My senior year of college, I took a class on the Oulipo, a group of (predominantly) French writers who used constraints to test the limits of their story telling. Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler was one of the Oulipian works my professor assigned us. I decided to revisit this book a couple of weeks ago, because, if I’m honest, I didn’t actually read it in class (my undergraduate thesis took priority over an Honors elective.)
It’s difficult to describe this book in a succinct way. The best description I can give you is this: Calvino wrote this book specifically for readers, for those of us who love books. If on a winter’s night is a bit complicated because it’s divided into multiple stories. At the beginning, you, the Reader, begin to read If on a winter’s night, unfortunately, you find your copy is bound incorrectly with another book. And thus your quest for locating the real copy begins. On your journey, you meet other Readers, and begin other books which you will never finish.
Calvino’s work is an interesting read, although it may be bothersome to those of you who can’t stand to leave a book unfinished (in this book, you’ll start nearly a dozen books and only finish one.) However, if you love reading for reading’s sake, then try this book out.
If on a winter’s night a traveler. Italo Calvino, L &OD Key Porter, 1982 (first published in 1979).
When I was about seven years old, my grandparents took a chartered bus tour to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. They brought me my very own red-haired Anne doll, as well as a copy of Anne of Green Gables. On days my grandparents picked me up from school, I insisted my grandmother put on the 1985 two-part film. Anne of Green Gables was one of my favorite heroines growing up, and, in a spell of nostalgia, I chose to re-read the book a few weeks ago.
Anne of Green Gables, for those of you who haven’t had a chance to read it, is about an orphan girl who is (mistakenly) adopted by an older brother and sister. The book chronicles her adventures in Avonlea, a fictional town on PEI, and is a classic coming of age novel. I thoroughly enjoyed going back to Green Gables once again to watch Anne accidentally get her bestie drunk, become resolute in her endeavor to be the top in the class, and surpass everyone’s expectations.
When I was younger, Anne’s ambition in school motivated me to study more, while her love for reading inspired my own. This time around, Anne’s decision to decline a scholarship to college in order to care for her adoptive mother helped me realize that it’s okay to channel your ambitions in places you didn’t plan to. Sometimes life happens, and things go awry, but there’s always something to look forward to. Thanks, Anne, for once again sharing a very important life-lesson.
So how about you? Do you love Anne of Green Gables? Is there a book from many years ago you reread and learned something new from?
Anne of Green Gables. L.M. Montgomery. Bantam Books (Classics,) 1982. First published 1908.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read any Young Adult fiction. For some reason, once I went to college, I felt that YA wasn’t sophisticated enough (it probably had something to do with befriending several literature majors.) Anyways, I found this book through Pinterest, and decided to read it without really knowing what it was about.
The Program is a dystopian novel set in nearly present-day America. Teen suicide rates have skyrocketed and the government, in an attempt to save the young generation, formulate The Program. While their intentions seem noble, The Program “rehabilitates” suicidal teens by tampering their memories. Instead of sending the teens to grief counseling or having a psychiatrist treat them (many have lost friends or family members to suicide,) The Program removes their memories completely. When the young folks return to society, they are not the same people they were before, having lost large chunks of their identity and experiences.
The book follows Sloane who, months after her brother’s suicide, finds herself closely monitored by The Program. She and her boyfriend, James, fear they will be taken at any moment. and that, if taken, they will not be able to hold on to each other and they will return unable to recognize each other.
Much to my surprise, this was an exciting read for me. The writing was good, the plot was interesting, and the pace was fast. The one problem I had with the novel, and with a lot of dystopian literature in general, was the lack of background. How many children have gone into The Program? Were other methods tried? Why did the government think tampering with people’s minds (the books alluded to lobotomies) was preferred over counseling and psychiatry? How large was the suicide epidemic? What types of treatment do they plan for adults who have also experienced grief? Hopefully, the sequel will offer insight into these questions.
The Program. Suzanne Young. Simon Pulse, 2013.
This was one of those books I pretended I’d read in college. Friends and professors mentioned it in discussions, my roommate often quoted it. In short, I assumed that it was a ground shaking piece of literature because the people to whom I look up seemed so entranced with it.
A few weeks ago, I was at the library without my trusty list of books I want to read. I both love and hate walking into a book shop or library without my list because I tend to go rogue, selecting books that I normally would never find, thus lengthening my to-read list. I picked up the only copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s book, figuring I could get through it that weekend. The short blurb intrigued me, since the book was set during WWII.
Overall, it wasn’t bad. The writing style is very simple and the book isn’t terribly long. The part that absolutely drove me mad was the narrator, which I found to be unreliable. (I know some people who love unreliable narrators, but I personally do not. I like to trust the narrator in order to feel more invested in the story.) There were constant time jumps, which I normally like, but these didn’t seem to add much new insight. The ultimate takeaway I got from the book was that war is bad, yet it is, in some ways, ordinary and mundane. And often the people who return from war come back fractured or broken in ways other than physical.
So am I glad I read it? Sure. It was quick, the style was simple, and I can now say I’ve read it. Would I read it again? Probably not, but I might try another of Vonnegut’s work. Will it go on my favorite books of all time? Nope.
Slaughterhouse Five, or the Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Delacourt Press, 1994 (first published in 1969).
Hey guys, I’m back! I know I’ve been gone a while, but I’m finally reading on a more consistent basis and wanted to share the book I finished last week.
This one by Tom Franklin had been on my list for over a year. I found it in one of those Pinterest lists of books you wouldn’t be able to put down. Crooked Letter takes place in Mississippi and flips between present-day and flashbacks to the 1970s.
Essentially, it’s the story of a man, Larry Ott, who was suspected of murdering a teenage girl when he was a younger. While he never confessed to the crime, and was never charged, the residents of his town ostracize him. So it’s no surprise that when a young college girl disappears from the county forty years later, Ott is accused of the crime. Silas Jones, the police constable who knew Larry when he was younger, leads the investigation of his former classmate. The two men’s stories intertwine as they discover secrets of their shared past.
That’s all I can tell you without spoiling the book. While I can’t say it was the most thrilling crime novel I’ve ever read, I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who wants a quick read with mostly sympathetic characters.
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Tom Franklin. William Marrow, 2010.
Confession: I haven’t read anything in nearly a month. I usually read on a consistent basis, then get into reading slumps where I can’t find anything interesting. I’m hoping a trip to the library tomorrow will cure this problem.
The Curious Incident is a super quick read. While the plot isn’t that interesting, I thought the book was really endearing. More importantly, the book gives a better understanding of how people with autism think. The writing style is very simple, yet important to the novel, as it’s narrated by a boy with autism.
The writing style is very reminiscent of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, so I would recommend reading one if you liked the other.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in Night-Time. Mark Haddon. Vintage Contemporaries, 2004.
I realized the other night that I haven’t yet written a review for a work of fiction, so I’ll do a short review of a crime novel I read a few weeks ago. Defending Jacob by William Landay was a quick read- I got through it in two days. Now, I should say that I don’t frequently read crime/mystery novels; while I love police procedural t.v. dramas (I’m looking at you, Law and Order,) actual crime novels aren’t of particular interest to me, so feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt if you’re an avid crime reader.
I found Defending Jacob on a Buzzfeed list of books you won’t be able to stop talking about, and while I don’t think it’s that good of a book, I’d still recommend it if you want something to read this weekend.
The book is about ADA Andy Barber’s career and family after his son was accused of murder. Andy questions whether his son is capable of murdering his classmate, while facing his own family history and coping with being dismissed from his job as assistant district attorney. I found most of the characters to be sympathetic, and the premise of the book is interesting enough that I couldn’t stop reading. I wasn’t blown away by the ending, though- it felt underdeveloped and there was enough foreshadowing throughout the novel that it wasn’t a complete surprise. Other than that, I thought Defending Jacob was a good read- it wasn’t filled with legal jargon and it had the overarching question of how far would a parent go to protect their child.
If you like mysteries and crime novels, is there a particular book you’d recommend for me?
William Landay. Defending Jacob. Delacorte Press, 2012.