Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The post that almost wasn't! - books, books book!

I wrote this whole post a few days ago before the Blogger app on my iPad ate it up and disappeared it forever.  So I thought I'd try again, but not using that blasted app!

I've been an avid reader all my life.  I have been in a book club for 18 years, and this past year became involved in a second book club.  Both groups read a book a month, with some breaks during summer and holiday time.  It's during those break times that I try to pick books from the growing pile on my night table.  But we've had some heavy book club reads, so it took me a while to get to the pile this summer.  So this is not an art post, and not even an art book post.  It's just a post about books I've read. 

What have my book clubs been reading?  We started the summer with the novel The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom.  It's an excellent book, but... not a typical summery 'beach' read, for sure.  The story is deeply tragic.  One horrific event takes place after another, and it was heartbreaking.  The only book I've read that can think of that had the same depth of tragedy is Gap Creek.  Such a sad story.  So - note to book clubs:  The Kitchen House is an excellent book, and very moving.  But don't choose it for the summertime!!!
Then, the other book club selected The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  I'll admit, I seriously rebelled against reading this book. It is a major commitment, at 775 pages, and still available only in hardcover (I do not read on a tablet; I like real paper, and folding pages). Again, this is not a traditional 'summer read'.  And because I read some reviews calling it 'Dickensian', I was extra-concerned.  (One of my least favorite books ever: Great Expectations.  Just SO wordy. Ugh. And I could never buy into that wedding cake.)  So I was pleasantly surprised when The Goldfinch shockingly took off like a shot.  And I stayed engaged for most of the way, until Finally, I just wanted it to be done.  I have to say this:  I believe the book could easily have 200 pages shaved from it, without spoiling the story.  And then I think I would have cared more when the protagonist waxed philosophical in the final pages.  But I was done.  I just didn't care any more.  And I think the extensive drug use in the book was over the top.  Heck, you could lose 100 pages of drug usage and there would still be enough left to be important in the story.  Did you read this book?  Do you feel the same way?  Did you like the protagonist?  Hate him? Feel sorry for him?  Were you as conflicted about him as I was?

Just prior to the two books above,  I read The Circle by Dave Eggers for one book club.  It is a novel, and is a disturbing look at the near future.  Some of it seemed just a little too true for me, and it definitely creeped me out.  I usually really like Dave Eggers books (I heartily recommend both What is the What, and Zeitoun, and also liked his first book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), but this one left me a bit cold.   It's the story of a different sort of Big Brother, with an internet communication organization pretty much controlling everything.  (That's a vast oversimplification of the story.)  I found it a bit uncomfortably creepy.  Have you read it?

What do you think are good 'summer reads'?  Above are pictured a few of my all time favorite summertime books, though I read none of them recently:  The lusciously sensuous Like Water for Chocolate was a fabulous vacation book, totally unique.  I think it was my first taste of magic realism.  And Watermelon by Marian Keyes was a rollicking fun summertime book.  Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods was so laugh-out-loud funny that, while reading in bed at night, I frequently woke my husband to read him passages from the book, much to his chagrin. 

But anyhow, back to what I'm reading this summer, or at least was reading, until a few days ago:
Once I finished the books for book clubs, and before I started our next book club books, I decided to read this book: One Hundred Years of Solitude.  I've seen it on so many lists of important books, and since I generally enjoy magic realism, I thought I'd appreciate it.  But several people had told me they hated it.  I didn't listen, because they also told me that they didn't think The Goldfinch was too long, so I didn't trust their opinions...  So, I started it, and immediately was loving it.  So charmingly delightful!  And then...I got confused.  I folded down the corner of the page with a family tree on it, so I could refer to it frequently, and I did just that.  Repeatedly.  And I did OK for a while.  But, at halfway through the book, I realized I was totally flummoxed by the number of characters with the same couple of names, or various variations of those same names.  Even with the help of the family tree, I had no idea who was who any more.  I was lost.  And for now, I have given up, and am currently reading something else (for book club - I am re-reading a good book: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime).  Have you read One Hundred Years of Solitude?  Were you more successful than me? 

So - while I'm writing about books here, I figured I'd share the titles of some all-time and more recent favorites, those books that are stuck in my memory and have been or will be re-read many times over the years.  Here's my list:

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett - a beautiful, tender book, an absolute favorite
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller - an apocalyptic book.  Despite the violence in the story, it is also beautifully written and tender, with a unique voice.  I am smitten with this book.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - the visual imagery in this book is incredibly lush!  The story isn't always perfect, but as an artist, I was blown away by the pictures this book creates.
The Abortion by Richard Brautigan -another book with magnificent visual imagery, by a hippie sort of author - I mean, who else would describe dark hair spread out on a pillow as 'bat lightning'?  And it's a little book; a quick read.
Like the Red Panda by Andrea Seigel - a heartbreaking book of a teen alienation - every time I hear the song Mad World I think of this book. It breaks my heart, but I'll read it again, trying to find answers.  Terribly sad.
Franny & Zooey by J.D. Salinger - need I say more?  I am a huge Salinger fan.
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger - this book just really floored me.  So romantic but totally different. 
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell - OK, this book started funny, but then got a little creepy like Deliverance, but still, I love it for its total uniqueness.
The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey - this is the most unusual alphabet book you'll ever see!
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank - this needs no description.  I read it as a child and many times since. 
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier - recommended to me by my mom as a teen; I can't even tell you how many times I've read this terrific novel!

And a few  more just for bonus:

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton
The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse
Room by Emma Donoghue
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman 

It's past my bedtime, and I have a book waiting for me, so I'm going to end this post.  Let me know what you've been reading, too!  And do you share any of the same favorites?  Is there anyone else out there who has read Like the Red Panda?  

Goodnight from Phyl ... signing out for now!!


  1. I loved the first 2/3 of Goldfinch -- the last third, not so much. I find I don't have much tolerance for viewing or reading about excessive drug use. My favorite summer read this year was Anna Quindlen's Every Last One.

    1. Seems, then, that we are very much in agreement about The Goldfinch!

      I haven't read the Anna Quindlen book, but I'm adding it to my list to check out. Thanks for the suggestion.