Literary Awards

The Sellout

The sellout.jpg

Summary:

A biting satire about a young man's isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty's The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality - the black Chinese restaurant.

Born in the "agrarian ghetto" of Dickens - on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles - the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: "I'd die in the same bedroom I'd grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that've been there since '68 quake." Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father's pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family's financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that's left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral. 

Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town's most famous resident - the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins - he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court. (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This is a book that were I in a different point in life I probably would have gritted my teeth and finished it up.  I gave the book 100 pages and then called it an abandonment.  While I don’t think I disliked the book as much as some people, I did find the book extremely repetitive and very clear that the main themes were going to be visited and revisited.  Although there were some clever twists and satire mixed in, I just dreaded going back to the book and ultimately decided the fact that it won the Booker award wasn’t reason enough to stick with it.

Another difficulty was choosing to read this book with a highly international book club.  Many of the American references were lost on them and style of writing made it incredibly difficult to explain.  I find that another strike against the book as I generally think of books as something accessible to everyone.

Warning: Contains repeated violence.

Rating: 1 stars!

Who should read it? Folks interested in finding out what all the fuss is about and willing to go in for the long haul.

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air.jpg

Summary:

For readers of Atul Gawande, Andrew Solomon, and Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a naïve medical student "possessed," as he wrote, "by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life" into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality. 

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir. 

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. "I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything," he wrote. "Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: 'I can't go on. I'll go on.'" “When Breath Becomes Air” is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.  (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This was a book that reminded me a lot of “The Opposite of Loneliness” where I was overly-aware that my perception of the book was influenced the knowledge that the author was going to die by the end.  That being said, I found this book incredibly poignant and a fantastic reminder of what are the most important things in life.  Thought you can’t live every day like it’s your last (contrary to the saying), the book is a good grounding in what is most important in life.

This was a book that I finished in three sit downs because despite my best intentions, it was one I couldn’t put down and I was desperate to know what happened.  While unsettling, it’s also fascinating to hear what other people do when they know that their time is soon to run out.  Though it left me in tears, it’s a book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for a reminder of what’s important in life.

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone looking for a reminder of what’s important in life!

Into Thin Air

Into Thin Air

Summary:

A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that "suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down." He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more--including Krakauer's--in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for “Into Thin Air”, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster.  (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This is a book that I had postponed reading because I have heard a lot of opinions from family and friends around me who are passionate fans of mountaineering.  If you look at the historical accounts, Krakauer is a little more contentious and I’m planning on reading Boukreev’s counterpart to the story soon.  (Note: I have heard his book is not quite as accessible to the casual reader.)  But this is all a side note, onto the review!

The things that is undeniable about Krakauer’s account is that it’s extremely compelling.  It’s fascinating storytelling and he does an amazing job introducing the topic of Everest with history, why people are drawn to the mountain and he himself ended up with the ill-fated climbers.  I was fascinated with the build up of the book just as much as the events that followed.  The tension portrayed through the final three days had me pausing to stop and take a walk around the room before going back to it.

One thing I found extremely annoying, however was the tendency to alternate between calling people by the last name and their first name.  It made it confusing when switching back and forth and meant that I made ample use of the first few pages that described each respective climbing party.  I would highly recommend reading this book, but if you enjoy it, also encourage you to check out some other accounts as well.

Warning: Contains repeated violence of people’s own choices as a side effect of dangerous climbing.

Rating: 4 stars!

Who should read it? Anyone with interest and enthusiasm into the type of climbing that happens on the top of the world.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy #1)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Summary:

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle. (Summary and cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This book went into an entirely different direction than I had anticipated.  On the positive side, Yeine and the enfeda are completely unlike any other characters that I have encountered so I found their motivations and reactions surprising.  This kept the book fresh and interesting even if occasionally confusing as it was difficult to relate.  Because of that, I never felt fully invested with the characters and didn’t get emotionally caught up in the book which has me unsure I I’d like to continue the series.

The storyline jumped around a bit and I found the inconsistencies frustrating.  There wasn’t much time for a buildup in the tension as the full story happens in the duration of one week.  In that sense, this book felt like it wanted to be a fantasy epic, and yet didn’t quite commit to the political intrigue, and complexity that requires.  I slipped into the expectation that the book was more of a young adult genre, but then something graphic would occur and I’d be jarred back into reality . 

I still have mixed feelings about the story (and have heard the series improves as it continues), but I both really enjoyed and found the book falling a bit flat.

Warning: Contains repeated violence and sexual content.

Rating: 3 stars!

Who should read it? Folks into fantasy books with an experimental slant.

Want to read the whole series?

  • The Broken Kingdoms (Inheritance #2)
  • The Kingdom of Gods (Inheritance #3)
  • Shades in Shadow (Inheritance #0.5, 1.5, 2.5)
  • The Awakened Kingdom (Inheritance #3.5)