Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Banned Books: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

For banned books week I dove into a young adult novel that has been hailed by as many as who have banned it.

THIS IS A FABULOUS BOOK! I read it in about two hours on the bus. I laughed out loud, I got teary eyed, most of all I appreciated the genuine-ness of this book. Quite a fun read.

This book tells the story of a teenage boy who, somewhat randomly, decides to attend high school off the reservation. This is a big deal, no one has done this before and causes him problems with many of his friends and members of his community who feel he is betraying the reservation. On his new campus he is the only person of color and feels the heat there too for being poor, for being Indian, for being different.

He is also faced with a series of tragedies. The author does a really wonderful job of portraying these tragedies realistically, for many Native Americans, these kinds of things really do happen regularly. Yet, and REALLY IMPORTANTLY I think, this book is not a sob story. The protagonist triumphs in his own way and handles tragedies as best he can. Furthermore, he is not the only one of his community to "press on", he is not the only Indian who finds a way to deal, who finds some measure of "success".

Recommendation: READ IT! IT'S WONDERFUL!

Government: "Shooting Victoria"

Government! Could have been a snore of a theme but rather was one greatly enjoyed.

Shooting Victoria chronicles the history of the eight assassination attempts on Queen Victoria's life. What makes this so interesting is the analysis of the socio-economic forces that influenced the attackers and how Victoria's reactions strengthened the monarchy.

This book was quite a tome - over 500 pages. There were some spaces where the author could have been more concise but I didn't find the length or writing style to be a problem.

Recommendation: Have a go at it.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

GOVERNMENT: Gang Leader for a Day

Sudhir Venkatesh is a first-year Sociology graduate student who hopes to impress his professors by interviewing the residents of the Robert Taylor housing projects, one of the largest and most poverty-stricken projects in Chicago. What he finds is a mini-society of drug dealers, prostitutes, government workers, and families just trying to survive. JT, the leader of the gang that runs Robert Taylor, takes a strange liking to Venkatesh and, over about a decade, gives him an unprecedented look into the workings of his gang and the influence they have on the projects they "protect."

I really enjoyed finding more about this aspect of society, but the way it was presented wasn't the best. At times, I felt like Venkatesh wanted to be writing a nonfiction book, and at times I felt like he wanted to write a fiction book. It went back and forth from telling, not showing to showing, not telling. I feel like I would have liked it more if it was all anecdotes or all exposition on what he learned and how things worked, but it went back and forth. In addition, I felt like for how long he spent with these people, he was not able to convey them in a way that made me care about them at all.

GOVERNMENT: I chose this book for government because I was very interested in learning about the inner workings of a gang. It is fascinating to me how such an unrespected life requires such intelligence. If you look at a lot of the people who run these things, they have amazing business and political skills. It was very interesting to get  a look into the inner structure and life of the gang. They had a whole hierarchy with a pay grade system, rules and laws, a trial system, and a multitude of roles for the various jobs the members need to fulfill.

Goodreads rating: 3 stars
Recommended: Yes, if you're interested in learning about an aspect of society that is totally foreign to most people, but don't expect an exceptionally well-written or compelling read.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

BOOK INTO MOVIE: The Da Vinci Code

I think everyone knows the story of The Da Vinci Code, but I will give a quick refresher. Robert Langdon is a Harvard symbologist who has been called upon to help uncover the truth behind the death of the elderly curator of the Lourve. What he uncovers, though, is the shocking truth of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the secret the Christian Church has been hiding for centuries.

I thought this book was amazing. What this book, and Angels and Demons before it, does really well is teaching you something while you read a fun, action-packed story. Though the characters aren't particularly interesting or complicated, I don't think that matters much. In my personal opinion, a good writer excels at two out of three points: story, characters, and writing style. Dan Brown excels and story and writing style, so that's all I need (not to say his writing is particularly brilliant, but for the type of story he writes it is perfectly suited).

I really loved learning about the idea of Mary Magdalene as Jesus' wife and the massive amount of evidence to support it. I also enjoyed reading about the conscious decision to devalue the role of women in the church and it's history. And, as always, the hidden meaning behind symbols and their history. I LOVE LEARNING! Lol, sorry Raeann--had to channel you! :) And I really loved how this novel tied itself up, all fitting together perfectly.

THE MOVIE As with the book, this was a fun, light watch. Though it followed the book very closely, I was pretty disappointed (though not surprised) by the fact they didn't go into nearly as much as the cover-up of the church, their reasoning behind it, and the evidence (real or imagined, it was pretty cool and convincing). Although I realize it's probably due to time constraints, as with most cutting when translating from book to movie, it's probably more to do with the controversial subject (The Golden Compass, anyone?). Though all in all it followed the book very well in major plot points and it was entertaining. And I've seen this movie before I read the book awhile ago, and I remember not having any issues following it when I hadn't read the book--so props for that.

All in all, it was a good translation. Looking forward to Inferno (which I haven't read yet, but I will before the movie comes out..)!

Goodreads rating: 5 stars
Recommendation: Highly! Fun read, don't expect something literary, because you won't get it, but you will get an entertaining read!

Books into Movies: Not into "Out of Africa"

I should preface this by saying I was unable to finish the book OR the movie.

The book: This book did have some interesting tales. It was written as a series of mini-stories within the larger tale of "how I owned a giant coffee farm in Kenya". The colonialist nonsense I was able to deal with it and roll with the "ok, uncool but that was the context at the time" but my main issue was I just didn't find it very interesting! I think this book had potential, great material to work with, it just didn't come together for me. That may be due to the time this was written and that it is adapted from her journal. Anyway, I bailed about halfway through. There are just too many cool books out there!

The movie: The movie was VERY loosely based on the book. I made it about twenty minutes in. The movie also has some interesting material to work with but it's totally NOT from the book, at least the first twenty minutes. I mean this was MERYL FRIGGING STREEP and I couldn't keep my attention. Meryl even had an accent going. And Robert Redford is dead sexy. The colonialism crap was a bit thicker in the movie, harder to ignore/keep in context. This would be a good movie to watch to illustrate the ideas and problems of colonial depictions actually. But I was just not interested.

Recommendation: Don't read/watch.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Secrets: Gone Girl

For secrets I read "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn. Everyone loves this book. I apparently, am not part of everyone.

Now that I have had some distance from it I am not as perturbed with it as I was when I first finished the book. My pacing in the first half of the book was normal and then zoomed into obsessed mode quickly in the latter half. I NEEDED TO KNOW WHY AMY WAS GONE. Because this book is a thriller I will not give away too many details.

***minor spoiler****

I think I didn't enjoy this book as much because I found the ending unjust/disgusting. As someone who advocates for the welfare of others I found the ending really disturbing - there is no way that is going to turn out ok and that is the WORST way to.......can't think of how to not give that piece away. Those of you who have read this will understand what put me over the edge.

The theme of this book is pretty obvious, Amy disappears and we don't know why. Everyone involved turns out to have lots of secrets. Ba-da-bing.

Up next: Books into Movies!!!!

SECRETS: Miseduction of Cameron Post

The first thing that Cameron Post feels when she finds out her parents have died is relief--relief that they will never know that hours earlier, she was kissing a girl. Before anything, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a story about finding yourself during the most difficult and confusing time of your life--the teenage years. It's about navigating through first relationships, it's about staying true to yourself, and it's about understanding the way the world works. It follows Cameron as she realizes she is attracted to girls, it follows her as she falls in love for the first time, and it follows her as all of that comes crashing down and she is sent off to be "fixed" at a de-gaying camp.

This book was phenomenal. It made me nostalgic for a childhood I didn't even have--the small town, lazy hot summers of swimming in the lake and exploring the countryside. The writing was phenomenal. To give you just a small example:
It was one of those August afternoons that Montana does just right, with heavy gray thunderheads crowding out the movie-blue sky and the feeling of a guaranteed downpour just beginning to change the touch of the air, the color of the sunlight. We were right in the middle of the maybe twenty minutes before the storm would hit, when it was only just promised, and every single thing in it's path--from the strings of multicolor turn flags over the pool to the sheen of the oily puddles in the parking lot to the smell of fried foods wafting over from the Burger Box on the corner--was somehow alive with that promise.

Though this book has a very heavy message, it is subtle and delicate and REAL. Most of the "message" books out there are so heavy handed they forget entirely about the plot, it becomes secondary to the grand message of the author. But in the Miseducation of Cameron Post, her being gay is so integrated into the story that you often forget that it's supposed to be different--because in this book, Cameron isn't different, she's just herself. I only wish, for one character, there would have been justice. They did something that made me SO angry that I was fuming when I realized there would be no revelation for this character--no "wow, I really screwed up, and I should apologize." But, unfortunately, real life doesn't work that way and neither should the book--it is so infuriating because it's so real.

SECRET: Cameron never denies her true self, and just like every other teenager (even though her sexuality means she has many more roadblocks and bumps in the road) she has to grapple with the reality that she is who she is and nothing can ever change that. She is able to keep her biggest secret throughout most of the book, but eventually she is forced to face it. Even though she is surrounded by people who do not accept or understand who she is, she understands that they are doing what they feel is right, just like she is:
I'm just saying that sometimes you can end up really messing somebody up because the way you're trying to supposedly help them is really messed up.
Goodreads rating: 5
Recommendation: Yes, yes, yes. Beautiful, real, intense.

Just a note, this book does contain graphic scenes with sex and drug use.