Tag Archives: book club

Sylvia Plath & Women’s History Month

belljarFor last month’s book club, we read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which I had never read but always felt like I should. I’m glad I finally did, even though it depressed the hell out of me. It felt like a necessary read, and also felt super appropriate to read during Women’s History Month.

I find it incredible reading about women’s lives during times when they didn’t have nearly as many rights (not that we don’t still have a helluva long way to go). It really does appear to be a bell jar of sorts, looking in from the outside and especially coming from a futuristic perspective. Life was so limited for women, even in the 50s and 60s, since the idea of the housewife was still very much alive. I seriously cannot imagine being born and raised with the end goal being that I’ll take care of my husband and children and remain in a home all the time—is there anything more depressing than that in itself? It’s no wonder that so many housewives felt trapped and depressed—they were forced into a life of stagnancy and were forced to repress themselves essentially.

As someone who has suffered on and off with depression and anxiety, I found it easy to relate to Esther in The Bell Jar. When I graduated college and moved home with my parents, I felt lost and miserable. My independence was gone, and it was as if the past four years of my life hadn’t happened and I was back in high school again. This almost mirrors what happens to her—she doesn’t receive a scholarship she wanted, and instead has to move back in with her mother. It was especially difficult for her since she came from a poor home where she couldn’t easily afford schooling and education opportunities, so she relied on these various scholarships and programs.

My favorite part about Esther/Plath was just how feminist she was without even being totally aware of it. She refused the idea of the traditional housewife and to learn shorthand, which is what “other women” (like her mother) did, opting instead to follow her passion to become a poet, and also lost interest in men and their imposing ways quickly. Rather than just sulk about the crappy guys in her life, too, she kicked them to the curb without the slightest regret. Yes, girl, YES.

Throughout the book, I was able to empathize with Esther a lot. I understand the downward spiral of depression all too well and how easy it is to be your own worst enemy when all you need is a friend. It was a fantastic, eye-opening read, but not one that I think I’m going to delve into again any time soon.

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And The Mountains Echoed

16115612Khaled Hosseini is one of my favorite authors; his novel A Thousand Splendid Suns is one of my favorite books of all time that I will recommend to anyone when given the chance. I seriously cannot talk highly enough about this book. The way Hosseini is able to create a compelling story full of in-depth, completely rounded out characters is remarkable to say the least. The Kite Runner is also amazing, and gets way more acclaim than his second novel (although I would argue his second is his best). Therefore, I had pretty high expectations for And The Mountains Echoed.

I wasn’t necessarily disappointed because I’m mildly addicted to his writing style, however, I think this was the weakest of his novels. Hosseini tells the tale of two Afghan siblings that are torn apart at an early age and how that affects them throughout their lives. He tells this tale from multiple perspectives, which is a way of storytelling that I truly love. There were some narrators that I didn’t believe totally advanced the storyline, however—the Greek doctor, Markos Varvaris, and Nabi’s two young neighbors being some of them (especially Markos because his storyline was the longest and most drawn out). While these characters had interesting backgrounds and I can see how Hosseini ties them into the overall theme of family relationships and obligation, I really felt like they were a bit of a stretch since they weren’t very closely connected to Abdullah or Pari, who are the characters that he initially got the audience interested in and shaped his story around. On the other hand, there were other story arches that I felt were cut a bit short, and I was left hoping I’d get some sort of closure on them. Instead I came out at the end of the book a bit disappointed (Parwana particularly comes to mind here) and feeling unfilled, as if there was more information that I needed to fully complete this story.

Other than that, the English major geek inside me thoroughly enjoyed how Hosseini connected the fable that Abdullah and Pari’s father told them, which started the novel, to the end of the book. Like the father in the tale, Abdullah and Pari were both able to forget one another in their own ways so they were no longer plagued by the pain it brought them to know what they were missing out on. And in those times without one another, they were able to shape successful and generally happy lives, full of ups and downs as lives oft are. Although my geeky side was giddy, my Hosseini fangirl side was heartbroken—I yearned for the closure that could have come from two long lost siblings being finally reunited. Even if Pari had seen the box of feathers at the end and said something along the lines of, “Well, this is strange! I don’t understand what these are, but I’ve always been entranced by feathers,” then I would’ve been thrilled. Or if Abdullah had even the slightest, tiniest glint of recognition of his missing sister. But no, NOTHING. There is no sort of closure, and this is probably me just whining as a reader but goddamn.

Besides that, though, I honestly loved this novel. I love Khaled Hosseini and will always be eagerly looking forward to his next piece. And in the meantime, I’ll be rereading A Thousand Splendid Suns every few years and reveling in its perfection.

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Naked Lunch

nakedlunchAbout a month ago I founded my own book club. It all happened so fast, but I’m (so far) really pleased with it. Aside from the fact that we all absolutely hated the first book. Woops?

It all began with This American Life’s William S. Burroughs podcast. I never cared for Burroughs or his writing, but the podcast had me enticed—because what’s not fascinating about some drug addicted pervert’s musings? My friend Nuala and I talked about the podcast together and both said we wanted to read a few of his pieces afterwards. From there I moved on to talking to other people about how we missed reading/discussing literature in general and are always craving new books recommendations. (Seriously, always. Send me all of your recommendations immediately!) So I decided that maybe we could read Burroughs’ most acclaimed work together, Naked Lunch. And thus my baby book club was born.

It’s worth mentioning that I tried to read Naked Lunch once before and that I fucking hated it. I read the entire thing because I can never begin a book without finishing it. It was torture for me, though. I had no idea what was going on, hated the content, and forced myself through it without retaining a single thing aside from my intense dislike of it. So obviously a great first choice for our club.

I figured maybe I was just too young or immature to understand the novel, and now that I’m older, it should be a lot more enjoyable/interesting. WRONG. WRONG. YOU WERE WRONG, NICOLE. AND IF YOU’RE READING THIS POST IN THE FUTURE AND CONSIDERING READING NAKED LUNCH AGAIN, YOU WILL MOST DEFINITELY HATE IT AND YOU SHOULD STOP. JUST STOP IT.

I got about 95 pages and for about the third time ever, I stopped reading a book. I can rest easy knowing that at one point in time I finished this book, but not this time. And never again. I had no idea what was going on and suddenly found myself in the thick of a 30 page description of suicidal orgies. I gave up. I have no idea who any of the characters are, where they ever were, what they were ever doing (aside from the painfully obvious), or what they wanted to be doing.

No one in the book club was able to finish it—in fact, I made it the farthest out of anyone. I’ve heard his other, shorter works are more enjoyable, such as Junkie or Queer. I’ll never find out because I’m done trying. Beatnik era writing is simply not for me (I also hated On the Road in the past and will not make the mistake of trying that one again).

The only other time I can really remember beginning a book—multiple times, actually—and not being able to finish it was with Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. And just guess what our second book club novel is…

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Golden Boy

cvr9781476705804_9781476705804_hr.JPGI had the privilege (??) of reading Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin liiiikkeee two months ago and completely forgot to write about it. Maybe that is a sort of prelude to the book, but I’ll let you judge for yourself.

Tarttelin brought up a lot of interesting. bold topics. She tried to cover intersexuality, rape, affairs/rocky marriages, autism, suicide with maybe a little of obsessive compulsive tendencies sprinkled on top. I think it’s safe to say that she tried to make this novel a bit TOO jaw-dropping. I was definitely shocked by some of the things I read, and IMMEDIATELY uncomfortable within the first ten pages, but I think she spread herself too thin honestly. It came off as a bit unpolished and cluttered. I think if she had tried to focus her attentions on maybe one or two of those topics, the end result would have been a lot more enticing and made her seem like less of an amateur.

It was very interesting how she chose to give points of view from certain characters, which I am a sucker for. However, some of the characters she focused on seemed a bit pointless to me. Reading those other perspectives is supposed to give me some sort of insight into the story that I otherwise would not have gained through a third person omniscient narrator. But with this novel I actually felt myself wanting the stability and consistency of just one narrator. What am I really able to take away from this story by reading the opinions of an autistic child? I didn’t think the kid added anything, and neither did the doctor. Archie the female doctor who takes SUCH an interest in one particular patient that she goes on a researching binge, even though she doesn’t trust those pesky computers. Uh. Who IS this woman? Is she 80 years old, because if so maybe it’s time to retire. Archie sucked, I didn’t like her obviously. And honestly a lot of the things that came from her REALLY didn’t add much to the story other than a little extra knowledge about intersexuality; and even then it wasn’t much that a third person narrator couldn’t have summed up quickly.

Of course there were some good parts of the book and I did pretty much like it. I just felt that it needed a bit more work and maybe a little rewrite makeover. Instead of trying to conquer so many issues, Tarttelin should’ve focused on the ones that were most important to her in this story. I’m sure that would’ve been the intersexuality which was the biggest shock factor – I think that in and of itself is enough for one novel without adding all the other petty dramatic crap.

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