Sunday, October 09, 2011

This week's books | Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close & The Paris Wife

Hey world, guess what? Reading this much is a little bit overwhelming... BUT I am so so so so (infinity) so thankful that I am in a program that requires me to read and lets me pick what I want to read.  In just two weeks I've already happened across some good stuff.

I feel really lucky.

Here's what I finished this week: two great books.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

This was another Audible audio book, which means I listened to it on the treadmill.  I've heard that the text version is almost a scrapbook of different media--letters, pictures, diagrams--and after listening to it I can imagine that it would be intriguing.  I have to admit that it was a great listen, though, and it was done so well.  Even without all the extra stuff I really enjoyed it.  This book was made into a movie that opens this December--I can't wait to see it.

Oskar is a nine year old boy who lost his father in one of the twin towers.  The book is told in Oskar's perspective intermixed with letters from relatives and celebrities.  He's precocious; his speech is peculiar but in a good way.  Foer does a good job of making him seem like a kid.  He's not the too-wise teen that has all the answers; he's just a (really smart and kind of weird) kid being a kid.  Oskar is on an Odyssey through New York City to solve a mystery about his dad.  The author's mixing of different points of view kept things moving along but Foer also managed to keep looping back.  I like books that use shifts in perspective to tell an interwoven story and this one wrapped up in a way that felt satisfying.

This book had a soul.  I can't think of any other way to describe it than that.  Though it might seem like it would be sad because of the subject matter, it wasn't.  It was really witty and made me smile in the same way I smile at my kids when they say things that are unknowingly true.  I found myself thinking about this book after I finished it and I know it left a little imprint on my heart.

My recommendation: Read it right away.  This is a sweet and touching book.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Before I get into this book, here's a funny story.  Once upon a time I started teaching AP English.  For a few years I taught The Sun Also Rises with my teaching partner because that's what AP students at our school had been reading for years.  I'd even read it as a senior, though 98.5% of it was lost on me (for example: Jake's accident?  Totally escaped my notice.  Whoops.).  Anyway, I taught it and taught it and taught it but I hated it.  I'm just not a Hemingway fan; I'm sorry.  I'm all for a little subtext, but how much fishing and bullfighting can a reasonable person take?  So eventually I worked up enough nerve to tell my teaching partner that I hated the book.  We stopped teaching it.  The end.

So I read The Paris Wife.  I'm not opposed to reading about Hemingway, I just don't want to read anymore Hemingway for a while.  His work is too stark for me, but his life was so interesting.  Make sense?  I like the time period, and so many people have been talking about this book that I figured I should see for myself what it was all about.  Plus, recent ventures into historical fiction have left me with a little curiosity about heading that direction... maybe someday?  All good reasons to add it to my list.

This was a good book.  I'm not going to say it was the best thing I've read lately, but I liked it.  There were moments in the middle where I felt a little bored (and oddly, much of the description of the bullfights and the fishing trips reminded me of TSAR and I was similarly disinterested).  Here's what I liked:  the recognizable homage to Hemingway's stories, the dialogue inspired by his writing (like Hem telling Hadley he wanted to "write one true sentence...") and the inclusion of his contemporaries, who also seemed to be living out their works of fiction before they wrote them.  I guess it's strange to think about writing a story by using the stories the authors wrote to tell their own true stories.  It's all very circular, which is cool.  Plus it made me feel a little smart to recognize little allusions to the original works.

Part of the criticism of this book was that it reads like a travel narrative with a bunch of name-dropping.  I didn't really see that.  I found it to be enjoyable and easy to follow; it was enough of a story to move beyond "journal."   Sometimes Hadley bugged me--she seemed overly needy and prone to fantasy when it came to her marriage--but she was the more dynamic of the two and in the end her character grew a lot.  Hemingway seemed like a shadow of a character; I think he must have been the hardest for McLain to write.  It worked for this story, though.  Though he shows himself to be seriously flawed, he remained a little distant and mysterious.  It seemed right.

My recommendation:  A nice one to add to your list, though maybe not to the top.  A nice peek into the time and Hemingway's early life.  A fun little jaunt through 1920s fiction for those who will recognize its bits and pieces.  A good book.

1 comment:

  1. I also never really got Hemingway. Like, is something actually going on here?