I’ve read a fair amount of Ian McEwan: Atonement, Amsterdam, Saturday, On Chesil Beach, and now Sweet Tooth. Sweet Tooth was by far my favorite McEwan ending (and he certainly has a knack for them), but not my favorite book; that is still Atonement.
Sweet Tooth tells the story of a young female MI-5 employee at the height of the Cold War and her involvement with a young author, secretly supported by MI-5 due to the anti-communist overtones of his work.
When I read Hemingway, I hate every word of it until I get to the ending, then I like the ending, go try to read more Hemingway, and hate every word of it. My point (and I do have one) is that I had a similar experience with Sweet Tooth, although not to the same extreme. I wasn’t incredibly ‘into’ the book as I read it, although I certainly didn’t hate it; the characters were not particularly likeable (although well written and incredibly developed), but I love an unreliable narrator, so I kept reading. Then I got to the end and my jaw fell open. It was utterly satisfying; I can’t imagine another possible ending. In typical McEwan fashion, it implies an ending beyond the pages, but doesn’t explicitly confirm it. The ending made everything else in the book make sense.
This was not the easiest book for me to get through. That being said, I’ve tried to give myself more leeway to simply put a book down if I’m not enjoying it and move on, and the thought never crossed my mind. When I sat down with Sweet Tooth for marathon reading sessions, however, it was more to get done with it than to see what was going to happen. I was ready to move on. It was worth it. I’d even consider re-reading it to see how the reading changes through the lens of the ending.
It never quite makes sense to me why people tend to shudder when they hear that I have a 45-60 minute commute. I suppose when I think about it, it does make sense; that is nearly 2 hours of my day that I could ostensibly spend doing something else. It hasn’t ever bothered me, for two reasons: it gives me a chance to clear my head, and I can listen to audiobooks.
I’ve listened to one so far this year, and have another in progress. The first was At Home, by Bill Bryson, which was read by the author and was fascinating; the second is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which I will finish listening to in approximately 2036 if I continue at my current pace. I like it so far.
It got me thinking about something that I’ve never really considered before: does listing to audiobooks ‘count’ as reading? Maybe that is poorly phrased. I’ve set a goal of 50 books this year; do my audiobooks count toward that total? Perhaps I’m overthinking things, but it wasn’t an easy question for me.
I love the whole experience of reading. I love having to hunt down my glasses. I love turning the pages. I love feeling like the words have vanished and the events are playing out of their own accord. I love putting the completed book back on the shelf with a sense of accomplishment. None of those things happen with audiobooks.
Still, you get the author’s words; they’re all still jammed into your brain for processing, they just come through a different sensory portal. (We are speaking, of course, of unabridged audiobooks – abridged is a different animal entirely.) That was what tipped the balance for me. Listening to audiobooks may not be ‘reading,’ per se, but the information is still obtained and processed more or less as the author intended, allowing for some changes in perception due to the reader. I have decided to count the audiobooks that I listen to toward my 50 Book Goal.
Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you think that they ‘count’?
Veronica Roth’s Divergent is a young adult dystopian novel in the same vein as The Hunger Games Trilogy (which, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve read and loved). I hesitate to say that, though; Divergent is very much its own novel (trilogy as well) and I wouldn’t want to force the comparison, on the off chance that this is the first that you, reader, have heard of it. I think that the comparison is inevitable. I digress.
Divergent was the first book of 2014 that I read in less than 48 hours. It was exciting, gripping nearly from page one, and unique, despite my earlier comparisons. It has the refreshing characteristic of being love-triangle-free, which I was starting to think was impossible for YA fiction. The protagonists are complex and likeable, and the antagonists are well-developed. The setting – a future, dystopian Chicago – is well explored, and although the history behind the dystopia isn’t elaborated, it doesn’t feel forced.
There are two more books to the trilogy – Insurgent and Allegiant – which I haven’t yet read, so I will leave my book-related thoughts there. However, the movie version was recently released, and I’d like to briefly discuss that as well.
As far as I’m concerned, the gold standard for book-to-movie adaptations is the Coen brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. The adaptation of Catching Fire was excellent as well. Divergent isn’t quite that good – few adaptations are – but I would say definitively that it is better than the adaptations of the Harry Potter series. The casting is nearly perfect, and although omissions were made (I understand that they must be), the overall plot doesn’t suffer and the take-away is quite the same for the movie as is it is for the book.
I thoroughly enjoyed both the book and the film, and I highly recommend both.
The Night Circus is Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel, and it tells the story of two dueling magicians in the setting of a magical circus open only from sunset to sunrise.
I truly enjoyed The Night Circus, however, I never felt ‘hooked’ by the plot. There was never a moment at which I found I could not longer put the book down. The setting was the standout for me; this was one of those books where I found that the words on the page stopped existing and I was transported to the circus itself. I wanted to really go to the circus. This feeling is advanced by sections of second-person narration guiding the reader through the circus.
The majority of the narration of the story is third person, but it shifts its focus from character to character. This is something that Morgenstern did exceptionally well; each character is well-developed through the lens of their focused chapters. The transition was never jarring, and all of the interconnected pieces came together beautifully to tell a seamless story. Although there are parts of the story left out, the overall effect is not hampered. The peripheral characters as well are thoroughly developed; they all seem to have their own intrinsic motivations and quirks beyond just their purpose to advance the plot. The overall effect is something like a snowball: some of the peripheral characters develop into plots that eventually merge with the ‘central’ story of the magician’s duel, and when the story ends, you can’t imagine that it could have ended any other way.