Tag Archive | Fiction

I Found A Problem With My All-Time Top 10 List

As readers, let’s support women authors
Photo: dregsplod from Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA

In honor of High Fidelity, I have been compiling a list of my own All-Time Top-Five favorite novels.  But I couldn’t limit it to five, because, although I could put five novels in the top slots, I could not dismiss the rest of the list.  But before publishing today, I decided to browse Freshly Pressed, and so discovered a problem with my list (and even more, with my reading.)  Here is my list (Maybe you will see the problem right off, but I didn’t.):

  1. Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen
  2. Grapes of wrath by John Steinbeck
  3. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
  4. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  5. The Book Thief Markus Zusak
  6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  7. memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  8. 1984 by George Orwell
  9. Last night at the Lobster by Stewart O’nan
  10. Forrest Gump by Winston Groom

I’m a little nervous to tell what the problem is, because I don’t want to diminish the importance of the books I have chosen in any way.  In my opinion, they are all worthy to be there.  All of these books mean something to me personally, and I feel they have great potential to influence society.  For example, number 9.  I am lucky to have had Stewart O’nan as a customer somewhere I used to work years back, so I’m probably a little partial.  However, he is a phenomenal author with the ability to capture the essence of everyday life for the everyday person.  Not doctors, lawyers, private investigators, FBI agents, but in the case of Last Night at the Lobster, restaurant workers.  His work is deep and resounding, and important.

With that said, here is the issue I found with my list.  I read this blog post on Progress on the Prairie and came across the idea that women writers are underappreciated (to say the least) in the publishing world, and in the realm of literary criticism.  Obviously, this under appreciation can affect readership.  So, looking at my own list, I realized that only 2/10 (20%) are by women.

This realization raised some questions for me.  Do I read mostly male authors because of the influence of the education system (many of these authors were read in school, while my literary tastes were forming)?  Or is this, as Progress on the Prairie suggests a problem of sexism within the literary world?  Is it both?  Is it something else entirely?  These questions certainly deserve some digging around on DuckDuckGo.

But for now, it will suffice to say that whatever the cause, I have made a definite commitment to read more women authors.  After all, women are a necessary part of life, and a wonderful part of society.  We have much to contribute, and we should learn from each other, grow from each other, and help each other be heard.

I’m curious to know, what are some of your All-Time Top books (regardless of gender of author)?  And what are some of your favorite works (fiction or non-fiction) by female authors?

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Source: purchased from Barnes & Noble

“Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands-literally thousands- of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss.  The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and i don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives.”
– page 25, Riverhead Books, 1995

My lovely flagged copy of High Fidelity

What if everything was beyond your control?  What if everything was done to you, not by you, with you, or for you?  What if you lived as a slave to circumstances?  Would you have hopes and dreams? Would you be happy, or would you be miserable?  If you are Rob, the narrator and main character in High Fidelity then no, you do not have hopes and dreams, you are miserable, and you are also discontent and oftentimes a jerk.

It takes losing his girlfriend for Rob to come to this conclusion, and it takes the entire novel for him to sort out his feelings about this realization.  Many who read this book (and who see the American film version) think of this as a story about music, and sex, relationships, and manliness.  And it is these things.  But thankfully, it is not only these things.  In that case, it would only appeal to one audience (men) and that would hardly make it a good novel.

Among many references to pop music, all-time top five lists, and in-his-head narrations and obsessions about situations in Rob’s life (past and present), he takes the reader on an emotional journey of finding who he is, why he really is that way, and who he wants to be.  If we are honest readers, I think there is at least a smidgen (more or less for some) of Rob in all of us, regardless of gender.  Aside from being clever and funny, this book can give anyone a little thought-check, an assessment of the head space, and bring about an evaluation of how one chooses to react to the circumstances of life.

** I read and reviewed this novel by my own choice and was not asked to do so by the authors or publisher.

The Book Thief By Markus Zusak

Source: Purchased as a nookbook from Barnes and Noble

In The Book Thief, the reader is not taken to a historical setting of the holocaust in terms of widespread horror and tragedy, but instead to the small microcosm of Liesel Meminger’s life on Himmel Street. A microcosm filled with all the same horror and tragedy, but also with love and beauty and words.  This is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl growing up in Nazi Germany during WWII.  After moving in with a foster family, she suffers with the loss of her mother and brother.  She also suffers humiliation at school for being behind in her education.  As a way to ease her mind, she begins to learn to read with the help of her papa, some paint, and her first stolen book.  As the years go on, and her life becomes more complicated, Liesel’s eyes begin to be opened to the nightmare going on all around her.  But through her friends and her stolen books she learns of the beauty that exists alongside it.

This book literally “tackles” the ideas of love and beauty, tragedy and evil, victory and defeat.  It covers how humans are the workers that bring all of all of these things to reality, and how a person is affected by them.  This can be a tough topic to handle without becoming sappy and cliché, but this book is neither of those.  The reason it is so grounded and believable is because it is the story of a little girl, and her child-like acceptance of the reality around her.  She sees the lack of adequate food, and the Jews marching to Dachau through the same eyes that she sees the beauty of the clouds in the sky.

Zusak masterfully brings his characters to life in this novel.  You will love Liesel and you will love the people Liesel loves.  You will feel like you have walked down her street day after day and met her neighbors.  The feelings that these characters evoke in the reader are the pathways of an emotional journey that will stay with you forever.  Every part of this book, from the author’s choice of Death as narrator, to the way Death is portrayed, to the way Zusak brings his characters to life and makes you love them, to the actual style of the words on the page, is not merely written, but crafted.  You will love this book not just for the story, not just for the characters, but for the beauty of the use of the words themselves.  I highly recommend this book to not only young adult readers but also to adult readers.  This book will certainly open the minds and hearts of anyone who reads it, and will stick with you long after you finish.

** I read and reviewed this book by my own choice and was not asked to do so by the author or publisher.

Spook Country by William Gibson

Source: purchased from Borders

Spook Country is a novel that blends every day technology with a cutting edge use into an underworld lurking just beyond the surface of everyday life.  I think Gibson’s aim in this novel is to show the reader a new world, a spook country, that exists in and interacts in the everyday world, but which most people are completely unaware of. The world this story is set in is our world, but it isn’t at the same time. It is the seedy, steamy side that we don’t see in our every day lives. A world that probably doesn’t exist in real life the same way it manifests in fiction and movies, yet we are all addicted to this high-energy, exciting world of crime and mystery. Gibson is a master at weaving technology into this setting, making it a vital part of it, and he does it without alienating the non-techy reader, yet without boring the technically savvy. Into this setting Gibson pulls Hollis Henry, an ex-rock star turned freelance journalist to whom this world is as strange as it is to the reader. Hollis finds herself employed by a magazine called Node which may or may not actually exist, on assignment to write about an emerging new art form called locative art. She is charged with finding a pioneer in the “production” of this art form, Bobby Chombo. Parallel to Hollis’ story is the story of Milgrim, a junkie (and translator of rare Russian dialects) held captive by Brown, some sort of intelligence agent, who is chasing an information smuggler named Tito who is part of a Chinese-Cuban crime family operating out of New York.

I think Gibson does an excellent job creating spook country, and bringing it to life. I don’t think the story line was the main point of this novel, I think the point is to illustrate the [possible] existence of spook country, and it’s relationship to everyday life through the cutting edge use of everyday technologies like GPS. In this respect, this novel was amazingly well done.

I found myself page-turning from the very beginning, maybe as much to find out how the multiple story lines could possibly be connected as to find out where it was all going. Gibson has a way of drawing the reader into the story while hardly giving any facts about what is going on until the very end. I page turned until the last few pages, and this is where the problem comes in. After I first finished reading, I felt the ending to be a bit weak, which was very disappointing to me. I felt there were a lot of loose ends not tied up, and a general lack of resolution and explanation of the main story line. It felt to me as if Gibson was rushed to end an otherwise fantastic tale. And as a reader I felt like I invested a lot of time into something that just dropped off the edge of a cliff. Yet I still can’t say that I wouldn’t recommend this novel, because I feel like the ending, or rather the lack thereof, was meant to facilitate the knowledge that “real” life goes on, right next to life in spook country, and all the action, and all the grit doesn’t even cause a ripple on the surface of what most of us perceive in our surroundings. And that, is what the author was after in the first place, isn’t it?

** I read and reviewed this book by my own choice and was not asked to do so by the author or publisher.

Remember by Karen Kingsbury and Gary Smalley


Source: loan from public library

In their novel Remember, authors Karen Kingsbury and Gary Smalley seek to explore the question of how God uses memories (both the good and the bad) to restore broken relationships with God and with other loved ones. To bring this topic to life, Kingsbury tells the story of Ashley Baxter, a young single mother who has alienated herself from her family, friends, and God because of a life changing experience she had in Paris. A tragic accident forces her to think about her feelings for a man who has always loved her, but who she always rejected because he was “too safe.” A new job at a nursing home for alzheimers patients brings to the surface feelings of loneliness and fear of becoming old with no family or friends to support her. Will Ashley be able to face her memories of Paris and open her heart to embrace new relationships and re-kindle old ones?

I think Kingsbury and Smalley did and excellent job tackling this tough topic. Kingsbury uses her skills to build dynamic characters with experiences that are real and easy to relate to. The reader is drawn into the story from the very beginning, and remains intrigued until the end. Within her story she creates the perfect setting to incorporate Smalley’s expertise in counseling and relationships, without it appearing intrusive. The reader walks away with an enjoyable reading experience that is fun, and also has application to his/her own life experiences.

This book is part of a series written about the Baxter family, and the main characters from the previous novel do play a large part in Ashely’s story. However, it is not necessary to have read the first book (Redemption) to enjoy or understand Remember. Kingsbury does a great job introducing characters from Redemption without being vague, but also without being boring for those who did read it. Also, due to the series nature of this novel, the ending of Ashley’s story is not fully wrapped up. However, Kingsbury does not leave the reader frustrated in this regard. One is left satisfied with the development of Ashely’s life, and excited to see how the rest of her story will unfold within the tapestry of the Baxter family experience.

**I read and reviewed this novel by my own choice and was not asked to do so by the authors or publisher.

 

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