Monthly Archives: October 2013

16) Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish

By: David Rakoff

Date Finished: 10.11.13

by David Rakoff

This is the second book that was chosen for Book Club — and I know for certain that I got the correct book this time.

There’s not much I feel comfortable saying about this one.

It’s a novel written in rhyming couplets, which is quite the feat and a stylistic marvel.

Content-wise?  I found it extremely desolate.  Only one character (the one who was dealt the harshest hand of cards) had a redeeming arc.  The others just moved from one form of emptiness to another.  Yes, in many ways this book gives a very realistic picture of American life, but that only makes it more bleak.

At the end of the day: Not for me

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15) The Graveyard Book

By: Neil Gaiman

Date Finished: 10.08.13

by Neil Gaiman

He was shaking hands and saying, “Charmed, I am sure,” because he could greet people politely over nine hundred years of changing manners.

Nobody Owens is a normal little boy, except for one thing: he’s growing up in a graveyard with his adoptive ghost parents.  He was just a toddler when his family was murdered, but he found refuge among the ghosts of a nearby graveyard and was granted the freedom to walk among them.  All his friends and tutors are dead (with the exception of his guardian who is neither living nor dead) and Bod is generally content not to stray from his community.  But the man Jack who killed Bod’s family is still on the prowl and Bod realizes he won’t be able to truly live until he’s faced this demon.

It’s a fascinating read, brimming with Gaiman magic.  In a way, it’s like reading a full season of a television show.  Each of the chapters act as episodes — distinct, but connected by an overarching plotline.    Bod is a couple years older in each chapter, but they are self-contained stories that move in real time (more or less).  You also learn a little bit more about the man Jack in each episode, but you don’t reach the real drama until the finale.

Something that’s also fun about the book is that it is set in modern times — cars, cell phones, all that — but it takes a while to realize because the ghosts represent such a wide range of history.  I started out imagining it in the 1800s, then rapidly jumped through the decades as Gaiman dropped in more clues.  I loved how Gaiman played with the various residents of the graveyard, each trapped in their own time period and imposing their cultural views on a boy who doesn’t know the first thing about the living world.

This book is strange and smart and just good, morbid fun.  Certainly one of my favorite Gaiman creations to date.

At the end of the day: Really for me

 

14) Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference

By: Jennifer Kahnweiler

Date Finished: 10.07.13

by Jennifer Kahnweiler

Now for a change of pace… This is not my typical read by any means, but it was the selection for my very first Book Club experience.  I couldn’t get my hands on a copy until the last minute, so it was a mad dash to finish reading this among the other things I needed to accomplish.  As such, maybe I didn’t absorb it as well as I could have.  But on the plus side, I was able to race through the book without difficulty.

Written by a self-proclaimed extrovert with a fascination of introverts, the tone struck just the right chord.  Kahnweiler writes with admiration rather than superiority or defensiveness.  In many ways, she’s a cheerleader for introverts and she clearly did her research.

Premise: Introverts have a unique ability to influence change in the workplace by using their natural inclinations to develop relationships that lead to long-term success.

Good things:

1) The foundation of this book is Stop Trying to Be an Extrovert.  Play to your strengths.

2) She broke the book into six main sections, detailing strengths that introverts possess and how to make use of them.  Pretty standard — but I really appreciated that each chapter ended with a section dedicated to the overuse of each strength.  The emphasis is on balance and intuitively judging the most appropriate course of action for each circumstance.

3) Kahnweiler used real world examples from a wide range of individuals and a wide range of professions.  Certainly much of the book discussed traditional businesses, but the creative fields had a strong representation.  She also used a few examples of community outreach initiatives and thus completely self-initiated.  I gleaned so much more from the variety of disciplines represented than if it had been saturated with office-based principles.

4) As mentioned, it was easy to read.  Kahnweiler writes with authority and intelligence, but avoids jargon and keeps it from getting dry.

Now, she did get formulaic with the excessive repetition of her talking points.  It was nice to have a consistent structure, but there were so many unnecessary sentences which simply listed the section headings.  Also, if I’m spending a chapter with each of the six strengths, I don’t need to have all of them listed three times per chapter.

The sad thing?  This wasn’t actually the book that was chosen for Book Club .

At the end of the day: Not my genre, but well done

13) The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Book Two of the Fairyland series

By: Catherynne M. Valente

Date Finished: 10.01.13

by Catherynne M. Valente

She did not know yet how sometimes people keep parts of themselves hidden and secret, sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts, just locked up away at the bottom of their hearts.

Nothing could be quite that easy in Fairyland.  It could be a Rule: Nothing is easy here.  All traffic travels in the direction of most difficulty.  Still, she held on tight.

September expected that destinies, which is how she thought of professions, simply landed upon one like a crown, and ever after no one questioned or fretted over it, being sure of one’s own use in the world.  It was only that somehow her crown had not yet appeared.  

I couldn’t concentrate on anything else until I read this sequel.  Our marvelous heroine, September, has spent a year waiting for her time to return to Fairyland.  Finally, she has an opening, but she does not find herself in the happy, magical world she expects.  Instead, she learns that the inhabitants of Fairyland have been losing their shadows, and consequently, their magic.  September’s own shadow has christened herself Halloween the Hollow Queen of Fairyland-Below and is bent on setting all shadows free to fulfill their own pleasures.  September takes responsibility for all that has gone awry and travels to lowest parts of the under world to restore balance.  Along the way, she reunites with old friends and old enemies, but not quite as she knew them before.

This is a distinctly different story than the first, and yet retains all its splendor.  Valente is a mastermind as she explores deeply human issues in a recognizable, yet unique fantasy world.  This particular book narrows in on the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden from others and the shadows personify those innate qualities that rarely see the light of day.  It’s a captivating concept that not everything in the shadows consists of darkness.

Throughout, Valente artfully crafts tropes that don’t feel like tropes and utterly bizarre creatures that make perfect sense.  Pace and texture are excellently executed, just as the first, and I appreciate the arc it takes.  The ending lands in a sort of gray area with no formal resolution, but there’s still a sense that things are put to rights and that September’s journey was both meaningful and made an impact.

Put simply, there’s nothing sequel-ish about this book.  All of my gushing in the previous post applies to this book 100%, so in lieu of repeating myself I will leave you with someone else’s words as a parting thought.  This is one of the cover blurbs, written by Neil Gaiman (which is too perfect since Valente is the most Gaiman-esque author I’ve encountered).

As he so concisely says, this book is “a glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian fairy tale, done with heart and wisdom.” 

At the end of the day: A seamless extension of the book I’ve always waited for