i want to show you more

I first saw I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro in a Book Riot post a little while back, and then just happened to see it at my library so I went for it. Perfect for the “anthology” genre of my Eclectic Reader Challenge! From Goodreads:

Sharp-edged and fearless, mixing white-hot yearning with daring humor, Jamie Quatro’s debut collection is a beautiful and disquieting portrait of infidelity, faith, and family.

The hypnotically intimate, urgent stories in I Want to Show You More are about lives stretched between spirituality and sexuality in the New American South. In narrative modes ranging from the traditional to the fabulist, these stories are interconnected explorations of God, illicit sex, raising children—and running. Jamie Quatro’s stories confront us with dark theological complexities, fractured marriages, and mercurial temptations.

I’m not sure it lived up to the hype I read around it, but it was a short-story collection I enjoyed a bit more than others in the past. Quatro’s stories are connected by some overlapping characters, as well as the themes mentioned in the Goodreads blurb. There were a couple of stories that stood out to me, specifically one involving a weird dystopian marathon runner experience, “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement” (reminded me of stuff I just read in The Tenth of December). “Here,” towards the beginning, was heart wrenching—about a man and his children after the death of wife/mother—but lost impact for me further into the collection when we encounter the same family a few more times. It would have worked more for me as one longer story rather than spread out as six or so shorter ones, perhaps? I couldn’t quite figure out if “Decomposition: A Primer for Promiscuous Housewives,” where husband and wife harbor  her lover’s corpse in their bed, was supposed to be literal or metaphorical, but it was intriguing. Other highlights for me were “1.7 to Tennessee,” “Better to Lose an Eye,” and “Demolition.” And while I did like the one unusual story about running, I’m not a runner so the other stories involving running were lost on me. I wanted the adultery stories to be juicier than it ultimately was—Quatro sets up them up pretty well, but they don’t quite… climax… so to speak.

I Want to Show You More is my anthology for the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge, and marks 2 of 12 completed on the list. 

Read from January 31 to February 1, 2014.

the devil and miss prym

I have had Paulo Coelho’s The Devil and Miss Prym on my bookcase for more than ten years—I remember buying it new before I went off to college—and it only ended up taking me two days to read. (DERP!) When I signed up for my reading challenges this year, I knew The Devil and Miss Prym would be included on one of them, and the themes fit perfectly with the KC Public Library’s While the City Sleeps program.

One day, a stranger arrives in the sleepy village of Viscos after having buried eleven gold bars in the neighboring forest. The stranger meets Chantal Prym, the hotel bartender, and tells her that he will give the townspeople the gold bars but only on one condition: that they murder one of their fellow citizens. Chantal is beside herself and weighs her options and the consequences of each. Eventually, the residents are presented with the stranger’s proposal, and make their fateful decision.

The Devil and Miss Prym is simple yet intricate fable about a man who seeks answers about good versus evil in human nature; a woman internally conflicted with boredom, temptation, and right versus wrong; and a society faced with a complicated moral dilemma. The gold bars would mean prosperity and growth for the community, but is the cost of a human life—one of their lifelong neighbors and friends—really worth it? Who should they chose? Why is that life expendable? What will happen to the people and the town afterwards, in their hearts and souls?

The Devil and Miss Prym is full of stories, from character histories to town legends, and philosophical discussions of religion and spirituality. I enjoy Coelho’s toned-down narrative style, and it was effective with a complex, profound themes such as this. I felt sorry for Chantal, all of a sudden having the unenviable responsibility of basically saving the town from itself, but I was cheering for her by the end. This short book is memorable for its well-developed characters and highly thought-provoking subject matter.

I have read two other Coelho books, The Alchemist and By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. From what I remember of it—I read them soooo long ago—I felt more strongly about The Alchemist, but I have to admit I sadly can’t recall anything about By the River Piedra.

The Devil and Miss Prym was my second read of five books total for the 2013 KC Library Adult Winter Reading Program: While the City Sleeps, hosted by the Kansas City Public Library.

Read from January 16 to 17, 2013.

life of pi

My birthday was yesterday (the big 3-0!) and my husband wanted to take me out for dinner and movie… except I don’t really keep up with what’s new in cinema these days. I did however hear about Life of Pi‘s recent film release, but I hadn’t read the book yet, so last weekend I bought a used copy and read it really quickly this week, finished just in time to see the film last night.

I remember when Yann Martel’s Life of Pi first came out about ten years ago—I was in college and some friends were reading it; most said it was amazing, and of course there was the media hype. I also heard some rants that it was too religious and preachy, which turned me off, and back then I wasn’t so interested in stories of adventure and survival either. The book quickly dropped from my radar (and again, I didn’t have much opportunity to read much for pleasure during college anyway).

As with my reading The Hobbit last month, it took a movie release to kick my butt into gear with reading the book first. I don’t feel like Life of Pi completely lived up to the hype for me, but I was certainly entertained.

Pi is a bookish, sensitive, and curious boy who grew up in Pondicherry, India, where his father owned and ran the local zoo. His intellectual and spiritual curiosity leads him to begin practicing the three major religions concurrently: Hindu, Christianity, and Islam. With the onset of India’s Emergency under Prime Minister Indira Ghandi’s leadership, Pi’s family sells the zoo and embarks on a Japanese freighter to Canada, with several animals in tow for delivery to North American zoos. After the freighter sinks in a storm, Pi ends up castaway in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with an injured zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and an adult Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Before long, Richard Parker and Pi are the only souls left on the boat, and Pi must do all he can to survive the seas and his predatory travel companion.

I enjoyed Life of Pi a lot… until the ending sort of tainted it for me. Part I—Pi’s childhood in India—is enchanted and interesting, and his enthusiasm for all three religions is thought-provoking: faith and spirituality is personal, yet we don’t know about religion until we are introduced to it by someone. We can choose to express our faith within the organization of a religion, but how different are the many religions, really? Is one really “right” over any others? Why do we have to choose just one? and so on. I think if you can read all of Part I in one or two sittings, it is more effective. I can see how this section could drag if you have to break up your reading time a lot.

Part II—the survival adventure on the lifeboat—was exciting and I could hardly put the book down during this section. I’ve gradually become more interested in tales of survival, nonfiction mostly. But the danger element with the animals was so original and compelling to me, as well as the agonizing test of faith for such a devout person. There were many scenes on the lifeboat that left me breathless, horrified, intrigued, and in awe. The mysterious floating island was a powerful turning point in the book for Pi’s mental state.

But then Part III felt like Martel was shoving the moral and symbolism down my throat. Pi’s harrowing survival on the Pacific is really a story within the story of an author looking for something to write. For me, personally, I wish Life of Pi had been just that: the life of Pi. I think I would have been totally blown away by the book if it weren’t for the author character and that angle. I get why the epilogue is there for further exploration of the questions of faith, a tested psyche, animalistic survival instinct, and plausibility, imagination, and escapism in storytelling and how it all relates to belief in God that are brought up in the first parts of the book, but I felt suddenly yanked out of the amazing adventure I just experienced. The ending turned everything black and white for me instead of an array of breathtaking colors. You are either a believer or not. Are those really the only options? Of course, Pi doesn’t have a very high opinion of agnostics in Part I… so… there you go.

Life of Pi is great in that its message will be different for everyone, and if it doesn’t make you “believe in God” it will make you ponder your interpretation of events and the world.

As for the film, it was visually stunning and worth seeing, and the 3D was great too. The film follows the book pretty closely, almost as close as a movie can. However, they added an unnecessary love interest for Pi in the movie (OF COURSE, ugh) and I wish a few awesome scenes in the lifeboat had been included (no tiger fighting a shark??), but overall it was very respectful of the book’s tone and message.

Read from December 5 to 8, 2012.