Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Breath of Snow and Ashes

Diana Gabaldon. One of my favorite authors, ever. This is the last published in my favorite series of all time, known as the Outlander series, about a woman named Claire who accidentally time-travels from her life in World War II England to the Scottish Highlands in the 1740s.

I won’t say more about the characters because I don’t want to give anything away, but also because it’s incredibly complex. However, this particular book is about some characters who’ve ended up in North Carolina in the 1770s. So much fun! So engrossing! So dramatic! So emotionally involving!

I’ve read this book before, obviously, but I wanted to read it again because the next in the series is coming out this fall, I believe. Let me just finish by saying READ IT! Unless you don’t want anything bad to ever happen to your favorite characters, because lots of bad things happen to Claire et al. But I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Also, it’s a 900+ page book and I read it in three days. And it wasn’t the first time I read it. IT’S THAT GOOD.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Poisonwood Bible

This is yet another Barbara Kingsolver, yet another of hers that I just love love love. Prodigal Summer is the book of hers that most fits my life and personal manifesto, so to speak, but this is probably her most powerful book to date.

This book is about the wife and four daughters of a Baptist missionary who takes his family to the Congo in 1959, supposedly for a year of service, and what happens to them all, how it changes them forever. It is just so strong. I can’t even think of how to describe it fully.

It is definitely educational, in the sense that a large part of Ms. Kingsolver’s work here is to teach you about how egocentric people can be, and how different cultures can be, and some of the very good reasons that might happen, and how dangerous it can be to think you know it all, in any situation. But the part I love best about it is the stunning writing, the very distinct voices of the women, the way each character has her own flow and mindset and it’s so perfectly conveyed to the reader. It just amazes me.

Also, as a complete side note and not really very related to the storyline, I have to mention that within the pages of this book is the most eloquent phraseology I can find that explains how I feel about eating meat, and why, while I certain hope I respect others’ choices about what to eat and what not to eat, for me the best answer is to eat things that have been treated well and that have allowed the earth to be treated well, and to not make the mistake of thinking that if I don’t eat a cow, I don’t take something’s life, or thinking that I know for sure what is and is not precious, what life is worth saving and what is not. Here it is:

“On the day of the hunt I came to know in the slick center of my bones this one thing: all animals kill to survive, and we are animals. The lion kills the baboon; the baboon kills fat grasshoppers. The elephant tears up living trees, dragging their precious roots from the dirt they love. The hungry antelope’s shadow passes over the startled grass. And we, even if we had no meat or even grass to gnaw, still boil our water to kill the invisible creatures that would like to kill us first. And swallow quinine pills. The death of something living is the price of our own survival, and we pay it again and again. We have no choice. It is the one solemn promise every life on earth is born and bound to keep." (p. 347)

I forgot how much I loved this book.

Also, a less-serious side note: when I bought this book, approximately 13 years ago, I remember the guy at the checkout counter at the bookstore asking me what the heck it was about. When I explained it, he seemed relieved, and then said that he thought it was some kind of weird voodoo book. Ha! The title refers to the fact that the Kikongo words for “beloved” and “poisonwood” were easily confused by the missionary, leading to some confusing preaching on his part…Father Jesus is poisonwood?

Oh, and apparently poisonwood is a kind of branch that makes you itch and burn. Another example of how the missionary should have given more respect to the native language, among other things.

Why Girls are Weird

This book, by Pamela Ribon, is one of those grab-as-I-run-by-the-shelf finds. It’s about a twentysomething woman living in Austin who decides to start a blog before most people really know what the heck a blog is. She chronicles her life but forgets to mention that the boyfriend she’s writing about is actually an ex-boyfriend, and she fudges a lot of the minor details of her life, for creative as well as privacy purposes. Then she meets people, gets involved in the blog world, has a family crisis, has run-ins with the ex, etc.

It was a fairly decent book. The storyline wasn’t my favorite, but it was written with “blog posts” inserted into the narrative flow, and I really liked some of the blog posts. I am, obviously, a big fan of blog-writing, and I think it’s a special kind of beautiful if you can write an eloquent, moving statement on existence one day and an exegesis on cat poo another. But that’s just me. (And just for reference? The post I really looooved was the one about being the new girl. Shocking, I know.)

The problem I had with the story, I think, is that one of the love interests came out sounding a little creepy at first, so when you figure out he’s a serious love interest, it just made me feel a little weird. Some of the story is laid out in emails these people send to each other, and I feel like maybe more emails that weren’t quite as stalker-ish would have been appropriate to make me feel comfortable with this guy.

But I thought the format worked really well—it was different but very functional and pretty fun to read. I’m not really into the whole “twentysomething Austin scene,” but it was still decent.

Oh, and I was surprised to discover, upon finishing the book, that the author is a famous blogger, and that the book is quote—mostly fictional—unquote. That was news to me! Apparently at least some of those blog posts I liked so much were taken straight from her blog. Thus, I’ll have to go check it out now! (