Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bel Canto

I finally finished another book that almost everyone in the world read before me: Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. Although I had an interest in reading Bel Canto, since first seeing it at the bookstore and hearing all the rave reviews, my interest peaked after reading Lucy Grealy’s absolutely amazing Autobiography of a Face. Grealy and Patchett were friends. Their friendship is documented in Patchett’s non-fiction account of their relationship in Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, but I decided to first experience Patchett as a fiction writer. I hope to read Truth & Beauty in the near future.

In Bel Canto, as everyone knows, guests at an elaborate birthday celebration in South America are taken hostage. The only female hostage to be retained for an extended time is Roxane Cross, a famous opera singer. Much of the activity, but not all, centers around Cross. Thrown in the mix are various other characters, including a vice president, a translator, and a Japanese business man. The revolutionaries also become a significant part of the story.

Bel Canto is an unusual book. For all its uniqueness and execution, I cannot say I loved it. The characters did not grow on me. I did not find myself waiting anxiously for the next time I could open the book and continue my reading, although I hung in until the end to find out if the hostages and revolutionaries would live. I imagine myself enjoying the book much more if adapted well into a film.

In many ways, my experience with this book reminded me of how I felt while reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. This is not because the books are similar; they are entirely different and Bel Canto is superior in comparison. Yet, both Bel Canto and The Secret Life of Bees are books that everyone I encountered said they loved. Even a waitress who saw me reading Bel Canto took time to comment on how great the book was. I think I will refer to this syndrome of mine as the “Secret Life of Bees Problem” from now on. I hope I will not experience it anytime soon.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Autobiography of a Face

Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face captured me from the first sentence until the last. Originally published in 1994, the memoir follows the life of Grealy, an amazing, talented, creative, and insightful woman who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at age nine. Grealy provides vivid details of her treatment, including countless hospital stays and reconstructive surgeries to her face. I was moved by so many elements of this story, including her strong connection and love for animals.

Sadly, Grealy died at age 39 in 2002 from a heroin overdose. This passage from the book, which appears on the back cover of my edition, demonstrates the pointed beauty of her writing and story:

"I spent five years of my life being treated for cancer, but since then I've spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else. It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy of my life. The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparison."

This is not a book that I can adequately tell you about; this is a book to experience for yourself.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Into the Wild - Book & Film

Saturday, September 29, was one of those fabulous days. In the morning, I read the final pages of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, a book that captures the spirit of the human seeker - a quest narrative. I then drove with my husband to have lunch at one of our favorite places. This was followed up by the viewing of Sean Penn's film adaptation of Into the Wild.

The story behind Into the Wild is well-known, especially now with all the press surrounding the film. I found both the book and film captivating and brilliant. The quality of the film is only enhanced by an amazing and original soundtrack by Eddie Vedder.

Will the true story of Into the Wild appeal to all readers and viewers? Possibly not, but it has deeply touched me. We follow a young man (Christopher McCandless), disillusioned by society, who donates all of his money to charity and hits the road travelling - in pursuit of a simple and meaningful life.

Anyone who has ever considered leaving it all behind - material possessions, busy career, etc. - for a simple existence with nature will find much to admire here. Krakauer's need to view McCandless's story as a male quest was the only drawback for me. McCandless's philosophy and adventure will appeal to many women.

Highly recommended - book, movie, and soundtrack!