Saturday, February 5, 2011

Review #6: Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century

I read this weeks ago, and I've just been too busy/lazy/indifferent to it to post about it until now. I was really looking forward to this book--I'd wanted to read it since last summer, but I had trouble getting my hands on it until I was home on break. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to my expectations at all. I love reading about old-school Hollywood, and I love Elizabeth Taylor. I thought this book was going to be a juicy and scandalous look into both, but it fell flat for me on both counts.

The title is fairly self-explanatory: the book chronicles the relationship of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the love of her life. They were married and divorced twice, and their relationship is widely considered to be one of the most scandalous the world has ever seen. This book should have been incredibly interesting. It wasn't.

A huge part of this is the writing. I actually googled the authors, Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, to find out who they were and why anyone would let them write. Kashner is apparently a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and Schoenberger is a creative writing professor at William and Mary...which really does not say much about the state of their English department. This was truly horrible writing. Repetitive, awkwardly worded, filled with forced metaphors and unnecessary, unimportant details. I have a very hard time ignoring bad writing, so I really couldn't enjoy any of the (few) merits the rest of the book had.

It does do a good job of overviewing the individual lives and careers of Taylor and Burton, and does reveal some fascinating facts about their relationship. I just feel that the authors had so much to draw from, and really didn't succeed in presenting their material in an appealing and interesting way. I'm so disappointed. In the hands of more talented writers, this could have been exactly what I wanted it to be: a frivolous and fun read. Instead, it was tedious and a chore to get through.

I really wouldn't recommend this book. You can get the same information on Wikipedia, and it's probably better written there.

Review #5: The Book Thief

The Book Thief is another book I'd been meaning to read for months, but only got around to picking up when I was home on break. For some reason, I expected this book to be very different than it actually was--I think I was sort of put off by the cover, which (to me at least) gives off a very different vibe from the novel itself.

The book is set in Nazi-era Germany, just before the onset of World War II. It is the story of Liesel, a young girl who loses her mother and younger brother at an early age, and is sent to live with a foster family in the small town of Molching. This couple, the Hubermanns, are struggling to balance their own values and beliefs with the need to conform to the Nazi party in order to survive. This becomes more difficult when Max, the Jewish son of an old army friend of Hans Hubermann's, shows up at their doorstep, asking for asylum.

It's kind of hard to summarize the rest of the story without giving too much away. The majority of the plot focuses on Liesel's relationships, mostly with the men in her life: Max, her beloved foster father, and her best friend, Rudy. There is also an underlying plot line centered on books. Liesel is an avid reader, and the novel is framed by the books she acquires throughout her childhood--some given, some stolen.

One of the most unique aspects of the story is that it is narrated by Death, who is a character in its own right. It has a very distinct voice, and presents the events of the story from his point of view, interjecting frequently with observations and opinions, and often giving the reader previews of what is to come. It was an interesting choice on the part of Markus Zusak, and might sound odd to someone who hasn't read the book. It works very well though, and given the context of the setting, it's very appropriate.

I'm having a hard time articulating how much I loved this book. It's truly beautiful--that's the only word I can find to describe it. Zusak is an incredible writer, and has a wonderful way of words. On literally every page there was at least one phrase or description that made me wish I had written it. Beyond that though, this book has an unbelievable emotional impact. There are very few books that push me to tears, and this was one of them. The sad moments come like punches in the gut, but they are balanced by moments of humor and hope that are just as poignant. I haven't stopped thinking about it since I finished it--just writing this review is making me teary again. I also think that this has earned a spot among the books that I will revisit again, simply because I loved it so much.

I can't recommend this book highly enough.