Monday, June 14, 2010

Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

When I bought Everything Is Illuminated, I actually went to the store with the intention of buying Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It, however, was a good $5 more, and my cheapness won out. I couldn't be happier--Everything Is Illuminated is an incredible first novel, and I can't wait to read Foer's other books.

Everything Is Illuminated is definitely a book that you have to pay attention to; the changing time periods and perspectives would otherwise be confusing. In the book, a young man named Jonathan Safran Foer sets out to find the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. To do this, he travels to Ukraine (which I used to call 'the Ukraine,' but after reading this book, I realize that makes no sense), where he is guided by Alex, a young translator who speaks wonderfully terrible English, Alex's grandfather, and Alex's overly loving dog, Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior. However, the book also follows Jonathan's ancestors, particularly his grandfather, Safran. This is what can make the book confusing, but again, it will only be confusing if you don't pay attention. Pretty much the entire first half of the book is absolutely hilarious. While it has serious moments, to be sure, Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior and Alex's butchered English are highly entertaining. The second half, however, has less humor, but is by no means less captivating and wonderful.

As the Baltimore Sun said of Everything Is Illuminated, "Maybe two or three times in a lifetime, a book transcends its genre to become an experience. Everything Is Illuminated is an event of this order." Yes, actually, it is that marvelous. Honestly, I wasn't immediately drawn in by the blurb on the back of the book, but I couldn't be more glad that I picked it up anyway. I give this book full marks--not that it needs my approval.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Illustrated Man - Ray Bradbury

The twenty stories in The Illustrated Man are based around a man who was tattooed, or illustrated, by a woman from the future. The stories in the book are the stories depicted on the Illustrated Man's body, and range in topic from the end of the world to the endless Venutian rains to the life and death of the person who happens to be watching the illustrations.

While I enjoy reading short stories, I don't often enjoy collections of short stories--though, granted, I haven't read many. Neither did I enjoy the only other Bradbury book I've read, Fahrenheit 451. However, I decided to pick up The Illustrated Man regardless of these facts, partly because the premise fascinated me and partly because my friend Ayushi (who has a book blog that you should go read) read and enjoyed it. This definitely turned out to be the right choice. There wasn't a single story in the book that I didn't enjoy, and there were many that I absolutely loved. If I have spare money anytime in the next few months, I'll most likely buy it. The stories in The Illustrated Man were touching, alarming, creepy, awe-inspiring, and eerily prescient, often all at once. Maybe I'll have to read some of Bradbury's other work, or even re-read Fahrenheit 451. Suggestions?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco

Casaubon, the narrator of Foucault's Pendulum, is writing a thesis on the Templars when he meets Jacopo Belbo, an editor at Garamond Press, at a bar, and they start talking. Casaubon, Belbo, and Belbo's colleague Diotallevi begin to inspect the wild theories of Colonel Ardenti, who claims that the Templars constructed a centuries-long plot for revenge against those who caused the disbanding of the order. Casaubon, Belbo, and Diotallevi consider Ardenti's ideas to be complete lunacy, and decide, as a joke, to construct their own, fake version of the Templar plan. Unexpectedly, Colonel Ardenti disappears, and the made-up Plan begins to take on a life of its own as "They" find out about the plan and want the information necessary to complete it.

I've been intending to read Foucault's Pendulum for just under a year, but forgot about it entirely until recently, when I decided to make a list of books to read over the summer. I decided to start with Foucault's Pendulum because it was one of the longer books on my list, and found that not only is it long--it is vitally necessary to keep a dictionary at hand while reading this book, and not just any dictionary, because many won't have all the words. While some people might find this intimidating or cumbersome, it just made me enjoy the book even more because I got to learn a ton of new words along the way (though I probably won't remember half of them). As for the plot, I was massively confused, though entertained, for most of the first half of the book. If you plan to read Foucault's Pendulum, be warned: you will probably feel the same way. However, Eco intended this confusion, so don't despair, carry on, and it will come clear eventually.

While Publisher's Weekly calls Foucault's Pendulum a "psychological thriller," I wouldn't really describe it as such. There are certainly elements of a psychological thriller, but there are also elements of historical fiction, conspiracy theory books (not sure that's a genre, but betting that it is), metaphysics, and occultism. I really don't know what genre to put this book in, and I think that's a good thing. I generally find that if a book is not easily defined or categorized, it ends up being more complex and interesting. While I was indeed very, very confused for parts of the book, I was, without exaggeration, intrigued from the very first until the very last page, and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who thinks they'd enjoy it (if you don't think you'd enjoy it, you probably wouldn't).