Monday, June 2, 2008

Book Report

It's June already, so it's time for my book report. So far, even with a few distractions, I've managed time to read--or to listen. I've made a few road trips so far, so I've read when not driving and listed when I was. We didn't pare down our book club choices to just one this month. I'd already finished (listening to) Erik Larsen's Thunderstruck, so I still had three more.

Garden Spells by Asheville author Sarah Addison Allen was an easy read set in western North Carolina with interesting characters and a bit of magical realism. The main characters are two sisters, one who has settled into their family home--garden and all; the other returns with her young daughter, escaping from an abusive relationship, after disappearing for several years. The elements of fantasy are not exactly subtle, but they don't get in the way of the themes of the story. Most of the characters are facing some kind of distortions of memory, often resulting from incomplete information. My favorite line: "Memories, even hard memories, grew soft like peaches as they got older."

After having Jodi Picoult's books recommended several time (and having my copy leave my classroom shelf, never to return), I read My Sister's Keeper. Even though the book is fiction, the details seemed so real that I often forgot I was reading a novel. Told from the perspectives of all the main characters, this story examines a family who conceives a genetic match for their daughter with leukemia. Early in the book, the younger sister engages an attorney to allow her to make her own medical decisions in order not to be forced to donate a kidney to her sister.

I finished my last book club read today, Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway. As I read, I realized that this is at least the fourth book I've read recently about Peace Corps experiences, three of them nonfiction. The author describes her relationship with a young woman serving as midwife in a village in Mali. I cannot imagine how anyone could read the book without trying to think of some concrete way to effect change. The book deals with hunger, drought (beyond brown lawns and partially filled swimming pools), disease, child and maternal death, AIDS, ritual genital mutilation, arranged marriages, and gender inequality, but as a reader, I did not feel distanced from their situation. The narrator is not simply an observer; the genuine two-sided friendship that develops between Kris and Monique sets the book apart from others like it.

Meanwhile, I finished reading World Without End, Ken Follett's sequel to Pillars of the Earth. The books are similar in many ways--strong female characters, a cross-section of society, despicable villains. This book, too, is full of details about building--first rebuilding a collapsed bridge, then replacing the cathedral's tower. The story is setting during the time of the Great Plague in Europe, during which time the emerging medical field is at odds with the accepted practices of the church. I bought a copy of the novel for Dick as soon as it was out because he still counts Pillars of the Earth in his top ten list of books. He was reading at his own pace, especially when travelling, so I downloaded a copy for myself on the Sony eReader. (It seemed longer when I realized that on my screen it was about 2600 pages.) He finished reading before me, giving him the opportunity to ask, "Where are you now?" Then he'd say, "Well, I hate to tell you, but the plague's not over yet." I still relished having a chance to discuss the book as I read.

I felt like an idiot recently when I went to the library to check out a book on tape for the road and realized that they had several shelves of books on CD, which I hadn't noticed yet. And imagine this: they are newer releases! I had already enjoyed Clyde Edgerton's Killer Diller, the sequel to Walking Across Egypt. Wesley, Mattie Rigsby's protogee, is the main character this time, and I found it laugh-out-loud funny.

It's been awhile since I've read anything by John Grisham, but I listened to Playing for Pizza, the story of a third-string pro quarterback who wakes in the hospital after throwing four interceptions in eleven minutes in a playoff game, resulting in death threats. His agents arranges for him to sign with a professional American football team in Italy. Listening made me hungry for Italian food (described in tantalizing detail) and travel.

I also checked out Silent to the Bone by E.L. Konigsburg, a young adult novel about a thirteen-year-old boy who loses his ability to speak, rendering him unable to speak as he makes a 911 call when his baby sister is found unresponsive. I had started listening before I left this weekend for Nashville, so I wasn't sure if John would want to listen. Although he sometimes pronounced the book "cheesy," when I offered to turn it off, he said, "No way, now it's sucked me in!"

Now I have to face that dilemma I love and hate: which book next?


Unknown said...

I have been meaning to read My Sister's Keeper. If you get a chance, read Picoult's Nineteen Minutes as well. I'd like to discuss it with someone. I've just finished Kabul Beauty School and will pass it along if you like.

Nancy said...

Okay! It's always more fun to be able to talk about a book. By the way, if you have time this summer, you should join my book group. It's very informal. We're probably meeting two weeks from today (the 17th, I think.)

I'd love to read Kabul Beauty School.