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Archive for October, 2010

  • 13 Reasons Why (a book review)

    Thursday, October 28th, 2010

    What if you could have saved someone’s life and you didn’t?

    What if your name was included on a list of 13 reasons why someone committed suicide?

    And what if 12 other individuals had access to that list because 11 of them are also on it?

    High school student, Clay Jensen arrives home one afternoon to find a package on his front porch addressed to him. With no return label. Inside are seven audio cassettes marked in nail polish with numbers and letters, but who are they from? And who listens to cassette tapes nowadays anyway? Clay dashes off to the garage and digs out the old tape player, inserts Cassette 1, Side A, and is shocked to hear the voice of his long-time crush, and now dead friend, Hannah Baker. The Hannah he recently kissed at a party. The Hannah who committed suicide two weeks ago.

    The rules of the tapes are simple, “Rule number one: You listen. Number Two: You pass it on. Hopefully, neither will be easy for you.” And let me just say it now: It won’t.

    Thus begins a night long journey for Clay through Hannah’s carefully mapped out reasons for deeming suicide her only option. One by one, he walks the downtown haunts where each of the 13 stories unfold, her voice coming through a walkman headset as she guides him toward the defining moments leading up to the end of her life–just as the 12 other individuals whom these tapes will pass to (or have already passed through) will do. Clay’s detachment at the initial seemingly unrelated events is gradually followed by frustration. Then horror. Then tears. Interspersed with Hannah’s own tears on tape.

    As the night wears on, Clay’s experience is akin to watching an assortment of toy dominoes being set up, so awkwardly jig-jagged, yet so perfectly balanced, as he awaits that final trigger which will send them colliding. Until the morning shadows grow along with the awful realization that had just one domino (or event) been removed or responded to differently, this might have been enough to alter the course of Hannah’s future.

    In the words of the author, Jay Asher, “Everything affects everything.”


    What I liked:

    1. The premise. How often do I think something’s an original idea? Not very. This is.
    2. It’s literary, which, as you know, is something I particularly appreciate in a YA novel.
    3. The difference between Hannah and Clay’s voices. A pet peeve of mine is when a novel alternates first person narrators and they sound EXACTLY the same (especially when they’re opposite sexes). It leaves one feeling either confused, or bored, or both. Fortunately for us, Mr. Asher nails the tone, attitudes, and style of speech for each individual in a way that other authors should take notes on.
    4. Along those lines, I appreciated that Clay and Hannah’s voices were interspersed with each other, giving the effect of conversation rather than one-sided chunks of information.
    5. Which leads me to the dialogue. There are multiple reasons 13 Reasons Why sat for 65 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and this right here is one of them. Dialogue is tricky to write—let alone one-sided dialogue (or monologue, technically) which sounds conversational. Mr. Asher achieves this on 2 different levels: first through Hannah’s tapes; then through Clay’s internal thoughts.
    6. The message. I respect an author who can make a life-impacting point in a novel without “preaching” at the reader. Not only does Asher accomplish this, he does it well, issuing a convicting challenge along with a measure of hope—the latter of which I found surprising considering the topic.
    7. The fact that Mr. Asher tells reality like it is. Okay, I’ll be honest; this book will be a little too much for some. It’s intense and, at a few points, rather graphic in its endeavor to offer a fairly accurate portrayal of high school life. It’s not that all teens will experience these 13 issues, but I guarantee they’ve dealt with some of them, and probably heard stories about the rest. Is it uncomfortable at times? Yes. Did I cry? Yes. But it gives realistic context to the heavier subjects the youth of today deal with. Bullying. Peer pressure. Rape. Suicide.
    8. The online notes I’ve read from individuals who claim this book acted as a lifeline in their deepest seasons of depression when they felt alone and that no one could relate. Well done, Jay. Well done.

    What annoyed me: Actually…nothing.

    An FYI for next week:  The author of 13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher, will be interviewed by yours truly. Right here. And I predict you’ll like him :-).


    What’s the mood noise of the moment?  The Fray: How to Save a Life

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    Posted in Best & Worst Books, Book Reviews | 12 Comments »

  • An “Idiot” Discussion

    Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

    Well…you were fairly warned in last week’s post that some of us book nerds united (Lori, Dani, and I) and read Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” a few months back.  And being book nerds in the full sense of that awesome title means we had to discuss it. Online. Because we’re cool like that (and because some of us live out of state). So here’s a peek into our semi-deep assessment, interspersed with random tangents, for you as you head into the weekend. Enjoy.

    Photo for "The Idiot"

    Mary:  Okay. *ahem (heavy weighted breath)* we begin. Deep thoughts on Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot.”

    Dani:  OK, let’s start. Wait, first I must go make myself a latté….

    Mary:  Ha! I just made a latte as well. So what flavor’s yours? (Mine’s Irish Cream *smirk*.) All right, so, I’m going to get all book-nerd on us for a sec and say that I had no idea of what to expect. It took me until two chapters in to realize this work of Dostoyevsky’s is on a completely different playground than some of his others…say Crime and Punishment. The tone, the flow, the feel…I was surprised.

    Dani:  My latté is Coconut Rum (how is it we are on totally the same page? It’s 11:30 in the morning, for crying out loud!). I’m right with you. I didn’t know what to expect other than the fact that it would be a LONG read (which it is), but it took me such a long time to be interested enough to STICK with the story. I was rather bored by it at the beginning. So it isn’t like C&P? How so?

    Mary:  C&P was tight, intricate, and faster paced compared to The Idiot’s meandering plot. Although I don’t remember being bored at the beginning of The Idiot (but, you know, it was like 3 months ago when we started–long yes). However, I think I liked the slow, sweet set up of this one.

    Dani:  My favorite character is Elizavéta Prokófyevna Epanchin. She’s totally nuts. And I really like how Dostoevsky makes everyone’s “voice” very believable. It’s like exactly how people talk in real life… starting and stopping and getting sidetracked. Brilliantness.

    Mary:  Totally agree on the varied voices, conversations, and interruptions. It’s real. We can feel the chaos and yet easily follow the main thread. For the record though, my favorite is the Prince. What can I say? I’m a sucker for good men.

    *Interruption break while we wait for Lori to go find her own latte.*

    Dani:  The appeal of the Prince to me is that he makes a great anchor for all the drama of the story to surround. He’s really steady in his craziness. But I think I like how Mrs. Epanchin’s character is written… she’s kinda like my MIL (don’t tell her, though…)

    Enter Lori:  Ok – time for me to catch up – and Mary – you’ll just have to make me a latte since I have yet to have my own machine :). I’m going to start really shallow – beginning with the cover of the book. Honestly, it made me confused because Dostoevsky described the Prince (the idiot right?) as a blond fair headed guy, but on the cover of my book – it’s a dark brogue – who, Will says, looks like Peter. That’s a very confusing beginning right there. I also feel that it has been a slow beginning and is consistently hard for me to feel connected to the story or the characters. It has been too easy to be distracted by other YA novels (like Shiver for example) for me to bust through this. My favorite character is also the Prince. I like the way that he is written, because honestly I sometimes wonder if he is just a brilliant con artist – there is definite mystery and intrigue there trying to figure out if he really is simple, or if he is playing simple.

    Ok – I’m ready for that latte now.

    Dani:  I’ve got book ADD, too, Lori (and wasn’t Shiver great? Linger is out now…). Anyways, yes, my cover has a dark guy, too, and I had to read the first chapter twice because I was getting lost with the first conversation. And I like your theory that the Prince is a con artist… he definitely knows more than everyone gives him credit for!

    Lori:  Ooooh!!!! Linger – that is exciting. I’m not buying it though, so I will have to wait till my library procures a copy… I’ll have to investigate on Thursday. Okay, so who else is just over Nastasya character? I mean – this is sad – but all I can think about is why does everyone love her so much if she is just a witch all the time? She seems too much the broken damsel that needs a prince to rescue her to be very lovable. I find her exasperating. I know there is much more symbolism and what not going on in the novel, but like I said – I’m starting shallow.

    Dani:  Yeah, at $18, I’m not getting Linger until it arrives at the library, where I’ll have to fight off a bunch of 15-year-olds to check it out. =) I am over Nastasya. I didn’t ever really get her appeal to all the men in the story. I feel bad for her situation as a child, but she is so manipulative and insane, I don’t see how any of the men could find her so attractive! Although, depending on the time of month, *I* can get a little insane, and my husband finds me attractive (at least he says he does…)….

    Mary:  I don’t know, I feel for her (Nastasya). I think she’s been so abused that it’s remarkable she has ANY self-worth left. Which I think is the problem. And as the novel progresses, she even realizes this and refuses to use the Prince toward her own gain, knowing she’ll ultimately ruin him. Sad…

    Lori:  agreed – it’s sad. I think the hopeless that she feels is awful – and considering it was a difficult read for me anyway – that didn’t help bring any light fluffy feelings to my reading experience. Am I a shallow reader – maybe. I think when there is so much drama going on in real life – I’d rather read about not so real life. Tragedies are not my favorite I have rediscovered.

    Dani:  I am very much with you, Lori. I read to escape my real life, but if the novel I’m reading delves too much into the sad state of reality, well, then it isn’t much of an escape. One of the things I know Dostoevsky does very well is drawing out the human nature of his characters, but did you feel almost like we were getting beaten to death by the FLAWS of these people? Every scene seemed to get more and more uncomfortable as the characters basically got themselves into crazier relationships and situations. I don’t know if, by the end, I saw this as a redeeming point… or maybe that’s because it is Russian literature, but I was really hoping for a more cheerful conclusion than the one we were offered.

    Mary:  I admit I was super surprised by the ending as well, Dani. I think I sat up in bed and went, “What?! You’re kidding me!” And while it made sense, I’m ultimately a romantic “happy ending” girl at heart (but don’t tell anyone). I wanted my happy ending with this one. On a separate note, I adored Ferdyshchenko, the other lodger. His personality comes through in his comment, “I just came to warn you, in the first place, not to lend me money, because I’m quite sure to ask you to.” Followed by his winking “warningly several times behind [the other gentleman's back] and so managed to make an effective exit after all.” Love him.

    Dani:  Oh yeah! That was a funny scene.

    Lori:  I don’t have my book here – but I kinda liked the sister at the boarding house (Varya). She was enough removed to not thoroughly annoy me, but I liked her perspective and how she reacted to things – I guess she just amused me.

    Mary:  Okay, final thoughts…what about the book did you most love? Or what most annoyed you?

    Dani:  What I most loved about the book was the ending, as in the closing of the back cover. The ability to say with complete confidence “Oh yeah, I’ve read Dostoevsky. His themes on innocence and human nature are intriguing”. I realize that I should be more sophisticated in my answer, but I’m just telling it like it is. I wanted a happy ending after slogging through all that drama (and boy, was it DRAMA!), and I was annoyed that the ending wasn’t happy. It isn’t a Russian saying, but “c’est la vie”… which Mr. D does an excellent job of portraying.

    Mary:  Hahaha…the closing of the book cover, Dani? Nice. Hmm…I might agree with you on this one. Basically, from one book nerd to another we can now feel smarter about ourselves, eh? And what about you, Lori?



    It appears that Lori ran off to find that elusive latte.


    What’s the mood noise of the moment? Phoenix

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    Posted in Book Reviews, Dostoevsky, Literary Classics | 8 Comments »

  • A Rainy Day Stew Recipe

    Monday, October 18th, 2010

    So I have a new stew recipe I’m obsessed with. I got it from one of my friend’s old magazines* and after a few adjustments have declared it a staple for this stew-ish season. Butternut squash, Italian sausage…enough said. In fact, I made it this weekend when Lori came over. We ate and discussed Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot,” and then the husbands appeared and finished off the rest. And if I can make a suggestion, you’ve GOT to make Dani’s INCREDIBLE cheesy breadsticks to go with the stew.


    Alrighty then…you know the drill. Payment for reading on through is to share the juicy details of your weekend. What did you do that we should all know about???

    butternut squash and italian sausage soup

    A Recipe for Butternut Squash Stew

    1. 1 Tab. olive oil
    2. 1 lb. Italian sausage
    3. 1 Tab. garlic
    4. 1 chopped yellow onion
    5. ½ cup sliced mushrooms
    6. 1 peeled and chopped butternut squash (3 or 4 lbs.)
    7. 1 can corn
    8. 1 can green beans
    9. 1 can Italian stewed tomatoes
    10. 1 tsp. smoked paprika
    11. 1 ½ cups broth (chicken or beef)
    12. 1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
    13. Feta cheese
    14. Tortilla chips (crushed)

    In a thick pot, cook the Italian sausage (crumbling it with the back of wooden spoon) in the olive oil until thoroughly done. Drain excess grease; then add the garlic, onion, and mushrooms until softened. Add in the squash, corn, green beans, stewed tomatoes, paprika, and broth. Cook around 30 minutes, and then serve up with sprinkles of feta, cilantro, and chips on top of individual bowls. Enjoy. ;-)

    *original recipe from Cuisine At Home, issue 79, Feb. 2010

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    Posted in Dostoevsky, Literary Classics, Reading Recipes | 8 Comments »

  • The Idiot (a book musing)

    Thursday, October 14th, 2010

    Don’t mind me. I’m just sitting on my bed writing this review while my husband hides behind the pillow next to me watching a zombie movie. So if at any point you hear screaming or someone whimpering like a little girl, that would be him. Just ignore it and read on.

    And to answer your question, yes, I finally finished Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot.” And, yes, it took me three months. Don’t laugh. Some literature is best enjoyed in slow, chewable bites (similar to how zombies eat apparently). And if you recall my silly Idiot’s Guide to Dostoevsky post, then you’ll know how I feel about this piece in particular as well as its author. Next week I’ll give you part two, where Dani, Lori, and I hash over the book together in humored thoughts, edited comments (ahem), and lattes. But for now, here you go.

    Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of The Idiot

    “I am a realist in the highest sense of the word, that is to say, I depict all the depths of the human soul.” –Dostoevsky.


    I’ve said it before (in Women of Hysteria Unite), and I’ll say it again: Dostoevsky’s genius lies in his ability to exaggerate a quality or flaw within human nature (to the point of developing an entire personality based upon that single characteristic) for the purpose of exposing the innermost depths of the human soul. A type of embellished psychoanalysis, if you will, which remains unmatched by any plot device or redemptive conclusion in regards to the level of spirit-searching one can exact upon their reader. Not to say that Dostoevsky’s characters wallow without change in their particular quality or flaw, (or even forego any manner of redemption), but that, similar to us, they cannot achieve it without first having dredged the soul in self-discovery. In “Crime and Punishment,” Dostoevsky gave us Raskolnikov, the tormented conscience. In the case of “The Idiot,” he offers us our beloved Prince Myshkin, the personification of innocence.

    An epileptic and a “simpleton,” the Prince is said to be Dostoevsky’s archetype of Christ. An embodiment of purity in human form set in the broken world of Russia’s nineteenth-century political and social system. From the beginning encounter with the unscrupulous Rogozhin, on through the varying societal circles of St. Petersburgh, Prince Myshkin’s virtue is met with the attitude most might cop when facing a man who idealistically confounds the standards of relational and social customs. First, they humor and at times even seek to use him, until their own insecurity rises with the suspicion that perhaps he is using and ridiculing them. Soon emerges, however, varying degrees of toleration, and finally, eventually, a certain amount of respect derived from both those who love and those who despise the Prince. And those who love him? Do so for the goodness he evokes in them. Those who despise him do so for the pricking their consciences give at their utter lack of goodness.

    Thus the Prince is the crux of the story. The one on whom all plot and personalities play off of. He enters each family, each life, each scene with such presence that the book itself (not to mention the characters) changes consequently. (I suspect this is one of the reasons Dostoevsky rewrote it so many times before publication.) And just as he is the crux of Dostoevsky’s story, the Prince’s love for beautiful Aglaya thwarted by his compassion for Nastasya Filippovna is the heart of HIS story. Romantic desire sacrificed to empathy. Benevolence misunderstood for need. In light of this contrast, it becomes clear that the Prince cannot function in our world. He is too good, too pure. Emphasized all the more by the disparity between himself and Rogozhin, whose selfish passions drive him to murder, while our Prince’s incorruptibility leads to insanity.

    Okay…so there you have it. My musings on Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot.” Now tell me, what’s the last novel you read where the main character inspired the best (or worst) within yourself? Or if you’re not up for deep reflection, then what’s the last movie you watched that made you squeak like a scared little girly girl?

    What’s the mood noise of the moment? Creedence Clearwater Revival

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    Posted in Best & Worst Books, Book Reviews, Dostoevsky, Literary Classics | 13 Comments »

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