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:

Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises


Audiobook read by William Hurt

*1001 Books Book

Hemingway, E., & William, H. (1926). Ernest Hemingway’s The sun also rises. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc.  9780743564410

I attempted reading this particular Hemingway novel several years ago but wasn’t in the mood. So, I added this to my “To Be Read/TBR” list and read other books. In my perpetual quest for shorter audiobooks, I stumbled upon The Sun Also Rises in the HCPL catalog. When I noticed that the narrator was William Hurt, I decided to give The Sun Also Rises another try.

Narrator Jake Barnes  is an American journalist expatriate in Paris as well as a World War I veteran.  Injuries from WWI have rendered Jake impotent. He drinks a lot and is a bullfighting aficionado.

Jake begins the novel by describing his “friend” Robert Cohn. Cohn is a rich Jewish American expatriate who, like Jake, is a writer. Cohn didn’t fight in The Great War. Facing much anti-Semitism at Princeton, Cohn has grown a chip on his shoulder; he fits right in with his contemporaries of Rive Gauche and the Lost Generation. Cohn lives with his social-climbing girlfriend Frances Clyne.

Listlessly, Cohn seeks escape and stops by Jake’s office to get him to go to South America with him. Jake turns him down and avoids Cohn as much as possible. That evening, Jake drifts through bars and clubs and eventually runs into the love of his life. The beautiful, magnetic Lady Brett Ashley is a twice-divorced Englishwoman whom Jake met during the War. Brett loves Jake but will not commit to Jake due to his impotence. Brett does not commit to any man.  Cohn sees Brett, falls for her, and an affair ensues.

All of this proves calamitous when Jake treks to Pamplona to see the bullfights. Jake’s an aficionado whereas his friends want to party. He’s joined by fellow expatriate and war veteran Bill Gorton, Brett, Cohn, and Mike Campbell, Brett’s fiancé. When the handsome bullfighter Romero enters the scene, Brett wants him. At this point, Brett has three men competing for her attention.

The writing and tragedy are exquisite. Jake’s star-crossed love is poignant; the disconnect of this group is stiffling. Jake finds himself in a bind – should he extend Brett in the form of Romero or should he remain true to the code of Spaniard bullfighting aficionados?

Four Out of Five Pearls

Places: France, Spain, The United States, The United Kingdom, Italy

Literary Ties: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, Ecclesiastes 1:5,

For more on Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, check out the following:

Libba Bray’s Going Bovine


Bray, L. (2009). Going bovine. New York: Delacorte Press. 0385904118

Davies, E., & Bray, L. (2009). Going bovine. New York: Random House/Listening Library. 9780739385579

Yes, they say you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. However, seeing the cow carrying a whimsical gnome drove me to check out the book from HCPL. Unfortunately, I had a stack of other books at the time and had to turn in the book. Later on, I checked out the audiobook and was quite pleased by Erik Davies’ narration.

Cameron John Smith seems to be a stereotypical sixteen year old boy living in Hidalgo, Tx – too smart to give a flip about anything. He’s an awkward underachiever who has rejected the world before it can reject him. He tries to get by without calling much attention to himself. Yet, his body seems to have lost control. Cameron sees weird things, too – a punk angel, fiery giants, etc.

By some odd twist of fate, Cameron has gotten Creutzfeldt Jakob’s Disease (commonly known as mad cow disease) from a burger eaten at his former place of employment, Buddha Burger (ironic, isn’t it?).  (A side note here for all of my former Natural World II classmates – thanks to Deadly Feasts, we know all about CJD and folks going bovine.) Cameron finds himself in the hospital bed by spring break, sometimes sharing a room with a hypochondriac dwarf classmate of his, Gonzo. That is when Dulcie, the punk angel addresses him and commissions him to save the world in exchange for a cure. Finding he has nothing left to lose, Cameron ventures forth with sidekick Gonzo.

Without revealing much more, I loved the parts involving Balder, the Norse god trapped in a garden gnome shell. Also, I can describe this novel with one of my favorite words – quixotic. Cameron goes on quests, has a sidekick, fights for the honor of Dulcie (Dulcenea), and tilts windmills.

The imagination and creativity of Bray impressed me greatly. Nonetheless, she carefully minded boundaries; leaving Don Quixote and Disney World as is.

One caveat: this is for older teens. Going Bovine deals in topics such as sex and sexuality as well as using profanity.

ALA | The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, given by YALSA

Four out of Five Pearls

Word Bank:

Places: The United States

For more on Libba Bray’s Going Bovine, please check out the following:

Kay Hooper’s Bishop/Special Crimes Unit Novels


Several years ago, Kay Hooper’s book Amanda caught my eye. Hooper hooked me pretty quickly with Amanda — she had romance, mystery, suspense, Gothic, etc all in one book. From there, I kept on reading Hooper’s books when I was in high school.

During one of my college summers, I picked up another one of Hooper’s books. This time the book had all that good ol’ Amanda had plus characters with ESP! It’s like Heroes in all that these people can do the most extraordinary things. I know it wasn’t the first one but I had just read a Bishop/Special Crimes Unit Novel. Earlier this year, I finished Blood Ties, Hooper’s twelfth novel in this serious and the conclusion of the Blood Trilogy. Hooper’s Bishop/Special Crimes Unit Novels are divided into trilogies – Shadows, Evil, Fear, and Blood. Who know what eerie trilogy is next in line?

Throughout the series, we have the adept Noah Bishop of the FBI. He has numerous psychic abilities and a vision the readers see him actualize. Bishop seeks out other psychics to form the Special Crimes Unit. Within this unit, Bishop has clairvoyants, mediums, telepaths, etc. They investigate some evil psychopaths – battling it out with their spidey senses.

When it’s not apropos for the government to touch certain issues, there’s the civilian Haven. Within the latest trilogy, the Haven operatives are introduced.

Until the Blood trilogy, these books didn’t necessitate reading in numerical order. The characters and events were mostly unrelated before this point. Nonetheless, it’s best to read them in order. In Blood Ties, Hooper provides not only a glossary of psychic abilities, she also has agent bios. Thank you! I was getting lost.

The whole series is great! Hooper brings back a few of the characters repeatedly – Bishop, Miranda Knight, and Hollis Templeton. Hollis is a survivor who’s been thrown into the psychic world and whose abilities seem to grow in both number and intensity.

Hollis is prominent in the Blood trilogy, especially Blood Ties. I thought the Blood trilogy was visceral and gratuitous. Also, I was frustrated by the cliffhanger in Blood Dreams and the dependency of these three books on one another. If it weren’t for the agent bios, I would’ve been completely in the dark.

Four and Half Out of Five Pearls (for the series)

Places: The United States

Word Bank: (as classified/defined by Bishop’s team)

‘Adept’ is the word used to label any functional psychic generally; the specific ability is much more specialized.

Clairvoyance: the ability to know things, to pick up bits of information, seemingly out of thin air.

Dream-projecting: the ability to enter another’s dreams.

Dream-walking: the ability to invite/draw others into your own dreams.

Empathy: experiencing the emotions of others. An Empath.

Healing Empathy: the ability to not only feel but also heal the pain/injury of another. An Empath.

Mediumistic: the ability to communicate with the dead. A Medium.

Precognition: the ability to correctly predict future events. A Seer.

Psychometric: the ability to pick up impressions from objects.

Regenerative: the ability to heal one’s own injuries/sicknesses.

Telekinesis: the ability to move objects with the mind.

Telepathic mind control: the ability to influence/control others through mental focus and effort. Extremely rare ability.

Telepathy (touch and non-touch or open): the ability to pick up thoughts from others. A Telepath.

The ability to see into time (unnamed).

The ability to see the Aura of another person’s energy field.

The ability to Channel Energy usefully as a defensive/offensive tool/weapon.

And the ‘Spider-Sense’ is the ability to enhance one’s normal senses (sight, hearing, smell) through concentration and the focusing of one’s own mental and physical energy.

For more on Kay Hooper’s Bishop/Special Crimes Unit Novels, please check out the following sites:

Stephen King’s The Dead Zone


Read on the couch while watching TV

King, S. (1979). The dead zone. New York: Viking Press. 9780670260775

While reading Stephen King’s memoir On Writing, I realized The Dead Zone he wrote was the same one that inspired the recent TV show starring Anthony Michael Hall. I requested one of the two copies in the system and soon read the book from cover to cover.

Nice guy John Smith is left comatose in October, 1970 by a severe car accident. He comes out of a five year coma with many dead zones in his brain but an uncanny ability to see past and present just by touching a person. When he shakes the hand of a rising politician, he sees doom. What is John Smith to do?

King follows Johnny Smith and a number of other characters through this crazy ride of a story. Previously, I’d read Carrie

and The Green Mile by King. I definitely preferred The Dead Zone to Carrie. Not only was it a riveting story, The Dead Zone also was a capsule which predated me. I found the views on Vietnam, Watergate, and 1970s politics fascinating.

King created clear portraits of his characters. His depictions of bad guys such as Greg Stillson were frightening! Still, Johnny was an authentic hero.

I saw a few episodes of the series which was “based on characters” from the novel. I liked it, too, but wished they hadn’t messed so much with Johnny’s parents, Herb and Vera Smith. C’est la vie!

Three and a Half Out of Five Pearls

Places: Maine, New Hampshire, the United States

Word Bank:

  1. Psychic
  2. Psychometry

For more on Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, check out the following links:

What’s in a Name? The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri


 

Goodreads | The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

*1001 Books Book (2008)

Lahiri, J. (2003). The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 0618485228

Young Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli have come from Calcutta, India to live in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the late 1960s. Ashoke is an engineering professor at MIT and Ashima is desperately homesick and pregnant. In 1968, Ashima finds herself going into labor and she gives birth to a son in an American hospital. The Gangulis await a letter from Ashima’s grandmother to arrive; one which will have the name for their son. The grandmother has not told anyone the name. This is a Bengali tradition. Somehow, the letter becomes lost before reaching the Gangulis in Massachusetts and the grandmother dies. Another Bengali custom is to give children a pet name as well as a formal one. However, the pet name of Gogol (namesake of the Russian writer) becomes the formal name of the Gangulis’ son. Being an Indian American and the namesake of a Russian writer further complicates the experience of the first generation American in his search for identity. Throughout the rest of the book, Gogol struggles to find himself as a person who has one foot in his parents’ Bengali existence and the other in the pervasive land of his birth, America. Gogol even reaches the point of trying to solve his “name problem.”

The Namesake definitely tells of the Asian Indian experience in the United States. While the story is delivered in third person, most of the narrative is seen through the eyes of protagonist, Gogol Ganguli. A couple of key parts of the book are spent with Ashima Ganguli and these capture the confusion of a person in unfamiliar territory.Yet, it is Gogol and his younger sister, Sonia, who teach their parents about American traditions such as Christmas. Later in the book, Gogol faces further issues of bridging the gap of East and West. There are numerous events within the book where Ashima is hosting a party where Indian food is served and enjoyed in great proportions. As an adult, Gogol compares the experience of eating dinner with the Gangulis to that of dining with the family of a Caucasian woman he dates as an adult. Another element not to be missed in the book is the arranged marriage of Ashoke and Ashima versus marriage for “love” at which the American Gangulis seek.  

I decided to read The Namesake because it illustrates a contemporary immigrant experience in addition to one of a first generation American. When the reader is with Ashima, he or she sees life of a bewildered and lonely woman in a strange place. Then, Gogol shows what it is like to be the link between India and America for his parents. I found both Ashima and Gogol to be sympathetic characters making the best of their respective plights. These two are good hearted and well-intentioned. Also, the Gangulis and most of the other characters in this book were very easy to recognize for me and I am not Bengali. I learned a whole lot about some Indian traditions and moral dilemmas (i.e. vegetarianism, celebrating Christmas, etc).

Not only would I recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about Bengali life in America or readers looking for an experience similar to their own, I would suggest this to anyone who enjoys good literature. Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters and situations are very realistic and encourage readers to consider the answers to questions like “Who am I really?” and “Am I defined by my family or my name?” This is a great read for patrons wanting something a little different and edifying. Also, fans of Madame Bovary and ironic situations would appreciate this book. I do not imagine the Christian fiction audience would like it much due to bad language and sexual situations. This is not a light, fluffy book, either. I would be excited to encourage anyone else to read The Namesake.

4.75 out of 5 Pearls

 

Wrapped up in Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros


Cisneros, S. (2002). Caramelo. New York: Harper Audio. 9780060515911

 Cisneros, S. (2002). In Caramelo, or, Puro cuento: A novel. New York: Knopf. 9781400041503

Caramelo was a novel of epic proportions (eighty plus chapters) written by well-known author Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street). The book was published in 2002 by Harper Collins. The audio book is read by author Sandra Cisneros. I both listened to and read Caramelo.

This book seemed semi-autobiographical to me. Like the narrator, Lala Reyes, Cisneros was born into a large family and she was born in Chicago in the 1950s. Also, both are the only daughters born into the family. Each is of Mexican descent and, of course, each woman can really spin a thread. Nonetheless, the novel is prefaced with, perhaps, a caveat saying that not one bit is true. In fact, Cisneros disclaims, “If, in the course of my inventing, I have inadvertently stumbled on the truth, perdónenme.” Caramelo came in a Spanish edition as well. The English version which I experienced is liberally sprinkled with authentic Spanish phrases.

A few things about Caramelo caught my attention before I decided to read the book. The mention of the rebozo of San Luis Potosi, Mexico reminded me of mission trips I went on to SLP and my own search for a rebozo. Also, I read the back and saw that part of the book takes place in San Antonio, each Texan’s second home town. Then, there was the curiosity about Cisneros’s writing style. So, I gave Caramelo a chance.

With Caramelo, the reader is given a chance to learn or brush up on Mexican history, immerse him/herself in the Mexican-American experience as well as learn the stories and, sometimes, the Reyes family history. The young narrator, Celaya “Lala” Reyes provides her audience a window into her heritage, weaving in strands to create a rich, poignant caramelo rebozo of a tale.

Lala’s paternal grandmother, Soledad Reyes, comes from a family of the legendary, Mexican shawl of San Luis Potosi. The book begins with an annual summer pilgrimage from Lala’s native Chicago to visit the grandparents, the Awful Grandmother and the Little Grandfather, in Mexico City.

Caramelo begins with one such summer when Lala was a little girl. Here, the Awful Grandmother rules the roost. The Awful Grandmother dotes on her favorite child, Lala’s father, Inocencio, to the irritation of Lala’s mother, Zoila, and to the exclusion of the rest of the Awful Grandmother’s children. When Zoila reaches her breaking point with the Awful Grandmother, the story takes the reader on a journey to the time the Awful Grandmother was a sad, lonely little girl called Soledad Reyes.

The reader finds the little Soledad being sent with her late mother’s caramelo rebozo, a shawl of boasting the colors of toffee, licorice, and vanilla, (Cisneros 94) to Mexico City from San Luis Potosi and into a fateful introduction to Narciso Reyes (the Little Grandfather). In the midst of the Mexican Revolution (1911 – 1920), Narciso and Soledad come together, marry, and start of family. Inocencio, the first child and the favorite of Soledad, was born. As a young man, Inocencio moves to United States and works his way to Chicago, and meets Mexican-American Zoila.

The Awful Grandmother moves in with the Chicago Reyeses after the death of the Little Grandfather. At first, they all live in Chicago. Then, they all move to San Antonio where the Awful Grandmother dies. Teenage granddaughter Lala is left with numerous loose ends and looks into the family histories and stories to better understand her late grandmother.

Some reviewers have compared Caramelo to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I believe that while the Reyes family may not be monetarily wealthy, they are rich with stories and identity. At times this book was reminiscent of Forrest Gump in the numerous appearances of famous and/or infamous, true people. However, I did like the historical context these cameos lent the work.

For the most part, I enjoyed listening to this book. Cisneros was able to better convey her points with her vocal characterizations – from the Awful Grandmother’s whine to Inocencio’s formality to Zoila’s crackling sarcasm. Additionally, Cisneros can pronounce these words. She knows her own stuff and that’s great. Still, it was good to have the book to see exactly how some of these words looked so I could say, “Oh, that’s how you say that word.” If anyone has as little understanding of Spanish as I, Caramelo may be a struggle.

I appreciated that many of the characters had an oft-repeated sentiment throughout the work. Narciso (the Little Grandfather) was a man feo, fuerte, y formal although he was not ugly (Cisneros, 103) while Soledad (the Awful Grandmother) reminds herself “Just enough, but not too much (92).

I am happy I stuck it out, though. I was able to see Lala make and wear her very own rebozo with the help of various relatives, especially her grandmother. Thus, I recommend this to the patient history buff out there.

Caramelo receives three out of five pearls from me.