Sunday, November 27, 2011

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

by Jonathan Safran Foer
published 2005
completed June 2011

I'm finally getting around to writing my review on Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. This one is for Trish, of Love Laughter and a Touch of Insanity. I read it on her recommendation and she requested that I review it soon, so here goes. Her review is much better than mine, so make sure to check it out.

As most know, this book centers around Oskar Schell, a nine year-old who lost his father on 9/11. It also winds an additional narrative of a married couple with a strangely dysfunctional relationship. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers how these stories intersect.

Let me start by saying that I adored Oskar, despite him being extremely precocious. I rarely laugh out loud when reading, and the first few pages had me roaring (which garnered me a few strange looks from my husband). I found Oskar's method of pseudo-swearing hilarious. Jonathan Safran Foer created an incredibly believable voice for Oskar. He walked the line often between funny and heartbreaking. Every time Oskar had heavy boots, my heart ached.

The second narrative is where I started to have reservations. Oskar and his story felt real to me, but it was a stretch for me to believe many of the occurrences in the couple's narrative. For those who have read it, I particularly had difficulty with the "nothing" and "something" spaces, and the tattooed hands. I understand what they represent, and I respect what he was trying to evoke, but for me, the story would have rang more true if their situations hadn't seemed as contrived.

Foer's writing is impressive when he's describing the emotional impact of real-life situations. This is where he shines. Ultimately, this is a story about grief, and his choice to juxtapose Oskar's grief with the grief surrounding the aftermath of the Dresden bombings was brilliant. Sometimes I focus on the lives lost in these devastating wars or acts of violence, but those left behind are central to the story. It's heartbreaking to reflect on how the lives of the survivors are destroyed, and they have to find a way to rebuild themselves around their grief and loss.

The bottom line is that I didn't love this book, but I unequivocally do not regret reading it. Foer is a brilliant writer. The gimmicks and experimental nature of the book were a slight distraction to me from what could have been a book that I loved. Do not let my thoughts detract you from reading it. Many people love Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, for the very reasons that were drawbacks for me. I would highly recommend it, despite the fact that it didn't 100% work for me.

Have you read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close? If so, what you think about Foer's unconventional approach?

Friday, November 18, 2011

2012 TBR Pile Challenge

Adam at Roof Beam Reader is hosting another TBR Pile Challenge for 2012. I am participating in his 2011 and loving it (four books to go--three of which I'm more than half way through [what is wrong with me?!?]), so I thought I'd jump in again. It's nice to tackle those books that I've been meaning to read forever, but have yet to take the time to read. I love that the list can't change, so I can't talk myself out of it! Below are the books I'm committing to read. For full rules pertaining to the challenge, click here.

My TBR List to Conquer

01.  Dracula by Bram Stoker
02.  Lord of the Flies by William Golding
03.  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
04.  Night by Elie Weisel
05.  The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
06.  Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
07.  Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
08.  The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry
09.  Coraline by Neil Gaiman
10.  Howards End by E. M. Forster
11.  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
12.  Looking for Alaska by John Green

1.  North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
2.  The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Will you join us? It'll be fun!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind

by Margaret Mitchell
published 1936
completed September 2011

Before I start the review, I just want to mention that the cover image is the same one that was on the book that I read. It was a copy that I borrowed from my library, and let me just say that I'm not a fan of that cover. What is up with Scarlett's hair? It's all whispy and looks like half of it has been burned off. Hideous, I tell you! Maybe I'm the only one that thinks so.

So, on to the book. I don't know if there is anyone alive that doesn't at least know the premise of Gone with the Wind. I'll just sum it up by saying it is a story of Scarlett O'Hara of Georgia and begins before the Civil War and continues through the Reconstruction. The scope of the novel is about ten years. I read a post by Jill of Fizzy Thoughts that made me laugh. She said that she hated Scarlett from the beginning (as did I). Click on over because she says it so much better than I can. Scarlett is awful! I kept hoping through the ten years of the story, she would have grown out of her selfishness, but no, she just seems to get worse. Despite not liking Scarlett, I actually like the novel (didn't love it though). I'm curious if there is anyone out there that actually liked Scarlett.

Gumption is often mentioned in this book as a positive trait. It is, to some extent, but where it starts to break down for me, is when morality is lost because of gumption. For example, is it okay to steal food from other so that you can survive. I'm not talking about stealing from the rich even, I'm talking about stealing from other poor who will likely starve without it? Scarlett was full of gumption; she was constantly pushing to ensure security for her family. But at what price? I think it's interesting in the end that there is much discussion about happiness. Scarlett is constantly in pursuit of what she thinks will make her happy, but what happens when she has it? Is she really happy? I'm sure you can guess what the answer is.

I know there are many who think Melanie as a character who is too unrealistic. I disagree. I have met people like her who are strong, but refuse to be dragged down into the muck. They see the good in others and are principled, yet kind. Some call people like Melanie naive, but I think she knew much more than she let on.

Having finished this behemoth of a book, I'm glad to have said that I've read it. I certainly won't be doing it again. The first half was a major slog. Once I hit about 500 pages in, it picked up and I read the rest fairly quickly. I'm a bit lukewarm on this one. I didn't find the writing anything special, not poorly written, but a little repetitive. I found the historical parts kind of boring. Historical fiction isn't a genre I generally enjoy, so out of personal preference, I was wishing those parts were more succinct.

Lastly, I watched the iconic movie a couple of days after finishing the book, and I was surprised by how much was changed. I found it interesting that they chose to leave out her first two children. For simplicity, I can see why, but I think showing how poorly she treats her first two children is quite an insight into her character. I found the movie a little slow and it took me a few days to watch it because of the length.

Am I blaspheming by saying I didn't love this? If you've read it, what are your thoughts on Gone with the Wind (especially Scarlett and Melanie)?

P. S. I still remember all of your recommendations on what to review! Thanks to everyone who responded. Life has hit me hard in the past few months, but I'm going to try to catch up. I'll definitely try to post reviews on the ones you requested first. Thanks!