Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bookworm's progress report #5

To quote Hiro Nakamura: Yatta!

Yes, I did it! I finished my New York Times reading list before the end of 2007! I found and bought each book (one even came all the way from Singapore care of Mini-me), read everything (even the painfully dull bits), and even wrote reviews (some long and comprehensive, some short and dismissive). This bookworm has been pretty productive the past year.

The last title on my list was Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, which I put on the list primarily because a former student was asking me questions about it. Unfortunately, I'm in no position to offer any answers even after having read the novel, because I found it extremely strange and utterly confusing, what with an old man who can talk to cats, fish and leeches falling from the sky, and a 15-year-old runaway who walks into the woods and enters what appears to be purgatory. Symbols and metaphors abound in the story, but I couldn't make heads or tails of any of them.
Someone told me I should have started with Murakami's short stories before delving into Kafka, and he was probably right. This novel is supposed to be one of the best works by a critically acclaimed author, but as embarrassing as it is for a former English teacher to admit, I just didn't get it. Worse, I didn't feel motivated to try to understand it. Definitely one of the most bizarre books I've ever read.

After finishing my NY Times reading list, I moved on to 1 of the books I bought in New York, E.L. Konigsburg's The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. Konigsburg is not only my favorite young adult lit writer, she's my favorite author, period, so naturally I am predisposed to her books. While Outcasts isn't as outstanding as her previous Newbery-winning works (including The View from Saturday, for which this blog is named), it still has everything I love about Konigsburg's stories: precocious protagonists (in this case, strong-willed 12-year-old Margaret), quirky supporting characters (Margaret's eccentric, "Old World" uncles, among others), poignant conflicts (the town wants to tear down the beautiful but "useless" towers the uncles built on their yard), and the timeless, bittersweet theme of children growing up in an all too grown-up world. Moreover, the wit and warmth that infuse Konigsburg's writing are present throughout, even as she describes the cruelty of teenage girls, the wickedness of lawyers and the greed of corporations. And as always my admiration and respect go to Konigsburg for refusing to patronize her young readers, nor insult their intelligence, and instead giving them mature, meaningful literature that's not "just for kids". Should I have a child of my own someday, this is the kind of book I'd want her to read, and the kind I'd hope she enjoys as much as I do.

Right now I'm rereading Konigsburg's Silent to the Bone, which turns out to be a companion novel to Outcasts. I haven't decided what to read next, but my bedside table is loaded with many options, including a couple of NY Times "Best of" books, some Man Booker Prize winners, and even a Pulitzer awardee. Whatever tides me over the holidays, I have a feeling 2008 will be another good year for this bookworm.


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