Thursday, January 19, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

My book club is reading this for our February meeting. I kind of got a head start because once I started reading a few pages, I had to find out what would happen next. I've always been interested in this period of history and like many people I've often wondered why the Holocaust couldn't have been averted. Why didn't world leaders see it coming? Reading this book has given me a clearer view of this era. In the prologue of In the Garden of Beasts, author Erik Larson writes "That's the trouble with nonfiction. One has to put aside what we all know - now- to be true, and try instead to accompany my two innocents through the world as they experienced it. These were complicated people moving through a complicated time, before the monsters declared their true nature."

I wondered when I read those lines how I could read a novel that begins in 1933 in Berlin and forget that I knew exactly what was going to happen years later. But somehow Larson nailed it. As I kept reading and following the story of the American ambassador to Berlin, mild-mannered William E. Dodd. and his flirtatious daughter Martha, I started to understand why very few people predicted what Hitler was actually capable of.  No one saw the nightmare that was looming over Germany. Even the few people who realized Hitler was insane didn't believe he would last that long. The atrocities that were reported back to America were looked on as isolated incidents. Anti-semitism was ripe not only in Germany but in the rest of Europe and even in the States. The dispatches and letters sent by the few in the U.S. embassy who believed there was cause for concern were all ignored. America, suffering from the Depression, only wanted Germany to pay it's financial debt back and that's what they tasked Dodd to focus on.

the Dodd family en route to Berlin

Larson follows the years of Dodd's posting in Germany and his growing disillusionment with Germany and with his own job. Martha, who at first is fascinated by the Nazis and her glamorous life in Berlin slowly starts to unravel the truth because of various incidents culminating in the Night of the Long Knives. This was a fascinating read and now I have a better understanding of what happened in Germany in the 30s before the outbreak of war.

Larson is called the master of the nonfiction narrative and that's not surprising. In the Garden of Beasts was as gripping as the best fictional political thrillers .

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Midnight's Children Group Read

I'm doing a group read together with Arti at Ripple Effects and Meredith at Dolce Bellezza.
We'll be tackling Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. I've been wanting to read this for a while and when I saw that Arti was planning to read it in 2012 in preparation for the film release later this year, I suggested a read-a-long. My only experience with Rushdie has been reading and abandoning The Ground Beneath Her Feet which isn't exactly his most popular novel. Midnight's Children won the Man Booker Prize in 1981 and then went on to win the Booker of Bookers in 1993, which commemorated the awards 25th anniversary. The latter award was given after the public voted from a selected shortlist.

The synopsis from the Amazon website:
Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts. 

Since Rushdie won't be an easy read we decided to take this very slowly so this will be a long and relaxed group read. We don't want it to interfere with other reading plans. The book has 533 pages and is divided into three parts with the second part being the longest. We'll begin in March, and for four months at the last day of each month we'll post our review.

Here's the exact schedule for postings:
  • March 31 -- Book One
  • April 30   -- Book Two (Part A ending with 'Alpha and Omega')
  • May 31   --  Book Two (Part B starting with 'The Kolynos Kid')
  • June 30   --  Book Three

As you can see we'll have more than enough time to get through the 533 pages. If you'd like to join, please let us know and take note of the schedule above. We'll do a reminder post in early March.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Blogging and Reading Plans for 2012

It's a new year and my google reader is crammed with blogging posts about resolutions and reading plans so I figured I should probably get my act together and write one too. I haven't reviewed too many books lately  because I don't want blogging to become a chore. There was a time when I felt I had to blog every week to keep the followers I had. I admit, I love having readers and getting comments. It's fun and it leads to other blogs and thus other books. But last year there seemed to be a new book blog popping up every week. Each one more glamorous than the last. Suddenly it was very hard to keep up and read fast enough to write the next review. I couldn't even enjoy the books I read because I'd be busy thinking about the next one and the one after that.

So I've decided that I just want to read what I want and post only about books I feel like writing about whether it's a good or bad review. I want to take my time reading and not have this pressure to finish as soon as possible. Last year I only read 42 books which is nothing compared to the 80+ books of many other book bloggers. I don't think I'll ever be able to read 80 books in a year and that's completely ok with me.

So my plans for 2012 is to continue blogging when the mood hits me. I'll always be reading but I won't write about every book. I also want to blog about films since I love the movies and if I see one that strikes me then I'll definitely want to talk about it.

I'd also like to take part in more read-a-longs. There are books I've wanted to read for a while but tackling them always seemed like a daunting task so it would be encouraging to read them with others. Arti of Ripple Effects and I will be having a read-a-long of Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie which will also be a film released in late 2012. I've been wanting to read this for ages but Rushdie is not exactly easy or at least that was my experience when I tried and abandoned The Ground Beneath Her Feet. So I want to try Midnight's Children which is generally agreed to be Rushdie's best novel and it won the Booker of Bookers. If you'd like to join this read-a-long, do let us know. We'll post more about it soon. And if you have other suggestions for books that would make great 'read-a-longs' then leave a comment below.

The following are the novels I'd love to read this year:

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
The Submission by Amy Waldman
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The History of History by Ida-Hattemer-Higgins
The House of Silk: the New Sherlock Holmes Novel by Antony Horrowitz
Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu and Erin McGuire
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Divergent by Veronica Roth

I also want to read more non-fiction. Here are some I have in mind:

Catherine the Great: Potrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
The Nightmare Years 1930-1940 byWilliam Shirer
The Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn

However, I don't know how many of the above I'll actually manage to read this year. Have you read any of the books I've mentioned? Which ones do you recommend? What other books do you suggest I should read this year?  I'd love to hear every suggestion so do leave a comment below and Happy Reading this year!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Six-Year-Old's Best Books of 2011

My eldest turned six in November of 2011. We read him a number of chapter books last year and these were the books that stood out in no particular order.

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
My son loved this and he loved the film version as well. He had a Roald Dahl day at school and he went as the Fantastic Mr.Fox himself.

The Adventures of Tintin by Herge
My son discovered Tintin last July and ok, so he's not actually reading the comic books yet but he has loved following the stories through the pictures and listening to us read to him. Its been fun for us to reread them too and to make up voices for Captain Haddock and Bianca Castafiore.

Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
The Moomins are adorable happy and whimsical characters in a series of books and comic strips written by Swedish-Finnish author, Tove Jansson. They are a family of trolls but far from appearing scary, they are white and roundish with large snouts that make them resemble hippopotamuses. They are carefree and adventurous and live in a house in Moominvalley in the forests in Finland. Fun and delightful things seem to always happen to the Moomins and their friends.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
I bought this for my son's 6th birthday and we enjoyed reading it together. It has beautiful drawings and is actually a homage to Georges Melies one of the forefathers of the movies. We can't wait to see the film directed by Martin Scorsese. The trailer looks incredible!

The Witches by Roald Dahl
This for me was the most fun book to read aloud. "You brrrainless bogvumper! Are you not rrree-alising that if you are going rrround poisoning little children you vill be caught in five minutes flat? Never in my life am I hearing such a boshvolloping suggestion coming from a vitch!" 

I wonder what his favorite books this year will be. If you have any book recommendations for a six-year-old, then I'd love to hear from you. Meanwhile, I highly recommend the above books for the 5 or 6-year-old in your life. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Best Films of 2011

Among the movies I saw in 2011, these are the ones I will gladly see again.

1. The Best of Youth
This is the only film on this list that wasn't released in 2011. It's an Italian movie made in 2003 but it tops the list because it's probably the most beautiful movie I've ever seen. My full review here.

2. Midnight in Paris
I absolutely loved this one. I'm a big fan of Woody Allen and this film is reminiscent of some of his older movies such as The Purple Rose of Cairo. The cast was excellent especially Owen Wilson as the Woody-like neurotic character.  I know I'll be watching this film again and again.

3. The Adventures of Tintin
I saw this with my dad, my husband and my eldest son. Three generations of Tintin fans treated to a fantastic adaptation. Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg did an excellent job. It's quite obvious they have tremendous respect for Herge and that they're also big fans.

4. Jane Eyre 
The latest adaptation of one of my favorite books is one of the best I've seen. It has the best cast and the cinematography is excellent. My only complaint is that it was too short.

So which were your favorite films from 2011?

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