Book reviews

I’m nearing the end of my Ultimate Reading Challenge that I started this year. My thoughts on this are: awesome! because I can go back to reading whatever I want without having to figure out which categories still need to be ticked off. And also awful! because the last few categories on my list are my least favourites, the ones I’ve been dreading from the start because I’m probably not going to enjoy them.

And was I ever proven right.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers

Book description: Talented writer blathers on about his issues, which are many. It is entertaining for like, three pages, then gets really old for the next 300.

Reading Challenge category: Book I started but never finished

My review: There is a reason I never finished this book. I actively dislike it. My lip curls every time I see the book; it’s a physiological thing, I have no control over it! I read the first four chapters, which the author actually suggests doing, because as he says it gets pretty uneven after then. Even those first chapters were hard to read, so it was with relief I set it aside. And, because apparently I am a masochist, I chose this book as the one I would finish. I don’t like not finishing books, so it does bother me to have one unread, especially one by a so-called famous literary talent. But reading this was like pulling teeth, I was definitely skimming by the end.

Narcissistic. Self-indulgent. Condescending. Smug. Boring. These are some of the nicer ways I’ve come to describe the book. And Eggers is self-deprecating enough to suggest he’s self aware enough to know the book is all these things. But, you know, not self aware enough to not write and publish the bloody thing.

And the thing is, I’m not even arguing that Eggers is a talented writer. He is. And his story is probably worthy of a book – he loses both his parents as a young man and becomes guardian to his much-younger brother. There is a story in there. And yet. He is just so pleased with himself, his talent, his worldview, his cool friends and crappy magazine, and I just wanted the whole thing to end. And then, by the end, it had devolved into angry ranting of his inner monologue. I mean, who edited this thing. It made him seem sooo dislikable. The only good here is that it is finished.

Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare

Book description: Betrayal and court intrigue in first-century Rome. Lots of stabbing.

Reading Challenge category: A play

My review: I’m just crapping over all the major talents today, aren’t I? You might have heard of this playwright before. And in reality I actually didn’t dislike reading Julius Caesar, it’s just I’ve never been a fan of reading plays and wasn’t looking forward to this. Largely because plays weren’t meant to be read. You miss so much when you’re not watching an actor’s interpretation of what’s going on. It takes a lot, really all, of the drama away. I would be like – what, Cassius is dead? rustles through pages Oh, right, there it is. Huh.

However, reading this did remind me of a little fun play that was put on by my drama class in high school. Half the class got to do a comedy about Julius Caesar. It was hilarious, and it looked like everyone had tons of fun doing it. The other half of the class had to do a drama about the Depression, and wear drab clothing and give super depressing monologues. Ugh. Can you tell which group I was in? I’m still bitter about it. I wanted to make Julius Caesar funny!

Galileo’s Daughter, by Dava Sobel

Book description: A historical memoir of Galileo’s life and science, told through the lens of his nun daughter in his correspondence from her.

Reading Challenge category: A book I own but haven’t read

My review: This book actually wasn’t bad at all – it just took me so long to write this post that I finished it, so thought I better review it as well. The book belonged to my father – I took a good deal of his books after he passed away, and most I haven’t even looked at. So this seemed like a good place to start. It is a well written historical memoir, and I feel like I know a lot more about Galileo than I did before (I knew next to nothing before, so that was easy.) He was very close with his eldest daughter, although only the letters he received from her survived to this day – the ones he sent her would have been destroyed by her convent, I guess. The worst part of the book is reading about life at the convent, she was in an order of St. Clare and they all lived in poverty and starvation. It sounds just awful, and basically she was put there because she was an illegitimate child and therefore would never be able to make an advantageous marriage. So off to starve, little bastard child! I was also really uncomfortable with her incredibly subservient tone when she wrote to her father (basically like: I am just so stupid and unworthy, you are wonderful, could you please send some bread so I don’t die?) But he apparently cared for her a great deal too. He was actually buried with her, she having succumbed to, you know, the starvation at an early age, a few years before Galileo died in exile in his country home, right next to her convent. All together it was a more depressing read than if you just read about his glorious scientific exploits, this look at what life was really like in 17th-century Italy. Not a nice place, particularly if you are anti-plague. Anyway, it’s also an interesting read, and like I said easy to get through. I even understood the basic scientific principles being laid out!

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