Saturday, April 14, 2007

Depressing reading and a shuffle

I've been doing a lot of reading -- some of it YA and some not -- plus one graphic novel.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy: I've never been that drawn toward Cormac McCarthy novels, but I enjoyed Lesley's review of The Road; she made it sound intriguing. I loved this tale of a man and his son traveling through a post-apocalyptic America, looking for a better life. It is grim and it is depressing, yet it is so well told that I couldn't put it down -- I read it in two days. After I was done with it, I found myself continually coming back to the story. Its bleak vision of an apocalypse of some kind -- we are never told what kind, and ultimately that's not important -- seems all too real, too plausible right now -- like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale felt when it was released. Yet it's not just grim and bleak; there is a place in this novel for both faith and love. It is the love of the man for his son that carries the two through their journey and keeps them safe. It is the faith of the boy, both in his father and in some kind of guiding force -- maybe God, that provides the ultimate hope in this novel. That faith also keeps the father from doing some things he may later regret -- it's something he admires in the boy. I will read The Road again -- I wish I'd bought the hardback.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons: Watchmen is widely regarded as extremely influential and Time even listed it on their All-Time 100 Novels. While it was good and I can see how influential it's been, I wouldn't go that far. I think Neil Gaiman's Sandman series is better. Watchmen begins with the murder of a superhero, the Comedian, and goes from there to a plot that involves setting the two greatest powers of the 1970s, the United States and the USSR, against each other in a nuclear showdown. The world of Watchmen is a depressing, paranoid one; not one of the superheroes is what you'd call "good" -- they are selfish and some are extremely arrogant. One, Dr. Manhattan, is so distant from mankind that he doesn't see the value of life. And another, Rorshach, is just plain crazy. It's a testament to the power of the storythat I ultimately felt compassion and sympathy for both Rorschach and the Comedian, who is an extremely unsympathetic character. It's important to pay attention to the illustrations -- they really add to the story. The scrawled graffiti, "Who Watches the Watchmen," is everywhere on the buildings in the city and makes the reader consider that very question. I wouldn't consider Watchmen among my 100 favorite novels of all-time, but it is good and I'm glad I read it.

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen: A Holocaust novel that is about the importance of remembering your heritage and remembering the Holocaust. The story begins at a Passover Seder. The main character, Hannah, is fed up with always being exhorted to remember the past -- to her, the past is past. During the ritual of the Seder, she is the one who opens the door to let in Elijah. When she does, she is transported back to 1940s Poland. Here, she ends up in a concentration camp where she learns the importance of remembering.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr: This autobiographical novel is a different kind of Holocaust story; it's the story of a family whose father didn't trust the intentions of the Nazis and got his family out of Germany before Hitler was even elected as Chancellor. It was an odd book to read after The Devil's Arithmetic because what happened in the camps was so horrific I had a hard time feeling sympathy for Anna and her family when the hardest thing Anna and her brother, Max, really had to adjust to was learning French. I find that making that comparison between the two stories is unfair, however, since having to run from a government that puts a bounty on your father's head had to be frightening. Since the story is told from Anna's point of view, it's clear that there is much going on in her parents' lives that she's not aware of, just as she's unaware of what's going on in Germany; she's only 10 after all. I found the book to be well-written and well-told; I just should have waited to read it until I'd put some distance between it and The Devil's Arithmetic.

Friday Shuffle (a day late)
  1. I Choose by India.arie from Testimony. vol 1
  2. Love in the Lies by Amos Lee from Amos Lee
  3. Blood of the Lamb by Billy Bragg and Wilco from Mermaid Avenue vol. 2
  4. No Surprises by Radiohead from OK Computer
  5. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight by R.E.M from In Time: The Best of R.E.M
  6. Billy's Bones by The Pogues from Rum, Sodomy and the Lash
  7. Seven Bridges Road by The Eagles from Eagles: The Very Best of
  8. Anthony by Nickel Creek from Why Should the Fire Die?
  9. Out of My Mind by SHeDAISY from Fortuneteller's Melody
  10. Stepchild by Solomon Burke from Don't Give Up On Me


nutmeg said...

I'm glad you've written about The Road. I have it in my TBR pile but am a bit "scared" of it quite frankly. I keep thinking it's going to be depressing and therefore keep avoiding it. I really must just pick it up and begin ...

I finished Jane Yolen's Briar Rose just yesterday and was quite moved by it. The main character annoyed me a little but I will tell more on my blog later this week. Would you recommend me buying the Yolen that you've reviewed here? The subject matter is certainly interesting.

I also recently finished When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (we should be in a bookclub together!) I did enjoy it and there were a few things that were a revelation to me. Again I found the Anna character slightly annoying but I was interested enough to buy and read the next instalment, Bombs Over Aunt Dainty, about her time in London during WWII. I have to say I probably liked this one twice as much as Pink Rabbit (but more of that in my blog later too)!

Katya said...

I think you'd like the Devil's Arithmetic -- again the main character is slightly annoying and self-centered but with this book that's the whole point.

Read The Road -- I was really hesitant as well because I was afraid it was going to be too much for me, but it's really good and was for me a surprisingly fast read.

I will have to check out Bombs Over Aunt Dainty -- I think you're right, we should be in a book club together!

Kristina said...

I really haven't been reading as much as I usually do lately. Just got What Is The What by Dave Eggers from the library and I plan on starting that today...

Katya said...

I've been overreading -- I think -- now I'm in this "don't feel like reading anything" phase. I've never read Dave Eggers -- wasn't he the one who wrote that Staggering Genius book?

Rogue Librarain said...

You know if you enjoyed Watchman, you might like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (ignore the movie). It’s also by Alan Moore, and shows a keen understanding of nineteenth century literature. It’s more fun and doesn’t carry the weight of Watchman, but it’s a lot more fun and equally well written.

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian was a brilliant read, but it never inspired me to read anything else by him. I will confess when I saw The Road had come out it didn’t even occurred to me to pick it up. I think I have enough depressing stuff in my life just now.

Katya said...

You know, RL, I feel the same way about The Road -- I loved it but I really don't see myself reading anything else by McCarthy.

I've seen where you've recommended League of Extraordinary Gentlemen before and I am going to pick it up. How could I resist? I did both undergrad and grad work in Victorian lit.

Kristina said...

Katya - yep, he did. As for What Is The What, I got another book in from the library (Assasination Vacation by Sarah Vowell), so I am beginning that first. And unfortunately these days, I read like molasses. Sad, really.

BabelBabe said...

HATE Eggers. self-important bombastic twit. (him, not you)

haven't read The Road but it stares at me mournfully from the shelf where it sits after I recommended that the librray buy it for its popular fiction section.

Les said...

Thanks for the link to my blog for The Road review! I've finally gotten to your blog and have been enjoying your posts. I'm glad you "enjoyed" the book, although it really isn't one you can enjoy, is it? But it's quite powerful and one that will stay with me for a long time. I need to get a copy for my keeper shelves (I borrowed one from the library).