Wendy’s Word

Not your mama’s blog….

Book Update May 3, 2011

Filed under: Books — wendy @ 8:25 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about books, and as a result, I’m starting to forget what I’ve been reading.  Part of my original motivation to start a blog was to remember (and share) what I read!  So here are my brief synopses.

Dragon Tattoo series (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Girl Who Kicked Over the Hornet’s Nest), by Steig Larsson.  My husband brought home the first movie and I watched it just to humor him.  Now I’ve read all three books and saw the first and third movies.  They are compelling.  The setting (Sweden) is so different from what we’re used to – the landscape, the customs (they are constantly drinking coffee!), and country characters – that it seems exotic.  The protagonist, Lisbeth Salander, is unusual for her combination of aloofness bordering on hostility and superior hacking and self-defense skills.  The sexual mores of the characters are looser than typical American books.  But mostly, the action keeps you reading late into the night.  There are flaws.  The tone can be sanctimonious and preachy.  There are actually footnotes about Swedish politics.  The overarching message is that men are mostly all misogynists, using sex as a weapon against women, yet the author uses sex as a ploy to keep us reading.  The third book was utterly boring until about page 250.  Yet the series was a good read.  The movies stay true to the books.  I had no problem following the first movie without having read the book (in fact, it helped me keep the characters, with their unfamiliar Swedish names, straight when I read the book), but I don’t think you’d be able to follow the later movies without having read the books.

American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld.  A fictionalized version of the lives of Laura and George Bush.  An interesting story that made me want to read up on Laura Bush, to see what events were real and what were made up.

Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Affect Our Lives, by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler.  What our friends do affects what we do.  Not really that surprising.

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott.  This book starts out, “On my forty-ninth birthday, I decided that all of life was hopeless, and I would eat myself to death.  These are desert days.  Better to go out by our own hands than to endure slow death by scolding at the hands of the Bush administration.”   My first thought: oh, she’s an older writer.  My second thought: Crap, I’m going to be 49 this year – she’s my age.  Next thought: Please!  A little less self-dramatizing.  Bush has come and gone and we’re still here.  Next thought: But if you’re going to end it all, eating yourself to death is a pretty funny way to do it (reminds me of the wonderful French movie, La Grande Bouffe).  This was pretty much my thinking all the way through the book.  Anne Lamott is annoying – she’s so self-righteous with her extreme liberalism.  But she’s funny about it.  She’s well aware of her insecurities and neuroses and laughs about them with us.  Her writing is beautiful and touching.  The situations that she writes about strike a chord, particularly when she writes about the perils of raising an adolescent.  Can relate.  You need faith to raise an adolescent while keeping your sanity!

Oh The Glory of It All, by Sean Wilsey. A memoir of a kid with rich and famous parents who go through a nasty divorce.  Wilsey gains an evil stepmother, is shuttled from school to school, gets in a lot of trouble, and comes out the other end as a writer and editor of McSweeney’s.  The book is incredibly moving at the beginning and end (yes, that was me, crying on the exercise bike as I was reading), but the middle gets maddening.  Wilsey is so bad that I wondered why I was bothering to read his book.  How many times can you steal your mother’s car and expect to get sympathy from your readers, bad childhood or not?  Wilsey redeems himself just in time.  The book was so good that I passed it on to a friend.

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion.  Heartbreaking.  This is Joan Didion’s account of the year in which her husband unexpectedly dies and her daughter and only child is in and out of the hospital, comatose for part of that time, with what started as pneumonia and turns into a full-body infection.   I can’t imagine anything worse.  That Didion can write so beautifully about such a horrible year is a testament to her strength as a person and talent as a writer.  The book stayed with me, and I was talking about it to a friend.  The book is vague as to what happens to Didion’s daughter.  My friend told me – wait: SPOILER ALERT!  — that Didion’s daughter died after the book was completed.  I can only repeat, heartbreaking.

Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald.    Winner of the 1979 Booker Prize.  This novel is about a group of people who live on barges in the Thames river.  Anyone who chooses to live on a barge is likely to be an interesting character, as are Fitzgerald’s characters.  There’s Nenna, a single mother with two daughters struggling with the desertion of her husband, Richard, the super-competent leader of the barge-dwellers who’s socially awkward and has his own marriage problems, Willis, the down-and-out artist, and Maurice, with his less-than-reputable career.  Together, they’ve created their own society.  But it’s hard to maintain their marginal lifestyle, as they learn.

The Last Town On Earth, by Thomas Mullen.  It was interesting to read this book after Philip Roth’s novel, Nemesis, about the polio epidemic.  I guess I’m a sucker for public health-related fiction!  (My day job.)  This novel is about the 1918 flu epidemic, and is based on true experiences.  A small town decides to quarantine itself from the flu — no one goes in or out.  Of course, this is almost impossible, and when a soldier approaches the guards and refuses to leave, they are faced with a dilemma that ends in gunfire.  This happens at the beginning of the novel, so I’m not giving anything away.  What ensues from that incident, as well as how the town copes with the effects of the quarantine, drives the story.  The protagonist is a gentle half-boy, half-man, who struggles with his guilt over not being able to enlist in the army because of a physical disability and the moral dilemma that guarding the town poses.  You don’t have to be a public health nerd like me to love this book.

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