Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
fiction/young adult, (c)2007, 272pp
rating: ***

Twisted is about a teenager named Tyler. Following a school prank at the end of his junior year, he is sentenced to a summer of hard labor. This has changed him from a skinny little boy into a bulked up man over the course of the three months. This shift in appearance catches the attention of the most popular girl in school and twin sister of his rival/tormentor. Over the course of the school year, a series of events plays out that delves into the psychology of teenage boys and the nature of the interactions of high school students.

I picked this book up because I liked Speak so well, but this one is simply not as good. She still does a good job charting the tumultuous waters of teenage life, but I thought that some of the more "dramatic" points of the story felt a little forced. The big twist was less of a twist and was telegraphed from early on in the novel. That being said, it was a very quick read. I think that, unlike Speak, this book is really more for young adults and less for adults.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin
fiction/classic, (c) 1899, 102pp
rating: *****

Written in 1899 and subsequently banner, this book tells of the awakening of young Edna Pontellier. At the age of 28, she is a wife and a mother and should be happy in those roles. However, she is dissatisfied with her boring husband and she takes little interest in her children. Her frustrations find an outlet when she starts and affair with another young man who is as passionate and artistic as she is. After he leaves, she finds it difficult to return to life as usual with her husband and children and strikes out on her own. Society quickly punishes her for this move on her own, and her story ends tragically.

I can't believe it took me so long to read this book. I can easily see why it has been steeped in controversy even if the contents of the book are less that shocking in today's society. Much of this book rings very true to me and I enjoyed it immensely. It also makes me wish I had read it with a class so I could discuss with other people. Really, really good.

In Control of Nature by John McPhee
nonfiction/nature, (c)1990, 272pp
rating: ****

In Control of Nature is a book of three long essays that detail the human struggle to curb and control nature. The first essay is about the Old River Control Center and the levee system on the Mississippi River. The second essay is about an eruption on the icelanic island of Haimey and the way that they stopped the lava from ruining the natural harbor. The third essay is about the San Gabriel Mountains and the mud slides the plague the Southern California hills.

This book was recommended to me by D and I was less than enthusiastic when I started it. However, it turned out to be really interesting. John McPhee is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and writes for the New Yorker, so his text is very readable. The chapter about the lava was the least interesting, possibly because it was the most removed from what I know. The description of the Old River Control Center and the ways that the levees have been built up all down the Mississippi river was fascinating, especially when thought about in light of the events of Hurricane Katrina. And his explanations for why there is so much debris coming down from the San Gabriel Mountains (it has to do with the summer fires followed by heavy rains) was equally fascinating. You are left seriously questioning whether or not our efforts to combat Mother Nature are really warranted and the idea that maybe we'd be better off if we left well enough alone. This was an excellent read.

No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe
fiction, (c)1969, 208pp
rating: *****

No Longer At Ease is the sort-of sequel to Things Fall Apart. Obi Okonkwo is the grandson of the main character in Things Fall Apart and the events of that story are referenced vaguely in the last chapter of this book, but it is certainly not a prerequisite to reading this book.

No Longer At Ease follows Obi Okonkwo, a young man who is singled out to get a foreign education. When he returns to Nigeria, he is repulsed by the corruption that he sees in the government and tries very hard to resist the temptations of money and sex that are thrown at him for his influence. Obi is constantly trying to balance the pressures he feels from his village who sponsored him for his education, and the pressures of living in the big city and living up to his government post. Slowly things begin to unravel as things go wrong piece by piece.

I actually think that in a lot of ways, this book is even better than Things Fall Apart. It deals honestly with the colonial legacy that the Western world has left in Africa and could be relevant to any country, not just Nigeria. The book is told in simple prose, but that makes it easy to read and even more powerful. I highly recommend it.

House of the Tiger King by Tahir Shah
nonfiction/travel essay, (c)2004, 219pp
rating: ***

Tahir Shah is one of my favorite authors, but this is probably my least favorite of his books. In The House of the Tiger King, Shah goes in search of the fabled Incan city of Paititi supposedly the last Incan stronghold after the conquistadores invaded Peru. Like his other books, Shah infuses his trials and tribulations with a certain amount of humor and some interesting detours that allow him to meet new and interesting people. Unlike his other books, there is less humor in this one. It is a darker novel and he seems obsessed with this quest to the point of cruelty to his expedition team. There was less of seeing the country and more of the unrelenting slog through the jungle. This was definitely my least favorite of all of his books and I would recommend trying one of the others before this one.

Monday, August 18, 2008