Thursday, September 29, 2011

Out Stealing Horses - Per Petterson

I'll come right out and say it, I didn't like the book. But I think it's not because the book is badly written or because of the subject matter, rather I think it's because I just didn't get it. To me the book seemed disjointed, repetitive, and boring. And yet I feel that it's me that's the problem and not the book.

Looking at online reviews, I am struck by one that says, "The 'payoff', if it can be called that, is not a gratification of the reader's curiousity, but an impressionistic portrait of the sum total of a life." There. That's it. That's the problem. I dislike movies and books that are portraits of anything or anyone. I like a story, I want something to happen. Ideally, something where the bad guy is punished and the good guy rides off into the sunset to live happily ever after. I don't get coming of age stories, or ones that depict a certain epoch. I find them boring because nothing happens. I don't care about the characters and I don't care what happens to them.

I also think that not knowing Norway's history hurt my understanding of the book. I kept waiting for something about the Germans or the Holocaust to come up in the book. And other than a reference to some Germans guarding a bridge, there was nothing about the war or any part of it. I can't say that if I knew more about Norway's and Germany's interactions during the Holocaust I would like this book, but it couldn't hurt. I kept reading this book and feeling like I was missing something. Like the author was trying to say something subtly by the comings and goings of Trond's father in his youth and how the family moved around some, but I was left in the dark. And I just remembered that it was a translation, that may also have influenced how I felt. I did feel like I was missing something probably lost in translation.

I also read the book in fits and starts on the subway to and from work. I wonder if that contributed to the book feeling disjointed. I read that way all the time and usually can pick up where I left off, but I had a hard time remembering what happened in this book and a lot of the memories seemed similar and thus repetitive. And then that twin shot the other one. After the twin shot his brother. And then when the twin accidentally shot the other twin. It was hard to find my place time after time. I came away from the book feeling like I'd visited an old man who told me the story. The book seemed to take forever to read even though it was a short book.

How did you ladies feel about the book? What was discussed? I feel that I am being too harsh on the book. I wish I had more story/character-specific questions but I don't remember the book very well anymore and I feel that there wasn't a whole lot of questions from the story for me to ask.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Miral by Rula Jebreal - Bookclub Book

For the month of March, we read Miral by Rula Jebreal. Since we weren't able to meet up in person to discuss the book, we'll be leaving our thoughts on the blog. Here are some discussion questions to help the dialog along:
  1. On page 8, Hind reminisces about the opening of the school and "how bare the spot had been before the school was established." What role does the school play in the story? What does it symbolize?
  2. Do you fault Nadia for fleeing from her family and new stepfather? Did she make the right decision to leave her sisters? Did she have a choice?
  3. The novel is divided into sections centered on a particular character. What effect do you think the structure has on the story?
  4. Jerusalem is "a city divided in two" (19), "rooted in soil drenched with innocent blood" (9) but with "minarets and steeples jutting into the sky" (9). Consider the contrasts in the novel—the images of terror combined with the images of hope. What do you make of the contrast between the Old City and West Jerusalem? Do the characters in the novel believe they can coexist? Do you?
  5. Compare and contrast Hind and Miral. How are the two alike? How are they different? Does Miral's rebellious nature and desire for justice seem similar to or different from Hind's? Are they fighting for the same cause?
  6. Discuss the idea of solitude in the novel; how does solitude shape the lives of the characters? Consider Hind, Nadia, Jamal, Hani, and Miral's different lives.
  7. What is Hani's influence on Miral's life?
  8. While living at Dar El-Tifel, Miral loses a pair of classmates to the violent struggle, Aziza and Sahar. She reveals on page 118 "her sense that the world outside was a horrible place." How do these two stories inform the novel? How did they affect Miral's personal decisions in their aftermath?
  9. What did you make of Samer and Lisa's relationship? What did Miral seem to take away from seeing the two of them together?
  10. Revisit the torture scene on page 226. Did the brutality surprise you? What moment was most memorable in this scene? How did this experience affect Miral?
  11. When Miral sees Hani for the last time, he shares his vision for the future and his ideas about peace with her. "This road is too bloody, it has no exit… we can't go on fighting forever" (288). Considering Miral's decision at the end of the novel, and the events that have taken place in Palestine and Israel since the Oslo Accords, what do you take away from the novel?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Compare and Contrast: The Blue Sweater and The 10 Women You'll Be Before You're 35

It seems like we've taken a break from blogging (although admittedly, I'm usually a bit delinquent), but I figured I would start it back up since I will miss our next meeting when we discuss The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz. I really enjoyed The Blue Sweater. I admire Novogratz's work and sincere ambition to change the world. My one challenge with the book was that at times, Novogratz made it seem too easy--that anyone could go from international banking to the Rockefeller Foundation to beginning one's own nonprofit. Clearly, Novogratz had unusually amazing opportunities--and to her credit acknowledges them as such--but for those if us without those opportunities, is giving to Kiva enough?

I also recently read a book that I would categorize as Self-Help-Chick Lit: The 10 Women You'll Be Before You're 35 by Alison James. Boy, did these two books contrast! On one hand Novogratz is out truly changing the world in her 20s and early 30s, and James is writing about the party girl, the body conscious babe and the crisis chick. In her book, James describes stereotypes of women that we will be at some point in our 20s and 30s. And while my personality or lifestyle never encompassed any individual stereotype, I certainly relate to elements of almost every "woman that I will be" described by James.

Unlike me, Novogratz does not seem to share many of the qualities described by James. She seems to be above it all. I am not sure if she is really above it all or if that is just the perception I get from the book. (And I am leaning toward the latter.) Although Novogratz does not deny her weaknesses in The Blue Sweater, at times, she seems a little too good to be true.

What do you think? Can we all aspire to be like Novogratz and change the world? How do we balance our desire to do good with our real life idiosyncrasies?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tragedy on Mt. Everest

"Four hundred vertical feet above, where the summit was still washed in bright sunlight under an immaculate cobalt sky, my compadres dallied to memorialize their arrival at the apex of the planet, unfurling flags and snapping photos, using up precious ticks of the clock. None of them imagined that a horrible ordeal was drawing nigh. Nobody suspected that by the end of that long day, every minute would matter." Chapter One, p. 9

Because famed mountaineer/filmmaker David Breashears was exhibiting his photos at Asia Society in July, I became intrigued with this small detail in his biography concerning the 1996 Mt. Everest disaster. So I hunted down a copy of Jon Krakauer's account of the events, his gripping novel, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster (1996).

All I can say is, this book was very hard to put down once I started reading. Krakauer is such a great writer, the events are nail-biting and filled with a horrific suspense, even when you know from the beginning the outcome and deaths that happened.

Krakauer was part of the team that experienced the most loss of human lives. His mission in joining Adventure Consultants expedition team was to write about the commercialization of climbing expeditions to Everest. What he experiences is more than he originally signed up for. The disastrous outcome deeply scars him, and the book is in part a memoir of the events that remind us all of just how dangerous mountaineering, and Mt. Everest, can be. Krakauer weaves into the tragedy the history of climbing on Mt. Everest and other important storylines that all shed light on the 1996 disaster- the lives and culture of the Sherpas, the evolution of climbing culture and equipment on Everest, high-altitude effects on the human body, and the personalities that have survived, or perished, in the May 1996 climbing season.
I hope you will also get a chance to check out David's photos of Mt. Everest online:

Friday, August 20, 2010

An Education by Lynn Barber

I recently finished An Education, a memoir by the British journalist Lynn Barber. A chapter from the book inspired the film of the same name, which was released last year and nominated for an Oscar for "Best Picture." Lynn recounts her childhood growing up in the suburbs of London, bored by her conventional surroundings and itching for a bigger, brighter life. She has her eyes set on Oxford University until, when she turns sixteen, she meets a mysterious, worldly older man, Simon, who introduces her to a life-style that seems far more interesting than college. Simon takes her to expensive restaurants, gallery auctions, weekend trips to Europe - he even charms her parents and gets their seal of their approval to date their young daughter.

Lynn and Simon soon get engaged and Lynn ditches her plans to attend Oxford. But it turns out that Simon isn't who he says he is (he's something of a conman, which the movie does a great job of depicting), and they break their engagement. Luckily, Lynn is able to take the necessary exams for Oxford and is accepted to the college. The remainder of her memoir recounts her experiences at Oxford where she spends most of her time "studying men" (she claims to have slept with fifty of them during her second year), working as an editor at Penthouse, becoming a "sex expert" (writing a book called How to Improve your Man in Bed), and becoming an esteemed newspaper journalist. Best of all, and most moving, is the section where Lynn details her husband's battle with myelofibrosis and cancer and its effect on their thirty year marriage.

Lynn was a headstrong, sexually liberated woman at a time when this was frowned upon. Her memoir offers an insightful and often humorous view on how she broke free of conventional views and became an interesting, dynamic woman in her own right.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan

I recently read Commencement as part of another book club I'm in. As the website says: "This radiant debut novel from J. Courtney Sullivan examines the deep bonds of friendship and the complex landscape facing today's young women. Celia, Bree, Sally, and April arrive at Smith College as four very different people. But the years bring them closer together, so once they graduate and face the real world, they realize they need each other more than ever."

It was an interesting read for me on many levels. One, it's set at Smith College in Northampton, MA which is a college that I had been to during summers in high school for field hockey camp, so I was extremely familiar with the area and the college. Two, it's a really interesting look at the relationships between women and the idea that while we can rely on each other for advice, encouragement, and even sometimes discouragement, there's also a level of competition that's not always discussed.

I didn't go to an all girls high school or college, but I can see why some women choose them. There's a certain comfort level that you assume you'll have where you know that they are all going through the same experience with you and can certainly relate on that level more than a man would. If you're heterosexual, there's also the fact that most people feel that not having men around would lessen your distractions and therefore, there would be more of a focus on their academic studies. And when you graduate, there's a camaraderie that it built in. But then again, I went to a mixed high school and college and don't think that I have any less camaraderie with my girl friends or any less of a lasting bond.

What do you think about all girl colleges? Are you for or against them?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I recently finished up Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. Unlike What is the What, another Egger's novel, which is based on a true story, Zeitoun is the actual story of the Zeitoun family. Zeitoun tells the story of a Muslim family living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Eggers uses a day-by-day approach to tracking the story and the subsequent events that impact the family.

The book provides an accurate account of the historical events associated with Hurricane Katrina, while shedding light on the experience of those who stayed in New Orleans to wait out the storm. I was shocked to read about the discrimination and profiling that took place during Katrina. I was unaware that the National Guard set up a make shift prison in a New Orleans bus station and that the police were imprisoning residents of the city without cause.

This is the second book I've read about Katrina (the first was for school--Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security), and I really appreciated the personal lens of Zeitoun.