Things to Read - What I've Been Reading Lately

1Q84. I really wanted to love this book. Murakami is among my favorite living authors, especially his early stuff like Sputnick Sweetheart (my favorite), Norwegian Wood, South of the Border, West of the Sun, and the short story "U.F.O in Kushiro" (one of the most wonderful, yet haunting pieces of fiction I've ever read). Since several critics hailed 1Q84 as Murakami's masterpiece, I hurried to purchase it (still in hardcover) shortly after the US release (by the way, after carting a 925 page novel to various playgrounds and kid museums, I bought a kindle and haven't looked back. Turns out paper actually is overrated). 1Q84 centers on two lovable loners who become entangled in a alternate world full of chrysalises, "little people", cults, murderers, and incest. At its core the novel operates as soul-mate centered love story*, but Murakami likes to put his own "spin" on traditional romantic material.

The first half of the novel read like a dream (a somewhat appropriate cliche considering the author). As a writer, Murkami specializes in creating alternate worlds so odd, yet strangely believable that when reading him you end up questioning your own sense of place and time. In Murakami novels the smallest decisions (exiting a cab, ghost writing a fictional story) can cause bizarre shifts in one's reality. Further, as far as writing ability goes Murakami has mastered providing the perfect amount of detail without over describing everything (I hate novels where the prose becomes so bogged down that you end up skipping whole sentences).

Unfortunately, despite the wonderful quality of the writing itself, as a whole this novel didn't work for me. Perhaps it became just a little too weird or maybe the flaws rest in the romance itself - while the main characters seemed so real that they practically jumped off the page, after a few hundred pages their love for each other began to seem contrived. I couldn't really picture them interacting in real life, (i.e trying to agree on which netflix to watch or what to do on Sunday morning). The interesting thing about my review is that Murakami himself (seemingly anticipating what critics would say) uses a subplot to debate whether a book can be great without really having a point. Unfortunately, for me, this book wasn't strong enough to answer Murakami's question.

America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines
. Despite the 450 pages of reading material I practically inhaled this book. Lately the "mommy wars" have been getting me down (don't even get me started on Hilary Rosen), seriously WTF - can't we all just get along? So the idea of reading a book addressing real women's daily lives throughout US history appealed to my need for some sort of women's collaboration, a sense of historical "oneness." And I found it an great read. Thought provoking at times**, depressing at others***, and sometimes just quirky****, I learned about so many new heroines (Florence Crandall, Clara Barton, and Janette Riker, to name a few) - some who did big important things and some who just survived at times when surviving counted as an accomplishment in itself.

The Snow Child: A Novel.
I read this based on Constance Reader's recommendation (check out her blog, tons of great stuff over there). The novel reworks the classic folktale of a childless couple who build a child out of snow. Though the book started a little slow (with some unnecessary suicidal melodrama thrown in), Eowyn Ivey eventually succeeds in creating a well paced novel with full-bodied, dynamic characters and a captivating plot. After I started reading the second half, I couldn't put the book down as I NEEDED to know how the story ended (sort of the opposite of how I felt about the Murakami book reviewed above), especially once Ivey integrated a story of young love into the plot (and who doesn't love a love story?). But for me the novel's real strength rests in its descriptions of the Alaskan countryside, especially the winters. Ivey was born in Alaska, so apparently she knows what she's writing about. Ivey also does an amazing job riding the tough line between fantasy and reality, offering hints that go both ways and, ultimately, giving the reader some breathing room in choosing how to interpret the story.

The Hunger Games Trilogy. I originally had no desire to read the Hunger Games, I lost interest as soon as I learned that the plot involved a teenage love triangle. Luckily, while perusing a Nook in Barnes and Noble, I read the first four pages. And I was hooked. HOOKED!! I spend so much time complaining about the lack of female role models in fiction and it turns out one of the strongest, bravest, and kindest heroines ever created is everywhere, I was just too snobby to realize it. Katniss Everdeen pretty much rocks.

In case you've been living under a rock (which is fine), the Hunger Games take place in a futuristic society in North America, where the Capitol controls everything. Outside the Capitol the country has been divided into 12 districts (one for transportation, one for fishing, one for electronics, etc.). Katniss hails from district 12 - coal. Every year a random lottery occurs in which each district must send two children (one boy and one girl) between 12 and 18 years old to the Hunger Games. Twenty-four kids compete and only one survives. If that sounds depressing and gory, well, it is. But Suzanne Collins manages to provide the perfect amount of detail while pacing the story perfectly so you will not be able to put the first book down. Seriously. Be prepared to drop everything else. And if you're not into love triangles, don't worry as that doesn't really get going until the second book.

Though I found the first book far superior to the second two, all three are good, easy reads, which will make you think for quite awhile afterwards about an "imaginary world" where most people live in near poverty creating things to serve a small city full of elite. As this is a teen (preteen?) trilogy, I found myself wishing that my children were old enough that we could read the books together (like a parent/child bookclub) because the books touch on so many issues involving power, control, society, the will to survive, media scrutiny, and the word "hungry" itself - that would make interesting discussion with teenagers.


*In an interview Murakami summarized, "“Basically, it’s . . . [a] boy meets a girl. They have separated and are looking for each other. It’s a simple story. I just made it long.”

**"The real opposition [to women's suffrage] was pragmatic. Democrats suspected that women would vote Republican. Urban machine politicians distrusted women voters because they connected them with reform movements. Much of the money to run anti-suffrage campaigns came from the liquor industry, which realized it would be out of business if women got to vote on Prohibition."

***"Remember ... not to go out without your bonnet because it will make you very ugly and then we should not love you so much" - Thomas Jefferson (to his daughter). Jefferson also wrote that "the tender breasts of ladies were not formed for political convulsion." Ass.

-"New Orleans has a "fancy girl" market in which young and beautiful - and light-skinned - female slaves sold for very fancy prices."

- There was not a single woman scheduled to speak at the March on Washington and female reporters were denied the right to ask questions. Rosa Parks later stated, "Nowadays, women wouldn't stand for being kept so much in the background, but back then women's rights hadn't become a popular cause yet."

****"The most spectacular eighteenth-century fashion was the tower hairdo, in which hair was piled on top of the head in stiff poufs and topped with a wire frame coerced with ribbons, beads, jewels, and feathers." Feathers, really? Feathers?

"Western prostitutes allegedly made hygienic history by becoming the first American women to shave under their armpits. It was a way of demonstrating to their customers that they were free of lice."


  1. Love these - I'm always looking for book recommendations! I may check out The Snow Child.

  2. Woo! Thanks for the shout out. I feel just the same way about your blog.

    I finished Ivey's book a while ago but I still think about it often. I love when a book really sticks with me. Great list. Happy reading!

    -Cath @ Constance Reader



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