Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lirael (Abhorsen: 2)

by Garth Nix
(2001 | 464 p)

The second installment of Garth Nix' Abhorsen trilogy surprised me. In book one we watch Sabriel grow up into a top-notch Abhorsen who kicks undead butt. I was really ready to watch her give them hell in book two, but it wasn't meant to be. Instead I only glimpsed Sabriel from afar as seen through the eyes of her nearly grown son, Sameth. Sam is supposed to be the next Abhorsen but he has a nearly phobic aversion to the responsibility. He is such a pitiable figure that it's uncomfortable to be in his skin for any length of time. Luckily, most of the story is told from the point of view of Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr. The Clayr are a community who live in the northernmost reaches of the Old Kingdom and whose responsibility it is to use their Sight to aid the Abhorsen. Lirael is well past the age when she should have received her Sight and finds herself more and more isolated from her sister Clayr. But rather than presenting a pitiful figure, Lirael is a survivor. She finds solace in the library and with her only real friend, the Disreputable Dog.

The Clayr have a vision that forces Lirael out of her comfort zone and out of the only home she's ever known. Will she find her true calling? What will it be? Although not what I expected, another fun read from Mr. Nix. I'm quite excited for book three.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Poor People" by William T. Vollmann

314 pages

William T. Vollmann has never been poor, but as a journalist he has seen a lot of poor people. This got him thinking, so as he traveled around the world he began asking the impoverished a single question: "Why are you poor?" They responded in shocking different ways. For Buddhists in Thailand, the answer was simple: They had done something wrong in a previous life. Mexicans attributed their ill fortune to the misdoings of the rich; in Yemen, the poor refused to acknowledge their poverty because to do so would show ingratitude to Allah and make it seem like they weren't satisfied with what they had been given. The Japanese also tended to deny being poor, but for a different reason: personal shame. Vollmann's stories shed light on the complex factors that contribute to poverty in different parts of the world, with lots of photographs to illustrate what he's talking about.

This book does a great job of explaining different factors that create poverty and is especially good at humanizing the impoverished people he talked to and got to know. He took the time to get to know them so he could share their stories well, and the photographs also help the subjects feel real. One thing I don't like is that although the entire final section of the book is called "Hope," I really didn't feel hopeful at all at the conclusion of the book. It doesn't seem like any of the people he talked to were making progress toward getting out of poverty, and he doesn't offer any solutions or strategies for helping. I didn't expect him to find the answer, but I guess that the title of the last section got my hopes up for some kind of happy ending. Nevertheless, "Poor People" creates a well-rounded picture of poverty through a combination of in-depth research (Vollmann did LOTS--check out the works cited in the back) and personal anecdotes.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

You know, even a little story about a woman who hits her head and can't remember the past ten years can be extremely affecting if it's well-written, as this one is.  The setting is Sydney, Australia, but it could be anywhere in the world where people fight with spouses, misunderstand each other, struggle with personal issues and fight sadness and depression.  And yes, I'm a complete and total sap that my son loves to call, The Fountain, because I cry at Hallmark commercials, but I spent the last three chapters of this book with a snotty nose and tears running down my face.  Maybe you won't cry, but I definitely found this one a good read and a nicely written story. Two thumbs up!
424 pp