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Book Reviews, Musings

Recommendations Here and There

Tonight, as I stay up unable to fall into this thing they call ‘sleep’, I’ve decided to post reviews on several books I’ve read recently.

It just occurred to me, why is it that we are constantly falling? We fall in “love”, we fall “asleep”, we fall “ill” etc. What is it about the word “fall” that makes us want to use it figuratively? I mean, am I wrong in assuming that “falling” is not exactly positive? The word “fall” holds a negative connotation, does it not? Am I asking too many questions? Maybe, but it just struck me, and I wanted to expand on the thought. A thought that I honestly have no answer to, so I’m not sure where I’m going with this.

But I digress; back to book reviews – I am going to review three books (In future, I will try to focus my posts/reviews on one book and perhaps delve into it a little more extensively) that I definitely recommend reading. I will try not to include any spoilers, but I cannot make any promises on that front.

The first book I’m going to review is one that has created quite a stir recently, due to its soon-to-be-out film adaptation. I wanted to share my review of the book before the film came out, because I tend to have very strong opinions about book-to-film adaptations (The Help post coming soon).

The first time I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower was during sophomore year at university, and my friend pretty much had to force it down my throat at the time. I don’t remember much of that first read, except that I read it in one sitting, and later expressed my approval of it. I do remember the process of looking for the book though, and how she practically went to every bookstore in the country trying to find a copy, and ended up having to order it online because it wasn’t released here. Yes, we’ve definitely come a long way since 2006.

Five years later, I decided to read the book again.

It made me shudder. It made me think. It made me feel. It made me smile. It made me worry. But mostly, it made me sad. It made me very sad.

I love the concept of the book, and I love the way it’s been executed. The story is narrated by a teenager who goes by the alias of “Charlie”. And the book is made up of various scenes in Charlie’s life written through a series of letters to an anonymous person, whom he does not know personally. The story explores many serious topics and themes, such as introversion, rape, suicide, abuse, violence, abortion, drug use, sexuality and adolescence. As the story progresses, various works of literature and film are referenced and their meanings discussed through Charlie and his teacher, Bill, who gave him a set of books and movies to read and watch, then made him write reports on them.

Some of these references included The Catcher in the Rye, The Fountainhead, Walden, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, Hamlet and more. There were also a lot of musical references from Nirvana to the Beatles to Fleetwood Mac to Pink Floyd.

But all of that, as interesting as it sounds, does not take away from the actual storyline or the characters portrayed in the book. Stephen Chbosky knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote this novel. He wrote it in a way that completely laid out the thoughts of this kid leaving him bare-naked (literally and figuratively), and succeeded in making him sound pathetic, yet intelligent, simultaneously.

Reading it again, I found myself scoffing at it at first. I was not taking this book as seriously as my seventeen-year-old self had. A lot of the times, I was irritated with Charlie and his character in general. But as the story progressed, I began to think about why Chbosky would choose that specific tone of voice to portray a fifteen-year-old?

It then occurred to me – Charlie is autistic.

His personality, his writing style, the way he acts, and more importantly, reacts, the childlike behaviour, how overly emotionally he was – I mean, seriously, at one point he was crying over everything. All those qualities, or “symptoms” if you may, pointed towards autism. Obviously, he is a highly-functioning autistic, but autistic nonetheless. Even down to his brilliance, where near the end his teacher actually tells him that he is very “special”.

That is my theory anyway, and I could be wrong, but it is a theory that would have never occurred to me at seventeen. I would not have made that connection, or thought of such a tie-in.

The ending was deeply unsettling. It still gives me the chills, as I remember the sadness, shock, grief, and deep love that engulfed me (as a reader) and Charlie (as a victim). This book will definitely remain a favourite, if for nothing else than a reference of great work by great people.

The second book I’m reviewing came with mixed reviews; people either loved it or hated it, and I personally loved it.

As the title implies, The Lover’s Dictionary is a book of words. It goes in alphabetical order – naturally – and every word is used to describe or portray a moment in David Levithan’s (or fictional character’s) own love story.

I remember when I was reading the reviews for this book, one reviewer said that he/she felt cheated because this was not a novel. I disagree, because in it’s own, very unique way, it was. You just had to know how to connect the dots. The novel did not take place in chronological order, it took place in moments, and therein lies the appeal.

It is a very cleverly executed book, and almost reminded me of the old goosebumps where you had a choice of endings and had to skip from one page to another in order to get the full story. Only this time, there was no skipping, because the magic of the book is to read it out of order, out of time constraints. Just moments.

Like the word “circuitous” said: “We do not divulge our histories chronologically. It’s not like we can sit each other down and say, ‘Tell me what happened,’ and then rise from the conversation knowing everything. Most of the time, we don’t even realize that we’re dividing ourselves into clues. You’ll say, ‘That was before my dad left my mom,’ and I’ll say, ‘Your dad left your mom?'” (p.55).

All in all, beautiful, and easy to read. I truly enjoyed it. And even though it’s such a simple idea, I doubt anyone could’ve pulled it off as well as David Levithan.

My last review for the night is of a book that Publishers Weekly described as “compulsively readable”, and I could not agree more.

I bought I Am the Messenger for two reasons: a. the storyline caught my attention – enough to make me buy it, and b. the reviews were outstanding. Every time I walked into a bookstore (and as my family and friends could attest to, I walk into a lot of bookstores) I would walk right past this book thinking there’s noway Markus Zusak can outdo himself twice in a row.

But I finally decided to pick it up and give it a read, and I can tell you it is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long while. Zusak has an uncanny ability at twisted humour and characterization.

Ed Kennedy is one of the most ordinary yet extraordinary characters I’ve ever read about, who is an underage taxi driver living in a small town and utterly lacks motivation. His life consists of driving, drinking coffee with his smelly dog, and playing cards with his friends Marv, Ritchie and Audrey (the girl he’s always been in love with). Then he inadvertently stops a bank robbery and the next day, the first ace arrives in the mailbox. It appears that he has been assigned to be a “messenger” as he is given certain tasks meant to change and affect the lives of several chosen people.

I believe the brilliance of the story is in how ordinary Ed is, which allows us – as readers – to very easily connect with him, and ask the same questions he keeps asking throughout the book: who is sending the aces, and why was he chosen as the messenger?

While reading I Am The Messenger you might automatically think of it as quite the “prophetic” book, (and although that could be one of its many themes), it really isn’t. It is a book about life, about giving, helping, making a difference and making a change – in short, it is a book about leaving your mark on the world.

I think the whole message behind the book can be summarised in Ed’s words when he says: “I want words at my funeral. But I guess that means you need life in your life” (p. 278). Everyone should stand up and try to live beyond their capabilities.

However, for those not interested in being preached to and reading about ways to better live your life, you will enjoy this book because simply put, it is a good action-ridden story. In fact, it is a book that could easily be made into a film production. A book that people of all ages would enjoy.

I really liked the ending, and – even though it should have been very obvious – I did not see it coming at all. Markus Zusak, in the words of Audrey and Marv, “you’ve outdone yourself.”


About smshamma

"I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control, and at times hard to handle, but if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." - Marilyn Monroe


6 thoughts on “Recommendations Here and There

  1. I am TOTALLY buying those hopefully if i have enough money if you know what i mean

    Posted by Dimah S | February 14, 2012, 15:42
  2. Markus Zusak — He wrote the Book Thief, right? I love that book. And I think I will go find I Am the Messenger, too. The Lovers’ Dictionary sounds pretty interesting also. Thanks — I am always looking for something good to read. :)

    Posted by Jeannette Monahan | February 25, 2012, 01:13
    • Yes, he wrote The Book Thief – one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. I Am The Messenger is on a completely different wavelength, but I really enjoyed reading it also.

      Posted by smshamma | February 25, 2012, 10:06
  3. Reblogged this on I Got Talent.

    Posted by Mariam & Dimah | March 2, 2012, 12:56
  4. Loving the info on this site, you have done outstanding job on the content .

    Posted by Jayme Sciera | March 29, 2012, 04:09

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