Books! Reviews of Books! (Part 2, Book List 2)

Oh my gosh. It has been way too long since I have done a review. I finally (FINALLY!) unpacked all of the books from the move. Yay! And found the stack of books from The Second Book List. Yay! So back to reading for me. Thank goodness.

This second batch of books was kind of one dud after another (except for The Likeness by Tana French!) which was an overall bummer, but then also made sense in a weird way. So let’s start discussing. Hopefully you have read some of these and we can take about them in comments.

So, the first book I read in this batch was The Likeness by Tana French (as mentioned above). This is one of the most perfect murder mysteries I have read. The set up is interesting – not typical, but the dead body shows up right at the beginning – just how it should, so right up front I am into it. The Likeness is one of the most plot heavy books I’ve read as well. A lot of the books I read are very internal, and the outside action is not as focused on as the inside action. The pace of this book is fairly quick, a lot of things happen. This is one of the books I would love love love to see made into a movie.

While I was on the train, gobbling up the last few chapters of this book, a woman sitting next to me (on the floor because the train was so freaking packed this day) interrupted me to ask about the book. She had read the other Tana French novel (in this pseudo-series), In The Woods (I think?), and said she had been unsatisfied with the ending. I told her that the ending to The Likeness was very satisfying and she should totally read it. Which is true and very hard to do! The ending is interesting, fast paced, and peters out nicely.  I tried really hard to finish the book before my stop so I could nonchalantly hand it to, as a reader to reader paying it forward, but my stop came up too fast and I had to get off the train with only 3 pages to go. Bummer. But so far this book is a major contender for my favorite out of the second book list. So so good, and really fun – highly recommend.

The second book I attempted to tackle was Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar. Whoever has read this book before me is a freaking genius. Let me just say that right up front. I got about 50 pages in and I had to stop. I just couldn’t. The book is dense and very long. The story – which the reader is able to read in 2 different sequences (the chapters are number 2 different ways) – is about a bunch of bohemians in Paris. Their love affairs and failures and so and so forth. The book is a jumble of Spanish, french, and English, and the beyond not being able to keep any of the character’s names straight (first and last name continue to be referenced independently of each other and not consistently), I felt like I was missing much of the nuance with my limited knowledge of French and my next to nothing knowledge of Spanish. So I gave up. I was way too sleep deprived to make heads or tales of it. I needed a professor to explain it to me and give me highlighted passages to write 10 page essays on. Who has read this? Tell me about how wonderful it is! I am dying to understand.

Thennnnn, I read Under The Feet Of Jesus, by Helena Maria Viramontes. It is a short book, but is filled the amazingly tragic and poetic prose. It follows a family of Mexican migrant workers, something I have always been fascinated with. This book reminds me a lot of The Grapes of Wrath, while being about 1/8th its size. It is beautiful to read and at the same time incredibly difficult to read. I feel like everyone should read this book and allow it to open up discussion about immigration, citizenship, and how our food gets to our table.

There was a documentary on PBS yesterday about the history of Mexican-Americans (and then Cuban-Americans) in this country and it talked a lot about Cesar Chavez and the unionization of migrant workers. So little of that history is taught in schools and it is a major part of the civil rights movement. It is bizarre to me that immigration is talked about in current politics and debated and pandered towards and blahblahblah, yet the history of it and the human part of it seems to be ignored. Under The Feet Of Jesus is really good. Heart breaking, but a really important story.

Lastly, before we moved and all books were lost for two months, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. And holy shit. I had no idea what this book was about before I opened it. I figured…. motorcycles? And it is, sort of. Except not. It’s about life and happiness and the journeys we all take and blahblahblah existentialism. In the foreground there is an epic Father-Son motorcycle trip, which is actually really really interesting. There is a lot going on with the Dad, who is the narrator, and a lot going on with his son, and they have a complicated relationship. I spent a lot of time wondering where the mom was and why they never called her to check in and why the dad would have wanted to go on such a long trip on a motorcycle with his young son, and how that part kind of didn’t make sense. But then I would get sucked into these long asides about the meaning of life and have to skim a few pages to get back to the plot.

I am not a fan, I do not recommend it. I understand why it has such a cult following, but for me – this is not why I read. I do read to learn about the human condition, I do read to understand different types of people better, but I also read to be entertained, to go on a journey I have never been on and will never go on. I read to be challenged, but not in this way. Have you read this book? Do you love it? Am I just a numbskull who hasn’t opened up my mind to the universe? That is a possibility. I have also never ridden on a motorcycle… full disclosure.

Now it is your turn. Have you read this? Have you wanted to? I’m dying to hear your experiences.

20 thoughts on “Books! Reviews of Books! (Part 2, Book List 2)”

  1. I have complicated feels about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’ve never finished it, but I always felt a lot of pressure to read it. I majored in philosophy in university and when people find that out, this is the piece of pop culture they try to use to relate to that … but just no. There are decent philosophical memoirs out there, but from an academic standpoint I never felt like this is one of them.

    My husband, on the other hand, who is a motorcycle mechanic? He liked the book a lot. I’m not 100% sure why.

  2. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”: THANK YOU. I felt like such a dud for not “getting” that book. I read it for a senior-level English class, and most of my friends in the class were all like, “Ooooh, this book, it’s so deeeep.” While I’m just sitting there scratching my head thinking, “WTF just happened? Is he comparing zen to a wrench?” No thank you. Not for me.

    “The Likeness” sounds intriguing and is definitely going on my to-read list.

  3. I read In the Woods last year and was happy to see Cassie back again for The Likeness. I actually really liked both books, even though they were pretty different in tone (as much as two murder mysteries written by the same woman can differ).

  4. I read Zen in high school, which is I think the best time of life to read a book like that. Of the books I have read in what I consider to be that genre (like Ishmael and others – as someone else said, pop-philosophy books), I definitely thought Zen was the best. Not the best written, but the most interesting and thought-provoking and least cheesey. I thought about Zen a lot for years, and am curious to re-read it someday and see what I think about it as an adult.

  5. I did like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I read it so many years ago, so anything I say about it will be vague and useless, but I remember thinking about how doing something physical, with your hands is therapeutic.

    I do NOT read for a plot. Plots do not entertain me that much. Lyricism entertains me. I want to rhthym of the words to work their way into me. Too much emphasis on plot strikes me as lazy and banal.

  6. Oh Hopscotch. You are so right, the book is very dense and it can be hard to read. I have read it several times, and I love it, but at some point I got myself an annotated version with footnotes and it made it so much easier because Cortazar’s culture was so extended that it is difficult to get half of the references without it. Some of the parts were so difficult that I did not get them the first time or just had to skip them, or would later get them, or have never got them. But the good parts are oh, so good. I never realized the name switching… but yes he does that all the time. Horacio Oliveira / La Maga – Lucia….

    Anyhow… I love the story. I love the way it is narrated. What I love about Julio Cortazar is his way of finding magic / mysticity in everyday situations, coincidences, randomness, order in the chaos, poetry in absurdity…. and in ways it is also a critic of the bourgeois society.

    Perhaps you could give it another try, reading it in chronological order and skipping the “second” part?
    Or maybe you could try some of his short stories. He wrote plenty of them. He really had a way to mixing the fantastic with the real and that is what fascinates me. Try Axolotl, perhaps. It’s here.

    As for hopscotch here are some of my favorite quotes:

    “It was hard to deny belief in the fact that a flower could be beautiful to no end”… (chapter 141)

    “… and what we called loving was perhaps my standing in front of you holding a yellow flower while you held two green candles and a slow rain of renunciations and farewells adn Metro tickets blew in our faces”-

    “I do not believe the firefly gets any great satisfaction from the incontrovertible fact that it is one of the most amazing wonders of this circus, and yet one can imagine a consciousness alert enough to understand that everytime it lights its belly this light-bearing bug must feel some inkling of privilege” .

    “When we said goodbye we were like two children who have suddenly become friends at a birthday party and keep looking at one another while their parents take them by the hand and lead them off, and it’s a sweet pain, and a hope, and you know the name of one is Tony and the other one Lulu, and that’s all that’s needed for the heart to become a strawberry, and… ”

    “As if you could pick in love, as if it were not a lightning bolt that splits your bones and leaves you staked out in the middle of the courtyard… You don’t pick out the rain that soaks you to the skin when you come out of a concert”

    (Actually all of chapter 93)

  7. I am with you on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I thought it would be the perfect book for me: I like Zen! I like motorcycles! In fact, I LOVE zen and motorcycles. But the book didn’t engage me at all.

  8. Yay yay yay to you liking The Likeness by Tana French! I LOVE that book and have become sort of evangelist about recommending it to my fellow murder mystery lovers. Or anybody that’s ever read a book. I’m not too choosy.

    Now, go read all the books by Tana French. There’s one “before” this one (In The Woods, which focuses on Rob Ryan and gives you a quality backstory to Cassie, but otherwise I empathize with your floor-sitting-co-train-rider) and two “after” this one (Faithful Place which is all about the sordid family history of Frank, Cassie’s “handler” from The Likeness and the most recent Broken Harbor which follows a character introduced in Faithful Place). I use “before/after” lightly because it’s really just more that she takes a character you knew peripherally in one book and makes the next story theirs. Gah, she’s a brilliant writer. So glad you enjoyed it!!

    I’d recommend ITW for the backstory on Cassie, and FP & BH for the stories themselves – the writing, the mysteries, the pacing, the characters. But The Likeness is my very favorite!

  9. I’m so glad you read Under The Feet Of Jesus. Chicano/a literature was my introduction to the immigration policy debate, which probably explains why I’m a total bleeding heart on the issue. You’re so right that mainstream discussions neglect the human element, something I’d never really thought about before, even though I spend a lot of time banging my head about how anti-immigrant folks don’t seem to realize that they’re talking about people. Interestingly, the political and policy implications are not why this book made an impact on me. What I really fell in love with was the imagery (tar pits, small planes and pesticides, garlic and varicose veins), which will stick with me forever. Anyhow, I’m glad you read and reviewed it. I love to see what other people think about books I love.

    1. I ADORE Chicano/Chicano literature. Have you ever read Caballero? It is my favorite favorite favorite!!! It is like a Mexican/Texan pride and prejudice. <3

  10. Ooh, I just read Zen for the first time a couple of years ago. The story of the guy and his son was interesting, but the philosophical parts near the end, especially the parts where he really got going on “Quality,” seemed a little… extreme/long-winded? Some word not quite as harsh as “insular?” This whole deal in particular (Wikipedia sums it up):

    “Pirsig postulates that Quality is the fundamental force in the universe stimulating everything from atoms to animals to evolve and incorporate ever greater levels of Static Quality. According to the MOQ, everything (including ideas, and matter) is a product and a result of Quality.”

    It just smacked of, “I have this idea that is based on my own perceptions and opinions, but there are some interesting parts to it/patterns in it and THEREFORE it is probably the BASIS OF THE UNIVERSE and will SAVE CIVILIZATION because seriously you guys I like this idea a lot.”

    Now, you could say that this fits perfectly with the fact that the character went insane… I dunno. It was one of those books that I finished and immediately wanted to discuss it at length because there were lots of parts that I both agreed and disagreed with.

    ….Aaaand I am apparently doing that now, haha.

    1. OMG the quality parts. That right there when I read it and the back and forth – I was like…. THIS IS WHY YOU WENT NUTS. Which sort of, to me, put his whole angle out of wack. He became an unreliable narrator. Plus! I really hated the way he treated his son. Reading to him long passages that he knew were super confusing and then becoming mildly annoyed with all of his kid’s questions? Just… ugh.

  11. Yes! My best friend (into motorcycles) and I (into Zen) read Zen and the Art at the same time, this past spring, and both kind of hated it, but had a lot of good discussions about it. I remember that I felt just sort of “meh” about it until the very end, when his son dies, and then his new young wife has a new baby and the baby is supposed to be his reincarnated son or something? And that makes everything all better IN HIS LITTLE WORLD so of course EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD IS A-OK. Arrrgggg. Then I hated it.

    …but like Annie, apparently I’m still discussing it despite that! There must be something compelling about it.

    Adding Under the Feet of Jesus and The Likeness to my list!

    1. My favorite parts of the book were where they were on loooooong stretches with the bikes and dude was explaining the kinds of fatigue and how you work through it and blahblah. I loved those parts. To me THAT is zen. That was where it all combined for me. I wish the entire book was like that instead of so broken in half.

  12. Holy fuck. Did no one prepare you for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Ha. I don’t think that happens for anyone.

    I’ve read it twice and ohhhh man. Messes with my head. (Although I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t ever revisit it.) There’s so much crammed in there that sometimes I wonder if I’m not deep enough to get it all. But wow.

    Fair enough if you didn’t like it. 🙂

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