Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo IshiguroNEVER LET ME GO
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Fiction
Vintage; 2005
Paperback; 288 pages
Source: Purchased

Growing up at an English residential school called Hailsham, Kathy and her classmates are told that they’re special, that they will have an important role to play later in life. However, dark rumors and half-understood offhand remarks lurk beneath the surface of their idyllic childhood. As Kathy, her friends Ruth and Tommy, and the rest of the ubiquitous cliques grow up in their sheltered environment, the prospect of the “donations” they will someday face is always faintly present in the background of their lessons.

Now an adult, reunited with Tommy and Ruth many years after leaving school, Kathy reflects on their time at Hailsham. She remembers the odd incidents, complex childhood politics, friendships and rivalries, and questions about their future and the importance of the art the students constantly create. Knowing, now, the truth about what awaits the students after they leave the school, she questions the way they were brought up: the withholding of information and the subtle allusions. Continue reading

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Book Review: Beloved by Toni Morrison

Book Review: Beloved by Toni MorrisonBELOVED
by Toni Morrison

Fiction
Vintage; 1987
Paperback; 324 pages
Source: Purchased

I’m not quite sure how to talk about this book. It’s been sitting on my shelf for over a year, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “yeah, I’ll read that next,” only to guiltily pull something else from my shelf when the time came. It’s no secret that I’ve felt intimidated by the work of this Nobel laureate. Everyone has told me that yes, Morrison’s books are complex and layered, but even if you don’t catch 100% of the references, they’re amazing stories and not difficult to read.

I finally got up the nerve to read Beloved for Banned Books Week. (Yes, that was almost a month ago, but I’m having as much trouble figuring out what to say about this book as I had trying to pick it up.) I really struggled with it at first. For the first 50 pages or so, I felt confused and disoriented. I wondered whether it would get “better,” easier, and it did. It took a while, but I finally settled into a world that Morrison evokes really powerfully. And I loved it. Continue reading

Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

Hey, I read The Hunger Games trilogy! Okay, by “read,” I mean, “partially read but mostly listened to on audiobook.” I know I’m totally behind the curve on this, but can I be a massive hipster and brag that I read the first book before it was popular? No?

Well anyway, I read the first book maybe a year after it came out, when I was on summer vacation after my first year of college. I enjoyed it but not enough to go out of my way to read the next two books when they came out. And then, a few years later, everyone went batshit over the series, and I was just too cool to jump on the trend. (Like I said, hipster.) Also, there were other things I wanted to read, you know? Continue reading

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodTHE HANDMAID’S TALE
by Margaret Atwood

Fiction
Anchor Books, 1998
(Originally published 1986)
Paperback, 311 pages
Source: Gift

I’ve written briefly about this book before, but after re-reading it with Rebecca of Love at First Book recently, I decided to dedicate a full-length post to The Handmaid’s Tale, which has become one of my absolute favorite books.

This novel, a dystopian piece of speculative fiction, takes place in a not-so-distant future in which an extreme right-wing Christian faction has taken over the U.S. government and drastically re-shaped society. In a cunning — and scarily realistic — maneuver, they infiltrate the government and quietly take power during a moment of national crisis. They then proceed to impose patriarchal, Biblical law upon the people of the new Republic of Gilead and take away women’s rights to employment and property. Continue reading

Book Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Book Review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
NORWEGIAN WOOD
by Haruki Murakami

Fiction
Vintage, September 2000
(first published 1987)
Paperback, 293 pages
Source: Gift

As middle-aged Toru Watanabe’s flight lands at the gloomy Hamburg airport and the plane begins taxying to the terminal, an orchestral version of The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” begins playing through the ceiling speakers. Hearing this song takes him back to his youth in the autumn of 1969.

At the age of 18, Toru moves from his home in Kobe to a university in Tokyo. One day in this new city, he runs into an old friend, Naoko, with whom he shares an obsessive grief over the suicide of Toru’s best friend and Naoko’s boyfriend, Kizuki, when they were 17. Although the two were never close before, they begin taking weekly walks together, exploring every corner of Tokyo as they become more intimate. Continue reading

Mini Book Reviews: Short Fiction and the Immigrant Experience

As I mentioned last week, I recently realized that I read quite a few interesting books this year that I haven’t yet written about in depth on this blog. I don’t want to end the year without discussing them, but I don’t have the time or recall to write full-length reviews of each of them. Instead, I’m writing a short series of mini reviews. In last week’s segment, I wrote about books written by and about women, and this week I will write briefly about a few books by male authors.

uncle tom's children richard wrightUncle Tom’s Children by Richard Wright

This is a collection of novellas by Richard Wright, who is known for his writings about race relations and the dangers African Americans faced in the first half of the 20th century. Like his other works, such as Native Son, these stories are filled with shocking violence and horrifying brutality.

Wright’s writing is incredibly powerful and made all the more effective by his use of sickening details, such as the sight of “a tar-drenched body glistening and turning” at a lynching. These stories were at times hard to read, and it was even harder to accept the fact that the horrendous acts of violence Wright depicts are not entirely fiction; the fear and the violence his characters are subjected to were very real issues in America’s past. However, despite the brutality of some of the stories, one or two offer hope that black and white people can work together for change. Continue reading

Celebrate Banned Books Week with Swag!

As most of you probably know, it’s Banned Books Week! Why not show off your subversive side with some of these great products celebrating banned books and your right to read them?

If you’re anything like me, you love few things more than enjoying a leisurely breakfast and sipping from a mug of hot coffee while reading in your pajamas. What could make this moment more perfect than drinking your life-giving coffee (or tea, if that’s more your … cup of tea) from a mug printed with the titles of fantastic banned books? Sold for $10.95 from Neato Shop.

Continue reading

Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Book Review: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt VonnegutSLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE
by Kurt Vonnegut

Fiction
Dell, 1991 (first published 1969)
Paperback, 215 pages

“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”

So begins Kurt Vonnegut’s most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five. This novel is Vonnegut trying to find meaning in his experiences in WWI; he survived both the Battle of the Bulge and the 1945 bombing of Dresden, and he struggled for the rest of his life with the things he witnessed during the war. Slaughterhouse-Five is an anti-war novel that also isn’t an anti-war novel. As Vonnegut acknowledges in the opening chapter, one might as well write an anti-glacier book as an anti-war book — “there would always be wars … they were as easy to stop as glaciers,” he writes. And yet, it’s important for him to write about his experiences in the war, to try to make sense of them, and do whatever small part he can to make people understand the horrors of modern warfare. Continue reading