Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hope: A tragedy by Shalom Auslander

Hope: A Tragedy
by Shalom Auslander
Picador 2012

About the Book
Solomon Kugel is looking for great last words. He records them in a notebook. After his son contracts pneumonia and cracks appear in his marriage, Kugel moves his family to Stockton, a town with a history for nothing. He is trying to escape history. His Mother comes to join them in Stockton. She is suffering from having been born at the wrong time in the wrong country and from having life too good. One day Kugel finds Anne Frank in his attic.

My Thoughts
When I first read this book I thought it was brilliant. It is darkly comedic about how history has an effect on our lives even if you are removed from it. In particular it talks about how the Holocaust affects Jewish people around the world, but more particularly in America. It is about survivors guilt, even if they had left Europe years before and weren't directly affected by it. I think it has a wide audience than that though. I think it is about how people removed from major events have survivors guilt... or at least a shared experience of it and how it can be abused.

There are some interesting propositions that turns up within the book such as: 

He (Professor Jove) was, in a sense, the distillation of all of Western and Easter thought of the past two thousand years combined, and it was Professor Jove’s opinion, standing as only someone today could, on the twenty first century peak of all history, heir to all mankind's experience, wisdom and knowledge, that the greatest source of misery in the world, the greatest cause of anguish and hatred and sadness and death, was neither disease nor race nor religion. 
It was hope. Hope? Kugel asked. Pessimists, Professor Jove replied, don’t start wars. It was hope, according to Professor Jove, that was keeping Kugel up at night. It was hope that was making him angry. (p32)
Now that it's been a while since I finished the book, I think I have a different view of Kugel. He annoys me a bit now. In that he did ridiculous things to make things easier for his mother, or for Anne Frank, instead of trying to change things and make things easier for himself and his wife. I still think the book is really good and has an interesting message... but I'm just not sure I actually liked any of the characters... His mother did have some funny lines though and as I had to return the book to the library you will have to read it for yourself to find out what they are!

I am beginning to be more aware that I tend to read and watch things in themes without being completely conscious of it. I am working my way through the DVDs of  Northern Exposure which features a Jewish doctor from New York, who is always reminding us that he is Jewish. Philip Roth is a Jewish writer and his book The Plot Against America is concerned with how easy it would be for a Holocaust to happen in America, or anywhere in the world really. Now this one. I read somewhere recently that reading fiction makes you more empathetic towards people and I think reading this type certainly does.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Plot Against America: A novel - Philip Roth

The Plot Against America: A novel
by Philip Roth
Jonathan Cape 2004

About the book
When the renowned aviation hero and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh defeated Franklin Roosevelt by a landslide in the 1940 presidential election, fear invaded every Jewish household in America. Not only had Lindbergh, in a nationwide radio address, publicly blamed the Jews for selfishly pushing America towards a pointless war with Nazi Germany, but, upon taking office as the 33rd president of the United States, he negotiated a cordial 'understanding' with Adolf Hitler, whose conquest of Europe and whose virulent anti-Semitic policies he appeared to accept without difficulty. What then followed in America is the historical setting for this startling new novel by Pulitzer prize winner Philip Roth, who recounts what it was like for his Newark family - and for a million such families all over the country - during the menacing years of the Lindbergh presidency, when American citizens who happened to be Jews had every reason to expect the worst. (from Front Flap of the book)

My Thoughts *spoiler alert*
I had really low expectations for this book. It was selected for the Friday book group by the person who had also chosen Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White. That was a tough slog that I am yet to complete! When I started The Plot Against America I feared that this would be another tough slog, and after falling asleep twice while on the first page I was certain that I wouldn't finish it in time for the discussion. I think other people thought it was a tough slog too. We will be a small group tonight with lots of group members having other things on. A few of them told me they found it heavy going and one was annoyed about the amount of detail that is packed into the sentences. It wasn't just the amount of detail that is in the sentences though. I would get lost as to what the sentence was about. Here's an example:

My brother, Sandy, a seventh-grader with a prodigy's talent for drawing, was twelve, and I, a third-grader a term ahead of himself - and an embryonic stamp collector inspired like millions of kids by the country's foremost philatelist, President Roosevelt - was seven. (p1)
Or maybe this one
My mother - who wanted to go to teachers college but couldn't because of the expense, who lived at home working as an office secretary after finishing high school, who'd kept us from feeling poor during the worst of the Depression by budgeting the earnings my father turned over to her each Friday as efficiently as she ran the house-hold - was thirty six. p 1
On Monday night however, I sat down to make some headway with this book. I had a headache and wasn't really focused and was playing a Facebook game at the same time... however once I got up to the bit where the Roth Family went to Washington I was hooked!! I like to think it was because I was feeling ill and my resistance was low that the Roth family wormed its way into my heart and I had to keep reading.

I feared the worst when Mr Taylor approached them in Washington and offered to be their guide. Driving them around in their own car for $9 a day. Surely he was up to no good and would make off with their car at the first opportunity. But no, this was my 21st century thinking! Mr Taylor was a genuine guide after all and even managed to crack a smile at Mr Roth's singing.

Philip Roth is the narrator for most of the book. He has quite a charming and funny voice. I think he captured the fear and the uncertainty of the times, as well as what it would have been like to have been a child. He would have understood even less about what was going on than his parents did but was still able to enjoy his child hood. I particularly liked his adventures with Earl Axman and his stealing of Seldon's clothes for what purpose he was unsure of until he decided to run away. I felt for Herman and Bess Roth, with trying to decide what was best for the family and not knowing whether they should go to Canada or stay until it was too late.

So here it is book group discussion day and I only have 15 pages to go! It's a bit frustrating that I can't just get them over and done with. I think there might be some tense moments in those last 15 pages as well! It seems that my resistance stayed low, or maybe I just got used to the style of writing... or maybe it changed as it went along, but it did become easier to read.

I think the book talked about some interesting issues. Do we really know what politicians stand for when they get elected to parliament?  It is easy to get swept up in the excitement of charismatic leaders who say they will do whatever it is the mass of people want. Who will stand in their way? All it takes is for people to accept one small change, and another and another and you could be transferring people from a particular background to isolated areas away from their community, as happened in this book. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Two Little Boys by Duncan Sarkies

Two Little Boys
by Duncan Sarkies
John Murray, 2009

About the Book
When Nige runs over a Norwegian backpacker while attempting to save petrol, his life really turns to . He chucks the body in a nearby roadwork and runs to his best mate of fifteen years, Deano. Trouble is, Deano's not really the guy you should turn to in a crisis. This off-kilter tale of male camaraderie is a bizarre debacle from start to thrilling finish. 

My Thoughts
I have the feeling that this book has a bit of the Twilight phenomenon about it... only with less vampires and werewolves and more stupidity. It isn't a well written book, but I still want to find out what happens. On the back there is a list of things the book has.. I am particularly interested in getting to the penguin and the really cool lighthouse, but at page 82 neither of them seem to have made an appearance... It also promises to be very funny... which is subjective anyway... there have been a couple of times when I've ha'ed but nothing really laugh out loud...

Ok, I've skipped to the end to see if it is worthwhile finishing... and I realised that I've mixed the characters up! They are kinda like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who are interchangeable... only in the story Deano and Nige aren't... so I'm a bit confused by the ending. I think I might have to read some more to work out how the end came about...

You will too because I don't want to give it away.

Apparently they have made a movie of it. It stars Hamish Blake (of Hamish and Andy) and Bret Mckenzie (of Flight of the Concords). It's out in September in New Zealand. I'm not sure that I would want to go and see a movie about it... it would definitely be a very blokey movie as it is a very blokey book.

I'm going to have to abandon this book as I've got to read The Plot Against America by Philip Roth for book club... and I've renewed this one 3 times already. I made it to page 108.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter
Director: Drew Goddard 

About The Movie
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them. (from IMDB)

My Thoughts
Huh... this was an odd movie. I didn't know much about this movie before I went to see it... except that it was based on a book by the guy who did the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies books, Seth Grahame-Smith. I thought it might be a bit funny, and there were some funny moments but it was mostly a serious movie.

I realised that I don't know much about American history. I know who Abraham Lincoln was... but that was about it. I didn't know that his son died young.... or probably even that he had children... 

Hmm it's a week since I saw the movie and I've been blocking it out apparently. It was odd... we were early to the cinema and when I looked it up online there was a "normal" version on at 9.15pm. Only when we went to get the tickets it was a 3D version on at 9.20pm. *sigh* I am not a fan of 3d. Most movies that are done in 3d don't take advantage of what can be done. There were no knives or axes flying towards us and the flock of bats flew away from us instead of towards. How boring! And what is with that stupid pause mid flight??!! It is sooo annoying and ridiculous!! The Matrix has a lot to answer for.

I like how the vampire bits were blended in with the historical fact bits. I liked Abraham's mentor Henry Sturgess... but really it could have been more fun! I guess this comes from me liking the more light hearted vampire fare such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Twilight and well just those really. However I do like the Underworld and Blade movies too. I guess my expectations of something quirky just got in the way!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Craft Days

Lisa came over on Sunday for one of our regular crafty days! We haven't had one at my place for a while, so I spent Saturday doing house work. It was such a lovely day outside and to have to spend it doing boring stuff like cleaning the toilet was a bit of a drag. The good thing though was that I did two loads of washing and they were dry by the end of the day. It was much warmer outside than in my flat!

3 cards and an owl's head
On our crafty days Lisa makes cards and I ... crochet, or quilt or scrap book or knit or... hmm I think a challenge for me is that I need to focus on one craft!! It's so hard to do though. At the moment I have material laid out for me to cut it up to make a quilt, a half knitted scarf, a crochet owl nearly half done and lots of scrapbooking stuff waiting to be scrapbooked or made into cards... Card making is my latest thing. I managed to put 3 cards together and crochet an owl head!
Here is a photo.

Lisa's birthday card
Lisa made two cards, which were much more intricate than mine. It takes me a while to work out the composition of a card. Two of the cards I made on Sunday were just a pre-made shape stuck on a card and I'd been thinking about how that would look for a couple of weeks. The card I made Lisa for her birthday took weeks of planning in my head before I had enough courage to actually put it together. I've given it to her already, so here's a pic of it too!

It was a bit different to how I pictured it, due to not being able to find the particular shade of brown card that I had in my head. I think the end product was pretty good without it!

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (or the book that never ends)

We Need To Talk About Kevin
By Lionel Shriver
Text Publishing,  2006
pg. 468  

About the Book
Kevin Katchadourian killed seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher shortly before his sixteenth birthday. He is visited in prison by his mother, Eva, who narrates in a series of letters to her estranged husband Franklin the story of Kevin's upbringing. A successful career woman, Eva had been reluctant to forgo her independence and the life she shared with Franklin to become a mother. Once Kevin was born, she experienced extreme alienation and dislike of Kevin as he grew up to become a spiteful and cruel child. After Kevin committed murder, Eva fears that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become. But how much is she to blame? And if it isn't her fault, why did he do it?

My Thoughts
What a slog!

I think this was my pick for the 1st Wednesday Book Group to read for our August meeting. (But please don't tell them!) It aligns with the National Year of Reading 2012 monthly theme of question. I think it was the only time the book really closely aligned with the theme!!

One of the group didn't finish it because she found it a bit too distressing. So it's just as well she didn't make it to the twist! The other 2 did but expressed a dislike for the book. Everyone said they definitely wouldn't watch the movie but wondered how it would be done. While I can't say I liked the book - as I couldn't really warm to any of the characters,  I can say that I like the way it made me question what was happening in the book and how it applies to real life. Can babies be born nasty? Or are they shaped by how they are treated by their parents? Did the way Eva feel about her pregnancy shape Kevin's personality before he was born?

The first time I tried to read the book I really didn't get very far. I didn't warm to Eva at all and found she was being a bit whiny or cold or something... and the book was moving so slowly. Actually I don't think I made it to the end of the first letter. Because it was a book club book and I was on a bit of a roll with finishing them, I persevered. I'm glad I did but towards the end I just wanted it over with... the last 100 pages took forever to read and for more than half the book I was reading to find out where the twist comes into it. Then in the last 20 pages, there always seemed to be more no matter how much I read.

The characters were almost caricatures who seemed to be the most extreme of the type they represented. The way that it was written meant that we only saw the other characters through Eva's eyes... and I think I would have liked to have known more about Kevin. I liked how we got glimpses of the boy he could have been - when he was sick and towards the end when he was facing the prospect of adult jail. The way Franklin tried to restrict what Eva could do when she was pregnant with Kevin really annoyed me. No wonder she felt like being a parent was such a drag... it took all the fun out of her life!

I particularly liked this scene where Eva has gone to visit Kevin in prison:
The guard with the mud-splatter of facial moles had called time; for once we had used up the full hour without spending most of it staring at the clock. We were standing on either side of the table, and I was about to mumble some filler line like "I'll see you in two weeks," when I realized Kevin had been staring straight at me, whereas his every other glance had been sidelong. That stopped me, unnerved me, and made me wonder why I had ever wanted him to look me in the eye.
     Once I was no longer fussing with my coat, he said, "You may be fooling the neighbours and the guards and Jesus and your gaga mother with these goody-goody visits of yours, but you're not fooling me. Keep it up if you want a gold star. But don't be dragging your ass back here on my account." Then he added, "Because I hate you."
     I know that children say that all the time, in fits:I hate you, I hate you! eyes squeezed with tears. But Kevin is approaching eighteen, and his delivery was flat.
     I had some idea of what I was supposed to say back: Now, I know you don't mean that, when I knew that he did. Or, I love you anyway, young man, like it or not. But I had an inkling that it was following these pat scripts that had helped me land in a garish overheated room that smelld like a bus toilet on an otherwise lovely, unusually clement December afternoon. So I said instead, in the same informational tone, "I often  hate you too,  Kevin," and turned heel. (p51)
I guess I am still thinking about the book and the issues raised... I want to talk about someone else who had read it to see what they thought... but I'm not sure I would actually recommend it to anyone.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Amazing Spiderman

The Amazing Spider-Man
Directed By Marc Webb

About the Movie
The Amazing Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker, an outcast high schooler who was abandoned by his parents as a boy, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben and Aunt May . Like most teenagers, Peter is trying to figure out who he is and how he got to be the person he is today. As Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents' disappearance - leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr. Curt Connors, his father's former partner. As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors' alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero. -- (C) Sony

My Thoughts
I'd never been won over by the whole Spider-man thing. The most recent movies just didn't do anything for me... and I'm not a particular fan of Tobey McGuire. I am a fan however of Martin Sheen, Dennis Leary and Emma Stone apparently and as they are all in this movie how could it go wrong? Besides Andrew Garfield who plays Peter Parker has a funny fake grin, who can resist that?

The friend who I saw it with didn't like it as much as the Tobey Maguire Spider-man. She said that the previous trilogy was lighter and focussed more on romance. Now I don't remember if I've seen it all the way through but there are some things in this Spider-man that I really don't remember seeing in the previous one, which I don't want to give away for anyone who hasn't seen it yet... My friend also missed MJ... and felt Spiderman was cheating on her! Erm that's MJ not my friend... Anyhoo... I didn't mind that it was dark, and disputed that the previous ones weren't. I quite enjoyed the quirky humour and the relationship that developed between Peter and Gwen.

Looking forward to the next one!