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Archive for June, 2010

Today’s book preview is of Ally Condie’s Matched. This book to be released on November 30, 2010, has been heralded as “the next big thing in YA.” I am more than excited to see how this turns out. Mark the date on your calendars, because this is one you are going to want the very day it debuts. Here is the book description, via Amazon:

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her its a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she’s destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

This will be Ally’s sixth published book, her previous five were printed under either Allyson Braithwaite Condie or Allyson B. Condie. Her other works include: Being Sixteen, Freshman for President, Reunion, First Day, and Yearbook. So if you want a taste of her writing style, feel free to pick up any of those. Here’s to counting the days until November 30th!

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A few months back, I checked Yann Martel’s Life of Pi out from the library and absorbed it in a matter of days. When I discovered the author’s latest work Beatrice and Virgil in an indie bookstore, it was almost a subconscious decision that this would be one of my purchases. One of six as it happened. Yann Martel is on the short list of authors that I have on a pedestal, they can do no wrong. (The list, if you are wondering, includes John Green, Markus Zusak, J.K. Rowling, and Scott Westerfeld too, but that’s a story for another time.) Delving into it, I was both intrigued at the story and worried that I would be disappointed.

Beatrice and Virgil at first seems almost autobiographical, following the story of an author who gave up writing after his most recent work, a work of Holocaust fiction accompanied by an essay, was killed by four of his editors, a historian, and a bookseller. After his self-imposed retirement from writing, the man continues to write in response to fans, because as he says “though his novel belonged to his past, it was fresh to every reader who read it and that freshness came through in their letters. To remain silent in the face of kindness and enthusiasm would have been rude. Worse: it would have been thankless.” The heart of the story begins when Henry, the story’s author, receives an excerpt from a play and a request for help. Henry follows the return address and is met with a taxidermist. The rest of the story follows Henry’s encounters with (as well as other aspects of life affected by) the taxidermist.

My favorite part about this book is not what is written on the pages. My favorite part about this book is what it creates in your mind. This book makes you think differently, makes you imagine differently, and makes you pay attention to that which you have ignored. It would not surprise me if you read this book and gained nothing, but if you read this book and then allowed yourself to think about its message and gained nothing, I would say you didn’t read it well enough.

The variety of subjects addressed in Beatrice and Virgil is part of the draw for me. It covers everything from taxidermy to the Holocaust to animal cruelty to writer’s block. The fiction is laced with so much fact that you find yourself accepting impossibilities as concrete. This is where Yann Martel exceeds all others: his ability to make you believe in his story, his unsurpassed deftness for weaving his illusion. I would recommend this to anyone, the all encompassing anyone. Yes, even you. I have taken care not to spoil the story or the ending for anyone who follows my recommendation, so go for it. In keeping with the story, I would give Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil a well-deserved five pears out of five.

Next up is Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

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The Catcher in the Rye is often heralded as both the best and the worst book ever read by high school students. That is how far apart the scale goes on this book. You either love it or you hate it. While it can be argued that many who love the book only love it because they were told they should, it can also be argued that many only hate the book because they were forced to read it in school.

Luckily, I am neither. I managed to get out of high school without so much as knowing JD Salinger’s name. My desire to read it came from the sheer lack of it in my life. In a world of people loving it and hating it, I’d never read it. So I went to my library, searched doggedly for it, and came home ready to read.

It took me upwards of three weeks to finish the story, because the only free time I had to read was during breaks at work. By the time I was finished, I both loved and loathed Holden Caulfield. I loved him because of how dynamic of a character he was. Holden was human. He was contradictory and obsessive, lonely and inquisitive. Holden is exactly the kind of person you don’t want to be, which is why I loathed him. I didn’t like how he spoke, his lack of respect, or his obsession with innocence. Despite all of my dislikes, I know that Holden is one of the most well-written characters in history, not because he is special but because he isn’t.

There were a few parts of the story I liked more than others. I believe my favorite part of the entire story is Holden’s brother Allie’s poem covered baseball mitt. I grew up playing baseball, and the idea of a guy in outfield (the position I played) reading poetry off of his glove during games was hilarious to me (for the record, I played with dirt to cure my boredom). It is almost ironic nowadays to imagine a baseball player reading poetry, much less reading it off of his glove during a game. I think this is why Allie is my favorite character in the book (and he isn’t even really in the book). I liked Allie because he wasn’t who he was supposed to be. He is who you want to be, other than the being dead part, of course.

Holden’s relationship with the deceased Allie is what defines him as a character. Allie’s death is the reason everything happens in The Catcher in the Rye. Everything. Holden’s obsession with maintaining the innocence of the young stems from the fact that his brother will never mature. Holden’s constant questioning of random people stems from questions left unanswered after his brother’s death. Holden’s love of his red hat that he wears constantly, only removing it when he thinks he might be made fun of for wearing it (the color is important here because it matches Allie’s hair color). Out of all of these, still the most affected aspect of the story is Holden’s relationship with his sister.

Phoebe, Holden’s sister, seems to be the only person Holden doesn’t think is phony (except for the nuns, that is). Holden returns home in the middle of the night not for a bed, or because he should have been home days ago, or to get his things, but simply to talk to his sister because he has no one else to talk to. To prove he has no one else to talk to, Holden at one point goes into a phone booth and literally cannot think of anyone he wants to call so he just leaves it twenty minutes later. Holden uses his sister as a crutch, both holding him up and holding her down. She is the only reason he goes home in the end, because he doesn’t want her to end up like him. She is also the reason Holden has a mental breakdown, she shows him that he can’t save the children in the field of rye and he can’t deal with that.

My second favorite part of the story, second only to Allie’s baseball mitt, is the scene with the prostitute. The prostitute, named Sunny of course, comes up to Holden’s room and Holden is so uncomfortable that they simply talk. It is my opinion that Holden would have been all for having sex with Sunny if she were older, but since she was his age he was uncomfortable. This is one of Holden’s contradictions: he is old enough to have sex, even pay for it, but Sunny, a girl his age, is too young and too innocent to have sex, much less be paid for it. Holden acts true to form and in order to preserve Sunny’s innocence, he pays her five dollars, talks to her for a while, and then sends her on her way. And how is he repaid for making a five dollar donation? Sunny’s pimp comes to his room and punches him in the gut and takes five dollars more from him.

This is another reoccurring event in the story: Holden being taken advantage of. Holden invites Ackley to the movies, but Ackley won’t invite him to use his roommate’s empty bed. Holden writes Stradlater’s essay for him and gets repaid by Stradlater borrowing his jacket (and subsequently stretching it) and then punching Holden in the nose. He even has to pay the bar tab of the three girls in the bar. And despite all of these instances where Holden gets taken advantage of, he never plays the victim. I’m not even sure Holden notices he’s being taken advantage of… well except for when Mr. Antolini tries to take advantage of him. Holden still continues to talk to people and to try to be their friend, because above everything else Holden is one lonely individual.

I believe it’s easy to see that in the spectrum of love it or hate it, I love this story. I even wrote this review in stream of consciousness like JD Salinger wrote Catcher. I believe there is something to be learned for everyone in this story. Whether you need to learn that death happens or that everyone grows up or that not everyone is phony, it’s in there. This is easily the most telling story I have ever read, telling because a person’s reaction to it tells almost exactly what kind of person they are. If you dislike this story, you either A) read it for class B) don’t like reading C) are a Holden Caulfield.

Keeping with the story, I rate JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye a whole-hearted five red hunting hats out of five.

Next up is Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi. See you in a few days.

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If by some miracle of modern science someone other than myself is reading this, you may be in need of an introduction. I guess the first thing I should explain is the name of the blog. CatcherGoneAwry is a name I chose for myself when I was changing my Twitter name from a young teen’s shorthand version of my name (zsprag) for the sake of having a name worth having. The name comes from JD Salinger’s book “The Catcher in the Rye.” In the book, the main character is musing to his sister about a poem by Robert Burns.

Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.
The Catcher in the Rye
Holden Caulfield in Chapter 22

So when taking into account Catchers from this story, a Catcher Gone Awry is exactly who I want to be. I am not here to save you from going over the cliff. I am not here protect you. I won’t be putting age limits on any books reviewed. I won’t be telling you what to read and more importantly I won’t be telling you what not to read. I am not a Catcher. I don’t care if you go over the cliff.

Next on the list of things to explain would be the website as a whole. This website was created for the sole purpose of creating a website. I began playing in WordPress not knowing what I was creating. After a short, persuasive talk with a friend of mine named Kim, it was decided that this would become a book blog. In this book blog, I will review selected books and also preview upcoming titles. If the opportunity presents itself I will also conduct interviews with authors, agents, publishers, or anyone else willing/unfortunate enough to talk to me.

Lastly on the list of things to explain is where you come in, you unfortunate reader(s). If there is a book you would like me to review or preview, send me an email at catchergoneawry@gmail.com or tweet me at @CatcherGoneAwry. I am hopeful that the comments on my reviews/previews/etc. will include discussions and not just “First!”s. Your input is welcome and wanted.

I have a list of fifteen books lined up to review to start us off, and as much as I would like to start immediately, tomorrow (June 20) is my 21st birthday and as such this will have to wait a day. On the date of my birth, my book blog comes to life. So I will see you in a few days with a review of my first book, the one I am named for, JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. See you then, mind the cliff.

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