Saturday, 12 April 2014

Book Worm Extreme

Maybe I’ve survived here without much to do in Kuwait because I’ve been blessed with some fantastic reading material. Since I am mere days away from departing Kuwait I feel like I should mention what I really did in my down time: read.

Reading has been a passion of mine since childhood. My parents, both avid readers, instilled the importance and love of reading in me early on in life. They both read to me when I was unable to. I was a child who grew up with English and Japanese books. I can remember reading Japanese books with my father who both corrected my errors and translated what I was reading so that I could also comprehend the material.

Favourites amongst my English children’s book collection are The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters, anything about the Berenstain Bears (which had a moral tale in each book), anything from the Franklin in the Dark series, Dr. Seuss, Robert Munsch and Marc Brown. The Balloon Tree, Each Peach Pear Plum, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and The True Story of Three Little Pigs.

My mother worked in a bookstore when I was about four years old, so I got dibs on awesome books at discounted prices. Talk about awesome! I frequently stayed at the bookstore while my mother was working…It must’ve been a time when it was okay for people to bring their kids to work because I can remember helping her arrange the display in the front window, dust, arrange the books, put people’s purchases into bags and sit in the back of the store up to my chin in books my mother would let me read as long as I didn’t ruin them.

I was immersed in reading and to this day I love it! While living in Kuwait, I have read some fantastic books which I would like to take a moment and share (if you don’t mind). In no particular order, here were the best:

1.) The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood (Canadian literature: what we reading geeks who studied it fondly call Canlit).
It would be an understatement for me to say I really liked this book because I didn’t. I freakin’ LOVED it! It’s a huge beast of a book, but it was fantastic and I’d read it again—there’s a great twist. Let’s be honest, Atwood is a genius. Her poetry is just as amazing.

2.) Strong Motion, Jonathan Franzen
This was a new author to me, recommended by the Irish chef. It was really good, but I like strong characters, so there were times I was frustrated with the characters and plot. However, it was a good read. Damn, Franzen has a way with words and with writing that’s stunning. I want to be like him.

3.) Both First Love, Last Rites and The Comfort of Strangers, Ian McEwan.
First Love, Last Rites is a compilation of short stories and The Comfort of Strangers is a short story. Both are great and disturbing, probing the dark underbelly of sex and love and the various ways that people experience and enjoy it. The boundaries they push made them tough to read, but also very good reads. These were the first things I read by McEwan and next I’m going to read Atonement.


4.) Battle Royale, Koushun Takami
What a great novel! I’d already seen the movie (and love it), and the book was also really good! I think the post-apocalyptic theme extremely interesting because I believe that’s where this world is heading (towards an apocalypse, although of what nature I’m not sure). I think people’s different takes on what will happen are fascinating. Another disturbing book, this isn’t something I would have read and/or enjoyed five years ago, but I want to step out of my comfort zone and expand my literary scope.

5.) Invisible, Paul Auster
This book kept me on the edge of my seat, but was anti-climactic by the end (as was the Franzen). I felt disappointed at the end, but once I could see the brilliance of what he did with narration and the reliability, or lack thereof, of the narrator, I could appreciate the novel on an entirely different level and would read it again. Warning: this contains incest.

6.) Out, Natsuo Kirino
Oh. My. Goodness. This book was a fantastic depiction of women stepping out of the patriarchal shadows in Japan. The female characters have a myriad of personalities and emotions making them multi-dimensional (as they are in reality). I haven’t seen this in the Japanese literature (written by Japanese writers) I have read. It’s categorized as a crime novel, but has so many layers. It’s so well organized and structured. Although I read the English translation, it was moving. As was the case with a lot of the novels I’ve read in Kuwait, it was disturbing (I’m not choosing disturbing novels on purpose. It is coincidental-I promise!!!).

7.) The Various Flavors of Coffee, Anthony Capella
I love coffee, so when I saw this book at Costco—yes, Costco—I couldn’t resist purchasing it. I brought it to Kuwait with me. This thick novel captures the life of a young man who becomes immersed in the world of coffee. While this wasn’t the best of the bunch, it was very entertaining to read. The plot was full of twists and turns and it was so enjoyable that I had to give it to the Georgian Lady (another person who loves reading as much as I do). I’d underlined some great lines in the book, and stuck a name label in it. There’s no doubt I left my mark(s) in it and that it left an impression on me.

8.) Hotel Iris, Yoko Ogawa
This is a traditional disturbing Japanese (short) story. I like the description of the scenery and Ogawa’s attention to detail. I like the relationship that builds between the protagonists as well. It’s a haunting tale of love lost; this content is what I’m more familiar with when it comes to Japanese literature (the haunting love story). This was a birthday present from the Irish chef J

9.) Both Eragon and Eldest, Christopher Paolini
These are re-reads for me. I first read them when I last lived in Japan. I loved Eragon so much that I read it only a few short days. This book is inspiring to read since Paolini wrote it when he was a teenager. What a writer! I’ve never read past Eldest. However, I do have the next two books in the Inheritance cycle: Brisinger and Inheritance; I can’t wait to read them!


10.) Divergent, Veronica Roth
This book is akin to The Hunger Games and Blood Red Road. While this, the first book in the series, was fantastic, the rest of the series was unimpressive and I actually wish I hadn’t read past Insurgent, the second novel in the trilogy.

These were my close companions in Kuwait. There were definitely HORRIBLE books I encountered as well:

50 Shades of Gray: The worst romance novel I’ve ever read, especially since people who recommended it said it contained some graphic S&M scenes (it doesn’t). 50 Shades is a romance novel in the guise of an S&M.

Allegiant: A poorly written finale to the trilogy. I feel like the first book is so good, but as the series goes on, it’s like the author has no idea how to continue writing a strong plot. This was also a problem for me with Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. However, The Hunger Games series is, in my humble opinion, still a better read than a lot of the dystopian, post-apocalyptic series that have been released recently. Not worth the read.

The Maze Runner: Another YA series that I read over the summer. Like Divergent, the first book was good, but the second and third books are poorly written and the plot becomes diluted and loses momentum. I wouldn’t even recommend any book from this series. You’re better off with The Hunger Games or Moira Young's first book in her Dustland series, Blood Red Road (unfortunately, I haven't read the other books in Young's series yet).