Monday, December 27, 2010

The Passage

I read something vaguely promising about The Passage somewhere so when I saw it in a used book store, I snatched it up. Perhaps not the wisest purchase because I got it in one of those books-by- the- pound places and it's 750 pages. Also it blows and I'm not going to finish it. It's this dumb book by Justin Cronin about a secret virus thing they give to convicts that turns them into vampires. And then the vampires break out of this secret bunker place and start destroying the whole world. And meanwhile, this one guy is watching a little girl who also has the virus but she doesn't try to kill anyone, she's just really sensitive to light, see? But the guy is really dimwitted and he's like, huh, I wonder what this weird virus is that turns people into raving blood thirsty super-strength lunatics? Oh well, I'm just going to keep taking care of this light-sensitive kid.

There is just nothing in the world more boring than a book about kids, amirite?

I thought it would be a sort of perfect vampire- related brainless novel, perfect for laying around my parents house during the holidays, but it's way too brainless. It reads kind of like a cross between Dan Brown and Michael Creighton. So, I popped out to the bookstore and got another 550 page book - Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. This is making a lot of Best of 2010 book lists (I'll write mine soon) so perhaps I'll finish it before the new year and add it to mine too. So far, it's about 10,000 x's better than The Passage.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

My first review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was more of a rant about English and American versions of the books and avoided all spoilers. After the movie came out, I read it again, and, assuming you've read the book by now if you're going to, this will be rife with spoilers.

This book dives right into the Harry universe without so much as a gentle recap of the storyline, which I appreciate. I thought the bit with Harry finally saying goodbye to the Dursleys, and the Dursley's complete inability to look him in the eye, with the exception of a changed Duddly, was some fine foreshadowing that this book was not going to have a fairy tale ending, and that it's not exactly a children's book anymore. I sped through the first half, where Harry, Hermione and Ron are wandering around the countryside looking for horcruxes. I loved what Rowling did with Hermione's beaded bag and all the things she packed in there. I enjoyed reading the back-story of Kreacher, the Black's house elf. (BTW, I though the movie was excellent!)

The second part, the break into and out of Gringotts, the war at Hogwarts, was really exciting. I could barely put the book down when I got to the end. When they jump on that dragon in Gringotts and break out of there... oooo! And, when they get to Hogwarts and the other students are in the Room of Requirement, just waiting for such an opportunity to fight, I thought their bravery, such an, honestly, rather unusual quality these days, read as true. My favorite bits were McGonnagal chasing Snape and fighting.
"My word," puffed, pale and sweaty, his walrus moustache aquiver. "What a to-do! I'm not at all sure whether this is wise, Minerva. he is bound to find a way in, you know, and anyone who has tried to delay him will be in more grievous peril -"

"I shall expect you and the Slytherins in the Great Hall in twenty minutes, also," said Professor McGonagall. "If you wish to leave with your students, we shall not stop you. But if any of you attempt to sabotage our resistance, or take up arms against us within this castle, then, Horace, we duel to kill."

"Minerva!" he said, aghast.
And, I thought Rowling pulled an interesting little literary conceit at the end when we're not quite sure what's going to happen to Harry where he goes through a long series of Snape's memories (although it borders slightly on the Matrix construct), and finally found out that Snape actually WAS a good guy and working for Dumbledore this WHOLE time! Good grief!

I've heard some folks say they didn't exactly love the wrap up 16 years later with Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione taking their kids to the train station, but I thought it was excellent. I did want to know that all those parties got together and that Neville became a professor and that even Draco make it out ok. These are characters I was invested in, and it pleased me to read that Harry continues to honor his heroes - Dumbledore, his parents, and Snape, "the bravest man [he] ever knew."

Monday, December 06, 2010


Zeitoun is written by Dave Eggers about a man named Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his wife, Kathy. It's sort of the same idea as Eggers brilliant and beautiful What is the What. Zeitoun and Kathy lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and chronicles what happened to their family. Zeitoun wouldn't evacuate the city with his wife and children because he owned a construction company and several rental properties and wanted to make sure they were in order, and, like many others, he had no idea how bad the storm would be.

The first part is how they learned about the storm and deciding whether or not to leave town, the second is how Zeitoun lived in the flooded city and some of the things he did to help people and animals, while his wife tried to find a place for her and the kids to stay. This part is really fascinating because Zeitoun had a canoe, which he used to help a handful of people, and he slept on the roof of his garage in a tent (because it was too hot in the house) quite happily. He fed neighborhood dogs that were trapped in their houses.

The story of his wife's adventures are less action-packed, but the story of her life is really interesting - she's a southern woman who converted to Islam and married the Syrian immigrant, Zeitoun. Her own family is unsupportive of her choices and her former Christian mega-church mocked her honest exploration of the Muslim faith. Her experience as a Muslim woman in the south could have made a great book in its own right.

The third part of the book came as rather a shock to me because I had no idea it was coming - Zeitoun was unlawfully imprisoned by FEMA agents and kept in jail without sentencing or a phone call for over a month. He was abused, served pork products that he couldn't eat, isolated and kept like an animal in an outdoor cage without so much as a blanket or a bed. He was arrested with one of his tenants and two companions on his own property. His companions had it even worse than him - they spent 5, 6 and 8 months in jail and lost all their possessions and savings. The book is a really horrifying tale of human rights abuses, not merely those related to how Zeitoun was treated but also how the swarms of military sent to New Orleans after the hurricane were not only ineffectual but caused more damage. Zeitoun, for example, paddling in his canoe was able to locate people who needed help because he could hear them. The military response rode giant boats that were loud and created dangerous waves. A "rescue" helicopter nearly killed him.

In summary, the Zeitouns seemed to be suffering from some fairly severe post-traumatic stress disorder - I hope they're doing better now. The betrayal of a government they trusted and the hatefulness of those in power destroyed some of their faith in humanity. It was very disturbing to read. Like many Eggers book, this one ends with pages of organizations to combat human rights violations and rebuild New Orleans, so if you finish with the desire to do more, you can.