Book Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is damn good. It’s a thrilling mystery novel that goes back and forth between a husband and wife relaying the events surrounding her disappearance.

Loved it. I especially like the strong female character Amy. She’s one of those geniuses who’s too smart for her own good. Smart, neurotic, driven.

Here’s my favorite passage from Amy:

I was told love should be unconditional. That’s the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyone try to do the right thing ever? If I know I am loved no matter what, where is the challenge? I am supposed to love Nick despite all his shortcomings. And Nick is supposed to love me despite my quirks. But clearly, neither of us does. It makes me think that everyone is very wrong, that love should have many conditions. Love should require both partners to be their very best at all times. Unconditional love is an undisciplined love, and as we all have seen, undisciplined love is disastrous.

I appreciate her unconventional, but important message. For example, just because women are married shouldn’t give them free license to eat a bunch of twinkies and hoho’s. Yet you see this happening all the time. You have to care about your appearance. You want to be confident and sexy, not just for your husband, but for yourself too. Marriage should be a commitment to be your best self in honor of your spouse, but the way most people think of it, it’s like, this is what you’re stuck with!

Anyhow, I found that message to be refreshing and different. I liked the main character Amy, but I also liked how the chapters flip-flopped between Amy and her husband Nick trying to one-up each other. Drama!

Click on the image of the book to buy it on Amazon.

UC Berkeley English Department

I was reading the UC Berkeley English department newsletter and was extremely proud to learn that the department boasts the highest number of professors to receive the university’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

“It is the highest teaching honor given by the university, and the selection process is rigorous: nominated candidates must pass through a meticulous review of student evaluations, course histories, grade distributions, statements from former students, and teaching philosophies. Finally, the candidates who emerge from these rings of fire are visited in class by members of the Academic Senate-appointed selection committee, who in turn debate the relative merits of each candidate before selecting the few deserving recipients. As a result of this stringent selection procedure, in the fifty or so years the award has been given, only about 240 teachers have won the thing. And among those 240 are 25 English professors. To put that figure in context, 25 is the same number of times that the second and third most awarded departments – Electrical Engineering & Computer Science and Law – have won the award combined.”

I read through the list of 25 and recognized 5 names. I took classes from 4; I noted the class I took next to their names. And I was advised to major in English by the passionate Julian Boyd. I will forever be grateful to him as I think majoring in English was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

1980 Anne Middleton – Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

1986 Janet Adelman – Literature in English

1993 Julian Boyd – advisor

2002 Jeffrey Knapp – Shakespeare

2009 Mitchell Breitwieser – American Novel

It’s so easy to dismiss English as a fluffy major, even at a prestigious school where the program is ranked #1 nationwide. At the time, I too, did not give the major the attention it deserved, splitting my time by double-majoring in a more analytical subject. And that, is probably one of my biggest regrets.

“The best English teachers are able to provide remarkably new insights into the most familiar materials…this mixture of enlightenment and estrangement may be unique to teaching literature. Reviewing the teaching philosophies of past DTA winners, a trend quickly emerges: English professors repeatedly stress the importance of questioning, uncertainty, and paradoxes as roads to insight. By contrast, faculty from other departments overwhelmingly emphasize the importance of having a firm grasp on the topic – thoroughly understanding the issue before attempting to communicate it to students. Of course, there’s nothing incompatible about a thorough understanding and an eye for complication. But unlike those subjects in which a teacher’s ability to explicate means the difference between success and failure, in English, explanation alone is insufficient.”

Book Reviews: Award-Winning Novels

I read two books recently that came highly recommended by Amazon reviews and the staff at Green Apple. What’s more, one of the books won the Nobel Prize and the other won the Pulitzer. They were so bad, I want my money back. I feel deceived. There must be something wrong with me that I slogged through these books.

Gilead, Winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, by Marilynne Robinson

Every night I read this book, I didn’t have to take my Ambien. Such a sleeper. It’s comprised of a dying minister’s last words (almost like journal entries) to his very young son. Total stream of consciousness. Pulitzer Prize-winning novels should not be 250 pages of stream of consciousness! Here is a paragraph from the middle of the book.

“Young Boughton came by to see if you felt like a game of catch. You did. He was sunburned from working in the garden. It gave him a healthy, honest look. He’s teaching you to throw overhand. He said he couldn’t stay for supper. You were disappointed, as I believe your mother was also.”

250 pages of this shit. I hope Green Apple buys it back from me. I don’t want it taking up precious space on my bookshelf.

The Passport, Winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature, by Herta Muller

At least it was short. Less than 100 pages of metaphorical prose. It’s the depressing story of a working man trying to liberate himself from a sad life in a closed-off village. Here’s a snippet of what I had to endure to finish this book.

“Windisch hears the cuckoo’s call. It can smell the stuffed birds through the ceiling. The cuckoo is the only living bird in the house. Its cry breaks up time. The stuffed birds stink.”

I’ll tell you who’s cuckoo. The author’s cuckoo. Or I’m cuckoo for buying the book.