Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Readalong: The Iliad by Homer Post 2

I am participating in the readalong hosted by A Literary Odyssey for The Iliad by Homer. This is the second, and final post for The Iliad. Here is my first post for The Iliad.

I've come to the conclusion that everyone in this book is selfish and no one is inherently good- including the gods. They are killing each other over one woman! If only Paris could have controlled his libido and not have stolen another man's wife, the Achaeans need not spend 10 years outside of Troy trying to kill them. I think Achilles is probably the most selfish of all since he refused to fight because he was insulted (when Agememnon took her prize, a girl). Yet, he sits there and watches the battle because he wants to see his former allies fall in battle. When his best friend dies though, he is outraged and goes on a killing rampage. So don't insult Achilles because then he won't help you when you need it and don't kill his friend because then he seeks out revenge with an overwhelming vengeance.

I don't think Achilles is fully redeemed when he is kind to Priam, king of Troy, and returns Hector's body and lets the Trojans bury him properly. I definitely think it was a step forward in maturity for Achilles but he was pretty awful throughout the story.

However, these are complaints of the characters and a great book can be made up of terrible characters. I have two complaints for the story itself. 1.- the second half of the book was made up very long battle scenes that chronicles the name of the dead, the graphic cause of death, their killer, their fathers, and homelands. I liked the excitement and adventurous feeling of the battle scenes, but I think narrating each death was a little too much.

I also did not like the ending of the book. The Iliad ends with the burial of Hector. Well..... how did the war end? We aren't told. We assume that the day of Hector's burial, they began fighting again but we don't know how it ended up. I'm just not sure why it ended there.

After all of these complaints, I must say that I did enjoy reading The Iliad for the most part. I really enjoyed the first half. I am also proud of myself for reading this since I had tried once before but wasn't able to finish it. Did anyone else have any problems with the unending battle scenes or the ending? I plan to follow this up with reading The Odyssey.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey


Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey's story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon -- from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy.

(Includes Special, Never-Before-Solicited Opinions on Breastfeeding, Princesses, Photoshop, the Electoral Process, and Italian Rum Cake!)

My Review:

This book did and did not meet my expectations. I knew Bossypants would be a memoir of Tina Fey's career and life, but I also expected more jokes/funnier stories. While I did chuckle throughout the book, I rarely burst out laughing. Tina's voice definitely comes through the words and her stories are fascinating and I highly enjoyed reading them.

However, I thought that overall flow of the book was jarring and there was not central theme to pull it together- besides Tina Fey herself. I haven't read many memoirs, so this may be typical of them but I wish it felt more like a story instead of each chapter being more of a separate entity.

That being said, there were some amazing chapters. For example, one chapter explains just what professional photo shoots are like- which I loved. Tina Fey spoke about them in a way that seemed like it would also be my point of view- if I ever had the fortunate opportunity to even be in the same room as a photo shoot.

I also liked a lot of Tina Fey's feminist points (although I strongly disagree with her political views, so I just skimmed those parts so I could keep enjoying the book). There are three chapters in particular that I liked. First- I liked the two back to back chapters: 'Remembrances of Being Very Very Skinny' and 'Remembrances of Being a Little Bit Fat.' I liked the conclusion to both of these chapters, basically we should stop caring about weight so much as long as the person is healthy. It's a simple as that.

The other chapter that I really liked was about Tina Fey and her wildly popular Sarah Palin impersonation. This chapter also talks about the concurrent events of Oprah appearing on 30 Rock and planning her daughter's birthday party. I liked how even though she was a anxious, worried mess during this turbulent time, she also managed to do it all. It was fascinating to read about this time, especially since it was quite recent and I knew about/had seen both her Sarah Palin impersonations and the episode on 30 Rock with Oprah. I did not know about her daughter's birthday though. Oh well.

I loved a lot of the other chapters as well, but I also did not like some of them. I did not like the last chapter in the book, called 'What Should I Do with My Last Five Minutes.' Basically Tina Fey divulges all of her worries about possibly having another child or staying with her career. While I completely understand her anxiety, and even completely emphasize since I worry about my possible future career taking over my life to the detriment of my future family, I just didn't think it was a good way to end the book. It was quite depressing. And I think it's something that a lot of people/mothers/would-be mothers/fathers/etc worry about. But Tina Fey didn't have any answers or insight, so why bring it up and take us all down in your worries?

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Book Review: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen


In this irresistible follow-up to her New York Times bestselling debut, Garden Spells, author Sarah Addison Allen tells the tale of a young woman whose family secrets—and secret passions—are about to change her life forever.

Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds it harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tenderhearted woman who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother…

Fleeing a life of bad luck and big mistakes, Della Lee has decided Josey’s clandestine closet is the safest place to crash. In return she’s going to change Josey’s life—because, clearly, it is not the closet of a happy woman. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey is soon forgoing pecan rolls and caramels, tapping into her startlingly keen feminine instincts, and finding her narrow existence quickly expanding.

Before long, Josey bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who makes the best sandwiches in town, is hounded by books that inexplicably appear whenever she needs them, and—most amazing of all—has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush.

As little by little Josey dares to step outside herself, she discovers a world where the color red has astonishing power, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons, and romance can blossom at any time—even for her. It seems that Della Lee’s work is done, and it’s time for her to move on. But the truth about where she’s going, why she showed up in the first place—and what Chloe has to do with it all—is about to add one more unexpected chapter to Josey’s fast-changing life.

Brimming with warmth, wit, and a sprinkling of magic, here is a spellbinding tale of friendship, love—and the enchanting possibilities of every new day. (Image and synopsis from goodreads.com)

My Review:

The Sugar Queen is a simple, short, and sweet story. I won't recap the story since the above synopsis does a pretty good job. I found the characters to all be rather nice and pleasant. The only person I really did not like was Josey's mother. My favorite character was Chloe... mostly because books follow her around, and I would love if that happened to me!

The plot was also simple and predictable. It involves some heartbreak, becoming independent from one's family, and forgiving those around you.

While I enjoyed reading The Sugar Queen, I wanted more. Either more drama and mystery or just depth to the characters. I felt like this book compared to a sitcom episode of some fluffy TV show. It's enjoyable but forget-able after you put it down.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book Review: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood


In 1843, a 16-year-old Canadian housemaid named Grace Marks was tried for the murder of her employer and his mistress. The sensationalistic trial made headlines throughout the world, and the jury delivered a guilty verdict. Yet opinion remained fiercely divided about Marks--was she a spurned woman who had taken out her rage on two innocent victims, or was she an unwilling victim herself, caught up in a crime she was too young to understand? Such doubts persuaded the judges to commute her sentence to life imprisonment, and Marks spent the next 30 years in an assortment of jails and asylums, where she was often exhibited as a star attraction.

In Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood reconstructs Marks's story in fictional form. Her portraits of 19th-century prison and asylum life are chilling in their detail. The author also introduces Dr. Simon Jordan, who listens to the prisoner's tale with a mixture of sympathy and disbelief. In his effort to uncover the truth, Jordan uses the tools of the then rudimentary science of psychology. But the last word belongs to the book's narrator--Grace herself

My Review:

I found this to be an interesting read. Atwood based her narration off of an actual court case. However, because Grace's case did not go to trial, there aren't many absolute facts, which leaves plenty of room for Atwood to spin her tale and create her own reasons for the crime.

One thing I liked is that the beginning to each chapter included quotes from the courst transcripts and/or newspaper articles. These tidbits flavored the story with different points of view and some gossip. I also liked Atwood's conclusion to who committed the murder and why.

However, although I liked her explanation story-wise, I must say that it is scientifically very unlikely and sometimes overplayed in the media and popular works. I won't say more though, since I don't want to give anything away, I just wanted to state my views on her story.

The way the story was told changed from chapter to chapter. Sometimes it was in epistolary form and sometimes in the third person view. It also changed viewpoints between the characters so that the reader followed different characters. At time I liked the different viewpoints but often I thought it interupted the flow of the story. Instead of  figuring out who's view we were in, I just wanted to get on with the story. But this is a minor complaint, overall the story was very good.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Review: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell


"Blink is a book about how we think without thinking, about choices that seem to be made in an instant in the blink of an eye - that actually aren't as simple as they seem. Why are some people brilliant decision makers, while others are consistently inept? Why do some people follow their instincts and win, while others end up stumbling into error? How do our brains really work in the office, in the classroom, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom? And why are the best decisions often those that are impossible to explain to others?"

In Blink we meet the psychologist who has learned to predict whether a marriage will last, based on a few minutes of observing a couple: the tennis coach who knows when a player will double-fault before the racket even makes contact with the ball; the antiquities experts who recognize a fake at a glance. Here, too, are great failures of "blink": the election of Warren Harding; New Coke; and the shooting of Amadou Diallo by police. Blink reveals that great decision makers aren't those who process the most information or spend the most time deliberating, but those who have perfected the art of "thin-slicing" - filtering the very few factors that matter from an overwhelming number of variables.

My Review:

Malcolm Gladwell presents an interesting idea- that the unconscious split decisions that we make are often right and we should listen to them more often. Practical, logical, and well-thought out decisions may lead us astray because we can use too much information which distracts us from what's important. However, Gladwell also admits that sometimes impulse decisions aren't correct and can cause trouble.

To prove his point, Gladwell uses a series of very interesting anecdotes. These stories are fascinating and make the book worth reading. However, the overall point of the book seems to get lost when Gladwell sets out trying to prove that snap decisions are good and then gives examples where they fall apart. He tries to reconcile these failures by saying that we need to train ourselves to know when to listen to our impulses and when to slow down and think it out. Because this compromise of training takes a lot of time and training, it seems that the point of this book means very little to the regular person. We are not going to take the time to train ourselves to be able to accurately make these decisions. So how should we know when to trust ourselves?

Blink is a short, interesting read and I recommend it as that, not as a scientific proof.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Readalong: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky Post 1

I am participating in the readalong for The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, hosted by A Literary Odyssey. I read The Idiot once before in high school, after I read Crime and Punishment, which began my everlasting love of 19th century Russian literature. Since it's been quite a few years since I had forgotten the plot, although as I read it certain parts come back to me.

Like I said, I LOVE 19th century Russian literature, I even took a class on it in college two years ago. In that class we read War and Peace (Tolstory), Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky), Dead Souls (Gogol), and select short stories and poems by Pushkin. I even saw Eugene Onegin at the opera- based off of Pushkin's story. It was a great class and I loved everything we read. I just wish that I had taken a Russian history course so I would have more of a background to some of the novels.

Anyways, onto The Idiot.

The Idiot is about a Russian Prince's, who spent many years at a sanatorium in Switzerland, return to Russia. Prince Myshkin arrives in St. Petersburg and sets off to introduce himself to his very distant relatives and find a place to live. The husband of his distant relative is a General and helps find him accomodations. Along the way, Prince Myshkin is introduced to some of the General's family and staff, as well as the potential fiance of Ganya, one of the General's staff. Upon seeing a picture of Nastasya, Ganya's almost fiance, the Prince feels an immediate connection to the beautiful woman.

Nastasya is an interesting character. She is a kept woman by a rich man, Totsky, in St. Petersburg. Totsky is attempting to pay Ganya 75,000 rubles to marry Nastasya so that he can be free from her. Another man, Rogozhin, has also fallen in love with Nastasya and is able to collect 100,000 rubles, even though he is from the poorer class, to buy Nastasya for himself. At Nastasya's birthday party, she has a mental breakdown from the three men there who want her- Ganya, Rogozhin, and Prince Myshkin. They all want her for different reasons, money, sexuality, and innocent goodness. Natasya's birthday party is definitely the most interesting scene in Part 1 of The Idiot.
The title of the book comes from the assumption that everyone makes with regard to Prince Myshkin. Most people believe that the Prince is an idiot because he is simple and innocent. However, we see that often reads people better than anyone else and perhaps his simplicity allows him to see the world clearer than others and he is not stupid at all. Therefore, we are suppose to question the assumed link between innocence and idiocy, do they go together or can you be innocent without being stupid? There are still three more parts in The Idiot to find out.

Another part that I found interesting is the time that Prince Myshkin tells people  about his thoughts on capital punishment (which just happened to come up in conversation). Prince Myskin thinks capital punishment is far worse than committing murder because the victim of murder can cling to hope that they may survive while someone being killed under capital punishment spends there last moments knowing that they face certain death. These passages are haunting in their detail and passion. Furthermore, Prince Myskin's take on more depth when the reader knows that Dostoevsky was actually sentenced to death by firing squad for taking part in a revolutionary act. He was actually led in front of the firing squad and prepared for death before he found out that his sentence had been commuted to several years of hard labor in Siberia. Therefore, we may believe that Prince Myshkin's thoughts on the moments before certain death may actually be what Dostoevsky experienced- which is quite fascinating...

Overall, I love this book and can't wait to read more!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Readalong: The Iliad by Homer Post 1

I am participating in the readalong hosted by A Literary Odyssey for The Iliad by Homer. I had tried to read this book once before during my freshman year of college, but I ended up dropping the class that was using this book, so I never made it past the first few pages... the book completely daunted me then.

The Iliad is about the ten year Trojan War. The Trojan War was fought between the Achaeans and the Trojans in Ancient Greece. The Iliad starts in the ninth year of the ten year war. This battle started over the famed Helen of Troy. Paris, a Trojan, stole Helen from Menelaus, an Achaean, which is the cited reason for the Achaeans going to war with the Trojans. I think it is important to know this context before starting the book since it is an epic poem and not a narrative. There is very little explanation for the readers.

One thing I found most interesting with The Iliad is the history and origin of the story. The alleged author of The Iliad, Homer, was a possible blind and/or illiterate story teller/bard. Very little definitive information is known about him or even if he wrote the entire version of The Iliad or merely compiled well-known stories to form his epic poem. There are also Shakespeare-like ideas where some people don't think Homer was the author, or authors, of The Iliad.

I am reading the translation by Robert Fagles, which I am really enjoying. While the story is a poem, the language is still accessible enough for me to read it as an enjoyable story. I like that there also feels like there is a certain cadence to the writing, which makes it easy to imagine how it would sound like if the story was being told aloud.

Overall, I am halfway through this poem and I love the epic battles and the tempers of the men. My favorite parts, though, are the gods. They interfere so much with the course of the battles and each god has their own favorite mortal to protect. The involvement of the gods makes the battle seem even larger and more grandiose.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins


Young Katniss Everdeen has survived the dreaded Hunger Games not once, but twice, but even now she can find no relief. In fact, the dangers seem to be escalating: President Snow has declared an all-out war on Katniss, her family, her friends, and all the oppressed people of District 12. The thrill-packed final installment of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy will keep young hearts pounding. (Image and synopsis from goodreads.com)

My Review:

While I liked the overall plot of Mockingjay, I thought the execution of it lacked some character development and details. For a significant part of the book, Katniss was unconscious and the reader was not privy to what was going on if Katniss was not there and taking part of the developments. Therefore, there are chunks of time that are skipped over for the reader. I didn't think Katniss needed to be taken out of the plot for it to move forward.

I also didn't find much of it surprising. For example (SPOILER ALERT!!) I definitely definitely saw that Katniss would kill Coin before the end of the book. I thought it was super obvious from the way we viewed Coin from the very beginning. Apart from the lack of surprise, I also thought that Katniss stopped developing as an individual. She wallows around too much and is indecisive. I admired her courage and determination in the first two books, but she loses a lot of it in the third. I understand it's probably more realistic that she feels lost through the third book because of Peeta's situation, but I wasn't reading this series because it was realistic. It was suppose to be an adventurous story with a strong female character. The end is especially telling for Katniss, and I thought was poorly done and unrealistic.

In the end, everyone deserted Katniss- Gale, her mother, even Peeta wasn't there right away. I could have dealt with this if only Katniss hadn't also deserted herself. If she had pulled herself together, then at least we would have seen her grow. Rather, she wallows in self-pity/loathing/etc. and it takes Peeta to pull her out of it into some semblance of life. But Katniss didn't choose Peeta. Peeta is just now left with making sure Katniss survives rather than having a life with a woman who chose him, who wants to be with him, who also makes sure that he is okay. I think Katniss probably did not give up her selfishness later in life. I understand that she went through horrible things and she will always be tortured by it, but I really believe that Peeta is more of her caretaker than a husband. Just that fact that it took 15 years for Katniss to agree to have children only for his sake shows that she is not living for herself- just going through the motions and finally giving in to Peeta for something he actually wants. Katniss starts the series as such a strong girl. I rejoiced over this fact since the last YA books I read (really since about Middle School) were Twilight, which had such a pitiful main character that I thought maybe this series would change my mind about how characters are portrayed and given real depth in this genre. But Katniss' lack of growth and awareness of the world and people around her in this final installment leaves me disappointed since I expected much more.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars