Recent Reads

Books

I’ve actually gotten into reading some fiction the last year or so. I never thought that would happen. Here are a few of the good books I’ve read. I’ve pasted in descriptions from Amazon and then wrote something brief about why I liked the book.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

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Oskar Schell is a nine-year-old amateur inventor, jewelry designer, astrophysicist, tambourine player and pacifist. Oskar turns his naïvely precocious vocabulary to the understanding of historical tragedy, as he searches New York for the lock that matches a mysterious key left by his father when he was killed in the September 11 attacks, a quest that intertwines with the story of his grandparents, whose lives were blighted by the firebombing of Dresden. Foer embellishes the narrative with evocative graphics, including photographs, colored highlights and passages of illegibly overwritten text, and takes his unique flair for the poetry of miscommunication to occasionally gimmicky lengths, like a two-page soliloquy written entirely in numerical code. The novel is replete with hilarious and appalling passages, as when, during show-and-tell, Oskar plays a harrowing recording by a Hiroshima survivor and then launches into a Poindexterish disquisition on the bomb’s “charring effect.” Unafraid to show his traumatized characters’ constant groping for emotional catharsis, Foer demonstrates once again that he is one of the few contemporary writers willing to risk sentimentalism in order to address great questions of truth, love and beauty.

 

I was really caught up in this book and couldn’t put it down. Part of the reason was because it was so different from anything I’d ever read before. But I think the main reason I was so intrigued was because the main character reminded me of my nephew who also lost his dad (my brother). I read this book a year ago and I still think about it often.

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton

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Lavish wealth and appalling poverty live side by side in Victorian London—and Edward Pierce easily navigates both worlds. Rich, handsome, and ingenious, he charms the city’s most prominent citizens even as he plots the crime of his century, the daring theft of a fortune in gold. But even Pierce could not predict the consequences of an extraordinary robbery that targets the pride of England’s industrial era: the mighty steam locomotive. Based on remarkable fact, and alive with the gripping suspense, surprise, and authenticity that are his trademarks, Michael Crichton’s classic adventure is a breathtaking thrill-ride that races along tracks of steel at breakneck speed.

This was a fun read. Heist stories are always great and I loved learning about the details of life during the Victorian Age.

The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers by Harry Bernstein

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“There are few rules or unwritten laws that are not broken when circumstances demand, and few distances that are too great to be traveled,” about the figurative divide (“geographically… only a few yards, socially… miles and miles”) keeping Jews and Christians apart in the poor Lancashire mill town in England where he was raised. In his affecting debut memoir, the nonagenarian gives voice to a childhood version of himself who witnesses his older sister’s love for a Christian boy break down the invisible wall that kept Jewish families from Christians across the street. True to a child’s experience, it is the details of domestic life that illuminate the tale—the tenderness of a mother’s sacrifice, the nearly Dickensian angst of a drunken father, the violence of schoolyard anti-Semitism, the “strange odors” of “forbidden foods” in neighbor’s homes. Yet when major world events touch the poverty-stricken block (the Russian revolution claims the rabbi’s son, neighbors leave for WWI), the conversational account takes on the heft of a historical novel with stirring success.

Again, I loved learning about the details of life during a different time in history. This is a moving, true account of the author’s life when he was a young boy. It wasn’t about a single spectacular event, just life as he lived it and I enjoyed reading about it very much.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

O’Farrell’s novel brilliantly illustrates her talent for gradually revealing her characters’ inner lives by jumping back and forth in time and juxtaposing different narrative points of view. Iris Lockhart, a young Scottish woman, is suddenly informed that she has the power of attorney for her great aunt, Esme Lennox—who Iris never knew existed. Esme has been locked away in a mental institution for over 60 years—a fact never mentioned by her sister Kitty, Iris’ grandmother, who now has Alzheimer’s. In compelling prose, O’Farrell gradually pieces together the puzzle of Esme’s life up to the age of 16, when her cold and repressive parents sent her away to the hospital that is now closing down. Esme had a bold and independent spirit, unseemly for a girl at that time. That as well as a younger brother who died in her arms and a never-mentioned rape contributed to her lost life—a life “half strangled by what-ifs.”

I didn’t like the sub-plot of this story, but the main plot kept me pulled in so much that it became hard to put the book down. Tragic story, good read.

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