Library Books Enjoyed, 11/7/13: Grown-up Edition

From a confluence of circumstances, I have checked out and read several books over the past few weeks that were for me, not the kids. The first was one I must have put on hold after reading a review–I didn’t remember it at all when I got the hold notification. But it blew me away when I read it:
Levels of LifeLevels of Life by Julian Barnes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was devastating and amazing, both in the way that Barnes artfully integrated history, fiction, and lament and in the raw emotion. This is an extremely difficult book to categorize but was a completely worthwhile read.

Ok, I obviously didn’t put much time into reviewing this on Goodreads. Here’s a little more about the book and my reading experience. I had read one other Julian Barnes book, The Sense of an Ending, which I appreciated as a literary work that had won the Man Booker prize, but didn’t think much of personally. (I think I’ve come to realize that I’m not good at reading unreliable narrator books, because I just inherently trust the narrator.) I didn’t really know what this one was about, and I didn’t know if I would like it or not.

It starts off with a brief history of some early balloonists whose various paths happen to cross and which leads to the first aerial photograph being taken…a phenomenon that might not seem like a huge deal until astronauts take a picture of the Earth from space.

The second part is a fictional account of one of the balloonist’s love affair with actress Sarah Berhardt. Trust me, it ties in.

Finally (although this section is the longest), the book is a lament about the death of Barne’s wife. This part was very raw and straightforward, but it drew on metaphors and emotions from the first two parts. I can’t very well describe it any better, except to repeat that I was blown away.

This is not a happy or very hopeful book, but I wholeheartedly recommend it.

The other two I picked up as I try to again ramp up my reading of YA fiction and (right now) particularly graphic novels:
Boxers (Boxers & Saints)Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really moving account of China’s Boxer Rebellion from one of the peasant-warriors. Interesting how it showed the ways that colonialism/the spread of Christianity hurt many of the people in the countryside, and also the supernatural beliefs that strengthened the fighters. Be warned that the ending is tragic. I’m interested to read Saints, the companion book, as well as (eventually) some actual history of the rebellion.

Saints (Boxers & Saints)Saints by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Was itching to read this after I finished Boxers, and it was very good–I read it in one evening (it helps that it’s a lot shorter than Boxers!). This provided an interesting look at a Chinese Christian experience during the Boxer Rebellion. I thought I knew how it would end, from reading Boxers, but you actually learn a little more about Bao’s story at the end of Vibiana’s.

View all my reviews

For those of you keeping track at home, yes, this means my French reading project is way behind. But that’s up next on the docket, so hopefully I can update in the next week or two.