Monday, October 12, 2009

Heard a Good Book Lately?

I frequent the public library to feed my need for audiobooks. If I go long without something in my car CD or tape player, I get a little twitchy. While I consider myself in touch with current publications, I often pick up an audiobook without any prior knowledge, unsure if it's brand-new or a few years old. In fact, when I listened to Olive Kitteridge, that was the case. I was pleasantly surprised when the book was announced as the Pulitzer Prize winner.

While I tend to read the back cover copy and the inside flaps of print text, I sometimes don't look at the CD case before I begin listening. Even if I try, I often find the library information laminated over it anyway. I'm beginning to think this may not be such a bad problem. I just finished listening to Jamie Ford's The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and even now, I'm not sure how the book was marketed. Because the protagonist was only twelve or thirteen during much of the narrative and because the book lacked any profanity or sexual references, I suspect it may have targeted young adult readers. When I looked in my most recent mailing from one of the book clubs that sends me mail, though, I noticed it listed there.

No matter what the intended audience, the story was one that appealed to me and, I suspect, would appeal to many adult readers--at least those who didn't turn to literature for their dose of cursing and sexual innuendo. I felt the same about The Book Thief, which was marketed to young adults. I hoped it wouldn't miss out on older readers because the story reached beyond any age barriers.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet moves back and forth between 1942 and 1986 in Seattle, Washington. During WWII, the protagonist Henry, a Chinese-American boy, befriends an American-born girl of Japanese descent, despite his father's passionate hatred for the Japanese. Keiko is the only other Asian student at the white school he attends on scholarship,. The story moves back and forth between the war-time debacle, the "relocation" of the Japanese to internment camps--purportedly for their safety--and Henry's life after losing his wife Ethel to cancer.

The story--in many ways a love story--pulls in historical threads related to the war and to the treatment of American Japanese, as well as a related storyline covering the Seattle jazz scene in the forties. I'm reminded once again of how literature allows readers to walk in someone else's shoes for awhile. I know that walking in Henry's shoes certainly sharpened my view. I've even found myself lookng for long-lost Oscar Holden records.


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