Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Best (and Most Horrifying) Book Pretty Much Ever

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” C.S. Lewis  

I'm agreeing with C.S. Lewis as I sip some green tea and eat lemon shortbread, watching the summer rain fall. I am also wearing an oversized gray sweater and listening to soft, jazz-like music. But before you think I'm super bookish, nerdily adorable, or a hipster, I must inform you that I spent the last 10 minutes looking at funny gifs, already managed to have an awkward encounter with my own mother, and I'm going absolutely stir crazy. I can take about 2 days of rain and reading before I need sunshine and social time. I can only go about five minutes before I give into the temptation to use alliteration. 

But as it is raining, and I do have tea and soft music, this is a perfect time to write a book review, mostly on one of the BEST BOOKS EVER, Blindness by José Saramago. 

The older I get, the harder it is for me to find a book (a fictional book, anyway) that can grip me in its plot and impress me with its writing.  I remember staying up way past my bedtime to read books as a kid. I would hide the book under my shirt and pretend I was going to the bathroom, where I would crouch on the (closed) toilet to find out what was happening to Jo March or Anne of Green Gables, or whatever historical fiction girl cross-dressing as a soldier or dragon fighting wizard I was reading about. (I liked the strong female leads and fantasy books.) Back then, it seemed like I found some new and exciting book at each of our weekly trips to the library. Now, I might find a fun or exciting plot, but the writing is second-rate. Or the writing is beautiful and profound, but the story itself drags. 

Blindness kept me up until 3 am. I even braved the wrath of my 88 year old grandmother just to keep reading, and that is no small thing. Translated from Portuguese, Blindness  is a sort of post-apocalyptic drama, but with less sci-fi and more depth. I found the book in our favorite second-hand book shop up in the Appalachians. For $2 I was plunged into a horrifying, gripping story of a world struck blind. And it was horrifying - I was almost in tears at points, and even clutched my hands to my chest like a dramatic movie star from the '40s. Not only was the plot gripping, but the writing was astounding. If you ever read The Shipping News (which I highly recommend), it was like the opposite of that novel - The Shipping News uses only fragments through out, while Saramago wrote his book in nearly Dickens-length sentences, making much use of commas. When he does use a short sentence it's like you can finally take a breath again. But that writing style somehow  creates the world of blindness and confusion and futility. 

This book is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. I would give it a rated R for graphic imagery and sex. And if you or someone close to you has been a victim of sexual assault, it might be too hard of a read. But what it shows (never tells!) is not gratuitous, but simply true to the story. In a landscape of sudden disease, criminal elements would likely hold power, as they do in this novel. 

So, it's a must read for modern literature loves. If you're not convinced yet, know that Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature and that a movie starring Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore was made based on Blindness (I don't know if I can watch it, even though I love those actors - that just might be too much for me to see the events described acted out). 

I just discovered that Blindness has a sequel, Seeing. The next time I have a free 24 hours straight, I'm definitely getting it! 

I also wanted to mention my thoughts on Snow by Orhan Pamuk. Like I mentioned here, I was waiting to get my hands on that book and I finally found it at my not-so-local library (my local library is seriously lacking). I was sadly not gripped by this least, not for very long. Snow falls into the category of beautifully written but dragging plot book. Pamuk's prose is gorgeous, gorgeous enough that I kept reading even when I was feeling a little underwhelmed. But the story just dragged, as he reiterated and reiterated already covered themes and feelings, about how his protagonist was sad and writing poetry and liked the snow. Still, I would say this book is worth a shot and gives a lot of insight into modern Turkey. I was really into it for the first third, then had to kinda force myself along for the rest. 

Also, I finally got around to reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. Tons of my friends read this in university and it had been on my to-read list for ages. I especially wanted to read it after working in a Haitian community as majority of the book is set in Haiti. This book is non-fiction and follows the work of Dr. Paul Farmer. I enjoyed the book immensely and definitely think it's a must read for anyone interested in international development. 

Summary: Blindness is a 10 out of 10, Snow is about a 7, and Mountains Beyond Mountains a 9. Get reading! 

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