March 30, 2015

Recent Reads

28. Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor
Book blurb: For the past decade, Lynda has run a highly popular writing workshop for non-writers called Writing the Unthinkable - the workshop was featured in the New York Times magazine. Syllabus: Notes from an accidental professor is the first book that will make her innovative lesson plans and writing exercises available to the public for home or classroom use. 

I have read the entire book, re-read portions, and implemented some of the exercises already. Chock-full of ideas and exercises, there is so much I loved about this book. Whether you think you are creative or not, if you have tried to journal and failed, or if you simply want to look at a fun, colorful journal of a creative teacher, give yourself the gift of getting your hands on this book. This is a class I would love to take in person, but in the meanwhile, I'll keep thumbing through sections of this book. Rating: 5 stars.

29. The Sandcastle Girls
I've waited three days before reviewing this book to see if I would change my mind. I have not. I love historical fiction, and find the genre a wonderful way to immerse myself in a world/time/place. This novel contains a piece of history that everyone should know about - the genocide of approximately 1.5 million Armenians - and I applaud the author for writing an easily accessible book that might make this atrocity more widely known. And yet.

In preparation for a trip to Turkey a couple of years ago, I read several books, fiction and non-fiction, set in the country. As with most countries, history shed some unflattering light on the Turks. I might have heard about the genocide in passing before that trip, but I knew much more about what had happened by the time I arrived in Turkey. I was fascinated (is that the right word?) by the outright denial by every single Turk I met that any such thing happened to the Armenians, let alone in their country. 

This novel contains two stories - one set in present day New York, and one set in 1915 Syria, and this story should have worked. Yes, I found the atrocities a compelling, if difficult read, but I did not find any of the characters or their motivations - either in the past or present - believable, credible, or fleshed out in a way that made me care about them. I found the present day story line too contrived, and found it jarring that the present and the past sections switched within a chapter, and often with only a paragraph break. And if that were not enough, there are other narrators, and plot lines (photographic plates, the other orphan girl, and what's with the sandcastles?) which in my opinion detracted from the flow of the story. I also did not understand the author's decision to include a Gallipoli story line. Watertown, yes. Gallipoli no. There is a lot of movement from place to place in this story, and I think a map of the region in the front of the book would have been useful. 

However, as I said earlier, this might be just the right book for certain audiences - this is after all the One Book selection for the town I live in. I'll be curious to hear what my local book club members have to say, and plan on attending the author talk as well. The history of the region is one well worth reading about, and there are fantastic books that worked much better for me. Rating: 2 stars.

30. The Sculptor
There are many reviews on the "brickness" of this graphic novel, and I for one would have loved the heft if the story was any good. I'm a fan of the author's non-fiction, but am not impressed with his foray into fiction.

This is a story about a "stubborn, self-absorbed, and aggravating young man" - and that's what his love interest calls him! I'd add immature, whiny, and narcissistic. Is this what the emerging adults of today look like? I sure as hell hope not! The premise is an interesting one: a young artist with promise destroys his own career, and now is broke and uninspired. A classic lead-in to a dance with the devil, right? What will he give up for his art? Is it worth it?

There are so many things about this guy that annoyed me - his focus on fame and not his art, his infantile fixation on a girl, his ridiculous promises, his tempter tantrums - what is he, four?! There is no new ground covered with this story, and that is a shame, because the art, people. The art is fantastic. Lovely illustrations in black, white, and blue. I give the story 2 stars, and the art 4, so will average out at a generous 3 stars. It is the art that kept me reading to the end.
  Rating: 3 stars.

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