Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary

by Helen Fielding
published 1996
completed September 2010

I picked this book up for part of the Take Another Chance Challenge hosted by Jenners.  This particular entry requires reading two books, one of which is inspired by the other.  I chose to read Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones's Diary.

Bridget Jones is a single woman in her 30's.  The new year has begun and she is using her diary to keep track of her progress on the requisite New Year's resolutions.  She wants to lose weight, drink less, stop smoking, and find a decent boyfriend.

It's difficult to review this book without comparing it to it's inspiration, Pride and Prejudice.  Although the story lines are similar, these books are very different.  While there is humor in both, Austen tends to be more witty, while Fielding's book has a more a slapstick feel.  I did laugh out loud a few times reading Bridget Jones's Diary, but the book as a whole felt superficial.  There is much more depth to Jane Austen's novel and it is a book that has been memorable to me.

Bridget is a quirky girl, afraid of dying alone--drastically different than Elizabeth Bennet, who is fiercely independent.   Bridget also seemed shallow.  Bridget was always embarrassing herself which made for a good laugh but I didn't emotionally connect with her as I did Elizabeth.  I also didn't feel like Bridget did anything to deserve Mark Darcy's affections, while I can completely understand how Mr. Darcy fell in love with Elizabeth.

It's really unfair to compare a contemporary novel to an adored classic, especially since the classic is my favorite book.  On it's own, Bridget Jones's Diary is entertaining.  It's not a book that I was really sucked into.  The humor that caught me off guard with laughs at the beginning, was tiring by the end.  It would be a fun vacation or beach read, but I wouldn't recommend it on any other level.

Classics Challenge Wrap-Up

I completed my very first book blog challenge!  I participated in the Classics Challenge hosted by Trish.  I read six classics and a bonus.  When first signing up for the Challenge, Trish asked us to share a book that we thought would become a future classic.  She listed these recommendations on the sidebar and we could choose to read one of these for a bonus.  Below is a list of the books that I read for the Challenge.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (as future classic bonus)

Besides Pride and Prejudice, these books were all first-time reads for me.  I think my favorite out of the new books would have to be The Woman in White.  I loved the mystery and the twists and turns that the novel took.  It also had an incredible cast of characters.  My least favorite was The Turn of the Screw.  I think my expectations let me down on this one.  Every review I had read mentioned how scary it was, and I just didn't find it frightening.  It was slightly haunting and has an ambiguous ending, but I didn't feel any emotional connection to the story.

I love reading classics, so I wasn't surprised by how much I enjoyed this challenge.  If Trish decides to host again, I will be sure to join in the fun.

Monday, October 25, 2010

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

East of Eden

by John Steinbeck
published 1952
completed October 2010

I had forgotten how much I love Steinbeck!  Reading East of Eden brought back fond memories of when I was required to read The Grapes of Wrath over the summer before my junior year in high school.  We had a paper due the first week of school.  I remember all of my friends griping and groaning about having to read it, but I loved it.  I checked East of Eden out from the library two other times over the past few years but failed to read it before it needed to be returned.  I think I was intimidated by the length, but now I wish I had read it years ago.

East of Eden covers three generations of the Trask Family, the Hamilton Family, and the Ames Family.  Their stories are individual until Adam meets Cathy, and subsequently moves to the Salinas Valley in Northern California.  As you can imagine from the title, the stories parallel the stories of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, as told in the Bible.

The characterization is so rich and deep.  I adored Lee, the Chinese servant of Adam Trask.  He was so wise yet humble and was wonderful father figure to the Trask boys, Aron and Cal.  Samuel Hamilton was another favorite character with his compassion for everyone.  He was an incredible friend to Adam when Adam most needed one.  Cathy is also a memorable character as she is probably the most cold-hearted and calculating character I have ever read on page.  I came to know these characters so deeply that I could anticipate their reactions to different situations.  I knew how the story would end, but it didn’t bother me.  It was not predictable because the plot was driving the story, but because the characters were.

Steinbeck’s writing is subtle but powerful.  Although there are parallels to Bible stories, don’t fear reading it if you are not religious.  It merely uses the Bible to outline a story of the struggle between good and evil.  It's a tale of morality and poses the question of whether our actions are a result of our nature or if we have a choice.  It also explores family relationships, especially between fathers and sons, and between siblings.  There are examples of love and hate, acceptance and rejection, as well as compassion and apathy and we see the affects of such interactions play out over the generations.   The ending made my heartache, but it was touching.

East of Eden is over 600 pages, but it did not feel that way.  It read so quickly and I didn’t want to put it down.   It has characters that come alive and is thought-provoking.  Even two weeks after its completion, I often find my thoughts wandering to this story and its characters.  It is now in my top ten of the best books I have ever read.  I would highly recommend this to anyone.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

On Chesil Beach

by Ian McEwan
published 2007
completed September 2010

Florence and Edward, having married earlier in the day, are in their hotel room eating dinner together.  The story takes place in 1962.  The narrative switches between the bride and groom, both virgins, and the tension is high as they explore their fear and apprehension towards consummating their marriage.

On Chesil Beach is more of a novella; you could definitely read it in one sitting.  Not surprisingly, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize as many of his novels have been.  McEwan's writing is superb, as usual.  His prose is beautifully descriptive but serves a purpose, and it never crosses into self-indulgence.  Throughout the book, there are glimpses into the past that detail Florence and Edward's backgrounds.  Some of the most beautiful passages were describing their period of courtship.  This couple truly loved each other.  The descriptions of their passion for their work--Florence as a violinist and Edward as a historian--were fantastic.

Although I loved the writing, early on in the book I was frustrated with the characters.  I understand that at the time sex was something that people didn't talk about openly, but the lack of communication caused so many difficulties.  Both Florence and Edward were incredibly selfish.  I felt Florence was especially deceitful.  There is a great quote in the book that sums up my grievance with the characters.  "This is how the entire course of life can be changed--by doing nothing."

I have mixed feelings about this book.  I have had the same difficulty with several of McEwan's novels.  I love the writing, but I don't care for the characters.  I loved Atonement but hated Briony (Cecilia and Robbie were enough to keep me from hating it though).  I loved the first half of Amsterdam but the characters turned horrid in the second half, and it ruined the book for me.  My frustration with the characters choices keeps me from wholeheartedly recommending it.  I think McEwan fans will love it, but, in my opinion, this isn't his best.

This book was read as a bonus for the Classics Challenge.  It was recommended as a future classic by one of the challenge participants.  I don't know if I agree that it will be a future classic, but then again, I don't love all of the current classics.  Everyone has different taste in books so I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Odyssey

I'm joining The Odyssey Read-along!  I'm a little nervous, but I'm going to do it.  It's being hosted by Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity.  I remember reading parts of it in ninth grade, but it has been quite a while since then!  I'm really looking forward to this, and I love the idea of the read-along so that I have that extra push to keep with it.

edited:  Oops!  I must have hit publish twice.  There are two identical posts but there are comments on both so I feel bad deleting one.  Forgive me for the error but I'm going to leave them both up.

The Odyssey

I'm joining The Odyssey Read-along!  I'm a little nervous, but I'm going to do it.  It's being hosted by Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity.  I remember reading parts of it in ninth grade, but it has been quite a while since then!  I'm really looking forward to this, and I love the idea of the read-along so that I have that extra push to keep with it.
Publish Post

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Slam by Nick Hornby


by Nick Hornby
published 2007
completed September 2010

Slam is narrated by Sam, as an eighteen year old.  He is looking back on the past couple of  years to tell you his story.  At  fifteen things finally seemed to be going well.  He was a skater (skateboarder, not to be confused with ice skater) on the path to college, things seemed to be going well with his single mother, and he had a beautiful girlfriend Alicia.  One poor decision results in a pregnant girlfriend and a life changed forever.

Hornby nails the male teenage voice.  It is the perfect mix of naïveté, self-centeredness, and arrogance.  Sam is a trustworthy narrator and you get a glimpse into what it feels like for the boy who gets a teen girl pregnant.  It’s not a common perspective and it really opened my eyes.

This book is not preachy and for that I applaud Hornby.  It is not melodramatic, but realistic and extremely effective.  It doesn’t get into the options of abortion, adoption or keeping the baby.  It is briefly mentioned but the characters make the decisions and I never felt like Hornby had an agenda.  It simply made me think of the affects of teen pregnancy on the mother, father, the child, and the extended family.  It is a mess for everyone.

Slam is not an emotional book as you would expect of a book with this subject matter.  I found myself laughing at times, at times uncomfortable with Sam’s choices, and a little sad of what he had to deal with, but I was never near tears.  As a mother, it made me reflect on my own children.  I would never want them to have to deal with issues like these as teenagers.

I really enjoyed Slam.  It was a quick read.  If you enjoy Hornby, I would recommend it.  I’ve heard this is one of his least popular books, and if that is true, I’m looking forward to reading more of his works.