Sunday Salon: the Spring Post
I’m so happy that spring is here! I say that at the beginning of every season; I adore them all, so when they first arrive, I welcome them with open arms. :) I have quite a few books to talk about, and since I’ve skipped a couple of these, I hope I can find my rhythm soon.
The Things that Matter by Edward Mendelson was my first Bibliophilic Challenge read. I was rather excited about it; Mendelson looks at seven classic novels by English women authors and extrapolates from them ways to approach various life stages. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to be about. In actuality, it felt like Mendelson was saying, “Let me analyse these works to best display my deep erudition.” Needless to say, I wasn’t a very great fan. However, I think this has more to do with me than Mendelson. After all, I can objectively see that the book is well-written and interesting. But I’ve always been skeptical of academic literary analysis, and this book did nothing to dispel that skepticism. Even when I found his passages intellectually interesting, they rarely coincided with my own experiences of the novel. Of course, I understand that such analysis must be individual, but it felt like the books got lost amongst Mendelson’s opinions. I want to reiterate: this isn’t a bad book, it’s just not for me. Ultimately, I think I enjoy more exuberant, patently subjective ‘books-about-books’ to the intellectual variety.
I know when I put The Consequences of Love by Sulaiman Addonia in my Library Loot post, it garnered quite a bit of attention. Well, it was definitely a wonderful read! Addonia really put me in Jeddah, and since his character is also a Eritrean refugee/immigrant, I immediately felt the story was believable. The book is pretty scathing about the effects on society of an extreme Wahhabi government, which suited me just fine. It’s equally scathing about the practice of Gulf States towards non-citizen workers, who are effectively segregated off as well as completely dependent on their citizen sponsors, which leaves them vulnerable to abuse and looks much like modern trafficking. At least, that’s how I see it. ;) But this isn’t a political novel, and I don’t want to give you that impression. Instead, it contains a classic novel theme: a young man’s coming of age and first love. I was immediately swept up with the narrator and his story, and the plot never stopped moving until the last page. This lacks perhaps a bit of depth or richness, but as a debut novel it was fascinating and entertaining. I shall definitely be watching Addonia’s career, hoping for a follow-up publication sooner rather than later!
Unfortunately, I have no such praise for the next novel I read: The Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. I picked up this, the first in a Brazilian mystery series, for the Reading the World Challenge. The first 50 or so pages were really neat and engrossing; the reader knows from the beginning that the supposed murder victim has actually committed suicide, which seemed a novel set-up for a mystery book. The inspector was suitably literary. But then, for some reason, Garcia-Roza switched from third-person to first-person narrative, and it turns out being inside the inspector’s head was not a good thing. Instead of seeming reserved and bit mysterious, I was suddenly forced to hear about every random thought making its way through his brain. Needless to say, this got tiresome pretty quickly, especially since he comes off as a bit of a moron. At that point I knew I wouldn’t be reading further in the series. But then, then the ending was so ridiculous and insulting it made my blood boil! And gave me a serious ‘WTF?’ moment. In addition to never explaining why the bad guy’s motives (which, even having read the novel, I’m not sure of, so I feel an explanation is owed), the penultimate scene is one of the weirdest things I have ever read. I’ve put it in white, so if you’re curious and aren’t worried about spoilers just highlight. Although I’m not sure you’ll believe me. This girl has been kidnapped, and she’s handcuffed to her kidnapper. She decides the best way to escape is to seduce him and get him to move closer to this random gun on the floor so she can reach it. So there’s this very, very detailed sex scene, in which she gets all turned on by the idea of sleeping with this guy who’s kidnapped her and intends to cut off her fingers and has tortured and killed her mother, which I found repulsive on its own. But then, then, he dies! Like, she screwed him to death! WHAT?!?! So yeah, this isn’t one I’d recommend. Too bad! For my next Brazilian novel, I have my eye on The Seamstress. But if you’ve read any awesome fiction by Brazilian authors (who aren’t Coehlo), please share! (I have read two of Amado’s novels and intend to read more in the future.)
I’m thinking that The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman should be my first Once Upon a Time IV read. It’s got quite a few fairy tales, and the main character, who lost her mother when she was ten, obsessively studies her mother’s two fantasy novels to try to find out more about her life. Since her mother was inspired by Irish folktales like the selkies, there are some delicious stories within the novel. :) Overall, I thought the first half of the book was much stronger than the second. It’s much more focused on fairy tales, since Iris (our narrator) is a professor who assigns her various students to write essays on a fairy/folk tale from their own lives. A few of these essays, and art projects, are included in the text, and they’re all lovely. But then summer vacation starts, and Iris returns to the hotel she lived in as a child (her father was manager and her mother was a maid there pre-marriage), and she becomes intent on figuring out the mystery of her mother’s death and life before the hotel. Urgh-I feel like any time I talk about the plot, I just sound confusing! Anyway, the thing is, the twist in the mystery is really obvious. And once you’ve figured it out, the whole thing just begins to feel a bit drawn out. Iris throughout the novel isn’t ‘the sharpest tool in the shed,’ so it felt in-character for her to be so oblivious, but it does get tedious. That being said, the second half includes selections from Iris’ mother’s novels, which is quite fun. I love layers of text in a novel! For me, this was definitely an enjoyable and worthwhile read, but it didn’t live up to the other two Goodmans I’ve read (The Ghost Orchid and The Lake of Dead Languages). My mom enjoyed it more than me (we were listening to it on audio on our looong drive); it was her first Goodman novel and now she wants to read more. So it might depend on your prior experience with her stuff! And thinking more about it, I’m definitely counting it for OUaT, and it was a fun way to kick up the challenge!
I remember reading Lu’s review of Looking for Bapu by Anjali Banerjee, rushing to my library catalogue, and being cranky that they didn’t own a copy. Then Chris posted a glowing review, and I decided to go ahead and ILL it. I’m so glad that I did! This is a slim novel, about ten-year-old Anu, the son of Indian immigrants living in the Midwest, and how he reacts to the loss of his beloved Bapu. It’s a magical story, full of mischief and sadness and humour and life. While it’s about children, and I’m sure I would have adored it as a child, I still felt completely satisfied as an adult reader. Banerjee is a marvelous writer, and I’m delighted that my library does have three of her other novels. I shall be reading them soon! If you need more convincing, be sure to follow the links above and read what Lu and Chris had to say. :) But I highly recommend this to everyone, and if you have children, it’d be perfect to read aloud to them
I grabbed After the Dance by Edwidge Danticat both because I loved The Farming of the Bones last year and as the ‘musical term’ category for the What’s in a Name? 3 Challenge. It’s a slim account of Danticat’s travel back to Jacmel, Haiti for Carnival. I loved her literary prose, as well as the way she really brought Haiti to life for me. She mixes together observations with history, and I feel like I was granted a brief glimpse towards Haiti. It’s funny, I definitely enjoyed every page of it, and I highly recommend it to others, but I can’t think of anything else to say. Eek!
I have this odd quirk. Sometimes, I read a book and love it so much, that I hesitate to read anything else by the author, in case it doesn’t live up to my expectations. The audio version of Ireland by Frank Delaney, read by the author, is my very favourite audiobook ever. I’ve listened to it Lord knows how many times, and I still adore it. So when his publicist e-mailed and offered a (hard) review copy of his newest novel, Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, I decided I’d be silly to turn it down. Once I received it, I found out there were some blogging tours scheduled, which annoyed me a bit, so I put off reading it for a few weeks. But I finally decided to start it during my vacation. And, well, I wish I had just reread Ireland instead. I can see why others might enjoy this, but I found the first-person narrative overwritten and the constant foreshadowing tiresome. There was so much doom-and-gloom being hinted at on every other page, that the plot couldn’t possibly contain that much tragedy short of retelling Oedipus Rex. There were a few bright spots, but for the most of the book I was bored, and at over four hundred pages, I found it a bit of a chore to finish. All of that being said, I still highly, highly recommend Ireland to everyone! (Speaking of which, this was my first book for the Ireland Reading Challenge, and Ireland happens to the the prize to participants.)
Finally, I finished In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson last night in preparation for Citizen Reader’s Book Menage which begins tomorrow. This is my third Bryson book, but the first time I’ve read one of his travelogues. I must say, I very much enjoyed it! Bryson made me laugh, sometimes to the point of tears, he brought Australia to life, and he never felt negative about the country. I admit, part of why I’ve shied away from Bryson’s travelogues in the past, is that I was under the impression that they were full of snark. I’m quite happy to be proven wrong! I’m also quite happy to be confirmed in my suspicion that I would not enjoy spending time in the Outback. ;) I would love to visit Australia, but I’ll stick to the east coast, thank you very much! Anyway, I’d recommend this book, especially to people who are a bit hesitant about nonfiction. I read this straight through, in one big gulp, and loved every page!
Whew! Now I’m caught up on reviews, and it feels good. :) I hope everyone else is enjoying this Sunday, full of spring and joy. As for me, I shall be watching the final episode of Lark Rise to Candleford‘s first season, and then getting back to my reading. I’m in the middle of several delicious books right now.