Book Review Catch Up: 3 for 1

I got a bit behind in my blogging and book reviewing. You know, life got in the way. But, I am back baby!

I thought I would do a few posts with some mini-reviews of the books that I read over the summer.

immortThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

I picked this book up on my first foray to the local library. It got a lot of press and was on a bunch of ‘must read’ lists for the summer. So I figured, why not.

The story is about Gold family, who live in New York City. When they were kids, the 4 Gold children hear about a travelling psyhcic who claims to be able to tell you the date you will die. They go and visit. They don’t really talk about it. Naturally they are skeptical.

This story is about what happens when you know when your last day on earth will be. Will you live life to the fullest? Will you buy into the date and make sure it’s your last day?

I liked this book. It definitely kept me guessing as to what was going to happen next. It was a bit sad, I mean, the book basically deals with the imminent death of the characters. However, it was well written and engaging.

I rated it 4/5 stars on Goodreads.


mansell

The One You Really Want by Jill Mansell

As my husband says, this was what was advertised on the tin. When you pick up a Jill Mansell book you are looking for an easy and fun read. This is what you get here.

For me, it ended up being about friendships – unlikely friendships – and how important it is to have a support system.

It was fun and entertaining. If you are looking for light and fun, this is a read for you.

I  rated it 3/5 stars on Goodreads.


wolitzerThe Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

I had read another novel of hers, The Interestings, and enjoyed it. So I thought I would pick this one up at the local library. Also, there was a lot..A LOT of press and stuff about this when it was released.

So I struggled a bit with this book. I mean, I liked it. I think that it was an interesting premise. But somehow I felt sort of manipulated by the plot. I don’t really know how to explain it other than that.

The book is about what it means to be a feminist, about the dangers of idolizing people and how to find your way in the world. There were parts that were insightful. But there were parts that seemed typical.

I think it’s worth a read.

I rated this 4/5 stars on Goodreads.


 

Karamazov Brothers, Book 9: You’re out of order

no-youre-out-of-order-this-whole-damn-courtrooms-out-of-orderAs we knew from the end of the last book, Dimitry is being accused of…..MURDER-ing his father. This part reminded me of the courtroom scene in And Justice for All. It’s kinda chaotic. Dimitry vacillates between being lucid and cooperating with the investigators and then becomes either withdrawn or belligerent and won’t answer certain questions. Mostly he doesn’t want to disclose where he got the alleged 3,000 roubles he has been talking to literally everyone about. If he was on social media back then he would have 100 posts on Instagram posing with all the cash.

Dostevysky continues to show his mastery of storytelling in this section. Just when you are sick of hearing Dimitry get grilled, he switches to an interrogation with another person with less detail and acknowledges that he will have less detail to spare the reader (the man knows his audience).

What I am finding more and more fascinating, is the depth of the novel. One of the reasons we chose this was because Kurt Vonnegut said that all you need to know about life is in this book. And you know what, I don’t think he was wrong.

Dostoyvesky has these…I’ll call them throwaway lines – lines of dialogue or of thought that are jammed into the middle of other things. And they are brilliant, but innocuous (or at least to me they are). I’ve noticed a few before and didn’t think too much about it. This is the one that caught my eye in this section, Dimitry is speaking:

‘Yes, I see it as a fateful distinction! Anyone can be a scoundrel—and, come to think of it, everyone is—but not anyone can be a thief, it takes an arch-scoundrel to be a thief. All right, let’s not split hairs… It’s just that a thief is more scurrilous than a scoundrel.

I mean, it’s brilliant. The sentiment is  simple but true – anyone can be an ass, but not everyone can stoop to be a thief. But it’s also not forcing a lesson down your throat. I feel like if Tolstoy had wanted to make the same point, he would have spent 100 pages rhapsodizing about it and there would have been a vista and a battle taking place.

The other thing is, and what I find fascinating, is that we knew all this stuff was going to happen. Dimitry mentioned many times about killing his father, had a reputation for being hot-headed, talked about stealing his father’s money. But when he is accused, it does come as a surprise. That’s what is brilliant. It’s almost like, yeah, he talked about it but I didn’t think he would actually do it. (Also, as an aside, he has yet to be convicted of the actual murder.)

Anyway, this continues to be an entertaining and wild ride. On to the next part!

Sisters Brothers: Book or movie?

p15564646_p_v12_abWelcome to the newest episode of date night with the married book nerds…

So BJ and I went to see a movie last week and we picked Sisters Brothers. Why? Well we both read the book and liked it a lot, and thought why not. Truth be told, it was BJ’s idea, I had no idea it was made into a movie.

Anyway, the good (or bad) thing was neither of us could remember what the book was about or any specific plot details, since we read it back in 2013. We remembered there were two brothers, named Sisters (hence the Sisters brothers….clever, huh?). That’s about all we recalled. So it was almost as if we were watching the film with fresh eyes.

The gist of the book: it’s set in the old west (1850’s Oregon and California) and it’s about the brothers who are following a dude who had done wrong by their boss “The Commodore”. By  nature, the pace of the book is plodding and slow, because these dudes are travelling by horse through rugged country. They meet weird and interesting characters along the way. The main theme of the book is the elder Sisters brother questioning his part in the lifestyle they have – shoot ’em up, killing and whiskey drinking are not really for him.

So, how do you take a plodding plot and internal struggle and put it on the screen in visual form for 2 hours…..

At the time while I was watching the movie, I thought it was ok, but not great. It moved along fine. I was meh about it. The thing is, afterwards when we started talking about it, we both actually liked it more. I think it’s a movie that needs to sit with you for a while and sink in.

I do think that the casting of John C. Reilly as the older brother Eli was spot on. He actually looked exactly like I thought the character would. Riz Ahmed did an awesome job as the stalk-ee Hermann Kermit Warm – I think he actually made the character better than it was portrayed in the book.

So the big question: which was better, the book or the movie? I will just say this and get it out of the way, the book is always better (mostly). I think in this case, as is in most cases, the book had a depth and humour to it that the movie couldn’t capture. However, I think that it was a pretty faithful adaptation with some good additions.

Should you read the book? Of course! Should you see the film? I would say if you like that kind of movie, then yes.

 

Karamazov Brothers Book Eight: Yadda yadda yadda

yaddaOk, I don’t even know what to say. You know when your friend has so much drama going on, and someone asks you how they are doing….and you are like, I can’t even. That’s like this part.

Here is the thing, Dimitry is a mess. He is covered in blood and has three thousand roubles in his pocket, and has gone full-stalker mode on Grushenka. How he got here doesn’t really matter. Except…

Dostoyvesky does this brilliant (and annoying) thing where he basically leaves out two huge plot points during the telling of Dimitry’s tale. He is up in a tree looking into his father’s bedroom trying to figure out if Grushenka is there. He does the secret knock he was told (the one Grushekna uses to tell the elder Karamazov that she has arrived) and his father goes running to get the door. Obvs G isn’t in the room. The next thing we know, Dimitry is running down the street, clubbed Grigory in the head with a pestle (after a confrontation), is covered in blood and with the stack of roubles in his pocket.

A bunch of stuff happens, including an orgy-like party involving some Polish soldiers, gypsy singers, someone dressed up like a bear, Grushenka and Dimitry. Just when Grushenka is finally declaring her eternal love for Dimitry, and they are “planning” to run away and get married, the police come in and accuse Dimitry of murdering his father.

What?!!??!?

Ok, so the brilliant part is that no one saw this coming. The irritating part is that I was like, did I miss something? Where did he get the money? Did he kill his father and I somehow missed the subtle clues?

The answer is no. (And as an aside, Dostoyevsky doesn’t do subtle.)

The thing is, it’s not looking good for Dimitry. He was basically running around town like a crazed lunatic, covered in blood, showing around his duelling pistols (eventually pawning them for cash and then buying them back). Everyone for miles around knew that there was bad blood between he and his father. Everyone knew that he was desperate for money. Other than the fact that we (the readers) didn’t see him do it, it totally looks like Dimitry murdered his father. Which makes me think that he didn’t do it. But then, who did?

This is what is brilliant about the writing of this book – you legit don’t know what is going to happen next. It definitely makes for an interesting and compelling read.

And on to the next part of…what crazy thing will happen next!

Karamazov Brothers Book Seven: What’s that smell?

smelly catFather Zosima has died. And this part starts with the monks performing their rituals and such for the dead starets. And all of a sudden, the monks start to notice something. They side-eye each other, the nudge each other with their elbows trying to say…do you notice that too? Of course they do. Apparently the starets body starts to smell. No one knows what to do about this situation. I am not sure if Dostoyevsky meant it to be funny…but it kind of is. It is literally the last thing you would think that was going to happen. Murder – yes. Intrigue – yes. But a smelly starets – no.

The prevailing thought is that because he is such a high ranking monk, some miracle should have happened upon his death, and everyone is basically waiting for that to happen. But no….we get smelly cat.

Not surprisingly, Aloysha takes this whole situation badly. And who wouldn’t. The starets is basically someone Aloysha looked up to, was more or less a father figure to him. And Aloysha is pretty young, and he is in the company of monks. So he is expected to basically man up and go with it. He is fighting between these two situations: mourning the loss of a father and trying to respect the traditions of the monastery. I really felt for this poor guy. I don’t think that Dostevsky wants us to pity Aloysha. But he really does show his struggle with the death of the man who he loved and respected.

The other big thing that happens is that Aloysha goes with the scoundrel Ratikin to visit Grushenka. Up until now, we have seen Lady G, we have heard rumours about her – she is a bit of a loose canon, and may or may not be a prostitute. In this part we get to hear her side of the story. Here is the thing, and not surprisingly, we are wrong (ish). She is not a prostitute. She had a benefactor that took her in when she was young and homeless, and gave her some money. And good on her, she basically used that money to become a self made woman.

This got me thinking about the themes that seem to be surfacing in the novel – freedom and what that means and how do people deal with that. I think that Grushenka’s story is kind of illustrating both the Grand Inquisitor story and the Father Z story. The reason that she is struggling so much is that she is caught between these two things: having too much freedom and not having enough.

As an aside, the really irritating thing – and this was true in War and Peace too – that people are known by multiple names. It’s super confusing. Mitry and Dimitry is easy to figure out. But Grushenka and Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlov – not similar.

Anyway….on we go to the next adventure.

Karamazov Brothers Book Six: This guy knows what he is doing

butterflyBook Six is actually fairly short. And at first seems completely random. (I feel like I am back reading Infinite Jest!) But, Dostoyevsky did not get to be a big time classic writer for nothing.

Basically this section is Alyosha’s recounting of Father Zosima’s life. As with the Grand Inquisitor, Dostoyevsky basically uses Alyosha as a conduit:

Here I ought to point out that this final conversation of the starets with his visitors on the last day of his life has been only partially recorded. Aleksei Fyodorovich Karamazov wrote it down from memory some time after the starets’s death.

The life of Father Zosima seems to be the “answer” to the Grand Inquisitor. The staret (Father Zosima) started out in life like any kid at the time. His brother became ill and was like a hero to the tiny staret. Father Z. did most (or what I assume are) of the usual things one does while growing up – went to school, got into trouble, joined the army. Here is where things go bad for Z.

Drunkenness, rowdiness, and bravado were almost something to be proud of. I can’t say that we were wicked; all those young people were good, but they behaved badly, and I was the worst of all.

He gets himself into some Alexander Hamilton-like troubles (have I mentioned how much I love Lin-Manuel Miranda….I digress). Through some mishaps, a duel gets set up. And Z. realizes that he can’t go on with his life on the path it’s going. He (somewhat) cleverly gets himself out of the duel and saves face and preserves the integrity of his opponent. At this point, he has basically found religion.

What I found interesting was that he speaks of having a story-book of religious stories as a child and being fascinated with them. (He still had a copy of it on his shelf.) What’s interesting is that he is pulled to the parables and stories, and not so much from a lightning strike from the divine. This also gives Dostoyevsky a chance to show off his religious and bible chops by talking about and quoting the Bible.

Two quotes that intrigued me. One was:

And so it is not surprising that instead of being free, people have become enslaved, and instead of serving the cause of brotherly love and human harmony, they have, as my mysterious visitor and teacher once told me in my youth, fallen into disharmony and isolation.

The Grand Inquisitor spoke about freedom and how man can be free by just trusting the powers that be. And Father Z. is basically saying the opposite. What I find really fascinating though is that this can completely apply to today. Use this quote in context of social media and BOOM. One could make the argument that people are more isolated and lonely and in disharmony with the advent of Facebook (and the like) when it was thought of as something to bring people together. These are basic human problems – they existed in 1890, and exist in 2018. It’s fascinating to me to see that authors can get to the crux of humanity and be so insightful and prescient, and it’s what makes them good at their job.

The second quote is this:

My brother, young though he was, asked the little birds for pardon: that might seem senseless, but he was right, because everything is like an ocean, everything flows and intermingles, you have only to touch it in one place and it will reverberate in another part of the world.

I am interested in spirituality, meditation and buddhism as a concept. This reverberation seems to be something that rings true in the teachings of Buddha. And this idea that what you do here will have an effect somewhere else is both mindfulness and (kinda sorta) social contract. You need to be responsible for your actions here and now and understand how they affect others – somewhere else. Obviously I am not familiar with how things were thought of in 1890, but this seems to me to be a fairly forward thinking concept for the time.

And then, this is where Dostoyevsky does his thing…we hear all about Father Z and his life, we forget about the story then at the end:

But we shall speak of this later, in the next book; for the present, we shall merely add that even before the day was out something had happened which was so unexpected and, judging by the effect both within the monastic community and in the town, so strange, alarming, and perplexing that even now, all these years later, our town still preserves the most vivid memories of that day, which left so many of its inhabitants filled with alarm.

What? Talk about generating interest for people to read on….it’s like the Bachelor <to be read in Chris Harrison’s voice>: Coming up….the most exciting episode of the Brother’s Karamaozv ever!

Karamazov Brothers Book Five: 2 for 1 Post

breakfast club

I am behind on my blog posts on our Karamazov reading project. In my defence I started a new job and life generally got in the way for a couple weeks. Probably not a great excuse, but it’s the only one I’ve got.

Originally BJ and I agreed to do two posts about this part in the book. Because my husband is on top of things, he posted and followed the plan (you can see those here and here). On the other hand is me…so I am going to combine mine since you know, I like to break the rules.

What was cemented for me in this section, is that each character, especially the brothers, represent a part of humanity. And for some reason it reminds me of the Breakfast Club. (Maybe there was something about it on social media about it when I was reading this section that jogged my memory.) You know, the 80’s movie….Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald. There was the “a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal”…..and they all represented one segment of the high school population.

I am not equating John Hughes to Dostoevsky. Although…I guess I could make the argument that they both had the ear of the people in their respective times. I think both used these characters as an allegory for some bigger message. However…

The big bang for the buck part of this section is ‘The Grand Inquisitor’. Apparently this is the crux of the novel and what the book is known for. (I only knew this because BJ told me.) According to Wikipedia: “The Grand Inquisitor” is an important part of the novel and one of the best-known passages in modern literature because of its ideas about human nature and freedom, and its fundamental ambiguity.

Basically this “poem” is recited by Ivan to Aloysha. Ivan starts off by saying

‘WELL, first of all there has to be an introduction, a literary introduction, that is.’ Ivan laughed. ‘God knows, I’m no author!

This cracked me up. Obviously this is written by Dostoevsky so I feel like it’s a little wink and smirk at the reader.

So the story is basically that Christ comes back to life in Seville and performs all these cool miracles. But, the people turn on him and he gets arrested and put in jail. He is then interrogated by the ‘The Grand Inquisitor”. The Inquisitor dude basically says that people don’t need Christ anymore because they have the church and church has basically replaced him. Also, people, if left to their own devices will always make the wrong decision and it’s up to the church to guide them in the right direction.

The key to happiness, according to the Inquisitor, is for man (in the global sense) to turn over all decisions to the church. Because basically free will is the cause of suffering.

They will bring us their most tormenting problems of conscience—everything, they will bring everything to us and we shall resolve everything, and they will accept our judgement with joy, because it will spare them the great burden and terrible torment of personal and free choice that they suffer today. And everyone will be happy, all the millions of beings, except the hundred thousand who govern them.

Right. I guess I can see his point. But. This basically cements the view that Ivan is not a huge fan of organized religion. And the fact that he is talking to his brother, who happens to be a man of the cloth is what makes it….even more interesting. Aloysha interrupts once in while to give the opposing view. This is the one that struck me most:

Your Inquisitor doesn’t believe in God, that’s all there is to his secret!

And that, folks is the secret. So I guess this brings the whole Breakfast Club thing (kind of) full circle: you have the man of the cloth (Aloysha), the man of intellect (Ivan) and then the man of earthly pleasures (Dimitry).

On a side note, one of the funniest things I have read in this book so far….the father Karamazov writes a note to Grushenka and adds this:

“For my angel, Grushenka, if she comes to me,” and that two or three days later he added, “my little chicky-bird”.

Chicky-bird! I don’t know if it’s a translation thing. But I found that extremely funny.

Alright, now that I have fulfilled my blog post….onward to the next part!