White Teeth

By Zadie Smith

I waited too long to write about this one. I can’t remember much of the plot, but luckily, I’m quite sure the plot wasn’t the point. The characters and relationships in and between the three central families were far more crucial.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book was an inside look at a Muslim family living in England. The gap between tradition and assimilation was beautifully rendered, and for this American white girl, very novel.

There was also a bit set in World War II that I liked, but overall, the plot was forgettable. Zadie Smith’s prose creates more of a painting than a story. It’s a static snapshot of life as it really is, with lowered expectations, forbidden lusts, teenage angst, and incredible monotony.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s not the book that’s monotonous- that’s the real skill in Smith’s narrative. She brings us a reflection of our own lives with a poetic heart.

6/10. Read it if you have time and an appreciation for character driven stories.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

By Junot Diaz

I’ll be the first to admit, I probably didn’t understand half of what is there to be understood in this book. First and foremost, I don’t speak Spanish. Specifically, I don’t speak Dominican slang, snippets of which are sprinkled throughout the narration and dialogue. Now I could have stopped every time I came across a word I didn’t know, but let’s face it, I’d never have made it to page 50. So I made do with context.

Secondly, I’m pretty nerdy, but I’m not a late 80’s nerd, so many of the more obscure Sci-Fi references flew over my head. But my own ignorance of the “Genres” (as the author refers to them) actually reinforces the main character’s ostricization. Even in his day, Oscar was out-of-touch with what was popular. That is part of the tragedy.

But the great thing about this book is that the tragedy is so… okay. Oscar ultimately accepts (without resignation) his detached existence and finds strength in it.

It’s a wonderful story about how life just happens sometimes. It’s not really nice or pretty, but Oscar takes responsibility for how it goes down. In the end, he can face his early doom without fear or regret or blaming it all on old Dominican curses.

7.5/10. Probably better if you speak Spanish, though. Also, “Wao,” in case you don’t understand why they call him this at all, is how “Wilde” is pronounced in a Dominican accent.

This has been an installment of Ansley Spoils Books.


By David Mitchell

Ok, David Mitchell. Seriously? I was enjoying that, and then you just had to go an end it. I would’ve stuck with you for another 300 pages if you’d have left things a little more resolved.

Maybe you were making a statement about life and how it just keeps going. Or whatever. But we didn’t even find out if this virus worked!!  Even a few more sentences might have sufficed.

Frustration with the ending aside, I loved this.

At our opening, Eiji (kind, but not the brightest) has just arrived in Tokyo to search out the father he has never met.  From there, Mitchell spins us an improbable tale made of mobsters, video games, Beatles tunes, and cigarettes.

Mitchell’s use of dream sequences, interjected short fiction stories, and wholly outrageous plot twists kept me continually on my toes, wondering what was real and what was the protagonist’s strange fantasies. I feel like I have to retread it immediately to catch all the things I probably missed.

I’m not gonna, at least not just now. But you should!

9/10 (one point subtracted because it should have been longer)

This has been an installment of Ansley Spoils Books.

Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

The surprise ending was not at all surprising.

This has been a retroactive installment of Ansley Spoils Books. This novel read by me in May 2011.

Little Bee

By Chris Cleave

Half-way through this reading book, I was trying to recommend it to a friend of mine, but I couldn’t recall the author’s name.

I’m so rarely staring at the cover when I’m reading a book.

So I dug my book out of my bag to give my friend what I was sure would be a woman’s name, and was completely blown away when I realized this book was by a man. The two female narrators are so well written, so well thought out, so sympathetic to my womanly soul I thought “No. Surely not. No man wrote these women.” He’s even straight.

We have one narrator, a refugee from Nigeria, who spent years in an immigration prison, and is released into  the UK countryside with no money, no friends, and little to recommend her besides a firm grasp of English. Her fear is pervasive and all encompassing. Everywhere she goes, she makes mental notes of how she can kill herself “when the men come” because a quick death is easier than what they would certainly do to her. But her fear is not panicked or irrational. She knows true horror, and they are old acquaintances.

My ability to relate to such a character is limited. I’m a well-off little American white girl whose experience with fear consists of walking alone through Brooklyn.

However, the other narrator is a suburban career-woman with a small child and a failing marriage that recently came to a violent end when her husband killed himself. While thankfully not mine, her life and situation is much easier to imagine. Her insights into love, marriage, bravery, children, friendship, and life-after-tragedy are poignant and not overbearing.

The most dramatic scene is a flashback to when these two women met for the first time on a beach in Nigeria. You’ll just have to read it, but it really makes you wonder if you would cut off just one of your own fingers to save the ENTIRE life of an innocent stranger - and what it means about you if you wouldn’t.

If you’re a woman, read it. If you’re a man, read it, but I think some of the nuance will be lost on you. 9/10.

This has been a retroactive installment of Ansley Spoils Books. This novel read by me in June 2011.

The Hunger Games Trilogy

By Suzanne Collins

I read The Hunger Games just for fun. I wasn’t expecting any great depth of meaning, and I didn’t get any.

Entertaining, yes. Makes me want to rough it out in the woods? Yeah, kind of. Definitely the first book anyway. But a completely one dimensional heroine is just not enough to hold my interest for three books and 800 pages. By the end, I could’ve cared less about her life, and I was entirely passive on the rebellion against the dystopic society.

The love triangle made it just possible to press on until the end. Who will she end up with? Will I throw the book across the room because both guys ought to go running for the hills rather than get mixed up in this chick’s layers of thorny baggage? She’s kind of a bitch.

4/10. You won’t widen any horizons here, but the first book is a good mindless beach read. 

This has been an retroactive installment of Ansley Spoils Books. This book read in August 2011.

Slaughterhouse Five

By Kurt Vonnegut

Anti-war plus Sci-Fi. Billy Pilgrim, a World War II veteran (if we’re being liberal with the term), is “unstuck in time” and experiences different points in his life over and over and in a seemingly random (though, I’m sure, not to Mr. Vonnegut) order. Death is not sad because, as aliens point out to Billy, when you see in four dimensions, you see all time at once, so when you look at a moment in which someone is dead, it’s just a bad moment at which for them to be seen.

Kind of like those days you can’t make yourself shower or get out of your pajamas; those days when really, for as much good as you did in the world, you may as well have not existed.

At least that’s how passively Billy takes it all.

Interestingly, even though Billys journey is in four dimensions, he (being a mere Earthling) could only see in three. So he still experienced linear time, but all wonkified.

Now, Billy nor the author explicitly explore that aspect. They are too much concerned with being passive and (with good reason) the destruction of Dresden. So it goes.

I liked it. 6/10

Part of a new series called, Ansley Spoils Books.