Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Wow! Read this book!

My mom recommended this book to me a few months ago and a woman on a plane next to me told me that she had just finished it and could not get it out of her mind.

I read it in two days.

In a remarkably matter of fact yet connected voice, Jeannette Walls details her childhood. As the child of a brilliant alcoholic father and an artistic irresponsible mother, Walls suffered extreme deprivation. But for all that, she never whines or blames and she emerges with a remarkable lack of anger.

I was often angry with Walls' parents but I was left marveling at the love this family felt for each other through it all.

While the book itself does not include a reading group guide, I think it would stimulate a lively book club discussion. Try the Book Browse reading group guide.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Don't Read "Perfume"

Our department book club chose a real loser, again. It's Perfume by Philip Suskind. The style's pretentious and the structure seems like the author's following some flowchart or checklist he found in a book on how to construct a novel.

It's the story of some olfactory wunderkind. I'm just on p. 130 about halfway through the book. A chapter will begin with a sentence on the main character's acute sense of smell and after 2 sentences, anyone who's read more than a dozen books and predict what will happen. Oh, the "novice" wows the skeptical perfume master. I guess I can just jump to the next chapter. My guesses have been on the money since page 1.

Yes, this book has won awards and garnered praise. I'm not sure why. If this weren't for a book club, I'd abandon Perfume and resell it immediately on It's not something I'd put on my bookshelves. I want to delete it from my memory. I'm really thinking of not finishing this and getting something else. I'll go to the book club explain my response to the book and see if other people found something redeemable in this and then if they did read the rest. I have too many good books that I want to read by authors I trust.

I may not finish it and just go to the book club ready to say I couldn't read this.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith


I want back the time that I wasted on this book.

Yuck again.

I want my money back.

Two families full of characters I either despised (Howard Belsey, Victoria Kipps) or merely disliked (Zora Belsey, Monty Kipps). It reminded me of The Corrections with no redeeming graces.

It was disjointed, with characters falling in and out of the story. Carl's here, Carl's not here, oops, Carl's here again, oh now Carl storms off for good.

There were no truths. Maybe that's an overstatement. Very few truths. Just contrivances, superficialities and exaggerations. Stereotypes.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

March by Geraldine Brooks

The drought is over.

Finally, a book with which I connected.

I've been intrigued by this book's concept since I first became aware of it right after it was released in paperback. I have no idea how many times I've held it in my hand, contemplating its purchase. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in April and it's been on my Amazon wish list since May.

Then, a week ago Wednesday, the woman next to me on the plane was holding it in her hand. I asked her if she liked it and she said she hadn't even started it yet. A few minutes later, she looked up from it and exclaimed that it was wonderful.

So I took the plunge. So many unread books in the house, but still I'm buying more.

I started it Friday night and finished it this afternoon.

Partially because it's written in the first person, partially because it's so well written and partially because I was already acquainted with the characters by virtue of reading and re-reading Little Women and Little Men, I felt an immediate connection to Mr. March (as I'm writing this, it occurs to me that I don't think we're ever told his first name) and his travails. For the most part, the plot flows naturally and does not seem contrived but for the repeated reappearance of Grace, which is a necessary and welcome coincidence.

All but four of the chapters are written from March's perspective. Those other four chapters are a surprising and illuminating look at the story from Marmee's perspective. I especially appreciated learning that certain interpretations presented as gospel from March's perspective were in fact utterly misguided. Brooks' portrayal of March's motivations for certain actions and Marmee's differing understanding of those same motivations was a masterful chronicling of the pitfalls of marital communication.

While the ending of Brooks' previous novel, A Year of Wonders (which I also highly recommend), seemed forced and artificial, March does not suffer so.

Brooks reads my mind when she states,
The thing that most attracts me to historical fiction is taking the factual record as far as it is known, using that as scaffolding, and then letting imagination build the structure that fills in those things we can never find out for sure.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

I think it must be me. I can't think of the last book that I connected with on an emotional level.

I found this book to be emotionally distant, dispassionate.

Not mesmerizing and definitely not "Absolutely mesmerizing" as Sue Monk Kidd states on the cover quote. I did read it quickly but partially because I started it while traveling so had nothing better to do. I found it slow to start.

About half way through, I did find myself, at bedtime, reading it for longer than I anticipated, but I have to chalk that up to a desire to find out how the secret is resolved, an idle curiosity, not an emotional engagement.

I didn't care; I was curious.

The concept of how deeply a secret can affect and ruin a family played out in a fairly believable way, given the background of the players but there was at least one plot twist involving an unwed mother which came out of left field, hung around for a while and then disappeared as suddenly as it appeared.

David's resolution was confusing to me. It was very sudden and had me flipping pages back and forth to see if I had missed anything.

I didn't like any of the main characters although I guess I identified most closely with Caroline. She was pragmatic and able to channel events so as to not allow them to destroy her.

My reaction to this book does have me questioning a reviewer's ability to separate his/her emotional state from that which s/he is reviewing. Ultimately, a review is a sort of a window into the reviewer's state of mind as much as it is about the work being reviewed.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres

With a long wind up, De Bernieres provides a window into an obscure corner of World War II. While De Bernieres does a fair job on an intellectual, introductory level, there is a remove to his characterizations which never allows the reader to feel quite the level of attachment to the cast of his novel as one might wish. The end of the novel feels rushed and flat, especially when compared with the detail-laden, almost overdrawn beginning. It's as if the novelist tired of them or at the very least ran out of time. All the same, due to my lack of knowledge regarding virtually all of this history, I did find many redeeming qualities and am glad that I took the time to read it. I enjoyed getting to know all the main characters as individuals whom I might have like to have known in real life.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

An eminently readable series of essays about an ex-patriate American family of three in Paris. The French bureaucracy does not fare well but that's not surprising. Gopnik is genuinely fond of the Parisians and gives the American reader insight into those qualities which we tend to disparage.