Girl with a Pearl Earring

img_0339Date Read: May 1 to May 27, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This book was my pick for May’s Unread Shelf Project prompt: bought because of the adaptation. I was not exactly sure how I should define this one, so I looked through my to read list for books that had adaptations. Generally speaking, I like to pair book and movie adaptations. If I see a movie I like and find out there is a book, I add it to my list; similarly, I usually make a point to see movies based on books that I’ve read. This was one that has been on my list the longest: I found out this was a book while renting the movie shortly after it came out in 2003. I purchased it for my kindle a few years later, but never seemed to get around to reading it for some reason.

I like the idea behind the novel: historical fiction meant to touch on the mystery of a painting. The painting itself is intriguing, and coupling that with a background that is generally unknown makes this a perfect subject matter. The writing was excellent, and I found Griet’s perspective interesting. However, despite enjoying the book, I felt the plot was a bit lackluster. Not much happens, there is very little character development, and while the mystery of the painting source is solved, we still do not get much of a picture of the artist.

Griet’s experience is treated as scandalous, but it is hardly that. She is merely trapped into the drama of a higher class that is unable to take blame for their own actions. With the whole novel being from her perspective, it’s difficult to say whether the intimacy she describes is truly present. Of course, I imagine that there must be some level of intimacy reached between painter and subject, but Griet perhaps exaggerates it, or simply wishes it to be something deeper. There is no doubt from her words that she has feelings for the painter, but there is nothing in his actions that really suggests he sees her as anything more than an assistant and model. Griet seems to find some resolution in her reflections on that time after Vermeer’s death, but then this is thrown into confusion and further mystery with the revelation of the letter and Vermeer’s request for the return of the painting.

Despite some issues with the plot, I did enjoy the artistic aspects included: Griet’s descriptions of the paintings to her father, the references throughout the book to other works by Vermeer. More than once I was drawn to seek out the paintings described. I also really enjoyed the discussion of color, including the actual making of colors for the painting and Griet’s discovery of color as something deeper than she imagined.

Boris’s thoughts: “Sounds a bit like a snoozer. I like snoozing. 3 paws.”

The Year of Goodbyes

img_7713Date Read: July 7, 2018

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Following the World War II theme from last week, I have a book with a very different feel. Debbie Levy presents this book based off of her mother’s posiealbum from 1938. It is an autograph book, filled with poems written by her friends. These poems provide the framework for a series of journal entries and reflections that string together the events of the year, from the perspective of the 12 year old author.

It was an interesting read, although a bit unsettling. The book shows the gradual change from normal life to the fear and uncertainty that lead Jutta’s family to flee Germany. Goodbyes from friends leaving, or in some cases disappearing without explanation. I suppose the gradualness of the change, people slowly losing their friends, family, and rights, is what is most unsettling, knowing what comes next. While there is definitely an emotional element in the book, it seems stronger in retrospect, realizing the history of what happened just after the year of the posiealbum.

I can see this being a good book as an introduction to the history of World War II for kids in upper elementary, middle school, and perhaps high school. Much of the content is taken from the perspective of someone in that age range, and there are certainly many possible discussion topics. The poetry is an interesting element, although admittedly not really my personal cup of tea.

Boris’s thoughts: “Short and sweet and lighter than your hardcovers. 4 paws.”

Mother Night

Date Read: July 4 to July 11, 2018img_7558

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

I feel that I need to preface this with a warning: I love Vonnegut. I realize that his writing is not for everyone, but I have thoroughly enjoyed all of his works that I have read. I recently read something online that described Vonnegut as the “ultimate cynic and ultimate humanist,” which I think is the perfect embodiment of my feelings as well. Vonnegut is satire and black humor, but with an undercurrent of pure, imperfect humanity.

While not his most popular or well known novel, Mother Night is perhaps the ultimate example of that dichotomy. Howard W. Campbell Jr. tells the complicated story of his involvement in the war: he was a Nazi, but secretly working on the side of the Americans. In order to be a good spy, he had to be a good Nazi. And so, of course, most of the world knew him only as the prominent Nazi that he became. After the war, he is saved from execution by his double-agency, and slowly fades into obscurity. The past, however, has a way of coming back around. I do not want to give away anything further to the conclusion, but will say that I did not quite expect it to end as it did, although in retrospect I wonder if I should have.

In the introduction of the novel, Vonnegut tells the reader the moral of the story: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” It’s laid out pretty clearly throughout the novel, so I do not intend to dwell there. The element I found more interesting was Campbell’s musings on why he was so successful: “this is a hard world to be ludicrous in, with so many human beings so reluctant to laugh, so incapable of thought, so eager to believe and snarl and hate.” It is something that resonates, although it does not quite sit well with me that it does. So it goes.

Boris’s thoughts: “Funny. Sad. Funny. Sad. You humans are odd. 2 paws.”

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

img_6038Date Read: April 11 to May 13, 2018

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

This book was not what I was expecting. To be honest, I’m not 100% sure what I was expecting when I picked this one up. It came highly recommended by a friend, although I feel like our taste in books does not always have a huge overlap. It’s not that I was expecting it to be bad– I was just expecting something different than what I got.

While this novel could be called a romance, there is much more to it than that. Honestly, the romance aspect of the story was the least interesting part to me. There are several layers to the story– romance, mystery, perhaps even adventure. I particularly liked the historical aspect, tying in the events of the city in 1911, and touching on the labor movement. I knew the setting was historical, but thought the history aspect ended there. I was pleasantly surprised with the inclusion of historic events, and how they were intertwined with the characters. The firsthand depiction of the fire at the Triangle Factory was fascinating, albeit horrific. I appreciated Eddie’s perspective on the world, and how different it was from Coralie’s. Seeing the developments and changes in each of them through the novel was interesting.

After saying that, I feel that I should emphasize the word “appreciated.” There was quite a bit about Eddie that I did not like, but I do think his character is redeemable. He is cynical and selfish, and there was much in his behavior that just sort of irked me. However, his ability to view the world differently through his photography and his impulse to seek justice for the Weiss family create an appealing contrast to the other aspects of his character. I always have a greater appreciation of an author who can create a character that I do not quite like, but still want to root for.

 

Boris’s thoughts: “Too many dogs. More interested in the fish. 2 paws.”