Posted tagged ‘literature’

Read and Review: Ambling into History, by Frank Bruni.

January 23, 2009

I know you are not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but I did. When I first saw this book, I knew that I wanted to read it. I love the picture of Pres. Bush on this book. The picture and title perfectly captures the laid-back, down-to-earth attitude of our 43rd president.

122010__ambling_lI finished this book yesterday, and I think I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t super fantastic. Frank Bruni was a journalist that followed the Bush campaign around during the elections of 2000. I enjoyed seeing Bush act and behave as a human being: Bruni portrays him as being funny (often at inappropriate times), a prankster (also at often at inappropriate times) and at times showing great depth and intelligence. The big question Bruni asks in this book is: how can a man who thinks “misunderestimate” is a word be a good leader of the most powerful nation in the world? Will he take the presidency seriously? In the end, (at least from this books perspective of shortly after September 11th) Bruni thinks that this guy might just have a chance.

At times, I felt like Bruni was maybe a little too harsh in constantly pointing out Bush’s flaws as a presidential candidate. Although, the point of the book was to show how this fellow, the most unlikeliest presidential candidate that has been seen in quite some time, attempted to transform himself and play politics.

Bruni was fair in his observations and criticisms, though, as he also poked fun and pointed out flaws in the other candidates, and even himself and the other journalists.

The book itself seems to amble around in the telling of the story, but for me that was part of the enjoyment. My favorite sections are the chapters in which Bruni relates the hardships of the journalists being on the campaign trail. (See my Teaser Tuesday quote about smoking next to jet fuel 🙂 The mental image he portrays about these sleep and shower depraved guys cramming into a hotel room to watch “Sex and the City”.

This book was published back in 2002, during a time when Bush’s approval rating was riding high. I wonder how different the book would have been written if it were published today? This book and the current public opinion of Bush makes me wonder will there ever be a book written that portrays him in a positive light? There might be, but it may not be any time soon. Now that the door is closed on his presidency, the benefit of history and forgetfulness might be on his side. Only time will tell. In the mean time, I would recommend this book. It isn’t too critical of Bush, but nor is it too worshipful of him. I think Bruni tries hard (and for the most part succeeds) to present a fair and balanced view of him and everyone involved in the election mess of 2000.

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Read and Review: The Night Trilogy

January 14, 2009

base_media2     I finished “The Night Trilogy” by Elie Wiesel. It consists of the books “Night”, “Dawn”, and “Day” (previously called, The Accident.) In the first book, Night,the author relates his real-life experiences during the Holocaust and his time spent in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. It is a masterpiece of tragic, holocaust literature. It was also one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read, but that was no fault of the author. Wiesel wrote his heart out. He, very simply and efficiently, wrote what he experienced in the concentration camps. This book has left me speechless. There is just nothing I can say other than: you must read it. And learn from it.

     The second book in the trilogy, Dawn, is a novel. That story is fiction, though Wiesel said in some sense the main character is him, or what he might have become if circumstances in his life had been different after he was released from the Nazi death camps. The story is about a young man named Elisha who joins a Jewish underground movement and is ordered to execute a British soldier at dawn. The story is brief and poignant, as he struggles with this decision, debates whether he will do it or not. That one question, will he do it or won’t he?, kept me turning the pages to the very end. (It was 87 pages long.) If you want that question answered, you will have to read it for yourself.

     I was hoping that Day   would be a little more cheerful, or at least have a happy ending, or a hopeful ending. (It didn’t, really). This was my least favorite book of the three, but it still challenged my thinking. In it, Wiesel explores the question, “How can a person be expected to forget a tragedy of this magnitude (WWII) and go on to lead a normal life, to love, and believe in God?” I learned much in this book about Holocaust survivors, however. For the most part, I learn what I know about WWII from watching movies, reading books, and taking history classes. Primarily, these 3 sources of information deal with what happened during the war, which is important. Day helped me see the effects on Holocaust survivors after the war was over: the emotional damage, the despair they still live with, their loss of faith in God  and their belief that He is good and kind. Wiesel seems very bitter towards God, and it is very evident in his writing. His exploring of his own emotional damage was the most enlightening to me. People in the book kept telling him to forget what happened, to live and to love. You can almost feel his anguish and despair as he knows that he can’t.

These books are very brutal and real. Wiesel’s writing style is simple and efficient. If you are a quick reader, then it won’t take you more than a few days to read all three. But I will warn you, they will leave you feeling very grieved about the tragedies that took place during WWII, and it makes me wonder how many more such tragedies are going on even today that no one knows about? In his introduction to the book, Wiesel says that he writes these things in order that the dead might always have a voice, and to deny the enemy the final victory: the world forgetting what happened during one of the darkest time periods in our history. May we never forget!

Musing Monday: Required reading

January 12, 2009

Rebecca, host of Musing Monday, asks, How did you react to assigned reading when you were in school/university/college/etc? How do you think on these books now? What book were you ‘forced’ to read when you where in school that you’ve since reread and loved?

Well, I loved required reading in school. I cannot remember a time I did not like to read, in fact. I liked being able to read the difficult books, and then discuss them in class. In college, I took an intro to lit class that read and discussed “The Scarlet Letter”, and that was very fun. We also covered “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” which was a blast, as well as many famous short stories. In high school I took a class that required me to read “Julius Ceasar” which I hated because I did not understand anything. But I kept reading various Shakespeare on my own until finally I read Macbeth and sort of understood the plot, so I was very excited.

The ultimate book nerdy thing I did when I was a teenager was read the entire book of “Moby Dick”. I think I was 17 or 18, and just decided that it was a book I should read before I embarked into the world of adults. So I found a neat old copy (that I lost somewhere along the way, thanks to mom, not that I’m bitter =-) and I read the whole thing. Even the boring chapters describing whale biology. And you know what? I loved it. Absolutely loved the entire book, it’s still one of my favorite classics today.

Now that I’m in graduate school I have to read a lot of books on doctrine and theology that are very boring and dry. Every once in awhile I’ll come across a theologian who can write well, but it’s dull going. They need some zest in their writing styles!

Overall, whether it was required or not, I loved to read. I think the #1 influence in my life was my Grandma K. She passed away a few years ago, but I remember she always would get me books for my birthday and Christmas. She always found ones I liked and new ones I had never read before. Maybe that’s why I never minded reading the required reading. I think most people are turned off by the word “required”. I saw it as a challenge: my teacher is making me read this, but I’m going to read it because I want to! AND I’m going to enjoy it! I know, I know, I was such a rebel!! 😉

Daddy’s Book Club: “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”

January 12, 2009

Here it is, the inaugral edition of Daddy’s Book Club. I love reading to my kids, and just the past year we started reading chapter books. Today, we finished “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis. I wasn’t sure if Ryan, my 6 year old would like it, but he LOVED it. Every day he would beg me to read him more. I think he liked it more than anything we’ve read so far. I bought him the book for his birthday in December, so I’m glad to see it was money well spent. We bought the next three books in the series (according to the old way of numbering them), so we are anticipating reading more. So here are a few opinions that my kids had about this book:

Review Sam, Age 4:

img_0726 Did you like this book? “Yeah!”

What was your favorite part? “Ummmm….I liked the silly parts.”

What silly parts? “Umm….when the world is turned upside for Edmund (I’m not sure what he meant by that) and when the giant picks up Lucy.”

What part did you not like? “When the white witch put her knife into Aslan! That was very sad.”

Which character did you like the most? “I liked all of them! Can my go play now?”

Sam likes me reading to him just as much as Ryan does, but I thought at times he had trouble figuring out what was going on in this book. Usually, before I read a chapter book, I read a little book for Sam. One of his favorites is “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” He loves that book.

Reviewer Ryan, age 6:

img_0627 Did you like this book? “Yup. I think it was pretty good. I just think it’s a good thing we bought those other Narnia books from the store so we can read more!”

What was your favorite part? “When Aslan came back to life again.”

What part did you not like? “When they killed Aslan. It made me sad.”

What character did you like the most? “I liked all of the people!”

Is there anything else about the book you would like to add? “The white witch was a little scary and a little silly and it was ahappy thing when Aslan killed her.”

Ok. Wow. You liked the violence huh? “What’s violence mean?”

Ryan really got into this book. He liked it about as much as he likes Thomas the Train, which is considerable. When I finished the chapter of Aslan’s death, he cried. We had to read the next chapter so he could know that Aslan came back to life again. And, for the final reviewer:

Reviewer Rosie, Age ???

img_0604 ” I hated this book.  Every time daddy read it, they would all sit on the couch and make me sit on the floor. The nerve. Don’t they know how important I am?”

I enjoyed this book a lot, and I found myself looking forward each day to our reading time. Sometimes I would read another chapter because I wanted to find out what happened next. I have never read the books, but I did see the movie that came out a few years ago, and wasn’t too thrilled by it. I liked Lord of the Rings better. But “The Lion, the Witch, and the wardrobe” book was way better than the movie. I think this is a good book to read to your children as it explores issues like misbehaving and being mean and its consequences; having courage to do things even when your scared; death and life, and of course, all the religious metaphors or allegories that are in it. It’s a masterpiece!

The Sunday Salon: Adventures in Binge Reading

January 11, 2009

tssbadge1 The Sunday Salon is a group that blogs on Sundays about their reading adventures.

     This weekend, I’ve been binge-reading. I like to read a lot, but for some reason I’m not a fast reader. I like to read slowly and carefully, savoring the written words as if they were the finest delicacy. But this weekend I’ve read almost 300 pages! I finally finished “The Silmarillion”, so I was in need of something different, maybe more light-hearted. So, I tried to pick up, “The Return of Sherlock Holmes” short story collection, but it just wasn’t holding my attention. But that is the joy of reading short stories, you can read one or two, and then put the book down for a few weeks.

Friday, I read 3 chapters from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” to my boys, (age 6 and 4). I was only going to read 1 chapter, but they begged me to read one more chapter so I did. It happened to be the chapter where (SPOILER ALERT for the rest of this paragraph !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) Aslan sacrifices himself to save Edmund. My 6 year old was on the edge of his seat the whole chapter, and we were almost finished with it, he blurted out, “Is Aslan going to die? I don’t want him to die!” I finished the chapter (it ends with his death) and he just sat on the couch, absolutely quiet. You have to understand, my 6 year old is NEVER quiet. I put the book down and started helping my wife fix dinner. We look over on the couch, and he is sitting there, looking very pale and sad, trying not to cry. Then, he said, “I don’t want to read anymore of that book!” and he started crying! My wife comforted him and tried to tell him that he needed to hear more of the story. My wife smiled at me, and quoted the line from Samwise Gamgee in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”  ‘It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? ‘ Anyway, she then told me I had better read just one more chapter before dinner, so I did, and Aslan came back to life, and my boys were happy again.

     That night at work I had to work a four hour shift overnight, so I brought a book along to keep me company (my job is very boring, especially the over night shift. I like it, because that gives me a chance to read!). I decided on starting Elie Wiesel’s “Night” trilogy, 3 short books called, Night, Dawn, and Day. The first one is a memoir of sorts about his experiences in a concentration camp, Auschwitz and Buchenwald. I first read it 2 years ago (I think it was also an Oprah Book of the month). I finished the whole thing in the time I had to read at work. It is hard to read, because of all the tragedy that he writes about, but his writing style is very engaging and easy to zip along. But the themes and statements he makes in the book are profound, and they stick in your head for a long time. Yesterday afternoon I started “Dawn” and just finished that this morning. That story is fiction, though Wiesel said in some sense the main character is him, or what he might have become if circumstances in his life had been different after he was released from the Nazi death camps. The story is about a young man named Elisha who joins a Jewish underground movement and is ordered to execute a British soldier at dawn. The story is brief and poignant, as he struggles with this decision, debates whether he will do it or not. That one question, will he do it or won’t he?, kept me turning the pages to the very end. (It was 87 pages long.) If you want that question answered, you will have to read it for yourself. 🙂 This book wasn’t quite as horrifying as “Night” was, but it was just as well written. Again, it will make you rethink many things, especially as they pertain to war, executions, morality, and God. I hope to start on “Day” this afternoon, and then, I think it’s time I moved on to something more cheerful than Holocaust literature.

     I find myself this weekend enjoying some well-written pieces of literature, as well as enjoying my freedom that so many people suffered and died for, and possibly faced such moral delima’s as Elisha did, all in the name of freedom. We are trully blessed to be living in America in the 21st century. May we never take it for granted!

The Best from 2008

January 8, 2009

The Booking Through Thursday blog I recently discovered asks this question today: what were your favorite books from 2008? I love reading lists like this, as it usually gives me some great ideas to read some new ones. So, I’m giving listing the top 5 books I’ve read and really enjoyed this year:

5. “Death Masks” by Jim Butcher, The Dresden Files #5. Harry Dresden is my other favorite wizard named Harry. Unlike the boy wonder, this Harry is also a private eye in Chicago. Butcher writes exciting plots full of great action, heart ache, and joyfully stuffed with humor (you can’t have a talking skull named Bob and still be serious all the time, right?). In this book, Ortega the vampire is hunting Harry to challenge him to a duel, and Harry is enlisting the help of some friends old and new to try and find The Shroud of Turin. Why? You’ll have to read it to find out. It’s good. But start with #1 Storm Front if you haven’t read any of the series.

4. “Sourcery” by Terry Pratchett. This book was hilarious. If you love english humor than Pratchett’s discworld series is something you might want to pick up. A sourcerer arrives on the discworld and wreaks havoc, and it’s up to Rincewind, the completely inept wizard, to save the day. The end is a bit of a cliff hanger, and it always amazes me that Pratchett can write humor/parody that isn’t just stupid humor, but it’s witty and intelligent. And, at times, stupid. That’s what makes it fun.

3. “David Copperfield.” Where to begin with this one? It’s Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, his magnum opus. It was beautifully written, and it drew me in from page 1. The book totalled over 900 pages, and never once did I get bored reading it. The best parts were during the first half when David was a child: Dickens paints this pathetic creature so clearly, that I was near tears at certain parts of the book, (Spoiler: for instance, the chapter when his step-dad beat him made me want to run home and hug my boys!)

2. “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. I loved this book. Stoker is a master, and this book terrified me. Now, I have not read a lot of vampire books or seen movies, (I’ve watched “Buffy” and “Angel”, and I think I’ve seen the preview for “Twilight” 😉 ) so I think most of the impact was still fresh with me. The way that Stoker creates a very atmospheric scene, and then adds in creepy characters like Dracula, and then adds the plot…it’s the best. I couldn’t believe I had waited this long in my life to read it.

1. “The Silmarillion” by JRR Tolkien. This one surprised me as much as anyone. I am actually still reading it, but I started it before Christmas. I have two chapters left, but it is one of the best books I’ve ever written. Imagine a bunch of Greek mythology stories rewritten with elves, dwarves, dragons and epic quests, huge battles, and tragedies all around. Many of these stories explores the theme of objects of power, and how that power corrupts the hearts of men and elves. You may have heard that this book is a difficult read, and it is. But if you can make it through to the tales of The Silmarillion (the three jewels that the elf Feanor made from the light of their two sacred trees), then I think the stories just become incredible. I have never read anything like this before, and I am not sure what I will be able to read next! The book is beautifully written, but you need to have your full concentration going, it is difficult. But it’s worth it. And imagine this: Tolkien created all of this from his imagination, including the languages for the different races of elves, men, and dwarves.

There are others I could add to the list, but I need to go and read some of your comments now! What did you find to be a good read in 2008?

Reading Challenge 2009

January 4, 2009

I found a blog recently that has challenged people who love reading with various literary challenges for 2009. Since I usually make New Years Resolutions and then promptly break them within the first week of the year, I thought this would be a more fun route to go. (At least, more successfully anyway) And, in a fit of creativity, I even began a new website. This blog will chronicle my reading goals for the new year. I signed up for the Causal Classics reading challenge, which challenges us to read at least 4 classics within the year. I don’t think that will be a problem, especially with my recent “discovery” of how truly wonderful Charles Dickens’ writing is. I think I signed up for a “read your own books” challenge, (I have a HUGE to be read pile) but then I also signed up for a “Read and Review” challenge, in which you are challenged to review all that you read within the year. That will be the main purpose for this site, and I will be using my other site for the more family type news and fun.

This should be a fun year, I’ve already started a couple of good books! (One I’m reading for myself, and the other I’m reading to my kids.) I can’t wait to see what new literary experiences are on the horizon! Thanks to MizB for all the great ideas.

I would like to issue a challenge to all who might stop by this site: if you like reading, please PLEASE read aloud to your children! It brings you closer together, and it stirs their imagination in ways that TV or video games don’t. I started reading chapter books to my boys last year (they are currently aged 4 and 6) and it has been so much fun rereading the books I loved as a kid. I also will be posting here the books that we read together, so stay tuned for “Daddy’s Book Club” entries.

So, to all my fellow avid readers out there, I have just one question: why are you still here? Don’t you have some reading to do? 🙂 Have fun!