Friday, January 30, 2015

3. Veronika Decides to Die

So I finished TWO books this week, and I'm well on my way into two more. Considering that, until this week, I had finished 2 books all year, I’m calling it a major win. The snowstorm that wasn’t really a snowstorm still kept me inside all day, and I am grateful that I got some work done at least. Unfortunately, my #ThrowbackThursday was marred by a migraine, so that post didn’t get up. I’ll save the topic for next week instead.

Today’s post is on another 1001 book. It was interesting, compelling, and there was a lot going on underneath the surface of the narrative. I also had the benefit of many people in my life reading the book before me, so I have people to discuss it with :D

With that in mind, the third book of Project 84 is:


Veronika Decides to Die

Veronika Decides to Die 
by Paulo Coelho

I’m going to start this entry with a story. When I was starting Project 84 last January, I bought my mother some of my planned books for Christmas. She was excited about the prospect of the blog, and I liked the idea of giving her a ‘preview’ of sorts, so that she could read the books before I blogged about them.

One of those books was Veronika Decides to Die.

Well, my mother read the book, and thoroughly enjoyed it. She said it made her think, and was excited for me to read it so we could discuss. She then passed it along to my father, who also enjoyed it, and wanted to know my thoughts on it.

About 9 months later, I’m finally getting around to sharing those thoughts.

Veronika Decides to Die is one of the more modern novels from 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It’s also translated from Portuguese – which can be a somewhat innocuous statement, but some feel (including my father) that the language was stilted as a result. I’m not sure I agree, but it’s important to mention.

The plot grabbed me right away. A young Slovenian girl named Veronika aims to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of pills. She awakes in the hospital about a week later, her suicide attempt “unsuccessful”. However, the doctors inform her that she has irreparable damage to her heart, and despite the fact that she lived through the suicide attempt, she will die within the next few days. She spends those days in an institution, getting to know her fellow patients.

The novel is marked by two intersecting themes. The first centers on Veronika – and can be whittled down to “what would you do if you had 3 days to live”. That concept is compounded by her situation, and becomes, “what would you do if you had 3 days to live, but had wanted to die 3 days ago”. It’s an interesting idea to consider. The thought that you don’t really know what “living” is, or how much you want to live, until you’re faced with your impending demise.

And the language he uses to describe Veronika’s inner turmoil is so beautiful. An example of when she is starting to appreciate life speaks to that inner turmoil:
“The music, however, was leading her elsewhere: Empty your mind, stop thinking about anything, simply be. Veronika gave herself up to the experience; she stared at the rose, saw who she was, liked what she saw, and felt only regret that she had been so hasty.” – Page 103
The second concept isn’t really about Veronika at all. In the book, Coelho profiles some of the other patients in the mental institution, and gets into the Myth of Mental Illness idea. In other words, are people “crazy” because they suffer from an actual malady, or are they “crazy” because they don’t conform to society’s standards of what is “normal”?

If you want my opinion – and maybe you don’t, but you’re reading my blog, so you’re going to get it – the answer to both questions is “yes”. As someone who’s suffered with anxiety throughout my life, and who has gone through a hefty amount of therapy, I think it’s both. I think much of mental illness is a real malady, and some of it is a societal desire to make you “fit”.

In other words, in my case, a panic attack is legitimately debilitating, and something that I would want to, for lack of a better word, “fix”.  And I have, for the most part. However, the anxious feelingsI “suffer from”, in many ways, are just part of who I am. People might not like to deal with that anxiety, and I may feel badly about myself because I am “abnormal”, but there’s also an aspect of “well, that’s how my brain works. It may not be the same as 75% of the world” (I have no idea what the stats are on anxiety) “but that’s ok. This is my lot, and what I live with.”

OK, that got loftier than I intended. Let’s get to the recommendation. If I were you, I would read Veronika Decides to Die. It’s an easy read thanks to the translation, and thought provoking – as you can probably tell from this post. Even if you’re not interested in mental illness, or suicide, it’s a fascinating character study.

***
So, there we go. I’m not sure this is my favorite post I’ve ever written. I couldn’t quite get my thoughts clear enough, and I think it came out jumbled and pretentious. The amount of adverbs point to that.

But I hope you got something out of this one. Like I mentioned earlier, I just finished another book, and I’m hoping to have it written up by tomorrow. If not, then definitely by Sunday!

Next Review: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler (Expected Posting Date: Saturday, January 31st)



**All quotes and annotations refer to this version of Veronika Decides to Die, published by Harper in 2000**

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

2. Before I Go To Sleep


Slow, slow, slow. I know that this is going slower than it should be. Life keeps getting in the way of both posting and reading, and it’s not good for my goals! I’m still going to read 84 books, don’t you worry about that. I’m a little behind schedule, but not entirely out of the game, so stop worrying, ok?!

Now, I will say that 12 inches of snow definitely helps with the “catching up on reading” portion of my life. I haven’t had so much to do today other than sit on my couch, watch tv, read, and clean…so I’ve already finished one book, and am mostly through a second one. And it’s also helped me finish this blog post.

With that in mind, Book 2 of Project 84 2015 is:

Before I Go To
Sleep

Before I Go To Sleep
by S.J. Watson

In order to explain what led me to this book, I need to make a small confession about myself: I don’t watch horror movies. I just don’t. The fact is, most horror movies are not very good, so there’s that. But, in addition, I live alone. Even though 95% of horror movies don’t particularly scare me, there’s still that 5% that can make me jumpy, and I don’t want to be jumpy when I’m living all by myself.

I hope you horror movie fans will cut me a little slack on this one ;)

That being said, when I see a preview for a horror movie, I have three options. I can either suffer through and watch the movie (probably 1 in 50), I can ignore it entirely, or I can do what is most common – Google it! The amount of horror movie plots I have read through on Wikipedia is almost embarrassing. I can find out the twist, and move on with my day, with jumpiness not becoming a factor.

I mention all this to explain what led me to Before I Go To Sleep. While watching TV, I came across a trailer for the 2014 movie. It looked intriguing, and I couldn’t tell what genre it was in. Were it pure suspense (which I believe it is), I probably would have just seen it. But it looked like there could be a horror component, so I took to Google. At the top of the Wikipedia page, it said this
“A film adaptation of S. J. Watson's 2011 novel of the same name.”
A little further discovery revealed that it wasn’t just a novel, but a well-reviewed novel. A well-received novel. Well, this I can do! I can read a novel, that’s not going to add to the jumpiness.

So, that’s what I did. And, let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed. I can’t give away too much of the plot without giving away the twists and turns, but I’ll explain the setup. A woman – Christine – wakes up in a strange bed, next to a strange man. She can’t remember how she got there. When she looks in a mirror, she looks 20 years older than she did “yesterday”. The man reveals himself to be her husband, Ben, and tells her that she suffered an accident many years ago that caused some memory loss, and prevents her from making new memories.

He leaves for work, and she immediately gets a call from a therapist she’s been secretly working with. He directs her to a journal she’s been writing in, and encourages her to read it. On the first page, clear as day, it reads, “Don’t trust Ben.”

I admit, I was hooked immediately. Before I Go To Sleep is the definition of a page turner. I would go through huge chunks at once because I wanted to know what happened, I wanted to know where it was going. And the story didn’t disappoint. I promise I won’t give anything away – but the narrative hooked me until the very last page. It was engaging, I didn’t see the twists coming, and it unfolded more like a movie than a book.

In addition to being compelling S.J. Watson is also a rather impressive writer. I don’t know that the narrative would have been so successful had he (I admit, I had thought the author was a woman until I just looked into it) not been so talented.

The book did invoke one of my biggest pet peeves. Journal writing. Now, I keep a journal. It’s usually a vague recollection of what happened that day, mixed with some combination of emotional outbursts and philosophical posing. When authors use “journals” in novels, I always find that they are the most detailed, specific accounts of the day. Direct quotes, recollections of colors, tastes, strangers on the street corner. In other words, things that people couldn’t possibly remember at the end of the day.

Two-thirds of Before I Go To Sleep is Christine’s personal journal. It’s beautifully written, but I just don’t quite buy that she would be able to remember that much. I am willing to look past this pet peeve, however, for such a compelling and interesting narrative.

I would absolutely read this book. I haven’t seen the movie, but it didn’t get such great reviews. I don’t know if they changed the narrative, or changed constructs, but I do know that it was not as well-received as the novel. Having read the novel, I’d say just get that instead. I know it’s good, it’s easy to read, and you won’t be disappointed.

***
So there we go! Book 2 is done for good. Like I said, I just finished another book, so that post should be up tomorrow, and I’m hopefully going to put together another #ThrowbackThursday post (I’ve been having a lot of fun with those, and several people have told me that my recommendations have been good ones!).

So don’t give up on me, Project 84 fans. We’re just getting started!

Next Review: Veronika Decides to Die by John Green (Expected Posting Date: Wednesday, January 28th)



**All quotes and annotations refer to this version of Before I Go To Sleep, published by Harper Collins in 2011**

Thursday, January 22, 2015

#ThrowbackThursday - Glamorama



Oh, man, something about getting through Everything is Illuminated sparked my reading juices again. All of a sudden, the books are piling up, and I can’t get through the posts fast enough! Ok…that’s a slight overstatement, but I have been reading more. It’s relaxing again, probably because I don’t feel overwhelmed by the books, and I’m excited to get some of it done.

However, this Thursday we’re going to forget about my current reading, and take a step back in time.

I can safely make the prediction that this won’t be the last Ellis book that finds its way into my #ThrowbackThursday. I have one planned down the road, and I may even do an entire post entirely dedicated to him and his works. But for now, I’m just going to focus on Glamorama. And this one will throw us all the way back to high school.



When I was 16-years-old, I was a band geek. I know, a 27-year-old woman who chooses to read 84 books in 365 days and blog about it? Stretch your minds. So, during the summer before my senior year, in addition to working as a camp counselor, touring colleges, and studying for my SATs…I had to pack up my gear and take a week-long retreat to marching band camp.

Band camp was far from easy for me. It was more akin to training camp than any sort of retreat. We would be up at 5:30am, spend hours a day on our feet in the blistering sun learning our show for the year. It wasn’t like sports by any means, but it was taxing, and exhausting, and free time was at a premium.

While I loved spending time with my band friends, I needed my decompression time after a day on the drill field. And in the summer of 2003, that decompression time came in the form of a 560-page masterpiece called Glamorama.

It wasn’t my first experience with Bret Easton Ellis. I had read Less Than Zero, Rules of Attraction, and American Psycho, and I loved them. I was a 16-year-old literary geek, and I was all about Ellis. So I expected to love Glamorama.

And I wasn’t disappointed. I spent any free time I had that week with my nose buried in the book. In my bunk, holed up in the auditorium on campus, lying in a field between practice sessions. It would take 5 minutes to get lost in the book. My friends learned to look for me in my reading spots, and it was one of the better band camp experiences of my life?

I didn’t want to give away too much about the plot of Glamorama. It’s about a fashion model. Sort of. It’s also about moral fluidity, and the casual way we treat our own moral codes. If I go too much further into it, it’ll ruin it. When I picked it up, I knew nothing more than it was by Bret. And I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

Pick up Glamorama. I have read it many times since 2003, and I always find something new in the narrative. I always discover some point I hadn’t seen before, or discover something in myself that I had never expected. It’s compelling, and disturbing, and fun, and horrifying, and just an all around great book.

I’m glad I discovered it when I did, because I had all this time to enjoy every bit of it. I encourage you to do to the same.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

1. Everything is Illuminated

Alright…so when I said “Tuesday, January 13th”…I guess I really meant 8 days later. But you’re going to forgive me for 8 days late, right? I was a little too optimistic about how long it would take me to finish reading Everything Is Illuminated. The next book I finished just fine, but this one was tough for me.

But it’s done, I can finally comment on it, and I think we should get to this review before I let anything else get in my way!

With that in mind, Book 1 (eeeeee!!!!) of Project 84 is:


Everything is
Illuminated

Everything is Illuminated
By Jonathan Safran Foer

This book, for lack of a better way to put it, was a slow start for me. Heck, it was a slow read for me. I don’t do great with non-linear narratives. I got about 500 pages into Infinite Jest before throwing it across the room and yelling “never again!” at my Oscar Wilde action figure. (It takes a lot of geeky, bookwormy knowledge to fully appreciate that last sentence…). All the same, Everything is Illuminated was one I wanted to try.

It might have helped that it was only 276 pages as opposed to Infinite Jest’s 1,000+.

But, yeah, I didn’t know it was going to be so non-linear, and it was tough for me to get through. Sometimes I feel like I’m not smart enough to follow books that skip around in time. This one also had the added challenge of a more free-form, poetic structure that can often lose me.

We’ll start with the plot, as it were. The novel contains two intersecting narratives. One is the story of Jonathan Safran Foer – a young, Jewish American who travels to the Ukraine in search of a woman he believed saved his Grandfather’s life during the Holocaust. That story is told through the eyes of Alex – a young Ukrainian “translator” who serves as a tour guide for Jonathan along with his own grandfather and a blind dog named Sammy Davis Junior, Junior. The narrative of the journey is told in Alex’s broken English, peppered with synonyms he found in an English thesaurus.

An example of this style:
“I have given abnormally many thoughts to altering residences to America when I am more aged.” – page 28
The second story is the fictional history of “Trachimbrod” – based on an actual Jewish shtetl in Poland that was eradicated during WWII. This part of the story is told in Jonathan’s more poetic prose.

About 24 hours after completing Everything is Illuminated, I’m finding it hard to decide exactly where I stand on the novel. I know that it was hard to get through. Alex’s narrative style is understandably confusing, and tough to read. But Jonathan’s style had challenges of its own. The poetic word play – while beautiful – could make the story tough to follow. In fact, my issues with both sections of the narrative can be boiled down to “tough to follow”.

But, like other non-linear books I’ve encountered, I’m struck by one question:

Does it matter?

At the end of the day, I felt an emotional connection to the book. There is a passage in the novel – from when Alex reads part of Jonathan’s diary – that sums up my own feelings about the narrative quite well:
“I had read several pages in his diary. Some scenes were like this. Some were very different. Some happened early in history and some had not even happened yet. I understood what he was doing when he wrote like this. At first it made me angry, but then it made me sad, and then it made me so grateful, and then it made me angry again, and I went through these feelings hundreds of times, stopping on each for only a moment and then moving to the next.” – page 160
This is a book about love and loss. About personal responsibility, and about how what is right at the time might not feel right in hindsight. About doing what you can to survive, and altering your moral code to get to that point.

The only thing is…I can’t tell you exactly how all of that happens. I just know that it does, and that I felt it, and in the way I experience books, that’s all that really matters.

It also has the benefit of being hilarious. It’s rare for me to laugh out loud while reading…and it happened more than once with Everything is Illuminated.

Would I recommend this book? That’s a tough question. I think, ultimately, the answer is yes. For one thing, just because I found the book hard to follow doesn’t mean that everyone will. People love this novel, so there must be something there. And even if you find it as tough to follow as I did, the prose is still beautiful, and the emotion is real.

***

So that’s Book 1! A good book, a 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die book, and one that’s been sitting on my shelf for years. I’ve given it 20 pages time and time again, but never made it all the way through. It wasn’t easy, but I finally got there!

I have another book completed and on tap, so I can guarantee a post within the next couple of days. I’m also aiming for another #ThrowbackThursday post tomorrow, so the blog should be very busy! Make sure you like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe up there on the right hand side to make sure you don’t miss a post.

Next Review: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Austen (Expected Posting Date: Friday, January 23rd)



**All quotes and annotations refer to this version of Everything is Illuminated, published by Harper Perennial in 2003**

Thursday, January 15, 2015

#ThrowbackThursday: Shutter Island


 
I know you’re all anxiously awaiting my Book 1 post for Project 84. It should be up by tomorrow. Until then…I am strangely excited for my first #ThrowbackThursday post. I wasn’t sure how this would go…or if I would be able to get away from my typical format to a more personal style. I guess that will be up to you – but I thought I would try casual at least once before I write it off.

For this #ThrowbackThursday, I won’t be throwing back too far. This particular novel takes me back about five years, to when I first moved to Connecticut.


A lot of people reading these blogs already know my stories. Many of you probably know the details of how I came to live here, and what I do. But just in case I have any new readers, or anyone who isn’t in tune with the idiosyncrasies of my life story (I know, shocker!), here it goes.

When I graduated from college in May of 2009, I knew what I wanted to do. It’s a heady thing, knowing what you want, not feeling torn in a million different directions. For me, all of college had been leading to one point. Internships, jobs, activities, classes – they were all designed with a specific goal in mind:

I wanted to work in sports television.

And in May of 2009, I was the luckiest girl in the world. I was 2 weeks away from moving to Connecticut to start my dream job, and I was so ready.

By September of that same year, things were still good…but it was hard. I was in a brand new place, I missed my friends, I missed college, I missed my family. My job was great, but I was finding myself pining for so many things. I wanted to escape. So I turned my old, trust friend- the library – to provide that escape.

And I discovered Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

It was the first novel I read after moving to Connecticut, and to say I loved it was an understatement. I raced through it. Couldn’t stop reading it, didn’t want to stop, and I completely lost myself in the story.

It’s hard to talk too much about this book without ruining what makes it so good. It’s a mystery. A detective arrives on “Shutter Island” – where the only inhabitants live in a mental institution – to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. After beginning his investigation, he starts to discover that there is more to Shutter Island than meets the eye.

How’s that for a teaser line? Hey, I do this for a living, people! ;)

But it’s even better than it sounds. It’s not a typical detective novel, it’s not a typical psychological thriller. And, above all else, it’s amazingly well written. To the point where it was hard to believe I just stumbled on the novel.

Maybe this book hit me at the right time of my life. Maybe it just appeared when I needed an escape, and needed something to distract me from a stressful everyday existence. But I can’t recommend this book enough. The movie is great…but the book is better. There’s just so much more internal struggle than could ever be properly put on film, and you should read it.

So that’s my #ThrowbackThursday. The book was published in 2003, but it came into my life in 2009. And if you haven’t read it, I hope I can introduce it into your life now.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Update

Well...I had every intention of putting together a graphic before my first Sunday Update. I also had every intention of posting about at least one book before my first Sunday Update. But, well...here we are.

That being said, I'm not disappointed about my progress - it's just going a bit slower than I intended. I am right at the end of my first two novels, and then I get to start on some real posting! The writing really is one of my favorite parts of this journey - even though I don't always show that ;)

Since there's not a lot to report on this Sunday - let's face it, I'm basically just reading and trying not to get too far behind - I'll give you a sneak peek at what to expect coming up this week.

Posts to Expect this Week

This week, I should have three blog posts if everything goes as planned (other than this one, of course!) One will be my #ThrowbackThursday, which I've already started working on, but there are two more to look forward to.

Estimated Posting Date: Tuesday, January 13th
http://www.amazon.com/Everything-Illuminated-Jonathan-Safran-Foer/dp/0060792175

Estimated Posting Date: Friday, January 16th
http://www.amazon.com/Before-Go-Sleep-S-Watson/dp/0062060562 

Currently Reading...

http://www.amazon.com/Wild-Found-Pacific-Crest-Trail/dp/0307592731/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1421030473 and... http://www.amazon.com/Veronika-Decides-Die-Novel-Redemption/dp/0061124265/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1421030501&sr=1-1&keywords=veronika+decides+to+die

So there's a look at where I'm at! I also have an awesome #ThrowbackThursday post planned about one of my favorite books. A couple hints...it was a popular movie about 5 years ago, it's mysterious and psychological in nature, and it was written by a former writer for The Wire. (He's also written quite a few books...but that would give it away!)

Any guesses? Let's see if that little mystery will hold you over until Tuesday.

Happy reading!
 

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Triumphant Return of Project 84




Hi Friends…it’s been a while. About 6 months, to be exact. Suffice it to say, I fell off the Project 84 wagon. Big time. Life just got in the way! When it came to my reading in 2014, I got overwhelmed by my new job, and weight loss, and Project 84 seemed like the easy thing to let fall by the wayside.

But it was more than just Project 84. It was my free time in general. Since July, the job has taken over. Every time I said “today is the day I read. Today is the day I post”, I would get home and the couch would be calling my name. It was so much easier to veg out in front of the TV than pick up a book. In fact, there were days where the simple idea of doing something productive in my free time made my entire body hurt.

In 2014, I made it to 31 books read, and blogged about 23 of them. I did ok, but nowhere near the 84 book goal. I thought about continuing from 23, and making the project “84 books over 2 years” instead…but that really wasn’t the spirit of this project. The whole point was to read 84 books in one year, and I haven’t given up on that goal.

So here I am. It’s 2015, and I’m starting again. The goal is the same as it’s always been. 84 books over the course of 1 year. 42 of those books will come from 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and the other 42 will come from recommendations, books on my shelf, and some new ones coming out that I’m excited about :)

If you are new to the blog, welcome!! Feel free to look around, see some of my reviews from last year, see what I’m all about! If you’re intrigued, like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. Or, if you’re really feeling ambitious, enter your e-mail address up there in my “subscribe” box and you can get these posts directly in your inbox.

For my loyal followers, there are a couple new things to expect this year. First, no matter where I am in the process, I will always post a “Sunday Update” post on Sunday. That will give an idea of what’s on tap to be posted that week, how my reading is going, and I’m sure it will also contain a few apologies when I’m late with things ;). In addition, I will post a #ThrowbackThursday post on Thursday, recommending a book from the past (or a series, or even an author). Those won’t be as long as the regular posts, just a quick little reminder, but I thought it would be fun. And also a way to introduce more of me to those of you still unaware.

In addition, I may include some other fun posts along the way. Maybe a poll, or a giveaway or two, or a question and answer post. Anything to keep me more engaged in the process.

But, until then, I will stick to what got me here…

I gotta get to reading!!