REVIEW: Slaughterhouse-Five

Last year Kurt Vonnegut came into my life and I fell in love at a Hemingway level (see here). So it was only natural that I would add Kurt’s most famous classic to my list this year, Slaughterhouse-Five. It is now tied with Turtle Diary for my favorite book of the year.

From Vonnegut’s succinct and poignant style, to the plot, to the characters, to the black humor, to the unique perspective on topical issues…I can’t find a flaw. What fascinates me about Vonnegut most is how seamlessly he integrates science fictional elements into novels which would otherwise be characterized as modern realism. Vonnegut uses this tool in Slaughterhouse-Five to bring into focus themes of free will, suffering, warfare, and ethics – very down to earth elements. While Billy Pilgrim (our narrator’s lead) is a relatively fantastical character, his journey is true to human nature.

Slaughterhouse-Five has become a staple of American literature for a reason. Its honesty. Vonnegut takes the dark and complicated aspects of what it means to live in this society and strips them down to their truest form, to expose what is at the heart of life. So it goes.

 

Rating: 5 Poo-tee-weets

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REVIEW: Turtle Diary

I’m back and I’m in love…with Russell Hoban’s Turtle Diary.  This is yet another novel which falls under the “book my father begged me for years to read and I stupidly kept putting it off” category. (Seriously, father really does know best.)

Hoban checks all my boxes with Turtle Diary: short, masterfully alternates narratives, straightforward moving plot, well developed realistic characters. While each of these characteristics is flawlessly executed, the novel as a whole manages to transcend its parts.

Hoban creates magic, and a hint of mystery, with Turtle Diary. Though written in the 70s, Hoban’s depiction of the sobering loneliness that can come of flying solo in modern society evokes an even stronger message today. In a world where majority of our interactions take place through technology, it is easy to fall in line with our narrators’ (William G. and Neaera H.) need to become a part of something bigger than themselves. Something tangible. Something that requires an honest connection, even with a stranger.

Turtle Diary has moved its way to being one of my top recommendations; a novel I would encourage all to read.

Rating: 5 Turtles Swimming Freely

REVIEW: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has provided further proof why C.S. Lewis is quickly becoming one of my all time favorite authors. I opted to revisit this classic because my recollection of it was scant. In addition, I have recently developed an appreciation of Lewis’ genius and style (see my reviews of his works from last year here and here).

Lewis tackles the worlds of children’s lit and fantasy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  so skillfully there is little room for critique. In this brief novel Lewis accomplishes the creation and establishment of a vividly and intricately described fantasyland inhabited by richly imagined characters. Narnia is a world that easily draws in children, while keeping parents on the edge of their seats. Much of the novel obviously alludes to Christ and various aspects of the New Testament, in a manner that avoids preachiness; a quality of Lewis’ I’ve frequently noted. Lewis also weaves elements of mythology and folklore into the story with a variety of characters, adding an interesting depth, often eschewed in children’s literature.

Pleased with my decision to rediscover this novel as an adult, I am eager to continue my journey through Narnia to continue exploring a new love.

 

Rating: 5 Turkish Delights

REVIEW: The Wind in the Willows

Well, I loved Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. I’m 2 for 2 this year! 

A novel I somehow missed out on in my childhood (or possibly didn’t because my memory sucks…though I do distinctly remember watching the truncated cartoon version…); however, am thrilled to have read The Wind in the Willows as an adult.

Grahame does a superb job of introducing themes – intended to teach children, but just as significant for adults – without obnoxiously blasting them in the reader’s face (employing animals instead of humans as the vehicles). Grahame subtly, but successfully, informs the reader about consequences, manners, exploring one’s sense of adventure, mentoring, and, most important to me, how to be a true friend. Now, maybe most of us have grasped these concepts as we’ve aged and matured, but it never hurts to have a little reminder to refocus on those lessons learned in the nursery. 

With well-developed characters (Badger is my favorite), a beautiful setting, and an easy and calming style Grahame really hit the nail on the head with this one. 
Rating: 5 Wild Rides

REVIEW/PERSONAL ESSAY: Furiously Happy

I could easily write a standard review for Furiously Happy: applauding Jenny Lawson for her sense of humor, sensitivity, and bravery for writing about mental health in such an open way (all true). But, if I left it at that, wouldn’t I be a hypocrite for not taking this kick ass woman’s personally inspirational bravery and using it to fuel my own? Yes, the answer is yes. So I’m going to take a deep breath, put a smile on my face, and for the first time, publically speak up for myself, and whomever else this piece may speak to.

The second half of 2015 I battled the most severe bout of depression I had ever encountered. Like Lawson, clinical depression and general anxiety are a norm in my life, and I have spent over ten years learning how live with and through it; but what I went through last year scared me. It was the first time since I was originally diagnosed, where I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I fought, and I fought, and I fought against my brain in every way I could. Using every single coping mechanism accrued over my 10 plus years of mastering the art of war against depression, but I was stuck. I had been through multiple heartbreaking and emotionally tragic events in an unfortunately short span of time, so I knew the root of this particular battle, I knew it didn’t come out of nowhere; but, as much as I told myself “your body and mind just need time to heal…this too shall pass…you aren’t crazy…try exercising more to release endorphins…watch movies to make you laugh…he’s the idiot not you…cry it all out…you are woman hear you roar…give yourself a few days to be miserable…it’s not that big of a deal you feel dead inside” there I stood, armor on and fully determined, yet still in the same empty place I was a month ago…two months ago…5 months ago.

After an obnoxiously dramatic moment of “rock bottom,” which turned out to be a blessing in disguise (for me…not for anyone within earshot of my mini breakdown), involving wine and a roomful of people I should not have surrounded myself with, I started to almost see a glimmer. From that moment on, I made a pact with myself: 2016 was going to be about me. About me pushing myself out of my comfort zones. About me taking on seemingly crazy projects and adventures. About me not being a victim. About me being furiously happy.

I was through with coasting through life in between bouts of this chemical imbalance in my brain. I was through with seeing these issues as my downfall. From now on I was going to use them as my reason for being a BAMF.

Had I not been through #hotmessgate2015, I wouldn’t be writing this post, or celebrating that I read my 55 books in 52 weeks (guys, I DID IT!). I wouldn’t have gotten through recovering from surgery with a wicked sense of humor. I wouldn’t have conquered playing one of my all time dream roles, and biggest challenge as an actor yet. I wouldn’t have hiked and camped in the Grand freakin’ Canyon alongside complete strangers. I wouldn’t have fallen in love with myself. And I wouldn’t have re-fallen in love with all the amazing people I have in my life (parents, brother, “big sister,” aunts, my 800 awesome cousins, SJ, BC, BB, KS, CN, SDC, FS, AJ, LM, RR, JD, AF, BH) who give me strength, motivation, and inspiration, push me to explore my potential, and believe in me even when I can’t see the light. And, I wouldn’t have ousted the ones who were big dull negative toxic duds.

The concept behind my new approach to life was to make the most of the time when I was in the neutral or above neutral state, so when I hit my lows and have to suit up again, I would have those experiences to hang onto and to look forward to.

Halfway through Lawson’s Author’s Note in Furiously Happy I burst into tears because it was the first time I ever fully thought, “This person gets it. She gets me. Completely. She understands my battle, and my strength. This is exactly what my mindset was coming into this year, and she gave me a name for it. I am now obsessed with her.” After that touching and cathartic moment, I proceeded to burst into laughter through the rest of the book, because Jenny Lawson is that funny and brilliant, and her ability to tackle her ups and downs and ridiculousness through the lens of humor is a lesson we could all learn from.

Obviously this book won’t speak to everyone on the same personal level it spoke to me, but regardless of what your everyday battles are or aren’t, reading Furiously Happy will most likely make you a better and stronger person.

Rating: 5 Stuffed Raccoons

I dedicate this post to Jenny Lawson, Carrie Fisher, and every other woman who hasn’t been afraid to speak on behalf of the mental health community. We all burn a little more brightly thanks to you.

“It’s about taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence. It’s the difference between ‘surviving life’ and ‘living life.’ It’s the difference between ‘taking a shower’ and teaching your monkey butler how to shampoo your hair.’ It’s the difference between being ‘sane’ and being ‘furiously happy.’” – Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy

REVIEW: The Gods, the Little Guys, and the Police

Humberto Costantini’s The Gods, the Little Guys, and the Police has been a favorite in my family for some time, yet no one informed me about it until recently. Currently I am alternating between being annoyed that everyone waited literal decades to tell me this book existed, and being so grateful that it was finally passed on to me.

Costantini exposes Argentina’s Dirty War in an unconventional and superb way. Consequently, you almost don’t realize how much knowledge you are soaking in about the terrifying and oppressive regime until the book has ended, and you can take a moment to reflect. Constantini does this via a group of every day people who share a common passion: poetry. Employing intelligent humor, and heart, he humanizes what it is like to live in a repressive society.

Costantini receives the highest marks from me across the board: style, plot, characters, and ingenuity; satire at it’s finest.

Beyond The Gods, the Little Guys, and the Police’s fascination as a novel, Constantini himself led an incredible life, which is well worth investigating. He risked a lot in order to use his art to bring the nasty truths of the times to the surface; and we should all be thankful for it.

 

Rating: 5 Life Saving Nymphs

REVIEW: Call for the Dead/A Murder of Quality

One of the best aspects of embarking on this project has been the introduction to many writers I hadn’t been exposed to before, and now love. High on that list is John le Carré.

This review will be a little different since it’s a twofer. I read two novels by le Carré, Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality in succession. Since they are the first two books featuring le Carré’s leading spy, George Smiley, I’ve opted to kill two birds with one stone and tackle them both right now.

Both books are similar in their lead, and that they deal with murder (not so spoiler alert). The major difference between the two structurally is Call for the Dead, being the first novel to introduce Smiley, contains a quite a bit of backstory. Normally, this would bother me; but since Smiley is a character that inhabits a series of le Carré’s novels, it is a smart call to establish who Smiley is and how he got to this point in his life in one go. Hence, the following Smiley novels focus more on the main plot and not the personal baggage of our lead. Another element that differs between the two is that A Murder of Quality has zero to do with spies; Call for the Dead (and as far as I know, all other Smiley novels) take place in the world of espionage. A Murder for Quality is a standard British whodunit, taking place in the world of academia.

The similarity between A Murder of Quality and Call for the Dead is they are both brilliantly written. le Carré is the kind of author you want to devour in large gulps. I actually had to stop myself from picking up another one of his works after completing these two. In some ways le Carré reminds me of Hemingway (obviously not genre wise); he manages to create an incredibly vivid world and fully realized characters, with superb dialogue, without over-writing. His writing is so clear, precise and distinctive. Should you pick up one of his novels missing its cover, you would know you had entered le Carré’s world.

I must thank my mother for introducing me to John le Carré. I can’t wait to read more of his works in the new year.

 

Rating: 5 Red Herrings