My review of The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is the seventh book in my “26 in 52 Challenge” which means I’m falling a little behind and need to pick up my reading game from here on out (should be reading book 10 right about now).

While shopping for books recently, a friend of mine recommended this one, and as I was cashing out, the cashier also gave it a good endorsement; I figured I couldn’t lose. This is a story about story telling, with the backdrop of the Viet Nam war. The beginning starts off with the first chapter listing many of the physical things these soldiers carried, setting up for the emotional baggage that stuck with them for the war and beyond. I got the point that what these soldiers were carrying was emotional before I started reading, so the start was a little slow for me and could probably have been cut back quite a bit. After that, the book picked up as it went along, with Tim O’Brien making the reader feel as if they’re in the Viet Nam jungle. Each story from horrific deaths to the mundane were told with great description and imagery.

It was blurry if it was fact or fiction for me, which is a testament to the great writing of O’Brien. He mentions many times, mostly at the beginning, that each story told isn’t necessarily the truth, but the emotions and other descriptions added and changed over time doesn’t make them less true, because that’s how the person reacted to it emotionally, so it was true to them.

It took me a while to get into the book, and while the writing was great, it felt like a collection of smaller stories, which wasn’t what I was expecting. I recommend this one, but don’t go into it thinking it’s your typical fiction novel. 3.5/5

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My review of The Gum Thief

I finished The Gum Thief the day before I left for Calgary and it’s review got pushed to the back burner, and eventually forgotten – until now.

This was book number six in my “26 in 52 Challenge” and the second Douglas Coupland book I’ve read; the first being Hey Nostradamus! which I read maybe three years ago, and enjoyed enough to try his work out again. The plot for The Gum Thief is pretty simple. It revolves around a guy who works at a Staples in Vancouver and he’s had issues with his recent divorce. He spends his spare time writing a fiction novel, which has many similar characters from his life at Staples. The piece ends up being read by one of his coworkers, who is originally freaked out by the similarities, specifically to her own self, and how accurate they are. Throughout the novel the two coworkers become closer through writing to each other. There’s never any verbal dialogue between the two but they begin helping each other out with the difficult situations that have come up in their lives.

I like Coupland’s novels because of the strong character development, but the people just seem too depressed all the time. I hope all his books aren’t like that, even though I’m sure I’d read them regardless of the fact. I recommend The Gum Thief if you’re looking for an easy read. It won’t blow your mind or leave you wanting more, which is one of the reasons I haven’t been quick to read all of his books. I’ll give this one a 3.5/5.

Are you a fan of Douglas Coupland’s writing? If so, what is your favourite book from him?

My review of Grown Up Digital

Book number five in my “26 in 52 Challenge” took a bit longer to get through than I thought it would. Grown Up Digital, written by Don Tapscott aims to prove the point that those born in the “Net Generation” (or Generation Y) aren’t as screwed up as those in Generation X or Baby Boomers think they are.

Since I’m a part of the Net Generation this is something that interests me. From the outset, however, I felt like it was a manual for Boomers/Gen Xers to read, and I was looking in as an outsider. For the first time reading a “Gen Y” kind of piece, didn’t feel it accurately portrayed my Generation, even though Tapscott backed up his arguments with facts taken from surveys from a variety of places and acknowledged arguments from critics; it just all seemed too much of a positive look for the generation; too good to be true – like the research was off.

One of the points brought up in the book is that my generation is living online or our devices. This is another generalization that I can’t say is true. When I hang out with people I meet online, yes I see it, but in other friendships I don’t see it at all. There’s a whole whack of people my age that could care less about social networks and connecting. It’s not fair to lump a whole generation into this category. Those same people aren’t all failing because of the way schools teach or their parents govern the household either. I’m not saying the changes Tapscott proposed, including collaborative learning and family life, are bad, I’m just saying maybe it’s not this generation that necessarily needs it to do well.

I can make this post go on for much longer. There are so many points to bring up, but I’ll cut it short. I’ll agree with Tapscott in saying the Net Generation isn’t going to doom the world. Each Generation overreacts at the next and things tend to turn out balanced either way. I doubt things will get much better or worse as we go along, but it’s always good to be hopeful for the future.

This is a great read if you enjoy the essay format, but I prefer conversational (maybe a trait of my generation) and this didn’t really give any of that. The points brought up are always a great discussion so I don’t regret reading it, but I give it a 2.5/5.

My review of Gratitude

I’m starting to think I have a thing for World War II novels. Every time I’m in a book store and read the summary on the back I have the urge to pick it up. This was the case with Gratitude by Joseph Kertes, which is book number 4 in my 26 in 52 Challenge.

Gratitude isn’t your typical America comes to save the day kind of book. It takes place in Hungary, mainly in Budapest, and follows a family of Hungarian Jews who, along with the rest of their country have gone relatively unscathed from the war that’s been going on around them throughout Europe. Eventually though, Hitler and his ever expanding empire begins to take over and life as they knew it was turned upside down.

With a couple of exceptions it feels as if everything is tied off too nicely in the end. I’m not saying the end results weren’t possible, but it all just seemed too convenient (Sorry for the vagueness – don’t want to give anything away). That being said, I enjoyed the book quite a bit. I had a real sense of what the characters were experiencing, and the writing allowed me to clearly visualize their surroundings. Whenever I’m looking for a book I look for Penguin Books because I’ve read quite a few well-written, great character-driven novels from them lately.

I give Gratitude a 3.5/5

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