Book Reviews

Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – March 2013

WITAWITARHaruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a lot of things, but first and foremost it is a series of personal essays documenting a writer’s training program leading up to the New York City Marathon. It is a memoir, chronicling  the life of a former smoker and bar owner, novelist, professor and runner. It is a memory of one man’s journey from Athens to Marathon. It is running as a metaphor for writing and writing as a metaphor for running. It is a beautiful story about aging gracefully. It is a sad and heartwarming story of the inherent tragedy of an aging athlete.

This book was lovingly crafted by Murakami to tell a very intimate story about his own life, his own experiences, and his own struggles with a very personal sport. I related to some parts and found myself inspired by others. The fluid storytelling, the beautiful imagery, and the painstakingly detailed physicality were all so incredibly written that I was engaged from the first words, and didn’t let up until the last.

One note – I would not recommend listening to this book. The narrator was great, but Murakami jumps around so often in his personal timeline that I found it hard to keep up, and had no easy way to reference the When. Obviously for me, this did not detract immensely from the book, but it was enough that towards the end I was a little frustrated.

Overall, I would definitely purchase this book and keep it around to read again from time to time. 5 Stars

(See also: Random Thoughts II)

Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts Special: Google Reader

+ The prognosis isn’t good. Google is dying. 2005-2013, RIP.

I use Google Reader daily. It is my lifeline to the outside world when I sit at my desk for 8-10 hours any given day. Google Reader clues me in on movie news via Pajiba. It tells my what my favorite bloggers have eaten. It keeps me informed about the goings on in my industry. And it shows me ALLTHEPRETTYPEEKTURS. So finding out that Google had decided to can my beloved break-time cultural oasis was…difficult. I took it pretty hard.

1. Denial – This can’t really happen, can it? No. They’re just trying to shore up more interest in the site. Surely with a petition, Twitter campaign, bottles of hot sauce and subway sandwiches and KICKSTARTER, we can undo this madness. It’s not really real. This isn’t real life.

2. Anger – How can Google do this? I mean seriously? Don’t they understand how vital Google Reader is to the blogging community. To the blogging industry as a whole? And what about us lowly desk jockeys who use it as our one stop (read: one URL) shop for all things media – news, pop culture, daily living? What are we supposed to do? Bookmark every website and visit them ALL? That’s RIDICULOUS!

3. Bargaining – What does it really take to run Google Reader anyway? Some server space? Surely we can band together and pay for that ourselves. C’mon Google. Just give us the technology and we’ll handle everything from here.

4. Depression – Wow. I can’t even look at you now. It’s too hard. After all we’ve been through, to know that it’s all over – just like that. I just want to curl up into my WordPress/Tumblr/Blogger and cry out all my feels.

5. Acceptance.

Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts II

+ I have officially read as many books this year as I did last year. I don’t feel like that means much, other than the fact that I’m reading more. I don’t feel terribly accomplished or smarter. I have, however, been enjoying the challenge more than I expected I would. Reading doesn’t ever feel like homework. I guess that’s because I’ve chosen books I know I’ll like. Of course, there are a few books that continue to hang out in my “Currently Reading” list ::cough::Great Gatsby::cough::Devil In the White City::cough:: because I lose interest and pick up something shinier and newer ::cough::The Night Circus::cough. But even the lingering books manage to win me back eventually. 

There are nights now when I choose not to even touch the TV remote, and these nights constantly surprise me. Usually they are nights when Eric won’t be home until after 9:00 and I know I can get a solid amount of reading done. In the past, I would have chosen to watch TV, because I have several guilty pleasure shows that Eric not only refuses to watch, but will not even stay in the room for. These shows are backlogged now, and that’s fine. I’m sure Elena hasn’t finished choosing between Damon and Stefan, and Emma hasn’t saved Storybrook from Regina yet, so I’m not missing much. And I love rediscovering that passion I had as a kid, when all I wanted to do was sit and read for hours. I mentioned previously that I wasn’t back to that point yet, but I’m feeling closer.

Eric and I took a trip this weekend with some friends and we had a fabulous time. We played board games, watched movies, went shopping – this was all fantastic. But also fantastic was the 45 minutes I spent on Saturday afternoon, curled up in a blanket on the porch, sipping a stout (it’s a new thing I’m doing – I drink stouts now), reading The Night Circus; or the hour I spent in bed on Sunday morning, quiet but for rare soft snores next to me, inching closer to finishing The Night Circus. The Night Circus was a book I hated putting down. It reminded me of when I devoured Lord of the Rings my senior year of high school. Of course I felt that way about The Hunger Games trilogy last Christmas, but this was different. This imaginary pull to finish the book was more satisfying, and I can’t explain why. Maybe I’ll have a better understanding later. I do have 45 more books to go, after all.

+ I purchased Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (WITAWITAR) from Audible on a whim. It was an inexpensive book that I could potentially listen to on my drive to and from the cabin this weekend. I don’t consider myself a runner in practice. I haven’t run since last summer for so many reasons (excuses), and even when I was running, I walked a lot. But when runners talk about running, and when they talk about a shared feeling that only runners feel – I can relate. So I wanted to hear what one of the world’s living literary legends had to say about it. He has a lot to say, and I’m really loving it. It’s quite inspiring. If I have the time before I actually finish the book, I’ll write a proper Notes on Reading post, but until then, I just wanted to jot down my thoughts on it. Murakami is charming and funny, which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising. I thought maybe this book would be a sort of self-help inspirational. It is not, or at least not in the obvious sense. I call it inspiring, of course, but it isn’t forced. WITAWITAR is a very sweet, very personal memoir from an aging runner, and it makes me want to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement again.

Book Reviews

Review: The Night Circus – March 2013

the night circusThe circus arrives without warning.

This is how The Night Circus begins, and this is how it ends. From Amazon:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

The novel is, at first, a series of vignettes, introducing character after character. It also spans several decades, and jumps back and forth to an almost dizzying effect – much like the circus itself.

I loved this book. It set out to tell a fantastical fairy tale, and it accomplished that in the most charming and vivid way. The imagery was everything I had hoped for when I picked it up at Barnes and Noble. I would recommend this book to just about anyone.

That said, the novel is not without faults. Because it is chalk-full of colorful characters, and because it jumps through time in nearly every chapter, the dizzying effect makes it difficult to narrow down an emotional attachment to anyone in particular. Though the two protagonists are obvious from the start, Morgenstern does not spend a terrible amount of time crafting their emotions or motivations. Instead, she focuses on their technical training and their execution of beautiful illusions. She focuses on the circus itself and it’s dreamlike mysteries. She focuses on those just outside the circus who are affected by its wonders. So when the two magicians finally fall in love, though it feels natural, it also feels a little empty and unearned.

This was almost a perfect book for me: it was an historical fiction, it contained fantasy and magic, it was beautifully told with style, and it was a fairly easy read, though not depthless or bland. I felt like there was just one more element, something bubbling under the surface that was never revealed. It fell just short. Short of what, I can’t say. But honestly, that undefined lacking is only a minor concern. This novel transported me, and that’s the best compliment I can give to any story. 4 Stars

Book Reviews

Review: The Final Solution – February 2013

the final solutionI picked up The Final Solution, by Michael Chabon, not knowing anything about it other than the fact that it was 131 pages, including some illustrations, and it was written by a writer whose work I have enjoyed in the past. I wanted to pick something that would be quick (because, yes, my total number of books read so far is a little behind), but smart.

The back page summary seemed interesting enough. A reclusive retired detective living in the English country-side is more content with bee-keeping than interacting with his fellow man. Into his life walks an intelligent but mute boy and his exotic African parrot. The boy is a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, and his bird never leaves his side, repeating a random string of numbers in German regularly and peaking the curiosity of several characters. When a murder occurs, and the bird is stolen, the detective is recruited to help solve the case.

And the detective is Sherlock Holmes. It’s never stated, but it’s incredibly obvious, and had I known I probably would not have picked this book. I’ve never read a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and as such I have a nagging feeling that I probably missed a lot of references in this short little book. The mystery itself is fine, I suppose, if you like that sort of thing, but honestly, I’m finding that I don’t.

I think my issue is that I love character driven stories, and this novella is framed through a previously developed character. Each additional character in the novella, including the parrot, has his own motivations, but “the old man” is the protagonist grounding the story. Having not read the source material, I felt a bit cheated. The story seemed almost hollow somehow, which I’m sure was not Chabon’s intent.

All of that being said, it’s a very well crafted little story. I’m sure if you enjoyed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s collection, you’d enjoy this. 3 Stars

Book Reviews

Review: Gone Girl – February 2013

gone girlBoy meets girl. Boy marries girl. Boy murders girl?

I’ll start with a non-spoilery review, but feel free to leave spoilery comments. I’d really like to discuss the second half of the book.

Gone Girl is, on the surface, the story of a seemingly normal, vaguely unhappy married couple struck by tragedy – the disappearance of the beautiful wife, Amy. Told through the husband Nick’s first person narrative, as well as Amy’s flashback journal entries, the reader sees the portrait of a dissolving marriage, leaving Nick the prime suspect in Amy’s disappearance.

And then something happens. Part Two has a fantastically surprising revelation that shifts perspective and changes the game. I struggled with this novel, but I fought hard, and pushed forward, knowing there would be a decent reveal. I had sort of guessed at the twist early on, but that did nothing to dull the excitement of the psychological mind twists to follow.

I can’t say much else without spoiling the fun, but I’ll leave you with this – Neither character is necessarily sympathetic or likable to begin with, and so for me it was a struggle to continue reading. But I am so glad that I did, because Parts Two and Three were astonishingly insane in the best, most disturbing way possible. 3.5 Stars