Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Great Gatsby

Last summer we saw Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. I can't imagine any enthusiast of literature not loving this film. Especially when Ernest Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald made their clever appearances. Anyway, the film reminded me that a long time ago I had read The Great Gatsby. And loved it.

I was really young (high school age), so I searched my memory bank. Why had I loved it? Barely remembering the plot or the characters, the depiction of life in New York York City in the 20's is what resounded with me. Maybe, just maybe I needed to read the novel again to make sure my youthful self had painted the picture F. Scott really had in mind. What better excuse to read?

Said task is complete. The verdict?

Still love it. And amazingly, the images of "West Egg and East Egg" in Long Island are still just as vivid as when I read them over twenty years ago. The plot  had been pretty much lost in my memory completely. So that was fun for me - like reading a whole new book.

I was most amused by each of the personalities' flirtatious relationship with the glamorous eastern metropolitan of NYC, even though these characters were actually common Midwesterners, like me. (Okay, maybe a little less common than me.) Of course this book is chock full of symbols and metaphors dealing with the age-old of topics of love, greed and calling - all great fodder for book club discussion and high school language arts class. But I want to discuss what really makes me love this book... the lyricism. The voice.

I can pick up my paperback classic, flip to any page and start reading.

"Flushed with his impassioned gibberish, he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization." 

I'm an aspiring author - one of my favorite ways to study writing is reading from the best - and finding a sentence like this and pondering it for awhile.

The minute I read the first paragraph of Gatsby, I was hooked. I was hooked until Mr. Fitzgerald typed the last sentence in which he so perfectly and poetically stated,

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaseless into the past."

I do wonder how a mint julep tastes...probably best not to know. Best to let those Roaring 20's cats drink their drinks. I'll just sit here and imagine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Words can hardly give this book review justice. But if it's any indication, I'd like to purchase the novel since I read the library's copy. Certainly, I'd read it over and over again, for it's brilliant prose and heartbreaking story. Of course, I will not let my family alone until each one of them has read it as well. Because it's simply too important.

This historical fiction takes place in the heart of Nazi Germany-with our protagonist, Leisel, merely 13, a foster child, being raised on the poor side of the town of Molching. While the tale is full of colorful characters (complete with rude yet lovable neighbors) and with animated language (peppered with German insults), it's also fraught with danger since Leisel's foster family is hiding a Jew. Oh - and of course, the tale comes equipped with a full-scale villain. Amazingly, author Zusak didn't have go very far into the depths of his imagination to create him. Adolph Hitler actually lived.

Of course, this story is sad. How can it not be? We all know the tragedy and horror that took place in World War II. (Did I mention the narrator is Death? He really seems quite endearing.) However, there is much beauty in this book. One of the themes that struck me most has to do with the power of words. Of course, Hitler used words to bring together an economically depressed country to obliterate an ethnicity in the most dastardly of ways. But there were a few quiet and courageous ones, like Liesel who used words in only the best of ways. And while "The Book Thief" seems a negative connotation, it wasn't for Leisel Memminger who was only attempting to keep true to herself in Nazi Germany.  Eventually, words, reading, and books helped Liesel  to save others and their sense of themselves in the darkest of times.

This book is listed in the Young Adult genre. My hope is that our youth will take a break of vampires for this one - it's an important piece of literature. It's very deserving of the awards and accolades it has received. And it was very deserving of my tears that I shed when the cruelty and heartbreak of World War II became real. Sometimes we forget what happened. Words won't let us forget.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sister by Rosamund Lupton

I'm an only child. So, naturally, sibling relationships fascinate me. So when Mom recommended I read Sister by Rosamund Lupton, it wasn't without reservation. “And perhaps it spoke to me since I’m still grieving for my brother,” said my mother.  Never one to doubt my mama, I took hold of the novel and wasn’t disappointed in the least.

Death in the form of murder. Grief. Deep-seated guilt. Dark topics, yes? The story is actually refreshing because Rosamund Lupton has crafted a unique literary piece, most suited for pondering and discussion. In my opinion anyway. Topically, Sister is first and foremost a murder mystery. And there are a load of twists and unsuspecting turns in this novel. But what I found most compelling was the protagonist’s (Beatrice) uncertain personal journey in pursuing her sister's murderer. In a way, her sister (Tess) became the sacrificial lamb in order for Beatrice to reclaim her life - a life that she had slowly and irrefutably let slip away from her.

Grieving for a sibling not only contain the typical prongs of pain, but I'm guessing include extreme elements of loneliness as well. While I don't have that experience myself, I have comfort in the camaraderie I witness between my children. When me and my husband pass on, they will have each other. In reading this book, Ms. Lupton poured out this sibling love so masterfully, I felt the pain of losing one's sister. Now, that's good writing. 

And by the way, I had no idea who did it. And there was another "I had no idea that was going on" in this book. And that's good plotting...