Tuesday, July 31, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks: Book 29 - The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book that I couldn’t put down, but this was one of them. 

This book gave me a whole new perspective on Afghanistan … a place I was only vaguely aware of before 9/11. At times endearing and at others powerfully disturbing, I was struck first by its depiction of the universality of childhood. And how its innocence – skillfully woven in the symbolism of kite flying – could be snuffed out in a moment.

I had seen the film version of The Kite Runner several years ago, so as the book unfolded, I remembered many of the incidents. But – as usual – I preferred the book to the movie, even though the latter was excellent. The plot twists and character development keep the reader on edge throughout, and deeply involved in the life of the protagonist (Amir) and his people.

For me, one line stands out as a stark reminder of how quickly life changes. Spoken by the mother Amir never knew, it states: “[Profound] happiness is frightening. … They only let you be this happy if they’re preparing to take something from you.” Indeed that was the case for so many of the Afghanis affected by war and inhumanity in this book. Yet we are left with a sliver of hope for the future in the image of the kite flying free.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks: Book # 28: In the Woods

In the Woods by Tana French

As you all know by now, I enjoy the True Crime genre, so I figured I would equally enjoy a good fictional murder mystery – especially one that was an Edgar Award Winner. But for some reason I just couldn’t get excited about this book.

It sounded great – psychological suspense, a 20-year-old secret, long-buried memories – but I had a hard time empathizing with the characters most of the time. They seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time drinking, getting drunk and recovering from hangovers. And the jargon they used in conversation (the book took place in Ireland) got to be a bit off-putting. 

Then there was the length … the editor in me felt that the story could have been told in half the number of pages (there were 429 of them). Perhaps a bit of succinctness would have prevented me from falling asleep so many nights while reading. Or maybe if they spent a little less time drinking and a little more time detecting, the mystery could have been solved a lot sooner.

Monday, July 16, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks: Book #27: Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

At first I found it hard to get used to the unusual way this book is constructed – more like a series of short stories or vignettes centered (or sometimes not centered) around the main character, Olive Kitteridge. In some stories, she played a prominent role while in others she was merely mentioned as someone in the background. 

But since it was a Pulitzer Prize winner, I knew it must have something to offer, so I plodded on. And in fact, this book grew on me as I read it, and I soon found myself relating to Olive as an older woman facing many of life’s challenges. There are not too many books that focus on women past middle age, so it was refreshing to gain new perspective on this stage of life through her character.

From empty-nest syndrome to health concerns, post-traumatic stress to a spouse’s sudden disability, this book takes the reader through real-life situations as seen through the eyes of Olive and other residents of a small town in Maine. And within these characters I recognized many of my own quirks and personality defects … sometimes with amusement but often with dismay.

Give this one a chance and I think it will grow on you too.