Monday, 5 January 2015

Gone Girl: What does it mean to love?

Part of the joy of blogging is the recommendations offered by my fellow book bloggers.  Today’s book, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is the perfect example of how these recommendations cause overwhelming delight while simultaneously ruining my life.  I picked up Gone Girl in a quaint little bookstore in Halifax in an effort to kill some time while my hubby finished up with his conference at Dalhousie.  Yup, I killed some time alright; this is a book you will not want to put down!

The story centers on the marriage of Amy and Nick.  Amazing Amy has the perfect life with wealthy parents who create their perfect daughter, who lives what appears to be the perfect life.  She is the "cool girl".  She meets her match in Nick, sharing their love or writing, quirky inside jokes, one-liners, and silly mannerisms.   They have it all.  It’s romantic, right?  But when they both lose their jobs as writers in New York City and move to Missouri to take care of Nick’s ailing parents, things change.  The last semblance of a happy life ends when Amy disappears and Nick becomes the primary suspect.   

Flynn switches between Nick’s point of view and Amy’s diary entries.  The ease in which Flynn encompasses each character makes this transition much easier to navigate, so don’t be thrown off by this.  Flynn also astutely massages the nuances that happen in characters and marriages as both the character and marriage mature over time.  Her ability to create some complex and compelling characters is reason enough to read this book. 

I’m not sure if Flynn was intending this novel to be a commentary on marriage or not, but certainly the dynamic between Nick and Amy generates ample discussion.  What does it mean to love? Do you change who you are for love? 

Without giving away the novel, I’ll leave you with this quote: “There’s a difference between really loving someone and loving the idea of her”. 

Please, just read the book. 

As an added note: the movie does a pretty good job of catching the essence of the book, so I’d recommend that too.  

Monday, 13 October 2014

Collapse: Does the book choose to fail or succeed?

I am an academic at heart – that is, I love learning.  What I find confusing is how LONG it takes me to complete non-fiction books.  You would think that my love of learning would prompt me to keep reading.  But it doesn’t.  Even more, writing about what I learned? Well, apparently that takes me even longer.  I finished Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed almost a year ago.  My OCD tendencies don’t allow me to move that book from my “To write about” pile to my “Read” shelf.  I must move that book!

To preface, this review will outline arguments made in the book and my opinion on those arguments.  If you want to read the book with an unbiased mind, don’t read this entry. . . at least not now.  Come back later and we can discuss it then.

Collapse chronicles the history (and collapse) of several civilizations in places ranging from cities and States in North America to small islands in the Pacific to the large ice-covered country of Greenland and the massively overpopulated China. 

While at times the content was intriguing and even thought provoking and worthy of some conversation, after 500 pages, the message soon became redundant.  Let’s look at some of the examples and you’ll see where I’m coming from.    

First of all, let’s look at Easter Island.  This island is located out in the Pacific Ocean and as the author describes “is the most remote habitable scrap of land in the world” (pg 79).  Diamond argues the reason why the island collapsed and is the way it is now is simple: the islanders used too much wood and hence obliterated their own chance for survival.   Why cut down so many trees?  Well, the habitants built outrageously large wood structures (cultural) but they also used it for their very survival: for housing, warmth etc.  Additionally, the trees also provided food since their diet consisted mainly of birds and forest creatures that lived in those trees.  Unfortunately, the climate and location prevented sufficient replenishment of these trees.  With no trees come no food, no shelter, and ultimately no people.  Diamond also explains that the island suffered both major epidemics and exploitive slavery brought on by European explorers.  For a reason that I do not understand, Diamond lessens the role of these external factors and insists that the island’s collapse is the responsibility of the islanders and their poor sense of sustainability and environmental concerns.  I’m not against sustainable practices and environmental concerns, but to blame the islanders for their own collapse solely on these reasons is too singularly focused and agenda-driven.

Let’s move on.  In both his description of the Polyneisan Islands as well as the Native American population in southwestern USA, the reason for collapse was again simple.  One word: globalization.  In these situations, the Polynesian Islands and southwestern US (Native Americans) relied too heavily on outside sources for essential aspects of their survival.  When these sources dried up, the societies failed to thrive.   The argument is believable, but I think it would be hard to find many people who think globalization is the worst thing for society.  Hilariously, several hundred pages later, Diamond argues my point.  Why did Norse Greenland collapse? They failed to “globalize” with the Inuit.  So what is it?  Rely on your own resources or source out what you can’t find at home?  Which causes societies to fail?  To me, the answer is simply complicated.

Diamond’s two main arguments that societies fail due to lack of environmental concern or inappropriate globalization strategies fall short. Half-way through the book, my prejudice was formed and the rest of book became redundant and less informative. 

That being said, I enjoyed the historical aspect of this book, which is actually one of the reasons I picked up this book in the first place.   And for all I know, you might agree with Diamond.  Read it and let me know!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Cheryl Strayed's Wild Journey

Are you wild about Wild?  I certainly am!

I always love encouraging friends to read because it means we can discuss the book together.  So when one of my friends mentioned reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I filed the title in my head for future reference.  Only, the title did not stay filed for long.  Literally the next day I heard Cheryl in interview with one of my favourite radio hosts.  With two recommendations, I bought the book.

Wild chronicles the physical and emotional journey of self-discovery as Cheryl hikes the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT).  Pacific Coast Trail, you ask?  Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either and there’s a handy map to guide you along the way.  The PCT encompasses both dessert and snowy mountains.  Both terrains yield their own challenges – challenges Cheryl doesn’t stray from.

Within the first few chapters, we see the mostly pulled-together Cheryl with a husband, career goals, and a somewhat functional family fall apart after the death of her mother.  It is this broken young woman that, in a moment of clarity (some might call it insanity) decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail . . . alone. 

Solely determined to hoist the monster of a backpack her inexperience piles on her and complete the task she started, Cheryl’s determination both humors and inspires her readers.  The prose through which Cheryl leads us her journey brings us right alongside her.  The blisters forming on her feet are real; the loneliness she feels is tangible; the excitement at meeting fellow hikers joyous; the exhaustion, well, that is just completely overwhelming.   And yet, the strength Cheryl wields pushes through all these until she emerges from her journey a new woman.

So much a new woman that she changes her last name to “Strayed”.  As Cheryl explains “strayed” defines her. She had to stray from normalcy, conquer a battle to become the woman she is today.

Truly a memoir that draws the reader in, I recommend this book for EVERYONE!