Thursday, February 3, 2011

Books I Read in January

At the beginning of the month, I vowed to read 44 books by the end of the year (twice as many as I read last year). Here are the books I read in January and what I thought of them.

This series of short stories focuses on African children in different countries and situations. It’s a fascinating look into the terrible conditions many African children face.

Everyone raves about how this book is disturbing but inspirational, how deeply they care about the characters, how perfectly he described the scenes, and how his stunning prose left an impact they would never forget.

For me, it was too much like “Kite Runner.” There’s an exotic setting, characters you fall in love with, horrifying violence, a vague inspirational theme, but it ultimately makes me lose faith in humanity.

Joseph Heller

This fiction set in World War II is a dark comedy about contradictions. I knew I would love this book before I started reading it. Logic fascinates me, and I get a kick out of following good logic to ridiculous conclusions.

Catch-22 is full of streams of logic that make sense from one point of view, but are absurd from another. For example, a soldier in the book is paranoid because he says people are conspiring to kill him. The other soldiers explain, “We’re at war; they’re trying to kill all of us.” He replies, “What difference does that make? They’re still trying to kill me.” Brilliant.

As a warning, there is an exorbitant amount of sex. At one point, the main character goes on a rampage and sleeps with three women while he’s looking for a particular woman to sleep with to comfort him while he longs for yet another woman he’d rather sleep with.

It’s a hard read. There’s not much of a plot (people are too anal about plots anyway), and there are a million characters to keep track of. Since the logic is so perverse, it took me a while to adjust to the way of thinking so I could appreciate how funny the book was. It was a rewarding challenge.

The Help
Kathryn Stockett

I adored this book. Five stars. It’s about African American servants – “the help” – and what it’s like to work for white families in Mississippi during the 1960’s. I already have a thing for African American literature, and this book had characters that I loved and situations where I just had to know what happened next. Whenever I wasn’t reading it, I wished I was.

It’s funny that the author is white because I once considered writing a book about African Americans, and at least five people told me not to. They said it was not my territory, and if I tried writing about it, the African Americans would eat me alive and burn my house down. One person actually told me I should consider the negative impact it would have on my children. He was from Mississippi. Of course.

I loved this book even more when I found out how much experience the author had with this topic. Stockett was actually a white child who was cared for by a black servant in the 1960’s. She saw these things and she knew these people. This book is fiction, but this book is real.

Stockett has a great website where she discusses her inspiration for The Help.  

White Fang
Jack London

It’s fabulous when authors successfully break all the rules. In this book, Jack London asks, “Why not have a wolf as a main character? Who needs dialogue and opposable thumbs? This wolf has something to say.”

This book is a tender story of a man and his dog. White Fang was raised by Native Americans and sold into dog fights where he learns about cruelty and never experiences mercy or love until someone saves him and tames him.

London drew a parallel between White Fang and people who are also misunderstood. White Fang was a ruthless killer because of what he had been through. A human character in the book is also a ruthless killer because of the cruelty he faced. It’s easier for us to love and forgive animals than it is to love and forgive humans. The question is, why?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I've heard of all of these, but haven't picked them up--Say You're One of Them actually intrigues me the most, since The Kite Runner is one of my favorite books.


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