Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Giver

Review #3 for the "Something About Me" reading challenge is on The Giver by Lois Lowry. I would like to say something like, "The Giver is a [insert genre here] novel about blah, blah, blah...," but frankly I don't know what genre it falls into. Is it science fiction? Didn't really seem like it to me, no outer space stuff or anything like that, no weird species or wars among weird species. What qualifies something as science fiction anyway? And what genres exist from which to choose? So a-googling I went, because this is a lack of knowledge that could possibly mark me forever as a moron in the minds of all the literary-types with the book blogs that I've been enjoying. So, in case any of you is hiding under the ignorance rock along with me, here is a list of literary genres. Based on this list, I've narrowed The Giver down to these possibilities: children's literature, social science fiction and philosophical novel. I'm going to go with my own, made up, genre: children's philosophical novel. If I'm way off here, please enlighten me. So, with that out of the way, let's continue.

General comments:
The Giver is a children's philosophical novel (I think) about a boy, Jonas, who is given the assignment of "Receiver of Memory" by the community in which he lives. It is set in the future, exactly how far we don't know, but far enough that society has "evolved" to total control of the individual. There are strict behavior parameters to which everyone must adhere, and yes, Big Brother is watching, or listening, actually. There are no strong emotions and no choices. Even the weather is controlled. Life is colorless, in many ways. But there is one person who is allowed to know and experience the truth, and that is the "Receiver of Memory." This novel is about what happens when the old "Receiver," now called "The Giver," passes on his knowledge to Jonas, the new "Receiver."

If the movie "Pleasantville" and Orwell's novel "1984" were to produce an offspring, this would be it. Granted, it's been over 10 years since I read 1984, and it's been since whenever "Pleasantville" came out that I've seen it, but I just kept thinking of those two as I was reading this book.

I'm not going to do the "What I liked, what I didn't like" thing that I did on my other two reviews, mainly because there wasn't anything that jumped out at me for either of those categories. Overall, I did enjoy the book. It was a quick and pleasant read. I could see it used in a middle school English class; it would be one that the kids would probably really like, and it contains plenty of things to analyze.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ender's Game

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, is a science fiction novel. So I would have probably never read it, except for it being suggested by Becky for the "Something About Me" reading challenge. She had stated that this book started her "love affair with science fiction." So I thought I'd give it a shot. After I had chosen it to read, it turned up on Karlene's list as well.

General comments:
This book is about a very young, incredibly intelligent boy, Ender, who is taken from his parents and trained to fight in the earth's military organization, the Intergalactic Fleet, known as the IF. He is thought to be the last hope in the war against the buggers, and those in authority use every means possible to turn him into the ruthless commander they think they need him to be.

I enjoyed this book for the most part. It hooked me right at the beginning, and I enjoyed the relationships among the kids at the Battle School. Once Ender left the Battle School, however, it started to drag a bit for me.

What I liked:
I liked how Ender managed to hold on to his humanity throughout his ordeal. He could see the various aspects of his personality and what he liked and didn't like about himself. He didn't like unfairness, and when faced with it, always managed to come out on top.

I liked this quote from a character who is considered a legend in the novel:
Humanity does not ask us to be happy. It merely asks us to be brilliant on its behalf. Survival first, then happiness as we can manage it.
-Mazar Rackham

I think that the quote rings true not just for this novel, but for real life as well. After all, we all want to be happy, but that won't matter if we're dead.

What I didn't like:
Despite the author's intent to make Ender wise beyond his years intellectually, but still a little boy emotionally, even emotionally Ender seemed too old. Even as a 6-year-old, he was able to control his emotions. And then as a adolescent he was extremely adept at it. Well, I have a adolescent, and an unusually bright one, and controlling emotions is not a strong suit in children of that age. I also have a wise-beyond-her-years 6-year-old, who does try to control her emotions, but she pretty much sucks at it.

I think there was no need for Ender to be so young. He could have started at 11 or 12, while other kids started around 14 or so. The story would have been just as good, and the main character more believable.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I am not, however, chomping at the bit to find out what happens to Ender (or the little bundle he found at the end of the book), like I am with Harry Potter. If I stumble across the rest of the Ender books, I'll probably read them, but I don't feel compelled to actively seek them out. So I guess I'm not starting a love affair with science fiction, but I will be more open to science fiction suggestions from others than I have been in the past.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Atonement Child

I know I'm not supposed to begin reading for the "Something About Me" reading challenge until August 1, and generally I'm a stickler for the rules, but hey, sometimes you just have to live a little. Anyway, I got home from vacation to find The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers on my dining room table. I had Bookmooched it for this challenge, and it had arrived while I was gone. So since I thought I had left the book I was reading at my mom's house in SC (turned out it was just in my camera case), I picked it up and started reading.

General comments:
1 - The novel is obviously written by a very religious, staunchly pro-life author. I figured this out before I discovered the evangelizing note from the author in the back (which I didn't see until after I had finished the book), but don't be impressed, it was pretty much knock-you-upside-the-head obvious. Now maybe I've had my head under a rock, and it's common knowledge about this author, but I had never heard of her. Today I googled her, and it seems she is exactly what she seems to be. So good for her. I like people who are who they are.

2 - The novel has an agenda, and that is the pro-life agenda. Now, I generally have a problem with agendas, even when I agree with them, because it means I'm only getting one side of the story. But this book didn't try to hide it's agenda in any way, so it wasn't like the author was trying to pull a fast one.

3 - I found the pregnant rape victim considers abortion angle interesting, especially since it seems to be an example that is often used in abortion discussions. The plot revolves around Dynah Carey, a young woman who is raped while attending a Christian college, and how she and everyone involved in her life deal with the subsequent pregnancy. The main dilemma being, obviously, to abort or not to abort.

What I liked:
1 - The character Joe. He is what he is, he's not judgmental, and he stands by those he cares about. You can't help but like the guy. Plus, he said my favorite quote in the book:
Tell me how on God's green earth we can dare offer salvation to a dying world when we're so busy shooting our own wounded.
Which leads me to the next thing I liked.

2 - I liked that the author openly presented the hypocrisy of "being Christian" and "passing judgment." I find so often that those who quote the Bible the most are those who least exercise the tolerance on which Jesus built his ministry. They are often the first to condemn and to judge, which is disheartening, since I know somewhere in the Bible it says, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." It would be nice to hear them quote that once in a while. So it was refreshing and encouraging to see an author so openly pushing Christian values admit that a major fault with extremely religious folk is their jumping to judgment of others.

What I didn't like:
1 - In order to get her viewpoint across, the author often resorted to contrived dialogue. It just didn't seem realistic in many instances. The most obvious example being a meeting with several elderly women where they discuss abortion and abortion laws. It read like an anti-abortion public service announcement.

2 - The book in general didn't seem realistic. There was no counseling for the rape itself, Dynah just seemed to pretty much get over it. There was a very brief mention of the possibility of disease, that was never followed up on. Once she decided to have the baby, there were no longer conflicting feelings, no "how am I going to love this child completely when she is half my attacker?" feelings. It is all simply brushed aside in the rightness of the decision not to abort and the glow of love for the child. While I don't have experience in this subject, it just doesn't seem realistic that only nine months later a rape victim wouldn't still be a bit of an emotional mess, particularly a pregnancy-hormone loaded victim who had no counseling.

Overall, the book was very readable, and I got through it in 3 days. It was interesting, but very one-sided, and left me wondering what pro-choicers would say about some of the information given. I would have found it intellectually stimulating had some pro-choice viewpoints on the issues been completely presented and then argued against. By not presenting those conflicting viewpoints, the book is left open to attack from pro-choice activists. I think the novel could have been made a bit more realistic had Dynah, while not aborting because of her strong beliefs, gone through with the adoption option. While the novel was rife with conflicting emotions, I think a lot was left out or glossed over, particularly when it came to Dynah's feelings about her child.

This book was on Twiga's list, and based on what she said about why she picked it, I believe she must have attended a small ultra-conservative religious college, where she encountered a large number of self-righteous, judgmental people. I can only hope she had a few Joes to pal around with.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Reading challenge - Part 2

A while back, I joined a reading challenge. It is now close to the time to begin fulfilling the second part of the challenge, the first part being listing 5 books that say something about me. The second part of the challenge is to read books from the lists of others who are participating in the challenge. After scouring the lists for books that I hadn't read that looked interesting, I have decided on the following, in no particular order except that in which my notes ended up after I dropped them:
From Bonnie's list: Booked to Die by John Dunning

From Twiga's list: The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers

From Chasida's and Margo's lists: Chocolat by Joanne Harris, because I love chocolate and it's usually part of what I sacrifice during Lent.

Also from Chasida's list: Good Grief by Lolly Winston

From Dewey's list: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

From Wendy's list: Place Last Seen by Charlotte McGuinn Freeman

Also from Wendy's list: The Borrowers by Mary Norton, because we have it and it can double as my 6- and 4-year-olds' bedtime story.

From Christina's list: The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes, because I, too, am interested in genetics and genealogy (though I'm too lazy to actually DO any genealogy).

From Jill(mrstreme)'s list: Christ the Lord by Anne Rice

From Suey's list: Papa Married a Mormon by John D. Fitzgerald, because I was raised Mormon (though I am no longer one).

From Booklogged's list: From the Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz, because coincidentally, I had just asked to mooch this book on Bookmooch when Booklogged posted her list.

Also from Booklogged's list: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo, because my oldest daughter has it and also said it was good.

From Vasilly's list: East of Eden by John Steinbeck, because I had to throw a classic in there somewhere, and this is one I have been meaning to read for years.

From alisonwonderland's list: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, because my daughter has it so I have easy access to it.

From Becky's list: Ender's Game (Ender, Book 1) by Orson Scott Card, because I am not a huge sci-fi fan, but Becky said she hadn't been either until this book.

From Kristin's list: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Sutterfield

From Nattie's list: Fool's Puzzle by Earlene Fowler

From Stephanie's list: Oh My Goth by Gena Showalter

From Sarah Miller's list: The Giver by Lois Lowry, because it's another one my daughter has, so it's readily available.

From Faith's list: Uglies (Uglies Trilogy, Book 1) by Scott Westerfeld and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

From Juli's list: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle, because it's yet another that is in my daughter's room that I haven't read.

So I will be reading for quite a while. I selected them all because they sound interesting, and some for more specific reasons as mentioned above. Since the time limit for posting each participant's five books isn't over yet, I'll have to reserve the right to add to the list.

In addition, the books on other participant's lists that I have already read (and thus may join in the discussions of) are:
Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (but it's been so long, I may have to re-read in order to discuss)
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (also may need to re-read)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (another probably need to re-read)
Beach Music by Pat Conroy (which was also on my list)
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4) by J.K. Rowling
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (another need to re-read, but I do have very vague recollections)
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Book 1) by JK Rowling
A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth, Jr. (LOVED this, and read it multiple times growing up. Frank Gilbreth, Jr., ended up in my hometown of Charleston, SC, as a humor columnist for the Charleston Post and Courier. He used the pseudonym "Ashley Cooper," which as anyone from Charleston knows, are the names of the two rivers on either side of the Charleston peninsula that come together to form the Atlantic Ocean. ;) Once a year, he would 'fess up and admit who he really was.)
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White