Review: Tell The Wolves I’m Home

Rating:¬†‚ėÖ‚ėÖ¬†1/2

A few years ago, I kept hearing wonderful things about Carol Rifka Brunt’s¬†Tell the Wolves I’m Home.¬†Brunt’s literary debut ended up on multiple “Best of 2012” lists including the¬†Wall Street Journal¬†and O: The Oprah Magazine.

In a lot of ways, I couldn’t tell what this book was or wanted to be. Tell The Wolves I’m Home¬†fell somewhere¬†between adult and young adult fiction; fairy tale and realism; enjoyable and not¬†enjoyable

Set in the 1980s, the novel centers around 14-year-old June Elbus and her coming of age. June has never felt like she belongs — not in her family, now that her sister Greta can’t seem to stand her; not in the suburbs; not in this time period. When she loses her Uncle Finn, the only person to truly see who see is and loves her for it, June finds herself lost with more questions than answers. Soon, she meets Toby, a man who knew and loved Finn just as much as she did. With the help of her new friend, June reluctantly learns how to navigate grief, growing up, and family dynamic.

I liked the book enough, but I just did not love it in the way that everyone else seemed to. I didn’t think the characters were well-established, especially Greta and Toby. It wasn’t until late in the book that I even started to feel anything close to sympathy (and even empathy) for Greta. She was so mean to June, almost mercilessly so, and we only got little glimpses of kindness–and those glimpses were not enough. Toby was also not well-drawn–we barely learn anything about him except that he cares for June, loved Finn with his whole heart, and has a checkered past. He is introduced as “the man at the funeral” and we don’t end up learning much more.

June was well-developed and her pain was palpable throughout the entire novel. She also has a secret she can hardly admit to herself: she is in love with her Uncle Finn, a man who could never and would never love her in that way. What would have read as crass in another novel felt like a naive girl misunderstanding loving someone and being in love; who felt things too deeply and was too romantic for her own good; who misses her uncle and greedily attempts to find pieces of him wherever she can (even at the expense of others). June’s shame and sadness felt so real that those portions of the book read as confessional poetry.

Honestly, what I liked most about the novel is the thing I can talk about least as I don’t want to spoil it. This part of the plot unfolds slowly and involves June, Greta, and their mother. It takes a long time to reach the resolution but it is well worth the wait. It was a triumphant way of showing how all of these women are connected not only to each other, but to Finn, the man they lost and miss terribly. It was a great reminder that even when we truly believe we are one way that we have to power to change that and recreate ourselves.

Favorite Quotes

“Because maybe I don’t want to leave the planet invisible. Maybe I need at least one person to remember something about me.”

‚ÄúI had no idea how greedy my heart really was.‚ÄĚ

“Greta said he looked like a small gray mother wrapped in a gray spider’s web. That’s because everything about Greta is more beautiful, even the way she says things.”

‚ÄúThere was at least some small beauty in what we‚Äôd done.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúI felt like I had proof that not all days are the same length, not all time has the same weight. Proof that there are worlds and worlds and worlds on top of worlds, if you want them to be there.‚ÄĚ

Final Thoughts

I liked¬†Tell the Wolves I’m Home¬†enough but I felt a little cheated. Certain plot lines cropped up only to trail off. It felt like every part of June’s life was touched on but most of it was surface-level engagement. The book left me wanting more in a bad way. It seems like I was down on this novel but I thought it was fine. Nothing great but certainly not bad.

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Have you read¬†Tell the Wolves I’m Home? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Am I just a heartless reader who misunderstood the purpose of Carol Rifka Brunt’s literary debut?

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Review: The Reader

Rating:¬†‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ

Bernhard Schlink’s¬†The Reader¬†is told from the point of view of Michael Berg, a grown man looking back on his youth. After falling ill during his walk home from school, Michael meets Hanna, the 34-year-old woman who nurses him back to health. Soon they find themselves embroiled in an affair until Hanna disappears. The next time he sees her, Michael is a law student and Hanna is on trial for an unspeakable crime. Set in post-war Germany,¬†The Reader¬†weaves a tale of eroticism, morality, secrecy, and shame.

While I enjoyed the aestheticism of Schlink’s¬†writing, there was a coldness and standoff nature to the prose. It felt like everything was being kept at arms length–even when we witnessed (fleeting) moments of tenderness or even lovemaking between the characters. It always felt like there was a shroud between me and the book. I think this is both a thematic and stylistic choice. By not inviting his readers all the way in, we are forced to maintain¬†an objectivity that seems impossible for the characters.

While readings, I could not quite pinpoint what about this book I could not love and I think I just figured it out: it left me unsettled in multiple ways. The sexual and emotional relationship between 15-year-old Michael and 34-year-old Hanna. The horrific and inhuman crimes of the Holocaust. The inability to feel empathy for most (if any) of the characters. The way the plot swings from mundane to monstrous in a thematic pendulum.

The writing was beautiful but the story deeply disturbed me, which I guess is the mark of good literature. Books that affect you deeply and without remorse. There was a lot to like about¬†The Reader – particularly, for me, was Schlink’s meditation on the powerful nature of memory – but I couldn’t bring myself to love it. There just wasn’t enough humanity in the characters, or perhaps paradoxically there was too much humantity (as well as inhumanity) in them.

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Favorite Quotes

“Her face as it was then has been overlaid in my memory by all the faces she had later.”

“She had looked like an old woman and smelled like an old woman. I hadn’t noticed her voice at all. Her voice had stayed young.”

“But at a certain¬†point the memory of her stopped accompanying me wherever I went. She stayed behind, the way a city stays behind as a train pulls out of the station. It’s there, somewhere behind you, and you could go back and make sure of it. But why should you?”

Final Thoughts

Overall,¬†The Reader¬†is a quiet and well-written novel exploring morality and the limits of human forgiveness. Schlink’s exploration of memory – and the way it governs our lives but also fails us constantly – were the strongest passages of the book. While I believe it is a worthy addition to the¬†Holocaust Canon, I cannot say it is one of my favorites.

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Have you read The Reader or seen the movie? If so, do you agree/disagree with my review? If not, do you plan on reading it in the future?

Review: Hatching Twitter

Rating:¬†‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ1/2

For a book about Twitter, it would be apt to keep this review under 140 characters, but I’m far too wordy and this book was far too good for that.

Nick Bilton’s¬†Hatching Twitter¬†was the first book I read in 2016 and it was a perfect start.¬†Hatching Twitter¬†was full of¬†drama, betrayal, and power dynamics. It was also fast-paced and riveting.

It’s impossible to not compare this book to The Social Network, the film about the tumultuous founding of Facebook. The tagline of the movie is¬†“you don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies,” and I’ve come up with a few possible taglines for the book:

“You don’t get to 200 million users without losing every single friend you have.”
“The male ego creates monsters.”
“Who let these guys inadvertently change social media, news, and the world?”

The book follows the four founders of Twitter¬†‚ÄĒ¬†Evan Williams, Noah Glass, Jack Dorsey, and Biz Stone¬†‚ÄĒ¬†as they stumble their way into creating one of the greatest websites of all time.

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At the beginning of the novel, they’re a group of separate-yet-connected Silicon Valley tech nerds chasing fame, evading loneliness, and trying to make their mark on the world. By the end,¬†each of the four founders have been ousted from the company they created and most are no longer on speaking terms with each other. It reads like a Shakespearean tragedy (minus the murder)¬†‚ÄĒ¬†a testament to Bilton’s writing and reporting.

The book’s structure¬†‚ÄĒ¬†short vignettes focusing on each of the founders¬†‚ÄĒ¬†mirrors the theme and plot: each character has their moment before¬†another character steals the spotlight (or CEO role at Twitter).

The core power struggle is Ev and Jack’s fundamental philosophies of what Twitter was. Jack believed it was a way to update one’s status, to focus on the “me” and “I,” not the collective “we.” Whereas Ev believe it was a way to learn about other people¬†‚ÄĒ¬†what they were doing and where they were. It seemed like the smallest difference in vision, but it was everything. And, like Bilton, I agree that Twitter would not exist without both of these philosophies. Ev and Jack are the yin and yang on which Twitter was founded and the bedrock of everything that has happened since.

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It’s amazing how much I felt for some of these men and how little I felt for others. The amount of empathy I felt for Ev and Noah was only matched by my disdain for Jack. Each of them are smart, passionate, power-hungry, tech-saavy, and¬†‚ÄĒ¬†perhaps above all else ‚ÄĒ¬†lonely. It is the loneliness that drives them to create the web’s ultimate symbol of connection: Twitter.

Favorite Quotes

“There he would teach himself how to write code, his only friends¬†the crickets he could hear gathered around the garage cheering him on as he learned to speak a language only computers could understand.”

“Noah wanted to succeed, to break radio and put it back together again.”

“If you were able to look closely enough at Commander Hadfield’s photo, zooming into the intricate web of city streets, houses, and office, buildings, the parks and beaches, you would be able to see Jack, Ev, BIz, and Noah wandering the city¬†‚ÄĒ¬†separately, together.”

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Final Thoughts

This book read as quickly as a Twitter timeline and that’s a compliment. It’s a portrait of a company and the four men who founded it,¬†and the ways they hurt each other (consciously or unconsciously) to get to the top. These men display a¬†type¬†of ambition that I cannot frankly understand¬†‚ÄĒ¬†the ambition that rots you from the inside out.¬†Hatching Twitter¬†was an amazing read that gives a¬†glimpse into the brutal, bloody history of one of the greatest websites ever created, and the men who destroyed themselves and each other for a taste of infamy.