Monday, March 4, 2013

Tournament of Books: Kelly's Reads

Dear Jenny,

Well, today is the day! I know you're excited about the Tournament of Books! BUT... I also know that you are in the midst of grade reports, so come back here when you are done with those to read my long-winded chitter chatter. :)

This year has, by far, been my biggest participation in reading the ToB books. Most years, I sit back and wait to see what rises to the top and then add those books to my own TBR pile, but this year I have read almost half of the books! It started with the fact that I had happened to listen to two of the books, and then some of the others started coming to light as great audiobooks. I'm always looking for a good aBook, so I ended up jumping on quite a few.

So I thought I'd jot down my thoughts on 'em. (And maybe a little ToB prediction talk... I'm a wild woman!)

Unless otherwise noted, I listened to the audiobook of all of these, so my comments are about both the books and the performances...


The Round House by Louise Erdrich
I know you hated the lack of quotation marks, so I avoided that problem entirely by listening to it! However, there were a few times in the book where things *did* get confusing without a clear deliniation of who said what and I think even the narrator got confused (since he didn't really change up the voices in those parts). Those scenes were usually ones where young Joe was eavesdropping on adults' conversations and I wonder if the intent of the no quotation marks was to illustrate the fact that he didn't fully understand what was going on? (So, you know, neither should the reader? Ugh.) Sorry -- don't mean to beat this dead horse... move along.

Overall: I really loved this book, except for... well, I already sent you the question I had at the end and I have now listened to it *four* times and still cannot really put my finger on my confusion -- there is a lot of descriptive language in this book, and it is mostly well-delivered by the narrator, but that final scene falls apart for me. Maybe next time I see the pBook version of this book, I'll flip to the end and read through it and see if it's more clear to me what happens there [this was intentionally cryptic... I generally don't care about giving stuff away, but since you're so active on the ToB site, we may get some traffic this way and they may not know: We're spoiler-y!]

I guess that's one drawback of the aBook: It can be difficult to "re-read" passages -- especially when there is any confusion.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I was reluctant to read this book because everyone kept saying how despicable these characters were and I wasn't sure if I could deal with characters I hated for a prolonged period of time. However, the narrators had such great voices... I think I might have liked the characters better than they were written, because I liked the narrators so much.

Of course, that's also due to the writing... as much as I hear about how terrible these two are, I also have heard them described many times as "sympathetic." So I guess it's a combo of writing + performing. And it's a winning combo at that -- this was a great aBook. I actually said "Holy shit!" out loud when the twist happened. So... a) good twist and b) good job for me of remaining spoiler-free. Heh. I didn't want to put this one down.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Well, sure... of course I loved this book. And, for this one, I'm glad I was 100% spoiled so that I could brace myself. I'm curious what you and others think of the trip -- it's really the only unrealistic part of the book, but I liked it anyway... and the description of the petals on the water really moved me.

One nice thing about this aBook was an interview with the author at the end, discussing the performance and how great he thought it was. I really enjoyed hearing his thoughts on the book, the characters, and the narrator.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
How were the loudspeaker moments shown in the book?! In the aBook, there was a separate narrator with a BIG BOOMING VOICE doing the loudspeaker announcements, which made me wonder how it was done in writing. Overall, this book had stellar narration (different actors for the two main characters) and a totally engrossing story, so a grand slam. And it made me *super* curious about what the heck is going on in North Korea!

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
As soon as I started listening to this little Hate Letter to Seattle, I said, "Jenny has got to read this." I thought it was a fun read -- the narrator for this book did a great job with Bernadette's voice, as well as her daughter's.  I'm a little surprised it's in the ToB because it's kind of "fluff" to me, compared to most of the others, but it's nice to have variety.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
This book was slow to get going -- I thought I might even have to bail on it. But I stuck with it, and it got so much better. I loved the interweaving of these stories and I really cared so much about how everything turned out for each of the characters.

Building Stories by Chris Ware (pBook)
LOVED this. Great story, great drawings (except... the cats' tails seem weird -- they look more like dog tails. It's a minor nit, but a little distracting.) I've read a lot of graphic novels and one thing that this format made me do is really slooow down. It's often a little too easy to eat graphic novels up like ice cream, but this one really made the reader dig in, and I loved it for that.

In progress:

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
So far, I like this book SO MUCH MORE than I thought I would! Of course, it may, like any other book, turn to shit before I'm done and I could end up hating it, but so far, I am really engaged. Part of it, I suspect, is that same thing that made the Gone Girl characters more appealing -- the narrator is really good. If I had read this book myself, I'm not sure I could have stood this main character. But I like this actor -- he makes an unsympathetic character sympathetic (which, as I said with GG, can also be attributed to good writing... but reading other people's reviews of this book, I'm not so sure...)

HHhH by Laurent Binet (eBook)
I know you loved this one, but I am really struggling to get through it. Every time I start reading, my mind wanders and I suddenly realize I have not been paying attention for the past few pages. The parts that engage me the most are when the author/narrator is speaking directly to the reader, but when it's a straight-up (or not -- we'll never know!) history lesson, my mind wanders. I know that you know a lot about this topic already, so maybe it's easier for you to skim those parts? I don't know a ton about history, so a lot of this information is new to me and the delivery of the historical facts kind of bores me (at least, I guess I'm bored... my mind wanders...) (OMG! How can you be BFFs with such a troglodyte? ;) But I'll stick with it. I had a pretty good run yesterday night.

On the Maybe pile:

Arcadia by Lauren Groff
I keep going back to this book -- the premise looks so great, but then I've read a lot of disappointment about it. Maybe I'll see how it fares in the ToB and decide then.

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Well, I haven't read Wolf Hall and I'd like to, so I won't read this until/unless I've read that one first. So... maybe someday.

Not at all interested:

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
From the reviews, this book sounds unbearable and, from the description, it reminds me of pretentious a-holes I knew in college, so... pass.

Ivyland by Miles Klee
I have yet to read one good review of this book by anyone whose opinion I respect.

Dear Life by Alice Munro
Eh. Some people really like this author, but I haven't read any of her work and people who *do* like her keep saying, "This isn't her best." So, unless I suddenly decide to get hooked on Munro and have to read every one of her works, I don't see this hitting my bookshelf.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This seems like a re-hash. Do we need another re-telling of this story? (Correct me if I'm wrong here... I may be!)

Aaand... the war books that were vying for the final slot:
Fobbit by David Abrams
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Well, I don't really do war books. Billy Lynn has made it to the final 16 and... yeah. Not that interesting to me. I've read your comments about it on GoodReads, so unless you finish it and tell me it got better, this one is also off the radar.

Random thoughts on ToB matchups :

(Really only speaking to books I've read...)

I would hate to have to choose between The Fault in our Stars and The Round House!

Where's You Go Bernadette seems like too much fluff to stand against The Orphan Master's Son in the first round. I think they missed a great opportunity in not matching up Bernadette with Gone Girl -- I mean... "Where'd You Go, Amy?" Am I right? just seems like Gone Girl will smoke Ivyland -- the matchup seems unfair. One of the biggest books of 2012 vs. this totally unheard-of (when the ToB was first announced, it had 2 reviews on Amazon. It now has 3.) book? I mean, I guess maybe it will be the "Big! Upset!" of the tourney, but... hrm.

Beautiful Ruins is another book I think of as somewhat "fluffy" and it's up against the Song of Achilles, which is not. But I feel like BR is original and SoA is a re-hash, so it could go either way.

I hope, hope, hope Building Stories will move on to the second round, just because I love it so much, but I can't really speak to its chances, since I did not read Dear Life.

And now... I will go tune into the ToB and see what folks there are saying... see ya there!



  1. I am so happy you wrote this! I was planning to...but the beginning of March is always so awful. And despite the fact that every year I promise myself that I won't get so overwhelmed...I always do. Sigh.

    Where to start...
    1) I actually can see HHhH being a drag if you're not as familiar with the history. I loved this book, but it just was right in my wheelhouse. So It's not one I would necessarily expect others to like. But I'll be curious to hear what you think when you finish.

    2)Don't read Billy Lynn. I hate it. It's this year's Swamplandia! Everyone else loves it and it bugs the crap out of me. I'd also say don't read Bring Up the Bodies unless you read Wolf Hall. I can't fathom that Wolf Hall could be done as an audiobook. It's think with characters, history, names, etc. I looked up tons of shit on wikipedia as I was reading. I don't know. It was fabulous and I loved it, but it's a project.

    3)I'd say Arcadia. It doesn't have the best ending, but which book does? It's a good story. I bet it would translate well to audio.

    4) How Should a Person Be is not interesting to me at all. Someone in the goodreads group said, "How Should a person be? NOT LIKE THIS." And that made me laugh.

    My plan is to finish Billy Lynn (only because I will have more fun ripping it to shreds if I've read the whole thing) and May We Be Forgiven.

    I'd like to get to Bring Up the Bodies and Beautiful Ruins for Round 2.

    I have read the Alice Munro and Song of Achilles and the war books. But maybe I should write another comment for those?

  2. HHhH
    I am sticking with it and it's getting better for me. The key is to really *set aside* time to read it, which can be difficult (usually, I'll read while Bill is watching TV or while I'm on the bike or whatever) but I've been doing it. As long as I remember: "Ok. Time to focus here..." I can get into it. I must confess to you that I really am an idiot -- I struggle with names that look/sound alike and Himmler and Heydrich are kind of similar to me (I've got Hitler down though!) Here's my way of remembering which is which: Himmler is described as looking like a hamster and those words are similar. And Heydrich is described as a "pussy hound" (hahaha -- there are definitely outbursts of laughter in this book!) and "Heydrich" kind of looks like "Hey dick" soo... there you go. A Moron's Guide to Reading History.

    I'm not sure how I feel about the narrator of this aBook... I've listened to the sample and I'm not totally sold. But Audible has a great money-back guarantee now, so I could go ahead and get it and see how I feel. A couple of reviewers have said it took them awhile to get into the narrator, but then they did and really enjoyed the book -- overall, it gets good ratings. Guess it's probably likely to move onto Round 2, since it's up against the hated HSAPB.

    May We Be Forgiven
    I am about 2/3 of the way through this and it keeps getting more and more ridiculous, but I am still enjoying it, far-fetched scenarios and all! I keep thinking, "I should hate this story/this guy" but I don't. Also, there are more nuances to this story than I would have thought, but I'll wait until you're done to discuss it.

    And the rest...
    I think you'll burn through Beautiful Ruins -- if you don't like it at first, keep going. It took me awhile to get into it, but once I did, I was totally hooked. It's good that you'll have one that goes quickly, because it sounds like Bringing Up The Bodies might be tough, if Wolf Hall is any indication. (BTW... what's your opinion on having a sequel in the ToB? Just wondering.)

    Yes! Let's hear about Munro, Achilles, and the war books. Although... I read some of your thoughts on Achilles on GoodReads and it really just cemented my initial rating of "Not at all Interested." So I guess the only one that stands a chance of moving off that list at this point is Munro.