Monday, October 22, 2012

Auschwitz by Miklos Nyiszli

It's not often that you'll catch me reading a nonfiction, be it a history, memoir, self help, etc.. If I read a book, it's to lose myself in an entirely different world, take a break from reality. In reading Auschwitz, a memoir told by a Jewish doctor who was more or less forced into helping the Nazis with their torturous science experiments in Auschwitz, I found myself taken back into the last months of the second World War, which may be real, but is as different a world as any fantasy world could be. This short tale was emotional and moving, and I think it should be required reading, just as Elie Wiesel's Night has been in recent years; 4 out of 5 stars for being so gripping a story as it was.

Auschwitz tells of Nyiszli's own capture by the Nazis, and of his choice between hard labor and an early death, or assisting the Nazis by performing 'experiments' on other prisoners in exchange for an extended, but still limited, life. Frankly, I would have refused, and sent myself to an early grave, than be forced to kill innocents just for the sake of Hitler's absurd pseudo-science experiments performed on concentration camp prisoners. How could someone play such a hand in the destruction of their own people? The foreword of this book essentially asked the same question, and while I can understand his fear and his willingness to do anything to stay alive, and hopefully keep his family alive, I still don't think I would have been able to make the same decision as Nyiszli.

This story was very moving, and you just can't help but be pulled into the pages. I found myself reading late into the night, to see what kinds of horrors were in store for him, even as the inevitable end of the Nazi regime came into sight (of course, being an Auschwitz prisoner, Nyiszli wasn't privy to such information regarding the war, so I supposed it was never almost over for him until it was actually over). Definitely a recommended reading for anyone interested in learning more about WWII and the Holocaust, particularly for anyone looking for a story told through the eyes of someone behind the walls at Auschwitz. Just keep tissues nearby, and be prepared for graphic descriptions of what sort of fate the Nazis had in store for their concentration camp prisoners..

Probably one of the saddest pictures of shoes on the internet. Besides crocs.

- Justin

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Yes!! Finally getting around to catching up on all the blog posts that I've been procrastinating :) One of my regular customers, Mike, recommended The Heart is a Lonely Hunter to me, and it took a few months but I was finally able to read this novel at the end of August. While I take every book recommendation to heart (if somebody recommends a book to me, they truly liked it and believe that I would), at first glance I wasn't really sure I would be a fan of McCullers' first novel. I was pleasantly surprised, however, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter received 4 out of 5 stars.

From the publisher:
With the publication of her first novel, THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, Carson McCullers, all of twenty-three, became a literary sensation. With its profound sense of moral isolation and its compassionate glimpses into its characters' inner lives, the novel is considered McCullers' finest work, an enduring masterpiece first published by Houghton Mifflin in 1940. At its center is the deaf-mute John Singer, who becomes the confidant for various types of misfits in a Georgia mill town during the 1930s. Each one yearns for escape from small town life. When Singer's mute companion goes insane, Singer moves into the Kelly house, where Mick Kelly, the book's heroine (and loosely based on McCullers), finds solace in her music. Wonderfully attuned to the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition, and with a deft sense for racial tensions in the South, McCullers spins a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated—and, through Mick Kelly, gives voice to the quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.

My thoughts:
I'm not sure what it is, but I feel like most books I've been reading involve multiple perspectives and storylines. Not that I'm complaining; the characters that McCullers created in this book are immensely likable and relatable. No matter what size town you live in, and how close you are to your family, everybody has that one person whom they would feel lost and lonely should they lose them. While Mick is considered the story's main heroine, I felt drawn especially to Singer. The other characters are inexplicably drawn to him, and tell him their problems and secrets with ease, while Singer keeps his own thoughts and anxieties to himself, which is so sad to me.

Few books can induce such emotional reactions in the reader as The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is able to do. I found myself reading late into the night, then trying to sleep while empathizing with the characters in the book. I felt isolated and alienated at points, even though I would be in the living room with my family, or preparing to come back to a semester of school, work, and an internship. McCullers captures the essence of a small town caught in the Great Depression, and I am definitely glad I was not in that time period :P

I was very surprised by how much I liked The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and definitely recommend taking a look into this poignant, moving work of literature.

- Justin :)

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin

I was originally terrified to start this behemoth of a novel, knowing full well it would be a long endeavor. And, I was NOT wrong... This book took me a month and a half to finish, and I have to say it was a disappointing summer in that regard. Martin's fans waited 8 YEARS for this book to come out, and I for one would have been frustrated, if not downright angry, at what emerged from that time. A Dance with Dragons did see the return of my favorite characters, but the novel in its entirety still only gets 3 out of 5 stars and that's being lenient.

First off, I think Martin should start putting his appendices in the front of the novel. This and A Feast for Crows, the 4th book in the series, begin at the same time, the conclusion of the third book. While Feast focuses on the characters residing in and around King's Landing (Sansa, Cersei, and the like), Dance reintroduces the characters 'worlds away' such as Jon, Danaerys, Tyrion, and pretty much all my favorite characters. Of course, in typical Martin-esque fashion, there's no way of telling who lives and who dies till you get to the end of the novel (and of course, I won't be spoiling any deaths here), but I will say that I was rather shocked and dismayed at some of the final chapters in the book.

While I can't say I was happy by the time I got to the final page, I assure you that the fate of some characters is not the reason Martin's latest is my least favorite in the series. I'm used to losing favorites when I read, it's like picking racehorses that always fall and break their legs in the final stretch. It sucks, but hey, that's life!

What really disappointed me was the lack of cohesion, the dragging nature of this book, and the random extreme detail that made a 700 page book into a 1000+ book instead.

Normally, Martin oscillates between around 7 characters in the Game of Thrones books. Sometimes, a random perspective will be thrown in (i.e. the prologue in A Clash with Kings), but for the most part it's fairly easy to keep track of all the characters because they pop up every 5 or 6 chapters. In A Dance with Dragons, however, each chapter is told by a different character. Even if sometimes the characters turn out to be the same one, it's frustrating to see one chapter titled "Reek", and another "The Spurned Suitor" and so on (no, these aren't the same character, I'm just making an example of the titles not being real names like the chapters in the first book- Sansa, Tyrion, etc.). Gets very difficult to keep track of the characters when they all have multiple nicknames.

While there were parts of this book that were immensely enjoyable and captivating (SPOILER ALERT Dany rides her dragon :P ), there were several parts where it just dragged on and on and on. There's only so much conversation and character building that I can take before I get bored and pick up other novels on the side (You know, like Divergent and Insurgent), and I was rather surprised that Martin put so much detail and description and dialogue/character building into this story when the first four, while still detailed and descriptive, were hundreds of pages shorter. Not too much really even happened in this book, compared to the others in the series. Almost every part of this book is important in terms of plot, but I felt as though Martin could have saved us a couple hundred pages of fluff and filler.

In any case, it's not like I wasn't going to read this book since I had already read four of them, and I'm sure I'll be picking up the sixth (and any others Martin decides to write), because I love the series. And I also can't leave a series unfinished. But that's another story. Looking forward to the sixth novel, and hopefully it's shorter, and more interesting, than this goliath novel.