Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Rating: 3/5 stars

This was the review I was writing that derailed me from blogging for 6 months. That is a preposterous proposition of course, since it wasn’t the review itself that stopped me from blogging (it isn’t that hard to come up with a few paragraphs to describe it), but this was the review I apparently did not feel too keen about finishing (and I do have to finish something once I’ve started it, even if that means I won’t have the drive to blog for 6 months).

But here we are. I will finish what I started. It doesn’t help that don’t remember what I was going to say 6 months ago about this book, or even details about the book beyond the general summary, but I did see the movie 2 weeks ago so I’ll combine my impressions. I won’t bother you with what happened since this book was a bestseller and the movie was well-viewed.

I will comment on the themes of the memoir though; first, here is the advice the book gives: when you feel stuck in your life, it is worth it to take yourself out of the environment that you feel traps you, whatever that is. For Liz, that environment was her first marriage, then her relationship with the actor guy.

This is understandable because there is something about relationships that can feel unnatural, and dissatisfaction with a relationship can easily lead to a soul-searching quest. At the same time, I do wonder what marriage means since, well, don’t you take public vows saying that you’ll stick with it until the very end?

This question is a natural reaction, and one that easily bears heavy for people who do feel stuck in their marriages (or relationships, but to a lesser degree since you don’t take vows). I’m not sure what the right course of action is, sometimes I’d like to think that if vows were taken, people should try to live up to them, especially when times are bad. This is not to say that no one can check out of a marriage (some circumstances should be allowed, don’t ask me to list them), but when you go through the whole hoopla of marrying someone, you’d think that the person you’re with is it. Now, is that natural, to just have one person in your life? Who knows? Probably not. But there is a give and take – you give up the freedom to be with anyone to take up the advantage of comfort.

Liz then goes to Italy, India and Indonesia in order to find herself after 2 soul-crushing relationships. And then she finds a man. This book begins and ends with men, which makes it interesting to think about. There is nothing wrong with wanting relationships with men, but the curious thing is that the book is billed as a journey of self-discovery, which somewhat passes for the second theme of the book, and one that isn’t obvious and arguable, but, is the journey of self-discovery just means preparing you to become the person that can attract the kind of person you want for life? I’m merely thinking out loud here but that seems fair to say.

So then, does the book advise that we do the same? I don’t think Liz aimed to prescribe anything. A memoir is just to detail a part of someone’s life, not to say that anyone should follow in that person’s footsteps. In general, the first “theme” of getting out to better know oneself is self-evident to better living. I question what I perceive to be the current underlying the river of the book (to use a metaphor, however lame), which is self-discovery, not only for oneself, but to attract.

I have to add here that I don’t think Liz went through her year of living abroad in order to find a man. I don’t impute that motive on her at all. I just think that it’s highly fascinating that the book ends with her in a relationship. She came full circle. She did learn new things while abroad, learned to enjoy life and to center herself, but I ask if those things are an end to themselves, or if they serve a larger purpose of making us a better mate to someone. There is nothing wrong with the latter, but it does sort of say something about human nature, doesn’t it?

Verdict:
If you haven’t read, you are not missing anything. But I wouldn’t say to skip entirely. It’s interesting, but not a must. Of course, this is a dated book and its 15 minutes in the limelight already passed, so unless you are in a relationship pickle or would like to read someone’s journey to self-discovery, there’s no need to pick it up to plug into society’s popular (I don’t mean popular as in highly talked about but more like pop culture) conversation about this book.


I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Length: 912 pages

The reason I picked up this book wasn’t because of Oprah’s Book Club Recommendation. The last book Oprah recommended that I remember was Stephen Frey’s Million Little Pieces, and, well, we all remember how that one turned out. I do think that whole hoopla was interesting for other reasons, but that’s probably best left for another post.

Anyway, I borrowed this from the library. I don’t know what made me pull it from the stacks of other books but I read the blurb and was instantly sold. I checked it out and what followed was two weeks of reading interspersed with bouts of the most intense (I kid, but not really) crying.

Yes, it’s a very emotionally-charged book because you just cannot help but sympathize with the character. Instead of giving a synopsis, an excerpt is probably better to showcase the book’s strengths. A synopsis runs the risk of many rolling eyes because, if you’re like me, synopses that tell you This book pulls my heartstrings so much that I could not put it down! or I felt so much for this character and I am so moved by this book! will have the reverse effect and you will end up running away from it rather than picking it up; that’s adverse to what I’m trying to do here. By the way, Wally Lamb, if you’re reading this? You’re welcome. (Still kidding. I’m not this arrogant.)

Simply put though, this book is about a 40-year-old man, Dominick Birdsey, coming to terms with his life. The catalyst for his trip down memory lane is his schizophrenic twin brother Thomas, who, believing that he is instructed by God to make a stand against the Gulf War in 1991, cut off his hand in a public library.

Excerpt:
This one is excellent because it sums up the themes of the book nicely and showcases Dominick’s guilt prominently:

When you’re the sane brother of a schizophrenic identical twin, the tricky thing about saving yourself is the blood it leaves on your hands — the little inconvenience of the look-alike corpse at your feet. And if you’re into both survival of the fittest and being your brother’s keeper — if you’ve promised your dying mother — then say so long to sleep and hello to the middle of the night. Grab a book or a beer. Get used to Letterman’s gap-toothed smile of the absurd, or the view of the bedroom ceiling, or the indifference of random selection. Take it from a godless insomniac. Take it from the uncrazy twin — the guy who beat the biochemical rap.

What I like here is Dominick’s voice and the terms he uses to describe his situation, for example, the second clause of that first line: [t]he tricky thing about saving yourself is the blood it leaves on your hands.” The blood he invokes of course refers to the blood on his brother’s hands, actual blood spilled from Thomas’ stance. But Dominick sees himself as also having blood on his hands. The blood he spills because he is the sane one. What does that mean? Why does he think that being the sane brother means that he, too, has blood on his hands? He obviously feels responsible, as only people who refer to having blood on their hands would. But why?

He answers himself by mentioning that he is both “into” the survival of the fittest and being his brother’s keeper, but the trade-off is he became a godless insomniac. He is uncrazy, he beat the biochemical rap, but he still has blood on his hands, same as his brother. But why? Simple answer is survivor’s guilt. He escaped, but at the same time he didn’t. And what I found interesting is the theory he posed that survival of the fittest and being his brother’s keeper do not go together. Again, this screams big themes. If we bring it out of context, there are literally thousands of questions connected to this. If you want to win in the game of life, does it really mean that you cannot be kind to others (this case being his own brother)?

The phrase godless insomniac also jumped out at me. He is literally a godless insomniac. He does not believe in god and he often cannot sleep. But there’s something poetic with the phrase godless insomniac, don’t you think? To be godless is to believe that you are alone. To be an insomniac means…oh I don’t know, that you cannot escape from your problems, maybe? You can’t even shut off the day’s stresses. You’re always up, you’re tired, but you can’t rest, you can’t escape from what’s in front of you. What a lonely image. A man in his 40s who is alone and can’t rest, can’t turn off the burdens he carries. A figure like Atlas, one man carrying the whole world.

And the most interesting (to me) is this phrase: “…the little inconvenience of the look-alike corpse at your feet.” I’ll let you make your own judgments on that one.

But of course, as I was reading, these things didn’t occur to me. What I felt when I read that paragraph was the beautiful phrasing even though the words describe a melancholy and lonely situation. I felt enveloped in this man’s sad, sad situation.

To complement what I have here, I have a longer excerpt (if it’s long enough, does an excerpt become an extract?) that should give you a fuller picture of what the book has to offer. I won’t dissect it, don’t worry. I wouldn’t want you staying up all night reading a treatise. I’m putting it behind the jump because it’s long but if anything I said previously interested you, please do read it. I’ll gamble that you’ll like it.

And again, I must warn you, this extract contains massive spoilers!

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Booking Through Thursday: Real Life

Booking Through Thursday asks:

I am paraphrasing from a friend’s Facebook wall her question:

“How would a teen-age boy who is going to work with his hands ever use Literature of England in his work?”

The age-old “How am I going to use this in real life?” question. How would you answer it?

Very interesting question with, of course, multiple answer approaches.

I have to channel my 11th-grade English teacher a little here, because the vague question amuses me. When I wrote essays in high school, he brutally used his pen to scratch any mention of “this.” This what? He would ask, and he would waste class time to lecture us every time he encountered it. “Explain yourself. This what?”

So this question brings back memories of that guy, his eccentric hatred of the word, and I think I know why he disliked it so much. This what? How will I use what in real life? The knowledge I gained from literature, both instructional and cumulative?  The stories I enjoyed? The act of reading (closely)? Or just books in general?

Let’s insert them one by one into the question and answer them. The answers overlap in their most basic ways, such as to expand knowledge base or to connect, but each one highlights a different application of literature. To me, at least.

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Booking Through Thursday: Periodically

Booking Through Thursday asks:

Even I read things other than books from time to time … like, Magazines! What magazines/journals do you read?

This is my first Booking Through Thursday meme question and I’m excited to partake in such an interesting practice: weekly memes! What an ingenious way to keep the blog engine running in between my reviews!

Of course the question is somewhat-but-not-really-book-related. I always come up short when not talking about books, but here is my list of non-book types of things I read:

  1. Cosmopolitan. What I always find odd is that magazines will send their mags out way before the month that the issue is supposed to cover. For example, I have already “read” Cosmo’s February issue. How can that be when it’s not even February yet? This becomes even more preposterous when you consider all the trends that it lists (new makeup! new hot steals! new things to try this month!) are a month early. Wait a minute! You mean, February’s hot steals are really January’s hot steals?! That’s right. You read it here first. Also, I don’t subscribe to this magazine. I peruse my roommate’s copy.
  2. The NY Times. When I was a freshman in college, I took a class that, kidding aside, changed my life. I loved it and I loved my professor more, who was a bitingly witty woman who dispensed her jokes in between her serious lectures, so much so that it was difficult to tell when she was joking or when she was lecturing. The class as a whole could never figure it out, so I always felt that extra bond with her when I tittered by myself, convinced I was the smartest student for having got her asides. Anyway, she told me I should read this paper everyday. I listened. I am a better person because of it.
  3. The Wall Street Journal. Fast-forward to my senior year, I took another class, which in its own way, changed my life too but definitely not for the better. My professor was interesting. He definitely loved his subject, but when he was joking, I never understood why he thought that was funny. I was perpetually puzzled by his humor. But he told me I should be reading the Journal every day. I call it reading when I scan the headlines randomly once a month.

And now, a bit of a visual:

v.    

These two are always duking it out, this time for my love. I mean look, their presentations are even screaming it. The Times is white and the WSJ is black. How much more proof of a rivalry do you need?


Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Rating: 5/5 stars
Length:
782 pages

Before I begin reviewing, a word first on my lack of updates. I’m posting a lot slower than I thought I would be. I aimed for 2-3 times a week, but I was too optimistic, I think. Of course the issue isn’t how fast I read, because I’m not reading the books I’m reviewing now, I’m just going back and reviewing what I read before, but even that takes some effort. You’d think that five times a week after work I’d be able to squeeze in the time to whip up a couple of paragraphs, but nope. In between trying to feed myself, sleeping and attempting to have some semblance of a social life, I’m tuckered out. Part of me thinks I’m making excuses (there’s always never enough time to do something!) but uhm, yeah I suppose that’s it. There’s really no reason I wouldn’t be able to concentrate to serve up the goods, but I never got the hang of typing on a desk, so I lounge in bed while writing a review and then next thing I know, a few hours have gone by and I still haven’t written anything.

So what’s the point of this? Just that I can’t promise reviews except at the glacial pace that I’m currently on now. There. That sets the bar low enough so that when I do have time to review more than once a week, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Ah-ha, the W is working extra hard to deliver content! as you will say.

Yes. I am. Making every effort!

And now, onwards with the review! Another spoiler warning, I’m going to reveal a good chunk of the book’s story but be assured that they do not interfere with the main plot, only the setup.

Synopsis:
The book takes a different angle to how the concept of magic is presented in fantasy novels. The usual offering is that the world is set in an alternative universe where kings and kingdoms rule the Earth (or other worlds of the authors’ making) and there are people gifted with the ability to use magic. Then some type of war is brewing, the characters are easily identifiable as good or evil, and they all gear up for a showdown or two. Well, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange does have all the elements of fantasy except for the first one. She sets her magical place in England and leaves the magicking to only two men, Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange.

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Rating: 3/5 stars
Length:
588 pages
Synopsis:
I didn’t pick this book up on my own. I got it for my boyfriend and after he read it, he recommended that I give it a try.

The story is simple, Shadow is leaving prison after doing three years time due to a crime that wasn’t made clear until very far in the book. He learns, however, that his wife died in a car accident just as he is leaving. Then when he was on his flight back home, he meets Mr. Wednesday, who is intent on recruiting him for a job. His name, of course, isn’t Wednesday. Shadow isn’t keen on it but Wednesday is persistent and eventually Shadow relents. What follows is a kind of weird, but interesting adventure. The “weird” factor is just its fantastical elements, though.

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The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Rating: 5/5 stars
Length: 496 pages
Synopsis:

I don’t remember how I picked up this book, but I’m glad I did. The House at Riverton is told through the eyes of 98-year-old Grace Bradley, looking back through her memories of being the house servant at Riverton Manor for the Ashbury family in 1914. The book covers the time when society changed from a Victorian perspective, where duty comes before everything else, to the roaring ’20s’ indulgence and excess.

19-year-old Grace enters the Manor grateful for having been given the honor to serve the family, but as she serves, she begins to learn what that means, including keeping the family’s secrets, working without complaints, and giving up independent thoughts. She sees, but not allowed to say; observes, but cannot judge. In this capacity, she is an honest chronicler of what happens with the Ashbury family. What society knows and what she knows differ, and she is bound by the code of servitude to never reveal. She carries their stories until her dying age, when she is forced to revisit the Manor by, but who else could it be, the media.

The media here isn’t portrayed negatively. A filmmaker came to research because she wants to find out the truth for a commemorative movie in-the-making that seeks to uncover Grace’s secrets. Can Grace let go of them after carrying them for so long? The world wants to know what happened to the Ashbury siblings, David, Hannah and Emmeline, especially to the sisters. They were close, up until a tragedy occurred at a society party in 1924, when a poet committed suicide and the sisters never spoke to each other again.

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