Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Bingo: my problem areas

When my friend and I decided to do Book Bingo earlier this year, I was all happy and excited and confident. When July rolled around, I had all but about 4 squares done and thought, “I could wipe this thing out by September!” 

That was before I tacked The Problem Areas.

I’m talking about “A Forgotten Classic” and “A Book of Short Stories.” They may just do me in.

The moaning began back in August, when I realized my September finish was out of the question because of The Big Two. My friend helped me brainstorm, and I re-entered the fray all refreshed and ready to face my foes.

And then I faltered. The classics are an embarrassing stumbling block for me. I know they’re important, but I don’t crave them the way I think I should. And then to have to come up with a doggone forgotten one. For pete’s sake!

And short stories are not my thing. It’s really too bad. They always have the most enticing titles:
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
See You in Paradise
What I Want to Tell Goes Like This
The Year of Perfect Happiness

So it’s like the final hours of the Read-a-Thon, when I’m tired and irritable and difficult to please. And then there’s assigned reading.

I will do it, though. I will complete this doggone bingo card.

And the triumph will be all the more glorious for the struggle.

This is what I tell myself. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Book club people: unite!

You got it: it's National Reading Group Month again... already! 

So if you're in a book club, rejoice. 

If you'd like to be in a book club, check out your public library and find out if they've got one. If they do, they probably actually discuss the book and have someone moderating the discussion who's done actual research about the book. It gets crazy like that.

At my friends' book club, we mix it up. We've had some darn good book discussions that go on for an hour. Or longer. And other times, we talk about the book for 10 minutes and then drift off in other directions. And we eat really good snacks. (Regardless of the book's discussibility / our desire to discuss the thing, we eat the snacks.)

In October, my book club is discussing The Sisters Brothers, which my friend chose after hearing me talk about it. (Freebie for me -- just read it last month!) I'm interested to find out if our discussion goes in different directions from the discussion I led on this book recently. Probably it will. 

I totally can't wait.

Friday, October 3, 2014

All work, no play makes Unruly a cranky girl

Lately my reading's been...

These days things are delightful and they're busy. And it’s embarrassing how difficult it is to find time to read. So most of my recent reading has been the assigned stuff. 

The reading's been work, people.  

First, there's the genre study. Thrillers. We've been reading thrillers. I'm not exactly thrilled. It's very good for me, though: professional development!

And our most recent book club selection didn't exactly trip my trigger.

Here’s what I’ve been Reading and Not Writing About.
(subtitle, option 1: How to Annoy an Otherwise Jolly Reader)
(subtitle, option 2: Books I’ve Not Loved and Have Barely Even Liked)

Warning: If you don’t like cranky, please stop reading now and return another day. I’m very likely to become more cheerful about my reading by then. I promise. 

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers – Clearly I’m not the audience for this book. First, I’m too darn old. Second, I require a likable main character, and I couldn’t stand this one and really just wanted to drop-kick her. Except she just would’ve levitated, which would’ve vexed me even further. The book club discussion helped raise my opinion of the book, but Mary Poppins herself is still on my bad nanny list.

Deep Black: Death Wave by Stephen Coonts and William H. Keith – I thought I’d like Coonts, because he has aviation stuff in his background, but instead I found myself bored with all the drama in this book. These thrillers strain my ability to suspend my disbelief.

The Camel Club by David Baldacci – At first, I was annoyed by Baldacci’s clunky use of adverbs. Then by his adjectives. Then his verb choice was bothering me beyond reason. (Yes, the verbs!) And finally, the contortions of the plot made me shake my head. I’m not P.L. Travers's audience, and I'm not Baldacci’s, either. There are tons of people who've turned this guy into a huge best selling author, and I get the appeal. I can talk with readers about the appeal. But his books don't appeal to me. (Don't tell all those other readers.)

OK, here’s some happiness, though, guys. For real! 

A Plague of Secrets by John Lescroart – This legal thriller surprised me, because I actually liked it. I’ve never been drawn to these books, but this one really worked. There was enough character development to satisfy me, only the bad guys were unlikable (and believably so, not over the top), and the storyline hung together nicely. I truly wanted to find out how the book would end. So Lescroart made me care about the characters and believe the plot (in spite of my feeling rushed as I read, since I had a deadline). Well done, dude. I’d recommend Lescroart as a good gateway from mystery to legal thrillers, because there’s enough investigation in the book to satisfy that mystery craving. I actually had trouble putting it down.

OK, guys. Next time: cheerfulness. Prepare yourselves! Hearts and sunshine. You've been warned.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Roosevelt reading

(photo: courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Well, Ken Burns has done it again. The Roosevelts are all the rage these days. 

People keep asking me if I've been watching it, and I keep having to talk about my lack of TV reception. (Really, guys, it's OK.)

So yeah, I'll be catching it on DVD from the library. All's well in the world.

But meanwhile, I caught this cool article on Bookriot about Theodore Roosevelt's rules for reading.

And the guy was right on target. He starts off decrying lists of best books. I'm right there with you, man!

And here's Rule #4: “The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be.”

How can you not love that?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Re-reading can be weird

This one is odd, guys.

It’s nothing new to re-read a book and experience it differently. That happens all the time. It’s part of the wonder of re-reading, for Pete's sake. 

But this time, I’m struck by something new. 

The first time I read The Sisters Brothers (Patrick deWitt’s marvelous historical Western noir mash-up), I was struck by the humor that infused the book and leavened it amidst all the violence. 

This time around, I’m all about the pathos. This book is breaking my heart.

It’s still charming me with its deceptively straightforward prose and wry humor and storyline of a person who wants to quit the violence of his day job. But the pain suffered by the characters (all of them!) is real and sometimes wrenching.

The cover of my paperback quotes the Irish Times: “So good, so funny and so sad.”

Yes. This time around, I’m getting all three of those things.

So here’s the weird part. When I first read the book back in 2011, part of my life was a cesspool of suck. (Yeah, we don’t talk about these things on the blog. But there it is.) And when I read the book then, I mined it for the humor. Heaven knows I needed it.

This time around, I am happy in every way a person can possibly be. (I hesitate to say that out loud.* But there it is.) And so now I’m reading this book and feeling the characters’ pain. 

It’s not like I’m looking for trouble to balance the happiness, but I think it’s like this: at this stage, I can handle their sadness and wish their lives were otherwise.

So the whole thing makes me wonder: Do we mine books for the minerals we lack at the time? 

*I know! It's not "out loud" if it's in writing. But sometimes, actually, it is.  

Friday, August 29, 2014

If you've been waiting with bated breath...

It’s book club update time!

But none of these titles will be any surprise, since I’ve already written about each of them in their own post.

Yeah, I know: anticlimactic.

But here they are anyway. And this is a fine little list, actually—all of these books led to zippy discussions.

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Next up: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (which I also already read and wrote about; there’s seriously no suspense around here whatsoever. If that’s what you’re looking for, go for a Gillian Flynn novel.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sometimes it sucks to be the wife

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

3 words: biographical, personal, lyrical

Since I went through a spree of reading everything Anne Morrow Lindbergh ever published (except that horrid-sounding thing, The Wave of the Future) I approached this fictional account of her life with a wary eye. There are so many ways a novelist can get it wrong.

(photo: courtesy of the Library of Congress)
But Melanie Benjamin has seriously impressed me here.

Yes, this is a work of fiction, but yes, she has done the research and I feel like she’s speaking in Anne’s voice in this book. That’s high praise from an AML reader.

The thing I didn’t expect was to come away from this book detesting Charles Lindbergh.

Sure, I already had pushed away from him once I learned of his anti-Semitic speeches in the pre-WWII years. And then there were those other families of children he fathered. Dude had some serious flaws. And big, unpardonable ones, too.  

But this book put venom in my fangs.

I think it’s because fiction did that thing it goes so well: it made things more immediate, more personal, more felt. Even AML’s diaries and letters, which were edited before publication (by both AML and her husband) keep her at a greater distance.

So: this book surprised me with the depth and honesty of its characterization, and by the loveliness of the writing. I went in, expecting to emerge partway through, shaking my head. Instead, I was sorry when it ended, and I'm shaking my head in admiration.