Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jackie's Progress

I'm excited to be starting a new reading challenge!

So far I have only read 4 Pulitzer prize winners:

1961 - To Kill a Mocking Bird
1983 - The Color Purple
2003 - Middlesex

and I've just finshed reading

1998 - Beloved, so hopefully I'll be able to add a review soon.

The Amazing Life of Kavalier and Clay is near the top to my reading pile, but I'm also going to try to get hold of some of the early winners soon.

I look forward to sharing some good books with you all in the future.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Laura's Review - The Good Earth

The Good Earth
Pearl S. Buck
260 pages

Pearl Buck's classic novel is an epic portrayal of agrarian China near the turn of the twentieth century, leading up to the 1912 Revolution. The novel opens on the wedding day of Wang Lung, a poor farmer. His wife, O-lan, has spent her youth as a slave for a wealthy family in town. Up to this time, Wang Lung has had to care for his father in addition to farming the land, and he is simply glad to have someone to cook, clean, and tend to his father while he works the land. His relationship with O-lan develops, in a traditional way, as she bears him children and works with him in the fields. During a time of widespread crop failure, they migrate to a southern city and learn to survive in far different conditions. But the pull of the land is strong, and eventually Wang Lung and his family return to their home town and prosper as farmers and landowners.

Over the years the family experiences birth, death, marriage, and war; happiness as well as suffering. Buck brings the characters of Wang Lung, O-lan, and their children to life. Wang Lung could be rather distasteful by modern, western standards, even when he was simply trying to provide the best for his family. At other times, he was motivated by selfish desires and made decisions which would be harmful viewed through any cultural lens. And I felt sorry for O-lan, who was helpless under his partriarchal rule.

Towards the end of The Good Earth, Wang Lung prepares to pass his land to his sons, just as China is preparing to pass over into a new era of its own. My edition of this book included a reader's supplement with cultural notes and photos of weddings, markets, and ordinary people which helped bring the story and the time period to life. This book is more than just an epic family saga, it also paints a fascinating picture of the life and customs of a country on the brink of dramatic change. ( )

My original review can be found here.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - Tammy's review

Title: The Grapes of Wrath

Author: John Steinbeck

First Published: 1939

No. of Pages: 464

Synopsis (from B&N): Although it follows the movement of thousands of men and women and the transformation of an entire nation, The Grapes of Wrath is also the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, who are driven off their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots, Steinbeck created a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its insistence on human dignity.

Comments and Critique: John Steinbeck was a master storyteller. He had the ability to get you interested in the story and to hold your interest for page after page. The story of the Joads is heartbreaking but at the same time shows mankind’s strength of character in the face of overwhelming odds, especially in the character of Ma Joad. Without doubt, she was my favorite – she showed resilience through poverty, hunger, and death, all the while presenting a brave face to the outside world and trying everything she could to keep her family together.

It’s always been difficult for me to imagine what it was truly like to live through the Great Depression. The only family I have that was alive then is my grandmother. She’s told me a little about her life growing up on a central Florida farm as the 2nd oldest of 8 children, but has never wanted to talk much in detail about the experience. I’ve noticed that many elderly people do that, they either don't discuss it or they downplay the hardships that you know they suffered, often with the comment that, “We didn’t have much, but then neither did anyone else.” It’s almost like it wasn’t as bad because so many were suffering right alongside. That was also a theme in this book. Steinbeck really focused on the interaction of the migrants and showed how they looked out for one another, shared their food and lodgings, and provided moral support.

My copy of the book has extensive commentary, which provides a good look at the historical and social context of the story. My next step is to watch the movie version, which I’ve always heard is excellent, and see how it compares to the book.

Interesting facts:: John Steinbeck lived with an Oklahoma family and travelled with them to California as research for this book. The Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1940. John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: Yes

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, 1999
A Collection of Short Stories, 198 pages
Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Company

Winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the PEN/Hemingway Award.

Interpreter of Maladies, Lahiri’s first book, is a collection of short stories depicting the lives of Indians or Indian immigrants. Some may immediately wonder how they could relate to the stories or characters. You may not to them individually, but what you will find is that the themes are universal thus eliminating such a concern.

“A Temporary Matter” centers on a couple estranged by the loss of a child:

But nothing was pushing Shukumar. Instead he thought of how he and Shoba had become experts in avoiding each other in their three-bedroom house, spending as much time on separate floors as possible.
“Sexy” about a woman having an affair with a married man and coming to terms with the choices she’s made:
There was no reason to put it on. Apart from the fitting room at Filene’s she had never worn it, and as long as she was with Dev she knew she never would. She knew they would never go to restaurants, where he would reach across a table and kiss her hand. They would meet in her apartment, on Sundays, he in his sweatpants, she in her jeans.
“Mrs. Sen’s” showing the hardships faced emotionally by someone having to adjust to a new life. One in a country where there is little to connect to on any level as there is no immediate family or a community of those with similar backgrounds to lean upon for support, thus the homesickness felt is as much as any one person can bear:
Mrs. Sen took the aerogram from India out of her purse and studied the front and back. She unfolded it and reread it to herself, sighing every now and then. When she had finished she gazed for some time at the swimmers.

“My sister has had a baby girl. By the time I see her, depending if Mr. Sen gets his tenure, she will be three years old. Her own aunt will be a stranger. If we sit side by side on train she will not know my face.”
There are nine stories in total and in each one there was always some aspect that touched me in some way that I could not picture myself, or anyone I know, caught up within those same circumstances and possibly having the same responses. I can say in truth, that I did not understand every nuance in some of the stories, as understanding the culture would have been helpful. But really, it does not detract from the enjoyment I had in reading this book. In fact, it was the first one I completed when participating in the recent Read-A-Thon.

As I stated in an earlier post, this book has got to be one of the better Pulitzer Prize Winners I have read in some time. In addition, I have not read many Short Story collections this year even though I had planned to.

I am glad I decided that this should change. This was a wonderful book and will be a nice addition to my personal library.

For this reason I am giving it 5 stars and a definite ‘must read’ recommendation.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

March by Geraldine Brooks

In reading Little Women, I never really gave much thought to Mr. March and his experiences as a chaplain in the Civil War. (In fact, when I read it at a much younger age, I didn't even know it was during the Civil War!) This 2006 Pulitzer Prize winner gives us a chronicle of what his experiences might have been, and the realities of war that he does not write about in his letters home. A lot of his experiences are based on Louisa May Alcott's father, a transcendentalist who rubbed shoulders with Emerson and Thoreau. March encounters racism, both from Northerners and Southerners, and other cruelty that he struggles to take action against, but fails. We learn in flashbacks about his courtship with Marmee (and learn where Jo gets her temper from!) and why the family has become so poor.
The best word I can use to describe this "listen" is "interesting." It didn't grab me in any way, it was just "interesting" to see the different perspectives of various individuals and groups during the Civil War. I like to meet famous people in works of fiction and experience what a conversation with them would be like, and there are a few instances of this in this book. The books I love usually fit into one of two catergories--great storytelling or great writing. Occasionally a book fits into both. March didn't fit into either one for me, but I don't regret reading it, if that makes sense.

Where I Stand Coming Into This

Here are the ones I have read previous to joining the Pulitzer Project:

1921 The Age of Innocence
1928 The Bridge of San Luis Rey
1932 The Good Earth
1937 Gone With the Wind
1940 The Grapes of Wrath
1945 A Bell for Adano
1961 To Kill a Mockingbird
1999 The Hours
2004 The Known World
2005 Gilead
2006 March
2007 The Road

I think I have a couple of these books reviewed in archives. I'll see if I can find and post them.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Audiobook)

Read in November 2007:
I found this novel uplifting and deeply thoughtful. John Ames, a preacher in 1956 Gilead, Iowa, knows he is nearing the end of his life. The novel is a letter to his almost 7-year-old son who will not know or remember much of his father. He writes of his family's history, his thoughts on life and religion, and tells of some difficult experiences he has had learning forgiveness. This is one of the few audiobooks I've listened to that I loved the voice of the narrator. This was a good one to listen to, and reading it around Thanksgiving was appropriate, because you see the things that are important to John Ames at the end of his life. I checked out the books so I could quote some of my favorite passages, but there were just too many. It's far from a plot-driven book, but I see it as one that can sit on your nightstand and be read a little bit each night.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Laura's Review - The Yearling

The Yearling
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
354 pages

The Yearling is a coming-of-age story about a boy, Jody, living in the Florida wilderness during the late 1800s. Over a year's time, Jody grows from a 12-year-old focused mostly on recreation, to a contributing family member working alongside his father to provide for his family. Jody's family lives off their crops, game hunted in the forest, and trades made in a nearby village. It's a tough life full of back-breaking labor.

At Jody's side during most of the year is Flag, a fawn adopted after being found orphaned. As an only child, Jody longs for companionship, and his parents long resisted allowing him to adopt wild animals as pets. For some reason, in this case, they relented. Flag is a devoted pet, often at Jody's side, but as he grows it becomes more and more difficult to keep him on their farm.

This book is well-written -- it won the Pulitzer Prize after all -- and the very descriptive language brought the landscape to life. However, I tired of the graphic hunting scenes, and I was never emotionally invested in Jody and his family. I was hoping for a more compelling read and was disappointed. ( )

My original review can be found here.