The Orphan Master’s Son

Unknown The Orphan Master’s Son
Adam Johnson
© 2012

Imagine a land ruled by a vicious, crazy leader.  This is a country where ignorance is prized.  The truth is twisted and mangled, and people know better than to question it:

“Where we are from [. . . ] stories are factual.  If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro.  And secretly, he’d be wise to start practicing piano.  For us, the story is more important than the person.  If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change.”

Doubt or disloyalty of any kind is a death sentence:

[T]hey lived in a land where people had been trained to accept any reality presented to them.  He considered sharing how there was only one penalty, the ultimate one, for questioning reality, how a citizen could fall into great jeopardy for simply noticing that realities changed.

This is North Korea in the not-so-distant past, and it is the backdrop of The Orphan Master’s Son, the life story of Pak Jun Do (an intentional homonym of “John Doe”). Continue reading

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A Tale for the Time Being

UnknownA Tale for the Time Being: A Novel
Ruth Ozeki
© 2013

Meet Nao (pronounced “Now”):

  • A suicidal Japanese teenager who lives with her mom and suicidal father;
  • The victim of pretty severe and grotesque bullying;
  • Caught between two cultures (feels like an American, because she grew up in Sunnyvale, CA . . . but moved back to Tokyo with her family after the dot-com bubble burst and her dad lost his job);
  • Loves her 104-year-old great-grandmother, Old Jiko, who is a Buddhist nun.

Meet Ruth:

  • Japanese-American;
  • Left NYC to live in a remote island town in British Columbia;
  • Has a husband, Oliver, and a cat, Schrödinger (nicknamed “Pesto”);
  • An author (this book’s author, in fact), working on her memoir. Continue reading

Seven Deadlies

Unknown Seven Deadlies: A Cautionary Tale
Gigi Levangie
© 2013

When I was deciding where to go to undergrad, I was drawn to the small universities for wealthy hippies (I was neither wealthy nor a hippie, but, for whatever reason, these were the schools I liked).

These schools are basically the higher-education versions of Montessori schools, and there are more of them out there than you’d think.  They are teeny-tiny (total student body is generally well under 2,000, and the average class size is about 10 students).  Some don’t use letter grades; they have written evaluations instead.  Independent studies, create-your-own-major programs, and unique class offerings (like “”Cross-Species Ensemble: Human and Animal Sonics”) are as prevalent as traditional courses.  Vegetarian and vegan options abound at the various restaurants and cafés on campus.  Study-abroad opportunities are available on every continent.  Performing arts are huge; sports are not (aside from club sports like ultimate Frisbee, of course). Students call their professors by their first names and meet them for fireside small-group chats at the on-campus, free-trade coffee shops.  

One of the schools I visited during my search was Bennington College.  When it comes to small universities for wealthy hippies, Bennington is the front-runner.  On Princeton Review’s list of colleges for “Birkenstock-Wearing, Tree-Hugging, Clove-Smoking Vegetarians,” it ranks #1 (yes, this is an actual list and an actual ranking).   It is located in the super-hippie town of Bennington, Vermont (one of the hippiest places on Earth).  And, not surprisingly, it is grossly expensive (tuition for the 2013-14 academic year is $44,490; room and board is over $13,000).

Famous alums of Bennington College include Peter Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) and Justin Theroux (of Jennifer Anniston fame).  It is also known for spitting out some pretty talented writers, like Donna Tartt and Bret Easton Ellis.

I eventually decided Bennington wasn’t for me (and headed to the West Coast, land of rain and real hippies).  But I certainly understand the school’s appeal, which is why I was initially drawn to this book.  Seven Deadlies is written as a college application essay (or, more accurately, collection of essays) to the Bennington Admissions Committee.

Continue reading

Tenth of December

UnknownTenth of December
George Saunders
© 2013

When my brother was visiting a few months ago, he told me to read a short story by George Saunders that appeared in The New Yorker in 2002.  It’s called “My Flamboyant Grandson.”  It’s a short piece about a loving grandfather who takes his grandson to see a Broadway show.  If you haven’t read it, here it is.

“My Flamboyant Grandson” is a great representation of Saunders’ short fiction: The setting is a somewhat dystopian future.  The narrator has a distinct and interesting voice.  It’s got a touch of darkness.  But it’s funny.  It’s touching.  And it’s just plain good. 

If you like “My Flamboyant Grandson,” you’ll like Tenth of December, which is Saunder’s latest collection, published last year.  It contains ten short stories, ranging in length from two pages to sixty pages, and each one packs a punch. Continue reading

Allegiant (Book #3 in the Divergent Trilogy)

First, as promised, I have a GIVEAWAY WINNER to announce!! Congratulations to Julie (juliemcl), who is the winner of IKWYSR’s first book giveaway!  Julie wins Revolutionary Road, a book that everyone should read (Excellent choice, Julie!).  Thank you to all of you who entered the giveaway!

And now on to the book review . . .

Allegiant
Unknown-2
Veronica Roth
© 2013

I am flummoxed.  Flabbergasted.  Baffled. Dumbfounded.  Perplexed.  Befuddled. Confused.

How are all three books in the Divergent Trilogy among Amazon’s top 20 bestsellers? How is Veronica Roth Amazon’s #1 overall bestselling author?  How was Allegiant named one of Amazon’s Best Books of the month for October 2013 and one of Amazon Editors’ Top 20 Picks for the Best Books of 2013?

How, how, HOOOOWWWWW?  None of this makes any sense.  In fact, it actually makes me a little angry that Veronica Roth has been so successful with this book, considering how absolutely awful it is.

I can’t say anything good about the book.  Not one thing. Continue reading

The Club of Angels

Unknown-1The Club of Angels
Luis Fernando Verissimo
© 1998
Translated from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa
© 2001

Our most recent Christmas card revealed Bryan’s and my tendencies toward gluttony.

photo-11Each picture on the front of the card is of a delicious dish we enjoyed in 2013.  Highlights include #5: pebrots de Padrón from Tapas 24 in Barcelona; #8: double cheeseburger from Holeman & Finch at Turner Field in Atlanta; and #14: ramen ravioli at Yuji Ramen in New York.

I love delicious foods.  I dream about them.  I plan vacations around them (like visits to see my brother in New York to eat at Le Bernardin and Empanada Mama and Bouchon Bakery or trips to Charleston to eat at Husk and FIG).  Great meals make me ridiculously, deliriously happy. Continue reading

Insurgent (Book #2 in the Divergent Trilogy)

UnknownInsurgent
Veronica Roth
© 2012

“Insurgent,” he says. “Noun. A person who acts in opposition to the established authority, who is not necessarily regarded as belligerent.”

Insurgent is the second book in the Divergent trilogy.  It begins immediately where Divergent ended.  There has been an uprising, the faction system is falling apart, and people must find allies anywhere they can.

I can’t discuss any more of the plot of this book without spoiling Divergent for those who haven’t read it.  So, instead, I will simply show you the official book trailer: Continue reading