Family Reads: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

 Welcome to Family Reads! Family Reads is a monthly feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book. Posts with a link-up go live on the last Sunday of each month, so feel free to grab the banner and join in however you like.


Reno: I’m back again with my Mom this month! The original plan was to discuss Annihilation with my sister, but we couldn’t co-ordinate a time for discussion so that’s been pushed to June. This is why I read The Sisters Brothers – because Mom had recently finished it and I could read it quickly, so that we could discuss it for the end of this month! I remember spotting the book at Costco and liking the cover. 

Mom: I read this book because second daughter (Reno’s sister) recommended it as a change from what I normally read.

Mom and I differed in our ratings for this one – I give it 2.5 stars; Mom gives it 3.5 stars. Why we gave these ratings is indirectly discussed in the second part of our discussion. You’ll get more out of this discussion if you’ve read the book (spoilers ahead!). Here is some of our discussion on Westerns, odd characters, and the conclusion.

He paused to study my words. he wished to check if they were sincere, I knew, but could not think of a way to ask without sounding overly concerned. The joy went out of him then, and his eyes for a time could not meet mine. I thought, We can all of us be hurt, and no one is exclusively safe from worry and sadness. (48)

On Westerns:

Reno: So, have you ever read a Western?
Mom: No, I never thought the whole cowboys and Indians shtick would appeal to me (the closest I’ve come is romances set on sprawling country estates)
Reno: In that sense, this book isn’t really a Western.
Mom: It’s not classic Western, but Western in that it takes place in the old West, describing the time of the Gold Rush.
Reno: Should we then use the word Western to describe it? When I saw the word western in the description, my interest dropped a few notches.
Mom: The setting is just Old West, it’s not really Western. It’s an interesting time period but I wouldn’t say “That was a good Western.” “Pays homage to the classic western” (says the back of the book) is a good description.

On Odd Characters (AKA What is this story about?)

Reno: One of the discussion questions in the back of my copy is “Several odd characters have an impact on the story, including the weeping man, the witch and the poisonous little girl. What is their function in the story?”
Mom: I don’t remember the poisonous girl.
Reno: She was in the intermissions, which I didn’t really understand.
Mom: Me neither. Was the weeping man the guy who made the coffee out of dirt?
Reno: Haha, no, that’s another character. They just see the weeping man every now and then.
Mom: I don’t remember him at all.
Reno: How about the witch?
Mom: I don’t remember…oh at the house.
Reno: She did some sort of curse, protection thing.
Mom: I don’t know, she was a little bit interesting…it was odd.
Reno: Yeah, at one point I had to pause and make a note – “This is an odd story.”
Mom: Yeah, there wasn’t any connectivity to what’s going on. Maybe it’s just about the people they meet on their journey. The story is just about a journey, not about killing Warm. Like a mild version of Thelma and Louise, haha.
Reno: I don’t like it much. It felt to me also like nothing was really connected. But, that’s not usually case, in a book. Usually everything has something to do with something (or at least, the reader can make it that way). So I think I just wasn’t interested enough to figure out what was going, or what the significance of these characters was. The story wasn’t very interesting to me until they found the diary.
Mom: I think the story is just about this journey and about the characters who cross your path…the story is at the end when you put it all together. Written in hindsight, looking back, setting in the Old West, writing down a story. There’s not necessary a thread that goes through everything. It’s more like a tree, where some branches cross but they don’t really affect each other.
Reno: Do you like that kind of story?
Mom: Sometimes…yeah, I liked this one. I really liked Eli.
Reno: Right, you didn’t remember half of the little characters, haha.
Mom: No, I like more the story of Eli.
Reno: I also kind of liked Eli by the end. But for me it was all that random stuff I didn’t find interesting or relevant.

Mom: I just cut away the stuff I don’t like, I don’t really retain it. I don’t remember the random dull bits. I just remember the pieces I liked. 
Reno: Yeah, those bits seems to have no impact on the story….but I wonder if we just missed something? If we weren’t thinking hard enough. I like my stories to be a little obvious (say the Murakami fan…) 
Mom: Well, this was just a story about two brothers – one dominant, one subservient, one with high self esteem and one with low. Eli just goes along with Charlie to look after him. He doesn’t have anything else to do, Charlie likes to be the boss man.
Reno: This was more leaning towards literary fiction than I was expecting…I was expecting more of an action adventure. Still literary, but with more…I thought it was going to be more about their business, when it was really just more about them as a people. This is the end of the story, kind of for them, and I think I would have been in the beginning or the middle. There were also little bits about Eli like not exactly losing his temper but gtting into like ‘fighting mood’ just to protect Charlie. Tiny hints of how they go about their job, but you never actually see them do anything like that. There’s never any moments where they’re actually doing their job. The times when they kill people is incidental.
Mom: Yes, because it’s here at the ‘end’ of their story that they gained insight about the why behind what they’re doing. 

On the Conclusion

Mom: Boys always run home to mama, haha. I don’t know, it just seemed to kind of end. Now mom’s resigned to the fact that they’re back.
Reno: And Charlie lost his hand…I wonder if that was the only thing that could stop him from doing his job?
Mom: Yeah, because he knows there’s no out. He couldn’t make that decision voluntarily even if he wanted to. So they just go home, because now what? Maybe mom will look after them.
Reno: Also, Eli kills the Commodore. He seems to do it like how they planned, making it look accidental. Do you think they’re off scotch free now?
Mom: Yeah. I don’t think the other men who work for the Commodre are all that smart (look at Charlie and Eli, up until now, at least). They just follow orders. They don’t think for themselves. They wouldn’t have any reason to believe he didn’t just drown.
Reno: I agree, they don’t have to worry. I like to think that because I like happy resolved endings sometimes!
Mom: I don’t think it’s a happy ending. You lost your hand, you have no skills, what are you going to do…
Reno: Eli wants to open a shop. But then his mom’s right, they don’t have any money…Well, I guess it’s especially not so happy for Charlie.
Mom: Charlie’s going to end up killing himself. His sense of self-worth was so tied up in his value to the Commodore and his skill in killing, but now that’s gone.
Reno: Yeah, it’s very clear in the story – as soon as his hand was ruined he shut down. I was thinking of the ending from Eli’s point of view, more so… He’s got out of it all, though I guess the catch is they don’t have any money so he can’t start the shop…but he doesn’t have to the job anymore, which was the priority for him throughout the novel.
Mom: They have a roof over their head, at least.

The Sisters Brothers gave us lots of food for thought. What do you think this story is really about? What do you make of the cast of characters?If you’ve written a Family Reads post this month, add your link here.

Armchair BEA: Character Chatter

Time for my last BEA post! I’m off on a trip in about half an hour so this post is coming straight off the top of my head.

Characters are important to me while reading, but often when I think back on what I liked about a book it’s not the characters I think of. There are few characters that stand out in my memory as being significant to me in some way beyond their presence in the story. So, who are some of my favourite characters? I’ve always loved Mo from the Inkheart books, especially as he becomes more complex throughout the trilogy. As a kid, I loved that Cornelia Funke didn’t simplify or perfect the adults in those stories. I read Kafka on the Shore as a teenager and was startled to find how well I identified with Kafka – he’s one of the only characters where I’ve thought “Wow, he’s got, he’s me”. Of course, the major exception to my poor character memory is Tolkien. He has so many stand out characters in The Lord of the Rings alone. My standard response for favourites are Faramir, Sam, Eowyn, Pippin and Galadriel.  The only other favourite character that immediately comes to mind is Ore from White is for Witching. I’ve always thought she’d make a good friend.

‘Likeability’ of characters is pretty important to me. I love dastardly, villainous characters, and not all characters need to be likeable, but there needs to be at least one character in a book that I can get behind, however major or minor their role (hopefully they are a continue presence in the story, at least). I think this is why I couldn’t get invested in Game of Thrones or The Magicians. The characters were all terrible! (Though I did like Daenerys a bit… I’m still rooting for her.)

Ah, I’ve gotten this far and I haven’t mentioned diversity yet!  Only one character I listed as a favourite could be considered diverse >.> (Kafka is a Japanese boy in Japan, so I’m not counting him.) I’m a little ashamed to say I don’t actively seek out books with diverse characters…I appreciate and value their existence, but I just read whatever sounds interesting to me. I like to think that leads me to diversity, because I’m not interested in reading about the latest twist on the special white girl, romantically troubled cisgender man, or other cookie cutter characters. However, looking on my recent reads, I’ve been reading many books with diverse plots but with few diverse characters… I need to pay more attention to the diversity in the books I do read, and perhaps prioritize some of the more diverse books on my TBR shelf.

How important are characters to you in novels? Do you often remember them past the final pages?

Armchair BEA: Social Media

Today’s topic is very timely! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my usage of social media. Time to use today as an outlet for those thoughts to spill out into a blog.

Lately I’ve been feeling fraught about my relationship with social media (not just in relation to blogging, so please bear with me as I ramble a bit). Usually I get in this mood a couple times a year and clear out the blogs, YouTubers, Facebook feeds, Twitter users, etc. that I’m following, but in the past few months the feeling’s been at its strongest. I recognize the value of social media (primarily, in networking and connecting, as today’s prompt notes) but often I feel like I let it have too much control over me. Recently I stopped using Tumblr (directly…). I deleted the rarely-used Tumblr that I set up to accompany my blog, but I couldn’t bring myself to delete my main Tumblr and I still follow some blogs through RSS. I have resolved never to set foot on the Tumblr website proper (surprisingly, so far so good!). I also scaled back the users I follow on my main Twitter account, and should really do this with my blogging account. Do I really need to follow so many publishers, booksellers, etc. when I already have so many ways of getting book news? I think I concern myself too much with missing out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to use my time and when/why I started spending so much time on the computer. It’s difficult to tell if it’s when I got my own personal computer, or if it was just an inevitable progression of my interests, tied to ‘growing up’ or something else entirely. I just know I spend far my more time online now than I did before high school. Sometimes I can’t fathom how people live without Twitter, YouTube, etc. but isn’t that a silly thought? It’s definitely possible. When I’m forcibly cut off from these things (generally by going on a trip) I have no problem marking everything from while I was gone ‘as read’ and picking up from there. Anyway. Essentially, I want to spend less time online and more time reading (including comics and short stories and things I don’t usually ‘have time’ for), writing (which I rarely do nowadays・, and leisurely past times like listening to music and colouring. Being in Japan hasn’t made it easy for me to loosen my connectivity addiction, because I use it as a sort of coping method. I rarely used Facebook in Canada, but here I’m on it all the time because so many other people here use it a lot. Hopefully I will be able to sever some of these constant connections and come out refreshed when I return home.

Getting back specifically to social media and its relation to my blog・I made a Facbook page just to claim the name but probably will never use it. I don’t know what to do with it. I want to be careful not to let my blog become more than it is. I like writing reviews and sharing my thoughts, and I only need the blog for that, not all the extras. I do like Twitter mostly for having conversations (and entering contests ;)). And of course, there’s GoodReads. This is definitely my most favourite of the social media websites and the one I find the most value in. I love seeing exchanging thoughts and recommendations, reading different perspectives on different books, following discussions in groups, and keeping track of what I’ve read and what I’m going to read. This is one website where I never feel I’m wasting my time.

What I can conclude from all these rambles is that social media is more important to me than I would like it to be. Trying to ‘network’ and ‘find connections’ is why I get sucked into it, but most of the time I’m not really using it for that. I’m just wasting time reading snippets and articles that I’ll soon forget about. Clearly this is something I’m going to have to work on!  What‘s your relationship with social media like? Do you ever have times where you feel like you‘re being pulled under by it?

Armchair BEA: Introduction

Welcome back, Armchair BEA! This one of the first events I participated in after deciding to become a full-fledged book blogger last spring. I found many of my favourite blogs through this event, and I hope to discover many more again this year. I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to participate, though, as on Friday I’m off to Tokyo for the World Kendo Championships (as an observer, not participant!). But anyway, here’s my introduction.

  • What does diversity mean to you?
    • I’m personally most interested in reading about characters of varying sexualities, genders or religions. I think the best kind of ‘diverse reading’ features main characters carrying their own stories, regardless of how those stories are affected by their diversities.
  • What is one book everyone should read? 
    • Ooh, good question! I’d like to recommend Paper Towns, because it can really demonstrate the strengths of young adult literature, which too many people underestimate, and it also has an excellent, timely message (when it’s not being misinterpreted =.=). 
  • Share your favorite blog post on your blog (aka written by you!)
  • What book are you reading right now? 
  • What book are you most looking forward to reading this summer? 
    • The majority of summer are going to be very hectic for me, as I’ll be spending my last weeks in Japan and moving back to Canada. By the end of August, though, I’ll be back in my hometown, finally with access to a library full of English books for the first time in a year!! So, this isn’t a very specific answer, but I’m most looking forward to reading whatever interesting books I find on the library’s shelves 🙂 On a related note, I see today’s topic is also Library Love. It makes me sad to think about how much I miss my library, so I will have to read posts about other people’s libraries instead!

Are you participating in Armchair BEA?

Brief Thoughts: The Riddles of the Hobbit and Bone Gap

Another quick review post already? Hrm, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve read a book I could really sink into. My dad and sister’s visit disrupted my habit, and now things are starting to get hectic around here since I’ve only got a couple months left before I move back home! I’m cramming my weekends full with trips and my weekdays full with planning those trips 😛 I’ve been reading, but obviously not blogging much so I’m trying to clear out some backlog with these quick review brief thoughts posts (re-naming theses posts because I think ‘brief thoughts’ is a better descriptor).

  • The Riddles of The Hobbit by Adam Roberts
    • Rating: ★★★ [ratings guide]
    • There are some solidly interesting points in Roberts’ book that could have made for a nic essay. As it stands, I found there was too much rambling and wandering from the topic of ‘riddles in The Hobbit‘. I often found myself thinking, “What does this have to do with anything?” I do enjoy an interesting tangent, even if only semi-related, but this was pushing it for me. 
    • Some of Robert’s arguments are extremely stretched beyond what’s really conceivable, but that’s part of the fun. You can really disprove anything he says, so why not come at it from a creative angle? 
    • Final evaluation – some parts of value, some parts of fluff. Difficult to recommend one way or the other.
  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
    • Rating: ★★½ [ratings guide]
    • Another book I accidentally read in an evening!
    • This one fell short of the hype for me, in a similar manner that Salt & Storm did (though I found this book more ‘blah’) – I was hoping for a more mystical, surreal tale. The touches of magical realism that were there weren’t enough to feed my appetite for the stuff. There are some interesting components, but Roza’s story fell flat for me, and that’s the central part of the book.