Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Book Thief


What an interesting book on two fronts. One, the way the story was written and narrated. Two, the unique structure of the book. I will explain.

The story is narrated by death. That's interesting right? Even though death is sad, scary, and dark, when Death is given a personality and comments on his daily life it's almost comical. Death is a busy guy, but, sometimes he shows up to appointments early and has a minute or two to observe humans...which he finds interesting. As narrator he pushes the story along by constantly foreshadowing both the long and short view of the novel. The foreshadowing is vague enough that you don't know exactly what is going to happen, but, it peaks one's interest.

The story revolves around Liesel, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany. Books play a major part in her life. The book stealing starts before she can even read and continues on throughout the book. In the end she only really has a handful of books, since she is so poor. Her life is pretty sad, full of death and poverty, but the books are one of the bright spots. I won't give too much away but a book narrated by death in Nazi Germany during WWII is going to have some characters dying. However, even with all this dark subject matter I didn't find the book depressing. In fact, I found it happy, almost light hearted. Liesel seems to find the positive things in life and the narration, as I've mentioned, is funny in a dark way. This makes for a nice read.

Now, the 'unique' structure of the book. At random points throughout the book there are small facts or lists thrown in. They break in between paragraphs to add much needed information, almost like a footnote. Sometimes Death will even intervene, mid paragraph, to add a tidbit of interesting information. This makes the first few pages a little hard to follow until you get a feel for what the breaks in the prose are all about. After a dozen pages you look forward to the 'attention all reader' bulletins (as I've started calling them). Another level to the book that makes it interesting to read - something different.

I was surprised to find out that this book was from the YA (young adult) section of the library. I'm sure this keeps it off many people's book radar, which is a darn shame because it is so good! The only reason I can see it being put in YA is that the main character is a young teen girl? Very strange. To me, it's like the last couple of Harry Potter books. They should probably be thrown in the adult fantasy section rather than young fiction. Anyway, read it!


Wilderness Survival


I took this book out of the library thinking it was going to be a bland 'how to' book on basic survival skills. To my surprise, and delight, it was much more. It is part journal and part 'how to' blended together to put the skills into context. This made for an enjoyable read with all of the practical knowledge to boot. But wait, there was more. The personal accounts of Mark brought in a spiritual philosophical dimension on how natural living effects the soul, the idea that nature is not an adversary, even the concept of time. Reading this book not only filled my soul with more respect and appreciation for the natural world but a desire to reevaluate my own thoughts and slow down life a bit...and of course, try out some cool survival skills!
Most of the book is structured as a journal (ie Day 1). Mark keeps us updated on what skills he used, what they made, or maybe what they caught for dinner. I'm happy to report that there are not many repetitive or mundane journal entries. Each day seems to bring on new challenges or observations of nature. There were a few too many pages on mice tracking or vole sightings for my liking, but that's just me. The journal did progress from a practical account of day to day 'chores' to a much great much broader view of the natural world and humans place in it. By the end of the adventure/experiment the entries had turned into full out rants, blasting society's evils and praising the unforgiving world of nature. I got the impression Mark was not going to be headed home, but instead staying in his leaf/stick debris hut and coming that 'hermit' of the woods that we've all heard about in urban myths.
The prologue and epilogue pull everything together. They are must reads in this book. Mark admits that he has changed a lot since he went on this survival quest. He alluded to a feeling that he was slightly ashamed or embarrassed about some of his rantings. I do commend his apology for breaking a few laws (trespassing, poaching, etc) and agree that to survive he had to do a few illegal things.
Overall, I thought this was a superb blending of 'how to' with an in-context story making for a wonderful read.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Adventures in Solitude


- Grant Lawrence -

This book was funny! One of those rare books where the stories went from mental chuckles to laugh-out-loud (LOL) laughs. The few paragraphs about mullet clad Terry in his jean shorts (jorts), smoke in mouth, tubing behind the motor boat was so funny I reread the page four times, cracking up each time. The countless hilarious stories set a good natured tone throughout the book, but, there was so much more beyond the laughs. There was a much deeper story about Grant's life and the many changes he goes through. There is also a lot of history about the area (Desolation sound on the BC coast) expertly thrown in, used to enhance many of the stories Grant tells. There were also many touching parts where Grant removes his comedic facade and describes the natural beauty around him.

The book is centred around the the Lawrence family cabin. Grant's father, the outdoorsy type, buys a large tract of BC coastline with the intentions of developing it by building a bunch of cottages. The crazy part is that this land is located well beyond any road and is only accessible by boat. Saying it is remote is a bit of an understatement. Even with these formidable obstacles Grant's father manages to sell some cottages and build a cottage for the family as well. The first half of the book is a reaccount of Grant's childhood memories of the place. Grant was a self described 'nerd' without any interest in the outdoors. So, it is mostly made up of fish out of water stories as Grant encounters nature, the odd ball mountainmen, and hippies in the commune nearby. The first few trips up to the cabin are chock full of culture shock for Grant - which makes for great reading. At some points I found myself with the mixed feeling of laughing and pitying this poor 'nerd'. Luckily Grant makes it clear he is laughing at himself too as he looks back.

The book is divided into two parts. The second part is the adult life of Grant. In his young adult life Grant rebels against his family; stops going to the camp, tours the country with his rock band and lives the whole rocker lifestyle. For years he is absent from the cabin and Desolation Sound. After his band breaks up Grant finally concedes to a trip up to the Sound. This trip brings about a huge change, refilling Grant's soul and bringing him back to his roots (which he'd been trying to cut for years). Trips to the cabin became more frequent until he was pretty much living there for most of the year. It was inspiring to read Grant's remarks about the change the cabin was making on him. He went from cynical sounding ex-rocker to a self confident genuinely happy outdoorsman. This part two of the book accentuated his new found appreciation for the area and the lifestyle he had ridiculed for years. The stories in the second part change, focusing on the eccentric behaviours of the locals, the history of the area, and Grant's maturity. Strangely, I found the second part of this book better than the first; with much higher highs and lower lows. The stories had a different feel. They were just more raw. The funny parts were a bit cruder. The introspective parts laid it all out there and were borderline emotional.

The whole book ends wonderfully with Grant triumphing on life and all ending well.

Throughout the reading of the book I felt like I was actually on these journeys to the cabin. I'm not sure if it because of my own desire to own a remote cottage of my own. I'm betting, though, that it is mostly due to the fabulous writing of Grant Lawrence.


Another connection with recent books I've read. The early parts of this book Grant mentions reading Tin Tin books on the visits to the cabin. In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain writes about reading Tin Tin books on his family vacations as well. I also recall Tin Tin books were my 'book' of choice for a few years in grade 3 or 4. Strange connection eh? Probably something all great writers do in their early years?

The Bourne Supremacy

The Bourne Supremacy

The second installment of the Bourne series is again full of action. However, the old proverb - about sequels never being as good as the original - is true.

Wordy! This book just has too many words. It could be a quick two or three hundred page fast movin' action packed paperback, instead of the 600 page mammoth it turned into. Now, there were many scenes that put you on the edge of your seat and kept you turning those 600 pages. There were the expected car chases, the identity changes, the occasional explosions and gun battles that I was expecting (and hoping for). But, there was also so much more...pages to read that is. Pages and pages of dialogue that seemed to drag on and on and one of those phone messages you might get, you know that ones that time out they are so long...

Hey! Hello? Oh, you must not be home? Oh well, it's me. Me! Haha. Calling on my cell. I was calling to set up a meeting time. So, I'll leave a message I guess, haha. Call me on my cell and hopefully you will get me and won't have to leave a message and I won't have to call you back and leave a message haha. Anyway, again just had a moment so I thought I'd call. You know I forget sometimes, so when I do remember I just call. But, looks like you are not home...

You get the idea, a whole lot of blabbering, repeating, and droning on. At points while reading I wanted to yell at the book, "get to the point already! Or, at least move on to a car chase or something!"

I also found the entire storyline a bit too unbelievable, even for an over the top spy thriller. In this novel an assassin has been murdering top Hong Kong business men and diplomats, all the while leaving the calling card of Jason Bourne. The copy cat had to be stopped. The FBI/CIA guys get together and form a plan to motivate the real Jason Bourne to come out of retirement (aka witness protection program) and take on this killer. He is the only person in the world with enough skill to do it.

The plan is to kidnap his wife, whom you may remember as the tough as nails Canadian economist from the first novel? The plan goes a bit haywire after Marie escapes. Jason turns crazy thinking his wife is dead...all making great fodder for an explosive story. Unfortunately, the story gets bogged down with the long drawn out conversations between the government/FBI/CIA folks and the Hong Kong government guys. There conversations try to tell a bigger story about the Chinese wanting to cause a major crisis in Hong Kong so they can take it back over. However, there is a real chance this will turn into a something much bigger - WWIII!!

A big far fetched you say? I was lost too. After reading the 300 or so pages outlining the collapse of the East I was really bored, annoyed, and had eye strain. This, consequently, left me with the feeling that this book was really slow and not that good overall.

Another bone I have to pick with Ludlum is that error on Canadian geography! He writes that Marie is a tough ranch girl and their family has a ranch in Calgary. Makes sense, there are ranches out in Calgary. Calgary is in the province of Alberta which is wide open ranch country. Where the mistake comes up is that Ludlum keeps mentioning the ranch is in Ontario (not Alberta!) Every time he wrote something about Marie being a tough Ontario ranch girl I would cringe. I'm still left wondering how an editor did not catch something like this?

Rating: Do Not Read*

*Unless you are working on increasing your page count, let's say if you are in a contest such as 'who can read the most pages this month'.