Kindred

Kindred - CoverKindred by Octavia Butler (1979)

Summary

Dana, a young black woman from the 1970’s, gets spontaneously thrust back in time to the slave society of the early 1800’s. She meets her ancestors (both white and black), endures life as a slave, and even time travels a couple times with her white husband (whom they have to pretend is her owner).

Review

I thought this novel about Dana’s dual life as a modern woman and as a slave was brilliant. She struggles with trying to change attitudes toward slavery while also ensuring that her lineage stays intact, fearing she might cease to exist.

The time travel mechanic is never explained, but that’s because it’s not what the book is really about. Kindred brings slavery to life through the eyes of a modern protagonist, making it feel present instead of something that happened a long time ago. It deals with issues of both race and gender as well as survival, relationships, and freedom.

Everyone should read this book.

You might like this book if you like…

  • The antebellum South
  • Racial & gender issues
  • Time travel
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

A Man Called Ove

A Man Called OveMy mom practically shoved A Man Called Ove at me and exclaimed, “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!” When I asked her what it was about, she said, “A grumpy old Swedish man who wants to kill himself. You’ll LOVE it!” Um what?

Summary

Ove is an old-fashioned curmudgeon who is surrounded by incompetent neighbors who are caught up in technology, lax about rules, and oblivious of basic maintenance. It’s all incredibly irritating for Ove. He goes on a daily neighborhood inspection to ensure that everything is in order and rules are not being broken.

There used to be a forest here but now there were only houses. Everything paid for with loans, of course. That was how you did it nowadays. Shopping on credit and driving electric cars and hiring tradesman to change a lightbulb. A society that apparently could not see the difference between the correct anchor bolt for a concrete wall and a smack in the face.

After his wife dies and he is forced into early retirement, Ove feels like he has nothing left to live for… except that every time he tries to kill himself, his pesky neighbors get in the way. Ove feels compelled to help his neighbors through their ill-timed crises since they can’t be counted on to do things correctly. As time passes, they find an unexpected place in Ove’s life and reveal that there is more to Ove than his cranky exterior.

Review

Although it seems like an unappealing premise (“a grumpy old Swedish man who wants to kill himself”), A Man Called Ove is surprisingly heartwarming, funny, and charming.

Throughout the book, I was constantly quoting amusing passages to my family members who had read the book. Things like:

It was five to six in the morning when Ove and the cat met for the first time. The cat instantly disliked Ove exceedingly. The feeling was very much reciprocated.

I had such a fun time reading this book and it’s one of my favorites so far this year. Like my mom, I’ll keep my review simple and say YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!

You might like this book if you like…

  • Quirky Scandinavian literature
  • Begrudgingly helping out incompetent neighbors
  • The movie Up
  • Saabs (and just can’t reason with people who buy BMWs)
  • Knowing which anchor bolt to use for a concrete wall
  • Referring to cats as “Cat Annoyances”

Inferno

When my mom and sister started reading Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, I thought I’d join them and read it at the same time. I accidentally picked up my copy of Dan Brown’s Inferno instead, without realizing I was reading the wrong book. Whoops! 😛

So a decade after my last Dan Brown book, I finished Inferno last week.

Summary

InfernoInferno is Dan Brown’s 4th book about Harvard professor of symbology and iconology, Robert Langdon — this time, centered around Dante’s Inferno. The story begins with Robert waking up in a hospital in Florence, Italy with no knowledge of how he got there. His doctor, Sienna Brooks, tells him that he is suffering from amnesia after getting shot in the head the night before. When the assassin shows up to finish the job, Robert and Sienna flee and try to piece together what happened, leading them on a thrilling race against time.

Review

Thankfully, reading the Robert Langdon books out of order doesn’t matter, so there weren’t any problems with reading Inferno before The Lost Symbol.

The core idea of Inferno is that we are seeing rapid, unsustainable population growth and some argue that it is going to cause our extinction within 100 years if we don’t act now. That, coupled with the idea of transhumanism, made for a thought-provoking read. I was shocked to learn that half of US pregnancies are unintended.

I know Dan Brown gets a lot of criticism, but his stories are gripping and fun to read. One of the things I really like about his books is the blending of fact and fiction. I enjoy googling all of the art, buildings, and people he references in his books as I’m reading.

While I enjoyed reading Inferno, there was one thing that drove me nuts: I couldn’t understand why the antagonist left his series of clues. I get that there wouldn’t be much of a story without them, but I really would have appreciated a motive for doing so. The ending also felt a bit weak to me.

Oh, and I learned that “doge” refers to more than just the internet meme; it was also the title of Italian city-state rulers in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. That made for some funny visualizations while I was reading. 😛

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Whoops, a post slipped through my fingers! I finished reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple a month ago, but I forgot to publish my post about it. Here it is:

Where'd You Go, BernadetteSince it was released in 2012, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, a novel by Maria Semple, has been getting a lot of attention. A film studio has even already gotten film rights to make it into a movie.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is an epistolary novel about a wacky architect named Bernadette who goes missing just before a family trip to Antarctica. The story is told from the perspective of Bernadette’s 14-year-old daughter, Bee, and a collection of emails, letters, etc. she acquired. The book takes place in Seattle and Bernadette, a transplant from L.A., can’t stand Seattle and has no problem poking fun at the city.

In one such rant about Seattle, Bernadette complains about the slow drivers,  “athletic do-gooders,” Microsoft, and the locals’ lack of attention to physical appearance. And she says:

Whoever laid out this city never met a four-way intersection they didn’t turn into a five-way intersection.

I have to admit there is some truth to that; there are some pretty bizarre intersections in Seattle. 😛

Bernadette complains about Seattle frequently (though she came to love it in the end), but it was fun to see the local references scattered throughout the book. She mentions things like Beecher’s Cheese, “Go Huskies!”U Village, the Seattle Freeze, and the blackberry bushes that grow like weeds. Bernadette even says “the 405,” which is something Californian transplants are notorious for doing.

While gossipy, self-absorbed, passive-aggressive  private school mothers aren’t really my thing, I enjoyed the novel. It’s not particularly cerebral, but it was an entertaining and easy read.

The Great Gatsby

The Great GatsbyIn preparation for the upcoming movie, I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby, which was published in 1925, is regarded as a “Great American Novel” and one of the best novels of the 20th century. I think a lot of people probably read The Great Gatsby in school, but it was never part of my curriculum, so I got to read it for the first time. It’s less than 200 pages long, so it’s a quick read.

The Great Gatsby is set during the Roaring Twenties, when the book was written. The novel is narrated by a character named Nick Carraway, a Midwesterner who moves to New York to start his career. He rents a modest cottage on an island called West Egg, next to the extravagant mansion of the young and mysterious Jay Gatsby. After Nick receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s lavish parties, he finds himself drawn into his neighbor’s world and he attempts to figure out the man behind the facade.

I’m not sure why, but I was under the impression that The Great Gatsby would be a dull, tedious book. On the contrary, I thought the writing was beautiful and I found myself enjoying the story much more than I was expecting.

As I was reading, I remembered a short video segment I had seen on CBS Sunday Morning two years ago. It had footage of the demolition of the 21,000 square foot house that is believed to have inspired The Great Gatsby. It’s really unfortunate that the house was destroyed, but with a daily upkeep of $4500, I can hardly blame them.