Sunday, March 25, 2007

Palace Walk (thoughts)

Palace Walk was part of my Reading Across Borders challenge. I chose it because it was set in Egypt, and I wanted a book from the Middle East and because Mahfouz is well known.

I was immediately drawn into the world of Palace Walk. The book follows the day-to-day life of a family living in Cairo. The father is happy-go-lucky with friends, but a tyrant at home, so his wife and two daughters are never allowed out of the house. Ever. Meanwhile, he has two older sons, one of whom gets caught up in the revolutionary fervor (the book takes place during WWI), while the other one gets caught up in a less-lofty fervor. His younger son, Khalid, at eleven is Mahfouz's voice at challenging a lot of societal norms, since he's still young enough to challenge them.

Mahfouz's writing is sharp, but at the same time sympathetic. He describes his characters in brutal honesty, and yet it never alienates the reader. I would never have expected to sympathize with a man who forbids his daughters and wife from leaving the house. But there I was, understanding his mindset. I'm most impressed by Mahfouz's ability to create his world and bring the reader fully into it. I couldn't put the book down, wanting to know if the daughters would get married, if the older son would win his love, etc.

All in all, I recommend the book for anyone who enjoys long family-centered epics. At 500+ pages, it allows you to sink into the world. And, it's the first of a trilogy, so there are two other books to enjoy!

Favorite Passages

It was lust, yes, but no bestial or blind. It had been refined by a craft that was at least partially an art, seeing his lust in a framework of delight, humor, and good cheer. (99)

The latter was exhausting himself by trying to act sober and walk straight, for fear his giddiness would reveal he had drunk too much. (273)

Once when he was exasperated by her reasoning, he had told her, "A people ruled by foreigners has no life."
She had replied in astonishment, "But we're still alive, even though they've been ruling us for a long time. I bore all of you under their rule. Son, they don't kill us and they don't interfere with the mosques. The community of Muhammad is still thriving." (347)

Until that time, he had never experienced such a long period of enforced idleness, deprived of all forms of activity and amusement for hour after hour. (376)

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Black Book (thoughts)

I had very high hopes for Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book. First of all, I've been slightly obsessed with Turkey for a few years now. Second of all, the back of the book blurb sounded like it was right up my alley: A labyrinthine novel suffused with the sights, sounds, and scents of Istanbul, The Black Book is a boldly unconventional mystery and "a dazzling hall of mirrors meditation on identity, memory, and reality."

Furthermore, I was prepared for a meandering, barely-there plot. After all, I've read three of Umberto Eco's books and enjoyed them all, even Foucoult's Pendulum.

And yet, the book was painful. It took me more effort to read a chapter than to run five miles. That's saying something, considering that I'm not in the best of shape. The plotline wasn't looose so much as non-existent. It starts off strong, disappears for most of the time, and then reappears at the very end. Galip is an extremely annoying character, very maudlin and self-pitying. Ruya (his wife) seems more interesting, but we don't get to find out that much about her. Jelal, the columnist, is the most firmly sketched character, and fortunately I enjoyed him.

The book is set up so that almost every other chapter is one of Jelal's columns. I really enjoyed the columns: I read them all closely, and took pleasure in the play of ideas and words. So, actually, I'd probably give half of the book three or four stars. The problem is that you have to wade through the other half. With no plot and no characters, the one saving grace for that half could be the setting. However, I feel that this book was written for someone who already knew Istanbul: I certainly didn't get a good feeling for what Istanbul felt like. Pamuk gave a lot of very specific details, but he forgot to use broad brushstrokes to paint the backdrop first.

Thus, I was very disappointed by the book. I'm not sure if I'll read anything else by Pamuk: the column chapters were so good, it makes me believe he's a really good writer, but I wouldn't want to have to suffer through the other half ever again. Should you read it? That depends. In the Library Journal's review, it says that "only the stalwart will make it to the end." So, if you're stalwart, by all means go ahead.

I only had one favorite passage, but it was a good page and a half long, so I couldn't type it all out. It's at the end, and it's Galip describing his love for Ruya.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I'm Back!

Spring Break was really nice (when isn't a week in San Antonio nice?), but there was no computer access. So, here's an updated list:

+ I've listed my non-fic challenge books: let me know if you've read any!

+ the long-awaited review of The Black Book and Palace Walk

+ The blogger-previously-known-as-superfastreader is now under the Reading is My Super Power link, and the blog is working again. Yay!

+ I'm almost done w/ my first non-fic challenge, Night Draws Near, and I'm very impressed. I've avoided all books about Iraq until now, and Shadid handles the topic with grace and erudition. Unfortunately, I didn't get to start Marquez during break: w/ a one-year-old niece, I was much too busy playing!

+ I did 'read' two complete and two half books during the looong drives, thought. Unabridged audiobooks are glorious. I, Coriander might just be my favorite book of the year. Our Lady of the Forest was enjoyable, especially coming from a Catholic background. And I'm half-way through Alice in Wonderland and The Geographer's Library. I don't know how I'm ever going to catch up on reviews!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Madame Bovary (thoughts)

As promised, my third completed Reading Across Borders book.

I'm not sure what I expected out of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary. I think, something a little more uplifting. I really enjoyed reading the novel, and Flaubert's writing flows off the page beautifully. But I wasn't really prepared for what was, in essence, a classic tragedy.

The plot is pretty simple (note that this *might* contain spoilers if you know absolutely nothing about the novel): Emma Bovary is discontent with her middle class French provincial life, and her unambitious doctor husband. She appeases this discontentment by taking lovers and buying a lot of stuff.

**end possible spoiler**

The reader sees where Emma Bovary is headed pretty soon into the novel. So, it becomes a waiting game: as Emma enmeshes herself more and more into an unsustainable life, when will crisis hit? And what form will this crisis take? Meanwhile, the reader gets glimpses of other characters, although I wouldn't call any of the other characters fleshed out.

So, what saves the waiting game from being incredibly boring? Well, it's Flaubert's ability to describe a certain emotion, or thought, or style with perfect precision. This is a book for people who enjoy language, who wish to revel in it. In fact, I'd like to pick it up in the original. Meanwhile, I'd recommend it for those who enjoy classics, and who don't mind the heroine of the novel to be an anti-hero.

Favorite Passages
But in her eagerness for a change, or perhaps overstimulated by this man's presence, she easily persuaded herself that love, that marvelous thing which had hitherto been like a great rosy-plummaged bird soaring in the splendors of poetic skies, was at last within her grasp. And now she could not bring herself to believe that the uneventful life she was leading was the happiness of which she had dreamed. (45)

How happy she had been in those days! How free! How full of hope! How rich in illusions! There were no illusions left now! She had had to part with some each time she had ventured on a new path, in each of her successive conditions-as virgin, as wife, as mistress; all along the course of her life she had been losing them, like a traveller leaving a bit of his fortune in every inn along the road. (194)

Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars. (215-6)

But casting aspersions on those we love always does something to loosen our ties. We shouldn't maltreat our idols: the gilt comes off on our hands. (320)

She longed to fly away like a bird, to recapture her youth somewhere far away in the immaculate reaches of space. (332)

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Things Ahead

I've been busy lately!

+ Check out my thoughts on Bound for Canaan: my seventh non-fic read of the year.

+ I *finally* finished Pamuk's The Black Book. Thank God. Look for a not-very-nice review later.

+Speaking of which, I realise that I'm not caught up on my Reading Across Borders reviews. So, I'd like to put up ones of Madame Bovary and Palace Walk soon. Also, I'm switching out the Achebe for Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Partly because I've already read an Achebe, partly because of Bookie's excellent review.

+I'm still going strong w/ Virginia Woolf and Lonesome Dove, my chunkster challenges. It's a little frustrating, because I've already read a lot of 400 plus page books this year. But I'm going to stick to my original choices. And, I'm really enjoying these two selections.

+On top of the TBR pile? Love in the Time of Cholera for Reading Across Borders, and I'm going to develop a non-fic personal challenge to replace the classics challenge in my side bar. I know that there's a non-fic challenge floating around here somewhere, but by the months it occurs I should be in the Peace Corps. So, I need to do it now.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Bound for Canaan (thoughts)

Yay! A discussion of a book! It's been far too long.

I checked out Bound for Canaan by Fergus Bordewich as part of my ongoing attempt to read more non-fiction. It popped up on a lot of 'notable' lists, so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Plus, I feel that someone who loves Gone With the Wind, both the book and the movie, has a hell of a moral obligation to read about how awful slavery was. It's a good balance to Margaret Mitchell's insanely skewed world.

That said, Canaan focuses on the underground railroad. Bordewich points out in the beginning that there isn't much scholarship on the actual railroad, and that popular knowledge doesn't extend much further than Harriet Tubman. Furthermore, Bordewich argues that in the past there's been a tendency to credit all of the whites involved with the railroad and discount the blacks. Not being familiar with antebellum scholarship, I can't comment as to the facts. But, Bordewich definitely does a good job of presenting the important blacks as well as the important whites involved in the operation.

There are two things that made this book really stand out, as far as I'm concerned. Firstly, Bordewich knows how to write. Canaan reads more like a particularly-fact stuffed novel than then stereotypical dry academic tome. He writes in present tense throughout the book, which makes the action more immediate. He's not afraid to speculate a bit as to what the various people might have been thinking. While this may not be kosher from an academic point of view, it makes for a damn good read. Bordewich can describe a scene well enough for me to have an image in my mind. At points, my heart was pumping along with the running slaves.

The other aspect that I really liked was that Bordewich presents the people as people. If some white involved in the underground railroad was also racist, Bordewich points that out. If someone was a bad family man, that's included. Basically, he resists the urge to deify these historical characters, which allows them to be human. I connected with a lot of them, just because there wasn't a 'holier-than-thou' attitude in the presentation.

For all the book's greatness, there was a bit of a problem: sometimes, it began to drag. Compared to the narrative-style passages, the small minority of non-narrative-style parts was incredibly boring. Sometimes, I'd have to force myself to get through a few pages, until the action picked up again. This is a small caveat, though: the difference between a great book and an extraordinary book.

If you're at all interested in antebellum American history, in the struggle for African American equality, or a good true-life adventure story, I recommend checking Bordewich out.

Favorite Passages
It was the terrible alternative that almost every fugitive slave faced at some point, and that few other Amiercans have ever been required to make: to choose between freedom or family, to leave behind wife, children, parents, brothers and sisters, or to risk losing everything. (115)

...and with the brisk steps of men who knew that whatever the outcome, they were about to make history...(420)

The Underground Railroad came into existence in an American in which democracy was the property of white men alone, and in which free as well as enslaved blacks lived under conditions that had more in common with what we today call totalitarianism than many Americans might care to admit....The abolitionist movement and its driving wedge, the Underground Railroad, forced Americans to think in new ways about that history of compromise, to face its moral consequences, and to realise that
all Americans were, in some sense, prisoners to slavery, and shackled to the fate of the slave. (437)

How Cool is this?

Mood: You're a bit of a romantic and have a taste for the exotic. You love feeling the sea breeze in your hair, sun on your skin... Slip those shoes off... You like to kick back. When it comes to art, you have a traditional and anthropological eye. You appreciate the history of a piece, the stories that it holds - you are a touch sentimental! As for music, you're a discerning listener - romantic and passionate. You love the buzz you get from watching music live - there's nothing like it. Your choice of treat shoes that you really care about your appearance, if you feel good on the outside, you'll feel good on the inside, right?

Fun: You really value your 'quiet time' - to recharge, and reconnet with yourself. You're not afraid to take yourself away from people and explore your imagination. For kicks you like to indulge in your great passions. You are probably happy spending time alone, and drive and curiousity will take you all over the world. When it comes to holidays, you see them as the perfect chance to furhter yourself - to learn more about the world around you. You like to be immersed in a completely different world and would be really bored just sitting on a beach. What grosses you out? You like things to be clean, neat and smelling sweet - that's not too much to ask ... is it?

Habits: Even if you have a healthy approach to life, you still have your little vices that keep you going. It is all part of the routine, you're a creature of habit. Your choice of drink reflects your love of stability and comfort of routine. As for the home, you have a very cool and contemporary taste and see yourself as a bit of a trend setter. You like your surroundings to be simple and as stylish as you.

Love: You're a real home soul. You care deeply about family life and all that comes with it, the love between a parent and child is so special. When you think of freedom - you think of living for the here and now. You're pretty fearless and take any opporunity given to you.

Thanks to Lesley's Book Nook for the link!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Ubiquitous Meme

Last week I was reading Bookfoolery and Babble's blog, and she posted the meme that most of the lit blogs have succumbed to. But, she also said that anyone who read it was tagged. So, I've finally gotten around to doing it.

Look at the list of books below:
* Bold the ones you’ve read
* Italicize the ones you want to read
* Leave blank the ones that you aren’t interested in.
* I've struck through books I never, ever want to read (if unbolded) or am very angry that I took time to read them (if bolded).

By the Numbers...54 Read...7 Regrets...7 TBR...10 I'll Never Read...17 Never Heard of

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

Monday, March 5, 2007


Whew. Just finished my term paper for international economics, so I let myself post again. :)

During breaks yesterday (Sunday), I went through the NYT book dispatch. My favorite article was "Confessions of a Book Abuser" by Ben Schott. Despite the distracting baby Ralph Lauren ads playing in my margin, I enjoyed knowing that I'm not the only one who doesn't mind getting a little rough with her books! In fact, Schott and I have the same dog-earing method: top corner for 'bookmark,' bottom corner for notable passages. :D I highly recommend the article: you can go here to read it, but you'll have to either sign in or sign up for a free NYT account. It's worth the minute or two out of your day. :D

Now that I have escpated the cloud of one term paper at least, you can expect some more reviews! I want to review all three of my most recent reads, two of which are non-fic!

February was a very heavy reading month for me: I was very sick for at least half the month, so that gave me a lot of empty hours to fill. 14 books in a 28 day month certainly isn't bad! If I keep up this level of reading, I'm going to have read almost as many books by June as I read last year! We;ll see: I have my doubts, though. I don't really plan on being out of commission for another two weeks any time soon.

I've been keeping up with my fellow bloggers, and dovegreyreader's latest entry has me adding another author to the TBR list: Tan Twang Eng. And, I'll probably add Andre Brink's Rumours of Rain and Alan Hollinghurst while I'm at it. In Tan Twang Eng's interview, he referenced these as his favaorite authors, along with Rushdie and Isihguro. I'm a long-time fan of Rushdie (I've read almost every book in his canon) and a new, very enthusiastic convert to Ishiguro (see my Feb entry on Remains of the Day), so I suspect I'll love the other authors as well.

That's about it for now. Oh: the classics challenge is over, and congrats to all the winners, Alyson, Lotus, Melanie, Bookfool, and Petunia!!! Looks like I have a couple new blogs to check out. ;) I went to Petunia's site, and found the 1001 books to read before you die list. I think it's very arbitrary and America/England-centered. That being said, I've read 110 of them. Not too bad!