Tag Archives: oryx and crake

Best of 2011: Book Edition

I wish that I had read enough books this year for a top 10, but that just wasn’t the case. I mean, I read more than ten books, but most of them weren’t worthy of the list. And I suspected that you didn’t want to hear about the Christopher Marlowe plays that I read for a class last winter. You will notice that three of my five choices are young adult novels. What can I say? I know what I like.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

John Green has become a very big part of my life. He and his brother have been exchanging video blogs since 2007, and an entire community has grown around their videos. My friend Jenny told me about the “vlogbrothers” months ago, but I didn’t really investigate until after reading Katherines. Now my Christmas list contains John Green’s two other novels available in paperback. It’s already evident to me that he’s one of the great talents in young adult literature today. Katherines got its blog moment in the sun here. For the purposes of this list, I will just reiterate that it is intelligently written with an engaging premise and hilarious characters. Any YA lover (or book lover, really) will appreciate this novel.

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen is an author about whom I can probably never be impartial. After all, she has been near and dear to my heart for 10 years now. What Happened to Goodbye was one of the most highly anticipated books in my reading life this year. While I can’t count it as her best work, I will say that it definitely lives up to her past novels. This book focuses in part on the world of restaurants. As a hardcore Dessen fan, I know that the behind-the-scenes knowledge comes from her days as a waitress at the Flying Burrito. I would recommend the book to Dessen fans of yore, along with her other two most recent novels.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I have to say, I’m a sucker for this kind of story. The kind where most things seem almost normal, except for the one detail that makes it all feel horribly wrong. At first glance the narrator could be a woman reminiscing about her days at boarding school. However, from the first pages Kathy makes references to more mysterious aspects of her world. The novel is slow-moving, but Ishiguro is adept at doling out enough hints to keep the reader interested until the full purpose of the boarding school children is revealed. Written in a beautiful and impressively subtle style, it raises many questions about morality in medical science and the nature of personhood.  There’s also a lovely film adaptation that I would recommend — after reading the book, of course.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I reviewed this book very recently on the blog, so I won’t go into much detail here. Suffice to say that I have great respect for what Margaret Atwood has done in this book. It reminds me of her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, but for all that they both portray dystopian futures, Oryx and Crake has a very different vision. I, for one, found it wildly compelling.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

There was really no contest for number one. I could have easily included the entire Hunger Games Trilogy on this list, but instead I picked my favorite book in the series. In keeping with the unintentional theme of the book list, it’s both young adult and science fiction. Collins uses the best facets of the YA genre to her advantage, presenting fast-paced novels that still manage to be thought-provoking. There’s a rebellious teenage girl and a love triangle, but there’s also a critique of the voyeuristic tendencies in our culture, particularly a fascination with other people’s suffering. I like Catching Fire the best because it deepens the characters and complicates relationships before the action-packed third installment. These are books that inspire passion in readers. They were certainly my most exciting reading experience of 2011.


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Meet Oryx and Crake

At long last, Gentle Readers, here is the second of three promised book reviews. Next I chose to read Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I did this with some trepidation because I’ve been out of the serious literature game for a while now, and her books tend to be heavy.

And heavy it was, in the best possible sense. Oryx and Crake is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which most of humanity has been wiped out by disease and environmental destruction. (And thankfully they have not come back as zombies.) In fact, Snowman (formerly known as Jimmy) might be the last human alive.

If that doesn’t sound appealing, stay with me! Due to his friendship with the brilliant scientist Crake, Snowman had a front row seat to the events leading up to humanity’s downfall. Add in an enigmatic woman named Oryx, and you’ve got an engrossing read.

Margaret Atwood’s novels are always slow starters, and it took me a hundred pages or so to really get into it. Some people might consider that a serious downside, but I believe it’s a necessary part of her writing. Atwood creates complex fictional worlds that cannot be fully explained in a few introductory chapters. Since this book has a strong science fiction component, the external world is just as complex as the internal lives of the characters. I lazed my way through the first few sections, but by the end I couldn’t put it down.

When I thought about it afterward, I realized that the text was designed to build momentum. At first the focus is on Snowman’s present, and flashbacks come as ambiguous snippets of memory. Then somewhere in the middle third of the novel, the narrative focus shifts to the past. It takes on the feel of a science fiction mystery, with the reader dying to know the events of Jimmy’s past that led to his bleak present.  The answer is well worth the time it takes getting there.

Is Oryx and Crake heavy? Absolutely. Atwood is an intense author dealing with dark themes. Is there Biblical imagery up the wazoo? You bet your English degree there is. Whatever literary tropes she uses, Atwood constantly amazes me with the depth of her imagination. I couldn’t read her books all the time, but I always enjoy them when I do. Her vision of the future is a perfect mix of the uncomfortably familiar and the uncomfortably strange. And most importantly, the small human dramas never take a backseat to the big science-fiction-y picture.

Oryx and Crake is the first book of the MaddAddam Trilogy. I mean, if I created this fictional universe, I would want to keep writing about it too. The second book, titled The Year of the Flood, is already out in paperback. I think an addition to my Christmas list is in order.

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Back in the Stacks

The trouble with having a variety of interests is that you can’t indulge them all at once. For that reason, I tend to go on “kicks” with one thing or another. When I started this blog, I thought that I would be writing a fair amount about books. Instead I found myself on a lengthy movie kick. My latest ill-fated attempt to reread Emma is evidence that I just haven’t been in the reading frame of mind. Since I spend all day helping children learn how to read, it’s an ironic predicament.

Hopefully that will soon change. I got my Hennepin County Library card weeks ago, but I had yet to set foot in an actual library until today. I must admit, I was a bit of a library snob. The first branch I visited was so small that I drove to a different one before checking out books. The experience made me appreciate the Fargo Public Library, which is now absolutely beautiful in its new building. I like the feeling of being “lost in the stacks”, and the sites that I visited today seemed to be going for a more open floorplan.

But I digress. I can’t fault the second library because it had exactly the books I wanted. What are they, you ask? Well . . .

The Sixty-Eight Rooms, by Marianne Malone

This book was recommended to me by that intrepid professor of creative nonfiction Dennis Cass. It’s a children’s book about the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago that he found incredibly imaginative. Working at an elementary school, it seemed an appropriate choice.

An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green

Another recommendation, this time from my friend Jenny. I feel like John Green is someone who I’ve missed out on in the young adult scene. The premise is also intriguing: a neurotic high school graduate who has dated (and been dumped by) nineteen girls named Katherine.

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

I’ve been wanting to read this book for years, literally. A post-apocalyptic love story by Margaret Atwood? You don’t have to tell me twice.

My vow, Gentle Readers, is this:  I will read these three books and review them on the blog. Coincidentally I picked out books for three different age groups, so it should make for an interesting time. Prepare to be English-major-ed in the not-too-distant future.

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