Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Book Report

Well, with the cruise and all, I've done a wee bit of reading this month. Here's a run-down.

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields.
This one came very highly recommended. (Well, and it’s won a Pulitzer Prize, so there you go.) It’s a novel that is told like a memoir. The author even got some old-fashioned (real) pictures of people and put them in the middle of the book, as if they were really the characters the book was about. For me, this wasn’t one of those hard-to-put-down books, but it was interesting and I enjoyed it. Shields did a fantastic job with point of view, which I am always interested in. It was cool to see how the way a person imagines her parents (or others around her) as being, the things she imagines they are thinking, affects her whole view of life. I loved especially the section at the end in which the main character approaches death—really fascinating. I would recommend this book to others, especially people who enjoy memoir.

Sister of My Heart by Chitra Divakaruni. A novel that takes place in India, primarily, about two cousins that were born on the same day and have always shared a deep, sister-like bond. There's all sorts of mystery about the background of this family that is revealed a little at a time with a big whopper at the end. I found it pretty interesting, even for just the exposure to the Indian culture, but it wasn't highly gripping for me. A pleasant and interesting read.

The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs. Here’s one I couldn’t put down. It is non-fiction, and details the author’s (A. J. Jacobs) quest to read the entire Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Besides containing fascinating tidbits that he passes along from his reading, it’s hilarious. Being a passionate reader myself, I was fascinated by the interaction between reader (Jacobs) and text (encyclopedia). He does a good job of putting enough of his personal life into the story, and connecting it with his reading, that it is almost like reading a novel. One of my best reads of the whole year.

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson. (Yes, this is the Shirley Jackson who wrote “The Lottery” and “The Rocking-Horse Winner.”) Some friends recommended this one to me in their shock to discover I’d never read it. I’m so glad they did! I had read an excerpt from it, but never the whole thing. It is a sort of memoir consisting of scenes from Jackson’s life as a mother. All stay-home moms should read it. Very entertaining—perfect cruise book.

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon. Another one of my absolute top reads for the year. Thanks to Johnna, my Sci-fi guru, for putting me on to this one. It takes place in the near future in a society in which the gene that causes autism has been discovered, and genetic therapy has made autism almost a thing of the past. But there is still a generation of autistic people who have not had the therapy, and who are living their lives relatively easily because of behavior modification. Then there comes word of a new surgery that might possibly “fix” the autism, and the main character must decide whether he should have the surgery. (Sounds a little like one of my other favorites, Lying Awake, in which a nun who is epileptic must decide whether to have surgery to fix it.) But there’s more too it—a sinister sense of manipulation on the part of the employer who is pushing the autistic people towards surgery. This aspect of the novel makes it harder to put down as well. I loved this book.

Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl. Well, I told you I love reading about food. You might have heard of Ruth Reichl’s other book, Tender at the Bone. I haven’t read that one but it’s been on my list for ages (couldn’t get it from the library). This one I got easily, so I read it. I really enjoyed the food descriptions and, well, the whole book, but it was slightly irritating, too. Reichl is not my favorite person, or favorite voice to read—a little to self-conscious, I guess, or self-congratulatory. Or maybe I was just sick of memoir by the time I read it. Still, it was a good and enjoyable read.

About Alice by Calvin Trillin. This was a little tiny book I picked up on impulse from the library’s “Reader’s Choice” table, and I’m really glad I did. It’s a short little celebration that Trillin wrote about the life and character of his wife, Alice. Apparently he has written many humorous pieces about her, but felt that these pieces hadn’t told the whole story about his wife. I wished this book were longer, and plan to see if I can get a hold of some of Alice’s own writings, because she sounds fascinating. She has written about dealing with cancer and other serious illnesses.

Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanne Marie Laskas. Another memoir, this one about Laskas’s impulsive purchase of a 50-acre farm and how she comes to adapt to farm life. I guess it’s a sort of modern The Egg and I but I found myself skimming most of it and just wishing I had read The Egg and I again instead. This one tries to be cute and funny but it was mostly a yawn for me.

Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom. Well, I’m almost done with it for the second time (third for some of the stories in it!) and loving it just as much again. I’ve already said a lot about this book, but I’ll say it again: BUY IT! OWN IT! You’ll love it, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve contributed to the greater good of Mormon Letters. Each story leaves me aching—out of love for the characters and envy that I didn’t write it myself. I love the situations Angela chooses to write about, love the way she immerses us in POV so that we feel deeply with the characters. What a writer!


c jane said...

Ahh to be as well-read as Eunice.

c jane said...

At first I thought the title "Book Report" was going to be about your upcoming book (the novel you just finished.)

Will you report on that soon?

Jane said...

I'm so glad to see what you have been reading as I'm always looking for recommendations.

Laura said...

Hi Darlene--I enjoy reading your blog! You seem like my kind of gal--if I knew you in real life I'm sure we'd be friends :) I just got "Bound On Earth" in the mail today. I can't wait to start it. It's always interesting to see what people are reading.

Betsy said...

I'm SOOOO jealous that C jane comments on your blog! Now that college is a few years behind me (going on 6), I think I can pick up a book (other than a picture one) again. TFS

Darlene said...

Courtney, Yeah, I'll report when I have something to report. Currently it is sitting on my hard drive and it gives me the evil eye every time I open my e-mail instead. It needs revision. I need sleep. We'll see who wins.

Hi, Laura. Welcome!

Johnna said...

I'm so delighted you read Speed of Dark and enjoyed it enough to say it was one of your top reads of the year--it is definitely one of mine. Clearly deserving of the Nebula.

I may look for The Know-It-All. Sounds fun.