February 24, 2015

2/24/15 - A Funny Book

And we come to the last week of February, and wrap up with a very weighty, very academic choice for the category of A Funny Book.

Texts From Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg, was yet another coincidental find. This isn't a book, per se - it does exactly what the title says. It presents texts from various characters from famous literature. One of the very best examples is Medea's texts to Jason's new wife ("it's Glauce right?? that is such a pretty name I am so crazy about how pretty your name is 'Jason and Glauce' sounds so good together").

Ortberg runs the gamut of fictional characters, from Gilgamesh to The Hunger Games. It's sort of like a collection of short stories, in that there are some amazing ones (Achilles!) and some good ones (Gone With The Wind) and some eh ones (Agatha Christie). I can easily say, however, that the amazing ones make up for the eh ones. I must have read the Achilles, Medea, and Coleridge texts at least ten times each, and almost cried over them every time. 

It's pretty modern humor, and the method of humor doesn't really change - the syntax of what makes the first few texts funny is pretty much what makes all of the others funny, so if you want your favorite authors' voices over-adapted into humor, this probably isn't your book (except for maybe "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"). But the method works, really really well. Especially if you're in-tune with the kind of passive-aggressive humor that Tumblr specializes in.

Get it from the library. I dare you to read Achilles's text in public and keep a straight or at least an un-embarrassing face.

2/18/15 - Written By A Woman

Ah, yes, my very least favorite challenge has been fulfilled! To be honest, A Book Written by a Woman was kind of a free square for me. My reading tends to be split pretty evenly down the middle as regards to authorial gender, so I was saving this category for a week whose reading list got completely away from me. As it so happens, the week of February 18th was just such a week.

And so, a review of The Witch's Boy, by Kelly Barnhill.

The Witch's Boy was a chance encounter, much like All The Bright Places. It happened to be a newcomer on display in the kid's section of the library, the cover was good, and the synopsis included a dead twin. Why wouldn't you pick it up?

And it delivered! I'm a bit used to being deceived by good middlegrade possibilities (not so much as by good YA possibilities, though) but I am pleased to say that The Witch's Boy never slowed down, though the eerie mysteriousness that made the first twenty-odd pages so good went away - necessarily, I think.

I hate to say too much about it - I think you need to go into it knowing nothing more than what's on the inside flap. Suffice it to say that the two main characters are delightful, the world is familiar yet with enough twist to make it interesting, and the magic system! The magic system is so wonderful, and the backstory behind it... definitely one of the best I've ever read, especially in the middlegrade category.

Also, since it is for A Book Written By A Woman, I should, I suppose, point out that, for those of you who care, the female characters are fantastic. Áine is great. Sister Witch is awesome. The Queen is so much fun! As much as I loved Ned and Tam, even I have to admit that the ladies stole the show, for all the book is called after Ned. 

So if you're looking for a light but not necessarily light-hearted low fantasy romp through a great world with great characters, I would definitely recommend The Witch's Boy.

2/11/15 - Graphic Novel

As the title says, this week I read a book for the challenge of Graphic Novel! The book chosen was Jerusalem, by Guy Delisle.

I am a huge fan of graphic novels, and when I saw this sizable little book with the simple, rather quirky artwork, and set in Jerusalem, no less, I was really excited! To see Jerusalem through a visual medium, experience complex and controversial culture, maybe get some insight into the city's religions--

It wasn't... quite what I expected. Or wanted, really.

I can't quite put my finger on what I didn't like about it. Maybe it was just... too simple, though that's what was attractive about it at first. It's very centered on the author's experience of Jerusalem, rather than on Jerusalem itself. And you get the feeling that Delisle didn't actually have that much respect for Jerusalem itself. 

Most of the panels were taken up with a vague feeling of judgment, or disapproval, or disrespect, or flat-out annoyance. It was distracting, and it made the whole progression of the slice-of-life story feel uncomfortable. Almost as if Delisle was taking out his frustrations with the difficult situations in Jerusalem on his portrayal of the city.

There were some good panels, of course, and it's not like Delisle is a bad artist. It's just that he's not a fantastic one, and that coupled with an uncertain attitude about his city-subject made Jerusalem a lot less impactful than I had hoped it would be.

Note: Jerusalem was originally published in French under the title Chroniques de Jérusalem.

2/4/15 - Nonfiction / January Book

(Lets pretend that I haven't missed nearly a month of reviews, shall we?)

In the last week of January, I said that I had two books for my challenge: Unapologetic by Francis Spufford, going under the Nonfiction slot, and The Sweetheart by Angelina Mirabella, for my January Debut book. I have good news and bad news and ish news. I finished Unapologetic for that week and it was pretty good! Bad news is that I did not get through The Sweetheart, instead putting it on my DNF list. The ish news is that I read my January debut book after all, even though the author has been published before.

But first, Unapologetic.

This book was written by a British chap a few years back, and its subtitle is Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense. Christianity is, if Spufford is anyone to believe, very different across the pond, and so some of what he says about the American church would probably badly offend a good portion of us over here. Still, the meat of what Spufford says carries out the stated message of the subtitle fairly eloquently (though with a lot of F-bombs - something that I'm sure we'd also get our feathers ruffled for.)

Nevertheless, Spufford has a strong sense of self-awareness, and I think that's a valuable commodity that a lot of the American Protestant church lacks. But he never lets up on the utter respect and awe of God, which makes for a realistic yet deeply spiritual little book that I desperately need for my shelf.

9/10 would recommend to anyone interested in Christianity and what it means and how it works emotionally.

And now, onto my January Debut book: All The Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven.

If you're anywhere on Goodreads or probably any of the other various online book catalogue systems, you've probably seen this. It's not the kind of book I usually go for. It's got JUST LIKE JOHN GREEN! JOHN GREEN STYLE! BASICALLY THE NEW FAULT IN OUR STARS! DID WE MENTION JOHN GREEN!-esque marketing, an immediate turn-off. I'm not a John Green fan (Paper Towns and Looking For Alaska can both be found on my the-stupid-it-burns GR bookshelves). Not to mention this just isn't my genre. And it's got such a hipster title. 

To be honest, I don't know why I put this on hold at the library. Maybe because I just couldn't get past The Sweetheart's length and its second-person POV, and this was the only January release-date book that the library had that looked any good.

I'm really glad I picked it up.

I can see the appeal for John Green fans. It's that kind of book. But it's not John Green, and it garnered five stars from me. The funny thing is that a lot of people hate it for the same reasons that I tend to hate John Green books (except for TFiOS, I liked that one moderately). This means that I am, in all likelihood, a hypocrite. But moving on to All The Bright Places! (Ugh. I can't get over that title still.)

It's a suicide book, like TFiOS was a cancer book (so if that's a touchy subject for you, please stop reading). Unlike cancer, suicide is kind of a topic I know a bit about, at least from the inside out. I've never been affected by losing someone to it, thank God. So the stuff that Violet and Finch go through - mostly Violet, though Finch to some degree, too - is a subject pretty close to me. Maybe that made me blind to whatever unapologetic [see what I did there] pretentiousness it has, but even if it didn't, it made me connect with this story to a degree that I don't think I ever have in a "real-life" sort of book.

I will admit that the ending had the kind of dragging, emotionally exploitative ending that I loathed in Looking For Alaska. I stuck out this one because I actually loved both Violet and Finch, and, while a little bit trivializing, this one had more punch. And it was worth it at the end.

Reading some of the more negative reviews, I find I can't argue with most of them. Especially when I say the exact same things about John Green! It's a very frustrating position to be in, forced to see myself as the curmudgeonly, spiritually-fifty-four-years-old fun-sucker that I am, hating on young cancer love and dead author quoting. (At least Niven had the decency to force her characters to Google Virginia Woolf quotes to keep up their facade, for gosh sakes.) 

However, there is one area I want to defend ATBP on: the idea that it gives no hope for kids who are suicidal. I saw at least one reviewer who said something to this effect. While no one person is the same, I can't say that I found this true for me. I wouldn't go shoving this book into every suicidal or borderline kid's hands, because it made me feel a lot of things and not all of them were positive, and it might be too much for some. Still, there was hope to be found. It's called All The Bright Places for a reason. It was even, dare I say it, inspiring.

So, while I did cheat a little bit - on the first month, no less! - by not reading a true debut, I can't say that I regret the choice. ATBP is a new favorite and I need a copy as soon as possible.