Tuesday, 9 February 2010

a long holiday

so, i've been away from the blog for quite a while. i don't have any excuses as such, other than i was feeling quite tired and drained by the end of the year. and i was busy with family members who came back to nz for a nice long visit, so i wanted to spend time with them. ok, there's a couple of excuses but the truth is that i just ran out of words and decided i wanted to be doing other things.

one of the other things i was doing is catching up on my reading. so i thought i'd ease back in to blogging by telling you what books i read and what i thought about them:

my sister's keeper: extremely well written, really sad, dealt with an important ethical issue, but a totally crap cop-out ending. grrr. after all the build up, and setting up the situation so well, i couldn't believe that the author decided to end the way she did. also, the way the mother's character was written didn't sit too well with me, seeing as how i'm a little tired of mothers getting the blame for so many things. but despite all this, still worth reading, simply for the construction of the ethical dilemmas and the effect of terminal illness on a family.

uncle tom's cabin: i've had this lying around for months, and bought it because it was one of those books i feel that i should have read. so i finally did. i thought it was a really good attempt to deal with the issues around slavery and to put the arguments forward. i know harriet beecher stowe did her best to bring humanity to a people that were being sub-human. but as i read, i compared it in my mind to roots, and decided that the history of a people should really be written by someone who belongs to that group and has shared those experiences first hand. some who sits outside the group, and who by demographic belongs to the class of oppressors, can't tell the story in the same way, no matter how sympathetic she is. on the other hand, until members of the oppressing group begin to identify with those they oppress and until they begin to advocate for them, no change will happen. so it's a bit of a dilemma really. still, i'm glad i read this.

the jane austen book club: i'm a real austen fan, so couldn't resist this one. however, i'd seen the movie some months earlier, and have since decided that it is almost always better to read the book before you go see the movie. because the movie tends to dramatise more, the book can be a let down afterwards. i did like the book, i just think i'd have liked it a lot more if i hadn't watched the movie. i found the way it was written really interesting - the narrator identifying as the group (ie using "we did x, we thought y" etc, but not being an individual member of the group).

the lovely bones: hadn't seen the movie before i read it, which was good. also an interesting way of presenting the story, from the perspective of a dead person who seems to be able to be anywhere she wants to be. it was an interesting but not a gripping read. again, the mother's character was not particularly nice or sympathetic, as compared to the father, and strange that it's women writers who are charactarising mothers in this way. it's getting tiring folks.

the painted house: a john grisham novel that was a total waste of time. avoid at all costs. i also read the client, which was a lot better but again, a weak ending. i remember really liking the movie which i'd seen years ago (mostly cos it had susan sarandon in it), but didn't like the book so much, even though i couldn't remember anything of the storyline from the movie.

the girl with the dragon tattoo: i found this really gruesome. a lot of brutal violence against women, which i don't ever think of as enjoyable reading. and even though the writer portrays it as evil and wrong, it still seems to be written in a way that's too graphic and titillating. the girl with the tattoo was a well-written and complex character, but parts of the murder mystery were predictable, and the last few chapters a little disappointing - too much of a hollywood ending for my taste. not sure that i'm going to want to watch the movie.

oscar & lucinda: i'm going to have to put this in the "avoid at all costs" category as well. it was really well-written, the language and the way the author expresses himself were quite brilliant, and the historical detail amazing. i can see why this book won all sorts of awards. but, oh my God, the plot! i have never read a book that is so dreary and depressing. nothing good happens to these people, there is no let up with the nastiness, missed opportunities, and general misery. and the ending, well, blech. again, not going to be rushing out to get the dvd of this one. if the film is true to the book, then it'll be too dreary to watch. and if it isn't, then it'll another crummy hollywood romance, which i'm totally not interested in.

that's about it really. i started gulliver's travels, on the basis that it's one i should have read, and apparently has some cutting commentary on the politics of the day, but haven't gotten too far with it yet. i've also watched a few movies over the summer, and might go over those another day. hope you all had a nice, relaxing holiday, and happy new year!


Deborah said...

It's good to hear from you again, and good to hear about what you've been reading. I've read some, but not all, of the books on your list, or seen the movie (that would be The Jane Austen Book Club, which I saw on a flight - very convenient). Gulliver's Travels is very odd. Yes, it's worth reading, but it's also one of those books that you could just toss into the corner if you're not enjoying it. Life is too short to read books out of some sense of duty.

stargazer said...

thanx deborah.

Life is too short to read books out of some sense of duty.

true, but on the other hand, i also want to read them so that i know what people are talking about... and sometimes i think of it as self-imrpovement. not that either of these is enough of a motive to make me pick up gulliver just now!

Hugh said...

I found The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo extremely problematic from a feminist perspective. It's obvious the author wants to think of himself as a writer informed by feminism, if not a feminist, but it's really, really problematic.

Partly it's the fact that the main male character, an obvious author surrogate, has virtually every major female character throw themselves at him, thus allowing him to experience massive ammounts of sex without having to compromise his passive 'nice guy' image.

But more alarmingly is the scene where Lisbeth rapes her rapist. It wasn't the graphical nature of the scene that bothered me so much as the fact that it's presented with barely concealed authorial approval and endorsement as a positive way of dealing with the issue - that the answer to rape is more rape.

stargazer said...

yup, i'd have to absolutely agree with all of that. it's a good analysis.

but another aspect for me is that i'm just tired of extreme sexual violence being served up as entertainment, which is basically what this book is doing. i certainly don't think the violence can be justified as some kind of consciousness-raising, it's merely a plot-device. and there's been enough of that done already.

Hugh said...

Well, personally the graphic nature of the violence doesn't bother me. I mean, I understand it can be triggering, and I certainly wouldn't recommend the book to people who I felt might be upset by it.

But the role of literature is to hold a mirror to society, and society contains sexual violence, and sexual violence is nasty stuff. If depictions of sexual violence were universally non-graphic then we would have a situation where the violence was being sanitised, which in my opinion is actually worse than what you're describing.

Yes, over-the-top, blow-by-blow descriptions of the horrors of sexual violence may serve to give some readers a prurient thrill, but nobody will ever come away from them with any understanding of sexual violence as anything less than intensely traumatic and harrowing - which is appropriate. Conversely, depictions of sexual violence that are relatively restrained may give readers who are unfamiliar with it a false picture - they may conclude 'well, that doesn't seem so bad'. And of course the dangers of just not having literature or films that depict sexual violence at all hardly needs to be stated.

I agree that the goals of those who write, produce, film and appear in media that depict graphic sexual violence may be, not to educate, but simply to make money. But in a capitalist society that's always going to be the case, and just because there is a profit motive involved, it doesn't mean it's not educative. Even if people are purchasing these works out of a desire to see sexual violence that has more to do with some cheap shocks than a wish to learn about the way the phenomenon really exists in society, well, I agree that's not ideal, but I think the best thing to do is to try to take that interest and use it insofar as one can to raise awareness and understanding, rather than to decry it as unworthy.