What’s on My Nightstand? Book Reviews

What’s on My Nightstand?

An avid reader, I generally breeze through three to four books per month depending on length, and outside life circumstances of course. This month I delved into a pretty good range of genres. The following reviews are just my humble opinion, but it’s always nice to know a little before forking over dough and investing the time into reading.

* WRITER’S PICK:
Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan
ISBN 0739467263
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Publishing

I chose Amy Tan’s novel, Saving Fish From Drowning, as the September book for my book club in Los Angeles. The book’s jacket synopsis seemed intriguing making it a quick addition to my “to read” list. Never having read any Tan’s work, even her well-known “The Joy Luck Club”, also made me eager to read her latest work.

Themes of love, misunderstanding, prejudice, and ignorance underlie a truly entertaining and captivating plot, with a political spin and a truly inspired narration style.

A trip has been planned to Burma, now called Myanmar. The detailed oriented Bibi Chen, an art vendor in San Francisco, California, is the planned leader of this tour that is to include eleven of her friends. However, shortly prior to the trip, Bibi dies, mysteriously, and after much debate, the eleven San Franciscans decide to indeed go thoruhg with their Burmese tour, now lead by another friend of Bibi’s, Bennie.

From beyond the grave, Bibi narrates the novel. Allowing the reader to not only be aware of the action driving the main plot, but giving him or her insight into the subconscious of the characters. As a spirit, Bibi, still trying to understand her own situation, and her own streams of thoughts, memories, and discoveries further enlighten the reader on Tan’s perspective related to her various themes.

Saving Fish From Drowning is the best book I have read this month. Stopping at just under 500 pages, I finished it in about a week, only putting it down when forced. The only critic I have is the ending. The final chapter seems to button the book in a near clichÃ?©d manner. Which stands out as it is juxtaposed to such fantastic writing in the previous chapters. However, Tan’s writing style is so poetic, that it is easily forgivable. As a new fan of Tan’s, I am eager to read all of her earlier works.
If you read any of the books reviewed, read this one.

Weight by Jeanette Winterson
ISBN 1841957755
Canongate

My second favorite book this month is Weight by Jeanette Winterson. Another new author, I came across this book in the English section of an Istanbul Bookstore. Weight is a retelling of the myth of Atlas, the Roman god sentenced for rebellion. His punishment is to literally, and figuratively hold the world on his shoulders for the rest of time.

Having taken a few years of Latin in junior high, I vaguely recalled this mythical tale. While familiarity with the myth can only add to the reader’s enjoyment of Winterson’s reworking; having no previous knowledge will not stifle the read. Either reader will get lost in her rhythmic writing style of stream-of-thought phrasing.

So, what is different about Winterson’s version? What exactly has she retold? Without unfolding too much, suffice to say she delves into the loneliness and isolation of a man bearing the world on his shoulders, alone. A man who is relieved temporarily by a supposed friend, who then tricks him into once again taking on his burden.

Imagine being aware of everything happening on the earth, of every action and every whisper committed by family, friend, and stranger and not being about to take part. Imagine then if the world you knew, the world of the Roman gods who sentenced you to this burden, had faded from existence, and there was no one left to tell you? Winterson’s novel, through her character’s pondering, poses these questions to the reader.

What good comes from retelling an already well-known tale? Nothing but a new perspective; a new insight.
In Jneanette Winterson’s, Weight, I have found another new favorite author.

Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk
ISBN 1400033888
Vintage International

As previously mentioned I was in Istanbul recently on Vacation. Prior to my trip, I like Amy Tan’s character Bibi, am a notorious planner. I love to learn and read as much as I can about wherever it is I am going. I want to know the history, the culture, the language as much as possible, what there is to seeâÂ?¦I want to be prepared. So it comes as no surprise that upon seeing Pamuk’s book entitled Istanbul on the Border’s display table, I immediately purchased it without any hesitation.

While it served its purpose, opening a window onto the city, it’s history and culture; I would not recommend it to those without a deep love or eagerness to learn of the city. Even towards the end I began to skim, as one can really only read about the Turkish People’s Melancholy.

Istanbul is Pamuk’s memoir. It is in small percent a portrait of the city, but largely dedicated to his own coming of age. Perhaps I am biased because I would have preferred those percentages to be reversed for my own education of the city. In spite of this fact however, I still found Pamuk’s writing style redundant. There is something to be said for train-of-thought writing, as in Jeanette Winterson’s Weight, but there is also to something to be said for editing for the readers.

Like David Eggers A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, it is evident that this stream-of-conscious style of writing was meant to strengthen the coming-of-age story of the book. However, with no other elements to the plot, other than the writer’s personal journey, it is my humble opinion that the story should flow more quickly, more fluidly and less redundantly.

The Wall Street Journal. Complete Personal Finance Guidebook
By Jeff D. Opdyke
ISBN 030733600-X
Three Rivers Press

Let me first say that this book was a gift. I never would have bought it; afraid I would not be able to grasp any of the information. My aunt sent me The Journal’s Complete Personal Finance Guidebook when I emailed her with a multitude of questions and seeking advice on financial retirement planning. I am so grateful to her for this gift.

Well-written, easy to comprehend, and a treasure-chest of financial advice, and knowledge this book is a must read for everyone. The book is broken into seven self-reliant chapters, allowing the reader to focus on an individual, maybe more pertinent, subject matter.

Read this, learn how to make, save, invest, spendâÂ?¦everything related to finances you ever wanted to know and more. Opdyke’s book explains it all, and explains it well. Ending the few more daunting passages with a brief and simple summation.

Happy reading,
And stay tuned for next month’s reviews.

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