Friday, December 28, 2012

Flesh and Blood

The last book of the RA Favorite Books, well sort of… there is one that is out of print, so I will continue to look for it, but if the NYPL doesn’t have it, going to be hard to get my hands on it.  So back to the book I just finished, Flesh and Blood by Michael Cunningham.  It reminded me a great deal of the Jodi Picoult genre of books… get in as many social issues you can possibly do, but all in one family? %#$^#*, really?  Immigrant Constantine Stassos, a strange boy from Greek heritage, lives on a farm with his family.  He is the youngest of the clan and the rest of the story focuses on Constantine’s life – using yearly updates (not every year but skipping through the century) ending in 2035 with a look back on the next generation of Stassos.  The problem is the Stassos have lots of issues to face, don’t all families? Well, hopefully not as dire as this family! Constantine, to get over some of his fears, plants a garden (a metaphor for the planting he is incapable of doing throughout his life).  Con, as he is often referred, takes the dirt from the rich soil outside the farm into his mouth and carries it to another location at the farm.  Here we go… enter Mary, a sixteen year-old neighbor whom Con falls in love, marries, and then begins his life.  Con is an abusive young man who seemingly is incapable of love and human connection as he ends up terrorizing his first two children, sexually assaulting his daughter, physically abusing his son, and mentally abusing his wife, though he leaves youngest daughter Zoe alone ( Zoe ends up with the most eccentric of lives of the family).  The book is a relatively quick read that clearly reveals the author’s own (my opinion, not written anywhere) bizarre growing up process (I’d say)!  How else could he have made some of this up… wow.  If not, I’d say his writing was a bit too predictable, once the reader figured out every turn another thing would happen… In this age of dysfunctional family Cunningham makes the Stassos on the end of the continuum, great for a movie on TLC or Lifetime. Cunningham presents flirtations with sex throughout, unforbidden sex, forbidden sex, innocent sex, and child sex.  I guess all readers will feel some level of connection – or not.  There is even the “Republican” sister and her husband who seemingly have “bland sex” as compared to when she has her full sexual fulfillment by the “tree surgeon” whom she has an affair.  From AIDs (youngest sister contracts it after shooting up or was it from her prostitution business?) to racial-mix relationships, to homosexual love (son, Billy, or Will as he becomes to be known later in the story), to more extra martial affairs, yes Constantine falls prey after falling for his buxom secretary.  Let’s not forget that mom gets arrested for shoplifting, pops valium, and becomes a saleswoman helping others get their perfect outfits.  I must be forgetting something, oh yeah, grandson drowns after having an illicit sexual exploit with his male cousin on the beach, thinking his idolized grandfather saw it happen.  There are some drug addictions as well, hey it’s 1970s (at some point in the book)…  I know I am leaving something out of this story, yeah that’s right the lover of youngest daughter, an older drag queen whom also gets infected by AIDS.  Don’t get me wrong, these are important issues but presented as they are it just seems to be one “over the top” book.  I was hoping daughter Susan, whom was molested by her father, would have at least confronted him.  Life doesn’t fit into fine shaped little boxes, does it? Heck no.  But if they are as complicated as the Stassos, let’s find a way to package a bit more humanely.  This was too over the top for me.  Sorry Mr. Cunningham but this story was a bit much.  So did the houses that Con made so poorly ever fall down?  I was thinking that he would lose his fortune and be found out for the fraud he was, that might have been a better ending.  Where was the guilt, I guess he was incapable even after his only loved “son” died. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cloud Atlas

An interesting book by David Mitchell called Cloud Atlas, and yes it just became a movie as well.  If you like linear works, you may not want to put this on your book list!  It was a good book to read intermittently on my way back from Abu Dhabi as it had six stories contained in the book with some rather very loose connection with some of the others.  I actually really enjoyed the First Luisa Rey Mystery and The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, the other four had diminishing interest on my part.  The book starts with a story of Adam Ewing set in the South Pacific in 1850 and ends in the sixth story with a post-apocalyptic society set in Hawaii!  The connection of the stories is the main character from the next story!  And then the stories have a second part positioned in reverse order from the beginning.  So what begins comes to be presented at the end, hmm...  Rather than try and explain the major storylines, which I will spare you from, I will focus on my two favorites (listed above).  The First Luisa Rey Mystery is a tale of the lead character (by the same name) who serves as an undercover reporter attempting to report on the unsafe conditions of a nuclear power plant, but is in harm’s way as she gains evidence to reveal through her newspaper.  A hired assassin is following her and tries to kill her by running her off the road over a cliff, but Luisa makes a daring underwater escape and in part two is able to present the data to prove the corrupt men were breaking the law, but a price is paid in the end for Luisa!  In the more comic story within Cloud Atlas, the Ghastly Ordeal for Timothy Cavendish who works as a publisher and tries to escape from gangster clients and gets booked into a hotel by his brother to escape, and then he finds out there is no escape, he is in a nursing home and no way to escape!  In part two he and a clan of elderly “inmates” escape and inspired to write a screenplay of his life after he finishes reading the Luisa Rey story – and that is how these two are connected!  Fun concept, some of the stories were just not that interesting to me.  Great concept though.  Must pay attention to the connections, you snooze on this one, you really lose. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Iliad

A productive trip to Abu Dhabi in terms of learning about NYUAD and finishing some books at night and on the treadmills.  Today while running, I finished The Iliad by Homer.  I listened to this classic battle story of heroes in Greek and Roman history narrated by Alfred Molina of Spiderman fame (also saw him in the lead on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof).  The story is a very long poem in ancient tradition. In these kind of reads I would imagine the translation is key, this one was fine.  The story takes place over the ten years of the Trojan War, or referred to as the “siege on Troy” – just a note here, Troy is my home town, so lots of correlation about its destruction since the 1960s (I guess that is the way most NY water town cities have declined over the years—enough on my Troy)…  There is a great deal of battle and history of the epic battles but the reader also gains knowledge on the gathering of warriors for the siege on Troy and the cause of the prolonged war battle. Then the epic narrative takes up events predicted for the future, such as Achilles' looming death and the destruction of Troy, so that when it reaches an end, the poem has told a more or less complete tale of the Trojan War. The book is broken into twenty-three chapters with a compilation of warriors, Trojan men and women, and of course the insertion of the Gods.  Lots of gore and vivid detail about the battles, and there are so many battles, not only those to the death, but also a few good ones on the playing field as well.  This is definitely an acquired read and sets the framework for so much of our own issues in the world today.  Having understood a story like The Iliad gives the student (and shouldn’t we all be students) a great perspective on the complexity of our world today from which is rooted from the actualities of Homer’s story of Troy.  While not a history buff, all of these names will come back to you from your ancient world history courses.  The writing (in this edition) is brilliantly done.  The language is vivid and draws you into the world of the various characters. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Princess Bride

I had seen the movie of this classic book many, many years ago, but I had no idea how wonderful the “backstory” would be in the S. Morgenstern’s classic tale adapted and the 25th Anniversary version by William Goldsmith called The Princess Bride.  This is a must read!  Not only is the fairy tale a gem of a story - “true love” vs. “true evil” - it has adventure, history, great characters, and a story for the ages.  Add to all of that the experience of the second author, William Goldsmith adding how this story came to be, through his nightly “bedtime story tales” shared by his Florin father at the young age of ten.  Goldsmith then was re-connected to the book on his son’s tenth birthday by finding one of the only copies from an out of print book by Morgenstern and has it delivered to his son.  He repeated the story of how impactful it was for him when he was a youth, but his son was bored by it.  Wondering why, Goldsmith picked up the book and realized the book was much longer, and his father had only told segments of the story, mainly because of a language barrier his father, a native Florin, had with reading and translating to English.  Goldsmith reminisces on how wonderful the story was and decides to write it as his father had told it (and in this edition adding a ton of comments about what he removed, and the legal troubles he had with the estate of Morgenstern’s family decedents who wanted it stopped!).  So besides a great fairy tale story, you get the stories of how Goldsmith, his family, and the estate of the Morgenstern’s are battling things out.  Add in Stephen King was hired by the Morgenstern’s to rewrite the book himself (the new ending) and you have quite the three stories in one.  Of course the best part is Princess Buttercup, her beauty, her love (Wesley) who gets taken away by the evil Prince, and the cast of characters who kidnap the Princess (by the Prince) because she cannot love him.  Yes, there are times of sadness, Goldsmith shares his frustrations with those, and then some great joy.  The battles, the heartbreak, and the “happily ever after” is all worth it!  Pick the 25th anniversary edition up, would be a great gift for any reader out there!   Never on my list but then this semester three new RAs added it to the list.  Amazing how these books can come in waves.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pet Sematary

I can’t say that I am a huge fan of the horror genre, but I have to say this one was pretty frightening, on so many levels.  I did expect a Stephen King book to provide that for me, but was totally unprepared for the horror that was to follow.  I had never seen the movie, but when I mentioned I was reading it to others, the response back let me know this would be more than I could have expected.  And so it was…Pet Sematary made me abhor cats even more than I thought I could.  A funny aside…as mentioned in the previous blog post, I am in Abu Dhabi at the moment and there is this cat that sits outside the student residence hall.  It has been left to live by itself, seems like a kitten, super thin and sickly, but when I walked by it as I was reading the book it seemed to have those same green powerful eyes as “Church” – the cat!  I guess I’ll never look at cats the same way again!  King was influenced to write this book by his stay in Maine as a guest faculty member at U Maine, and the house and what he experienced with his young two-year old at the time gave this story life.  Imagine being a doctor, relocating your family to a home on a busy street in Maine while working at the University as a physician at the student health center (so far, ok?)… then comes the weird parts… a student is killed and brought to your health center, utters some nonsense that comes back to haunt you and your family later about your back woods – a place known to bury dead animals – after you just were there visiting with your 80+ next door neighbor.  Louis, the protagonist doctor, becomes enthralled in the new home, his old neighbor, and an allure he gains from his visit with Jud (the neighbor) and his family.  After hearing the haunting tale of the “pet sematary,” Louis’ cat is killed crossing the street (a problem that has haunted most of the locals) by oncoming trucks from the local area going too fast on the major thoroughfare.  Louis is drawn by Jud’s story and a desire not to disappoint his daughter of having the family cat dead.  Learning that other animals were “resurrected” after being buried in the back woods, Louis does so, unfortunately the cat comes back alive (but with some differences).  This book goes over the line with the possibilities of the after world.  You won’t believe how it all ends, bloodier and gorier than I could have guessed.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat.  Kudos to King, a brilliant writer.  I couldn’t put this book down!  Glad I was in a very populated hotel and not at my home in PA during a thunderstorm.  This is a thriller that is one for the ages.  I’d highly recommend this one.  I could imagine the movie is just as frightening.  Good read!