Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Getting Squirrely with Sedaris (oh puns)

David Sedaris. If you don't already know this name, I highly suggest you acclimate yourself with it. Admittedly, I have not read much of his work, but what I have read, or heard from him always intrigues me and usually makes me giggle.

In "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk", Sedaris takes social issues and puts them in animal terms. No one likes being preached at. Lord knows I've had to sit through too many boring sermons by people who don't know how to write or engage an audience, so I REALLY don't want to read something of that sort. Sedaris, however, has a fun way of getting social commentary out there without slapping you across the face with it. Only fun little taps and maybe some light slapping. In this book of short (o so short) stories, he talks about those annoying habits people have, the strange things we do, snobbishness, and so much more. He observes the actions of society and individuals and writes about it in an eye-opening, dark, and humorous way. The best part is, he doesn't use humans! O the brilliance! This method takes a step back from the formality and somewhat harshness of dealing with a reflection of yourself in a character and instead transfers it to sheep, owls, squirrels, etc. Who can resist a good animal tale?

Think about 'Aesop's Fabels'. Teaching lessons or commenting on life through cute and cuddly animals is sometimes a better approach to certain issues. Although Sedaris is bringing up different perceptions, life choices, and morals/values, he does not end his stories with 'here's what you should learn from this'. They're cheeky, darkly humorous, and poignant. I could use another read through the stories to fully comprehend the meanings, but they are not difficult to capture where Sedaris is going with each tale.

Pick up "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk" and give it a read. It will take you maybe a couple hours to get through, so why not? It is short and entertaining with those pesky little messages peeping through the pages. On top of all that, there are pictures! Who doesn't love a book with pictures? This was the perfect break book for me. Nothing fluffy, but a nice pause from all that long and tedious reading. Good for an upcoming pool/beach day.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

*I must preface this post with the fact that I have yet to finish Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse". I know naughty, naughty, but Ms Woolf is a lot for me to handle and I need to write/move on to a lighter read. I promise I will finish this book once I get all of my projects, research, and papers out of the way. *

Virginia Woolf is not for everybody. I understand that. Even as a student of literature and a proclaimed lover of books, I struggle with her writing. Every time I pick up a piece of her work, I feel a weight settle in on my shoulders. It's like homework a lot of the time. I have to concentrate on every sentence in order to catch the meaning, subtle digs, and thoughts that are pulsing beneath the surface. But like a well thought out assignment, one may start it reluctantly, but in the end, it broadens your horizons, teaches you something, and, God forbid, you may actually enjoy it.

Woolf is a challenge to me. "To the Lighthouse" is a book that sat on my shelf for years collecting dust. I'll tell anyone who asks that I am fascinated and reverent of Woolf. She wrote one of my favorite books/series of essays, but the truth of the matter is I struggle just picking up her work. "To the Lighthouse" is quintessential Woolf. There isn't much of a plot and you skip from one character's thoughts to the next. This is frustrating. It's hard to follow and often semi-boring. So why read her? Let me tell you my thoughts on the subject....

Woolf will not drive you through her novel with captivating plot points or even characters you fall in love with. But Woolf is a bloody good writer! She's a literature lover's wet dream. Each sentence carries weight and often times it's not what's said that matters, it's the space between. Woolf does what I've noticed most of my favorite authors do, she breaks people down. This book is not about going to the lighthouse, it's about the journey or non-journey there. She makes one average day into an existential interior dialog. The brilliance of Woolf is that she sees genius in the everyday, average people as deep thinkers. One does not need a catastrophic event to make them think about life. Everyday offers the opportunity for realization, philosophy, contemplation of life, the meaning of it all, God, and existence. Woolf is a master at her craft because you can read her words over and over again and find new meaning each time. She writes beautifully and it feels effortless.

My sister and I discussed the characters in Woolf's novels and how they all seem egocentric. I must agree that for the most part they are selfish and egotistic. But let's consider that we are invading their private thoughts. Who of us isn't almost always thinking of our self? Mrs. Ramsay, one of the main characters in this book, has many thoughts about not being understood. She is a woman with nine children who gives her time, love, and devotion to them everyday. I don't think Woolf is trying to separate the characters from one another, but bring them closer to their audience. Many of Woolf's readers are women of a certain age who perhaps feel like Mrs. Ramsay, which is to say unseen as an individual, and can relate to her in many ways. Their personal thoughts are meant to enrich our own lives and show us we are not alone in our struggles.

"To the Lighthouse" is a good Woolf read, though I think "Mrs. Dalloway" offers a better variety and I preferred the stories in "Mrs. Dalloway". I enjoyed the scenery in "TtL". The Scottish coast gives a relaxed, yet contemplative atmosphere to the novel. One of my favorite characters is Charles Tansley, the one character whose thoughts are not as deep and meaningful as he thinks they are.

Here's my suggestion: if you're into Woolf, give it a try. If you've read Woolf and think she's brilliant, but perhaps not someone you want to continue reading, understandable. If you are of neither of these opinions, then just leave her be. It is worth reading at least an extract of her work, to see why she is still relevant, but you don't have to torture yourself. Unless you're into masochism. Just don't tell me about it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The World IN an Oyster Shell.

There are situations in life that change a person's outlook, demeanor, attitude, and values. Of late I've been having silent, and sometimes out loud (though I don't like to admit it) discussions with myself. What changes a person? When is that change overbearing or the situation that caused said change not worth the outcome? When is it ok to stop yourself from experiencing something in order to keep yourself from getting hurt? O la vie. The book "Room" has added to my interior monologue and has hit home with greater force than expected.

In order to tell you about "Room" by Emma Donoghue, I have to dance around the whole thing, create similes, and eventually tell you just to read the damned book! It's got that whole "Sixth Sense" thing going on. I don't want to spoil any of it, but the main experience of this book is in the reading.

The book is written in first person narration from the point of view of a five year old named Jack. He and his mother live in Room. I know what you're thinking, 'Kristin, you're missing the article in front of the word room and room is not a proper noun'. Well first, get off your  high horse and second it is to Jack. Jack sees things differently than the average 5 year old because he has never been outside of Room. To him, the objects in the room he and Ma occupy are like people. The TV does not show real things, it's all fake. There is no world to Jack outside of Room.

Imagine the 'Allegory of the Cave', that annoying philosophical concept Plato put in place, as who Jack is and what his world consists of. Instead of shadows on walls, Jack has people in the TV. Outside of the cave, Plato's people see what real trees look like instead of just the shadows. As marvellous as that concept seems, to really see something for the first time both physically and cognitively, think of how confusing it would be. Donoghue dives into this concept and the story of a brilliant little boy and his world, thoughts, and emotions in "Room".

After reading this book I figure what changes me (people, situations, relationships) is so minuscule and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. There are others out there going through situations that will scar them for life, doing things my egocentric self cannot imagine, and having to learn to live in a world I take for granted.

The only concern I have about this book is that it will date itself quickly. Donoghue references popular kids shows and songs throughout the book. Ten years down the line, people may not know what those references mean. It is such a good read that it is tragic to think of it being outdated in a few decades.

The writing is phenomenal and this book makes for a quick read. Please pick it up. By page 2 you will be hooked.