Author Archives: W

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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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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The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Rating: 5/5 stars. I love this book!
Length: 569 pages
Synopsis:
This is exactly the kind of historical fiction I like to read: Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White is a detective story where we uncover the events of the book through the testimonies of different characters.  The first page of the book summed up what Collins was trying to achieve perfectly:

Thus, the story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court  by more than one witness–with the same object, in both cases, to present the truth always in its most direct and most intelligible aspect; and to trace  the course of one complete series of events, by making the persons who have been most closely connected with them, at each successive stage, relate their own experience, word for word.

The main characters are Walter Hartright (a drawing master), Laura Fairlie and her sister Miss Halcombe. The woman in white is Anne Catherick, whom Walter meets in the middle of the night in a strange circumstance while on his way to the Limmeridge House to teach drawing to Laura and her sister.

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Blankets by Craig Thompson

Rating: 4/5 stars because of the universal themes of coming of age and first love. The graphic novel format is a plus and adds to the perspective.
Length: 592 pages.
Synopsis:
This is a wonderful and funny book that I read earlier this year through the recommendation of Flashlight-worthy Books. The book is an illustrated novel, drawn in black and white and tells the story of the author’s relationship with his brother, his experiences in Christian youth camp and his first love. It’s hefty, coming at about 600 pages, but every page is worth it and once you’ve started, you won’t be able to put it down. The final read time for me must have been under 3 hours, max, since I breezed through it. You will too, once you get engrossed in the story.

What I like about this one is that it says a lot without clubbing you over the head with it. The author was coming to terms with his faith and what his religion says at a time when he was experiencing love for the first time. This theme isn’t new but the format of the book allows exploration of the topic without bogging you down with heavy descriptions and details. The graphic strips make you visualize the scenes, rather than imagine them, making you feel as if you’re witnessing the scenes happening (like a movie) without projecting yourself into the book and experiencing the scenes as if you are the author. This is a novel method because it makes the book pleasant overall, yet it can still make you feel that wrenching feeling when you sympathize with the characters at all the appropriate times.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Rating: 3/5 stars
Length: 600 pages
Synopsis:
I borrowed this from my boyfriend’s mom since I was curious about it. This book spawned two sequels and a movie so I don’t think a plot rehash is necessary, but for those who may not know, the story revolves around Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist and Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the tattoo. Blomkvist published a story against the head of a financial corporation and was sued for libel. He lost the case and was imprisoned. After his arrest, Henrik Vanger contacts him to investigate a mystery that Vanger was obsessed with. Salander joins Blomkvist in his work from an earlier report that she wrote on Blomkvist. She is an investigator, among other things. Continue reading


Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore

Rating: 4/5 stars for good prose, intelligent plotting and relatibility. I took off 1 point because the clichés used were sometimes trite and you know exactly where this book was going, but hey, that’s the nature of the beast with romance novels.

I forget how good it is to read for pleasure sometimes. Before I delve into the book itself, a couple of words first to describe how I feel after reading a well-written novel: I think it was in elementary school when I argued to a friend why books are awesome: “It’s like being transported into another world!” said I, the embodiment of dorkus maximus, with my glasses, braces, and full-time nerdiness on.

Reading is such a pleasure, and I still think that what I said then is true now: reading takes you to a whole other world where you’re lost imagining the lives of these people and thinking, “wow that is awesome, I wish I could experience that first-hand.” It is escapism, but it also exercises your mind to stretch beyond what is ordinary. Reading imparts and imbues in anyone who reads the book a sense of being other than themselves. And not just to escape but to elevate to a higher understanding than what you would be capable of without the book, because a book forces you to ruminate, and not to ruminate in a bad way (unless it’s a bad book or a depressing book) but rather to do it because you’re shown something other than what you would find by yourself.

It’s something new, but it’s all mental. It’s not like a new dish to try, or new friends to make, or new places to visit. It’s a new place and understanding of yourself.

Anyway, I digressed too much. So, back to the book.

It is a romance novel dressed prettily in colonial America and 18th century prose. It’s both hot and intelligent.

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