August 25, 2014

Recent Reads

112. Zebrafish
My nephew Jonah (age 9) brought this graphic novel over for a recent sleepover. Targeted at the middle grade reader, this is the story of Vita, who has a used guitar, knows how to play three chords, has a band name, and now needs to find some band mates to complete her dreams of starting a rock band. I liked the art and the premise, but the story is not compelling for an adult reader. I did also like the message that while "you can't always get what you want - but you might get what your friends need."  Rating: 2 stars.

113. Rules of Summer
I'll just come out and say it: I did not get this picture book for kids at all. There are single sentence rules, and each one is illustrated. Do the illustration show the reason why the rules exist? My nephews did not get it either, and we read it a couple of times to try to figure it out. The only reason this gets an extra star is for the art. It is gorgeous and luminous and I almost wish that there were no words at all so I could make up my own story. Which it turns out is exactly what I did anyway. Rating: 2 stars.

114. Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike (Pretty Deadly #1-5)
Although this graphic novel is visually stunning, the story is rather confusing. I love that there are so many women/girl characters, but who are they, and how are they all connected? See what I mean? Not enough back story, so all these characters seem to hang limply off the story arc. Rating: 2 stars.

115. The Goldfinch
I cannot summarize the plot better than Stephen King, so here is what he said: "Theo Decker’s mother is killed in a bombing that rocks the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Theo, unharmed, escapes with a valuable painting called The Goldfinch. He carries this symbol of grief and loss from early adolescence into an adulthood fraught with danger and beset by addiction. The long middle sequence, set in a housing development on the seedy, sand-blown outskirts of Las Vegas, is a standout. Tartt proves that the Dickensian novel — expansive and bursting with incident —is alive and well."

I have lived in this story for almost the entire month: on early morning and late evening walks, while doing dishes, in the car, and have been captivated. The audiobook is superbly narrated by David Pittu, and he gets 5 stars for his work on this one. The reviews on this Pultizer Prize winner are all over the map, and I think I understand why. So here are some tips without spoilers:

1. I would highly recommend you listen to the audiobook, and listen for about an hour at a time. It will take you 32 and a half hours, so this is not a one night stand, but a month long commitment.

2. Nowhere in all the reviews I read was it mentioned that this is a coming of age story. That is an important consideration. If you are not interested in teenage angst and obsessions, skip it.

3. Like life, this story unfolds slowly and one is not clear where you are headed, or if you'll even be interested in the outcome. And like life, there are moments that take your breath away, and moments that feel like rather tedious treadmill workouts. The payoff is not immediate, and you gotta hang in there to see the results.

4. The author is an amazing observer of scenes, and she layers details upon details in almost every scene. This skill results in the weird sense that I did not read a story, but that I was actually there, like these are my memories.

5. Donna Tartt has been compared to Dickens, but I think a more apt comparison might be to the Old Masters. There is the thing you see from afar, and then when you get a close up view, you see something completely different. Some parts are so detailed, while others are lightly touched upon and the reader is left to fill in the spaces. 

There were parts of reading this that I had a love/hate relationship with. All that boy stuff! Honestly, I could have done with less of that. Would I have felt differently if the central character had been a young girl? I don't know. Theo was not as interesting to me as the characters he was surrounded with: Boris, Hobie, the Barbours, Xandra, etc. and some of what happened seemed a little unbelievable to me. I also think that there are about 200 or so pages I would have edited out - they did little to add to the story in my opinion (I can provide the scissors and page numbers if you are interested).

I love how the author linked the painting and the boy. Both survive the unimaginable. When the painting is hidden, the true nature of the boy also gets buried, and when the painting is uncovered, the young man discovers his own light. The last chapter or two where the author summarizes the main points of the story: the relationship between life and art, people and objects, creator and viewer is some of the very best writing I have ever read. So yes, even though the editing could be tighter, and I often felt like hitting Theo over the head with a saucepan, I find myself thinking about the story, particular scenes, and googling images of The Goldfinch. Rating: 4 stars.

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