Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Al-Qaeda, some fiction, and a memoir

Here are some books I've read lately.

Prince Caspian, by CS Lewis. I read this one with Miriam. It didn't hold her attention nearly as well as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Mine neither, come to think of it. It seemed like there was a lot of camping and talking going on and not a lot of action. I don't remember thinking that the first few times I read this so maybe it was just a particularly tedious book to read aloud for some reason.

Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson. It was so weird - the movie totally ruined this book for me. That isn't usually the case with books I read after having seen the movie. But I couldn't get interested in this book very much because I already knew exactly what was going to happen and the book didn't seem to add any appreciable nuance to the story. Huh.

Columbine, by Dave Cullen. Full review here.

The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. I gave this book one out of five stars on Goodreads, and I don't feel bad about it since I invested a full 200 pages before giving up. I kept thinking, OK, this is the part where it's going to get REALLY good. But it never did.

And yet - a lot of people seem to love this book so maybe it needed more like a 400-page investment, which I'm not prepared to give right now.

Part of the problem might be that the version of the book I checked out from the library did not look like the above photo. It looked like this:

and I found it hard to take a book with such a sappy cover seriously.

Then again (see the back and forth I went through when deciding whether to continue reading this?), this is a book in which the following happens within the first hundred pages: (SPOILER ALERT) a man's wife gives birth in the forest in the middle of winter and then dies. The man buries his wife in the ground with his own bare hands as his two young children look on. Then he leaves the infant on top of the grave and abandons it. That same night, he changes his mind and goes back to find the baby after all. He doesn't find the baby, but he does have sex in the forest with a woman he just met as his two children sleep nearby. This is within 10 hours or so of his wife's grisly death and the disappearance of his newborn child (and within about 10 meters of the grave, no less). (END SPOILER.)

Yeah, now that I think about it, it was right around that point when this book completely lost me.

But to complete the back-and-forth, if someone tells me that around page 475 this book gets really good, I will believe them.

Prisoner of Tehran, by Marina Nemat. I was so close to really liking this one. However, I have a hard time with memoirs whose main players (besides the author) are dead or inaccessible. I can't help but wonder about their side of the story. But as memoirs go, this one was very interesting and quite well done.

The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright. This book is pretty much flawless. If you've read the 9/11 Commission Report, some of the material will be familiar to you, but this book goes deeper and wider and farther. As a bonus, it will help you understand what's going on in Egypt right now a little better.

To sum up: I recommend The Looming Tower and Columbine without reservation (they were both 5-star reviews for me on Goodreads). Skip The Pillars of the Earth. Read Snow Falling on Cedars if you must, but maybe only if you haven't seen the movie. Prisoner of Tehran is worth a read, as long as you keep your skepticism handy. And it is never a bad idea to read something by C. S. Lewis.


Susanne said...

Thanks for the reviews. A Saudi friend recommended the last one a good while back, I put it on my "to read" list and never did. Now I may have to look for it.

I agree that some books just aren't as exciting when read out loud.

Carrie G said...

I had the same problem with Prince Caspian out loud. The Magician's Nephew moved along pretty well, though.


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