This had got to be one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of weird shit.
So, this guy named Pepper gets involuntarily committed into a psych ward. In this psych ward, along with a colorful cast of characters that are NOT your typical “loonies with a heart of gold” like you’d expect from such a story, there is also a man with the head of a bison that roams the halls and preys on the patients.
So the book is about the patients trying to take this bison-man out. It’s also about how fucked up mental healthcare is in this country, using this ward as an example. LaValle discusses how protocols are ignored, patients are overmedicated just to shut them up, and how even the nurses who care get broken down in the end. He also includes several real life cases of neglect or even intentional harm to patients in these kinds of facilities. There is also a several page long history about Vincent Van Gogh’s crazy ass.
These book is bizarre, but I kind of loved it. It was impossible to guess what was going to happen next. The pacing of it is really weird, too, in a way that reflects the mental state of Pepper and the other characters. Makes you feel a bit crazy as you read it. I’m looking forward to some of LaValle’s other books, one of which is apparently called Shadowboxing with Jesus.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, was wonderful. Of course, you already knew that, since it seems like every fifth review on Cannonball Read is for this book. It’s magical and scary and heartbreaking and everything good about Neil Gaiman.
I went into this book (actually, I listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend because Gaiman’s readings are always great) with almost no knowledge of its content. I knew it was a story about a man revisiting his childhood. Honestly, if you haven’t read it, I would recommend going into it blind like I did. Makes discovering the story so much better.
The Devil’s Arithmetic is pretty straight-forward. A girl named Hannah is complaining about the need to “remember” for Passover. At Seder, Hannah opens the door for Elijah, and finds herself transported into the body of a Jewish girl named Chaya in a shtetl the 1940s. Even with her foreknowledge of the events of the Holocaust, Hannah is powerless to stop soldiers and they collect her and her village and take them to a camp.
The majority of the book entails Hannah’s day to day activities in the camp, and her observance of the suffering of those around her. It’s hard to read, obviously, as all accounts of the Holocaust are. But it’s an important lesson, to Hannah and to the reader, about the importance of remembering such things so that history cannot repeat itself.
I guess this is a book a lot of people read in school, but I missed it somehow. Having read it as an adult, it’s still very effective and I can see how this would make a good novel for young adults to read during a course on the Holocaust. Watching the events from the perspective of a young girl would make them particularly disturbing to a young reader, I think.
I try not to compare Joe Hill to his dad, because I don’t think he’s trying to cash in on his dad’s incredible fame. But even if Joe Hill had never HEARD of Stephen King, it’s hard not to compare the two. And knowing how much I love love love Stephen King, I mean it as a compliment when I say that this book reminded me a lot of King at his absolute best.
NOS4A2 is the license plate number of a 1930s Rolls-Royce that helps a man named Charles Manx kidnap children across the country and take them to his Christmasland, which doesn’t exist in the strictest sense of the word. Victoria McQueen has a transport with a similar ability — a bicycle that can cross a bridge to take her to whatever she is missing.
This is a creepy, weird book starring a truly scary dude and a truly bad ass chick. Vic is wonderfully fleshed out and given realistic weaknesses to balance out her strengths. I could not put this thing down (700 pages in about 3 days), and I cannot wait for Hill’s next offering to the world of horror.
Mary Roach’s books are so much fun, mostly because she’s obviously having a great time researching and writing them. They’re witty and silly and full of a ton of information that I never would have even considered seeking out on my own. Go read them!
Spook is Roach’s attempt to use science to explain what happens after we die. She investigates reincarnation, the existence (and weight!) of the soul, near-death experiences and hauntings. Each chapter covers a different aspect of the afterlife, and various scientific attempts to define or prove it in some way. For instance, she discusses several methods of trying to measure the soul, like comparing the weights of bodies pre and post death.
Interesting stuff, and Roach’s take on it is a good balance between skepticism and “I want to believe”. I am atheist, and still enjoyed the discussions of religion as much as the more scientific ones. I also love how she’s not afraid to call certain researchers “nutters”, as some of them quite obviously are. And in the end, there’s more questions than answers. But it’s a fun journey.
I loved this: “Here again, we must end with the Big Shrug, a statue of which is being erected on the lawn outside my office.”
“There is something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a deep-sea diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can’t tell which way is up. When he surfaces, he’s liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can’t adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All of this happens to me when I surface from a great book.”
Nora Ephron was a talented lady. This book is laugh out loud funny, and even as I read it I wanted to share it with my mom because I knew she would like it, too.
Ephron talks to us about the ageing process, about her divorces from husbands and apartments, about her relationship with her kids (“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you”) and about her love of books. I loved reading about how much she loves to read. It encapsulated my feelings about books perfectly.
Ephron’s wit and way with words make this a quick and enjoyable read. And it’s full of great advice (“Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four”) for women of all ages.
Of Love and Shadows is billed as a romance, and while there’s certainly a romance within it, the novel is so much more than that. It’s political and social commentary wrapped around a romantic story.
Of Love and Shadows is about a journalist (Irene) and her photographer (Francisco) who live in an undetermined Latin American country in which people keep disappearing. The government, which runs EVERYTHING, is suspected of these disappearances, but people are too afraid to investigate. Irene and Francisco, however, follow the case of one of these disappeared citizens, and uncover more truth than they were expecting.
Allende sets up these frightened, oppressed people so expertly that I kept thinking that maybe the book was older than I thought (it was published in 2005) and set in some real country under a militaristic regime. It certainly has its roots in actual historical events, which make it even more effective.
The romance-y bits are good, too, if you like that sort of thing (who doesn’t, really?).