Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Snapshot Book Review: The Martian Chronicles

The Martian ChroniclesThe Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ray Bradbury is an excellent writer. No doubt about it. This is only the second book I've ready by him, first work of fiction (correct, that means I still have not read Farenheit 451--something I must correct in the immediate future), but already I can tell that he is one of the talented hard-working writers who has made the most of himself and his abilities.

The Martian Chronicles is indeed, as he claimed in Zen in the Art of Writing, an "accidental novel." Really, it is a collection of short stories in the truest sense of "collection": every story belongs with the other; they are arranged in an artful, chronological manner whereby each story relates to its predecessor and successor but can be read and appreciated just as easily on its own; each story tells its own, well, story, but the collection as a whole tells its own broader story, as well. It is that last quality that makes it a novel, as well, accidental or otherwise.

As with any collection, there were a few stories in here that I didn't love, and a few that I adored. "Usher II" in particular was a brilliant blend of science fiction and horror and witty literary references, all of which I appreciated immensely.

Typically, I don't read science fiction, and certainly not fiction that is about aliens and planetary travel. Somehow, however, Bradbury made this book more about humanity and perception than about Martians and Mars themselves, and so I enjoyed this book much more than I had anticipated.

Now, it's time for me to go read Farenheit 451. Really, it's past time.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Snapshot Book Review: The Moon Sisters

The Moon SistersThe Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received this as an ARC. The premise seemed somewhat intriguing (I've never read anything about synesthesia, and who doesn't like to read about sisterly dynamics?), although I probably wouldn't have picked it up based on the back-cover blurb.

Perhaps I didn't give it a fair chance, but after just 30 pages I already disliked both narrators for different reasons. Jazz I disliked for her obviousness. She's a stock character, one I've already met and who seems to go too far out of her way to tell me exactly how she feels and thinks about every little thing. When I'm reading a book, I want to be wooed with nuance, not hit over the head with a frying pan of explanation. Olivia, on the other hand, annoyed me from the outset because, after wittnessing her mother's suicide (you can tell this is going to happen from the very beginning, so don't worry--it's not a spoiler) she performs this drastic self-surgery by staring at the sun and burning away her retinas (a process which we, the readers, don't actually see occur) and then doesn't seem to express the tumult of emotions that would accompany such a drastic decision.

On the plus side, the descriptions of seeing sounds and smelling sights were quite poetic and very apt. I applaud Walsh for her ability to write about this condition (synesthesia), even if I'm not entirely sure how or why it was necessary to write into this book.

To stick with The Moon Sisters, I needed at least one character that I wanted to hear from, and such a character didn't seem to be present. Therefore, I ultimately decided that my time would be better spent reading something else.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Snapshot Book Review: Freedom

FreedomFreedom by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For a book about a bunch of very miserable characters, Freedom was a surprisingly enjoyable read. I really cared about each character, as detestable as he or she may have been, and the alternating narration kept the perspective on each character's situation fresh. What I really connected with were the emotions and core motivations of the characters, especially Patty: wanting to be a "good person," the feeling of being in competition with everyone around you, wanting something but wanting to not want it at the same time. (Although I will say that I didn't very well relate to that entire segment of life where she just seems crazy and pent-up inside her marriage to Walter.) All of these emotions struck me as being real and fairly treated. That they resulted in a lot of misery, well . . . that seems fairly true of life, when all is said and done.

Of all the characters, Joey disgusted me the most. His wanton selfishness, his belief that the world owed him a good life and that he could take whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, all of those qualities sickened me, probably because I recognize people out there just like him and I truly despise them. Being conned by LBI might seem like just punishment to some, but I frankly was upset that he didn't get all of what he deserved: to end up in abase poverty or jail, without his stalker-wife or any other woman to shine her adoration all over him. But I'm getting off track.

What kept this book from a 5 star rating is probably what earned it so much literary praise: the lengthy descriptions that were so clearly intended to set this book in a particular place and time that they were almost essays in and of themselves. The sections about conservationism and birds and the environment reminded me almost of an attempt to (poorly) mimic Barbara Kingsolver. The asides about the war and the politics surrounding it seemed to be there less to explain what was happening with the characters in the novel and more to explain how thoroughly Franzen had looked into these topics before he chose to insert them into his book. This book, in my opinion, was about the characters, and apart from what details needed to be there to get them from point A to point B, the rest was just filler that I skimmed over until the next thought/event/conversation.

My only other complaint was the lack of paragraph breaks (a single paragraph should not take up more than half a page!), that that is, of course, personal preference. And, perhaps, a testament to our current culture's attention span. Bit I digress.

Bottom line: Freedom is definitely a book worth reading. Just maybe in the winter or the fall, when you can curl up and mull over it. Because this is not exactly beach reading.

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