serial killer, Harper, and his ability to travel through time by aid of a magical house in Chicago.

**Jazz hands** magical time-traveling house **Jazz hands**

The house is filled with Harper's "treasures" that he steals from one victim and then places them on another one later in time. The house calls to him, showing him his present and his past.  I now have given you as much explanation for how the time-traveling works as the author does. As it turns out, it is possible that there can be too little explanation for me. I mean, at least 1.21 jiggawatts is about power! In this book, the house works, catapulting Harper and a few others through time, but there's never real explanation of how it works. Not even the smallest amount of explanation. I guess it's because Harper himself doesn't care that much, but it's not satisfying.

The other protagonist of the story is Kirby, a girl he attacks and stabs, but she manages to survive. Kirby is determined to figure out who tried to kill her, and she is the one who discovers the secret of the house.

I'm not sure what my problem was with this book. It's serviceable, I guess I'd say. Kirby is an interesting character, and I admired her. She's a fighter and she is determined to figure out what has happened and why. I think the problem with the book is Harper. He's a serial killer, but it's unclear why he does what he does. It's also unclear what brings his victims to his attention. The only explanation we get is that they are "shining" that there is something about the way he sees their aura that draws him to them. But honestly, it's pretty thin.  If the killer isn't creepy and well-formed as a character, it's hard to find the book all that scary. The thing that works the best is that Harper both kills the women, but then goes back and sees them as children, and goes back after to read the reports of what happened in the news. But his motives and reasons for acting, the explanation of his methods, why he limps, who his family was...NOTHING!

I mean, as a book, it was *fine* and I enjoyed reading it, but I think it's going to have about zero staying power.

One last thing: I read this on my Kindle, and that was a little frustrating. As Harper went back and forth in time, I found myself wanting to flip back and put the chapters in order. But the Kindle defies that sort of activity. Meh.

Tl;dr version: If you're looking for a quick read, go for it. It's a solid, but not spectacular read.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Jenny's Book 6.15: The Shining Girls


Every once in a while, I make the mistake of buying a bunch of Kindle books all at once when there is a sale. This is one of those books. I think it was some sort of special sale, because this is a pretty new-ish book, published in 2013. From what I could tell, it's about a time-traveling killer that's set in Chicago. I think the Chicago thing was probably the hook for me. I like a creepy book, but the last book I read about a time-traveling serial killer, NOS4A2, was so fucking scary, I have never finished it. I keep thinking I should finish it, but then I think about how scary it was... I don't know. Maybe I'll read The Shining Girls as a way of leveling back up to that one!

Here's the reason I say that buying a bunch of Kindle books is a mistake. Unlike pBooks, eBooks don't remind you that you exist. They just...linger there, waiting for you to remember you bought them. I guess I should spend some quality time this summer organizing my Kindle books into folders, but it's such a pain creating and making collections or whatever. However, now that I think about it, maybe that's easier to do now than it used to be. It's been a while since I fooled around with it. I think the easiest way to do it would be *from a computer* rather than the actual Kindle! Maybe I should check it out. Hmmm. Do you keep your Kindle books organized?

All right, it's summer. Time to read. Along with my planned TBR books, my book club book, I also scored a rather intimidating stash from the library. I mean, I obviously won't get through all of the 12 books I checked out, but I like to keep it aspirational!


Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Book Club Dilemma


My book club is tonight. The great news: we read Station Eleven for this month. I started to re-read it but don't feel a whole lot of pressure to get through it all. I read it so recently! Sometimes I take the ToB cheat, which is to go back and re-read the commentary as a way of refreshing myself. Hah! Either way, so far it's been just as enjoyable the second time around.

Here's the dilemma part: the host pitches a few choices for the next month's book. And since this month's book club is at my house, I have to think of which books I'll suggest we read next. There's really no constraints: it can be new or old, it can be fiction or non-fiction, it can be something I haven't read that just sounds good! [I say that because in my California book club, someone had to have read the book in order to recommend it. And, it had to be out in paperback so it would be more affordable or likely to be a the library.]

Of course I have no idea what books to pitch. I mean, obviously, I have too many choices to count. When I told my husband I was worried about this last night, he totally gave me the side-eye. Hah! Should I offer up some adventure books---about surfing or mountain climbing? Should I be sneaky and recommend a book that I put on this year's TBR list? Should I just pick something that I've read and loved? Should I pick a classic I've always meant to read, but haven't quite gotten to yet? Should I go get something new that sounds interesting to me? I actually hate making recommendations! The pressure!

How does your book club pick books?


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Jenny's Book 5:15: Wave


Wave is a memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala, I bought it about a year ago when we popped into the bookstore to get something for Darius. I had read some good reviews of it, but still memoirs are not usually my thing. However, as time goes by, I realize I have a little space in my black, bitter heart for memoirs that are about truly exceptional events. And this definitely qualifies. It is by a woman who lost her two sons, husband, and both of her parents in the 2004
Indian Ocean tsunami.

However, I think it's more than just disaster porn for me; there was another reason this disaster spoke to me in particular. We were in Seattle at the time, and the tsunami struck the day after Christmas. We had family in the house, and Darius was only 18 months old. I remember that on the front page of the New York Times there was a photograph of a person surrounded by bodies, some of which were very small. And, Kelly, I couldn't even bear to look at it. The very idea that your child could die in a disaster was too terrible to contemplate. I'll always remember that moment (Okay, this is very upsetting so fell free to skip. This is not the exact photo, I don't think. But this brought back exactly the feeling I had that morning.)

I think because of that memory, I was drawn to this book. After the earthquake in Nepal last week, the "coping with a natural disaster book" went to the top of my list. I don't know what that says about me, but there it is.

One question I ask my students over and over again is why do we read? They come up with a pretty good list, but one of the top choices is to experience other people's lives and emotions. I sometimes joke that there's nothing better than a read like The Fault in Our Stars, the kind of book that leaves you crying so hard you have snot on your face. Interesting, although this book is tremendously sad, it isn't that kind of book. It's the most dignified and raw exploration of loss that I've ever read, but without being a tear-jerker.

It's beautifully written, and the story starts with her looking out the window from their hotel in Sri Lanka (the author is Sri Lankan, and she and her family split their time between Sri Lanka and London). They are at a hotel on the beach in what is essentially a National Park. Her parents are in the room next door, and when they see the wave coming, she and her husband grab the children and run. She doesn't even stop to warn her parents. They simply run. But the wave catches them, and she survives only by grabbing a branch at the last minute before sweeping out to sea.

The memoir itself does not detail every minute, a period of years is covered in a few paragraphs. Years pass before it picks up again. If anything, it portrays the long arc of grief, the quick bursts of memory, the surprising way that even a small object can bring it all back. What's also fascinating is how she grieves for each person in turn, starting with her boys, her parents, and finally her husband. She literally couldn't process all that happens, and because her story is so unbelievably tragic, it's almost impossible to share. We know what to say when a friend reveals they lost someone, but what do you say to a person who lost everyone? Deraniyagala writes, "I am in the unthinkable situation that people cannot bear to contemplate. I hear this occasionally. A friend will say, I told someone about you, and she couldn't believe it was true, couldn't imagine how you must be. And I cringe to be bereft in a way that cannot be imagined, even though I do wonder how impossible this really is. Occasionally an insensitive relative might walk away if I mention my anguish, and I reel from the humiliation of my pain being outlandish, not palatable to others" (114).

The magic in this story, is that for her, grief is an act of suppression. Of just trying to not think about it, and only as years pass does she allow herself to remember. Its lessons are powerful: only as we can remember can we truly heal.

This book is lovely, and I would recommend it to anyone who knows what it is to love and feel loss.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Kelly's Book 6.15: The Roald Dahl Omnibus

Dear Jenny,

A friend gave me this back in college. Yup, I've been dragging this puppy around for over 20 years. And I'll tell ya... every time I move, I flip through it with an eye to boot it and yet... it's made the cut again and again. I'm interested! I think I just haven't picked it up because it's long (almost 700 pages) and it's short stories (which, as I mentioned earlier this year, I'm just not sure I am really into) (but 2015 is the year I will find out for sure, with nearly half of my TBR books being collections!)

One of my favorite books as a kid was James and the Giant Peach. I loved that book so much that I brought it to college with me, which is saying something. (In fact, now that I think about it, that may be one of the oldest books I own -- it was a gift to me when I was... 6 or 7?) Anywhoo... The person who gave me this book had never read it, so I lent it to her and she loved it. She saw this collection one day (one of those Barnes & Noble straight-to-the-sale-shelf deals, looks like) and bought it for me as thanks.

Other than JatGP, I have only read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I have not read any of Dahl's adult works at all, so I'm going into this sort of blind. Based on what little I know, I think that these stories are going to be dark. And maybe a little kooky. Which is why I've kept this book for all of these years, of course. Heh.


PS -- This is great: In the UK, they celebrate Roald Dahl Day on September 13. Love me a literary holiday!

PPS -- Note the big, fat, red spine on this bad boy. As I have been going on and on about my bookcase re-arranging in the comments of this post, know that I am looking forward to adding this one to the red shelf when I am done! /dork