Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather

Looks like I've found my least favorite Willa Cather novel.  So far. (I still have three other novels on my journey to read her published works chronologically.)  This pretty much stinks, both because many people adore this one (my husband says I'm a literature rebel) and because I've adored everything else of hers.  I didn't hate it, it isn't terrible, it was just really boring for me.  Like Gilead. (So chances are, if you loved that one, you'll love this one too.)

It felt so much slower than her other books, with less focus on the characters.  True, the landscape in this book (New Mexico) isn't much my thing.  Nor is the period in history (1850s acquisition of new territories) one that is currently entrancing me.  Nor is the subject matter (the Catholic church) one that holds my interest.  So if you are interested in those things I imagine you would have much better luck.

It spurred surging desires to jump into a bookstore and buy new books, which (I'm proud to say) I channeled into a more productive action: barreling through the last hundred pages so I could move on to one of the other lovelies on my shelf. The writing was breathtaking at times (as to be expected from Willa Cather) so I had to share a quote.  Maybe someday I'll be moving at a slower pace and will be better equipped to enjoy stories such as this, but for now I'm just glad I'm done!

" should not be discouraged; one does not die of a cold." 
The old man smiled.  "I shall not die of a cold, my son, I shall die of having lived."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Being the Lucky One (The Interestings, Eleanor & Park, The Rosie Project)

Guys, I've read some really great books lately. So good that I don't even feel bad that I haven't read any nonfiction yet this year (although I am working on fixing that).  I want to talk about each of them, but first thought I'd ponder on a thought that struck me today.  I've thought about it before, but it really sunk in again today.

It's the idea of being the Lucky One.  Lucky in love, lucky in life, (what have you).  It's easy to look at being lucky as an extension of being grateful—I'm lucky I have wonderful parents.  But it gets interesting when you consider being lucky in the face of personality or lifestyles because so much hinges on perception.

In her song, Alison Krauss sings, "Give you a song and a one night stand, you'll be looking at a happy man, 'cause you're the lucky one."  While her song makes it sound as if she doesn't actually envy the person in question, there is some truth to that sentiment. It must be easier to live a life free of contemplation, longing, and regret.  Is it luckier to be the person who thinks deeper and observes more, or the one unbothered by convictions?

It's Complicated: I started thinking about this again because my husband will soon be going on a sailing trip, while I'll be staying home taking care of the kiddos...which spurred loads of feeling-sorry-for-myself.  Not because I want to sail also, but because I feel like I am easy to leave behind.  Honestly, this is mostly emotion rather than truth but I started thinking...would I rather be the one who finds it easier to leave?  Sometimes that sounds quite enticing. But if that meant giving up all my deep thoughts and contemplations, then I'm cool.  I'd rather feel deeply.  But that's a matter of perspective if I've ever seen one...things are never that simple.

That's what I liked about The Interestings.  Meg Wolitzer doesn't pretend that life is simple, that you have one main story arc and none of the other details matter.  We Are Complicated.  And so are her characters (and I love that).  Still, the first third of the book had me convinced that I'd be bored until the very end. You see, I didn't much like the main character.  Jules wasn't a terrible person, but she nurtured envy, and that's a terrible place to be. She was jealous of her friends Ethan and Ash: they were the lucky ones.  Jules thought they were lucky because they had money, but I think they were lucky because they didn't suffer from a paralyzing envy.

I loved the way she told the story, and I loved how real the story was.  The story flipped between different times and different points of view, but it was handled so delicately, so expertly, that the telling was always smooth and easy to follow. If you enjoy themes that make you ponder and characters you feel you know, this is a book worth reading.  All 480 pages of it. (It doesn't feel that long, honest.)

And then there's Eleanor & Park.  Have you read this? Oh my.  My heart felt bruised after closing the cover.  I don't even know how to talk about it without gushing spoilers all over the place.  Set in the '80s (but not obnoxiously so) in Nebraska, we find Eleanor and Park: two teens whose story is anything but normal.

From the first glance, it is obvious that Eleanor doesn't fit in. As the story builds, however, we see what we've really known all along: we all have ways that we don't fit in, and we all just want to be loved in spite of it.  There are some serious issues that Rowell addresses that complicate the story, but what felt truly unique to me was the way she captured the incredible magic of young love. From the shocking realization that you have feelings for someone, to the unimaginable sensation when holding hands for the first time, and finally the wonder of having your quirks and secrets understood.  So often those things are underestimated or ignored, superimposing older experiences onto the relative innocence of youth.  I married my high school sweetheart, so perhaps that created an extra special connection to this book, but I think we can all relate to the awkwardness and novelty of a first love.

Finally, The Rosie Project. I tend to gravitate to depressing books, generally speaking...those stories
that I think are heartwarming are actually pretty sad.  When I am asked for a "happy book" recommendation, I come up rather empty.  It isn't that I don't like happy, it's just that happy is usually boring or typical.  Not so with The Rosie Project.  The writing is fairly simple and light, in contrast with the story itself which could have been written in a more serious tone.  The humorous touch serves to deepen the connection with the story, which really is a rather sweet one.

Don, professor of genetics, has some social-interaction-differences and has decided that the best way to go about finding the ideal mate is to develop a properly thorough questionnaire.  We all, at some point, have thought about what qualities would comprise the ideal mate.  Someone like ourselves, right?  Rarely do our ideas pan out in reality, and the same is the case for Don.  His journey to happiness brings many smiles along the way—I've finally found a happy book to recommend.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

For the Record: March 2014

I didn't do very good on my weekly-blogging-goal this month.  I also failed to read my Classics Club Spin book. And I haven't updated the Back the Classics stuff.  So, all around not a great month for reaching blog goals.  I've been working on a post about some of my recent favorites, but it has been slow in forming.  I don't know why some things seem to write themselves and others are slowly birthed.  It probably has to do with the depth of my thoughts and the amount of time I mull it over. Things that I actively ponder seem to come out fully composed.  I must not be doing that with this post!

I did, however, welcome a nephew (today!) and a near-niece (day before yesterday) and said goodbye to an uncle (at the beginning of the month) which makes it fairly natural that blogging would find itself on the back burner momentarily.  It meant that I completed some knitting projects, as that is portable/multi-taskable work.  I finished a baby blanket and three hats and put some more work into a sweater that is almost complete (the weather has been so warm that I find myself unmotivated on that end).  I also happened to squeeze in a trip to Napa, experience an earthquake in a theater built in 1924, and even found some time to read...not really sure how that happened but I'm not complaining!

Napa in the spring is such an incredibly lovely place...the morning mist just adds to the effect.

9 Books Read in March: (21 year-to-date)

3 Read Aloud to my 9 year-old:
  - The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton (4) My 9yo daughter can't get enough of the Faraway Tree.  This was the second in the series, and we've begun on the third (and final). Fun little adventures, if a bit predictable.  Good for the kiddos who like the innocence and fun of the older books.
  - Along Came a Dog, Meindert DeJong (3) We loved DeJong's The Wheel on the School, but this one wasn't quite as captivating.  The best parts were the moments described from a hen's point of view—you don't get that very often! Overall, though, it was a little slow.
  - The Sign of the Beaver, Elizabeth George Speare (4) This was a reread for me, but still quite enjoyable. It provides a fascinating glimpse into life as an early settler with a fully satisfying Native American involvement.

2 Audiobooks:
  - Half Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls (2) I've had this on my TBR list since reading The Glass Castle.  This one has been called a novel because Walls has filled in the details of her grandmother's life and written from her point of view, but it really is more of nonfiction/memoir style read.  I enjoyed the first part, but it started a downward spiral about halfway through.  By the end of the book I was quite thankful I'd never met the lady and couldn't wait to be done reading about her.  Don't get me wrong, she had quite an interesting life. But where other people saw a spunky personality, I saw meanness and selfishness. I'm sensitive to this perhaps, as I have extended family that classifies rudeness and a lack of consideration as humor and spunk, and I simply can no longer indulge that point of view.  Over and over, Lily justified how she treated her children because it was the means to her selfish goals. It was sad, and I think explained her daugher's demise into emotional/mental issues and homelessness.
  - The Sisters Brothers, Patrick DeWitt (4) I listened to this on audio because I thought I'd be bored with the book itself, but it was so much fun to listen to that I just may reread it (with my eyeballs this time) at some point.  The narrator did an excellent job capturing personalities and humor.  It's like a modern, funny True Grit, but totally stands on its own also.  If you enjoy tales of the Gold Rush or the Wild West, or if you like a Wes Anderson style of humor, check this one out.

3 New Books:
  - The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer (4.5) This is one of the books I've been wanting to blog about (hopefully that'll pull together soon!) because I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.  The negatives: it's on the long side, it was somewhat slow to start, and some won't like that it's character driven.  The reward is in how fully fleshed out her characters are and how expertly the story is told, not necessarily in the story arc itself.
  - Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell (5)  This is another of the books I've been wanting to blog about! My heart felt bruised after closing the cover of this one. It might be a bit sentimental in some ways, but there was so much wonder and loveliness that I didn't care.
  - The Dinner, Herman Koch (3.5) Fun to read a modern book in translation, though stylistically it wasn't really my thing.  If you enjoy an unreliable narrator, however, this is a delight.

1 to Cross Off My List:
  - Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (3) Once again, Everybody's Favorite left me cold. It happened with Owen Meany (most notably, since I couldn't even finish that one) and scores of others that I'm not going to waste the effort to remember.  I can see why people like it, really I can, but there is something about his style of, about the author himself and the things that speak to him, that I really don't connect with.  It wasn't a terrible read, but it wasn't wonderful either.


2 Current Reads:
  - Me Before You, Jojo Moyes.  My current book club book...I've just started so I don't have much to say. Lots of good reviews on this one, so we'll see!
  - Devil in the White City, Erik Larson.  I just started this on audio. It takes a little more work to listen to nonfiction, but Larson just might be the exception.


On My Nightstand:
I haven't been doing much planning on what books I'm reading, but I'll be heading out of town for a week and these are the books I might take with me:

  - The Big Burn, Timothy Egan
  - Death Comes to the Archbishop, Willa Cather
  - Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  - Longbourn, Jo Baker