Monday, June 28, 2010

June Book Reviews: "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," "Born Standing Up," "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl," "Into the Wild," & "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn"

My Rating System: Ok*, Good**, Great***

Rating: *

This is a non-fiction book about the author and how he helps raise his young brother after his parents both die within a few months of each other.

I had never heard of this book until I saw it on CD at the library. The title caught my attention and the cover stated that it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and was featured in the New Yorker. So, of course I had high hopes. Unfortunately it didn't deliver. Now to be fair, I listened to this on CD. I found the narrator's voice very grating and annoying. I have a feeling I would've liked this book more had I actually read it. Even so, I found the author to be very self-centered. I think he just wrote this book to get sympathy and money. Nothing much ever really happens and I felt like I was reading a bunch of promotional crap for this guy between all of his name dropping, subtle plugs for MTV's "The Real World," and stories about starting up his "mold-breaking" magazine, "Might."  I had no idea my friend Heidi had read this book before but it made me feel better to know that she didn't like this book much either (see her comments here).

by Steve Martin
Rating: **

This is Steve Martin's autobiography about how he got started in his career by doing stand-up comedy. Seth and I listened to this on our road trip to Las Vegas and we both enjoyed it. I liked that Steve Martin was the actual narrator which gave this a bit more character. It was funny but with bits of seriousness and I thought it was a great insight to his life and how he got to where he is today. I find myself liking him even more than I did before after reading this.

by Anne Frank
Rating: *+

This is a book about a young teenage Jewish girl and her experiences during the Holocaust. Now, I don't want to diminish the importance of this story in any way (being the classic that it is), but aside from small tidbits here and there, there wasn't much of a story here besides Anne Frank and seven other Jews hiding out in a "secret annex" during the war. It talks about what they eat and how they live and a couple minor scares of almost being discovered, but that's about it. The rest of this was basically just like reading a regular teenage girl's diary about how they are so picked on by everyone, how nobody understands them, and all the boys they currently have a crush on. But like I said, don't get me wrong, I think it was important Anne Frank kept a diary about this time in history, but there just wasn't a whole lot to it... mainly just a teenage romance. I actually found the added ending which told what happened to Anne and her family after being caught by the Gestapo to be more interesting.

Now, I'm normally pretty tough on anything deemed as a 'Classic.' I feel like if it's a Classic, it should beat the pants off of most other books out there. With that said, I would say this has some important historical insights into the life of a Jew during the Holocaust. As far as being a great literary Classic? Not so much.

by Jon Krakauer
Rating: **

This is a book about a young twenty-something college graduate who decides to cut ties with all his family and possessions in order to explore the country and ultimately the Alaska wilderness. It also includes stories of the author and other men who have had similar experiences.

I thought this was an interesting book and it was cool to get a few more details of this story after having seen the movie version. I did think the book got a little long winded though. There seemed to be a lot of unnecessary tangents and/or extended explanations and reiterations of certain topics. This could have been shortened considerably without harming the story. I think actually for once in my life, I liked the movie better than the book.

by Betty Smith
Rating: **

This is a book about a girl named Francie and her life growing up poor in a Brooklyn neighborhood. This book took me a couple months to get through. The first 100-150 pages were kind of slow going. After that it was pretty good, but never riveting. It wasn't a book I couldn't put down or wanted to spend every moment reading. It was good, but not great. Which after all I'd heard about this book, was a bit of a let down. I kept comparing this to Angela's Ashes and thinking how much better that book was, even though the story lines are very similar. Yet another disappointing Classic.


It's Me said...

Wow, you turned it up a notch this month. That's a lot of books! I think I'd be interested to read Born Standing Up and Into the Wild. I have read Anne Frank's book quite a few times. I do like it and I think it gives a great perspective into the life of a "pre teen" in that time period as well as really what it was honestly like to be in hiding. Obviously she wasn't a novelist, but not too shabby for a young girl! It is a book that I think everyone should read for the historical value. Plus it's an easy read at that.

It is interesting to hear what happened to her and her family after the story ends. That is one thing that I do like about historical fiction or biographies. You can research further into the time or people.

Holly said...

I can't be blog friends with you anymore because you didn't like "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." Just teasing. :) It's interesting to me how two people can have such different opinions on the same novel. You are right, though, in regards to classics - there are are a lot of them that are let-downs.

Karen said...

I really wanted to love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Really! Maybe there was too much hype? Or maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for it. But I did LIKE it. I just didn't LOVE it.

Also, I do agree that Anne Frank was a really good writer, especially for her age. There was just a lot of teenage subject matter is all. But I mean, that's to be expected from a teenage girl. Her diary definitely sounds a lot better than any of mine ever did!

thebluemuse said...

I'm with Holly. I loved "A Tree Grows." Of course, it helps that my little sister lives in Brooklyn and used to live in that neighborhood. Increased my interest level I suppose.

I couldn't agree with you more about "A Heartbreaking Work" though. Bo-ring. I picked it up a few years ago and I don't think I finished it. It's on the list of about three books that I've ever abandoned.

Speaking of, are you all diehard finishers? I used to/still feel a little bit guilty not finishing a book, even if it's crap. On my list to finish: Crytonomicon (snooze) and Lolita. I don't think I can get through Lolita though. Creeped me the heck out!

Rachel said...

I was all disappointed to hear you didn't like "A Tree" 'cause I'd seen it around and thought it looked lovely; your other loyal readers, however, have renewed my hope for its goodness.

I am also not a big fan of Anne Frank. I always felt so blinky about her menstrual weirdness.

Karen said...

Rach, I totally agree with you on the "menstrual weirdness"... and the part where she talks about wanting a girlfriend so she can touch her boobs. I was like WTF?

Anyway, I'm not a diehard book finisher by any means. I try to give books a fair go, but sometimes I'm just too bored and/or I get distracted by other more enticing books so the lesser book gets tossed aside. I recently dumped "Assassination Vacation" and "The Last Lecture." Oh and let's not forget the "War and Peace" fiasco.