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Sunday Salon: the Relaxed Post

December 21, 2008

The Sunday Salon.comFirst of all, sorry about three posts in one day! The two challenge posts were supposed to go last week, while I was travelling, but for some reason they didn’t. *shrug* Anyway, I’m sitting here typing this surrounded by stuff I’m slowly unpacking, but I’m still relaxed. Why? Because my darling niece (who’s two-years-old) is sleeping on my bed next to me, and it’s just unspeakably calming to be home.

I didn’t get much physical reading done this week, between feeling icky and packing and driving and all that stuff, but I did listen to audiobooks, so I definitely have stuff to talk about. :)

While packing, I was delighted to discover my laptop (temporarily) working again. So I downloaded three audiobooks from my library’s website: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, America’s Women by Gail Collins, and People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (actually, I also downloaded A Little Princess…but it turned out to be abridged, so I listened to the two hours of selections being sad that I couldn’t hear the whole thing!).

speakSpeak is a YA novel about Melinda and her freshman year of high school. She starts out the year with none of her old friends speaking to her, so she has to navigate the tricky social waters all alone. Moreover, she finds that she just doesn’t have any interest in talking…or doing homework…or her appearance…and pretty soon she’s branded the freak at school. Anderson’s writing is powerful and lyrical, her characterisations realistic, and I’d recommend this book to just about anyone. I know I’ll be reading more of her in the future
Ok, it’s spoiler warning time, because I can’t meaningfully talk about this book without talking about why Melinda’s in a downward spiral. There are hints pretty early on that something bad happened at a party, and eventually you find out Melinda was raped. But she hasn’t told anyone, and she’s been denying it ever since. I found Anderson’s portrayal of a rape victim incredibly realistic and moving, and I would have easily given this book five stars, except that towards the end Melinda’s attacker tries to rape her again, and this time Melinda fights back and wins. That made me feel a bit iffy, just because for girls reading this who had actually been raped, it might bring up more feelings of guilt about not fending off their attackers.

americaswomenAfter such an intense fiction experience, it was nice to switch over to nonfiction. America’s Women was a fascinating historical look at the experience of women in America. I love the subtitle: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. Collins made a strong attempt to discuss non-white American women, although she explains early in the book that it was difficult since historians are dependent on source material such as diaries, which wealthy white women were more likely to leave behind. I still think it included more diversity than many history books I’ve read! Anyway, Collins manages to make the book both informative and fun to read; I think the best part was how much these women’s lives resonated for me today. In her introduction, Collins says that American women have always experienced “the tension between the yearning to create a home and the urge to get out of it.” Her profiles of all kinds of different women made me think more about what I want to accomplish in my own life, as well as teaching me more about American history. I think all American women will enjoy this book, and non-Americans who are curious about the US could definitely start here. :)

I haven’t finished listening to People of the Book: I was about halfway through when I started my trip, and now my laptop’s cranky again. But honestly, it won’t bother me if I never finish. Brooks must have decided she wanted to write a novel about how Jewish people have been persecuted through the centuries…then she set up the story with a plot device of an old, sacred book. The narrative switches between the modern-day life of the woman restoring the book and historical episodes of people affected by the book (in reverse chronological order). Unfortunately, so far I don’t care about any of the characters, and the constant repetition of horrible things happening is simply draining. I know a lot of people enjoyed this one, but it just isn’t my style.

austenlandWhile on my roadtrip, I listened to all of Austenland by Shannon Hale, a chick lit book whose premise is that the Darcy-obsessed heroine Jane ends up at a Regency reenactment vacation home determined to get over her obsession and get back to the real world (and real men). I was laughing quite a bit while listening to this one, but the characters are almost all one-dimensional, the plot obvious, and the setting strange (why can’t guests bring electronics when the house has electricity and running water?). I gave it two stars since it did have humour.

houseofsevengablesI’m in the middle of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables, which I started on the road and am now listening to during my unpacking spurts. I love Hawthorne’s rambly, character-focused style, so I’m pretty much in heaven. :) I’m on disc 6 of 11, and so far nothing has actually happened as far as I can tell, but Hawthorne has drawn such a fine-if small-sketch of the House and its inhabitants that I simply enjoy spending time there. That being said, the book’s mood is quite melancholic-I don’t want to mislead people into thinking this is a cheery Austen-style book or anything! I think it’s the delicious kind of melancholy, though-rambling houses, crazy old relatives, family secrets, and a young woman arrived in the midst of it all.

mybrilliantcareerI also finished two physical books this week, both for the Orbis Terrarum challenge. The first was My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin. This Australian turn-of-the-century novel is narrated by a headstrong young woman-Sybylla-who finds herself torn between what she wants to do and what society expects of her. I absolutely loved the descriptions in this book: Sybylla lives in the brush, and although I’ve never been to Australia I could see the landscape and imagine the sheep driving. Sybylla herself annoyed me, but she’s a teenager for most of the book, so it’s the kind of annoyance I can indulge (and she’s so amusing in her teenage angst that I laughed as much as I rolled my eyes), and I certainly cared what happened to her. Right up until the end, I expected this to be a five-star read that I’d rave about to everyone. But the ending itself made me so mad I chucked the book across the room. That’s definitely a sign of how strong the writing is-that I was that invested in the story-but it affected my enjoyment of the book as a whole. I still think it’s an incredible novel, and one that more people should definitely read, but it won’t end up on my all-time favourite’s list the way it would have with a different ending.

soundofwavesThen I hopped from Australia to Japan for Yukio Mishima’s The Sound of Waves. I bookmooched this ages ago based on Chris’ review. Having read the book, I second everything Chris says! This is a quiet story that looks at first love in an isolated fishing island of Japan. It’s more about the characters and the setting than the plot; I loved how Mishima made me feel like I was there. Nature is quite important, both to the novel’s characters and to the story itself, which was refreshing. And the sketches that head each chapter are so pretty. :) Definitely recommended!

Finally, I’m a little more than halfway through American Chica by Marie Arana. It’s a memoir of the author growing up half-Peruvian, half-American (U.S.). So far, she’s only lived in Peru (she’s about to travel to the U.S. for the first time!), and she’s brought it to such vivid life I feel as I’m on vacation each time I pick up the book. For some reason, the title had me expecting a casual, loose memoir. But each sentence of this book feels finely crafted: Arana has a lyrical, evocative writing style that is incredibly polished. Along with her own childhood memories, she weaves in stories of her family’s life and some history of Peru. I can’t say enough good things about this one!

So there you go. Next Sunday will officially be the last Sunday of 2008, which is crazy to think about. To reach my goals, by midnight on the 31st, I need to have finished House of Seven Gables, American Chica and Les Miserables as well as started and completed Song for the Blue Ocean, Wind, The Mists of Avalon, and The Giver. We’ll see if I make it! :D

19 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2008 8:36 am

    I contemplating reading The House of Seven Gables this past year and didn’t get to it — but your description makes me consider reading it again!

  2. December 21, 2008 9:02 am

    Whew! That’s a lot of reading between now and next Sunday!

  3. December 21, 2008 10:00 am

    Good luck in finishing the books you want to read this week! Sounds like you have your work cut out for you.

    Have a great week.

  4. December 21, 2008 11:02 am

    Eva, your challenge schedule gives me chronic fatigue just reading about it! I don’t know where you get your energy – must be becuase you’re less than half my age (LOL!)

    I’m glad you made it home safe and sound – enjoy all your relaxing reading!

    Merry Christmas!!

  5. December 21, 2008 11:33 am

    With a tbr list like that, I hope you are off this week! Had similar feeling about people of the book. Appreciated the writing, the skillful handling of multiple timelines but the characters were ultimately not engaging. I felt it could be so much more.

  6. December 21, 2008 1:40 pm

    Dorothy, I’m really enjoying it. :)

    Debbie, well I have until next Wednesday-when the year ends-but it’s still going to be intense. :)

    Becca, lol-I don’t think it’s my energy so much as my lack of other responsibilities!!!

    Frances, I’m a student, so I’m on winter break (finally). Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to manage it. Glad you agree with me about People of the Book!

  7. December 21, 2008 3:20 pm

    I really enjoyed The Sound of the Waves, althoughs its softness meant The Sailor Who Fell…. was a massive shock.

    Speak sounds great, sounds like you will spend more time readig than speakig to your family, although I’m taking to huge books home with me and I’m only there 4 days.
    Have a good Christmas x

  8. December 21, 2008 8:01 pm

    I am so sorry to hear about your accident but am glad you are okay and relaxing at home. I *loved* America’s Women, what a great read. And I have My Brilliant Career in the TBR stack. I think I read the first 3 pages of Austenland and thought – nah. Sounds like I didn’t miss anything.

  9. December 21, 2008 9:48 pm

    The three posts in one day are just fine when they are all so interesting! More TBR books. The America’s Women book sounds very intriguing. Adding it to my list right now…

    I read House of Seven Gables years ago and remember loving it but I honestly can’t tell you anything about it now. Oops.

  10. December 21, 2008 11:32 pm

    I thought Speak was a great book. I never considered what you said about the ending making other rape victims feel guilty. In high school I read The Sound of Waves, but now I remember nothing about it. I’ll have to look for that one again someday. And I’m always wanting to read more Hawthorne, so was glad to hear a bit more about the House of Seven Gables!

  11. antipodeanowl permalink
    December 22, 2008 3:13 am

    LOL! Sybylla has always driven me batty! As for the ending of MBC, I’m with you all the way!

  12. December 22, 2008 10:22 am

    Oh I totally didn’t get People of the Book either. I thought I’d love it from…I love books and history…but I didn’t care for the characters either. I’m glad I’m not the only one who didn’t get this one.

  13. December 22, 2008 1:35 pm

    Good luck with the books you need to finish! I can’t believe the year is almost over…

  14. December 23, 2008 5:25 am

    Katrina, I didn’t get home until late Friday night, so I barely had my family this week. I definitely spend more time w/ them than with my books!

    Tara, yeah-you definitely didn’t miss anything w/ Austenland. Glad someone else loved America’s Women! :)

    Rebecca, thanks so much!! lol @ House of Seven Gables…the same thing happens to me, hence why I have a book blog.

    Jeane, I definitely think Speak is a great book too! You read The Sound of Waves in high school? Was it for school, beacuse that must have been a cool school. :D It’s short enough for a reread.

    Antipodean Owl, yes! Thank you! Oh, I’m still mad. :p

    Michelle, thanks! I can’t believe the year’s almost over either.

  15. December 23, 2008 7:23 am

    It was an advanced program, in high school. Called International Baccalaureate. (We just referred to it as IB) I wasn’t in the entire program (I couldn’t cut the match), just a few classes, including Literature.

  16. December 26, 2008 5:12 am

    Jeane, I had friends who did IB-I was jealous! (Of course, I took 6-7 AP classes a year, lol)


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