Tuesday, January 02, 2007

I read, therefore I am ... happier.


Working an average of 70 hours a week does not make it easy to indulge in the joy of reading. Nonetheless, in moments of combined desperation and optimism I still hit the library and bring home armloads of books I want to read. The past four times I've made such a rashly hopeful attempt, I have renewed the whole lot for the maximum three times and then had to return them unopened. Sorrowfully. Bitterly. Heartbroken.

The new stack of 23 came home with me just before Christmas. I have them until the 12th. So far, I have managed to read six. It's a start. It's certainly better than the last four tries.
I read, therefore I am ... happier.

However, having so little time to read now, I find that I expect a LOT.
I feel hypercritical. I do not want to feel I have squandered my precious book-moments.

So please keep that in mind while reading about the six I've consumed to date:

Hmm. I liked Birdy. I loved Matilda Bone. I only kind of liked Francine Green. I felt she was really more the foil for all of the other characters that carried the moral high ground story of the blacklisting era. I would have been happier if the story had given me more and more about Sophie. I wanted her fiery Katie Morosky soul to make a difference - and to know that she had made a difference - in her best friend's life. Yeah, yeah, I know, the moving wastebasket scene is all well and good, but I think Sophie deserved better. Just like Katie & her daughter deserved better from Hubbell. Hey, it's a good way to introduce the era to younger audiences, but for me, an unsatisfying book.

Oh, golly. Of Mice & Men on horseback. Too long by half, too sturm and drang by at least that. The only thing that saved this for me was that Will did not become paralyzed after the rodeo so that he and Denny did a sort of body & life swap ala Well-Wished. The setting was well-rendered and I was willing to go along with Will on his escape route, but it just got to be more of the same thing again and again: escape, dragged back, danger, reconciliation, escape, dragged back..... nope. And waaaaaay too tidy of an ending. Not a keeper.

And so I say, thank goodness for Frank Cottrell Boyce! I was a huge fan of Millions. Never could figure out how or who to booktalk it to, but I loved the quirky character of Damian and his relationships - with his brother, with his dad, with the saints. I appreciated the otherness of the setting and did not mind the local references I did not understand. In Framed, Boyce gives us another completely unique character in Dylan - and another fleshed out and memorable family, as well as an experience of life in a foreign land. The sense of a town and its people clinging to the rapidly dimming dream of prosperity, the utter cleverness of the family in its efforts to save themselves from financial ruin, the interplay between the town and the art dealer - all coalesce into a wonderful tale. The images and the characters remain after the book is closed -- a town all opening amazing umbrellas and taking to the streets; Dylan's motorist log entries; the refurbishment of the boating lake.... it is a magical, hopeful book. I loved it.

And then the utter shock of Wrecked. Like the Volkswagon ads where an everyday conversation among friends is shattered in a hail of glass and screeching tires, this novel pulls no punches with the description of the accident or Anna's steep road to recovery afterward. I think the thing I liked best about this book was that it did not pull the cheap "forever changed" plotline out. All of the characters are certainly altered by the accident, but their basic selves are still intact - i.e. though physically maimed, Ellen still has her edge and her love of words. Although I don't pretend to understand the techniques used by the therapist Anna sees, I did also appreciate that she worked with Anna on many of the other things in her life that needed some work -- her sense of guilt, her insecurities, her feelings for her overbearing father. I was not completely satisfied with the whole "killed my brother's girlfriend" angle - especially when the truth of the accident is so lightly tossed in the mix. But I still enjoyed the novel and think it makes some important comments about recovery and forgiving yourself.

*** and a side note on the cover..... I'm sorry, but is ANYONE ELSE sick to death of these covers with a portion of a face/body/teen motif?????? ******

Okay, Mark Peter Hughes sure can write like a girl. I enjoyed the writing in general in this book. There were phrases that I wanted to lift out of it wholesale and read to someone for the sheer joy of hearing them out loud. Floey Packer has a voice and it is distinct and wonderful. I did not go for the entire tale -- some of the moments and adventures were a bit over-the-top for believability -- but I did enjoy spending time with this young girl who hoped to be noticed and who could find the tender joy and magic of skinny-dipping senior citizens. I can think of a dozen girls who would be all about this book and about Floey's journey. A fun read.

*** And yes, this is one of those sorts of covers, too, I'm afraid. Please make them stop....***

I wasn't sure if I would make it to the end of Colin Singleton's road trip. There were things like math and diagrams and footnotes and foreign languages and erudite references and odd trivia across the ages to contend with. I wasn't sure if I could manage listening to yet another litany of the 19 Katherines or the accompanying whiny introspection. Yes, I wanted to shout "Dingleberries" more than once. But I stuck it out and I was ultimately glad I did. Though one needs a great deal of willingly suspended disbelief to even sign on for the ride (two sets of parents totally okay with their teen sons taking off for parts unknown, a stranger inviting two strange teens to move into her home with her and her teen daughter after 20 minutes' acquaintance) but if that can be accomplished, it turns out to be an unusual and interesting journey from self-doubt and self-delusion to clarity and hopefulness. It is NOT a quick read and I think it would be a tough sell. For me, the friendship between Colin and Hassan is one for the ages and keeps the narrative together. And the fully-fleshed-out Lindsay makes a great foil for both questing young men to test themselves and their theories against. I enjoyed the book and will make an effort to get my hands on Looking for Alaska sometime.....

Feels so good to be reading again. I hope I can keep work at bay awhile longer so that I can keep it up! (After all, I've made two other greedy library runs since the first one and have about 35 books on the floor in my room now.....)

Stay tuned and keep reading!

1 comment:

Jen Robinson said...

Congratulations on finding more time to read! Thanks for commenting on my Drums, Girls... review. And Happy New Year!