another review of a book about book lovers

So in the exhilarating hours following my completion of Anna Karenina I read 84, Charing Cross Road quickly followed by the similar The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. A book with which I fell completely in love.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

As I mentioned in my review of 84 I heard about Guernsey when listening to the Diane Rehm show on NPR. And because of Anna I had to wait to read it. I opened the pages and found a quote from the book on this special glossy page at the beginning of the novel.

I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How wonderful if that were true.

  I teared up more than a few times while reading this book. Mary Ann Shaffer (described by her niece as their family’s best story-teller) and her niece Annie Barrows struck quite an amazing tone in telling the stories of the men and women who lived under German occupation in the British Channel Isles during World War Two. It is a story of courage and unlikely friendships and all those “feel good” cliches they use to describe novels like this. And I loved it.

Anna is considered a “great romance” and I guess I can kind of see that when it comes to Levin and Kitty… but to me it seemed more like a dissertation on dysfunctional relationships. So, this whimsical romance set in such a distinct little place was refreshing and just so cute to me.

Like 84, Guernsey is told through correspondence. The letters written to and from Juliet unfold the story of her life and the inhabitants of this quirky little island in the English Channel. All of the characters are resiliently recovering from the horrors of World War II and attempting to piece their lives back together. And Juliet, hearing of the people and their plight during the war decides to write a story about them.

I think after the bleak, bleak pages of early 19th century Russia the hopeful love story set in the late 1940s was so completely refreshing that I just liked it without even thinking about it. It is one of the best kinds of stories: people drawing together during a dark time and creating joy in the midst of terror.

I find the title of this book sort of amusing. As with most absurdly long titles it makes perfect sense once you’ve read the novel. And the quirkiness is sure to grab attention of book browsers. I like quirky names, but I am over them a little bit. I don’t think I’ll ever like books with one word titles. But somewhere in the 2-4 words range is acceptable I think. Or maybe I’m just in a weird mood after blogging about so many books with ridiculously long titles.

I have some exciting news for you all later this week… so make sure you stop by the blog Thursday to read it!

See you then.

Swedish novels with long names

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I remember seeing this book in Sam’s Club ages ago and wondering if I’d like it. The cover sort of attracted me, and the title. But this was a bit before I really launched into the serious business of reading and I hadn’t really crossed the Mississippi (if you will) that runs between Young Adult Lit and Modern Lit.

I have to admit that I was not a big fan of this book. It moves at a snails pace, is full of quite tedious detail and horrific scenes that neither inspire empathy or anger just horror, and went on for about 100 pages after it should have just ended. That was my overall feeling of the book. There were moments that I enjoyed. Some of the detail in the prose regarding Lisbeth’s love of technological things was interesting.

Mostly I just felt like I’d been forced to spend several hours observing two people through a one way mirror who could not care less that other people existed.

I’m seriously debating whether or not I’ll finish the trilogy. My friend Garrett, who hasn’t really steered me wrong with a suggestion before (directly or indirectly) said that his enjoyment of the series picked up with the second book and the third was his favourite. It’s such a gamble though, each of those books is a brick.

In other news I’ve been lazy and I’ve left the cover of that book over there in my side bar for far too long. So, I’ll update that as soon as I finish typing this up.

I think the most interesting thing for me about reading this book is that Jeffrey read it as well. We now discuss books during our conversations together. Something I find quite endearing and always a little bit bizarre. He’s an interesting critic. He, like me, was not super impressed with the story and felt it went on too long. And we discussed the implications of translating it from Swedish into English (and how that made some of the words have different spellings than he was used to). I think that was the coolest result of reading the book.

I really don’t have any interest in watching the movies (except that I do love to see Daniel Craig stare intensely into the camera with those icy blue eyes of his)

seriously, they're almost clear

so I probably won’t watch them. But I will let you know if I finally decide whether to finish the trilogy or not. Recently something’s gotten into me and I find myself having less patience for series of books. Give it to me in a stand alone, that’s what I want.

What did you think? Have you seen the movies? Did you read the whole trilogy? Should I?

Summer Reading – One Day

One Day by David Nicholls

So, it turns out I was already a bit of a fan of David Nicholls before I read this book, but I didn’t quite realize it. He wrote another coming-of-age sort of novel called Starter for 10 which was made into a movie with James MacAvoy (whom I had a brief but passionate crush on). So I saw that movie a few years ago. I’m not sure if I saw the trailer for One Day first or saw the book first… I can’t quite remember. But as soon as I knew the premise I was hooked on the idea. The characters meet on July 15th (in the late 80s, the year changes from the book to the movie), the last night of their college years. Each subsequent chapter is set on that day the next year. Twenty years of July 15th’s combine to make quite a unique way to tell a story. Especially since Nicholls wasn’t too bothered with contriving ways for Dexter and Emma (the main characters) to always spend time with each other on that day.

I read the novel the first day and a half we were at the beach. I finished it Sunday afternoon and I put me in a serious funk. The ending was so wonderfully tragic that I had one of those “I’ll never write anything this real and sad” moments. I moved on, but my, oh my did I love what this novel was able to make me feel. There were so many wonderful moments of prose. Nicholls has this singular way of describing moments in his novel that seem absurd but make absolute sense. He describes the younger Emma’s struggle with flirting like “having a conversation on roller skates, full of stops and starts”. I was completely wrapped up in the novel as I read it. When the dread of realizing that I was nearing the end began to grow in my stomach I was able to briefly distract myself with the fact that I had EIGHT other books with me at the beach. However, I can confidently say this was my favourite of the week.

I went to see the movie version yesterday. I’ve read a few reviews of it. One which lambasted Anne’s  affected Yorkshire accent. It’s from a British news source and the author of the article made at least one valid complaint: that this clearly British role went to an American actress seems a bit strange. However, Hathaway has made a career of transforming from a frumpy every-day girl to the chicest, glamourous princess (Princess Diaries, The Devil Wears Prada, etc.) and the argument that she isn’t believable as “frumpy” seemed a bit played out to me. A realistically frumpy person is not very likely to be a great actress, and no one really likes to look at frumpy people. So it’s a bit of a moot argument.

Since I’m American and think anything similar to crisp diction sounds vaguely English I wasn’t much bothered by her accent (though at times I did notice it was rather more guttural than other times). I was honestly more bothered by Jim Sturgess’ terrible wigs. The whole book to movie thing is always tricky. I fully understand. I was a little surprised by the fact that Nicholls worked on the screenplay as well (that’s not typical). I think they did an amazing job of showing you the years and making the time cues believable. Both in the book and movie Nicholls did a fantastic job of using era as a setting. At one time Emma even sports “The Rachel“.

I thoroughly enjoyed both the book and movie. The book was great. I want to own it (if someone wants to buy it for me, I’ll take it). Anyway, if you enjoy a good little romantic novel check this one out.

Summer Reading – The Help

  Also known as my favorite book so far this summer. Man, guys, you wouldn’t believe how awesome this book is. Three colorful and rich narratives, beautifully constructed people and place, I can’t wait to tell you about all that I learned from Kathryn Stockett’s writing. I’m very excited about that. I’ll try to keep that out of this post.

  Anyway, I picked this book out because it’s been made into a movie that comes out August 10. And I love Emma Stone, so I thought I’d like to see the movie. But it’s necessary to read the book first, amiright?

  I took it along with me to camp at Snowbird last week and read it on the bus and during some of the breaks I could snatch. It was a quick, easy enough read. I read it back to back with All the Sad Young Literary Men which you may remember also had three narrators of the same gender. Though ATSYLM is told by three men of the nearly the same age, and The Help is told by three women of stark age difference and strikingly different socioeconomic status. It’s also set in the midst of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, right in the hotbed of Jackson, Mississippi.

  The premise sort of follows the “If walls could talk…” idea. Except these walls are known as the “help” the black maids who work for the middle class and wealthy families of Jackson. Imagine for a moment that the walls of your home were given not only the power of speech but the dexterity to write down their stories and with that power they told stories, without bias, of your best and worst moments. You’ll get a little bit closer to the idea of what it would be like to be one of the women in Jackson in the novel. Observing people is always fascinating, especially when they are not conscious of your observation.

  The book also operates under the bizarre convention of Southern pride. The kind that sweeps the truth under the rug. It’s a common trope, but dysfunction always magnetizes people. I think Tolstoy said something about that. We are drawn to dysfunction, the airing out of other people’s dirty laundry, scandal. The world is rife with such stories. Rarely do they end with the sort of resolution found in The Help.

  Possibly, my favorite thing about whole novel was the author’s note at the end. She talked about her struggle to write in the voice of  a black person, to convey the strange dichotomy of love and hate tension between the races. It was so honest. I loved it. Can we have more please?

  Though, right now I wouldn’t trade places with Kathryn Stockett for anything. The story was born out of such a personal place for her. Now she’s got a national bestseller under her belt that’s been turned into a movie in under 2 years and the pressure must be mounting. I’m back to the question that often haunts me: would it be better to write one perfect, complete novel and fade out from the peak? Or have a career of successes and failures? What do you think?