The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Curiosity
I heard obscenities everywhere, as though the world were populated entirely by longshoremen... Had no one told them that coarseness lacks dignity?

Kate Philo and her expedition of scientists, technicians, divers, and one reporter are looking for icebergs in the Arctic that could potentially contain frozen small creatures like shrimp, plankton, krill. These scientists work in a private research lab headed by Erastus Carthage, who has managed to successfully bring back to life such frozen creatures, though they managed to live only for a few minutes. During this particular expedition, however, they find a human body in one such berg. Nobody believes they will be able to animate such a large and complicated specimen, but science prevails and our frozen man is alive again, more than a 100 years after he was presumed dead.

But Carthage doesn't care much about the social or ethical aspects of bringing such a person back into this world. He wants to see if the man can be made to live longer than the projected time based on past experiments (21 days), and also whether he can use this project to get as much private funding as possible. The reporter, Dixon, is thrilled to be the only media person to have exclusive rights to the project. While these two people remain focused on furthering their career ambitions, Kate and the frozen guy begin to bond.

Stephen Kiernan
The Curiosity was a very interesting book with a fascinating premise, though not without a fault. It is narrated by four protagonists - Dr. Kate Philo, who is not only scientifically invested in the project but also personally; Dixon, our news reporter who callously basks in his exclusive rights to watch and report on the project; Dr. Erasthus Carthage, the self-absorbed arrogant conceited scientist who focuses only on what can make himself tick; and our frozen man, lost for 100 years at sea, and suddenly awakened in a lab that is futuristic to his time.

I've often been fascinated by how much our world has changed in the last decade but I probably did not delve too deep into that because watching the world through our frozen man's eyes was a treat. During his heyday, the idea of landing on the moon was not even an idea much less a laughable one. There hadn't been a world war yet, no computers, no food industry. And when this guy comes along and sees the world, he is overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude by which it has changed. His chapters were, therefore, the most enjoyable ones for me.

While this past vs present comparison was very well done by the author, his character developments left much to be desired. All four characters struck me as highly one-dimensional shallow people. Dixon is too whiny and has zero respect for women. Carthage is egocentric and focused only on money and fame. Kate is too considerate and empathetic. Our frozen man is too just and gentlemanly. Nobody seems to have an other characteristic and that made the narrative very predictable and boring. Dixon annoyed me the most, though probably because of how many thoughts of his revolved around women (all sordid). Even Carthage's malevolence was a pleasure to read, in comparison.

There were a few things that were very unbelievable to me. For instance, the frozen guy's ancestry is never properly studied. The press of today will go crazy trying to scrounge as much as they can about this man, and there doesn't seem to be any of that in the book. When one reporter belches out that the whole thing is a scam, a lot other news agencies buy the story, when pretty much every evidence pointed the other way. Sure, people like to believe only what sounds reasonable to them. Not the press, though. I also did not enjoy any of the romance between Kate and our frozen guy. I did think that they were very companionable but when it was being taken further, it just left me very annoyed.

The Curiosity was also a very long read. I got the impression that the whole story could have been told just as well in half the book size. The book being too long, however, clearly established the amount of the time that passes between the beginning and the end, and also what that time did to the characters within the pages. I do think that if this book had been shorter, some of that sense of time and place would have been lost, but there were a lot of pages we could have done without. Kiernan, however, writes a beautiful hand and for that reason, I would love to read more of his works. I don't know if it was because at the same time, I was myself pondering the idea of writing more, but I enjoyed a lot of his literary devices and language expressions.

Poor character portrayals aside, this book is a complicated book, especially since it is a hotbed of ethics, morality, and decency. When Kiernan wrote about reanimation, I almost believed that such a technology existed. I was surprised to learn that it did not. Yet. He also raised several ethical questions - would the man even want to be alive again? How should he be cared for afterwards? The most fascinating question for me was about his freedom. The man was born in a free America and is now brought back alive in a free America. Yet, he has no rights, he is locked in a room in a lab, and he is not free to do or eat as he wishes. These were the intriguing aspects of this book, and which Kiernan investigated well. If only the characters had more depth, and the book a little less words and romance.

I received this book for free for review from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.

When you're on a one-track mission to finish a book

Friday, July 18, 2014

This week, I've mostly been MIA around here, despite my best intention not to stay away from the blog for too long because then it becomes so unbelievably hard to bounce back. (I can never decide what the perfect post is to return to bloglandia with, after a hiatus.) But I still chose to stay low this week until I finished a book (Stephen Kiernan's The Curiosity). Reading hasn't really stopped me from blogging in the past. If I got so invested in a book for a few days, I end up with a desire to come back here and see what's happening. There's always something happening, there's always some fun posts to read. But when you have a review deadline, that's almost here, and then it's already here, and pretty soon, the deadline is already behind you and you still have half a book to read, you just have to stop puttering around, stay tight in your favorite reading chair, ignore all kinds of house chores, and read the damn book.

Photo credit via Funpicc

That's what happened to me this week. It was my own fault. I knew I would not finish a 430 page book in 4 days. That has never happened before. Well, that has never happened before when the book was not a graphic book or a Harry Potter book or a good young adult dystopian novel. That definitely would never happen to me if we're talking about literary fiction, which is what The Curiosity is. It took me a week to read the book, which isn't too long, you know. Four short reading bursts in the evenings after 10 hours at work, and then a whole weekend thrown in - that's a decent timeframe to finish a literary fiction book. But my review should have gone up this past Monday, so I'm posting it a whole week later instead.

This happens to me all the time when I do a book tour. This is why I don't like doing book tours. I tell myself after each tour that I won't do another one. But then a nice looking book comes along and I have to read that. Why can't I just check the library at the same time and try to get the book from there? Or step away from my desk for 10 minutes, then come back and see if I still wanted to read that book?

I had to post this here so that the next time I think of accepting a book with a deadline, I may feel prompted to come back and read this post. The plus side of being so focused on finishing a book is that when you are finally done, it's like coming up for air. As if the finals just ended. Like seeing "The End" after watching one long mind-boggling movie. There's a big sigh of relief. And then, for the first time, you look around and start seeing things. There's a spring in your walk now, because you're not walking around with a big book anymore. You want to do all sorts of things now, before sinking into the next book - maybe some home decor, or knitting, or house projects, or some blogging, some decluttering. That's sort of what my day so far has been like - cooked something yummy for lunch, baked some snickerdoodles, did some knitting, glanced through Stephen King's On Writing, browsed online, stained our back deck, even posted on the blog. Has it been such a productive day already?

The Sunday Salon: A late afternoon post

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Sunday

5.30 pm now. The family is currently couched in the living room, following the Germany-Argentina World Cup final, cheering and groaning occasionally, and most definitely enjoying themselves. It's somewhat of a relief that the games are ending today. Not that the TV will enjoy any quiet - there will always be something else. But my Facebook feed can hopefully get a little quieter and all those World cup references can stop too.

I just enjoyed my first long weekend of my summer hours this year and I'm beginning to feel that three days is the ideal weekend length. The four longer days at work were a lot easier this year, at least this week was, since work was busy and I managed to get enough sleep each night that I wasn't hoping for extra tea/coffee the next morning. I had a spa day on Friday, which the husband had gifted for my birthday last week. I've been telling my husband that I should do it more often - I hope he gets the hint. Saturday, we went to visit our friends and their 4mo happy little kiddo in Raleigh. Today, we had some friends of my father-in-law visit us, so after a very busy couple of days, I'm using this Sunday evening to recoup. Hopefully, some Monopoly games, a cozy dinner, feel-good movie, and a lot of reading are part of the plan.

Currently, I'm reading Stephen Kiernan's The Curiosity, which is turning out to be a mixed bag kind of book. The story's quite intriguing - Kiernan is exploring the idea of reanimating the frozen dead, along with the ethical and social debates around the idea. If you've ever wondered what it's like for a 19th century person to arrive in today's world, then Kiernan covers the idea pretty well. But on the other hand, will this book never end? After reading the first 100 pages, I got the impression that 20 pages could well have told the story thus far. The writing is beautiful though - there are four narrators and the author keeps their personalities very alive in their respective chapters. There's a lot of hinting of things soon going to go very wrong, and I hope this book won't suffer from the case of the too much hyping leading to nothing.

After this, I'm looking forward to taking a break from review books, even though the last few I just read have been outstanding. I picked some good books from the library recently, and it's taking a good amount of my resolve to not start reading each of them before finishing The Curiosity.
  1. The Rice Mother
  2. Evening is the New Day
  3. The Memory of Love
  4. On Writing
Which do you think I should read next?

Have you read The Curiosity? What did you think of it?

What audiobooks not to listen to (In which I try to review a book I didn't understand at all)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Audiobooks are seriously one of the coolest inventions ever, especially when you are a bookworm who always likes to have a nose inside a book. I didn't always feel like that, but I'm glad I do now, because I can listen to an audiobook even when I am in a reading rut.

But once in a while (okay, not that frequently, but so far just one time), I end up listening to a book that may have been brilliant or awesome, if not for the tiny teeny problem that I didn't grasp a single plot thread from it. Normally, when I'm not getting anything out of an audiobook, I unplug my iPod, or eject the disc, or hit the pause button and move on to another audiobook, or, if I didn't have another one, then sing aloud in the car to the radio. But when you got the audiobook via Audible and you have already used up your audiobook return limit, you just have to suck it up and listen to the book, hoping that at some point, magically, everything will be clear to you, and you'll go Ah-a!

That didn't happen.

The book in question is The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. An author that has been read by so many people that I feel like I am one of those people totally missing out on invitations to an elite club. This book specifically has probably been read by at least one person in almost every household. With all that going on this book's resume, I had to try and earn a ticket to the "I read The Joy Luck Club" club.

And I did listen to the book. The entire book. Enough to get me into the club. Except I still feel like I don't know what the book was about. Not the book's fault. Oh well, it is the book's fault since an audiobook should just not have been made for this one.

Because, if a book
  1. Has more than 5 principal characters, or
  2. Has teens as protagonists (Most narrators think that shrieking comes with this territory.), or
  3. Is an epic-ish story

then chances are I'll be scratching my head a lot while I try to understand what the narrator just said.

Oh, and not to mention poor understanding of certain languages or accents. That's not the book's or the narrator's fault, just my poor worldly awareness.

(But it is the narrator's fault if he/she mispronounces words.)

The Joy Luck Club was a Yes for #1 and #3. I think I would have enjoyed the book, if I had chosen to read it. It had a Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (which by the way was one of the first few audiobooks I listened to) feel around it, and the stories that the characters shared were quite engrossing. A few years ago, I would have loved the book but since my tastes have changed a lot, I may have just liked it now. But not having followed the story at all, I cannot say I understood anything. Eventually I did something that is scorned by book and movie fans - I wiki-ed the book! Let's keep that between us, shall we?

So unless you have an amazing capacity to follow more than 8 characters and as many plots, and can distinguish between identical sounding characters (if one narrator can successfully play 8 distinct voices in the same book, that would be a super-human ability!), then this is for you. Otherwise, go for the book. I've heard it's good. Even though I can put this book in my read shelf now, and invite any kind of questions or discussions about this book, I will most likely be that kid in the Physics class who walks out scratching his head thinking what the heck was that all about.

Tell me about your epic audiobook failure. Or about a book you read and still couldn't summarize. It may make me feel relatively better.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Man Called Ove
Ove kept exactly to every speed limit, even on that 50kph road where the recently arrived idiots in suits came tanking along at 90. Among their own houses they put up speed bumps and damnable numbers of signs about 'Children. Playing', but when driving past other people's houses it was apparently less important.

If you wanted to buy only one bouquet for 25 bucks but had to pay 3 bucks extra for using your credit card (because you don't have cash on you), wouldn't you just pay 28 bucks for the whole thing? If you were Ove, you would be so angered by the idea of paying the extra 3 bucks that you would buy an extra bouquet you don't want, for a total of 50 bucks, simply on principle.

A Man Called Ove is the story of an angry grumpy irritable yet very lovable man. He doesn't like people or technology. He will let you know immediately if you ignore or violate a rule, and you will not hear the end of it. All he wants to do is die, that's such a simple thing. Except someone always keeps interrupting his plans. Either they want his help or his opinion. Most of the time, these interruptions come in the guise of his new neighbors, the pregnant foreigner and her lanky husband who cannot reverse a trailer. Pretty soon, his former good friend's wife joins in because said former good friend now has Alzheimer's and the city is talking about taking him to a home. As if that is not enough, there is a cat that frequently hangs around near him and guilt trips him into helping it. Ove doesn't even like cats, so it's very infuriating to be bossed around by a cat. Still, he is persistent to die in his nice jacket. Tomorrow is the day he will manage to do it, for sure.

If you liked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, you will adore this book. If you didn't like it, you will still adore this book. Ove is such a gem of a character. The kind of person who can annoy you with his old man grumpiness but you will get charmed reading about. I don't even want to compare Ove to Harold Fry because the latter's book was quite somber while A Man Called Ove is the most delightful book I've read since Where'd You Go, Bernadette? So if you liked the Bernadette book, you'll love this one.

I am not even sure how to coherently phrase this review, because really I want you all to just get your hands on this book. So forgive me if I sound a little like a bumbling stammering person. I promise you, it's awe for this book that's causing it.

Ove is very eccentric. He hates Japanese cars. He also hates American cars and French cars. In fact, the only car he approves of is the Saab. He has never owned any other car. Whenever he sold his current car, it was always to buy another Saab. He moans that people don't even make cars like that. A good friend of his used to drive a Volvo. But when he bought a BMW one day, that was it. Ove did not talk to him again. According to Ove, there was no coming back from that. Every morning, he had a routine. Even if he was going to die that day, the routine never changed. He went around his neighborhood making sure that bikes were in the shed (if they were not, he put them there), cars were in the garages, dumpster bins were in order, and that everything was exactly the same everyday, just as it should be.

Ove was also a  Mr. Fixit. He pretty much did everything by himself, including building his own home. He has zero respect for today's generation that does not know anything about bleeding radiators or driving a real car. But he is a person who values souvenirs. He is not a materialistic person but give him a squiggly drawing made by your child and he will pin it to his refrigerator. All his eccentricities are funny to read about, but Ove has a reason for each. Why he loves Saab, why he hates white collar people. He is a very righteous man who has had his share of hard times, but he has come back a stronger person because of it.

A Man Called Ove is probably my favorite book this year. It's funny, charming, heartfelt, and moving, not to mention a very nicely paced readable book. It has a very unmixable mix of characters who somehow come together really well. Each chapter title begins with "A Man Called Ove..." and it's fascinating how the author has managed to say so much about this man who initially appears as if he couldn't have any backstory. Most importantly, this book is like someone you can hang out with just to have a really good time.

I received this book for free for review from the publisher, Atria Books, via NetGalley. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman releases in the US on July 15th.
Armchair reading in Sweden