Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

IMG_0496What started out as what I thought was just going to be another piece of historical fiction set in Germany during WW2 turned out to be one of the most beautifully written pieces of prose I have ever read. It’s not until you get about halfway through the book that you begin to realize just how much thought and careful planning went into the writing of this novel. Every sentence is carefully crafted to evoke a sense of imagery and immerse you in the world of Liesel Meminger.

Plot Summary:

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Book Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love reading the memoirs of people who’ve lived extraordinary lives, and Trevor Noah is no exception to this rule. Born in South Africa during apartheid, Noah takes the reader on a critical, yet comical ride, with short stories, essays, and his observations about life. Born a Crime is sprinkled with profound insights about race and culture, with just a touch of humour, and succeeds in telling one of the most thought-provoking works of our time.

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Books that I started to read but couldn’t finish

I’d say I’m a moderate to avid reader. People who know me think I’m a book worm (I’ll take that as a compliment). Often times, however, people might assume that just because I love reading, I love every book I read. Let me assure you, this is not true. In fact it’s quite the opposite. I rarely come across a book that I absolutely love, and sometimes I have to force myself to continue reading until I finish the book. But I’m not always able to finish. Therefore I’m sharing the list of books that I started to read but couldn’t finish, and my explanation for why I gave up on that book, below: Continue reading

HUGE Barnes & Noble Book Haul

I live in Ontario, Canada, where the biggest book store chain is Indigo. Indigo also owns smaller stores called Chapters and Coles but books at these stores can be quite expensive. We’re talking $20-$25 for paperbacks, and up to $40 for some new hardcover novels, and that’s Canadian dollars.

When I went to Connecticut recently on vacation, I decided to check out the local Barnes & Noble. Upon entering, it was clear to me that this place was heaven on earth. I immediately turned right and ran into a huge stack of books featuring the most beautifully designed hardcovers and compilations of some classic authors.  Continue reading

Book Review: Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger


It begins with our beloved Franny having a psychotic breakdown during a lunch date with her boyfriend, Lane. Franny has just read a book about finding God through reciting a very specific prayer over and over again, and is driven crazy by the insignificance of her own life and the actions of those around her. She ends up having to return home where her brother, Zooey, discusses at length with Franny, the meaning of life.

Although this is only the second novel I’ve read by J.D. Salinger, it’s clear he possesses an innate ability to strip human nature down to its very core and show it in the absolute depths of its despair. Like Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey evokes the same feelings of hopelessness in the reader by constantly questioning the meaning of life, the authenticity of our feelings, emotions and actions, and of course deals heavily with religion throughout. While much of the novel could be perceived as dealing with the ordinary, mundane, and frivolous I would actually argue that this is precisely what makes it such an important and significant work.

Much of the text deals with the idea that we must find meaning in life by seeking knowledge, wisdom, and truth, and that everything that is not true is “phoney” and therefore meaningless. This idea is reinforced over and again throughout the text. One example is when Franny Glass says,

“Everything everybody does is so — I don’t know — not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid necessarily but just so tiny and meaningless and — sad making,”

on page 23. In this quote Franny is demonstrating the idea that people in general are not in touch with what she defines as “real,” or “meaningful.”

Another quote that I particularly liked and felt I could relate to came later in the book when Franny tells Zooey about her experience at University and says,

“I don’t think it would have all got me quite so down if just once in a while — just once in a while — there was at least some polite little perfunctory implication that knowledge should lead to wisdom, and that if it doesn’t, it’s just a disgusting waste of time! But there never is!” page 124.

The thing about much of what Salinger writes is that, at least I feel, that I’ve had these exact same thoughts before, but just never articulated them out loud. Either way, both of these passages deal with the idea that our ultimate goal or pursuit in life should be to seek out knowledge that will lead to wisdom so we don’t lead “tiny and meaningless” lives. The main characters in all of Salinger’s novels seem to be terrified of insignificance or phoniness to the point where it destroys their happiness and ability to function normally in society.

Both siblings – Franny and Zooey – continuously question the purpose of life in this way, and Salinger has an interesting technique that he uses to evoke the same feeling of purposelessness in the reader by highlighting mundane aspects of life in excruciating detail; most notably on pages 64, 65, and 79 when describing the contents of Mrs. Glass’ kimono, the amenities in the medicine cabinet, and Zooey’s shaving process. It is therefore, my contention, that Salinger is knowingly trying to get the reader to feel what it’s like to be inside of the characters’ – and perhaps the authors – head by making us realize how pointless and meaningless life can be.

The extreme focus on the details in the cabinet, Zooey’s shaving process, etc. are very real things – that is, they’re not “fake” or “phoney” ideas – yet Salinger’s excessive description of them almost contradicts the tangible realness of them and makes them feel phoney. The way in which Salinger blurs the lines between what’s real and what’s fake, and how something that you think is true, when shown in a different light can feel so insignificant, allows us to get inside of the characters heads and adds an element of realism to the book.

Of course, one cannot talk about Franny and Zoeey and fail to mention perhaps the most important theme, religion. Generally I don’t like to touch on this subject because it can lead to some controversial dialogue – which I try to stay away from as much as possible – but like I said, it’s so heavily featured that it would be a faux pas not to, so here I go…

Perhaps my favourite quote in the entire book has to deal with religion, and that quote is,

“Seymour once said to me — in a crosstown bus, of all places — that all legitimate religions must lead to unlearning the differences, the illusory differences, between boys and girls, animals and stones, day and night, heat and cold.” – page 58.

This resonated with me on many levels due to the pure simplicity of the idea, and how Salinger could get it so right, but the rest of the world gotten it so wrong.

At one time or another, everyone has wondered about the purpose and meaning of life; some turning to religion to find the answers, others taking their own spiritual journey. But it all boils down to one simple idea: we are all connected, made up of the same matter, breathing the same air, and we must do our best to treat each other with kindness and respect.

It’s my interpretation that at the end of the novel Franny finally finds the answers she’s been looking for, and the message is basically to treat everyone with respect and love. Throughout the book, Zooey’s constant criticism of Franny’s mission to attain enlightenment is that she can’t possibly say a simple prayer to become closer to Jesus/God if she doesn’t understand him and what he stood for. In this day and age it’s as relevant a criticism as ever, with people proclaiming to love Jesus also voting to turn away refugees, creating disadvantages for the poor and less fortunate, and doing everything that the figurative Jesus would certainly never do. Society has lost its way in many ways and all I can do is my best to be a good person to everyone I meet.

I think what I enjoyed most about this book was the overall message that it left me with, which is that if we let ourselves get caught up in the search for enlightenment it can actually destroy our chance of ever being happy, as seen with Franny when she begins to criticize her boyfriend and eventually end up going back home and having a psychotic breakdown. The answer is always simple and it’s the rule as old as time: treat others the way you would want to be treated. This book certainly got me thinking and I have to say Salinger has not let me down yet. He’s in the running to replace George Orwell as my favourite author of all time. We’ll see how I feel after Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction. Until then, stay real everyone.

Book Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman


This was my first foray into fantasy, and it went amazingly well.

Centred around a young man, Tristan Thorn, who sets off to find a fallen star in faerie land after he promises his love that he will do anything to win her over, this beautifully written novel had me absolutely hooked around the third chapter when we find out that there are other more mysterious and sinister characters trying to get the fallen star for their own reasons. On his journey to find the fallen star, Tristan encounters a number of obstacles, mystical and magical creatures, and just enough luck to save his skin a number of times.

What I really loved about this book was the fact that it was easy and accessible fantasy. As someone who has tried (and failed) to get through the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin’s respective Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones series, I thought fantasy just wasn’t my thing. I’m happy to admit that Neil Gaiman proved me wrong.

While the prose is not overly complicated and the vocabulary not too extensive, I felt that this only added to the overall magical feeling and found myself thinking I was a kid again (despite several graphic sexual encounters sprinkled throughout the book). This novel had everything you could ask for in a fantasy story: action, adventure, romance, suspense, mystery, murder, ghosts, witches and more!

The way different characters are introduced at different times, and how the stories all come together in the end was so intricately woven and expertly executed that I had several “ah-ha” moments during the last couple of chapters after finally realizing how some people who I had thought were unimportant side-notes ended up being crucial to the plot.

In the end, I was swept up and away in the magical world created by Neil Gaiman and can’t wait to delve into this newly discovered universe that is the fantasy genre. Please leave me some suggestions below for what I should read next and what your favourite fantasy novel is.

Book Review: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

It’s difficult for me to put my feelings towards this book into words because I still don’t know exactly how to feel about it… Let me start by saying that upon completion I feel let down, and here’s why: The main point that Dr. Brene Brown argues throughout the book is that being vulnerable is actually being strong, and that exposing ourselves to situations in which we might become vulnerable is the only way to dare greatly, or achieve greatness. I have no problem with this argument and in fact I actually agree with the author based on my own understanding of vulnerability and strength. What I don’t agree with, or dislike about this book in particular, is the way Brown goes about justifying or “proving” her point.

A book with half of the pages warped from water damage
Accidentally dunked half my copy in the bathtub #oops

The entire book is littered with personal stories and anecdotal evidence, conveniently supplied by the author’s own daughter and husband. I would have liked to have seen more quantified research based evidence drawn throughout the book and linked to the points Brown was making; a really good example of how this can be done right is in Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance.

Another thing I really disliked about this book was how repetitive and pointless it was at times. By pointless I mean that it was often difficult to discern what point the author was making in each section. It seemed much more like a hodgepodge of random thoughts than a well executed, well-researched book.

Another detraction was how much emphasis the author places on shame. While I get the distinction she between shame and guilt, I wasn’t convinced that shame is the be all end all for destroying vulnerability. Sometimes we need to feel shame to know we’ve done something wrong. However, at the same time I was able to reflect on a time in my life when shame might have been responsible for making me believe I wasn’t artistic.

Not to borrow this boring personal anecdote technique from the author, but I was about 6 years old and our teacher told us to draw a rainbow, and you know how colouring books have black outlines around the parts you’re supposed to colour in? Well I decided to make a colouring book for myself and drew the outline of a rainbow in black crayon first. As I was colouring in the colours, the teacher walked by and said something to the affect of “Why did you do that, rainbows don’t have black in them?” And my little artist heart was destroyed. Not until almost 20 years later did I discover that I actually do have creative talent. I love to paint, draw, colour, and design.

So in this regard I did find some value in the book. Albeit minimal, it wasn’t a complete waste of time. I just don’t think these self help books are for me. I didn’t enjoy the last one I read either (The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz) so I probably won’t be reading something like this again for a while. Anyway, that’s my review. I hope it helped you in some way. I didn’t get much out of this book but that doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t.