Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

2013 reread #4

I honestly didn't know what was going to happen when I reread this book. It was a mind-blowing experience for me in college when I read this the first time, spawning an utter love for Tom Robbins as an author. Of course, at the time I smoked Camel Lights and a majority of this book happens thanks to a pack of cigarettes, so there was an immediate common factor that didn't exist this time around. This book was also the first modern, philosophical book I'd ever read. I read Robbins first, Vonnegut second.

So, this time around, the insane ramblings of an extremely intelligent author hit me in a different but still profound way. My love of this book hasn't changed in the last decade. Instead of it being all about existential thought and philosophizing though the book was about love. At the heart of this novel, full of dynamite, blackberries, and pyramids, are two people trying to figure out how to make love stay. Isn't that a universal theme we all can relate to? In the midst of saving the planet and too much solitary confinement, Princess Leigh-Cheri and Bernard Mickey Wrangle fall in love. It's a beauty and the beast tale only the beauty is a disposed princess and the beast is a terrorist who likes to blow things up rather than people. Their love is presided over by the moon and an unopened pack of Camel cigarettes.

They fall in love but in the confusion of being in love for the first time they get a lot of things wrong, misinterpret a lot and take the most roundabout route possible to finally admitting they have a love that can work. They may be a little unconventional, but their love story is universal and the questions they raise about love (forget Argon, red-head folk tales, and the profundity of cigarette packs) are worth thinking about.

I love the way Robbins writes and I love the stories that he decides to tell. They're all strange and off-beat, clouded with a lot of speculation and sideways tangents, but he has this special way of telling you a story while getting you to really think. His books aren't just an escape, they're an exercise in creative thought. You don't question the absurd reality of his story, but rather begin forming your own opinions on the major questions in life - like how do you make love stay?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I feel like this book is really a series of short stories woven together so they become a novel. While character plot lines legitimately intersect, everyone is essentially on their own path. It's a mystery novel except none of the major action seems to happen until the mystery is solved, so in more ways than one, this is really a uniquely formatted novel.

Daniel Sempere happens upon a forgotten novel, The Shadow of the Wind, by an unknown author, Julian Carax, that proves to be the kind of book that forever alters the life of the reader. It's the kind of book you have to finish before putting it down, the kind you stay up all night reading. But, it's the last copy of the book in existence because a mysterious, deformed man has been systematically buying and burning all copies of any Carax novel. Daniel feels compelled to not only get to the bottom of this shady character's motives but to figure out who Carax was and what happened to him. Daniel's connection with the novel along with similarities between his life and Carax's life unite them together with a force that can't be ignored.

This quest for truth brings together a whole cast of characters who all contribute to Daniel's life becoming forever altered. Daniel falls in love, learns what true friendship is, witnesses pure evil and desperation, and gets a taste for what real loneliness and longing can do to someone all because of the impact of just one novel that Daniel accidentally happens upon.

Of course, I love the idea of a single book setting into motion the course of a reader's path into adulthood as Carax's book does for Daniel, and as the book goes on the level of intensity and immediacy picks up in a very effective way, but still something was missing from the story. I feel like the setting was a bit underdeveloped on the whole. The story takes place in Barcelona, yet I felt like it really could have happened anywhere. I guess I wanted more Spanish influence to the tale and didn't really feel transported to the another place and time while reading. I did find the story very entertaining and the characters intricately developed. I felt like I really knew these people. The style of writing and the story's organization makes it a pretty thrilling read that definitely builds upon itself with the right combination of emotion and action. I'd recommend it for anyone looking for a chance of pace (unless all you read are Gothic-inspired, modern mysteries!)