Category Archives: travel

Into the Wild

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into the wild

“I now walk into the wild” are the last words that Chris McCandless sent his friend Wayne Westerberg before trekking into the Alaskan wilderness. It’s hard not to be touched in some way by McCandless’s story. Yes he was impetuous, naive, and heedless of the dangers he was facing, but he was also an idealist searching for some kind of meaning in life. Like many people before him, John Muir most notably, he was searching for an answer in nature. Being young myself, I can identify a lot with McCandless. Death seems so remote you don’t even consider it. There’s no way anything bad could ever happen to you. You’re young and have everything ahead of you.

I’m sure in some ways this was McCandless’s thought pattern as well. He was so convinced of his own intellect and knew that he could make it. He had never failed at anything he had tried before and had always been praised for his intelligence and unwavering beliefs. He was a self made outcast. He shed society’s layers as best as he could only to realize that “happiness is best when shared.” I’m a firm believer that it’s the people around us that help us lead a full and satisfying life. It’s people that push us to grow and change in ways that we might not left to our own devices.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel was how thoroughly Krakauer looked into the history of travelers like McCandless. I couldn’t believe that so many people have walked into the wild never to walk out again. There are tales of teens disappearing in the desert, a climber vanishing in the mountains of Alaska, and British soldiers from the 1800’s dying in the arctic. I think in some way everyone is interested in what’s out there. That’s why we travel to other places to discover new things, people, and cultures. Most of us just travel from city to city instead of into the wilds. But we’re all bitten by some kind of wanderlust, an interest in things outside of ourselves.

There are many decisions that McCandless made heedlessly, as many before him had done. Yet, he was not one of the lucky ones. He didn’t survive his trek into the wild. The odds were stacked against him. Yet he made an impact on the world through what he left behind. After reading Krakauer’s novel I feel like I got to personally know McCandless and see a bit into his heart.

Rating: 5/5 Such a compelling, albeit tragic, story.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015.

Going On A Journey

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into-the-wild-99-lancastria

Next up in Book Battle 2015 is a novel based on a true story. I was so overwhelmed with all of the available options for this category. I could not make up my mind. It seemed like every day I found another novel that would fit this category and sounded intriguing. I went back and forth, rearranging my list, trying to figure out where to plug in a specific novel and what to take out. I finally decided on Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. I’ve heard really great things about this novel and Krakauer’s writing. And, best of all, the library had many copies of this book.

From the book jacket, and what I’ve heard, this is a novel about a young man’s search for meaning in his life. He leaves everything he has and has ever known behind and begins his journey. He travels all over the United States and eventually ends up in Denali National Park, where his body is found by fellow travelers.

I can’t wait to read this novel and see what the hype is about. Everyone I’ve mentioned it to has amazing things to say about this novel and Krakauer’s other novels. Stay tuned for the full review of Into the Wild. Happy reading!

Suddenly, Last Summer

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Suddenly, Last Summer

Suddenly, Last Summer is a play of predators and prey. Each circling the other trying to take stock of their surroundings and how best to play off and use the the other. The opening scene foreshadows perfectly how the rest of the play will unfold. In Sebastian Venable’s garden decorated with “massive tree flowers that suggest organs of a body, torn out, still glistening with undried blood.” Noises of screeching birds and hissing insects emanate form the garden, stirring up feelings of foreboding in the reader. That’s when we’re introduced to Mrs. Violet Venable, Sebastian’s mother. She’s talking to a Dr. Cukrowicz about a Miss Catherine Holly, the woman last seen with Sebastian before his death. Instead of taking his ill mother along on his travels, Sebastian took his cousin by marriage Catherine. While on vacation, Sebastian died mysteriously and Catherine has been spouting a damning story that Violet refuses to believe. She asks the doctor if a lobotomy will erase the story from her mind. He says that before he can decide he must interview Catherine and hear the story she has to tell.

This is when things get even hairier. The play is short but jam-packed with images and illusions. Nothing is quite as it seems and everything has a dual meaning. During Catherine’s story we learn a lot about cousin Sebastian and his mother that Violet would rather not have others know. Sebastian and his mother have a sort of Norma Norman Bates relationship. It’s symbiotic, each feeding off the other for something they need that’s definitely a tainted type of love. Even after his death, Violet wants to claim all of Sebastian and paints an image of him that she desires, no matter how truthful an image that is. She wants to believe he was a world class poet that did everything for his art. She’s created this image of Sebastian as more of a living art form than a mere human being.

Art plays a big part in the play. The art of deception and manipulation. In a way, Sebastian is devoured by his own art. He’s destroyed himself through his own ideas and proclivities. Sebastian uses those around him in whatever way suits him in the moment. He continually wants an entourage of adoring people around him but has a hard time acquiring them. That was what Catherine was for. She was there to acquire the people he wanted. She says in the play that Sebastian considered people to be treats. Some were delicious while other were vile.

I don’t want to spoil the play or the ending. This is a must read. It’s short but powerful. The scenes, just like the movie, will play around and around in your head while you try to piece together all of the images to form one cohesive whole. Just like Catherine is traumatized by the image of Sebastian’s death, I had a hard time putting the play out of my mind.

Rating: 5/5

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015.

Putting on a Show

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Putting on a Show

Next up in Book Battle 2015 is a play. There was no second guessing for me this time. I knew the play I wanted to read as I read the category for the first time. I saw the movie for Suddenly, Last Summer when I was in high school. My mom got me hooked on classic movies from an early age. I remember staying up late at night watching TCM with her. This movie, in particular, has always stuck with me because it was so jarring. It terrified me in a way, much like The Innocents based on Henry James’s short story The Turn of the Screw. The movie was so psychologically unnerving, dealing with the thin line between reality and fantasy, keeping you on the edge of your seat. I have the image of Elizabeth Taylor screaming as birds fly by on this white hot strip of asphalt forever stuck in my head. As well as Katherine Hepburn wheeling a wheelchair through a lush tropical garden.

It’s because I remember scenes from this movie so vividly that I decided to read the play. The fact that Tennessee Williams is one of the greatest playwrights of his generation is definitely an added bonus. Stay tuned to see how the movie stacks up to the play. Happy reading!

The Winter People

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The Winter People

A small Vermont town surrounded by legends of the undead and plagued by mysterious disappearances for as long as anyone can remember. Only a dead woman’s diary holds the answer to West Hall’s dark past. But will the diary be used for good or to perpetuate more evil. Will a person’s desire overwhelm their common sense?

This is the basis of Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People. The story starts and ends with the words of Sara Harrison Shea. She is the basis for the horror that has befallen West Hall, Vermont. Told in many different perspectives, the story slowly begins the story of the town and what has been plaguing it’s people for centuries. Two people in the present find Sara’s diary explaining the origins of West Hall’s ghosts. First Ruthie finds the diary after she wakes up to discover her other missing from their home. In her search for her mother, she and her sister Fawn discover an ancient diary and wallets from people they have never heard of buried in the floorboards. The second person to discover the diary is Katherine, a woman overcome by grief who moves to West Hall to find out why her husband went to the town the day he died.

The story moves along swiftly, the best parts in my opinion are the bits from Sara Harrison Shea’s diary. The story is very suspenseful and like all good ghost stories did make me look over my shoulder from time to time. Things going bump in the closet have always terrified me since I was a kid and this story awakened those fears a bit. The undead in the closet, shiver.

I did think, however, that at times McMahon had way too many plot lines going at once. She started out simply and it worked. I was intrigued and wanted to know. And then she introduced at least five other plot lines and it lessened the suspense for me. The additional plot lines kind of diluted the ghost story. I understand why she did it after finishing the novel but still feel like I would have liked it more without so many parallel plot lines. It took the focus off the ghost story/horror aspect and made it more like an action movie. The story of Sara Harrison Shea could have well stood on it’s own, even throw in Ruthie and her family. But the rest feel superfluous. It almost felt like McMahon had to scramble to figure out how to tie up all the loose ends in the plot and had to add all of these additional characters and plots in order to do so.

Even with the extra plot lines, the main story is fantastic. It made my skin crawl in places and made my heart beat quicker. I love a good scary story and the main thread in this novel is a great one. Read it yourself and find out how sleepers come back to life and, in some cases, live for eternity.

Rating: 4/5

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015. Happy reading!

Mind Traveling

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Mind Traveling

Next up in Book Battle 2015 is a novel set in a place you’ve always wanted to go. Once again, I went back and forth so many times on this category, from book to book and back again. Finally, I decided to settle on I Am The Messenger by Marcus Zusak. The novel is set in an unidentified place in Australia, a country I have always wanted to visit even though there are 9 out of 10 of the world’s deadliest creatures living there.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to start reading this novel. I fell in love with Zusak’s The Book Thief  and am expecting equally great things from this novel. In a way, this novel seems more intimate to Zusak himself. The character of Ed Kennedy perhaps a reflection of the author. From the back cover, I think this book might be a round about mystery. It’s hard to say. Ed starts receiving playing cards in the mail with instructions written on them. He has to become a vigilante Batman type, and who doesn’t love a tragic hero.

Stay tuned for the review of this Book Battle installment. Happy reading!

The Power of Memory

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The Power of Memory

Everything Is Illuminated is a novel about the power of memory and the fine line between fiction and reality. I didn’t really know what to expect when I opened the pages of this novel. I hadn’t really heard all that much about it and know no one who has read it before. All I knew was that it was made into a movie, which I still have yet to see.

The novel unfolds slowly peeling back layers and layers of protection from each character until their ultimate truth can be revealed. The first few chapters had me laughing out loud. Alex plays the lovable, bumbling idiot to perfection. The Ukrainian family is full of delightful quirks, like a grandfather who believes he is blind and must have a seeing eye bitch named Sammy Davis Junior Junior. But it’s not until you delve further into the novel that you realize those quirks are guards each characters puts up to present a chosen image of themselves to the world so that they may remain protected.

The theme that hit me the most throughout the novel was one of fiction vs. reality. You never really know what’s true and what the character has invented based on their facade. Every character is unreliable and creates an illusion of the way they see things or the way they want others to perceive them. Beginning with Brod and continuing on through, each character manufactures and invents a history for themselves to blur the lines between fiction and reality. Brod often confuses the books she reads with her real life events to the point where she doesn’t know what is true and what is make believe. Jonathan creates a whole history for his ancestors that is in part truth and in part added embellishment in the exchange of letters between him and Alex. Even Alex creates a persona for himself that is more fantasy than it is reality. The whole book itself is also a blur of fiction and reality. Upon some research, I found out that the actual author did go to Ukraine in search for family connections, just as in the book, but didn’t find what he was looking for so he decided to invent this alternative history in narrative form.

Everything Is Illuminated is a powerful book about memory and loss and the ways we as humans cope and struggle to make sense of things.

Rating: 4/5

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in reading literary fiction that you have to analyze and read between the lines to figure out. Now I must find the movie so I can watch it! Fingers crossed it’s on Netflix.

Stay tuned for the next book in Book Battle 2015. I’m oscillating between two categories so hopefully I will be able to make up my mine soon. Happy reading!