Ra(w)R: The Bright Forever by Lee Martin

The Bright Forever: A Novel by Lee Martin

Published May 3, 2005 by Shaye Areheart books

Allie stats:

Difficulty: just your average fiction novel

Time to Completion: a day (started it in the morning on my way to Solstice in Times Square, while I was waiting, the ride home, and at lunch)

Stars: many stars. Stars may be too happy for this book.

Review:

One summer evening, Katie Mackey takes off for the library to return her almost-overdue books. She doesn’t come home. This is the story of the after, during, and before of her disappearance. On one level, it’s a crime novel- solve the mystery, find out who “did it.” On a completely separate, spiritual level, Martin asks us to reconsider the difference between who did it, and who is responsible. The question is uncomfortable, the answer is unbearable.

The story is told through multiple points of view, mostly after the fact, but sometimes not. Time isn’t important, just the fact that things happen. I mean, you’re given the date and whatever, but as people tell their stories, time slowly unravels, to where the only thing that matters is that something happened and it made waves or ripples or just barely disturbed the surface of this little town in Indiana during the first week of July sometime in the 1960s. By going through multiple points of view, it becomes abundantly obvious that there is no such thing as “the truth.” There simply isn’t. There can’t be. No one person has the power to say that “this is true and this isn’t.” There are things that happened and things that didn’t; events happen or they don’t. But I think this book shows that the “truth” we want to attach to events is too complicated for such a little word. There’s so much more than meets the eye or the ear or the hand and reconciling ourselves to this mystifying aspect of life is borderline impossible.

This is a really gorgeous, uncomfortable book. The center of the plot is every parent’s worst nightmare, in multiple respects, and I applaud Lee Martin for writing this book- there is more than one reviewer on Amazon who didn’t like the book because of the subject. By the time I reached the end I was more than aware of how strange I felt, but it forced me to stop and feel, and that doesn’t happen everyday.

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Ra(w)R: Slaughterhouse-5

Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut

This was published in 1969. It took me a few days to read, and while it wasn’t difficult, I couldn’t speed read it like normal. I think this is because I was afraid to miss something.

8 out of 10 optometrists say this book is awesome.

Review:

This book was amazing. Completely whack, and I feel like just by reading it you get high, but amazing. It starts, I believe, with the author himself narrating, from his point of view. He tells us what the book is about, who it’s about, some of the stuff that is important, the first and last sentence of the book, why it’s named the way it is- basically if you have any questions, he answers them there. And then you read the book, which tells the tale of Billy Pilgrim, a sad sort of fellow who, like Kurt, had the misfortune of being present at the fire-bombing of Dresden in February of 1945. He also was abducted by aliens who exist in every moment of time that they exist, and he has come unstuck in time. Thus you experience everything out of order, just like Billy. The worst experience is probably the fire-bombing. The abduction is crappy too, but the only thing that is bad is that no one believes him (would you?).  Because of his un-stuck-in-time-ness, Billy knows when things are going to happen, and so do you. The book ends just like Kurt says it will end.

Mind-blowing. Navel contemplatingly deep. Hysterical. Terrifying.

I can’t believe I’ve never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut before, and I totally get why people would want to ban this book. You gotta think to read it, and that’s some dangerous shit man.

So it goes.

Ra(w)R: Arthur and George

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

Published: 2006

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Allie stats:

Difficulty: it was a real live novel folks; I actually had to read it.

Time to completion: about a week- a few days to get into in and then nonstop for about a day and a half, whenever I had the time.

Rating: twenty million stars out of 10. Yes, that many.

Review:

This beautiful book, recommended to me by a beloved friend of mine, is one of the best books I have ever read. It’s about two men- Arthur and George- and how their lives reflect the kind of men that they are in the world they are forced to live in. Neither is particularly happy with their respective world, but each forges a life that is a direct picture of his identity.

Arthur grows up in a not unhappy family situation, but a poor one, and resolves to rescue his mother and siblings one day by becoming very successful, which he does after training as a doctor, but finding his place as an author. George grows up the son of a vicar in the countryside, shy, but smart, and becomes a local solicitor. Possible spoiler, but one you’ll find out if you read the back cover of the book, so try very hard to avoid it if you want to be totally surprised. Otherwise, highlight this blank spot:

What we find out is that Arthur is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, our very favorite mystery writer who invents the eternally famous Sherlock Holmes, who haunts him for the rest of his life. George is the son of a Parsee vicar and his Scottish wife, raising the question of prejudice and its place in turn of the century England. This book is based on a true story. But it is also a novel. It is a majestic, astonishingly well-researched story of these two men, drawing on newspaper articles, reports, letters, and the papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I found that bit out at the end, so I’m counting it as a spoiler. Also, I loved that the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle I made up in my mind while reading Sherlock Holmes seemed to coincide so well with the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  of the book.

While life happens to both George and Arthur, George gets it harder and hits a rough spot, which eventually Arthur becomes involved in, and so goes the story.

The writing in this book is beyond words. I think it works against the author and the reader a little bit at the beginning, where it seems a bit slow, but later you come to realize that it must be that way because without those fifty pages, the book wouldn’t mean nearly as much as it does. It is so well researched that you can’t help but fall right into it and not even realize you haven’t come up for air for hours.

Go, read this book. Now, please.

Bonus Ra(w)R: Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Collection

I’m not going to list all of the titles of Sherlock Holmes. I’m pretty sure it’s this collection that I read, but it was only 99 cents on kindle. Anyway, on to the main event!

Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Published: 1887-1927

Publisher: Lordy. Every house has probably published a Sherlock Holmes story at one point or another now.

Allie stats:

Difficulty: Like many “classics,” it’s just adjusting to the writing and vocabulary because it’s unfamiliar. By the end I was racing through and loving every minute.

Time to completion: unknown. I started reading these last August, before I moved, and finished them maybe two or three weeks ago. The joy of short stories!

Rating: 10 stars. 10 shiny, mysterious, impossible stars.

Review:

I loved these novels and stories. I started reading Sherlock Holmes because like so many of the greats, it’s free on kindle. So sue me.  For the record, it was before Sherlock the BBC awesomeness blew up in the U.S. That might make me a book hipster?

ANYway, what happens in the books is that stuff happens and then Sherlock Holmes figures it out and then Dr. Watson writes about it. Over and over and over again. Which you think would be boring, but totally isn’t! Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (you must use his whole name) is a genius. I don’t know how he came up with his famous consulting detective (but I might get more insight into that! I’m reading Arthur and George by Julian Barnes next), but it’s the clever word play and the snarky commentary that kept pulling me back in. Of course, we find some of literature’s most famous quotes here:

“We must fall back upon the old axiom that when all other contingencies fail, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,”

” ‘Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?’

           ‘To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.’

‘The dog did nothing in the night-time.’

          ‘That was the curious incident,’ remarked Sherlock Holmes.”

“I have usually found that there was method in his madness.”

“You know my methods, Watson.”

and of, course,

” ‘Elementary,’ said he.” -what?! “Elementary, my dear Watson,” isn’t a quote?! NO, it isn’t! It’s a misquote! But luckily all those other ones are real, which make them much more fun.

All of those quotes are super well known, and if you’re saying, “I’ve never heard of any of those!” you probably live under a rock. Here are a few more quotes that aren’t as well-known, but should still be well-loved:

” ‘From the point of view of the criminal expert,’ said Mr. Sherlock Holmes, ‘London has become a singularly uninteresting city since the death of the late lamented Professor Moriarty.’ “

” ‘You know, Watson, I don’t mind confessing to you that I have always had an idea that I would have made a highly efficient criminal. This is the chance of my lifetime in that direction.’ “

” ‘Besides, on general principles it is best that I should not leave the country. Scotland Yard feels lonely without me, and it causes an unhealthy excitement among the criminal classes.’ “

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle creates this magnificently conceited hero, with a sidekick you want to hate for being such a pushover, but he’s so opinionated that you can’t help but love him, and the two of them create this back and forth that any reader should feel fortunate to be a part of. It’s like reading Joss Whedon or Steven Moffat, but with more class. And history. Mr. Sherlock Holmes is actually quite an ass, but you can’t help but follow his every word, just like Watson does. And Dr. Watson allows the reader to see what is happening without taking away the mystery, because he never has any idea what the freak is happening either.

What about Sherlock, the amazing kick-ass BBC version written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss? I love it. It’s so true to the books and yet is brilliantly updated. There are some changes, but that’s because the writers are right, sometimes the stories just end and it doesn’t work for a medium like t.v. (Like Irene Adler- the original ending would make a really, really boring t.v. show, yet I LOVED “A Scandal in Belgravia,” based on the original story “A Scandal in Bohemia.” The t.v. show was much more like the book, while the Robert Downy Jr. movie just happened to have a female character with the same name, and that was about it.) I think it’s a great way to introduce people to the stories, and if more people are reading them, so much the better!

Everyone should read Sherlock Holmes! You can read a novel or a short story, take your pick. Or read them all! Look for the snarky bits and the social commentary and the funny parts and sad parts and romantic parts and the adventure parts and…you get the idea.

 

Bonus Ra(w)R: The Beautiful and Damned

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Release date: 1922

Publisher: Scribner’s

Allie stats:

Difficulty: Took some adjustment to get used to reading this, but I fell into the rhythms and patterns eventually. It’s also a rather emotional drain.

Time to completion: let’s not talk about it.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Review:

I started this book last semester, just on a whim. (Also, I liked the idea of reading a book with the word “damned” in the title. Also also, I hadn’t read anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald since Gatsby in high school). I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I loved this book. Not that it’s a happy story or has a particularly happy ending, but it was so beautiful, and so well written.

The Beautiful and Damned follows Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert, his wife, during the Jazz Age and World War II, through their courtship, marriage, and subsequent lives together. Both are used to the good life, rich if not famous, hanging out in all the best spots in New York City (Gloria is living with her parents at the Plaza when we first meet her, Anthony has a brownstone on 52nd near 5th Avenue). Anthony is waiting for his grandfather to die so he can inherit his millions. They meet and Anthony falls madly in love- Gloria doesn’t. Eventually he wins her over though, and that’s where the book takes on most of it’s “plot” but to be honest it isn’t really necessary to have a storyline.

To me, the book is more about how people live their lives and mess them up so spectacularly without ever noticing. It should be required reading for everyone, but I’d be afraid that if we discussed it too much we’d end up more depressed than enlightened.

The writing is so beautiful. I think I might have missed that when I read Gatsby- I’m beginning to think I should just go back and re-read everything I read in high school so I can truly appreciate how amazing some of the “classics” are. Although I don’t think we need to call them “classics.” They are stories about people. At the end of the book Anthony and Gloria are living on the Upper West Side and while I was reading it, I was so engrossed in their conversations that the description of the neighborhood just slipped by me. It just was. Just because it was set 90 years ago doesn’t make it any less relevant. Were someone to make this into a movie, it could just as easily be set today. Love, marriage, friendship, anger, alcoholism, fidelity, career issues all still concern us as much as it did F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda or Anthony and Gloria.

Quotable quotes: (so many, too many to pick just one. But here’s one of my top five favorites)

And that taught me you can’t have anything, you can’t have anything at all. Because desire just cheats you. It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object and we poor fools try to grasp it– but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone —


page 266.

Ra(w)R: Jane Slayre

Jane Slayre by Charlotte Bronte and Sherri Browning Erwin

Publication date:  April 13, 2010

Publisher: Gallery

Allie Stats:

Difficulty level: only that I had to make myself stop giggling so I could focus

Time to completion: a week maybe

1-10 rating: 5 and a half, plus a quarter point for good effort, so 5.75

Review:

I’ll start with freely admitting that I loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The integration of zombies was nearly seamless in my opinion, the language stayed the same, and overall I just really liked it. I know quite a few people who thought that PPandZ was cute  but now that there are a whole bunch of re-written classics, its done and over and we all need to move on. They’re probably right, but that didn’t stop me from reading Jane Slayre anyways, because Jane Eyre is one of my all time favorite books and I really like Buffy so why the hell not.

Well, it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t fantastic either. Not only were there vampires (vampyres, we’re old fashioned here), but also house-cleaning zombies and insane werewolves. A little much in my opinion, but I like to deal with one monster at a time. I’m a girl with simple tastes.

Recap: Jane Slayre is an orphan, raised by her vampyre relatives, the Reeds of Gateshead. At a young age she gets sent off to Lowood Institution, where she finds that as girls die, they get turned into zombies. With the help of the wonderful Miss Temple, she kills all the zombies and sends them off to their heavenly rewards. When she’s 18, more or less, she decides she’s bored with being a teacher, and thinking of the ghostly visit she had from her dead uncle (killed by a vampyre slayer in a moment of repentance, which guarantees him an in with the Big Man upstairs), she sets off looking for another stepping stone to finding her family and becoming a vampyre slayer. She is employed, of course, at Thornfield Hall as the governess for Adele, the maybe-bastard offspring of Mr. Rochester. They fall in love, but are stymied by the fact that Mr. Rochester’s wife is living, and not only is she locked up in the attic because she’s insane, but because she’s a werewolf. (I kid you not.)

Further madness ensues.

So, knowing all that and knowing that the most famous line that even my sister can quote is redone as “Reader, I buried him,” what can I say about this book? I laughed the entire time and it was totally wack, but I knew that going in (check out the cover below. Girlfriend is a vampyre slayer and she dusts them just like in Buffy- why the hell are is her hand covered in blood? Never happens in the book). The downer for me was the transition between the original and the new stuff wasn’t as seamless as I wanted it to be. Some of the language was just way too modern and the new thoughts Jane had weren’t true to the original character.

 I suppose if your book club wanted to do a compare/contrast thing, it would be fun. But I’d read the real thing if I were you.

Check out this cover!

 

Ra(w)R: Commune of Women

Commune of Women by Suzan Still
Release date: July 16, 2011
Publisher: Fiction Std.
Allie stats:
Difficulty level: Pleasant to read.
Time to completion: A couple of days.
Rating (1-10): 7.8 (just because I can)

Review:

 Commune of Women is about seven women, a terrorist attack, and how we can’t run away from our pasts and we can’t dictate our futures. I was pleasantly surprised by the style of the book, where we switch from perspective to perspective- it wasn’t just that now Heddi is speaking, or now Sophia is speaking, but the author clearly went out of her way to change vocabulary and style. One woman, Pearl, is a bag lady with a horrific past that made me sick to my stomach. Ondine floats on a cloud of poetry. Sophia makes me want to commune with nature, and so forth and so on. Six of our seven characters are stuck together during the terrorist attack in a small room at LAX; the seventh is one of the terrorists. At first I was a little…sickened by her story. I felt like the author was taking advantage of this fictional woman, but as the story played out, I was glad for this perspective I’d never thought about before.

The ending wasn’t my favorite. I mean, it ended fine, but I was so invested in these women that I really wanted more. That would be a separate story, but I don’t think it could ever be a separate book, so I understand why it ended where it did. Hallmark of a good book though, right? Another interesting point about this book is that I am definitely not the target audience. All of the characters except for two (the terrorist and another woman) are older, have kids, husbands, careers, and so reading about them was more like observing a foreign land than relating to their experiences. I sort of made mental notes like “oh, remember that before I get married,” “don’t let that bother me if/when I have kids,” etc. And of the two younger characters, one we didn’t really get to know as much as the other, so I can’t compare their lives to mine either.

This would make an excellent book club book, and a good summer book if you want something that isn’t fluffy and isn’t horrendously heavy (but fair warning, it is based around a terrorist attack at LAX. So there’s that).