Sunday, August 30, 2015

First Among Sequels

It is hard to read a book that is in a series of books, especially if it is the fifth in the series… I couldn’t get my hands on the first, so as I tell the RAs, when you give me a “favorite series” and not a particular book… I get to choose one… for this series, Thursday Next (by author Jasper Fforde), I read First Among Sequels.  The concept of the book is actually pretty interesting, a futuristic/fantasy tale of an undercover special agent who works for an agency in the special operations network department for the Chronoguard, which tries to safeguard literature, yes the books that we all love to read (like the RAs at NYU).   In this world, characters in books can enter and leave the world of their book and come into “modern life” – can you say time traveling?  Throughout the series it appears, as the RA who loved it explained to me, there are many great novels that Thursday, the protagonist and from a long line of special ops agents, gets involved in changing endings, battling with characters from the books who escape into the real world, or even when agents get stuck in a story and can’t escape the book.   Literature in the Thursday Next series is much more popular than it is in our world (can you say NetFlix? Direct TV, and/or HBO to Go?).  In the world of the fiction books there is a “police force” called Jurisfiction, that ensures that the books continue to read as they should, to be enjoyed, and sometimes the two groups clash, or even have others who try and destroy the book investigated by the special ops team.  Throw into the story the fact that Thursday and other special agents can also develop a “mirror” image of themselves in this world of fiction and you have the beginnings of a complicated series of devious plots that make for some interesting plots.   In this particular story, Thursday has a mirror image, Thursday Next 5, and yes the Thursday Next 1-4 also come back, as a way to try and erase the real Thursday Next from the world of fiction (and the real world).  The book also has many other characters from previous books (so having read the first four is actually necessary) to understand all of the particulars, and catch some of the humor as well.  In this story Thursday is trying to save the special ops unit and tries to get her son to join the Chronoguard but there are numerous fakes, sting operations, and other “blockers” from having Thursday attempt this safeguard.  In the end Thursday has her major battle with her nemesis from a previous book Thursday1-4 who battle it out in the middle of a fiction story for life and death.  Who will live??  It is certainly a cliffhanger, leading to the next book I’m sure (yes, sorry to ruin it for you… but you had to guess that in book five of seven, there was more to come).  Love the concept, some of the humor was above, or bellow, my taste.  Maybe it is the British thing?  Next time I will need to find the first in the series and not the 5th.  I’d pass on this one, but not the first one from what I could see.   A lot less jumping into novels in this edition and I would have loved to be in the midst of conflict among characters entering Pride and Prejudice and other greats! 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


There is nothing better than having an RA who is uber excited about a book they loved, so was the case with this book, Demian by Herman Hesse, the author of another RA favorite book, Siddhartha.  Yes, the journey of life, this time the story of Emil Sinclair, a young boy raised in what one would characterize a “good” middle class family who is seen as ethical and value-centered.  Sinclair lives his early life as a good kid, but then he meets his first ethical challenge by trying to fit in with the local neighbors, when he lies about having stolen apples from the local orchard.  It becomes his own struggle between the “good” and the “bad.”  Neighborhood strong-boy, Franz Kromer, uses this information to hold over Sinclair’s head and forces him to steal from his own family to withhold the knowledge of the “made-up” apple robbery.  But then a new influence comes and helps Sinclair, Demian, the force that allows him to begin to turn inwardly to change his thinking and rely on an inner-force, a spiritual guide of sorts, who allows him to be saved from Franz and think about being thoughtful. Sinclair goes downhill again when he becomes slovenly while in high school at a boarding school, drinking and carousing and paying no head to his parents request to focus and do well.  He then finds a new “guide” who leads him to even further reflection about the actions he takes.  This again changes Sinclair to be more introverted and moves away from external influences that make him absorbed in habits that inhibit thinking and doing good.  Sinclair is moving to some level of self-realization and actualization throughout the book.  The time of the book was around the First World War and issues related to suffering, lack of clarity of purpose, and life being viewed as disposable for worthy purposes of the state were all influencing the author.  Religion and the idea that a God was just and present also are present in Sinclair’s journey.  Things happen for a reason and it doesn’t matter which way in the journey one chooses as the end is already determined is captured in this story, as well of the role of our dreams and how their meaning needs to be understand to help us better understand our journey and beliefs shared by the author.  Sinclair is trying to understand what life is all about and through the mentorship of three people in his journey he begins to have a better understanding as to why, a message that many of us look for daily.  I enjoy these type of books that ask us to search our soul and begin to find our “why”… just as Sinclair is led to do so when he faces the war and loses his good friend Demian, whom seemingly was the guardian angel for him over the years.  Hesse is a brilliant character developer, who understands the deeper philosophical aspects of our lives.  Two cheers for Hesse’s story.  Worth it and might motivate you to dig deeper for your own meaning and finding those around you who can help you dig deep.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

An interesting read entering into the culture of an Indian family who immigrates to the United States, in the Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, written by Mira Jacob.  Jacob’s book is her first and notes it took her ten years to write!  What dedication.  Jacob’s story is drawn from her own experience growing up as a first-generation American and the feeling of exile that her father felt when leaving India with a brother and mother behind.  The departure of her father from India marks the beginning of the story, though the author uses a “back and forth” through time writing-style to share the life of Amina, the younger of two children.  Amina and her brother, Akhil, grow up in the Tucson area, but the majority of Amina’s adult life is spent in Seattle, as a photographer.  Amina left doing “news-worthy front page stories” for newspapers to do photography for weddings and other events for a company.  Amina and her Indian “cousin” Dimple, live together and attempt to escape the traditional expectations their parents have for the two women.  But Amina can’t escape her past, nor can her parents as we learn her brother died in a tragic accident while driving, that may have been avoided IF their parents had paid attention to Akhil’s growing condition that had him fall asleep in the middle of doing activities.  Amina’s father, a brain surgeon, never faced the issue as he was consumed by his own work and also a seemingly inability to face issues related to family, as described in his last visit to India where he and his brother fought incessantly leading to Amina and the family departing early from their visit.  This becomes a turning point in the story.  A few years after the visit, Amina’s grandmother, uncle, and entire family are killed in a fire, leading to what Amina’s mother would say “evil spirits” forced upon them.  Amina has her own trials as she is engrossed in bizarre photography, including capturing a Native American jumping to his death attempting to fly from the bridge, and committing suicide.  The picture made national news and was the impetus for her changing focus to low-key photography, weddings.  Although she did take the wedding photos, she was still drawn to the bizarre pictures, capturing people in very compromising situations.  These photos will come back to haunt her later.  Amina’s mother never stops attempting to get her to marry an Indian man and connives her home to do so often.  Amina is finally brought home to face one more challenge, her father’s bizarre behavior, speaking to his dead son in the garden.  When it is learned he has a brain tumor that makes him speak to “visions” and act out, Amina returns home for a visit that will change her and her family’s life forever.  As a reader, this and my last book capture the gaining process of parents and two different but similar ends to the story.  In both cases, family reject the fact we are all mortal, but with this one, the child is forced to be the parent and not run away from the reality that faces them.  The book gives a good glimpse into a different culture than my own, and how we all have a bit of strangeness in our families.  Is there such a thing as dysfunction?  Seems like it is how we function through the odd characteristics each of us bring to our lives.  Another sad ending… but I guess that is what happens in life.  Worth a read, for sure.