Thursday, January 28, 2010

Week 4: Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates (337 pages)

This project has led me down the path of reading some excellent, but dark literature. Revolutionary Road is no exception.

This National Book Award winner is a story, set in the 50s, about the Wheeler family. Frank and April Wheeler wish for better things for themselves and their kids, but the way that they go about reaching their goals are so misguided and hurtful that it is almost painful to read. The barley-veiled disdain that Frank and April have for one another is palpable.

This was a very readable book. Yates was a great author and he brings the suburban life of the 50s to life brilliantly. Reading about the past makes me grateful for the accomplishments and freedoms that we have gained. The decisions that that the Wheelers choose to make, sometimes lead to tragic consequences and had this book been written today, I cannot help but to believe the outcomes would have been different.

I have not seen the film adaptation of the film and I don’t know whether I can watch it so soon after reading this book. But I would recommend this book, as it gives us an interesting look at the past.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Week 3: INTIMACY– Hanif Kureishi (128 pages)

This was a tough book to read. This story of Jay (the middle-aged narrator) and his decision to leave his longtime girlfriend and their two sons really got under my skin. It is a day in the life of this man as he makes plans and tries to justify the reason for his departure. The main issue for Jay is this: “You don’t stop loving someone just because you hate them.” He hates Susan but he loves the boys so much that it hurts. How will he reconcile this situation?
It is rare that I can so thoroughly enjoy a book when I find the protagonist to be utterly reprehensible with no redeeming features at all. There is nothing about Jay I like. He is self-absorbed, preening, spoiled and prone to fits of melancholy that are quite unattractive.

As he tells his story he relates to things in his past: his parents, favorite philosophers, drugs, women…all of these he uses as validations. He speaks with friends who are happily married and urges them to take different paths. He communes with a vile best friend, Victor, who has previously left his family and is wandering around looking for love to replace what he has lost and tries to repair the relationship that was broken when he left his kids.

The author does an excellent job of making Jay hateful and pitiable and on occasion, lovely (when interacting with his sons). I think that is what kept me entranced in this very short tome – that and curiosity. I truly wanted to discover how this was going to play out and what route Jay was going to take. I will not spoil the ending for potential readers but I would recommend this book.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Week 2: Shades of Grey - Jasper Fforde (400 Pages)

When approaching the reading of Shades of Grey it is best to suspend all your disbelief. Jasper Fforde creates a world where color rules all and determines social status.

Eddie Russet is the main character and he is born in the low level Red house and can only see his color, everything else appears grey unless it is “colorized” (think of the old films that TCM and AMC re-touched). Rules in this world are key and the patrons succeed or fail based upon “feedback” and merits and demerits that they receive from each other and from those in charge. Everyone follows the rules and everything moves as it should. Questions regarding why things are the way they are, are not encouraged, neither is learning anything other than what you are told. Those that ask too many questions are sent to get a “re-boot”.

I enjoyed this book and I love the way that Fforde slips commentary on our own social morays and norms while still moving the story along. This book has a romantic theme, there is a mystery in here also and there are many downright laugh out loud moments as well. This is certainly not a book for everyone but it is absolutely worth it if you are willing to take a trip down an unfamiliar road. This book is the first in a series and I know that I will be eagerly awaiting book two.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Week 1: Breakfast At Tiffany's - Truman Capote (192 pages)

When I embarked on this book reading project it was with enthusiasm tinged with a bit of trepidation. I have been known to bite off more than I can chew on more than one occasion, but this seemed to be the ultimate mix of two things I love: Reading and projects. This project affords me the opportunity to read more – something that has been missing in my life the last few years. It is also a project I can get enthusiastic about because I like mapping out which books I am going to read, each book’s length and will I be able to fit my busy life into my book reading plans. So far, I’m juggling it well. However, this is just January!

I have seen the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s at least a dozen times. It even makes my top 50 favorite movies of all-time list, so color me a little embarrassed that I had never read the source material. The first thing that struck me about the book is that it is set 20 years earlier than the film. The book is also quite a bit darker than the feel-good film featuring the lovely Audrey Hepburn. Some of the elements are still the same, but the tone is nastier, I would say. Holly has no problem referring to black people as “coons” or “darkies” and generally disparaging those that don’t meet her social standards. I guess I was shocked, but really should not have been given the time and place this story occurs.

The story is about a year in the life of Holly Golightly and the unnamed narrator that Holly affectionately names Fred (after her favorite brother). The other main character in the book, Joe Bell the neighborhood bartender, had great affection for Holly. It is interesting to note that this character was deleted completely from the film version. Holly is a whirlwind of activity and subterfuge and is clearly a woman who is hiding from something, running away seeking to find “something always better” on the horizon. In the film we get a quirky character that seems to change her mind as the wind blows. However, in the novel, although Holly does seem quirky, there is definitely thought and calculation behind what she does. Conniving, though a harsh word, is the one that popped in my mind most frequently while reading the book.

If you have not read Capote, I would strongly recommend this book. He has a great voice and I found it hard to put the book down. Though it was quite different from the movie, I really quite enjoyed it.