Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg

I mostly picked this up because I was looking for something light and fluffy after my battle with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I thought, "Fannie Flagg!  Author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe!  Perfect.  Whimsical.  Quirky.  Just what I need."  Not whimsical.  Not quirky.  Boring.  With terrible pacing.  Just terrible.  The first half is kind of a downer and reeeeeeeaallly slow.  Then there is an interesting little section in the middle with what appears to be a mystery but is totally predictable.  Then the end which wraps everything up in about two pages.  And they all live happily ever after the end.  Such a disappointment.  Skip this one.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

A lovely allegory of Christ.  Jonas, a twelve, is selected to be the next Receiver of Memories for the Community.  The more he learns, the more he realizes that the people need the memories for themselves.  In a Camazotz-type existence the people know nothing and therefore feel nothing.  Jonas sacrifices himself to save the people from nothingness.  Can someone please explain the ending to me?  Something more substantial

Traveling With Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Monk Taylor

Hmm.  Well, it was... interesting.  (That's like saying the girl who showed up for the blind date was... "nice".)  It was fun to read this and get a little of the back story on how The Secret Life of Bees came to be.  For those like myself who weren't sure what to do with the wackadoo religion practiced by the wonderful sisters in that book, this one is even worse.  It's one thing to go, "Oh.  They are worshipping a masthead.  That they named the black Mary.  And they smear honey on it and dance around.  Interesting.  Fiction.  Creative...?"  It's entirely another thing when the people behind the book actually do these things for real in some hippie feminist idol-worship religion of their own making.  The making of that craziness is the essence of this book.  It's pretty touchy-feely and although supposedly a "travel book", it has very little to do with either travel or the destinations and everything to do with what happened there.  In addition to the making of the black Mary religion, it is also a coming of age(s) story.  I liked this aspect of the book.  It explores the becoming women experience at pivotal moments in life such as going to college and becoming an adult, having your child get married, menopause, midlife crisis, grandparenting, and the shift in roles and relationships each time one of these pivot points intersect our lives.  Again, pretty touchy-feely, but a lovely portrayal of mothers and daughters and the ties that bind them.  I would like to note that the authors took turns writing chapters and surprisingly, I enjoyed Ann Kidd Taylor's chapters much more than Sue Monk Kidd's.  I might recommend it for a mother-daughter book group but otherwise I would say you could probably skip this one and find something better to read.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

SIGH.  Let's see.  Where to begin?  Yowsa.  This book is not for the faint of heart.  The text is extremely cerebral and gave me a splitting headache every time I picked it up.  The author's I.Q. was 170 at one time and that level of intelligence is reflected in the writing.  It took me enormous concentration to understand what was being said and I believe I am a reasonably intelligent person.  That said, I enjoyed the book and was glad that I read it.  If it had not been on the Rory Gilmore booklist I probably would never have chosen it for my A to Z Challenge.  (So thank you Gilmore Girls!) 

Through logic and reasoning, the author explains his own philosophy about Values and living a "Quality life".  He gives a history of philosophy in general from the Sophists (pre-Plato) to the present but not in a stuffy historian way.  He also briefly talks about the histories of science and knowledge as they relate to his philosophy.  He discusses mathematics and truth and eastern religions and all of this in a way so as to make it accessible to regular people (who concentrate really, REALLY hard).  :) 

From a Christian standpoint it becomes clear to me that the "Quality" which Pirsig works out for himself is God.  It is obvious and lovely.  I appreciate with what order and detail he proves through logical reasoning that this "Quality" exists.  There are many people in the world who believe that God and logical thinking are mutually exclusive and because Pirsig proves this is not so, I enjoyed reading this book very much.  Ultimately, the author's philosophy is that to change the world, we must change our hearts.  We must have "Quality" in our lives in all that we think and say and do.  When individuals achieve a "Quality" life, the world will become a better place.  What a beautiful message, no?

The book covers a two week, cross-country, motorcycle road trip the author takes with his son and the deep thinking the author does during those long stretches of open road.  Actually it is the deep thinking of his lifetime which he reflects back on during the road trip.  At the beginning of the book the author comes off sounding very intolerant and self-absorbed/arrogant.  He seems to find fault with his travelling companions and their values.  As you get further into the book it seems like the initial judgement was more a projection of what the author perceives as people's general intolerance of each other's ways of thinking and nothing like what he really thinks.  In fact, the "why can't we all just get along" question appears to be what the author sets out to solve when he comes up with his "Quality" philosophy.

I read the book in a few days and when I was finished, I wished I had taken it much more slowly.  I think it would have been easier and more meaningful if I had taken it a little at a time and been more contemplative about it.  (Also, it could have saved me some massive headaches.)  A word of warning:  Mental illness is part of the story of both father and son and is a prominent figure in the book, though not the focus.  Those that are sensitive to mental illness-related issues might find the book a little disturbing.

A real thinker, uplifting, and inspiring- not to mention a mind bender (genius-philosopher-motorcycle dude sat outside my paradigm before reading this)- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is something more substantial than I usually read and it made my head hurt.  A lot.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Another dystopian novel with similarity to The Hunger Games but with much better writing.  The author makes great use of vocabulary and the world she creates is original and thought-provoking.  Roth explores values and what happens when people focus on only one good thing.  She also explores fear and overcoming it with such effective descriptions that many times I noticed my own breathing was quickened, my heart rate was elevated, and my palms were sweating.  The story does not have a love triangle for which I was grateful as I think that particular plot device is getting pretty tired.  This is the first in a trilogy and I look forward to the next installment (Insurgent) to come out this spring.  Exciting, interesting, and a definite page-turner, Divergent is something more substantial.