Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the WorldI think I say this all the time, but I do love my book clubs. I love having a reason to finally read a really good book or to trash a really terrible book with like-minded people. I especially love finding books like this one that I probably would never have heard of in my entire life except that my friend wasn’t allowed to make us read one of Murakami’s 800-page books and so she chose this one.

At first I was like, what the heck is this. There are two stories, both referenced in the title, that alternate back and forth and are both very weird in their own special ways. In the first story, we have a nameless protagonist (everyone’s nameless, actually, in this book) who is something called a Calcutec who is basically a one-man Enigma machine and earns his living encoding things without really knowing how… Murakami’s explanations basically exploded my brain here, but once I decided to just go with it everything was much better! Anyway, he gets called on this assignment to encode some information for a rather eccentric old man who works in an office that is… difficult to get to, let’s say, and once our protagonist takes said job even weirder things start happening with dudes stalking him and unicorn skulls making weird sounds and it’s all just… weird.

The other story should be weirder but actually makes more sense — in this one another unnamed protagonist is living in a strange town where people have to shed their shadows before entering and then get assigned jobs (what is this, The Giver?) like, in our guy’s case, reading dreams from skulls. The idea, I guess, is to let your shadow die off and then you live a happy shadow-less life, but our friend’s shadow may have other plans when it comes to that.

So… it’s weird. It’s very weird, in that Japanese way that so much Death Note has more or less prepared me for. But it’s also pretty fantastic. You know I’m a sucker for a good back-and-forth narrative, and it’s even better when the two stories start to show their interconnectedness, and it’s even more better (just… whatever) when things in one story start making you question things in the other story as well as your own existence. It’s one of those, and I love those.

I really don’t know what else to say about this book… I suppose if you wanted to you could dissect this book in all sorts of different ways and come up with Grand Thoughts About The Universe, but really I just enjoyed letting the story do its thing. Maybe you will, too?

Recommendation: For people who like a good punch to the brain every once in a while and are due for one.

Rating: 8/10

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card (7 August — 8 August)

I found this book in the adult sci-fi section of my library, even though the back of the book clearly states “for ages 10 and up.” I’m not sure what the librarians are trying to say here. 🙂 Also, the back of the book totally spoiled the end for me, so I suggest not reading that if you can help it.

So. In this story our hero is a young boy, whom we meet when he is six and selected to go to something called Battle School. This turns out to be a place where other small children battle each other in preparation for joining armies and fighting bad guys in the future. The people in charge think that Ender’s going to be their savior in fighting some aliens called buggers, so they isolate him from making friends and push him ridiculously hard. He takes it as much in stride as he can and becomes a pretty good fighter-type.

You’d think that would be the story, really, considering how many pages are spent on it, but the actual story happens after that, and in the span of not very many pages. But if I sum up the actual story, I’ll give it away.

That’s pretty much why I’m giving this book a low score; I was interested in the beginning of the book but all of that plot doesn’t really matter to the end except that it gives Ender some experiences to draw on. And then after that, everything happens really quickly and it’s all kind of weird. I didn’t like the bugger fight, I didn’t care for the side plot with Ender’s siblings, and I was incredibly confused by the Giant’s Drink part at the end. Very very confused. I still don’t get it, though I guess I understand what happened now, after consulting the internets. Meh.

Rating: 6/10

See also:
Library Queue
Trish’s Reading Nook

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (4 July — 5 July)

I was on vacation at the beach for four days last weekend and brought only two books with me. A serious mistake! I was done with them by the morning of the third day. Luckily, Scott’s family are voracious readers as well, and the beach house (which they own) was stocked with books. While I could have read A Very Naughty Angel (no really, I did find such a book on the shelf!), I chose to go with something a little deeper. I had been meaning to read The Handmaid’s Tale anyway, so good job, me.

Let me just start with this: this book is disturbing. Seriously disturbing, in that way where the premise seems implausible but then you start to see how it could maybe be plausible and then you think it might be a good idea to rally against a cash-less society because it could lead to you becoming a handmaid. Yeah. Think 1984 or The Stepford Wives if you’ve read them. Disturbing.

All right. So this book is, as you may have guessed, about a handmaid. But in this (disturbing) dystopian world, a Handmaid doesn’t do, you know, maid things. See, the American birth rate has dropped below a replacement rate, partly because pollution is causing “shredder” (deformed) babies. So a Handmaid is brought in to a household when a Wife can’t provide her high-ranking husband with a child, because children are very important, unless they’re girls. Once a month, the Wife sits behind the Handmaid as Mr. Man-pants does his thing, and the Handmaid hopes beyond hope that Mr. Man-pants’s man-parts work and that she gets pregnant and that she never gets sent away to the Colonies as an Unwoman who gets to clean up toxic waste. Also, women aren’t allowed to read or own property, and Handmaids don’t even get to use their own names.

It takes a while for the story to get that far. Atwood sort of eases the reader into Offred’s (read: of fred’s) world, interspersing the dreary present with the past that looks suspiciously like America in the 1980s (when this book was written) and the interim in which Offred is taken away from her life and her husband and child. I wasn’t thrilled with the first few chapters, but since I knew better was coming I held on, and then the book got really good and really, you know, disturbing.

Rating: 8.5/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)