Sunday, April 27, 2014

Book of the Month--April

Ah, philosophy.  Everyone's read too many deep, idealogical books that end in pretension and confusion.  Although the back cover of Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being reads like a fast paced historical fiction novel, this book is pure philosophy--and I loved it. The fragile, beautiful plot was inescapably involving.  The two wildly different main characters, both searching for themselves, were lovable.  Best of all was the writing.  I don't focus on writing style enough, because I've been in a plot-craving mood lately, but Ozeki's mixing of prose, plot and imagery certainly created one amazing read. 
A Tale for the Time Being, written in dual narrative form, tells the stories of two people--one sixteen, one late middle aged--who find their totally different lives tied together.  Nao, a Japanese teen who has decided to commit suicide as her life--bullied at school and watching her dad fall apart--seems more and more ruinous.  Her diary, detailing both Nao's story and that of her 104 year old nun grandmother, is found by Ruth.  Ruth (who I believe is inspired by the author--no reason, just that they have the same full name) is an aging writer who, despite living in idyllic paradise, is discontented and grappling with the meaning of life in the same way that Nao is.  As Nao's story gets darker and darker, Ruth finds herself consumed with the desire to know more about Nao and to help her, learning from Nao at every turn.
Despite the fascinating plot, I'll focus on just the writing.  Nao's narrative is written mostly in none too elegant sentences whose purpose is to tell the facts, and nothing more.  Still, within the information wonderful insights about life come through, told perfectly as a teenager can tell them. Her encounters with her grandmother Jiko had the most poignancy. As Nao states about her Jiko, “Sometimes when she told stories about the past her eyes would get teary from all the memories she had, but they weren't tears. She wasn't crying. They were just the memories, leaking out.” I loved reading Nao's frank yet beautiful observations and stories. Contrastingly, Ruth, the author, writes philosophical insights filled with description.  Her sentences managed to be factual (with frequent tidbits from Ruth's awesome autodidact husband) and completely sombre without becoming stuffy.  Her story was told partly in flashbacks, to a simpler time, and partly in her current, obsessive quest to find out more about Nao.  Ruth wrote prose--"when she woke to an insipid beam of winter sunlight filtering in through the bamboo outside her window, she felt oddly at peace and well rested."  Reading Ruth's narrative felt like reading something serious and deep, and yet beautiful, not boring. 
I'm glad that A Tale for the Time Being wasn't just Ruth's sober poetry or Nao's candid notes--the book needed both halves to be perfectly yin-yang (among the many concepts I learned about in this book).  As cliched as it sounds, reading it was a journey of knowledge and faith.  It was both intellectual (look for a surprising quantum mechanics slant at the end!) and spiritual (I now understand the principles of zen in total).  I am 100% a better person for having read this book.

“She sat back on her heels and nodded. The thought experiment she proposed was certainly odd, but her point was simple. Everything in the universe was constantly changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives. 

That’s what it means to be a time being, old Jiko told me, and then she snapped her crooked fingers again. 

And just like that, you die."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

I'm back from the gorgeous southwest!  As all of us book lovers know, one of the best parts of vacation is definitely reading, and I did a lot of that.  Going Bovine was one of the new books that found a coveted spot in my suitcase this trip.                                                        Disclaimer:  This book is weird.  Really, really weird.  Take the weirdest book you've ever read and multiply it by five.  Don't believe me?  The heroines of our novel are Cam, an apathetic sixteen year old with mad cow disease, Gonzo, a hypochondriacal video gaming dwarf, Balder, a sassy yard gnome who happens to be a Viking god, and Dulcie, a riddle-loving punk angel/spirit guide.  And I haven't even gotten started on the plot yet, which is too multilayered and strange to explain well.  Think crazy  quest across the country to find a mysterious Dr. X who may know how to cure Cam, all while fighting through dark forces, personal issues and a nefarious snow globe company.                                                              So what keeps this weird book interesting and not head-spinningly confusing?  Bray's token witty dialogue helps.  The clever conversations between characters are almost as compelling as the ridiculously engrossing plot.  How did Bray write a plot that, despite being completely all over the place and--let me say it again--weird, manages to stay understandable and fascinating?  I'd hazard a guess that it's her wonderfully approachable and very true-to-teenage-life writing style coupled with the plot that keeps on giving, with new layers added on chapter to chapter like clockwork.  I couldn't put it down.  
The best part of Going Bovine was that, despite it being a fairly silly novel, it left me with questions.  Bray expertly weaved funny dialogue and ruminations with serious stuff like the nature of life and death.  This book was a pretty wild ride, but one that was both hysterical and eye opening at the same time.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Adventuresome Reads

Hey everyone!  So, lately I've been in an adventurous mood.  Next Saturday I'll be heading to the southwest for April break, and I'm really excited to see the beautiful red rocks, canyons, etc.  It'll be a completely new experience for me--I've never been in that area before, and I have no idea what to expect.  That's part of the fun!  Adventures are all unknown lands and uncharted areas.  They have spirit and life and are very classic.  A good adventure book should be nothing more than a wild ride.
1. Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm.  I initially believed this book to be for the younger side of the teen years, but after rereading it I realized that it still has the aura of craziness, yet, at the same time, of being relatable, that it did when I first read it a few years ago.  The book centers around tough kid Turtle, an incredibly interesting and endearing character.  When she comes to her mother's birthplace, the tight knit community of 1935 Key West, she discovers a treasure trove of family she's never known and possibly some other, slightly shinier treasure as well.  Although historical fiction, Turtle in Paradise never felt dated or repetitive.  It's a shining example of every genre it falls into--tween fiction, historical fiction and, of course, adventure.
2. Modelland by Tyra Banks.  Weird looking "forget-a-girl" Tookie doesn't exactly fit in in a society that centers its every validation around models--specifically, around the hallowed place on top of the mountain, Modelland.  So when she and three other strange looking girls are selected to take her place among the best of the best, they knows that something isn't right, and they quickly discover that there's a lot of sinister stuff under the surface of Modelland.  I'll come right out and say it:  this book is really weird.  And definitely meant for a certain type of reader--one who can appreciate its slightly superficial bent as cleverly sarcastic.  The characters are lovable, the plot is tight and exciting, and, especially coming from Tyra Banks, who is pretty immersed in the actual modeling industry, it feels honest despite being pure fantasy.
3. Survive by Alex Morel.  This book pretty much has all the adventure that can possibly be packed into its 272 pages.  Jane, a depressed and disturbed teen, is about to commit suicide on a plane when it crashes into the snowy wilderness, leaving her and one other passenger, a young man named Paul, as the only survivors.  They have to try and fight their way out of the indomitable mountain, developing an unexpectedly sweet romance and learning about themselves as they get closer to safety.  It was definitely pulse-racing--a perfect match of scary and heartfelt--and it even had some semblance of a moral, which gave a classic adventure novel a nuanced side.
I'm packing a few other adventure books in my duffel bag when I head off to Phoenix, where I start my trip (perhaps a post on those soon!).  What are your favorite adventuresome reads?  Comment, comment, comment!