Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Book Report 4/19/07

I think it’s time for me to report on some of the books I’ve been reading lately. I’ve done a lot less reading lately because of my illness—it’s become difficult for me to concentrate and reading is uncomfortable. (Can you imagine a more frustrating symptom for me????) But here are a few I’ve managed to get through.

1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. This was my second time reading this. I re-read it for book group and enjoyed it again. One thing I didn’t enjoy—well, which actually drove me nutty—was the dialect. It was very distracting and made reading difficult for me. I’ve never been a fan of dialect. I know Hurston wanted to preserve some of the color and make the characters more realistic and flavorful with the language, but I wish she had kept the turns-of-phrase without the phonetic spellings. The point is that these characters sounded regular to each other, not rural or uneducated. I feel that making them sound rural and uneducated to ME messes with my ability to accept the point of view. That is, I am distanced from the characters whose point of view I am invited to share, basically jettisoned from the story that I am supposed to be immersed in.

It reminds me of Orson Scott Card’s essay about writing science fiction. He talks about people who are so interested in the new world they’ve created that they let it get in the way of telling the story the way it should be told. The example he gives is of a writer who says, “The door dilated and he went out.” So what if doors dilate in that world? No one who grew up in that world would comment on it. They would simply say, “He went out,” because to them, going out through a dilated door would be so commonplace as to be not worth mentioning. To mention it, in fact, would be to mess with our ability to participate in that character’s point of view (or make us suspect that that character wasn’t actually from that world). (Or, of course, make us suspect the author of poor writing.)

The other thing that stood out to me this time was that, in a way, the “god” that “their eyes were watching,” is Janie. The phrase comes from a scene in the book when the people huddle in their huts looking out the door at the approaching hurricane, “watching God.” But the way everyone watches Janie, and the way the author describes Janie herself (as “the entire universe in one single drop”—paraphrase), makes me think that it’s also all about the godliness of one soul.

2. Ceremony by Leslie Silko. This was the second Native American novel I read this year, the first being House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, which I didn’t enjoy at all although it was startlingly similar in basic premise. This one I enjoyed a lot, especially the second half. It’s about Tayo, a Laguna who because of a terrible experience in Japan during the war is damaged emotionally and psychologically. He spends time in a hospital recovering and then is discharged to his reservation. In the course of his healing, he spends time with a medicine man who shows him how his pain doesn’t come just from his war experience but from the sickness that the whole world is experiencing. The thing I found most fascinating about this book was the way that a religious world view, and the character’s discovery of/return to it permeates the book. I’m always looking for ways that authors have incorporated religion into their fiction. I wish that my mind were more clear so that I could analyze whether this book is a good example of what an LDS writer could do. Either way, it was a good read.

3. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. So I can’t remember who all told me I had to read this but I trusted them and ran out and got it (well, actually, ran out and put my name on the list at the library). And here’s my sum-up: good yarn, lousy writing. It’s too darn bad, too, because it needed only a really good editor. My guess is that the publishers were in such a rush to get it out that they didn’t bother. I was gripped by it, especially in the second half, but I sure didn’t enjoy it. The most annoying problem for me was POV violations, but there was also an annoying lack of creativity in description and vocabulary. Nevertheless, Meyer is or will soon be a millionaire over it so who am I to talk?

4. Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain by Pete Egoscue. I’ve been reading several books like this (on meditation, breathing, posture, wellness, etc.) and especially recommend the ones by Dr. Andrew Weil. This one is about motion and using certain exercises to eliminate and prevent chronic musculoskeletal pain. I found it fascinating and saw almost immediate results when I did some of the exercises. I think anyone contemplating any sort of joint or spinal surgery should read this first.

So there’s what I’ve been up to. What have you read lately that you couldn’t put down? What should I not miss? I’d love your suggestions.


Christopher Bigelow said...

I heard that Meyers wrote that book in something like eight weeks? (Is it the first one? That's the one.) My wife said she saw at least half a dozen surprising typos.

Don't miss Cormac McCarthy's The Road. See my blog about it (scroll down one or two posts).

Jennifer B. said...

I really enjoyed The Ladies' Auxilliary, by Tova Mirvis. I loved the POV and the characters.

Darlene said...

I'll check out that book, Chris. By the way, I'm dropping my jaw at the discussion going on over on the List. I never knew you to be so dang conservative, Chris! It's a new side of you.

Yeah, Jen, I loved that one. I think I mentioned it here a while ago . . .

Ang said...

I might have been the one to tell you to read Twilight. (My book club had just read it when you came over for writers group). I agree that it's not great literature, but I thought it was a worthwhile read for two reasons: 1. it's a good yarn (as you said) and 2. it's enormously popular, so she must be doing something right--and I'm interested in what that something is. My book club LOVED it. It's probably been the most popular thing we've read. Now, popularity is definitely no substitute for quality, but I do think that she has a great ability to grab a reader's attention and keep it. So much so that I didn't mind the less-than-perfect writing too much. If a story isn't strong enough I get really distracted by POV and cliches and all that jazz and ultimately put the book down . . . but I read this one in two days. The Work and the Glory books drove me batty, for example. This one didn't. Go figure.

And I've been dropping my jaw at Chris, too. Am also glad that somebody's saying what he's saying.

Jennifer B. said...

I forgot. How about another book with "Ladies" in the title? Have you tried The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith? Quick fun read.