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The Week in Books: Summer Edition Part 2

May 31, 2010

I keep thinking it’s Sunday; that’s why this wasn’t technically posted on the “weekend.”  I mean, as far as I’m concerned, it’s still the weekend, yes?  Yes.  Moving on.

I read five books this week, two of which I reviewed previously: Specials and Extras.  You can find them by typing Scott Westerfeld into the search box on the right.  I don’t really have much to say about rereading these books (they were for the book club) except that wow, Westerfeld really needs to put more female friendships into his books, rather than surrounding his heroines with a bunch of dudes.  At first I was like “Extras really has way more girls in i—boy, she screwed that up.”

Fortunately, I had more fun with the other books.

First, I read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.  I made the mistake originally of thinking that this book was FROM Japan, rather than having a Japanese author.  I’m definitely confusing it with something else, but I’m not sure what.  It doesn’t matter, though, because this book was pretty darn awesome.  The time-jumping was confusing, but it keeps the storyteller feel going.  In this book, a girl looks back over her childhood from her current position as a “carer” for “donors.”  The book begins with these mysterious terms–of course, for all I know, “carer” is how they say “caregiver” in England–and we know right away that something is…off.  We find that this is an alternative history book, and as more is revealed, you cannot help but feel for Kathy and her classmates, no matter what you learn about them–nor can you stop yourself from sympathizing with the people around them, for in the real world you would be one of them.  It’s a fascinating look at human nature from a position of the outsider who feels very much like any other person.  Highly recommended.

Also recommended?  The second Hunger Games book, Catching Fire.  It was spoiled for me when I looked up the release date for the third and final book, Mockingjay, which doesn’t come out till August, and I have no doubt that I’m going to be sitting on my butt antsy between now and then.  Even with a major plot point being revealed, Catching Fire is fascinating, perhaps even better than Hunger Games, despite occasionally suffering from Middle Book Syndrome.  Readers get a deeper look into Katniss’s world, and its precarious balance of fear and relief.  Katniss’s character flaws deepen as she struggles to stay true to herself in the face of overwhelming power; in some ways, she becomes almost childlike in her defiance, which might make the reader less inclined toward her.  But as she’s drawn into power struggles with about as much tug as if a speedboat were on the other end of the rope, it’s easy to write a character who gives up or mans up completely.  I liked this extra flaw of Katniss’s, even if it grated on me at times.

Good stuff.

Finally, I reread one of the books on my to-reread pile from last month’s book club topic, nostalgic reads: Norma Klein’s Angel Face.  I don’t know how I got through this one when I was a kid; pot disgusted me then perhaps even more than it does now, and the main character, Jason, is a total pothead.  But I liked him despite it; he seems to be very guy-like without being a caricature.  I think I assumed a lot about teenage boys from the main character in this book.  Poor Jason is the one who has to deal the most with his parents’ divorce: his older sister is out on her own while her younger sister is at a boarding school due to emotional and learning disabilities, while his older brother spends most of his time out of the parental combat zone with his girlfriend and her family.  That leaves Jason at home with his unstable mother.  Angel Face is a fascinating look at navigating young adulthood while in the midst of family upheaval, but it–as well as Klein’s other book I reread, Older Men–is also about the precarious position of women in relationships.  Klein packs a lot into her books that aren’t immediately apparent: the complex relationship between young women and older and/or married men; the insecurities of teens in relationships–you could say this book is in part all about that, but I think there’s more going on here about the nature of Jason and Vicki’s relationship in that it is completely undefined; the confusion of the post-second-wave feminist upper-middle class lifestyle, where women were expecting the privileges of feminism while forgetting to define their lives without their men.  Independence was terrifying for both genders–older men didn’t know how to deal with it, and in some cases pushed against it, and women became neurotically confused about what to do with themselves.  (I also think that’s fairly apparent in Batman Returns’s Catwoman, my favorite go-to neurotic female from late ’80s media.)

Still, I don’t know what to think about this book.  Jason’s a disturbed kid, by how we’d see it today; he’d get therapy and be on drugs for sure nowadays.  You know, the legal kind.  :/  Klein never discusses HOW Jason gets his drugs; there’s never the sense that Jason could ever get in trouble for attaining pot, just using it.  It’s an odd sort of position to take, as a writer.  (Jason also says he’s tried cocaine.  Where?  When?)  When I was dating my skeevy first boyfriend, and the only other time I’ve ever been around anyone who bought drugs (THANKS FOR TELLING ME WHERE WE WERE GOING, JACKASSES), it was a furtive, highly-charged atmosphere with some seriously shady characters involved.  None of that for Jason.  It all happens off-page.

But then again, that’s…exactly the entirety of my experience with drugs in my life, so.  What do I know?

Next up: Not sure.  Still waiting on the book club to decide what we’re doing.  Something about books into movies, but I’m not quite sure what.  I’m reading Children of Men, though, which will bridge the gap.  I saw the movie ages ago but I might watch it with the fiance.  Not sure he’d be into it.  He’s been in a more fun-times action mood lately.  Too bad I’ve been in a “Is it sappy?  Is it fluffy?  Have I seen it before?” mood; we are NOT meshing.  It’ll be easier when school is over though…THIS TIME NEXT WEEK!

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