Sunday, January 31, 2016

Book Thoughts - Bambi by Felix Salten

Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten
192 pages
first published 1923

Synopsis -

Bambi's life in the woods begins happily. There are forest animals to play with -- Friend Hare, the chattery squirrel, the noisy screech owl, and Bambi's twin cousins, frail Gobo and beautiful Faline. 

But winter comes, and Bambi learns that the woods hold danger -- and things he doesn't understand. The first snowfall makes food hard to find. Bambi's father, a handsome stag, roams the forest, but leaves Bambi and his mother alone. 

Then there is Man. He comes to the forest with weapons that can wound an animal. He does terrible things to Gobo, to Bambi's mother, and even to Bambi. But He can't keep Bambi from growing into a handsome stag himself, and becoming...the Prince of the Forest.

My thoughts -

One of the first piles of books I'm planning to tackle in my year of #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks is the every-growing, nearly mountainous pile of books I've acquired with the thought that "I'll read this to the kids some day". Some of them are Newbery winners, some are remnants from my own childhood, some are just titles that sounded good at the time. Nevertheless, there are a LOT of them, and I'd like to do a little previewing before I start stumbling blindly into bedtime, and find myself stuck with a story I can't stand....

First on my pile was Bambi. This particular copy was from a set given to me as a kid - tan and red hardbacks, all animal stories, with a box for the set that is long gone. I am about 98% sure I never actually read this one growing up, so with only the Disney story in my head I will admit I was pleasantly surprised.

Salten's tale of the forest is much darker and richer than the cartoon version. The animals still talk, but their interactions seem strangely appropriate, as if the author has been given the ability to sense what it actually going on in their minds. This is an unforgiving world, and the weak and hurt do not fair well. It is also a beautiful world, with captivating descriptions of Bambi's word and the creatures who inhabit his forest.

I'm not sure I expected a novel about a deer to be a page-turner, but it was. I found myself eager to return to its pages, and feel emotionally invested in the story from the first chapter. I also felt a genuine amount of tension as I read, which is not a feeling I generally get from chapter book fiction. 

I'm really glad I decided to read this, and will definitely keep it on the shelves to read to the kids. I might wait for a bit - I'm not sure I'm ready for them to hear a book with quite this much death, even if it is about a deer. But this is an excellent novel, and I do recommend it for your little person library.

Finished - 1/30/16
Source - my shelves!
MPAA rating - PG - this has some scary stuff!
My rating - 4/5

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Book Thoughts - The Siren by Kiera Cass - on writing and rewriting

The Siren by Kiera Cass
first published 2009, re-released 2016

Original synopsis -

"You must never do anything that might expose our secret. This means that, in general, you cannot form close bonds with humans. You can speak to us, and you can always commune with the Ocean, but you are deadly to humans. You are, essentially, a weapon. A very beautiful weapon. I won't lie to you, it can be a lonely existence, but once you are done, you get to live. All you have to give, for now, is obedience and time..."

The same speech has been given hundreds of times to hundreds of beautiful girls who enter the sisterhood of sirens. Kahlen has lived by these rules for years now, patiently waiting for the life she can call her own. But when Akinli, a human, enters her world, she can't bring herself to live by the rules anymore. Suddenly the life she's been waiting for doesn't seem nearly as important as the one she's living now.

New synopsis -

Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean. To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths. Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can’t resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again.

Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude . . . until she meets Akinli. Handsome, caring, and kind, Akinli is everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. And though she can’t talk to him, they soon forge a connection neither of them can deny . . . and Kahlen doesn’t want to.

Falling in love with a human breaks all the Ocean’s rules, and if the Ocean discovers Kahlen’s feelings, she’ll be forced to leave Akinli for good. But for the first time in a lifetime of following the rules, Kahlen is determined to follow her heart.

My thoughts -

I'm lucky enough to have friends who love books as much as I do. My friend Megan found out how much I enjoyed Kiera Cass's "The Selection" series, and recommended I read the author's first novel, The Siren. She even let me read her copy - that's true friendship. She was right - it was a beautiful novel. One of the reasons I enjoy Cass's work so much is that she writes intelligent heroines, and she develops relationships that actually make sense. Her leading ladies don't just fall for the first guy, or the most convenient guy, or the easiest choice - they struggle, and ask real questions, and have doubts that seem accurate to an actual person. I appreciate that so much about all of her novels, and The Siren was no exception. It had a depth of emotion that felt true and honest, and it actually had me in tears more than once.

Because this first novel was self-published, before Cass experienced the major success of her Selection series, she was recently given the opportunity to re-release The Siren by her publishing house. She chose to rewrite the book before release, got herself a fancy new cover, and now this novel is currently the #1 New Release for Teen & YA Sci-Fi/Dystopian romance. Clearly, this re-release is doing well for the author.

But how is it doing for the fans of her work?

I will admit I have not read the entire re-write yet. I'm just under 50% through, if my Kindle is telling the truth. And my impression so far? It's fun, and entertaining, and sure to be a hit - and honestly, nowhere near as good as the original.

In choosing to rewrite The Siren, Cass seems to have removed the core of what made the original novel so impressive - the depth of relationship her main character, Kahlen, built with her fellow Sirens, with the young man she falls in love with, and especially and unexpectedly, with the very Ocean that has taken so much of her life. Kahlen's relationship with the Ocean is such a central part of her story, and this new version seems to gloss over that almost entirely. It feels like a book written for a younger audience, an audience that the author doesn't trust enough with her story, so she has to water it down to make them satisfied.

And I think that's what makes me the most sad - since the re-release, the novel in it's original form is almost impossible to find, and when you do find a copy it's priced ridiculously high. It makes me sad that readers will think this is the story - that they will miss out on the rich, emotional, and inspiring read that The Siren used to be. It makes me sad that the author seems not to have trusted her first instincts - that she felt like her readers wouldn't appreciate or understand the complexity and thoughtfulness she had gifted to them in that first novel.

Will I read more books by Kiera Cass? Absolutely - as many as I can get my hands on. Is The Siren a bad novel - honestly, no. It continues to be an interesting idea with a feisty heroine, and I am sure it will be hugely successful. Will I always mourn the passing of the novel it could have been? I will.

My friend Megan writes about The Siren and it's re-release here....

How do you feel about authors re-writing earlier novels? Have you had a good experience with a rewrite? Is there a book you loved that seemed too much changed? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Re-Education of a Book Lover - Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

I have loved to read for as long as I can remember. Recently, however, it has come to my attention that there are some G A P I N G holes in my literary education. For example: I have read every Austen and Bronte you can get your hands on, but somehow had never, until 4 years ago, managed to read a Charles Dickens novel in its entirety. So, with a little help from my mom, the English Teacher, and a couple of good friend, the English Majors, I am setting a course to re-educate myself by filling in some of those gaps.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

(first published 1915)

44 pages

Synopsis -

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes." 

With this startling, bizarre, yet surprisingly funny first opening, Kafka begins his masterpiece, The Metamorphosis. 
It is the story of a young man who, transformed overnight into a giant beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing -- though absurdly comic -- meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation, The Metamorphosis has taken its place as one of the most widely read and influential works of twentieth-century fiction. 

Thoughts -

The choice of reading this short work came about after a conversation with my husband - "What do you mean you've never read Metamorphosis?" I realized it was less than 50 pages and couldn't think of a good reason not to, so here we are.

Knowing this was a work of absurdist fiction (and understanding what that means) made this much easier for me to digest. I'm not sure I would have had any idea what the author was trying to do if I'd read it in middle school or high school. As an adult, the symbolism is easy to grasp and fairly overt - as a tween, I'd probably have needed a fair bit of direction from my teacher to figure this whole thing out.

I was surprised at how easily the story flowed - for some reason I expected it to be "harder" to read. I also, honestly, didn't realize quite how depressing the story was. There are no happy endings here, folks. None.

I would say I'm satisfied I read this. It's a good work to be familiar with, and it was quick and easy enough that I'm glad I didn't put it off for another 20 years. 

Finished - 1/23/16
Source - Kindle
MPAA rating - PG-13, I guess, because they make kids read it in junior high apparently?
My rating - 3/5