Around the World in 80 Posts: New York

I’ve started this series to highlight my favorite real world settings for books and what makes them so good! Feel free to join in on the fun and explore the world through your books! 

New York

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1.A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I have said a few times that this is one of my all-time favorites (top 5 actually), but I really can’t praise it enough. This book shows the beautiful mess that is life. New York is a vital character, as well as setting, in this book, and the protagonist’s relationship with the city is wonderful.

“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

That this classic takes place in NYC is no secret. The city is alive in this book and it shows us a glimpse of what it was like in the 1920’s. This is one of my favorite summer reads, and it is best served with gin.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

3. The Horses of Central Park by Michael Slade

This one brings me back to my childhood. After reading this book (and then reading it again, and again), I wanted nothing more than to move to NYC and explore central park. This book isn’t well known, but as a kid, I thought it was the best book I had ever read.

 

4. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

While this book takes place in both Las Vegas and New York City, NYC plays a bigger role than Vegas does. NYC is where the protagonist feels safe and content. It’s where he thrives and it brings him the most joy: in a word, NYC is Home.

“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life”

 

There are so many more books I want to read that take place in this glorious city, I just don’t know where to start! What are your favorite NYC books?

 

 

 

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Poem of the Week: Where the Sidewalk Ends

Where the Sidewalk Ends
by Shel Silverstein

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

Friday Five: Beatrix Potter

Happy Birthday Beatrix Potter!

The lovely woman brought us the unforgettable Peter Rabbit, and continues to be a cornerstone in children’s literature.

Here are five of my favorite Potter quotes in honor of her birthday!

  1. “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.”

  2. “Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.”

  3. “If I have done anything, even a little, to help small children enjoy honest, simple pleasures, I have done a bit of good.”

  4. “The place is changed now, and many familiar faces are gone, but the greatest change is myself. I was a child then, I had no idea what the world would be like. I wished to trust myself on the waters and the sea. Everything was romantic in my imagination. The woods were peopled by the mysterious good folk. The Lords and Ladies of the last century walked with me along the overgrown paths, and picked the old fashioned flowers among the box and rose hedges of the garden.”

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The Goldfinch 

41S2y8O6oXL.jpgThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Rating: ★★★★ // Beauty immersed in hardship. 

Opening Line: “While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years.”

Review:

Many books gives you snapshots of a character’s life, allowing you to fill in the gaps as you wish or as you assume they would happen. This is not the case with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Prepare to be immersed fully into Theo Decker’s conscience, as you watch and experience the up-and-down roller-coaster of his life.

Summary (via GoodReads) 

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch combines vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

There were times I went from loving the story to not liking it as much, but my overall 4 star rating comes from this being a very well written book, with a complex plot, characters, and the silent suspense that lurks throughout the story. I say silent because the main conflict on the story stays buried under the bed (quite literally) until the final quarter of the book, in which all hell breaks loose. At times I actually forgot what the main conflict was, aside from the protagonist having a hard life, but then it would pop out at the right moment (mainly right as I was getting bored), and the suspense would be back. This is a unique, yet brilliant, way of telling a story.

The characters were fantastic. They weren’t all exactly “normal,” meaning some weren’t people I see myself knowing or getting involved with, but they were normal enough to convince me they existed. I really grew connected to them, and even the some I thought I disliked in the beginning, grew to show their good sides, or at least their strengths and not just their weaknesses.

“Every new event—everything I did for the rest of my life—would only separate us more and more: days she was no longer a part of, an ever-growing distance between us. Every single day for the rest of my life, she would only be further away.”

One aspect of the book that worked really well for me was the structure. The plot was written mostly linear, but there were frequent times the protagonist brought us back to stories and events that were seemingly cut out of the linear story because of irrelevance, but became relevant later in life. For example, a walk with a girlfriend was not told when it actually happened, but later when an argument took place, we were brought back to the walk because it suddenly became important. This narration technique makes the story feel real, because we see this non-linear reflection happen in our own lives.

“I had the epiphany that laughter was light, and light was laughter, and that this was the secret of the universe.”

The Goldfinch is not a short book. It spans many years and through many lifestyles. At times the pace slows down, but I found it sped up at exactly the right moments. There are moments when the story is very harsh and difficult to get through, but there are other moments that are so wonderfully joyful and beautiful, it just fills your heart. And, there are also times you want to smack Theo (the protagonist) upside the head for being a complete and utter baffoon!!

“We can’t choose what we want and don’t want and that’s the hard lonely truth. Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us. We can’t escape who we are.”

I think this book could have been edited down a bit, there were quite a bit of information that was repeated, which did serve as a reminder, but was ultimately unnecessary, and made the book longer than it needed to be. There were also certain sections in the book that seemed long and mundane, and those were the parts I got bored in—take those out and this would be a five-star book for me.

I haven’t read many fictional books revolved around art, and while I love classic art I know very little about the painters and time periods in the art world, yet this book was still easy to follow. It really made me want to become an antique dealer or a painter (or a forger, but I won’t get that carried away…). I really enjoyed the art aspect, and I’m glad she didn’t just skim the surface of it, but dove deep into the topic.

“—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.”

When I think back on this book, I feel like I’ve read two separate books. One, I absolutely loved and I think about the plot often, the second one made me pretty uncomfortable because the content was so harsh. There are parts that deal with hard drugs and gangs, and normally this is a tough topic to read about, but Tartt does such a good job making it seem real, that it makes it much harder to read than usual.

Some reviews I have read compare this book to a Dickens novel, and I think that’s fair because it reflects on the hard life, but while reading it I read it more like a Russian novel because it has that hardship, but it also has the philosophy and light that isn’t always clearly found in a Dickens’ novel.

My advice on this book is, first of all, go for it. It’s rich and hard at parts, but I think the ending and the main plot are worth the read. The most difficult part is when he is living in Vegas, but this part passes and the book improves again after he leave. Hang in there, it’s worth it.

the_goldfinch_by_carel_fabritius_poster-rfcf3dd39ee404428ad75f3b36c27f9ea_wve_8byvr_540.jpgThe Goldfinch, Carel Fabritius

Friday Five: Linkin Park

My heart hurts. Yesterday, Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, took his life. I don’t think I’ve ever cried because of a celebrity death, but this one brought me to tears….yes, I’m 26 and crying about a rockstar, but Chester (and Linkin Park) are different than most celebrities.

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This news is devastating, not only for the music world, but for everyone. Chester was known for his humility and his kindness, and for this to happen shows how powerful depression and mental illness can be, and please, if you are struggling, please go talk to someone, because you matter and you are loved.

Chester was rock of Linkin Park. Most of the lyrics were written by him, and I would argue that they are the most poetic lyrics of any rock band ever. They never just rocked for rocking sake, they always had a message and meaning to their songs, which is why so many people connected to them, and their fan base was so strong.

I was a teenager when their first cd, Hybrid Theory, came out, and they have been my favorite band since. Yes, my music tastes have changed like crazy since my early teens, but Linkin Park has always been there. Why? It all goes back to the lyrics and the passion. LP made people feel wanted and important. They took teenage angst and gave it meaning. They gave all the weird, mixed up emotions not only validation, but understanding. I did not have hard teenage years, but like every teenager I felt misunderstood–LP calmed those feelings.

The saddest part about all of this is that Chester’s words changed people, they fixed people, they improved people, they healed people, but for whatever reason, they couldn’t heal him.

Today, I’m just going to share some excerpts from my favorite band. Some will be old, some will be new, all will be amazing.

Rest in Peace, Chester, the world is better because you were in it.

“Leave Out All the Rest”

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“Castle of Glass”

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“Shadow of the Day”

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“Iridescent”

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“Battle Symphony”

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“Runaway”

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“The Messenger”

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“One More Light”

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The River (mini-review)

“The River” by Flannery O’Connor

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Rating: ★★★★★ // my heart hurts. \

 

Opening Line: The child stood glum and limp in the middle of the dark living room while his father pulled him into a plaid coat.

Review: 

This is perhaps the saddest story I have ever read. I’ve read it three times and it still breaks my heart.

This story follows a young boy, Harry, who goes for the day with Mrs. Connin, an older lady in town, because his mother was too sick to take care of him. Mrs. Connin takes him to her home, and to the healing preacher down by the river. There the preacher learns Harry has never been baptized and so the preacher told him if he get’s baptized “you’ll be able to go to the Kingdom of Christ. You’ll be washed in the river of suffering, son, and you’ll go by the deep river of life.” After baptizing Harry, the preacher tells him three words he had likely never heard in his short life “you count now.”

The rest of the book shows the consequence of a young child hearing the phrase “you count now” for the first and only time….and it’s heartbreaking.

I find myself thinking of this story multiple times a day since I read it. It was written with characters who are real, shocking, and infuriating. The plot, though short, brings the reader into the lives of these people in a way that makes you think you’ve been reading about them for years.

If you have read this, I would love to discuss it in the comments, but I don’t want to go too deep in the review because of spoilers.

I read this as a part of The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Conner. I’m reading this as a part of The Classics Club Book Challenge. To see my complete challenge list of classics books, click here.

The Keeper of Lost Causes

 

10822858.jpgThe Keeper of Lost Causes (Department Q #1) by Jussi-Adler Olsen, translated by Lisa Hartford

Rating: ★★ // yeah…not quite Girl With the Dragon Tattoo…

Opening Line: She scratched her fingertips on the smooth walls until they bled, and pounded her fists on the thick panes until she could no longer feel her hands.

Review: 

I usually wait to review books in a series until I finish the whole thing, but as I won’t be finishing this series, I might as well review it now. This review contains spoilers, but not super major ones.

Summary (via GoodReads)

Carl Mørck used to be one of Copenhagen’s best homicide detectives. Then a hail of bullets destroyed the lives of two fellow cops, and Carl—who didn’t draw his weapon—blames himself. So a promotion is the last thing he expects. But Department Q is a department of one, and Carl’s got only a stack of Copenhagen’s coldest cases for company. His colleagues snicker, but Carl may have the last laugh, because one file keeps nagging at him: a liberal politician vanished five years earlier and is presumed dead. But she isn’t dead … yet.

To all those who compared this book to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, thanks for nothing, because you are a liar.

Now, I have to point out that my dislike of the book may come solely from the translation, but because I don’t speak Danish, that’s really all I have to go on.

The Plot

The plot of this book was actually pretty interesting. Carl Morck is assigned to a new department to solve crimes that were left unsolved…pretty cool idea. Furthermore, his fist case he picks up is that of a missing government official, Merete Lynggaard, who has been missing for 5 years…again, pretty good plot. It’s gets better (the plot, that is) when we start hearing the story from Merete’s point-of-view, and the story continues jumping back from her to Morck, which is the only thing that makes this book good and worth continuing. 

The main plot, like I said above, was intriguing, but it still didn’t really hold up. Along with the main one, there was also the side plot about the guy who shot Morck and his teammates. This side plot made it just more confusing than it needed to be, and somehow they tried to tie them together and it just didn’t seem natural.

The Characters

Carl Morck: self-consumed jerk, who spends 75% of the book feeling sorry for himself and whining about his predicament, and the other 25% idolizing over women.

Assad: Carl’s quirky middle-eastern sidekick, who for some reason doesn’t care that Carl constantly makes fun of his race and his religion…and his food. Oh, and he also constantly idolizes over women.

Merete: The damsel in distress, except she holds her own pretty well. She’s physically and mentally tough, but her character is not written in a way that is believable.

Merete’s kidnappers: These people are the worst. Their is literally nothing good about them, which, you would think, would make them good villains, but no, they suck at that too. Also, their reason for kidnapping her is the dumbest reason in the world.

Every other detective/policeman: Jerks/womanizers.

Seriously, everyone was terrible, except for Merete’s younger brother, who was innocent and good, but didn’t play a big enough role to make up for the everyone else being horrible.

The Writing

I am not usually sensitive to certain language in books, I mean, if there is an excessive and unnecessary amount of f-bombs I tend not to read it, or if there is an excessive amount of sexual material, I tend not to read it because that’s not my cup o’ tea, but other than that I’m pretty ok with language in a book. With that being said, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that was as sexist as this book. Even with the crappy characters and the so-so plot, I might have decently liked the book, but it was all ruined by the sexism.

Again, this may be a translator issue, but every single time a woman was mentioned, there was some comment about her looks or her body. The main character couldn’t even go to his therapist without gaping over her. And it wasn’t even subtle, it was down right disgusting. By the end if I heard one more line about “luscious lips” or “desirous eyes” my own eyes were going to roll right out of my head.

I could go on and on about this, but I’ll save you the time. Basically, I was extremely disappointed with this book, especially after all the good reviews. I usually advice that people check it out for themselves, but really, ugh, I wouldn’t waste your time with this one. 😦

A Good Man is Hard to Find  

As part of my Classic Book Club Challenge, I’m reading The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor. This book is quite large so I’m taking it slow and reading only a few stories at a time.

Flannery O’Connor is a American author, who was born in the 1925 and died at the young age of 39. During her short life she wrote multiple essays, 2 novels and 32 short stories. Her Complete Stories won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1972.

Here is my review of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” found in The Complete Stories. All my reviews are based off my initial reaction/thoughts, however I do think O’Connors work needs and deserves more reflection and study because they are loaded with further meaning.

AGoodManIsHardToFind.jpg“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

Rating: ★★★★ // wow. I tell you what, wow. 

Opening Line: “The Grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.”

Review:

I have a friend who describes O’Connor’s stories as “a normal day in a normal life and then somebody has a gun,” which, in fact, is the exact plot of “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” This story follows a grandmother, her son, and his family as they from Georgia to Florida. Along the way normal “road trip” activities ensue until they have an accident and are approached by an escaped convict.

This story, if nothing else, shows us the corruption of people, especially those who feel they have been mistreated or misunderstood their whole lives. The criminal claims he never knew what he did to be put in jail, and he doesn’t think his punishment fit his crime. This belief turned him evil, he no longer cares about choosing good because, in his mind, what’s the point?

The second point I gathered from this (and as I said before I should read some articles and reflections because there is probably so much more to gain from this story) is that in order to be good we must choose to be good. This is an obvious point, but one that is much more active than we usually think. Every decision we make is a good or evil decision. Yes, some may be a good or a not as good decision, but if we constantly make the not as good decision we will soon find our selves choosing the evil choice and not even realizing it.

At one point we see this in the convict. The grandmother tells him that if he prays, Jesus will help him, and he responds by saying he is sure Jesus would, but he doesn’t want his help, he doesn’t want to be good. The convict has gotten to the point where he is no longer capable of choosing the good because he has chosen to be evil.

I enjoyed this story mainly because of the moral discussion it brings up. The narration is strong and the story is concise without leaving out anything important. The characters are believable, and even in the short time ellapsed, the reader is able to feel connected with the characters.

Before reading it, I know O’Connor was a gothic writer, but I did not expect it to be as dark as it was. I also didn’t expect to be blown away by 25 page story, and yet, I was.

***

To learn more about the Classics Club and to start your own list, check out their blog!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: America, hell yeah

Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans! To everyone else, I’m sorry, but I’m going to be a little patriotic today 😉

Since The Broke and the Bookish are taking a little time off (until sometime in August, I think) I’m going to make up my own and do:  Documents or Speeches every American should read.

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1. Declaration of Independence: The document that started it all, which was ratified on, of course, July 4th.

Opening Line: When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

2. The Constitution: This document, the backbone of our government, was put into place after the Constitutional convention in 1787 and then ratified in 1788. It has been amended 27 times and remains the base of all our laws.

Preamble: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

3. The Federalist Papers: This series of articles were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, under the pseudonym of Publius, in order to promote the Constitution. This series of letter’s are very interesting because they show the discussion and the arguments for the Constitution, and they help show a glance into the minds of the founding father’s.

Opening Paragraph: To the People of New York,

AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.

4. The Anti-Federalist Papers: In contradiction to the Federalist Papers, were the Anti-Federalist Papers, which were a series of letters written by other founding father’s who had some problems with the Constitution. These were written under the pseudonyms Cato, Brutus, Centinel, and the Federal Farmer. These works are important because it shows that our country was founded on discussion and debating issues without turning to outrage, and ultimately we were able to come to a peaceful agreement.

Opening Paragraph: When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

5. President George Washington’s Farewell Address: Being the first president of the United States, Washington was the first president to step down from office, which laid the foundation for the presidential term limits we hold in high esteem today.

Opening paragraph: Friends and Citizens:

The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

6. President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: This speech is one of most famous speeches in U.S. History. It was the first major speech given by Lincoln after the battle of Gettysburg, and it’s purpose was to bring unity and hope to the country and to hopefully bring a swift end to the war.

Opening Line:  Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

7. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech: This speech, given by MLK on Aug. 28, 1963, is the cornerstone of the Civil Right’s movement, and arguably one of the most important speeches ever given in our country.

Excerpt:

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

8. President Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor Speech: In this speech, president Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke in response to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and asked Congress to declare war, which brought us into World War II.

Opening Line: Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

9. President Bush’s September 11th Speech: While this speech wasn’t long, it had that nation watching. This is the only speech I listed that I can actually remember hearing and watching. It still sticks in my memory and I believe it will as long as I live.

Excerpt: 

These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.

Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.

10. President Carter’s Crisis Speech: Given in the 1980’s in the thick of the energy and economic crisis, president Jimmy Carter gave a heartfelt speech about the state of the nation.

Excerpt: 

The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea which founded our nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else — public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We’ve always believed in something called progress. We’ve always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.

 

There you have it, my little America post. Happy Fourth of July everyone!