Monday, May 26, 2008

Reviews I've been avoiding

Sometimes I have a difficult time writing about books when I was less than thrilled by them. If I truly hate them, the words come with ease. But when I have little feeling toward the book or its subject it can take me awhile to get around to their reviews, and even when I do it's painstaking work. So I've decided to just do a couple of mini reviews for the books on my list yet to be reviewed. Let me know what you thought of these books too. I'd love to hear from some people who liked these books. Perhaps then I can discover whatever it was I missed.

First up is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In the beginning I found Marquez's writing to be absolutely beautiful. I got carried away with the words and loved the vivid descriptions he conveyed through the writing. However, I'm not much of a romantic and I found myself being quite skeptical of Florentino Ariza's undying love for Fermina Daza. Not only that, but I kept getting the two confused. I realize the names aren't that similar, but as I plowed through the book hoping it would end quickly I kept seeing the F and thinking it was one character, only to get to a pronoun (he or she) and realize I had been wrong about which character had been speaking.

Also, I really loved Fermina's husband and the descriptions of him. I didn't understand why Marquez spent so much time describing him (some 50 pages in the beginning of the book) just to kill him off. Also, really, how long can infatuation last when you've never actually talked to the subject of your fascination? I just didn't get it and I was bored to tears. I hate to admit it but I never made it more than halfway through this book. Someone out there, please convince me there is some reason I should try to pick this book up again.

Next is Vagabonding by Rolf Potts. I became fascinated by this book after listening raptly to Rolf Potts' reading at Google Talks. Potts talked about how he worked menial jobs and lived humbly in order to save up enough money to spend months on end traveling. After college he traveled around the United States for a year with one of his friends before signing up to teach English in Asia. He spent two years teaching, then spent the following four years traveling using his earnings from that job.

Having already made two attempts to move abroad, I was curious to find out how he actually made it work and learn what steps I could take to finally become a wanderer myself. I didn't find the book to be that helpful, however. He talked about the reasons we travel and what-not. But when you've already picked up his book, it's obvious you don't need any extra encouragement. What you need is resources to get you on the road! He does provide resources ... in the form of URLs to visit and other books to read ... resources you can just as easily find on his Web site. The book was only about 200 pages so it was quick to get through, but I highly recommend just checking out his Web site and his video on Google Talks. You'll get pretty much the same information by doing so.

Last is Dematerializing by Jane Hammerslough. This is another book that I haven't actually finished, but at this point I'm not sure I have the courage to try. I had to return four unread books to the library today because I got so mired in this book I was unable to face any other reading in the meantime. I knew once I set it down I may never pick it up again, and so it is. I gave it up on Sunday in order to read our book club selection (Year of Wonders, if you're interested in joining the discussion, learn more here).

I chose to read Dematerializing because I thought it would have some interesting insight into why we buy things and perhaps some tips on how to get rid of all the extra stuff we somehow accumulate in our homes. The book turned out to be a lot more about the psychology behind buying things and what advertisers do to draw us in. There were also a lot of weird feminist leanings to the book, which I wouldn't normally mind, but I didn't get this book to read about how advertising demoralizes women. If that were what I was going for, I would have bought the much better written and researched, although ancient, Can't Buy My Love by Jean Kilbourne.

To be fair, I think the other reason this book bothered me so much was that it didn't say anything I didn't already know, but perhaps that is because I'm reading it several years after it was first published. Maybe her observations about media's influence on us was a new phenomenon a few years back (although I highly doubt it).

OK then, I'm glad to have those off my conscience. Now I can look forward to my next two book reviews. Also, watch for an interview with Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony, later this week. Hope you're all having a great Memorial Day!


Laura said...

I know you said you wanted to hear from those who like the books, but I have to say--Love in the Time of Cholera was PAINFUL for me to finish. I did not find the "love" story to be a true depiction of love at all, and the story line goes from bad to worse--in my opinion. However, I know there are many out there who really really liked it!

Nymeth said...

I have trouble writing about books I have no strong feelings about too.

I absolutely loved Love in the Time of Cholera, but I don't think you are missing anything. For every person that loves that book there's another that doesn''s one that seems to polarize opinions.

"Also, really, how long can infatuation last when you've never actually talked to the subject of your fascination?"
This is a good point. And I was honestly surprised that the book grabbed me the way it did when I'm really not one to believe in love at first sight or love when you barely know the person. I'll tell you one thing: things change a lot in the last third of the book and I found the ending absolutely beautiful. But I'm not sure if I'd tell you to pick it up again, because it it hasn't worked for you so far, it might just never work at all.

Becca said...

Nymeth, Laura: Thanks so much for your comments. I passed the book on to one of my friends yesterday and I'm curious to see which side of the fence she'll fall to.

Chason said...

Look at you! Your site is getting pretty popular nowadays. I read "Falling Through the Earth" per your recommendation. It was pretty sad overall, but I really enjoyed the ending. The guy in the Iron Maiden shirt freaked me out. I thought for sure that he was going to end up being her father's kid or maybe the kid of one of the guys in her dad's platoon. I hope Danielle ends up writing more books. You should try to get an interview with her. She seems like she would be accessible.

Angilaz said...

you said I hope youre all having a good memorial day, but i didn't, not really, I ate too much and now my stomach hurts and I think I look pretty fat. But, yeah, Love in the time of whateves was boring- I recommend Ask the Dust by John Fante, but not the movie, cause i just don't believe Collin Farrell as a virgin, ya know?

Lia said...

You concentrate too much on plot. There's a lot more to most books than that, unless you're reading Sophie Kinsella--

Marquez was a magical realism writer. His books are lavish, beautiful love stories, not meant to be "realistic." A good writer knows exactly what he's doing, and Marquez is a good writer. If Marquez spent fifty pages on the doctor then he had a reason for it.

And Marquez's books were utterly original. Very little had been written in a similar style before Marquez and the ensuing crop of magical realism writers.

Said the author, "My most important problem was destroying the line of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic."
Yes, he knew exactly what he was doing.

Becca said...

Lia: Thanks for the comment. I think that Marquez writes beautifully, but I still have to say I didn't enjoy the book because I wasn't drawn into the story. It doesn't matter how wonderfully you can put prose down on a page if people can't stay interested in what it is you're saying. I know many people do love this book though. It just didn't do it for me.