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On Light Books (Frangipani and Doctor Thorne)

April 26, 2010

I went to a small liberal arts college that had its fair share of hipsters. Among the many sub-breeds of hipster there were the lit snobs. And these lit snobs would sneeringly refer to ‘light’ books…you know, the kind of fiction in which nothing dreadful happens and which doesn’t leave the reader depressed. Now, I want to say at the outset that I can love ‘depressing’ books with the best of them: Half of a Yellow Sun with its Biafra war, Dracula with its eponymous embodiment of evil, pretty much anything Edith Wharton wrote…I love these books even while wishing I could protect the characters from their milieu. But I don’t believe that the ‘seriousness’ or ‘literary merit’ of a book is measurable by how many sad things happen in it.

If pressed, I could probably label a couple events in my life as ‘tragedies.’ But even that would be a stretch, and my real life is lived from day-to-day, in the quiet moments. I face little problems, and experience little triumphs, and just go about trying to shape the raw materials I’ve been given into some kind of life. For that reason, I find ‘light’ fiction as valuable and moving as the ‘heavy’ stuff, and I’m more than happy to argue with anyone who say otherwise. ;)

I wrote that introduction because I’ve recently read two wonderful novels, both of which had a light feel to them. And now with context, y’all will know that I mean that as a compliment! The books were written centuries apart, and are set in different hemispheres, but they both had a certain magic that made them a delight to read.

Frangipani by Celestine Hitiura Vaite
Vaite grew up in Tahiti, among an extended family full of strong women. Frangipani (which I read as part of the Reading the World Challenge) channels that and revolves around mothers and daughters, specifically Materena Mahi and her daughter Leilani. When the story starts, Materena is pregnant with Leilani, and in a relatively short space (less than three hundred pages), the novel covers a bit over twenty years. Because of this, it has a bit of an episodic feel…I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a collection of interconnected short stories, more that the narrative sometimes jumps over years at once. Vaite handles it well; she’s a marvelous writer, with a touch so deft you don’t even notice its skill. She weaves in a lot of Tahitian background and folklore, but it’s done in a completely organic way. And the characters seem to leap off the page! :)

You know, I thought I’d have more to say about this one, since I really did love it and highly recommend it (I’m thrilled Vaite has other books out, and I intend to request them from my library soon). But I already returned to the library, so I can’t share any excerpts, and I’ve already told you that the setting, writing, and characters are all realistic and charming. What else do you need?

Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope
I’ve been working my way through the Barsetshire Chronicles, and I decided to read the third one-Doctor Thorne-for the Our Mutual Read Challenge. I had to ILL it, and then I didn’t realise how soon it would be due, so I found myself needing to read over 600 pages in about twenty-four hours. Fortunately, Trollope’s writing is so marvelous, the pages flew by and I loved every second! This is the book that got me out of the reading slump I’d been having, and it reaffirmed my love of Trollope…his face might just appear in my sidebar soon! ;) Anyway, the book is about both Dr. Thorne’s and his niece Mary and their relationship with the local ‘bigwig’ family. It’s driven along by concerns over an unsuitable marriage, but the plot is not particularly important. Just like an Austen, the book is about the characters, people of everyday countryside England, and the way their lives can turn out. There’s also quite a bit of wit going on…Trollope skewers his more snobbish characters, and even has humourous passages directed to the reader mocking the conventions of novels. The whole book simply sparkles, and I adored it. I can’t remember the last time a novel made me think of Jane Austen, but this one did. I’d highly recommend it as a delicious, accessible classic. :)

Apparently, my brain isn’t really feeling the whole review thing. But at least I’m out of my reading slump, so with any luck my blogging slump will end soon too. In the meantime, it does free up more hours for books! :D

40 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2010 8:47 am

    I keep meaning to try Trollope and I can’t figure out why I don’t just begin! I have Frangipani on the shelf and look forward to it. Isn’t the cover so pretty?!

  2. winstonsdad permalink
    April 26, 2010 8:48 am

    love the sound of the vaite novel eva a wonderful find ,all the best stu

  3. April 26, 2010 9:23 am

    Have to agree with Nan — that cover is gorgeous. I read the part about 600 pages in short order and was ready to abandon the idea, but your saying the time flew is causing me to reconsider. Had not considered Trollope at all but it sounds worth a look. I sort of vary my reading between stuff that’s definitely “light,” which I like, because reading for me is relaxation, a break from the real world, and stuff that teaches me something about the world and the people in it. For that, I have to recommend a book I read for book club, “Power of a Woman,” which is written (by Robert Fripp) as the memoirs of Eleanor of Aquitaine (she died in 1204). Woah — talk about a woman who led an exciting life! A review I saw of it online likened the style of “I, Claudius.” I never read that, but I sure enjoyed the television series. She had a long, turbulent life, and is one of the most renowned women in medieval Europe. Her power endured for decades — in the book, in dictating her memoirs, she’s trying to find herself behind the masks (both diplomatic and social) she wore throughout her life. Very interesting. And for book clubs there’s even a guide. (I do find those useful…)

  4. April 26, 2010 9:26 am

    In graduate school I discovered Trollope and pledged to read one Trollope novel a year. He wrote 55 so that should last a lifetime, right? I kept the pledge for four years, but have not read him in well over a decade. I should go back to him. He is so much fun to read.

  5. April 26, 2010 9:31 am

    I’m definitely on a lighter novels kick right now and it has also helped get me out of my reading slump. In fact, I’m considering something heavy again for a change of pace!

  6. Kathleen permalink
    April 26, 2010 9:51 am

    Glad you are out of your reading slump! And happy to have a few “light” recommendations to add to my TBR!

  7. April 26, 2010 10:17 am

    Both books sound great but I have to admit that Frangipani sounds the most tempting to me!

  8. April 26, 2010 10:34 am

    I join you in admiring and enjoying Trollope. I have a shelf of his books and when I want some time off from other troubles I read a Trollope. I especially recommend Can You Forgive Her? and The Way We Live Now (also a very good TV series).

  9. April 26, 2010 11:18 am

    Frangipani does sound wonderful!

    I have “Barchester Towers” by Trollope on my shelves and I think you just convinced me that I need to try and read it soon :)

    I’m glad to hear you’re out of your reading slump. And as for reviewing, take all the time you need. Oh, and the shorter reviews work just as well for me sometimes.

  10. April 26, 2010 11:33 am

    1. totally know what you mean about lit snobs, although I went to an agriculture/business college so I was a token lit snob just because there needed to be one!!
    2. can I just say that I love the word “frangipani”?

  11. April 26, 2010 11:35 am

    I’m with you – a do love a good,dark book, but I can appreciate and enjoy a light book too! Both of these sound good to me.

  12. She permalink
    April 26, 2010 11:54 am

    I know of these hipsters of which you speak. Oh, lithips. I actually find it rather interesting that there are so many different types of hipsters. The most interesting would have to be the bike kids, though. Please see exhibit A of the Slaughterama Bike Joust:

  13. April 26, 2010 12:14 pm

    I’m so glad to hear you liked Frangipani! I have that one on my shelf and looking forward to it. Funny, you should write about this because last night we watched such a dark and depressing movie and when that was over I needed something light to unwind with. Sometimes light books are just what we need!

  14. April 26, 2010 1:28 pm

    First of all, I am so impressed that you read 600 pages of Trollope in 24 hours! When I read my first Trollope, The Way We Live Now, I found that I could not put it down — I kept sneaking off to squeeze in “just one more chapter.” (There were 100). I haven’t read Dr. Thorne yet but I have several more Trollopes on my to-read shelf. He is so wonderful, I don’t understand why he’s not as popular as Dickens or Austen. I’ll have to move this up on my to-read list.

  15. April 26, 2010 2:18 pm

    I just went and double-checked my list and I only have one title by Trollope on there (Barchester Towers)! Since I have seen so many bloggers rave, I almost want to save it for the right moment, but I am so insanely curious now!

    I guess I am a little bit of a book snob at times. Maybe I am like that to cover my own “fun” reads, like really out-there fantasy and science fiction. :) But I know that I am really not snobby, I just wish more people read more diverse literature! I know that in many of my English classes in college I was always outsmarted and snobbed by some of my peers. It never really bothered me, but I was always awed by people who had read so much and so diversely at such a relatively young age. It certainly inspired me to branch out from some of the things I like to read most.

    I keep trying to get my mom to read some other things, but she still hearkens back to her romance novels. There isn’t really anything wrong with that, but I keep telling her to try new things. Her argument is that she knows what she likes, so why chance it? Maybe it is more of a perspective on why people read. She reads purely for pleasure, and while I do as well, I also read to learn and gain new perspective on eras, people, and cultures.

  16. Sarah permalink
    April 26, 2010 3:12 pm

    I’m glad you enjoyed reading Doctor Thorne Eva, the good news is that the next Barset book Framley Parsonage is just as good if not better.

  17. April 26, 2010 4:50 pm

    Ooo, I’m with Sarah about Framley Parsonage. Just love that one. Just love Trolloppe but cannot decide if I prefer the Barsetshire or the Palliser novels. It is a good thing, as C.B. James reminds us, that there is so much Trollope to go around.

  18. April 26, 2010 4:51 pm

    “But I don’t believe that the ‘seriousness’ or ‘literary merit’ of a book is measurable by how many sad things happen in it.”

    Could you please join the Pulitzer Board?

  19. April 26, 2010 5:16 pm

    Ooh, thanks for the Trollope review! I have a couple of his books but haven’t read them. It’s good to know they are a lighter classic and I should pick one up soon! I need to get moving on the Our Mutal Read challenge, so maybe that will give me a kickstart!

  20. April 26, 2010 6:01 pm

    Lit snobs miss out on so many enjoyable books! When I need “light” reading I turn to mysteries, fantasies and science fiction, some very dense, dark and extremely well-written! I am adding Frangipani to my TBR list because it sounds wonderful and I love the title!

  21. April 26, 2010 6:16 pm

    Both have been added to my to-read list :)

  22. April 27, 2010 3:21 am

    Hurray for Trollope and the end of the reading slump!!

  23. April 27, 2010 3:30 am

    Did we go to the same college??? :-) As a matter of fact, I am in the middle of Half of a Yellow Sun right now. Something light, after that, will be perfect. And I agree completely that the literary merit of a book is not measurable by how many sad things happen in it. Yes indeed.

  24. April 27, 2010 4:03 am

    I liked Frangipani because it was light, but wonder if there’s a bit of a difference between light reading and cheerful reading, are they always the same? Oh and I think there’s a sequel to Frangipani from another point of view.

  25. April 27, 2010 4:14 am

    Oh, I’ve always meant to try Trollope, and this one definitely seems like something I’d like. Thanks for the review!

  26. April 27, 2010 10:47 am

    Ha! I was one of those lit snobs. Actually I was one of those dweebs that met in the upper rooms of the student union after hours to “read through” Shakespeare plays. Fun but, oh my goodness. Kind of embarrassing to look back on. Don’t worry so much about the reading slump. It happens to everyone. The Trollope book looks great. Can’t wait to read your review!

  27. April 27, 2010 11:13 am

    So happy to see Trollope mentioned! I’m just rereading Can You Forgive Her?, which I would recommend to anyone trying Trollope for the first time–Lady Glencora Palliser is a delight, and Alice Vavasour is puzzling. Or maybe try The Way We Are Now? (have I got that title right?)

    Not the era of my work, which is the 1930s, but I’ve read all 43 of his novels, and not because I’m a litsnob! :)It’s because they’re fun.

  28. April 27, 2010 11:42 am

    Ha, I used to work in an indie bookstore full of those booksnobs. And tried to be one myself until I met my husband and he read a lot of ‘literary’ books I’d never read, along with a lot of genre. So now I take perverse delight in reading mysteries, graphic novels, teen fantasy and cozy lighter things. I had declared 2010 the year of the comfort read, but now that I’m book blogging, I’ve beginning to have a few bigger ambitions again… In fact I was thinking I really needed to read some Trollope just this morning! I’ve tried The Way We Live Now in the past and didn’t get into it, but I keep wanting to try The Eustace Diamonds (Nancy Pearl recommended it in Book Lust and I keep eyeing it every time I go to the bookstore!)

  29. April 27, 2010 3:19 pm

    Trollope! And once you’ve loved one, there are so many more out there to enjoy. That’s the beauty of it. I must read him this year, BUT, based on your inspiration, I’m reading so many novels by foreign writers, non-English, writers.
    Thanks for your posts. I love them.

  30. April 27, 2010 8:58 pm

    I agree with you, I think some of the best books are ones the reader can actually ENJOY. :)
    Both books sound great, 600 pages in 24 hours is quite an accomplishment!

  31. April 28, 2010 8:58 am

    Oh these both sound so nice. I’m thinking, since the last few weeks has been Zola and then Crime and Punishment and Lord of the Rings (which I’m disliking very much), I may need something light.

  32. April 28, 2010 2:02 pm

    I would describe a fair number of my lit students as snobs and I always try to call them on it. I like your idea of “accessible classic.” This would be an interesting list–I know a bunch of more casual readers who would like to read classic literature, but live in mortal terror of accidentally picking up something like Gravity’s Rainbow or Finnegan’s Wake.

  33. April 28, 2010 4:35 pm

    Frangipani actually sounds like a Hindi word, though I don’t think that word exists in Hindi vocab. I like your review of the book, so I’ll add it to my TBR. I like light reads too, but usually I pick them just to release the knots in my head after reading plenty of “depressed” books (that really is not the right word. Maybe emo-centric). I’ve faced that debate about light vs non-light (?) with many people, I guess it’s all to the tastes of the reader.

  34. April 29, 2010 8:30 am

    I loved your introduction. It’s very true. In university, my major was English Lit and if I ever mentioned popular or genre fiction I would get those “looks” from the hardcore Lit People. (In other words, if it isn’t Dickens, it doesn’t count.) :)

    I really enjoy horror novels, as well as other genres, and actually many of them can be incredibly insightful and prosaic. Even if they aren’t, that doesn’t diminish the effort a writer put into his/her work.

    Great post,
    Lydia @ The Literary Lollipop

    • April 30, 2010 6:32 am

      Your comment about hardcore lit people being snobs about Dickens is so funny — for years Dickens wasn’t considered literature at all because it was so popular! I think even in the early part of the 20th century it wasn’t considered among the best of English literature. Wonder if the snobs were aware of that?

  35. April 30, 2010 4:23 am

    I find I have to read lighter books sometimes because too much heavy stuff puts me off reading. So while I prefer books with a…more involving (perhaps that’s the way to say it) plot I would lose interest if I didn’t go for the girl-meets-boy-has problems-has-happy-ending every so often. I’ve been in a reading slump myself recently and I think it’s because I’ve not read any chick-lit for a while.

    I love the sound of another author like Austen, and never heard of Trollope before. I can see some research happening here in a bit.

  36. May 15, 2010 11:24 am

    I love the sound of Frangipani. You’ve gotta have a bit of variety in your reading – there’s nothing that kills a love of reading quicker than having to plough through only prescribed ‘worthy’ books!

  37. May 21, 2010 5:32 am

    I thought that I was the only person on the planet who reads Trolloppe. I have about 25 of his books. They are hard to find. My favorite is He Knew He Was Right.


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