Sunday Salon: Thankfully Reading

I wasn’t able to go home for Thanksgiving break, but I did go to friend’s house to eat turkey and I finished all of the essays and research papers I have to write for the end of the semester. In fact, I finished them with enough time left over to devote to pleasure reading! Not at all something I anticipated being able to do, which is why I did not sign up for this year’s Thankfully Reading Weekend, but I am definitely thankful I’m reading this weekend.

My iPod is propped up against my bookstack because I’ve been listening to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, a book that has been on my TBR list for quite some time. It’s the only audiobook I have on my iPod that I haven’t already listened to, and I needed something to listen to on the two hours it takes to drive to and from my friend’s house. I listened to a large chunk of it yesterday to the point where I’m about 90 percent of the way through, but I’m just not getting it. I’ve decided to shelve listening to/reading the book until I have ability to focus on it.

The first book in the stack, Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon, was sent to me by my mom to help get me through the long weekend. She picked it up because it sounded very Jodi Picoult-esque to her, but I yet to start it because I wanted to finish Larsson’s final book, which I finished and reviewed yesterday. I also restarted Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky as it has been in my possession for a couple of years now.  I have a hard time picking it back up; it’s like I’ve never even read the previous chapters. I selected Saved By Her Enemy: A Iraqi Woman’s Journey from the Heart of War to the Heartland of America by Don Teague and Rafraf Barrak from the library shelves because the title is just so provocative. How could I resist?

I’m not quite sure how much more reading I will get done today as my friends will be returning throughout the day and they’re always quite the distraction. But it did feel wonderful to get back into reading for myself, and I cannot wait for the next two and half weeks to go by so I can be home spending my morning skiing, my afternoons reading, and my evenings with my family.

The Sunday Salon:

The Sunday The Sunday Salon encourages bloggers to get together –at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones– every Sunday and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another’s blogs. Salon participants are encouraged to blog about their time spent reading, pages read, information about current reading, discuss a reaction to a book, state what they plan to read the following week, or make suggestions for a group read.

Photo © Me. “A weekend of reading”. Taken: November 26, 2010.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

My enjoyment of the third and final book in Larsson’s series was definitely hampered by the fact that it has been two months since I read the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire. The books are just so connected (this book immediately begins with the end of the second novel), and they really need to be read back to back for maximum enjoyment.

Unfortunately, I started reading this novel on my mom’s iPad over October break, but didn’t finish before she had to return home and I had to wait until the library on campus finally got around to ordering one. I certainly had not forgot about the contents of the second novel, but it just wasn’t the same. I just do not know how people managed to wait a year for the book to be released.

In a complete shift from the previous book, this novel is more subdued, less violent, and counts on pulling the loose ends together to pull the reader through. There definitely is a shift in the type of story this is. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a whodunit mystery; The Girl Who Played with Fire is a fast-paced action thriller. But this one reads more like a legal suspense novel.

Salander exists more in the background of this novel as compared to the first and second novels, and more and more characters are introduced as the conflict becomes more and more complex.There were moments where I wished I had made a list of the characters and their connections so I could keep them straight, and this did bog the story down for a while. It would be difficult to discuss plot here without spoiling The Girl Who Played with Fire but I will say that the scene in which Salander’s attorney shreds the prosecutor and his star witness is riveting and gratifying to those who’ve read the first two books in the series. Completely worth getting through some of the more challenging sections.

I was worried the ending would be completely unsatisfying and yet another cliffhanger that since Larsson passed away before finishing his series (he had planned for ten books in total), but it still managed to bring the total story to a satisfying ending. Almost as though Larsson thought of stopping the series there and didn’t have time to change his mind. Overall, I liked the book and loved the series. It is unfortunate that we won’t have more of his writing as I would have loved to read more.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Larsson, Stieg. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Translated from Swedish. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Print. 565 pgs. ISBN: 9780307269997. Source: Library.

The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton

Normally I do not accept review copies during the school year, but when Thornton emailed me to ask if I was interested in reading her most recent book I accepted immediately because a couple of book bloggers I follow gave her previous novels glowing reviews. I was not at all disappointed.

Thornton seems to have a knack for writing about the ‘ordinary’ aspect of people’s life because although Catherine has relocated her life from England to France, life still goes on. People still do their weekly shopping at the market and complete their work; people still live and die. There are lonely moments, frustrating moments, and moments of sheer joy; it does rely on the outrageous to make Catherine’s life interesting. The novel moves through these moments without pause, drawing me in as though I’m apart of Catherine’s story. In fact, the only reason why I put the novel down was to fold my laundry and cook some dinner. (Very ordinary, indeed.)

The descriptions of life in the Cévennes mountains of France reminded me so much of home; that feeling Catherine describes as she looks out the window is the exact same feeling I get when I walk out my backdoor. Thornton just has a way of writing about the inexplicable draw places have on us that does feel cheap or fake or forced. I would love to visit the region now; maybe even the national park that causes so many problems for Catherine and the people of St. Julien.

The title may suggest ‘chick-lit’, but it has this richness that isn’t normally found in chick-lit and I certainly wouldn’t classify it in that way. It’s a story that made me want to slow down and not pay attention to the clock. I certainly enjoyed it.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Thornton, Rosy. The Tapestry of Love. London, UK: Headline Review, 2010. Print. 406 pgs. ISBN: 9780755345571. Source: Review copy sent by the author.
Book Cover © Headline Review. Retrieved: November 25, 2010.

The Forever War by Dexter Filkins

Winner of The National Book Critics Circle Award and named Best Book of the Year by The New York Times Book Review, Filkins’ memoir chronicling his time as a foreign correspondent (i.e. reporter) for The New York Times begins, briefly, with the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan during the 1990s and is followed by the War in Iraq. The later makes up the majority of the memoir, which is why my class is reading it whilst we discuss former President George W. Bush’s foreign policy in the Middle East. The nonfiction book does not specifically address or analysis policy, rather it shows the very human costs of those policies; best summed up by the very last sentences of the acknowledgments:

“I fared better than many of the people I wrote about in this book; yet even so over the course of the events depicted here, I lost the person I cared for most. The war didn’t get her; it got me.” (pg. 346)

I don’t mean to spoil the book for anyone; I honestly don’t think it’s a book that can be spoiled. Rather the book is a collection of short stories — recollections, if you will — that show the most troubling, graphic, heartbreaking side of both war and the policies that dictate it. Filkins is not a solider; he’s a reporter that was often times imbeded with the troops or traveling through a war zone with a translator and a notebook. He’ll readily admit he has no idea what’s going on, but is just trying to thread together some truths to make sense of the situation.

“I took ten strides and felt the bullets whiz past and bounce off the pavement and I knew I was going to die so I stopped cold, knowing immediately. I’d done a stupid thing, running and stopping both. I turned and dashed back behind the wall. For a moment I felt like a coward behind that wall, and then I remembered it wasn’t my war, not my army. I’m just a goddamn reporter, and I’ll wait the war out here. Come back and get me when it’s over.” (pg. 6-7)

I was worried that this book would be like reading a series of newspaper stories, but Filkin’s tone is more personal, more anguished than conventional journalism usually allows. And his tales kept pulling me through, urging me to keep reading. Interpretation of events and situations are left up to the reader; Filkin leaves the reader to decide if his source was just using him for money, for example.

“After so long I’d become part of the place, part of the despair, part of the death and the bad food and the heat and the sandy-colored brown of it. I felt I understood its complications and its paradoxes and even its humor, felt a jealous brotherhood with everyone who was trying to keep it from sinking even deeper.” (pg. 147)

The book begins with Afghanistan, and I wish it hadn’t because I kept thinking throughout the rest of the book that I would have liked to have read more about Afghanistan because that particular section is just so damn good. Sometimes the author frustrated me because he rarely expressed much respect for the average Iraqi (i.e. the ones not protecting him or acting as his source). His admiration for those he worked intimately with are not misplaced, but sometimes it felt like he was stretching himself in his portrayal of Iraqis and Afghans in both a good and bad way. Sometimes I felt like what the Iraqis did was a scam to him.

“There were always two conversations in Iraq, the one the Iraqis were having with the Americans and the one they were having among themselves. The one the Iraqis were having with us – that was positive and predictable and boring, and it made the Americans happy because it made them think they were winning. And the Iraqis kept it up because it kept the money flowing, or because it bought them a little peace. The conversation they were having with each other was the one that really mattered, of course. That conversation was the chatter of a whole other world, a parallel reality, which sometimes unfolded right next to the Americans, even right in front of them. And we almost never saw it.” (pg. 115)

But maybe that’s something we need to know, something we need to hear. My mom started reading this book before I did, and she actually abandoned it because of how graphic she perceived it to be. Maybe I’ve been too desensitizes to the subject matter and its most graphic parts (what a terrible thought), but I have the same reaction. It’s a portrayal of war and war is inherently graphic and bloody. Overall, I liked the book  and felt like I learned a lot about the war in Iraq. Filkins has a different point of view; one that just not easily captured in the articles he writes and I read. To echo my professor’s sentiment, “Filkins strength is an overwhelming faithfulness to the messiness of the concrete details, which makes for a very real portrayal of war”.

Book Mentioned:

  • Filkins, Dexter. The Forever War. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2009. Originally published 2008. Print. 368 pgs. ISBN: 9780307279446. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © Vintage Books. Retrieved: November 23, 2010.

Part Of

From The Forever War:

“After so long I’d become part of the place, part of the despair, part of the death and the bad food and the heat and the sandy-colored brown of it. I felt I understood its complications and its paradoxes and even its humor, felt a jealous brotherhood with everyone who was trying to keep it from sinking even deeper.” (pg. 147)

I’ve just spent the past thirty minutes typing up all the quotes flagged by those little colored flags because this book is just so…quotable. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from a new perspective because Filkin’s tone is more personal, more anguished than conventional journalism usually allows.

Book Mentioned:

  • Filkins, Dexter. The Forever War. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2009. Originally published 2008. Print. 368 pgs. ISBN: 9780307279446. Source: Purchased.
Photo © Me. “Flagging the interesting bits”. Taken: November 23, 2010.