Welcome to my bookshelf

I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Twists and Turns

Currently Reading: The Storyteller

And oh what a storyteller Jodi Picoult yet again proves herself to be. If you are ever in need of a meaty story, filled with unforeseen plot twists, complex characters and ethical dilemmas spanning all the shades of gray, all you need to do is pick up one of her wonderful tales. I am a bit proud of myself though because I figured out the big one on page 313, a full 147 pages before the end. And if you've read any of Picoult's other titles, you understand that this is a big deal. I don't know why, but when I read the words, "Hanging on the back of the chair was a woman's cardigan sweater", the answer became completely clear.

The Storyteller is really about several different storytellers and in true Picoult form, each narrator has his or her own font to help us decipher who is taking the lead at the moment. The stories on the surface are really all quite different, but at their core, each carries a common theme, reinventing yourself through the falsehoods you create in your mind. The main character, Sage Singer, tells herself that she is not worth loving due to a horrendous scar on her face and an introverted personality. Her grandmother, seeks to shroud her true experiences as a prisoner at Auschwitz, in the guise of a fairy tale that would bring even the brothers Grimm to shame. Josef, the former SS officer, feels such shame over his own part in the horrors that he passes along to Sage his story of guilt as a plea to convince her to help him end his own life. The final narrator in this tale is Leo, a lawyer for the Department of Justice, who lets himself believe that his life is justifiable only by the work he does seeking to right past wrongs.

I must admit, I have read many books about the Holocaust, but this is the first time that I truly felt immersed in the horrors of the concentration camps. I don't know if it was because of the personal voice behind Picoult's words or if it was the fact that the story was told from various perspectives interspersed amidst the present, but whatever it was, I am still reeling from the feelings that were evoked. What is more important here is not just relating the story, but seeking retribution or forgiveness depending on whose voice was coming through on that page. Forgiveness is a very difficult thing to really understand and enact. It's often times just as hard for us to ask forgiveness as it is for us to forgive. Mary, a former nun who has befriended Sage, has this inspiring piece of advice:

"... forgiving isn't something you do for someone else. It's something you do for yourself. It's saying, You're not important enough to have a stranglehold on me. It's saying, You don't get to trap me in the past. I am worthy of a future." -pg 451

Wow. I've heard time and time again how your emotions are something you control, "you're only as happy as you make your mind up to be" and all that, but I had not really thought about forgiveness as a personal gift as well, but how true it is! Think about the grudges you have held. They often times do you more mental and physical harm that they do the person you hold them against. Instead of stewing in your anger, you should give yourself a break and release yourself from the pain. Interesting...

I don't' really want to get into too much more detail for fear of giving you too many clues as to what twists to expect when you read The Storyteller yourself (because you should and you will), but I will leave you with another thought from the book about storytelling or rather the lack thereof. I don't know why it spoke to me, but make of it what you will:

"What is the point of trying to put down on paper emotions that are too complex, too huge, too overwhelming to be confined by an alphabet?
Love isn't the only word that fails.
Hate does, too.
And hope. Oh yes, hope.
So you see, this is why I never told my story.
If you lived through it, you already know there are no words that will ever come close to describing it.
And if you didn't, you will never understand."
-pg 357-8

Perhaps this is true, but Jodi Picoult once again establishes the fact that she is a master storyteller by coming very close to it.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Good Guys

Currently Reading: Syrup

There are certain authors that I just wish would keep writing and writing, putting out new books as fast as I can read them. Maxx (or Max depending on the book) Barry is one of them. Every time I pick up one of his novels, I know I am in for a wild ride filled with witty dialogue, ridiculous situations and more twists and turns than your small intestine. Ironically enough, this was Barry's first novel and obviously  I am reading them out of order. No worries though because this one is worth a look presently as the movie is out now.

Syrup follows a young marketing grad as he attempts to make his way into the lucrative world of soda by scheming with a domineering partner know as Six. Apparently the man can be beaten, he will just take a few licks to your own hide along the way. Fast paced and laugh out loud hilarious, Syrup will definitely whet your appetite for zany, off the wall literature.

Another author whose books I just can't put down is John Scalzi. Prior to reading Syrup, I furiously turned the pages of The Human Division, the latest in a series of books taking place in the universe first imagined in Scalzi's Old Man's War. I love returning to familiar places and meeting up with familiar people, especially when it isn't in the same series of books. These stories have a much higher impact because less time needs to be wasted on the preliminary details, and more words can be devoted to growing the characters and helping them navigate through incredible situations

The Human Division takes readers forward in time a bit so they can see the results of the final actions in the Old Man's War series. Needless to say, I was hooked from page one. The style Scalzi chooses to present his plot line is reminiscent of a series of short stories. The action all revolves around "the B-Team", a haphazardly amassed group of individuals including a testy ambassador and a cynical soldier. This team is repeated put into situations where the outcome is far from positive however, due to some ingenius thinking and oh so fortunate twists, they generally come out (relatively) unscathed. One thing that sets Scalzi apart from many other science fiction authors is that he can't be pegged into one of the typical sci-fi holes like hard science or space opera. Real physics and abstract calculus both play large roles in all of his work, but clever banter and amusing situations surround all those factual descriptions, giving readers a taste of reality wrapped up in a pretty bow. For example, this fun little exchange happens on page 402:

"You mean, how did I come to that conclusion despite the fact that I'm this mission's mushroom," Harry said.
Schmidt frowned. "I don't know what that means," he said.
"It means that you keep me in the dark and feed me shit." Harry said.
"Ah," Schmidt said. "Sorry."

See! How can you not love this guy? Anyways, this one is short and sweet. The moral of the story is, there are a few authors out there who need to clone themselves so they can keep me happy and reading. Of course, I am aware of the fact that there are also authors who really ought to stop now while they're ahead. I'll leave those for you to determine yourselves.