book review – ‘nothing’ by janne teller

nothing janne tellerI heard about this book from KK, was fascinated by the story, and picked it up as a gift for my oldest daughter for Christmas. As any good parent might do, I decided to read the book before I wrapped it and gave it to her – I am very glad I did.

First, as usual, the blurb…“Nothing matters.” “From the moment you are born, you start to die.” “The Earth is 4.6 billion years old. You’ll live to be a maximum of one hundred. Life isn’t worth the bother!” So says Pierre Anthon when he decides there is no meaning to life, leaves his seventh-grade classroom, climbs a plum tree, and stays there. His friends and classmates cannot get him to come down, not even by pelting him with rocks. So to prove to him that there is a meaning to life, they set out to give up things of importance, challenging one another to make increasingly serious sacrifices. The pile is started with a lifetime’s collection of Dungeons & Dragons books, a fishing rod, a pair of green sandals, a pet hamster—but then, as each demand becomes more extreme, events take a morbid twist. And what if, after all these sacrifices, the pile is still not meaningful enough to bring Pierre Anthon down?

This book won a slew of awards, including Michael L. Printz Honor (USA 2011) for literary excellency, Mildred. L. Batchelder Honor Award (USA 2011), Die Zeit Luchs Preis (Germany, August 2010), Le Prix Libbylit (2008) for best children’s novel of the year published in French, Cultural Ministry’s Prize (Denmark 2001) for best children’s book of the year. I have said this before, but it bears repeating – I do not always think ‘award winning’ means ‘good.’ This time, it does.

This is the first book by Danish author Janne Teller that I have ever picked up. Controversy follows many of her books, and it’s easy to see why. She deals with difficult topics. She allows her characters to develop in very natural ways, even if that means they develop very unnaturally. She doesn’t shy away from facing the ugly, and seems to have no interest in simply convincing her reader that ‘everything will be okay’…because in the real world, everything is not always okay. She also (at least in this novel) likes philosophy, which might run off some potential readers, but I found it wonderful.

The clear brilliance of this novel’s idea was enough to make me want to read it. I was happily rewarded with treat of a novel – well written, believable, shocking, thoughtful – everything a quality novel should be. The execution of Nothing neared perfection, and one aspect of Teller’s approach that I particularly liked was her straightforward way of provoking thought in the mind of the reader (there is not a hidden social commentary, like in so many YA novels today, rather this novel makes you consider the points by being very direct and having the characters engage in the same considerations as the reader).

Though the novel was full of ‘deep thoughts and concepts,’ I didn’t feel like it was an overly philosophical approach. Most youth end up asking the age old question ‘what does this all mean?’ Teller’s characters are not only asked that question, but set out to prove that life does have real meaning. The frenzy that the kids enter, over the course of their quest, reminded me of Lord of the Flies – I later learned that many reviewers felt the same way, so that’s not a particularly original thought.

The movement between the kids’ sacrifices, meaning, action and reaction, carries you through the story fully aware that this type of activity cannot end well. The moment you are waiting for finally comes, but the book carries on, and in the concluding chapters Teller actually makes the points that you’ve been discovering along the way. The ending is sad and wonderful at the same time.

I know that many of our young people don’t think they would enjoy a novel like this, but as a parent and a reader, I highly recommend this book.

Buy Nothing by Janne Teller now!

through my eyes: the dark porch (post 2)

through my eyes photography“A person born to be a flower pot will not go beyond the porch.” ~Mexican proverb

This post is a continuation of the through my eyes photography series. The first post, including an introductory essay, can be found here.

the dark porch

“No front porches. My uncle says there used to be front porches. And people sat there sometimes at night, talking when they wanted to talk, rocking, and not talking when they didn’t want to talk. Sometimes they just sat there and thought about things, turned things over. My uncle says the architects got rid of the front porches because they didn’t look well. But my uncle says that was merely rationalizing it; the real reason, hidden underneath, might be they didn’t want people sitting like that, doing nothing, rocking, talking; that was the wrong KIND of social life. People talked too much. And they had time to think. So they ran off with the porches.” ~Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

book review – ‘wicked intentions (the abattoir book 1)’ by charity langley

book review wicked intentionsI met Charity Langley on social media, and as I do with some regularity, I asked about reviewing her book for my blog. Since I have had communication with her, I always feel like I need to say that all I received in return for this review was a copy of the book to read. And I am very glad I did!

Book blurb from Amazon: Life was bad enough when Lauren DarPayne hit puberty and sprouted a set of fangs, but now it’s hell. After almost killing her boyfriend Derik and turning him into a vampire, she quit college and moved from small town Louisiana all the way to Atlanta, Georgia to be a stripper at Wicked Intentions. It’s good money, a great place to hide, and an easy meal ticket… well, at least until a psycho with some interesting non-human abilities starts eviscerating her coworkers. Now, due to her past ‘indiscretion’ with Derik, the governing body of all cryptid, the Abattoir, is giving her an ultimatum: play bait willingly, or by force.

This novel is outside of my usual reading preference (literary fiction) – it falls in the paranormal suspense genre. I have done a fair amount of reading on vampires and werewolves, with a particular affinity for vampires, so I was comfortable in the world Langley created. This was one of the strongest and most intriguing parts of the this book; I very much enjoyed the author’s take on the paranormal world. She treats her supernatural characters in a very creative way. There have been some real literary duds lately dealing with paranormal creatures – this is not one of them.

Charity Langley is a very talented writer. Her command of language, and of the vernacular of her characters, is impressive, especially in a first novel. I’ve done reviews (or am in the process of reviews) for a number of independently published authors, and I have been generally incredibly impressed with the quality of work that they are publishing. I’m making ever more contacts with independent authors, and I’m looking forward to reading more of their work.

The story in this novel is creative, original, engaging, and well put together. It hits a rough spot every now and then, but recovers quickly, and on the whole is wonderful to read. The action is fast paced and fluid – and there is a lot of action! I am curious (in a good way) to see how the characters continue to grow throughout the series.

My final note is about the editing (typical for me, I know): the only major distraction from Langley’s very strong first offering were some errors in editing, including spelling, missing words, and punctuation. Some of the rough transitions in story could also have been helped with a good editor…so I would just note that consistency could be improved, and basic editing mistakes avoided.

If you can’t already tell – I enjoyed this novel very much, and I am anxiously awaiting the second book in the series!

Charity Langley’s Author page on Facebook

Buy Wicked Intentions (The Abattoir Book 1) Now!

book review – ‘the sex lives of siamese twins: a novel’ by irvine welsh (publication date February 3, 2015)

sexlivesI saw an initial announcement about this publication several months ago, put it on my wish list, and thought no more of it. Then the opportunity to review the novel pre-publication came, and I jumped immediately. I don’t follow everything Welsh writes, but I loved Trainspotting, read several of his other books, and was very excited to read this newest novel.

About the novel – The famed—some would say notorious—author of Trainspotting and many other brilliant offenses against common literary decency comes at last to America, with a dark and twisted tale of personal training and abject codependency in the fading glitter of Miami’s South Beach, with a novel that asks the provocative question: Why would you want to be “the Biggest Loser” anyway? When Lucy Brennan, a Miami Beach personal-fitness trainer, disarms an apparently crazed gunman chasing two frightened homeless men along a deserted causeway at night, the police and the breaking-news cameras are not far behind. Within hours, Lucy becomes a hero. Her celebrity is short-lived, though: the “crazed gunman,” turns out to be a victim of child sexual abuse and the two men are serial pedophiles. The solitary eye-witness, the depressed and overweight Lena Sorenson, thrilled by Lucy’s heroism and decisiveness, becomes obsessed with the trainer and enrolls as a client at her Bodysculpt gym. It quickly becomes clear that Lena is more interested in Lucy’s body than her own. Then, when one of the pedophiles she allowed to escape carries out a heinous sex attack, Lucy’s transition from hero to villain is complete. When Lucy imprisons Lena, and can’t stop thinking about the sex lives of Siamese twins, the real problems start. In Lucy and Lena, Irvine Welsh has created two of his most memorable female protagonists, and one of the most bizarre, sadomasochistic folie à deux in contemporary fiction. The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins taps into two great obsessions of our time—how we look and where we live—and tells a story so subversive and dark it blacks out the Florida sun. (blurb from Amazon)

I suppose that when we approach the novel of a well known writer, we do so with certain expectations. I anticipated being blown away by this book, loving it from the first page, rushing to write my review…but I was wrong. I didn’t particularly enjoy the reading, or the story, or the characters.

BUT I’m glad that I waited to write my review, and to let the novel sit with me a little while, because I’ve come to appreciate it more in that time of reflection.

By and large, a lot of the writing in this novel is lazy. I mentioned to several readers I know that it almost felt like Welsh was “resting on his laurels,” knowing that the book would be read, and therefore not putting as much effort into the construction of this novel as he has in the past. One aspect of the writing is rather brilliant, however, and that is the way in which the style changes between the two main characters. The way Welsh puts the words together changes rather dramatically, depending on which perspective we happen to have at any given moment. This is difficult for an author to do, and executed very well, even with the general struggle I had with the writing.

From a story perspective, this one was just a bit too ridiculous for me, and for the most part I rarely cared. I know that the absurdity of situation/person/etc is a hallmark of Welsh, but the way this one pushed just didn’t engage me. I suppose that’s one of my biggest issues – I never cared or connected with the characters or the story. The central protagonist was deplorable and shallow, falling well short of other terrible but redeemable characters I’ve experienced in Welsh before. I don’t mind a terrible person as the main character, this one simply fell short for me. [Sorry, I never do book report style reviews, so I’m not going to analyze the storyline here.] And the end, well, it was odd and absurd, but somehow served as a perfect capstone for the entire reading experience.

Reflection…honestly, when I put the book down, I nearly hated it. I had not enjoyed reading it, I didn’t like the characters or the story, and I was massively disappointed with the overall experience. But I’m glad I waited a little while to write this review, because as I sat with the novel, I realized a few things. One of the big ones – the novel didn’t leave me. As annoying as I found it, I kept thinking about the issues it brought to the surface. Welsh worked on me, day after day, until I had to admit that there was more to this story than what I “disliked”…there is something significant here.

If you enjoy Welsh, then read this novel. And if you enjoy those books that creep up on you, and then stay around after, read this novel. In the end, after my reading and further thinking, I did, in fact, enjoy this book.

You can buy The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins: A Novel now!

through my eyes: the age of a house (post 1)

IMG_5263_blogPerhaps it’s a bit cliche, and it’s been said many times before, in various ways, by men and women far superior to me in countless ways, but I will consider it today nonetheless — the only absolute in life, the only consistency, is that nothing is ever the same. Everything is in constant flux, changing continually — this is the only stability in life. And it sucks (that’s simply my opinion, perhaps you think differently).

Your spouse/significant other — you never wake up to the same person. Yesterday was change, and sleep was change, and your yesterday changed you, which also changed them. It seems we almost live with strangers, considering the changes we each undergo over the course of every single day. We age, born inevitably to die, and this also takes its toll daily. Yes, many things are seemingly consistent, but the degree of change adds up…day after day after day…

Your children — we see it most easily when they are young, but they are also changing every day. They grow; they learn; they forget; they age; they experience; they hurt; they laugh. As much as we struggle with the reality, one of the best examples of the constant changes life brings can be seen through observing the lives of our children.

Your porch — even something as mundane as a porch experiences change daily. The easy things to see: dust, weather, aging, insects. You never enjoy your coffee in the exact same place and way as yesterday…it’s always changing.

Your brain — the composition of our brains changes constantly, impacted by even simple things: alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, protein, sugar, memory, oxygenation. The changes cannot help but change the function of the brain, which moderates everything from emotions to beliefs to bodily functions. Think about that too long (which also changes the brain), and it can make a person crazy.

Your body — we learn even in grade school that the cells in our body are constantly dying and being replaced by new ones. We all literally wake up physically different every single morning. And this doesn’t even take into account the other changes we experience, from aging to weight to hair loss and wrinkles.

The nature of reality — I wonder about this, actually. With even the tiny sample of constant change seen above, we can surmise that the way we experience and perceive reality shifts from moment to moment. Does this also mean that reality itself changes? And does that even matter? Or is it enough to know that what we experience daily is in a constant state of flux?

I have enjoyed photography for many years, and I have decided to use this love in a specific way. I am embarking on a project, a photography project (even though I am neither a good nor inspired photographer) — I will capture images that will never been seen again. Forever frozen in a moment, posted on my blog, and able to be seen by eyes other than mine.

The project begins today — “through my eyes”

A post will, I hope, come at least once a week.


the age of a house

“A house is a machine for living in.” ~Le Corbusier