Tuesday, December 27, 2005

I Clearly Don't Know Myself

Well, I don't know what I was thinking, but I finished it.

Overall, I'm not too sorry. It was a bit of a slog there, but I don't think it was a real misdirection of the author's intention. In fact, I think that 100 pages shorter, the book would have been very good. I could have used a lot less of Nan's point of view--it was the weakest-written portion of the book (everything she thinks is spelled out and repeated and simplified), and adds the least to the story. Sara's viewpoint doesn't add very much, either, but she gives a dash of perspective on the family, since she's the most unlike the Setons. There's only a dash of Sara--there's WAY too much Nan.

Anyway, I did it. And then today we went to the Middletown library used book store. I got Inventing the Abbots, short stories by Sue Miller (I've never seen the movie), The Rapture of Canaan, which was the first Oprah book I ever read, and pretty good, and another Kazuo Ishiguro book (though I don't have The Remains of the Day yet).

But before I start those, I'm going to reread Never Let Me Go for book club. Next goal--go!

Friday, December 23, 2005

To Be or Not To Be

Yeah, this book (Before You Know Kindness) is just way too heavy-handed. Nan, the grandmother, likes having a therapist for a daughter-in-law because she's good with people, "even if sometimes it made them all more comfortable discussing their feelings than she'd like." Big flashing neon sign around how private and cool this character is? What about this one; she asks her son if he regrets leaving private practice to become a public defender. He says no, people need him in his new job and he likes that. "She found herself smiling because her son was happy...but also because he hadn't allowed their conversation to grow intimate with the sort of disclosure that just might have made both of them uncomfortable."

I don't need any more info about this woman, thanks. But in every passage about her--there are about seven characters the story follows--I get this poing HAMMERED home. Enough, already.

So I'm in a position that I find pretty rarely--I can't decide whether or not to finish the book. I'm on vacation, so my supply's a little limited--a couple of YA novels, a short Thurber book, C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. Actually, I could and ought to get to rereading the book club book. But this isn't quite bad enough to give up without a qualm.

I think I'll switch over. If I find myself coming back to Kindness, I will, but otherwise, I'm going to leave it up to my gut. It's good for so little else.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Hello Kathy

Just to bug Kathy, this entry is all about her.

First, Jodi Picoult. Kathy recommended her, and for someone I've never read, a whole bunch of her books are suddenly on my "To Read" list. This is partly because, looking at the Amazon descriptions, half of them look interesting, and half of them sort of don't; I think that the family dramas sound less interesting than the more complex stories. They sound like they all center a bit around court battles and family issues. I've picked My Sister's Keeper, about a girl who was conceived as a bone marrow donor for her sister and sues her parents for medical emancipation, The Pact, about two teenagers who appear to have had a suicide pact, though only one of them is dead, and Plain Truth, as it is about Amish. I have a thing for Amish in the same way I have a thing for nuns.

Which, by the way, Kathy, I would like to specifically recommend The Nun's Story to you. I don't know if nuns are up your alley, but this book has the rich description and mediation coupled with a pretty engaging plot that I think would make it a recommendation. Also, just about my favorite book. It's by Kathryn Hulme--check it out.

Kathy is also the one who pointed out something that I was just beginning to notice about the book I’m reading, which she just finished. Before You Know Kindness, by Chris Bohjalian. I’ve decided he’s hit or miss. The Midwives was wonderful, and The Law of Similars was worth reading. But this book just drags and drags. I can only handle so many pages of closely observed family life and character studies, touched with some very heavy-handed characterization (he’s vegan, no one understands why. I get it.) before I start to wonder when the plot described on the flap is going to start. And it sounds like the answer is: it doesn’t exactly start--it happens, suddenly, about a third of the way through the book, and then the rest of the book is closely observed family life and character study in the aftermath of this information. I’m not convinced I’m going to finish this book; life’s too short.

That is all for now, I suppose. In conclusion, hi Kathy!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Let It Snow

Why is the weather always miserable when I have to go to work and not when I'm just planning to stay home? Tomorrow will be gross, Saturday will be lovely. I really should feel the opposite way--let it snow while I'm stuck in the office, let me go for a walk on Saturday. Somehow, no. I'd love to have an excuse to stay in, be lazy, wrap, and most important write Christmas cards. I've already pared the list down to those I don't see often. If I've wished you a happy holiday verbally, chances are you're not getting a card.

Cages of Glass, Flowers of Time. A touching story of a girl who's been abandoned and abused. I read it a few times as a child, but we'll have to see how it goes as an adult. I think it may be a bit melodramatic. Still, your childhood loves can get away with a lot.

I've just finished How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen. People who think that acknowledging their flaws makes them into virtues kind of irritate me. People who think the things they love and care about are the only indicators of the state of humanity irritate me. I was irritated many times in this book. His articles that were researched and about specific topics--the Chicago Postal Service, the history of the tobacco industry--were very interesting and enjoyable; he's smart and he can write. At one point I got so angry at him, I was just about to give him up as a hopeless coot; he was wailing about how the demise of rotary phones signaled the end of worthwhile civilization and literature as we know it. But then he cuts away and explains how he'd written that essay in a very dark period, and goes on to explain how obsolecense really guarantees the future of Americal literature.

Mostly, I just think he's hopelessly pretentious. I'm pretty full of bitterness and judgement, but this guy is too darned much.

Friday, December 09, 2005

What a Wonderful World

It's miserable and snowy. I'm frantically scrabbling to get my work done, and I'll be here late even though they're closing the building at 3. I don't know how I'm going to get to this party tonight, or if driving is even safe. I have shopping, Christmas cards, and wedding stuff to worry about. Plus, I'm working offsite for part of next week, and things are piling up. Tearing out my hair, weeping bitterly.

BUT...the Boston Public Library has ten copies of a very rare Young Adult novel called Cages of Glass, Flowers of Time that I loved when I was in middle school. You can't buy it for less than $30 used these days, and most copies are over $100. But I have the BPL, so I'm all set.

What a lovely world we live in. Happy weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


So we had book club last week--Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood, excellent choice. It was a lot of fun, but not as book-clubby as it might have been. We've drifted a little from talking about the book with the same depth we used to, but I'm not sure exactly how to fix that.


Also, no one else appears to have agreed with me in taking the revealed "solution" to the problem of Grace's identity at face value. The book presents a picture of some kind of multiple personality disorder (Dissociative Identity Disorder, to those of use who still have a psych geek living in our souls). Thinking about my psychology education, her behavior and life story don't exactly jibe with how science records this, but as fiction, I bought it hook line and sinker. In reality, DID pretty much only ever arises from prolonged, severe sexual abuse at a very young age. And the "blackouts," periods where the main personality doesn't remember what happened because one of the others was busy using the body, (if I remember correctly) usually result in the person being missing time. But these technical details are not the kind of thing to cause a hiccup in my suspension of disbelief.

Thinking about it in the meeting, I could see that this explanation was much more pat than I would expect from her--much too tidy a solution that allowed you to feel much too certain of the moral conclusion of the story. But when I was reading, I was there with it. Jeremiah was the character through whose eyes I saw things, and I think he was surprised to find the demon in his friend.

Also and chiefly, Grace had nothing to gain by faking this. Most people thought it was an ambiguous question--was she faking, revealing the truth, was Mary Whitney lying? But why would anyone fake this? Why would she be one person outside of hypnosis and then, just at the moment when she might be freed, become another person?

Well, end of spoilers. I got the next book club pick (yay!) and I chose Never Let Me Go. I'm sure I've already mentioned this lovely book by Kazuo Ishiguro, and I generally lean away from picking something I've read, but I thought he would be better than Chris Bohjalian (so many to read: Trans-Sister Radio, Buffalo Soldiers, Before You Know Kindness) as a book club choice. I also liked that this was a book with a sci-fi premise, but not a sci fi plot or theme or feel. I've developed an interest in the intersection between traditional people and "genre" work--Liala and comics, for example, Katie and Young Adult fiction. And now, literati and a story that just might blow their minds.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Yeah, Some Unicorn

I'll tell you, if Sara hadn't made an "eh" face when I asked how The Lady and the Unicorn was, I would probably still be reading it. I would have said to myself, "but I like Tracy Chevalier!" And I'd have stuck it out, if not to the bitter end, then way past the guy who refers to sex as "plowing," the first person female narrator who is supposed to sound like a teenager who's gushing in her diary but really sounds like she's been hired as the narrator, and the very fact that all these French characters for some reason interject French into their conversation, making it look like they're speaking English as they go about their daily lives and resorting to French only when they can't remember, how you say? our language.

Ugh. Thank you, Sara, for liberating me from this awful book.

Now, I'm reading A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott of all people. I picked it up out of curiosity (too racy to be published in her lifetime), expecting it to read like an old, overwritten melodrama. Omigod, it's so good! I'm enjoying every minute of it, even though, as Mike points out, the title gives away the ending. Its raciness is based on the fact of a false marriage, and, I personally would guess, on the fact that the heroine continues to love the bad guy even after she finds out how evil he is. And he's evil! But charming! It's like watching an old Errol Flynn movie--actually, it's got the whole Gone with the Wind idea of people who might or might not be Good, and the fact that there's a difference between being not particularly virtuous and being bad.

I'm so excited that this book is so great. But I'm almost done, and I'm not sure where to go next.