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Thread: Recently finished books?

  1. #5161
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stevie B View Post
    Ruth Ozeki: A Tale for the Time Being + Ambitious and somewhat uneven novel. The author definitely tackled many subjects in this novel ranging from bullying in Japan, to suicide, to WWII, to the attack on the World Trade Center. What I didn't like about the novel is how some of the characters sounded like they were filling in for the author instead of speaking like real people. For example, an email sent from a busy university professor to someone she hardly knows is extremely long and descriptive. Her voice sounds little different from that of the novelist herself. What I liked, the highly original, complex ,and interwoven plot. The novel also provided some interesting insights into the dynamics of Japanese family life - something that was of special interest to me having once lived in Japan for four years.
    I hated that she essentially wrote herself into the book as the second main character. It just seemed lazy to me. The character was so blatantly just her, the author. Nearly every part of her plot I found irritating. The island life paired with the ecologist husband just seemed too "millennial' to me. The parts with the Japanese girl were great for the most part but about 2/3s of the way through the book it just got too stupid for me to take seriously. The parts with the pseudo magical-realism where Ozeki dreams and somehow connects with the girl fell flat for me.

    I was also bothered by how blatantly the novel ignored the glaring differences in time between two the plots until the end where Ozeki "realizes" the girl's plot-line occurred many years earlier.

    3/5 from me as well.

  2. #5162
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    I also found the character of the author and her husband to be less than compelling. I thought the book started off strong, but then had too many ups and downs. Thankfully, the character Nao dominates the book. She kept me reading until the end. I also thought it was interesting to read how savagely Japanese soldiers were treated by their own officers. It mirrors the bullying problem that continues to plague schools even though the Japanese media has focused much attention on the issue.
    Last edited by Stevie B; 14-Jun-2017 at 05:30.

  3. #5163
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    I loathed the husband. Every time she talked about his trees and his art installations with universities (the specifics here could be wrong, I read the book years ago when it first came out) I cringed. At first I thought t was just some sort of cheesy ploy to appeal to "millennial" readers. Then I did some Googling and realized, no, that's literally just her and her actual husband and they really live on that island.

  4. #5164
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    Ayi Kwei Armah, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. +

    Tried. And tried. And tried. Couldn't finish. Got halfway through. It's very well-written but is really a political tract disguised as a novel. I found the novelistic trappings simply too thin to sustain interest. Even though I was sympathetic to his political message, I rarely felt like I was really reading a novel. Very disappointing.

  5. #5165
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    Same way I felt about Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook. There's just numerous political manifestos sandwhiched akwwardly around a nearly unrelated flashback story about living in Rhodesia and the main, present tense story, which was a low quality family drama.

    By all means write political works but at least try to make them into coherent novels.

  6. #5166
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    Soldier of the Mist by Gene Wolfe +

    A Roman mercenary fighting for the Persian army during the second Persian invasion of Greece (the invasion 300 was about) wakes up with a head injury, amnesia, and the inability to form new memories. Every day he must write in his scroll to copy down the important events, but he must also choose what he writes, and sometimes leaves things out, or doesn't understand what's going on around him.

    Though relatively simple in its language (considering Book of the New Sun, I think this needs to be pointed out), it's quite beautifully written. But it's not an easy read. Wolfe's whole thing is writing "literary puzzles" that require rereadings to fully understand. In some of his books, the "main" storyline and key plot points need to be inferred, and that's definitely the case here. Reading some analyses of it, I got more of it than others, but I know there's still a fair amount that I missed. Overall, good, but the "surface" narrative isn't as good as Book of the New Sun, and so while I left that one exhilarated and dying for more, it might take a year or two to get around to rereading this one.

  7. #5167

    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    I've finished a couple this week. Both were solid books. Neither were anything spectacular, but very good and sometimes fantastic.

    Mario Benedetti - Gracias por el fuego

    I'm still working through my thoughts on this book, and sometimes I'm not sure to trust them. I'm still feeling like a novice in reading Spanish, but I made it through this book without really using a dictionary for much more than about 15 words so I'll take that as a triumph. That doesn't mean I understood every word, but it does mean that I felt I could understand the book well enough to work through the occasional sentence that didn't quite register cleanly in my brain. For those of us who have learned and read in second or third or fourth languages, I suspect this is a familiar experience. I look forward to the day this self-doubt has dissipated a good deal, but that day hasn't yet come. And so I'm still not sure to trust my feelings about the book entirely.

    It is a good though. An exploration of a man and his relations to his family - a wife he doesn't love anymore, a son he sympathizes with but has a troubled relationship with, a brother he doesn't admire, a sister-in-law that he wishes were his partner in life, a father he hates except for in the rare moments when he looks at him with the eyes of a father and not of "el Viejo". Much of the book focuses on his troubled relationship with his father, a businessman and newspaper owner/editor/publisher. But it becomes clear that the book is just as much about the man's relationship to his country, Uruguay, which his father is fortunate enough to have a great deal of influence over because of his newspaper and dirty business dealings. But the main character and narrator doesn't forgive his father for either his opinions - fascist at times, certainly a good deal right of center by what we are told - or his business practices. The book falters at times for being a bit too... twentieth century male in its writing, if that makes sense, pseudo-philosophical and political and existentialist, and deep in his head, and while I appreciated some of the more creative aspects I also felt a little as though the book wasn't entirely original. I also felt that this book would translate well to a movie - or maybe that is because I have seen this book in movie form before, or some story like it. Good, even very good in moments, at sometimes great if my appreciation for Spanish writing is good enough to make a statement like that (it is clear the writer is a poet at times, and this is often when the book is at its best). Recommended as a good book to read when you're just feeling a bit more confident with your spanish to step into some more adult literature but can't yet jump into the deep magical novels of Latin America. 3/5

    I'm thinking of trying to translate this book in english, for fun, in my free time. Could be a fun exercise. As far as I know, and I could be wrong, I don't think a translation exists so I can't really compare it to anything as I work through it. So that should be fun.

    Louise Erdrich - Four Souls

    I'm a big fan of Louise Erdrich. A very big fan. I think she writes wonderfully and fluidly and beautifully. I love her characters, each of which is some kind of complex bundle of narrative and intellectual powers. I admire the way that her books weave in and out of each other, being parts of one grand story spread out in all sorts of directions. I love how she straddles the relationship in North America between the colonized indigenous peoples and the settlers that have come and stolen so much from them - I love how she honours them both, how she makes them into a history of humanity and not just of forces, and how she points out injustice gently but clearly. This book does all of the things that I love about Erdrich.

    At its heart, it is a story of revenge, about how a woman named Fleur becomes the laundry servant and then husband of the richest man in St. Paul Minnesota in an attempt to get back the lands that he had stolen in his swindling acts of marriage and family-building with indigenous women. In particular is the land of her people, her tribe, and specifically that section of land with came to belong to her family after the Indian Agents (or the American equivalent) fulfilled their duty of breaking up territories into individual parcels. But it becomes something more than that as we witness another relationship grow and change, one of the most famous and beautiful in all of the books of Erdrich - Nanapush and Margaret. And then it ends in reconciliation and renewal. Come to think of it, most of her books end in some form of reconciliation and renewal, though not always of the positive sort. It amazes me that the main figure, this Fleur, is talked about by four or five narrators in this short book and never is herself given a voice to really explain herself. In fact, I don't know if I have ever read from Fleur's voice. I'll have to look back in my edition of Tracks to find out I guess.

    But it is, of what I have read of her, the weakest of her books so far. I etch this up to the writing, which at times isn't as strong as it often is (a few chapters would benefit from another edit, or at least a few paragraphs), and some of her concepts don't develop quite as much as is hoped. There are a few missed opportunities in the story-telling here, a few more scenes would have fleshed out what has been shown and likely made it all the better. The ending is something quite lovely and in between the wonderful first pages and beautiful final ones there are at least a dozen scenes that are memorable, one or two or three which are beautiful, a few more which are humorous and incredibly original. 3/5, but only because I don't believe in half points and it isn't quite a 4.

    I already want to read my next Erdrich.

  8. #5168
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    Andrée Michaud: Boundary . See thread.

  9. #5169
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    Eka Kurniawan, Beauty Is A Wound

    The second novel from this young Indonesian writer being hailed (I think a bit prematurely) as the successor to Pramoedya Ananta Toer. That said, it is a tour de force; a remarkable work that is successful on both the literal and the metaphorical level. It helps to know some modern Indonesian history, though that isn't necessary because the story works so well on a literal level as well. The book is ingeniously plotted and told. It can become a bit of a challenge to keep all the characters in one's memory--especially important because of the way the work circles around to the beginning. And the end of the book (the last 100 pages or so) has the feel of ends being tied together just a bit too quickly (albeit brilliantly). I was impressed with his first work (Man Tiger) but this is a major step beyond that. It is dense but nevertheless easy to read (the translation won a major award); highly recommended.

  10. #5170
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    Outhine Bounyavong, Mother's Beloved: Stories From Laos

    Difficult to rate. Very interesting reading about the peasants in Laos in the 1960s and 1970s. Simple writing, simple stories, the writing reminds me of nothing so much as Soviet Socialist Realism and Aesop's Fables. For all that, they're generally somewhat poignant stories about "ordinary" people and "ordinary" lives and a number end with what, in other circumstances, could almost be described as a moral. I enjoyed the book, though, and found the insights into Laos and traditional culture quite interesting. (There is a very long and surprisingly interesting essay in the beginning about the history of Laotian literature and about this author as well. In a nutshell, understanding modern Laotian lit is heavily tied to, if not necessary dependent on, modern Laotian political history.) Not a long book--can be finished in a day or two.
    Last edited by tiganeasca; 05-Jul-2017 at 22:46.

  11. #5171
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    I've been busy with work and haven't had much time to read lately. Here are some shorter works I've read over the last few months but never posted about. I mostly just wanted to get these reviews out of the way (scanning the books into Goodreads) while I work on Sienkiewicz's massive novels:

    Siddhartha - Herman Hesse

    This really doesn't need much of a review. It's universally known and massively popular.

    The reviews section on Goodreads for this novel is littered with numerous throwaway reviews that all basically state "this is one of those books that people are just afraid to say they don't like or don't understand." These are mostly written by the kinds of people that read infrequently literary novels and then expect them to literally take them on some type of life-affirming, spiritual journey. This novel isn't meant to be Eat Pray Love. That's not it's purpose.

    In Siddhartha, Herman Hesse vaguely uses the myth of Buddha as the groundwork for an examination into what is essentially "getting sidetracked by the pleasures of life."

    Siddhartha starts of as a pious, spiritual young man. He eventually emerges as a spiritual figure, one praised above his contemporaries. Soon however, he gives into carnal pleasures, becoming fat and lazy after years of being a courtesan. In the end, he realizes that physical and even emotional pleasures bring him less pleasure in life than honest hard work and a lifetime of experiences.

    Praise for Siddhartha (it became a fad in the English speaking world in the 1950s and 1960s) doesn't exist because the novel is some great religious tome. It's because Hesse wrote a short, easily digestible novella with universal themes. Hesse's prose is lyrical and written to sound the voice of a wizened buddhist relating Siddhartha's story. The real highlight here isn't the rather simplistic fable that Hesse tells, but the way in which his prose is written.

    Men Without Women - Haruki Murakami


    Easily Murakami's weakest collection available in English. Most of these stories were available in translation well before they collected in this volume. The stories are a mixed set, with some being great and others being outright terrible. The 3/5 score was an average of what I rated each individual story.

    In English-language press, most of the reviews or this collection were pretty cringeworthy. Kirkus and few other publications had decent reviews but many of the major publications praising this collection were raving about these stories like they, collectively, were the greatest thing he's ever written. They aren't.

    On the flip-side, most of the negative reviews for these stories either outright missed the point and meaning of the stories or weakly tried to levy claims of sexism against Murakami. There were also some professionally written reviews, like the one in the Chicago Tribune, that were outright factually inaccurate and reeked of bias (the author claimed Murakami's novel Kafka on the Shore won the Pulitzer prize, which aside from not being true, is impossible, given that he isn't an American).

    Yes, the female characters in most of these stories are thinly constructed, nearly emotionless muses, who serve little purpose other than being romantic partners. And that's entirely the point. It's not that Murakami can't write female characters, it's that they aren't the focus of the stories. These stories, as the title very clearly states, are about men without women. The stories are supposed to, from the male point of view, explore the various ways in which men without women cope with loneliness and need.

    The individual stories:

    Drive My Car 3/5

    An acceptable if unremarkable story about a well-regarded actor who hires a female chauffeur to drive him around after his wife, who cheated on him repeatedly, dies.

    Yesterday 4/5

    This story loses a lot by being translated out of Japanese. It's mostly about the intricacies of the Kansai dialect of Japanese and how a Tokyoite willingly learns to speak this dialect with natural ease so he can fit in with fans of his favorite Kansai baseball team. In English this dialect never comes across well and is usually just translated the same way Standard Japanese (Tokyo Japanese) is. The ending also falls a bit flat, with a rather pointless epilogue tacked on to provide brief closure for the characters.

    An Independent Organ 2/5

    I hated the tone and narration style used in this story. It felt very explanatory and simplistic, like someone talking to a child. Two well-off men, both members of the same gym, meet occasionally for friendly discussions before one of them starves himself to death over heartbreak. The characters were sexist, wealthy men who foolishly believe that their feelings are more "pure" than those of women who undertake similar actions. Halfway through parts of the story effectively take on a Kafkaesque tone and situation, but the simplistic metaphor and poor use of tone detracted too much from it.

    Scheherazade 5/5

    A disabled man who cannot functionally live or run errands outside of his house is serviced by a female character who also has sex with him. Each time they have sex she tells hime about her dreams and relates stories from her youth to him. Much of the story focuses on spouts of perversion the female character engaged in while in high school.

    Kino 4/5

    A man opens a bar in his aunt's house. Th bar rests in the shade of a large, old willow tree. Eventually the God of this willow tree becomes acquaintances with the man before warning him of impending misfortune. Again, this story loses a bit by being translated into English and most English readers may miss the point of the story. In Japan the combination of Shinto, Buddhism, and Taoism has provided many deities which can be worshipped for a variety of reasons. Most earlier Japanese monogatari and short stories are littered with these types of stories, ones in which ordinary people encounter deities. This story is basically in the same vein as those.

    Samsa in Love 5/5

    A fanficiton continuation of Franz Kafka's Metamorphoses where Gregor Samsa wakes up in Prague during the Prague Spring.

    Men Without Women 1/5

    This is probably the worst thing Murakami has ever written. A simplistic story that quickly loses focus and plot.

    John Steinbeck - The Red Pony


    One of Steinbeck's weaker efforts, there's just not enough here to make it meaningful in any way.

    Four interconnected stories about a boy growing up on a farm near Salinas, California. The stories themselves are all decently written but they're too brief and the episodic nature of the collection detracts from any interest one might have in the plot. Steinbeck would have been better off taking these four stories and writing brief fillers in between them to connect them as one novella.

    What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami


    This obviously isn't a "literary" work and it wasn't intended to be. The book discusses Haruki Murakami's interest in marathon running through a series of journal entires he wrote while training for the NYC Marathon. It's mostly just brief insights into his life. You learn about his time spent living abroad (In Hawaii, at Harvard), his writing regiment and how he crafts novels, and some of his thoughts on the earlier stages of his career (how his rather mediocre first two novellas were written and won the Gunzo prize for new writers but failed to win the more prestigious Akutagawa and Noma prizes despite being nominated). But ultimately, this is just a book about running.


    It was an entertaining quick read that took little effort. I wouldn't really say theres any point in reading it unless you're a big Murakami fan or really into running though.

    Saint Joan - George Bernard Shaw


    Another one of Shaw's feminist plays. His collection of essays on the play and Joan herself collected before the play in this edition were more interesting than the play itself for me. As I found with Pygmalion, the ending of the play wasn't very fulfilling and numerous scenes felt rushed. I realize a play can only be so long, but it seemed like many important scenes from Joan's life were cut from the events presented in the play.

    The Homecoming - Harold Pinter


    With this being the fifth (?) Pinter play I've read, I can safely say that I find the man and his reputation overrated and undeserved. I have one more Pinter play (Ashes to Ashes) that I haven't read yet, but I doubt that will change my opinion of him. He is truly the first Nobel laureate I've read who I can honestly say I felt was undeserving of the prize. There are plenty of winners I've read and greatly disliked, but I can still see the merit and reasoning for the prize. There's a difference between disliking an author and their works and finding them undeserving of the prize. Pinter manages to be the first for which I've felt both.

    Pinter most likely won for pioneering the theater of the absurd. And while to an extent this true, I really don't think he did anything Beckett hadn't already done with greater success. His dialogue, situations, and settings are all simplistic. Nearly every play is set in a single room and features cast of a few "low-lifes" going back and forth in simplistic dialogue. Pinter's world-view and politics are childishly simplistic. They're the equivalent of the college freshman who just discovered Bernie Sanders. Though far less important to his reputation, I'd also like to note that Pinter's poetry is horrid, truly garbage-quality crap (see his poem American Football for an example).

    In The Homecoming a a poor family of three sons and their widowed dad are confused by the sudden arrival at their home of the family's fourth son, a PhD of Philosophy who teaches in America and his wife (though she may not be) who at one point was a prostitute.

    The men all argue over petty nonsense while the wife attempts to subvert the gender power politics of the family. Since the family's mom died the family has lacked a female figure in their home. The men are all getting out of control. The wife is here to change this.

    The father calls the wife whore at first while she makes various sexual passes at the sons. By the end of the play the three sons and the dad are all taking turns having sex with the wife while the husband goes home to America, alone, his children now without a mother. The wife has truly become the whore she was frequently alluded to being. Some sort of great meaning is supposed to be gained here by having the wife leave her role as a mother to her real children to be the "mother" to a group of grown men in a different country. I don't get any meaning. It's a crude attempt at discussing gender politics with simplistic dialogue and a crotchety old man.

    Waiting for Godot - Beckett


    The originality, inventiveness, and importance of this single play outweigh Pinter's entire collected output. There are so many interpretations and meanings that can be applied to the characters and situations. Why is it a 4/5 and not a 5/5 then? Because in all honesty, I really don't care much for absurdist works. I get the movement, what it did, and its importance, but I really get rather bored by it all after a while.



    Last edited by Isahoinp; 08-Jul-2017 at 09:25.

  12. #5172
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    What were the other Pinter plays you've read?

  13. #5173
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    Quote Originally Posted by redheadshadz View Post
    What were the other Pinter plays you've read?
    The Room
    The Birthday Party
    The Dumbwaiter
    The Caretaker

    Including The Homecoming these are all his early plays. So maybe his late period stuff is better, I'll see with Ashes to Ashes.

  14. #5174

    Default Re: Recently finished books?

    Quote Originally Posted by Isahoinp View Post
    The Room
    The Birthday Party
    The Dumbwaiter
    The Caretaker

    Including The Homecoming these are all his early plays. So maybe his late period stuff is better, I'll see with Ashes to Ashes.
    Have you read any of his poetry or prose? I've read a bit of it but it didn't quite click with me. At the time I wasn't reading much poetry though so it might have been a literacy thing on my part.

  15. #5175
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    Bibhutibhushan Banerji (or Badhopadhyay), Aparajito + The "sequel" or, better, the continuation of, Pather Panchali. Supremely lovely book. Simple, unaffected prose taking Apu, the protagonist, from adolescence through early middle age. (Yes, Apu as in the Apu trilogy of Satyajit Ray)

    Fleur Jaeggy, Last Vanities Not my style, though she's a marvelous writer (French name, Italian language, Swiss nationality). Calling these stories "disconcerting" would be like saying that the sun is a very warm place. Perhaps I'm better off quoting the jacket copy: "'Reading time is approximately four hours. Remembering time, as for its author, the rest of one’s life,' said Joseph Brodsky of Fleur Jaeggy’s novel, Sweet Days of Discipline. Now Jaeggy has come up with seven stories, each at some deep level in dark complicity with the others, all as terse and spare as if etched with a steel tip. A brooding atmosphere of horror, a disturbing and subversive propensity for delirium haunts the violent gestures and chilly irony of these tales. Full of menace, the air they breathe is stirred only by the Föhn, the warm west wind of the Alps that inclines otherwise respectable citizens to vent the spleen and angst of life’s last vanities." As jacket copy goes, I think it's precisely on point. A disturbing book by an undeniably skilled writer.

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    Edna O'Brien: The little red chairs + See thread.

    I copied Liam's way of referring to a seperate thread (see his post on Andrée Michaud). As I argued in the support and feedback section, I think this increases findability of books or authors on this forum.

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    Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson

    3.5/5

    A quick read (only about 170 pages). Not great, but still enjoyable. Nicely written prose.

  18. #5178

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    Mario Vargas Llosa - Aux Cinq Rues (French version of Las Cinco esquinas). It could have been an ok political novel if it weren't for the lame love triangle subplot. Second worst novel of his after The Bad Girl. By the way, if somebody wants to read the french version, I'm willing to sell it for a very low price.

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    Kazuo Ishiguro: ​The buried giant See thread.

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    Hart Wegner, Houses of Ivory A compromise rating for this collection of short stories: the stories mostly deal with life either in Silesia or about Silesians elsewhere (such as Ukraine). The stories I liked, I'd give four stars to, the others, generally two or three stars. I'd read another book (he has only one more, I believe) but be cautious.

    Modikwe Dikobe, The Marabi Dance + A very interesting read about everyday life in the black townships of Johannesburg in the 1930s and 1940s, especially the conflict between traditional village life and the new, Western life under apartheid. Although a lot of words and phrases were translated, an even larger number were not, missing a great opportunity to learn even more.

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