Wax by Gina Damico

This was an interesting read. Not one of my favorites. It had a good concept and plot but I got very confused while reading it. I was also confused on the bad guy in the story, the back story was a bit confusing to follow and it would jump from one scene to the next without a nice flow. However, I may be partially biased because I didn’t like the personalities of Dud. I just thought it was a bit ridiculous. But to give this book the benefit of the doubt, I need to read it when I’m more in the mood for a teen thriller.

I haven’t read anything else by this author so maybe I just didn’t like this book and some of her other works would be more my taste. I plan to reread this book in a year or two and hopefully my perspective has changed by then to something more open-minded than this review. Overall, I would only recommend this book to someone who is okay with crazy twists that don’t entirely follow the story or feel that they contradict the backstory already. Hopefully this isn’t too harsh, just an opinion on a book I read a while ago.

-Coralie D.

Wax by Gina Damico is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

As someone who has been reading American and European-written novels my entire life, the only times I’ve gotten close to experiencing Asian literature were through mangas, movies, and TV series. After reading The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa–a Japanese-written book translated into English–I was opened to a new type of writing style that readers don’t often see in American or European novels. However, that doesn’t make this novel worse than others.

Published in 1994, The Memory Police is a close parallel to 1984 by George Orwell, in the sense that both take place in a dystopian society where the government constantly watches over its citizens. Although both emphasize the dehumanization of totalitarianism, Ogawa wrote her novel differently. Her story begins on a small island where objects disappear routinely, causing people to forget that such things ever existed. Those who try to remember are caught by the police. Those who do remember are taken away only to never return, creating a government-fearing society. The protagonist lives on the island as an orphaned novelist. When she discovers that her editor remembers a long-forgotten object, she keeps him hidden in her home while the Memory Police search for him. As the novel progresses, a fear of forgetting is expressed through her writing as a way to preserve the past.

Considering that this novel was translated from Japanese to English, I’m grateful that the translator was able to keep the same amount of tension and emotion from Ogawa’s writing. Although the protagonist isn’t some fearless character fighting to overthrow the government like in American literature, that only makes her more realistic and more relatable. She isn’t trying to do anything unreasonable–she simply wants her editor and herself to survive. I admit the plot could seem dull to some readers who focus on the action, but I enjoyed the psychological development of the protagonist’s mind. There’s so much depth to her personality and her thoughts which can connect to today’s world. That fear of losing everything–including yourself–is clearly shown in Ogawa’s novel, and I applaud her for her writing.

In essence, I thought the book was a definite read, but only because it appealed to me. The only issue with this novel–along with many other books–is that there’s a limited amount of readers who would be interested. To those who think this novel focuses on characters trying to change a dystopian world: it isn’t what it seems. This book was more psychological than I assumed, with less action or romance. The protagonist doesn’t necessarily stand out amongst the citizens. Instead, the author is trying to show the perspective of a typical person living in a dystopian society. To me, that’s the beauty of this novel. In reality, the novel fits best with analytical readers who want more than just the plot.

-Natasha P.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottesa Moshfegh

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is probably one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. The book highlights a young, privileged, wealthy, and well-educated woman. She lives on the Upper East Side, with all her needs paid for through her inheritance. The novel also centers on her strange relationship with her best friend Reva, and her on-again off-again boyfriend, Trevor. But despite all of this, the narrator, who is never named, goes through life empty and unfulfilled. As a result, she gradually increases her intake of medications to attempt to rest for one year.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation‘s perspective and dark humor creates an entertaining and thought-provoking read. Moshfegh’s satirical writing of the narrator creates a psychological perspective into a woman who’s goal is to fade away into obscurity.

I would highly recommend this novel to anyone, but especially those who enjoy psychological fiction. My Year of Rest and Relaxation is humorous and intriguing, a truly amazing read.

-Kelsie W.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottesa Moshfegh is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” has been read in high schools for the past 70 years. What makes the Catcher in the Rye popular today? It is the way that teenagers can still find some sort of way to relate to the main character, Holden Caulfield. It tells the story of a 16 year old boy and his adventures in New York City after getting kicked out of boarding school. Holden stresses over having to tell his parents that he failed most of his classes. He decides to take off to New York City for a few days. 

I liked the book because it feels like Holden is having a conversation directly with you. The slang words are totally different to how people talk today. However, you can still relate to Holden because of his openness about his feelings of insecurity, struggles with anxiety and fear of the future. The story has a lot of themes from rebellion, belonging, family, grief and mental health. 

Everyone faces different issues in high school from wanting to excel academically to a desire to belong and connect.  Even though we communicate totally different today because of social media, some of the issues that Holden faces are the same. I would recommend this book to high school students because it talks about mental health in an honest way. You get the feeling that Holden eventually gets the help that he needs. The Catcher in the Ryes encourages those who are struggling to find a person that you feel comfortable talking to like a parent, teacher, counselor or friend.

-Austin S.    

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis is a short story by Franz Kafka.  A young man named Gregor wakes up one morning and realizes that he has turned into a “monstrous vermin.”  His family is shocked to see him in this state.  Before long, they become angry with Gregor and treat him cruelly.  I was surprised that Gregor would be treated so harshly throughout the story, despite his unfortunate predicament.

This book is a short read, but very memorable.  Kafka offers an interesting perspective on human nature.  We see that people are capable of cruel treatment toward others who are different in some way.  At first it seems humorous to imagine someone turning into a bug.  However, reading the story I began to feel sorry for Gregor.  He seems quite miserable in his new state, and he is terribly mistreated and neglected as a result of his metamorphosis.  This story is a reminder that we ought to treat others with kindness, even though they are different.

-Oliver H.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Authors We Love: Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky - Wikipedia

In the middle of the 19th century, Russian society was full of contradictions and crises. The tyrannical rule of the tsar and capitalism weighed heavily on the psyche of the people. Dostoyevsky’s novels mainly depict the misery, contradiction, hardship and desperation of people living at the bottom of the society, reveal the depravity and destruction of human nature and the split of human spirit in this pathological society, and show the darkness and filth of the Russian society under the shadow of the autocratic rule and the capitalist system. His novels depict the bullied and insulted, and try to show the misery of the characters hidden in the dark corners of the slums. Dostoyevsky describes people who are divided by themselves, reveals multiple personalities and shows the return of human nature. Dostoyevsky is an expert in psychological description. He is obsessed with pathological psychological description. He not only writes about the results of behaviors, but also focuses on describing the psychological process of behaviors, especially those abnormal behaviors, near coma and madness.

The characters’ abnormal thinking and behavior are exactly the characteristics of his works. The intensity of Dostoyevsky’s psychological description is in proportion to the bewilderment of his thoughts. Dostoyevsky mainly adopts a non – temporal narration in dealing with the timing of the novel. Because he preferred to choose the most intense, terrible and extreme events as the subject matter of the novel, and was keen to show people’s psychology in the crisis, the overall rhythm of the work was extremely unstable. In the description of characters, Dostoevsky broke the tradition of describing characters in Russian literature since Pushkin. He not only described their impoverished situation, but also revealed the soul of the characters, not only sympathizing with them, but also associating with them. The strong is a story element opposed to the weak, mainly referring to those who have money and power but disregard any moral principles. Their most important characteristic is to get their own way. The rescuer and the rescued are another pair of story elements in Dostoyevsky’s novels.

If the antagonism between the strong and the weak constitutes the first clue of the narrative of the novel and highlights the author’s humanitarian feelings, then the second narrative clue composed of the rescuer and the rescued reflects the author’s thoughts full of religious meaning, which is of more metaphysical significance in thinking about the way out of the society. The latter two narrative elements are gradually developed in his novels. The story element of the savior is the perfect Image of Christ in Dostoevsky’s novels, the embodiment of the supreme good. At the beginning of creation, the image of the savior appeared in the form of a kind of good behavior, namely self-sacrificing love. After his return from exile in Siberia, Dostoyevsky shifted his focus to religious exploration, and the rescuer began to appear in his novels as a concrete and sensible figure. His character gradually became full and distinct, and he was no longer confined to the scope of love, but had a broader social content. In the novel, this element is the external manifestation of the author’s thoughts, and the author mainly reflects his own religious ideal of salvation through it.

Therefore, such characters are flat and are the “mouthpiece” of the author’s thoughts, often giving people a sense of paleness. The rescued person is the most important story element in his novels. Compared with the rescued person, this kind of character image is more abundant. The image of the rescued first appeared as the image of the visionary in Dostoevsky’s novels. This image inherits the tradition of superfluity in 19th century Russian literature and has the characteristics of superfluity: dissociating from the society, holding a critical attitude towards the society and possessing the characteristics of thinker. So his novels end with the triumph of the savior’s mind. But as an artist, Dostoyevsky always triumphs over himself as a moralist. He was deeply aware of the social reality at that time when people still had no way out depending on religion. The contradiction of his thoughts makes the main part of the novel present an open structure, and the ending presents an open state in a closed form.

The foundation of Dostoevsky’s novels is binary opposition, mainly composed of four story elements: the strong, the weak, the rescuer and the rescued, among which a theme of “salvation” runs through. Secondly, the structure of Dostoevsky’s novels is inconsistent. The construction of elements in his novels mainly consists of three parts: the antagonism between strong and weak — the conflict between good and evil in the heart of the saved, and the conversion of the save and the saved. However, due to the mutual influence, interweaving and inhomogeneity of various contradictions, the novel is open and incomplete in content. The reason why Dostoevsky adopted such a structure pattern in constructing novels is closely related to his religious thoughts and perplexities. Dostoyevsky’s novels mainly adopt two perspectives: inner perspective and omniscient perspective. First of all, his novels mainly show people’s self-consciousness. All kinds of consciousness have a relationship of equal dialogue, so the first-person inner perspective and the third-person indefinite inner perspective are the perspectives often adopted in his novels.

This perspective reflects Dostoevsky’s religious confusion and exploration. Secondly, the omniscient perspective of Dostoevsky’s novels is mainly reflected in the beginning and the end of the novels, which has two functions: one is to serve the characteristics of the perspective inside the main body of the novels, and the other is to serve the religious thoughts of Dostoevsky, thus forming the characteristics of the closed form of the novels. In addition, there are some “meta-novel” narrative modes in Dostoevsky’s novels, which also convey the confusion in his religious thoughts, no matter for the narrator, the hero or the reader. Thus, we can conclude the perspective mode of Dostoevsky’s novels: the main body of the novels mainly narrates from the inner perspective, and the beginning and end of the novels often adopt the omniscient perspective. Dostoyevsky’s construction of the time mode in his novels is mainly reflected in the following aspects: first, he no longer places events in the process of time like traditional novels, and is keen to describe the process in detail; instead, he cuts time, adopts a non-temporal narration, and pays attention to the synchro meaning of time. Secondly, it is also reflected in the psychological time intervention in the novel. He always likes to put the characters in the two poles of contradiction and in the atmosphere of tension, so as to describe all the secrets of the human heart. Hence, the psychological time is much longer than the story time.

-Coreen C.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

For all the self-proclaimed literary snobs—you know, those who continually reference books and apply its meanings to the chapters of one’s life—Gabrielle Zevin introduces A.J. Fikry, a middle-aged and depressed bookseller on the coast of Massachusetts. Encompassing this universal feeling, of a storied life, Zevin characterizes all of us through him. Her novel, memoir, a minder—I’m not even sure what to call it—is nothing short of a masterpiece and warmly prompts us to recall why we read and how we love one another.

Fikry doesn’t have a lot of customers and even fewer friends. Mourning the loss of his wife, Fikry prizes his first edition copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tamerlane,” until it goes missing within the first few chapters. Left in its place is a small bundle. Spurring an unexpected change in his life, Fikry stubbornly comes to learn that the capacity of his love is not limited to paperbacks and late wife.

For the most part, Zevin’s writing is optimistic but realistically honest. As an array of characters is introduced, her writing accommodates. For Fikry, his old-fashioned life is personified by careful and calculated narration. However, as new friends find their way into his life, the style of writing expands. It seemingly mimics the path which Fikry takes in order to step outside his bookshop and into the life of others.

A bit like Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin represents the old-fashioned reader within all of us. There is something timeless and special about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, as it provides an unexpected and touching story for almost any audience. Something Fikry may appreciate, and aligned with Zevin’s writing, I find the Beatles’ “Long and Winding Road” to be a fitting song. Through tones of inevitable and haunting lonesome, the lyrics remind us that the next step is to find a door and walk through it. Until we invite someone else to walk along with us, we will continue to walk along this road of life alone.

Literary snob or casual reader, almost anybody can connect with Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. It is both a New York Times Bestseller and now one of the most memorable books I have read. I highly recommend.

-Maya S.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye | Summary, Analysis, Reception, & Facts ...

The Catcher in the Rye is the only novel by American writer Jerome David Salinger, first published in 1951. Salinger limits the story to the three days when 16-year-old high school student Holden Caulfield leaves school to wander in New York City and explores the inner world of a teenager using streaming-of-consciousness writing. Anger and anxiety are the two main themes of the book. The experiences and thoughts of the protagonists resonate strongly among teenagers and are warmly welcomed by readers, especially middle school students.

The United States in the 1950s had just won World War II and became a supreme political, economic, and military power. In such a period, “New York” is a representative of the American materialist society. It symbolises the most “fake” of all, that people’s spiritual life is a wasteland and that no one cares about other people’s feelings. The artistic charm of this novel lies in the author’s focus on the in-depth analysis of the characters’ psychology. He depicts the ambivalence of the protagonist Holden and his complex psychopathy in a delicate and analytical manner. In this book, Salinger adopts a first-person limiting perspective, and the story is told only within the scope of Holden’s psychological activities or feelings, while Holden is a 17-year-old undergoing psychoanalytic treatment and has no normal judgment of the world around him.

Salinger takes such a figure as the narrator of the novel, which greatly negates the traditional aesthetic concept of metaphysics. The traditional aesthetic concept holds that beauty is the inherent attribute of literary and artistic works and the manifestation of the cohesion of people’s aesthetic experience. The creation of artistic works as a form of beauty includes not only the reproduction of artistic images to reality, but also the aesthetic intention and evaluation of artists to reality.

The purpose of artistic production is to edify the soul with sublimated aesthetic experience and give people pure aesthetic enjoyment. Artistic works should create beautiful atmosphere, beautiful image, beautiful ideal, so that it has moving charm, eternal value and a harmonious, unified overall form. However, Salinger’s Holden is far from such an aesthetic object. He is a teenager suffering from mild schizophrenia, whose values have not yet been fully formed and whose rational world is in chaos.

-Coreen C.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow

Ravelstein (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century): Bellow, Saul ...

The first two parts of Ravelstein, a biographical novel, are mainly about the last and most important stage of Ravelstein’s life. He was terminally ill, but he fought against the disease until his death. The latter part is mainly about the narrator, Chick himself is on the verge of death due to food poisoning, but he has deep thoughts about life and death at this time. Ravelstein was born in a small city and had a very unhappy childhood. His father had been poor all his life and was a tyrant in the family. Ravelstein, who grew up in the shadow of his father, came into contact with society at an early age and went out on his own. After struggling hard for many years, he finally got rid of the poor people’s life being a famous university professor. He taught students from all walks of life, many of them in important positions, including students who played an important role in the Gulf War. He maintained close contact and frequent intercourse with them. Taking advice from his good friend Chick, he turned his teaching research into a best-selling book attacking the theory of relativity, the American education system, and its declining international status and influence, and became a guest of the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain. From then on, he became a successful member of the upper class of the affluent society in the United States and lived a luxurious and decadent life. While he was enjoying a life of fame and fortune, he found himself terminally ill. Towards the end of his life, he asked Chick to write an autobiography for him.

Ravelstein is a charming and paradoxical Jewish intellectual. he embraced life with the indulgence and intoxication of Dionysus and the dream and aspiration of the god of the sun. He questioned the contemporary American social value and education system but highly praised the classical culture of ancient Greece and Rome and loved classical music. He fell in love with Armani suits, Cuban cigars, pure gold Montblanc gold pens, and so on. He was an advanced intellectual in American society, but his manner was vulgar. When attending various celebrity social occasions, he would often splash coffee or other drinks on expensive clothes and drink them directly from a coke bottle, which even made T.S. Eliot stunned. He is a conservative who does not worship the free market, but uses his talent to produce valuable goods and become rich overnight. He advocates aesthetic, free love, but has gay friends; he grew up trying to escape his Jewish father, the tyrannical king of his family, but in his life he played his father’s role to his students and friends. The unique historical background, social situation and ethnic characteristics of the Jewish people make Jewish writers in the American culture face embarrassment in their creation. Jews in America (especially the upper-class intelligentsia), reluctant to abandon their traditional religion and unable to resist the American way of life floundered in this confusion, searching for their identity with both desire and disappointment.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

Henderson the Rain King - Wikipedia

Henderson, the hero, comes from a famous family. His ancestors are all famous in the political world. Henderson, 55, inherited an estate of $3 million, an astronomical figure at the time, and could have led a worldly life of material comfort, but the prim-life self-proclaimed drifter was never satisfied. In real life, he causes a lot of trouble. He acts rudely because he has a lot of resentment in his heart. His first wife was a good match for him, but he married only to please his father. He loved to raise pigs, but he made a mess of the industry and clashed with his neighbors. He had tried to distract or extinguish his inner voice with physical labor, but to no avail. Rudeness begets rudeness, and anger begets greater anger. Unable to see the meaning of life, he escaped from his original life and embarked on a journey on the African continent. After experiencing the adventures of the Arnevi tribe, Henderson realized the meaning of life, understood the value of human beings, and returned to America with new hopes for life.

Exhausted, Henderson left the United States and began to travel to the ideal land of Africa in order to return to the primitive state of carefree human beings. This trip to Africa is not so much a trip as a self-imposed exile. He had not bought a ticket for the return journey. He had brought almost nothing for use, and most importantly, it was an exile with no destination and no time limit which not only cleansed his mind, but also made him realize the essence of life and the return to his true self. His exile was the only way he could ward off anxiety and achieve his ultimate goal— a transcendent existence beyond time and space. In fact, Henderson the Rain King reflects an intellectual living in an affluent environment who voluntarily gives up urban life and goes to the wasteland to complete the process of spiritual self-redemption. Eugene Henderson the wealthy American experienced a transition from superiority to perplexity, wealth to poverty, boredom to spiritual sublimation in his dealings with the natives.

-Coreen C.