TBTB (Throwback Thursday Books) – Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones


The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold | LibraryThing

I originally read Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones during Christmas break my senior year of college. The balance between the macabre and whimsy never left me. The distinct point of view (POV) struck me like not much else.

Some years later, I saw a nice, hardcover edition on the shelf among the Friends of Freeman book sale. Then, over Independence Day weekend 2014, I read this book again. Eventually, I checked out the film based on the book.

Reviews of book and the movie both may be coming soon. As this title seems polarizing, comments are most welcome! If you’ve read it, what did you think? If you’ve also seen the movie, what did you think of the interpretation? I’ve got some strong opinions about both.

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Sarah Dessen’s Infinity


Infinity (Pocket Money Puffin) by Sarah Dessen | LibraryThing

(Written 19 January 2013)

Dessen, S. (2010). Infinity. London: Puffin. 9780141330778

Title and Author(s): Infinity by Sarah Dessen
Release Date:
May 6, 2010
Publisher:
Pocket Money Puffin
ISBN: 0743496728 
Pages: 33
Source: Inter-Library Loan (ILL)

Reasons for Reading: Going through Sarah Dessen withdrawals, I happened to see the title Infinity. When I saw that I could request the book through Inter-Library Loan, I did so.

Summary: A nameless heroine talks of going in circles. She now faces two daunting teen rites of passages. She can now drive. Will she be like her father and take on the town roundabout that long ago scared her mother? Also, Anthony, her boyfriend of six months, wants to make a home run. So, our heroine must decide when she wants to stop and when she wants to go on these endless lines.

One Thing I Learned from reading Sarah Dessen’s Infinity: This book was written in “British English” which made me wonder if Dessen wrote it that way or that the editor(s) added the extra “u” to certain words. 🙂

What I Liked: I liked that Dessen quickly drew me into the story. This sympathetic teenage girl faces these challenges. Also, she loves her mother even if she thinks the woman’s been silly about avoiding the roundabout. She’s sympathetic and likeable.

What I Disliked: This was way too short! I wanted to know more about the narrator. A name would have been most excellent! Come on, the silly boyfriend gets a name but she doesn’t? I also missed the references to characters from other Dessen books.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Song: Make New Friends – YouTube

Setting : Unnamed College Town (Lakeview?)

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For more on Sarah Dessen’s Infinity, check out the following sites:
 

Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth


Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri | LibraryThing

Lahiri, J. (2008). Unaccustomed earth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 9780307265739

Reasons for Reading : I’m not a big fan of short stories. However, as I’ve enjoyed Lahiri’s The Namesake, I pulled Unaccustomed Earth off the shelf at the HCPL branch where I work.

Summary: Lahiri tells eight stories of first generation Bengali Americans.  All these stories deal with the ups and downs of families and relationships.

Unaccustomed Earth is broken into two parts. Part I is comprised of the first five stories. Among them are “Unaccustomed Earth,” “Hell-Heaven,” “A Choice of Accommodations,” “Only Goodness,” and “Nobody’s Business.” The book is the namesake of “Unaccustomed Earth” tells of Ruma, a young mother in Seattle. When Ruma hosts her visiting widower father, she prepares for him to live with them. While her father tends to her garden and bonds with her son, he has his own ideas about what he wants to do. “Hell-Heaven” confronts the topics of social strata in both old and new worlds.  “A Choice of Accommodations” shares the nearly failed attempt of a husband to turn an old high school friend’s wedding into a romantic weekend for his wife. Lahiri tells of a sister who doesn’t know what to do about her alcoholic brother in “Only Goodness.” Part I ends with “Nobody’s Business,” a lovesick grad student watches his lovely Bengali roommate’s life implode.

Part II is called “Hema and Kaushik.” These three stories – “Once in a Lifetime,” “Year’s End,” and “Going Ashore” focus on two characters – Hema and Kaushik. Teenage Kaushik and his family stay with young Hema’s family. While they go on to lead very seperate lives, circumstances reunite them twenty years later.  

What I Liked : Lahiri’s writing style compels me to continue reading her work. I found myself empathizing with the jerkiest of jerks and understanding their plights. Lahiri’s talent shines from within Unaccustomed Earth.

What I Disliked : By the time I’m absorbed and enthralled in the story, it has ended! I especially wanted to read more about Hema and Kaushik.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: Nicola Conte – Dossier Omega – YouTube

Setting: Cambridge Massachusetts, Seattle, India, Italy, Thailand

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Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot


The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides | LibraryThing

Eugenides, J. (2011). The marriage plot. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 9780374203054

Reasons for Reading : Yippee!!! Jeffrey Eugenides wrote another book. When I saw The Marriage Plot on the bestseller’s list, I added my name to the waiting list for a copy from HCPL

Summary: Starting the morning of Class of 1982’s graduation from Brown University, Madeleine Hanna faces the cold, hard reality of her breakup with Darwinist biologist Leonard Bankhead and very little promise of grad school in the near future. Her take on the marriage plot and Jane Austen’s novels hasn’t exactly wowed Yale Grad School. More immediately, she must deal with her parents. As the Hannas treat Madeleine to breakfast,  Mitchell Grammaticus, a student of Christian mysticism, who believes Madeleine is his soul mate. As Madeleine and Leonard make up and head out to a lab on Cape Cod, Mitchell takes a world tour, aiming to forget Madeleine.

What I Liked : Author Jeffrey Eugenides describes everything so well. I could see these dysfunctional characters. While I am a generation behind them, I still recognized the confusion of life beyond graduaton. Characters such as Madeleine and Mitchell were quite familiar because all three of us over-analyze practically everything.

The ending, which I will not reveal, was to my liking as well.

What I Disliked : One of my friends who read the book before I did warned me about some extra descriptive passages within the book. Going in with my eyes open, I found this book to have high cringe factor.

Also, I wished for more breaks – such as chapters. The Marriage Plot definitely is broken down into parts. However, these sections were, well, stealthy. With these Ivy League alum, much intertextuality can be found with the covers. That’s cool, especially the mention of Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline. While this techniques offers context, it also made the book with the long sections seem infinitely longer. I’m not even going to touch the semiotics within, either.

I wanted to throttle, above all other characters, Leonard and Madeleine’s sister, Alwyn. Amongst a strange and disillusioned and delusional cast, these two deserved the padded cells and straight jackets the most.

Lastly, I liked both The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex better. Eugenides’ previous novels offered, above all else, unique narrators. The former spoke in the form of a group of men reflecting upon something from their adolescence while the latter had the incomparably omniscient Cal Stephanides. The Marriage Plot had ordinary third person omniscient points of view.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Song: Talking Heads – “Once In A Lifetime” – YouTube

Setting : Providence, Rhode Island; Detroit, New York City, New Jersey; Portland, Oregan; Cape Cod, Boston, Provincetown, India, France, Ireland, Greece

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For more on Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, check out the following sites:

Ann Brashares’ Sisterhood Everlasting


Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares | LibraryThing

Brashares, A. (2011). Sisterhood everlasting: A novel. New York: Random House. 9780385521222

A few years ago, I read all four of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books. Later, I read 3 Willows, perhaps an extension of the aforementioned series. When I recently stumbled upon Sisterhood Everlasting on Amazon, I quickly requested the book through HCPL.

Warning: This review is meant for those who have read all the previous novels ONLY.

Brashares picks up the story of the four best friends – Tibby, Lena, Carmen, and Bridget, ten years later. They’re all grown up and leading seperate lives. Carmen plays a character on a TV show and lives with her producer fiancé. Lena teaches art at RISD and wonders about what life would’ve been like had she been with Kostos. Bridget lives with her boyfriend Eric in San Francisco. When Tibby invites Lena, Carmen, and Bridget to a reunion in Greece, all the sisters are estatic. However, this is a moment which changes their lives irrevocably.   

While I found the climax of this book devastating, I read the whole book. When I made it to the last pages, I felt relieved. Still, I’m not crazy about some of things which took place. Perhaps I’m too fond of happy endings sans tragedy.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Song : These are Days – YouTube (Natalie Merchant)

Places : New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, San Francisco, Greece, Australia

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Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader


* A 1001 Books Book

Schlink, B. (1998). The reader. New York: Vintage Books. 9780679781301

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink | WorldCat

I spotted a copy of this slim book on the Friends of Freeman Library bookshelf. Moving quickly, I managed to buy it. Despite what I previously heard about the heavy topics, I rapidly finished this book.

Divided into three parts and told in the first person narrative form, Part I begins in West Germany in 1958 when fifteen year old Michael Berg becomes gravely ill on his way home from school. Thirty-six year old tram conductor Miss Schmitz sees him and plays the Good Samaritan by hosing down his shoes and guiding him down the road. Michael finds his way home, where he convalesces from hepatitis. His father, a philosophy professor, and his mother keep him from leaving home. When he’s well again, Mrs. Berg sends Michael with a bouquet to Miss Schmitz’s door to show his appreciation, discovering he’s drawn to her. Miss Schmitz catches him watching her dress and Michael runs from her place. However, Michael returns to Miss Schmitz’s apartment, helps her with lugging coal, and becomes covered with coal dust. Miss Schmitz insists Michael bathe and when he does, Miss Schmitz seduces him. A love affair ensues as Michael settles into a routine of visiting her apartment – bathing, having sex, and reading. Michael reads aloud to Miss Schmitz, who in turn, reveals her first name to be Hanna. So, Michael reads classics such as The Odyssey and War and Peace to his lover. During their affair, they don’t talk much about their lives and Hanna becomes morose and abusive at times. After a few months of this, Hanna disappears. Michael develops into a sullen heel himself.

In Part II, as a law student in 1965, Michael and his classmates observe a war crimes trial. Former female Schutzstaffel (SS) guards are on trial for the deaths of 300 Jewish prisoners. One of these guards just happens to be Hanna, Michael’s former lover. Even more perplexing is the fact that Hanna, unlike the other women on trial, refuses to defend what she did as an SS guard. Then, Michael understands that Hanna is hiding an even darker secret. Michael faces the dilemma of letting Hanna “hang herself” for the crime or to reveal what would set her free.

Part III holds the conclusion, taking place in the 1990s. Herein, Michael comes to terms with his relationship with Hanna and choices they’ve made. Without spoiling the book, all I’ll say is that he seeks absolution.

What an austere little book! The sparse prose and clipped tone of the work seemed in perfect accord with the Michael Berg’s thoughts. Also, The Reader delves into the psyche of a rich inner world and thought life – read cerebral. Another element worth noting, Michael’s rather miserly when it comes to labeling people. For example, he never offer names for his parents nor his siblings. Then, he doesn’t name the survivors who bring about Hanna’s trial. Simply, Michael bestows names upon few.

Schlink portrays the intimacy of the two German generations – the Nazi participants (willing/unwilling) and the post-War youth who desire to rectify their fore bearers’ mistakes. He shows precisely the grayness that contemporary analysts find polarizing. No matter how much Michael’s generation wants to wipe the slate clean, none of us should forget. Michael even recognizes how his own father, a philosopher who focuses on Kant and Hegel, inadvertently supported the Nazi cause by writing hiker’s guides. They are inseparable.

Another remarkable theme is ignorance versus knowledge. Enlightenment leads not just to better ways to make a living for oneself, it also opens the path to better decisions.

Then, there’s the intertextuality – the complex relationship between a text and other texts taken as basic to the creation or interpretation of the text (Merriam Webster 2011). Michael’s literary selection came from Enlightenment Era.

Lastly, there’s the prevailing theme of humanity. Part III sees to a purposefulness in Michael that Part II seems to lack. Here, the titular Reader becomes enlightened and compassionate.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: YouTube – Nicole Atkins – Together We Are Both Alone – Live Troubadour

Places : Germany, Poland, The United States

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For more on Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, check out the following sites:

Charles Webb’s The Graduate


The Graduate by Charles Webb | LibraryThing

* A 1001 Books Book

Webb, C. R., Brick, S., & Blackstone Audio (Firm). (2008). The graduate. Ashland, Or.: Blackstone Audio. 1433255456

The movie has pervaded American culture since its debut in 1967. Growing up in the 1990s, I remember listening to Simon and Garfunkel sing about Mrs. Robinson because my dad chose what music we listened to when we were driving. Like many other great movies, The Graduate was based on a book. Seeing that Houston Public Library owned the audiobook version, I requested it and was soon listening to this bildungsroman.

Brilliant but disillusioned Benjamin Braddock just graduated from some nice institution in New England and has returned home to Southern California. He’s discontented, unhappy, listless, seemingly aimless, not to mention whiny. His parents’ prodding just exacerbates the issue. Then, the wife of his father’s business partner, Mrs. Robinson, begins pressuring him into an adulterous affair. With nothing “better” to do, Benjamin finds himself meeting Mrs. Robinson in a hotel room. This is all fine and dandy until the Robinsons’ lovely daughter, Elaine comes home for a student holiday from Berkeley. Cuckolded Mr. Robinson urges Benjamin to date Elaine while Mrs. Robinson has other ideas. Then, Benjamin suddenly has something. . . rather someone, to live for beyond postgrad.

Once I recovered from my initial dislike of the petulant Benjamin, I enjoyed this morality play. Throughout most of it, I was purely disgusted by Mrs. Robinson and aggravated with the others “over thirty.” It amused me that the only characters with first names were the kiddos. . . just like school. I’d recommend this dark comedy to the mature reader.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Song: “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel

Places : The East Coast, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara

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