Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

I didn't grow up in Oklahoma so I wasn't required to read The Grapes of Wrath in high school, instead we read Of Mice and Men. But I've lived here longer now than anywhere else and figured it was about time I was schooled on the Okies.

Before I read it, I knew it was about some Oklahoman's heading to California during the dust bowl. I thought it would tell of the struggles faced by these people as they moved their way across the country. I was right, the Joad's do grudgingly leave their farm in OK, lured to CA by some ads promising work. And I was wrong, the struggles related in this story aren't from the land or the hardships of travel, the struggles faced by this family are from other people. Some of them are desperate for money and need work to feed their families just like the Joad's. Some are CA landowners taking advantage of these wanderers, and some are big businesses that want low-wage workers. In some areas, the migrants attempt to band together against the businesses, but in the end starving people take the work and their efforts are fruitless. Other ideas presented are prejudice, government subsidies, capitalism, fairness, selfishness, generosity, life and death.

Throughout the book themes are presented beginning with a broad, nation-wide perspective then gradually focusing to a state level position and finally offering the individual point of view.

It can be difficult to read the "accents" and there are some pretty hard and harsh treatments of people, but I think it would offer great classroom discussion in many subject areas. Glad I finally read it!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

All The Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr

While the story is set in France and Germany during the early 1940's, and while many of the events in the story result from circumstances of the war, I wouldn't call All the Light We Cannot See a WWII novel.

Marie-Laure is a young blind girl living in Paris when the German invasion forces her to flee with her father, who has been asked to carry with him a package that may or may not contain a precious diamond housed within the museum where he worked. When her father is killed in a raid, Marie-Laure is left to find her uncle and protect the museum's treasure.

Werner is an orphan living in a small group home in Germany when he is recruited into a special Hitler science program to develop his unique talents working with radio. Ultimately he is placed in a military unit whose job is to track down a legendary diamond.

But one more thing this book is not, it's not a story about tracking down a gemstone.

All the Light is very character-driven. It is a story about two remarkable young people and the relationships they develop with some other distinctive people in their lives. It is about choices, it is about surviving, it is about caring, it is about darkness and light. It is a complex and beautifully written story. This will likely be made into a movie that I doubt will do justice to the novel.... so I'd suggest reading it first.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry

by Gabrielle Zevin

I have postponed writing about this book because I'm just not sure what to say about it. It was ok, but not what I'd expected or hoped. A lot of things start to happen in The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, but very few of them continue. We're introduced to AJ as a grouchy and lonely bookshop owner who has gotten into a habit of drinking until he passes out. But right after this tidbit, he is left in charge of a little girl, and suddenly he's a different person. Then we meet Amelia, a NYC book rep who has just acquired AJ's account. At first she is spunky and interesting and determined to convince AJ to branch out in his ordering selections. But after that first bit she just becomes dull. Finally, Zevin's failure to develop the mystery of the stolen copy of AJ's rare Edgar Allen Poe novel was a huge missed opportunity that could have turned this book from a mindless read into something really interesting.

I did like the book review notes AJ writes to his wife and daughter throughout the story but I couldn't detect a connection between the selected book review and the lives of the characters.

If you have time and just want a simple story then this is a good choice.