Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

I now can see why everyone says that Hemingway was inspired to write this novel after serving in World War I.  The unabashed drawing on the author's own life makes the parallels so obvious that a blind man could see it.  Hemingway, like his protagonist, was an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross on the Italian front, was likewise injured and likewise fell in love with the nurse who cared for him while he was convalescing.

We are introduced to his main character, Lt. Henry, just as things are coming to an end in World War I.  Lt. Henry has seen lots of very bad things but wants to continue fighting because that is the only way the ugly badness that he has seen will be eradicated. Other characters feel very much opposed to the war and so the spare dialog that ensues captures the very strong, complicated emotions felt by all sides and conveys them in a style that Hemingway was notorious for and popularized immensely.

I loved how Hemingway glorified the brotherhood and bonds that the soldiers on the battlefield had among each other. The shared experiences of these men drew them together in ways that Hemingway portrayed amazingly well. The affection of these "war brothers" is so palpable you can feel the affection coming off the pages. Lt. Henry meanwhile can never seem to catch a break.  He endures so much hardship in such a short period of time. It's a tremendous book.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Most people have heard of the serialization of 13 Reasons Why by Netflix, which became a huge hit this past spring. And I admit, I binged watched the series before reading the book because, until the end of the series, I was woefully ignorant of the fact that this was a book, originally published in 2009. It was a debut novel by Jay Asher about teen suicide and was a stealthy hit.

The book, much like the series, is made up of the transcripts of the tapes left behind by Hannah Baker, who we know right away has killed herself.  The transcripts are interspersed with the thoughts of Clay Jensen, the most recent recipient of the series of tapes. Each tape has an anecdote or two about another classmate, essentially creating Hannah's narrative as to why she felt it essential to take her own life. It's a fascinating look at the backbiting and sexual coercion that we adults often forget (still) occurs in high school. And this is also why I think that the book appeals to the young adult audience as well.

There was much to like about this novel - it addresses a tremendously personal and important subject in a sensitive way.  Teenage suicide is often not discussed because it is taboo in many ways - the parents or guardians of a child that has taken their own life often won't discuss it openly for fear of judgment being heaped upon them.  Good parents would have seen the signs and done something right?  Schools won't discuss it presumably because of liability reasons - what if we give the idea to someone and they do it?  What if we could have done something to prevent it and we didn't and then we go about talking about it - will that be used to establish our negligence in a court of law?  And if adults struggle talking about such an intensely personal and intense subject, I can't imagine what a teen/adolescent goes through in trying to figure out how they feel let along whether or not they can actually or want to talk about it with someone.  So the fact that Jay Asher wrote this novel and then got Netflix to do a series was awesome - it gets people talking.

I enjoyed the pacing of the novel. It is one of those books that goes very quickly and I would have sat with if until two in the morning reading it if I didn't have other things that I had to do as an adult.  It was just that good. I thought it was creative to have the main protagonist embodied literally first person in the other main character of the book - Hannah is with us through Clay. It serves as a reminder of the complete and utter BS that bullying can be and the impact that it can have on people - what someone may think is no big deal - for others might be the straw that broke the camel's back.

I truly hope that all read this book and that for those with children entering the appropriate age groups that you read this with them because this is just so important and necessary.  

The Power by Naomi Alderman

If you liked The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, you will want to read this dystopian novel, which has won a number of awards in th...