A Man Called Ove

img_1921Date Read: August 8 to 31, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

This was my book for The Unread Shelf Project prompt for August: a book voted for you to read by Bookstagram. Since I do not have a large following, I decided that it was easier do this as a poll with two options. It was actually my first ever Instagram poll! I only had 6 participants, but enough to give a slight majority to this grumpy old man. I loved this book, so I am happy that it turned out as it did!

To those around him, Ove appears to be just a cranky old man. They aren’t wrong—he is one of the most cantankerous characters I have ever read. However, as the back cover states, there is more to Ove than meets the eye. Of course there is; we would not have much of a story otherwise. We meet Ove shortly after the death of his wife, Sonja, although this is not entirely clear in the first few chapters. He has been struggling to cope with the loss, as he views Sonja as the bright spot in an otherwise bleak existence. Throughout the novel, we jump back and forth between past and present, allowing us to see how the story of Ove’s youth, and Sonja, has influenced his attitudes: strong principles, irritability, and all. Sonja certainly brought out the best in him, and continues to do so even after her passing. Whenever faced with doing something that is inconvenient, but the right thing to do, he considers what Sonja would say to him when he joins her in the afterlife—whether that decision is about caring for a stray cat or taking in a youth who was kicked out of his home.

The two main themes that stood out here for me were Ove’s ability to find new purpose in life through his connection to others, as well as what Backman calls “time optimism”—the tendency we all have to assume that there will always be enough time with other people, until suddenly that time runs out. It’s a funny concept to think about, because I think it is a characteristic that we all share, to an extent. I know I am guilty of time optimism still, despite having several experiences to call on of time run out. I would like to say that it is something I am working on—and it is—but I think it is something hardwired in us that we may only be able to escape temporarily.

In addition to falling in love with the story of Ove, there were some literary devices the author used here that I really enjoyed. The first, and the most apparent, is the liberal use of ridiculous and hilarious similes. Things like when Ove “nods irritably, like someone squeezing an avocado and finding it overly ripe.” I can see why some readers might think the similes are overdone—but I love it. Second, and a bit subtler, is the change in narration that coincides with Ove’s shifting attitudes. At the beginning of the novel, Ove refers to nearly everyone around him by a nickname, oftentimes a rude one. His new neighbors are the Pregnant One and the Lanky One, and their children are referred to only by their ages. There is a full cast of characters in the neighborhood who have all earned Ove’s contempt. Gradually, as Ove begins to soften toward some of these characters, he begins to refer to them by their proper names; beginning with Parvaneh, the pregnant one who pushes his buttons but also pushes him to be better.

Boris’s thoughts: “He was kind of a jerk to that cat… but I’m not sure I can blame him. I think I relate more to the man than the cat. 3 paws.”

I am Pusheen the Cat

img_8907I spotted this book at my school’s book fair this fall, and simply could not pass it up. Prior to finding this book, I had seen a plethora of Pusheen merchandise, but had never seen any of the comics. This is a collection of many of the online comics, with a few bonus comics thrown in. Pusheen is a friendly cat, who loves food and various other cat things. Through the comics she shares some funny and valuable knowledge from the life of a cat: how to make cookies, where cats belong, and some other creative imaginings from the mind of a cat.

I have to admit, that there is a bit of a draw for the online comics. Although the animation is simple, it does add a bit of pizzazz that is lacking in the book. However, I still thought this was a fun book, and do not regret adding it to my shelves. I expect that it will be a great one to look at with my niece when she is a bit older. I imagine that we will have a bit of fun comparing Pusheen to Boris, my own fat gray cat who loves food. The book is primarily based in pictures, with fairly simple text throughout. It could make a good book for young readers who want to read longer chapter books, but may not be quite ready for them yet.

Boris’s thoughts: “Hhhhrrmmmph. I am NOT fat. I am just BIG. She is pretty cute though. But not as cute as ME. 2 paws.”

The Marvels

Date Read: December 29, 2018 to January 3, 2019img_8825

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I am completely fascinated by the work of Brian Selznik. The way he perfectly intertwines illustration and narrative to tell a story is incredible. The concept he used in this particular book is unique even for him, and was done spectacularly.

The Marvels tells two stories– the first completely through illustration in the first 400-ish pages, the second in a traditional novel format. The whole time I was reading, I was trying to solve the mystery of how the stories would come together in the end. I was constantly making guesses as to where things were going, and constantly being surprised. When the stories began to overlap, I thought it was a clever twist that the novel turned to do the same thing that I was doing as a reader– putting words to the original illustrated story, and then trying to solve the mystery as well.

This book was beautifully put together. The illustrations beautiful, and the stories compelling. While perhaps geared more toward a younger demographic, there is much here to enjoy for readers of all ages. I was also thrilled to discover, as I came to the end, that this story was based, in part, on real events. While the story is completely fictional, the idea behind the story is based on an actual person and museum in London. I have definitely found somewhere that I will need to add to my travel wish list.

Boris’s thoughts: “This book is heavy, and I’m kind of over it. 2 paws.”

A Year of Books (On My Cat)

It’s hard to believe, but it has been a full year since I have started this blog! Along the way I have shared some of my favorite books, as well as many pictures of my favorite cat!! It has been a ton of fun, and I am looking forward to see where the next year will take me. I have some ideas to mix things up a bit for the next year, and hope that you enjoy the ride!

To celebrate my first year of posts, I thought it would be fun to show a little glimpse onto the other side of this project. While I will fully admit that I am in no way a professional photography, I try to choose the best of my pictures to include with my blog posts. While Boris is generally a good sport about these things, cats have a fickle nature, which has lead to quick a few “outtakes” along the way. Enjoy!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

img_8777Date Read: December 3 to 29, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

I have unintentionally done something that I generally try to avoid: writing about the same author twice in a row. At least there was a week off in between? Previously, I wrote about Cinnamon, a picture book by Neil Gaiman. I realized shortly after posting, that another work by Gaiman was up next on my novel reading list. While I suppose it is not ideal, here we are.

Despite the length of time it took me to read this relatively short book, I did quite enjoy it. In a way, it is a book about nostalgia and magic. But at the same time, it is itself nostalgia and magic. I love the idea Gaiman has here of magical places in the world, stuck in time: we go to them to remember things that happened there, but when we leave we start to forget. Forget the memories, forget the magic that we have experienced.

The main plot of the story is primarily a fantasy adventure, although I would say that it is “fantasy lite.” The magical creatures, both good and evil, are there, but the story primarily takes place in our world. In fact, the main point of the adventure aspect is to protect our world from things that are trying to sneak into it. For me, it really was the perfect amount and taste of fantasy: I do enjoy elements of magic, but get overwhelmed by the lengthy and often complicated works that dominate the true fantasy genre.

Boris’s thoughts: “The real important message in this story is the importance of the cat. Shame on that boy for forgetting his kitten. 2 paws.”

Cinnamon

img_8521-1Something that I could not quite put my finger on has drawn me to this book a few times when I have perused the children’s section of my local bookstore. I suppose it is most likely the beautiful cover, combined with an affinity for Neil Gaiman’s work in general. Despite picking it up a few times, I never actually read through the book until recently.

I always buy a book for each of the kids at our extended family’s Christmas party, and finally decided to pick this one up while shopping for them. I loved the simplicity of this book. It has the feeling of a folktale, although I am not sure if it has any basis in the actual mythology of India. Cinnamon is a princess who is blind and also does not speak. Her parents have offered many riches to anyone who is able to get her to speak, but all have failed. A tiger steps in to do the work that humans have failed to complete. In addition to an enjoyable story, I find Divya Srinivasan’s illustrations striking. The colors are bright and bold; the style is simplistic but full of detail.

Boris’s thoughts: “I could be a tiger. Majestic and all. Roar. Although I don’t know why the tiger would WANT more humans to talk. 3 paws.”

Beauty and the Beast

img_8589Date Read: November 26, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This is not the story of Belle and the Beast that you think you know. It is, of course, a translated and somewhat adapted version of the original tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Although, I am under the impression that the version I read is at least close to the original. Interestingly, this is also not quite the typical original fairy tale vs. popular story scenario either.

To start, our heroine’s name is never actually mentioned, she is just referred to as Beauty by everyone because she is beautiful. She is not the only child of an eccentric inventor, but is one of 6 children of a wealthy merchant who has lost everything and moved to the country. She adjusts a bit better to the new lifestyle than her sisters, who constantly complain about being poor and bored, but also refuse to do anything to help around the house. Beauty’s father does stumble upon an enchanted castle, where he is well treated. The Beast appears only when he has decided to steal a rose from the garden to take home for Beauty. However, the Beast is not the jerk that you suspect him to be. He is, from the beginning, a generally decent guy. Beauty’s father pleads his case to return to his family to at least say his goodbyes, and leaves in the agreement that either he or one of his daughters will return. Upon learning that it was her request for a Rose that caused this problem for her father, Beauty returns to the castle despite her father’s protests.

The next bit of the story proceeds without much incident or discrepancy from the more popular version. Beauty has a generally pleasant time at the castle, her and Beast get along well from the beginning. She does become homesick, and Beast agrees to allow her to return to visit her family, after she gives her word that she will return after a week. This is where we depart from the popular version of the story, to one that is a bit less dramatic. There is no jealous suitor after Beauty, there is no mob with torches and pitchforks. Beauty returns to visit her family, and her sisters continue to spite her for her new life living in a castle. As the end of her week draws near, they convince her to stay longer– not because they have missed her, but because they hope that she will be punished by the Beast for breaking her word.

Beauty stays, but after an additional week decides that she must return to the castle. We return to the castle to find, not a dramatic battle for the love of Beauty, but a heartbroken Beast. When Beauty did not returned as promised, he was devastated by the loss of her and is in a deep depression. Feeling guilty for the pain she has caused him, Beauty apologizes and declares her love, thereby breaking the spell. Beauty lives happily ever after with the prince, and her sisters are punished for their evil and selfish ways. Although the ending is quite similar, it actually a much friendlier seeming version than the one that we all know from Disney.

Boris’s thoughts: “Day reads make nice snuggle times. I approve. 4 paws.”