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review 2017-05-10 16:10
Book 28/100: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler
I never knew when I picked this book up that the identity of Fern was supposed to be a "twist" -- the review I read that piqued my interest gave it away, and that's what made me want to read the book. Ironically, I probably would not have picked it up had I not known the "twist" beforehand!

But I am glad that I did pick it up. I hadn't realized that this was written by the same person who wrote The Jane Austen Book Club, which I found to be a bit too cutesy and not particularly enjoyable, and at first knowing that put me off a bit. However, I found this book to be much more substantial and introspective, and demonstrative of Fowler's growth as a writer in tone and themes.

This book was less about the experience of living with Fern than I expected, and more about the way her short time with the Cooke family impacted them for decades even after she disappeared. The narrator was only five when Fern disappeared from her family, so she perhaps had the most difficulty truly making sense of what had happened and why. Her social interactions remained awkward and she felt isolated throughout most of her life, always compensating for unusual formative years and the impact Fern had on them. Unable to see the "big picture," she also blamed herself for Fern's disappearance, which was reinforced by her brother's interpretation of events.

Fern, brother Lowell, Rosemary (the narrator), and her friend Harlow are incredibly vivid characters -- the rest of the characters less so, to the extent that I sometimes had trouble keeping track of them or remembering who was who. The non-linear storytelling style can also take some getting used to, and because the book is very reflective in nature, there is a lot that is conveyed in summary and memory rather than in direct action. The narrative style seemed appropriate to the storyteller and the story she was attempting to convey, and the book's powerful themes about family, the importance of formative experiences, the response to grief, the isolation of an unconventional childhood, activism and animal rights more than made up for its minor weaknesses. It's the type of book that will make you want to read more about the subject matter, which always counts as a win for me even if it places further strain on my massive TBR list. Ever-expanding intellectual curiosity is fun, if a bit overwhelming. :)
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review 2017-02-23 20:08
Sarah Canary - Karen Joy Fowler

As one of the characters, B.J. Voisard, might describe it, this story is exactly like the quest for the grail, except it takes place in late 19th century America instead of medieval England, and instead of a grail there’s a  mysterious woman with an unknown past who can’t speak, and instead of valiant knights there are a Chinese migrant, a suffragette, and an escapee from an insane asylum on quests to help her. Otherwise, it’s the exact same story.


The book is rich in detail and meticulously researched. The SF elements are more of an open question and it isn’t heavy on plot. The writing is excellent but the characters, quirky and memorable, make the book, particularly for me, the aforementioned B.J. Voisard. If you don’t find them engaging, this book really isn’t for you.

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review 2016-11-27 00:00
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler I'm not sure what to think of this book... It was okay. It irritated the shit out of me with it's big pretentious words that even my kindle dictionary couldn't help! The narrative style reminds me of someone I know who likes being "mysterious" and only manages to be irritating... she takes forever to make a point or tell a story! The story was super interesting, so kudos for that. It could have been much better though...
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review 2016-08-31 14:12
The movie was better than the book. Yeah, I said it.
The Jane Austen Book Club - Karen Joy Fowler

Needed a change of pace book after a couple of heavier and a bit of downer books in a row or books that really weren't very good. Was not expecting a masterpiece but I spotted this book on Book Outlet and thought it would be a nice, pleasant read that might not be amazing but since I enjoyed the movie I thought this would be a pleasant distraction. And since I have not seen the movie in years (I'm also not sure if I ended up watching the whole film) I thought there would be no problems with comparing the two.


Unfortunately from what I remember the movie and book are very different. The premise is the same: it's a book about a Jane Austen book club. Each member is responsible for one of the novels and the group (mostly women and one man) gets together to discuss them. As they discuss the book of the month the reader also gets backstory of that particular member. From what I remember of the movie it was more of an intertwined narrative instead of sectioning off the book for each member.


I should have known I was in trouble when I felt the need to look up the movie to remember each of the members. I'm a visual person but unfortunately the author is not strong enough to really make each member very distinct. Some have more interesting backstories than others. But I found myself relying on the movie and the actors/actresses to help me remember who was who and what the stories were.


This is definitely a case where the cast of the movie really lifted the material (which I think probably came out better via Hollywood's script nicks and tucks and rearranging). I couldn't really care for most of the characters, didn't find their thoughts about Jane Austen/the books interesting and just didn't find what I was hoping for in any form in the book.


I just wasn't a fan especially when a sexual assault and a type of sexual...blackmail (not sure what would truly and correctly describe the second incident occur within the first 25 pages of my paperback version. There is some detail to the first but not exactly for the second (it's a bit vague hence my hesitation on what to precisely call it) but in retrospect I'm not sure the exact purpose was, other than for this chick lit book to cover as many wide-ranging topics as possible. After this I just couldn't get into the book as I also so it just wasn't going to get better either.


I'm normally of the "the book is better than the movie!!!!" school but this is definitely an exception to the rule. Skip the book, watch the movie instead.

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review 2016-07-25 12:14
Women Who Read Are Dangerous
Women Who Read Are Dangerous - Stefan Bollman,Karen Joy Fowler

This is a beautifully made book; one that feels lovely in the hands and it's a pleasure to leaf through the pages and admire the art.


I just shouldn't have read it.


Full disclosure:


1.  I was expecting a different premise based on the synopsis I read.  I had the impression that this would be a collection of art anecdotally tied to the strides women have made throughout history as it relates to the time period each piece was created.  That misconception is on me.


2.  The sum total of my knowledge about art is limited to recognising the work of a 'top 10' master when I see it.  I'm not sure it goes much further than that.  That too, is on me.


With those two points in mind, I was disappointed by this book; I was hoping to learn something about the artists, about what was going on with women when these pieces were created, or what effect books and spreading literacy was having on society in general.  Instead, I learned - or was reminded, really - what a pretentious prat sounds like.


I almost didn't include that last line in this review, because it feels fundamentally unfair:  I don't know this writer, I don't know that he's a pretentious prat.  Perhaps he's regurgitating what is considered canon in the the art world.  Maybe he has primary source material that backs up the assertions he makes about the paintings he includes.  It might even be a bad translation - it was originally written in German.


All I have to go by is what I'm reading on the page and my interpretation is totally and completely subjective.


BUT - so is art.  it's possible it's the most subjective of all mediums, and Bollman delivers his opinions as though they were objective fact.  On page after page he tells the reader what they're seeing: from the emotions on the faces of the subjects to the meaning of trivial objects in the backgrounds.  He offers no explanation for his interpretations, almost no background information about the painters themselves and nothing about the society they were written in.  Any of these things would have made his narrative more palatable, more educational, and given the reader more to consider while studying the pieces.  Instead, he just tells us what we're meant to think.


So, I figure, if he can look at a painting and tell me what it means, I can read his words and tell him he sounds like a pretentious prat, and we'll call it even.

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