Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

"Arthur Dent hadn't had a day as bad as this since the Earth had been blown up.

Depressed and alone, Arthur finally settles on the small planet Lamuella and becomes a sandwich maker. Looking forward to a quiet life, his plans are thrown awry by the unexpected arrival of his daughter.

There’s nothing worse than a frustrated teenager with a copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in their hands. When she runs away – Arthur goes after her determined to save her from the horrors of the universe.

After all – he’s encountered most of them before…"

If I ever give a Douglas Adams book a bad review, please alert a medical professional as it's a very good indicator that I've gone off the deep end. Of course, your mileage may vary with it, because it's a very... interesting niche he's cornered, but honestly these are some of the most enjoyable books I've read. This one was no different--true, I do still think So Long and Thanks for All the Fish might trump it slightly, but it still has the minimum Adams requirements, such as: one fit of unexpected and uncontrollable laughter, two inconveniently timed public giggling spells, and at least a dozen other amazing quotes worthy of marking. Held with the formula, was brilliant as always, and I was quite happy. True, in the lineup of his books it might fall around the middle ranking, but there was nothing actually a problem. A good, solid, pretty-hilarious book. Four stars from me, and as always, if I could personally buy the series for you I would. But I'm cheap and I have no idea who you are, so that's on you. I can offer my undying affection, that's about it. Anyway, go get a copy of this at Sitka High or Kettleson. Ciao!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

"In Breakfast of Champions, one of Kurt Vonnegut’s  most beloved characters, the aging writer Kilgore Trout, finds to his horror that a Midwest car dealer is taking his fiction as truth. What follows is murderously funny satire, as Vonnegut looks at war, sex, racism, success, politics, and pollution in America and reminds us how to see the truth."

Dear God, this man is not afraid of anything. He doesn't care whose feelings he hurts or who he offends, and for me, it's awesome. Because, honestly, every single possibly offensive thing laid out in this book is something that's been believed, said, or done by Americans at one point or another. No lie. He just says it in the simplest forms possible, and if people somehow find it more offensive than the way they'd been rationalizing the issue, that's kind of the point. The book's written as if trying to educate an alien race about America, finding simplistic and surprising ways to explain things about us. A lot of them are funny, most are fairly ridiculous, and all are eye-opening. I liked it a lot (disclaimer: I was raised by reformed hippies, so I have a healthy dose of cynicism about America, and that might tell you a little about whether you might like this book). This little gem popped up in the first chapter:

“1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them.” 
So yeah, that's a good gauge of his sense of humor. It's not for some, granted.
Now, I'd like to touch on the point that there's a reason this is in the adult fiction section.It's mature, in the very literal sense that you need to have a good measure of maturity for it to get its point across. If you start uncontrollably giggling at suggestive situations, maybe read this in a couple years. It's satire. It's got a message. And it was amazing. Anyway, there's a copy at Kettleson. If this looked appealing to you, I super highly suggest it. 4.5 stars.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson

"Inside little blue envelope 1 are $1,000 and instructions to buy a plane ticket.

In envelope 2 are directions to a specific London flat.

The note in envelope 3 tells Ginny: Find a starving artist.

Because of envelope 4, Ginny and a playwright/thief/ bloke–about–town called Keith go to Scotland together, with somewhat disastrous–though utterly romantic–results. But will she ever see him again?

Everything about Ginny will change this summer, and it's all because of the 13 little blue envelopes."

Taking a break from the sloggy classics, here's a pure fluff piece that you can get through in a couple of days and stay entertained. And honestly, it isn't quite as flat-out cheesy as you may be thinking. Well, just a little bit. But in a fun way. The summary kinda deceives you, too, I should mention: the Scotland trip's just a shortish bit near the beginning, before she keeps following the envelopes and all sorts of other interesting things happen. So thankfully the romance isn't the end-all. It's more about Ginny processing the circumstances around the person that wrote the letters, her aunt. There's a fair bit of processing and character development and all that--again, only slightly stereotypical--set against a whole slew of pretty European backgrounds and tasks. Plus, Ginny's narrative is slightly quirky and funny, which is kinda nice. It's not Great American Literature or anything, but it's fun and involving to read. I started and finished it with definitely time to spare in a single eight-hour leg of our road trip, so it goes fast. Maybe four stars. There'll be a copy at Kettleson.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

"Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with "cynical adolescent." Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he's been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them."

His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation."

I'll just come out and say it: this was not an enjoyable book for me. It seems like it might not be incredibly joyous for anyone, but I think the key factor between someone loving and hating this book is whether or not they identify with Holden. I didn't, personally. I couldn't stand him. From someone who's stubborn and determined to the point of insanity, the slacking, apathetic boy who throws away every opportunity and resource just doesn't appeal to me. He's kind of pretentious and obnoxious, and he's exactly the kind of hypocrite he hates. I get that it's part of the theme and the point, but when he goes around calling every single person a phony and gets offended by taking enjoyment from anything mainstream, I get a little tired. I'll point out that it isn't all bad; there are spots where some insightful and human comments sneak out from the cynicism, which are valuable, but overall it's not quite enough to make it enjoyable. Partly it's because of the plot, which never really climaxes and is very repetitive. The one plotline that I really wanted to see followed through, gets left hanging. And partly it's because there's a total of one sympathetic/likable character out of the dozens in the book (Holden's younger sister). Most are actually incredibly grating and awful; I don't find them comical or whatever, it just gets me irritated. It might be very affecting to those who relate, who feel like Salinger "gets" them, but I wasn't one of those people. Sorry for the letdown, Salinger fans. We're just not gonna see eye to eye. The copies are at Kettleson, SHS, BMS, and MEHS. I'm not going to recommend it, but I'll let you form your own opinion.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

"Paulo Coelho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts."

Hmm. This was very easy to get through, given that it was a fable and written in a deceptively simplistic style. It reminded me a lot of The Little Prince, actually, which is a very good thing. It had a huge amount of themes going on, almost more well-explored than The Little Prince--or at least more expounded upon. It was incredibly deep, and really applicable to anyone. I kind of liked reading it. It's only 160 pages, so it goes fast. The writing did just enough to give a really vibrant picture--nothing too sparse or wordy. One thing that I noticed was that the author says the boy's name in the first sentence and then never again. I got through halfway reading about "the boy" thinking it was just a fable-type trope, before going back and realizing that he actually had a name. So that was a little weird. But eh, I guess it just adds to the metaphor/fable vibe. This was very well-written, too; things were exceedingly symbolic in all ways, there were a lot of subtle layers, and I never got bored. It introduced me to a lot of interesting ideas. I still like The Little Prince probably better because it's just the coolest and cutest thing ever, but this one gave it a run for its money. I give four stars. And it's at Kettleson, Sitka High, and MEHS in the adult fiction section. Yay! Except all of them are closed, so eh. Anyway.