gandalf reading

Night by Elie Wiesel

This is one man's account of the horrors of being a Jew during WWII. He writes about his time during the persecution, the ghettos, his time in several concentration camps and losing every member of his family.

Every human being in the world should read this book.

It is horrific yet we have the luxury of closing the book if it gets to be "too much for us." Elie never had that luxury.

We do not, however have the luxury of pretending this wasn't real. We can't explain away the horror by saying it was fiction and the product of the author's vivid and disturbing imagination.

Read this book. Be horrified by this book. Be disgusted by this book. This is a book of extremes. It shows the realized potential of man's cruelty and hatred as well as showing the heart, soul and determination of mankind at its greatest moment of strength.

Death Scenes Forward by Katherine Dunn

Let me be blunt. This is a horrific book. The pictures...well, they are probably the hardest thing I've ever seen in my life. These are death scene photographs collected by an LA County homicide detective in the 1920s-1950s.

So what could the significance of this book be, if there is one? I think the significance of this book is two fold. First, it gave me a true appreciation for what a police officers sees every day. How can these extraordinary men and women do their job and not go insane. How do they maintain emotional distance? How do they go home and not have complete and total mental breakdowns every day. Some do and I now understand a little better those who turn to the bottle. I'm not so sure I wouldn't.

The second significance is to dispel the rumors that human atrocities are the result of the modern era of "lack of morals." Video games, gangs, brutality...this is nothing new; even in the "innocent day" of the 20s-50s with June Cleaver. It is so commonplace today to see acts of violence on TV (whether fictional or not). Years ago it was hidden. Modern day citizens seem as though they have habituated to the sight of blood and death. If we haven't habituated we have chased death away by sterilizing it. People die in hospitals. At viewings they are nice and neat and look as though they are sleeping. We don't dress the bodies on our own kitchen tables any more. We don't view them in our home. We don't take post-morteum posed pictures like those in the Victorian Era. There is a permanency that exists today that didn't. If a Victorian child wasn't photographed they, quite frankly, never existed. Today we take thousands of pictures over the years. We, in some ways have become the innocents.

We need to be horrified and nauseated when we see things like this. Too many people would view these images with blank emotions. Man is a violent beast. He always has been since the beginning of time and he always will be until the end of time. It doesn't mean all humans are violent but it is inherently in our nature. Stronger men and women can resist this urge and that is the true testament to what being a human being really is. It is the ability to rise above our primal and base emotions.

I re-iterate...this is not a book for everyone; in fact I surmise very few would even want to look at it. My own purchased copy will be hidden away where my children will not chance to see it.

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I had absolutely no idea that Fitzgerald wrote this story. It was quite charming. The edition I bought had the original short story and the screenplay for the movie with Brad Pitt (::le sigh::). I can honestly say that I like the short story better. I am often reminded of the line from Amadeus when the Emperor was asked how he liked Mozart's opera. He replied, "Too many notes." The screenplay was good but sometimes simplicity is a more desired state.

Marvin's Room by Scott McPherson

This is another play (I seem to be in the mood for them). The story revolves around Bessie; a woman who has selflessly been caring for her father and aunt in their old age and infirmary. When she finds out she has leukemia she calls upon her estranged sister and the two nephews she's never met to hopefully test for a bone marrow match.

Interesting story but I think was expecting to be more engaged and touched than I was. I found it a bit too light yet it didn't have the humor it was billed as having. It was supposed to run a gamut of emotions yet seemed to fall a bit flat for me. The characters seemed a bit flat.

Now, before I condemn this play I will, of course concede to the fact that plays are, in fact meant to be viewed and not read. I plan on picking up Marvin's Room staring Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep before I render my final judgment. Maybe I just didn't read it properly.
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Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

A few things...

1. This book is proof that yes, ladies and gentlemen, you WILL get to that book that's been on your shelf for years and years. I bought this a year or so after it was published and I've finally read it some 20 years later.

2. Do not, I repeat, do NOT think this has anything in common with the movie with the exception of the names Darryl VanHorne, Sukie Rougemont, Alexander Spofford, Jane Smart and Felicia. There are only a few scenes that were used as the inspiration for movie scenes. The story is quite different in so many fundamental ways.

With that being said, I loved the book. It was a bit wordy at times but very charming. I've been to small communities in New England that Eastwick were modeled after and Updike reproduces the small town quite well.

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Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

A quick read; a half an hour at most? This is a story about a nun who attempts to protect a child from a pedophile priest. All abuse is implied. It takes place in a New York Catholic school in 1964. The author calls this story "a parable."

This is an incredibly powerful read. I find the author's interpretation of all parties, their interactions with each other and their position on the abuse profound, quite illuminating and thoughtful. So many people are affected in so many different ways.

I have been told that the movie remains quite faithful to the play. I'll be seeing it as soon as I can.

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Coraline and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I was in a Gaiman mood. My five year old is desperate to see Coraline in the theaters (she's in love with Nightmare Before Christmas) so I figured I'd give it a read first. I'm not one for YA or Children's books, honestly, reading perhaps one or so a year. Between both of these books I've met my quota. Thankfully they were well written and not a general waste of my time. Gaiman is just a wonderful writer no matter who he writes for.

Coraline is an adorable fantasy/quest story of a little girl that discovers a parallel universe through a bricked up door in her flat. The Graveyard Book is another wonderful fantasy piece about a boy who is raised in a graveyard by ghosts and an undead guardian. I highly suggest if you have children that adore a bit of the ol' macabre that you present both of these books to them. Gaiman is quite genius when it comes to writing about ghoulies and ghosties without terrifying children. He makes it cozy and warm; a place your little ones would want to go by choice. Truly awesome.

Currently Reading: The People of the Abyss by Jack London
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The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This was a tough read for me. As a parent I identified with it far too much. This was one of the very few books that brought me to tears.

I have become very fond of the way McCarthy writes. I know it annoys some but in this book I think it worked to his advantage. The lack of quotation marks almost seems to deaden and muffle the conversation which seems quite appropriate for this story. The lack of chapters also plays heavily into the theme of this story. There are no intentional breaks to divvy up the story. There are small section breaks but the story continues uninterrupted. While the book in no way drags on, the lack of chapters mimics the protagonists' lives...moving on and on and on with no real stunning action.

The story and the style are powerful. I am left wanting to defer the start of a new book until this one has left me completely.

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Year in Review: 2008

I read about 10 or so more books than last year with very few re-reads. 38 books and 7 short stories. There were also about 6 full textbooks. The best books all year were definitely Restoration by Rose Tremain, Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, Fay by Larry Brown, No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind.

The worst? The Religion by Nicholas Conde. Everything else was pretty good. Not A+ all the way, but I was better for having read them.

I failed the Alphabet Challenge but only by a few letters. I lost motivation into the new school semester and just couldn't get through the books on my "letter list." It was, however, fun to do so I plan on trying it again in 2009.

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The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

I got this book for my five year old because she's been fixated on the movie; wanting to see it desperately the minute she heard Despereaux say, "I am a gentleman." We did take her to the movie (it was delightful) and we've been reading the book a few chapters a night. Even though we are only about 5 chapters in, I borrowed it from her and read it in about an hour and a half.

Just adorable.