Saturday, May 01, 2010

April 2010 Reviews

Only 9 books this month. I'm a little disappointed with myself. Maybe May will be better.

1. Good Grief - Lolly Winston. I read a Chick Lit novel and I liked it! The taste of its cherry Chapstick...


36-year-old Sophie is recently widowed. After a short nervous breakdown in which she eats Oreos like a house afire and wears her bunny slippers to work, she moves to her best friend's town to make a fresh start. In about 9 months (notice that number!) she goes from almost completely broken-down to incredibly together. Imagine a combination of Rachel Ray, Amy Adams and Mother Teresa and you'll have a picture of plucky Sophie. Not really my thing, but not bad for Chick Lit. Has this been made into a romantic comedy yet?

2. Home: American Writers Remember Rooms of Their Own - In this collection of essays, the standouts were Henry Louis "Beer Summit" Gates talking about his family's living room as TV and the Civil Rights Movement took hold of the country; Jane Smiley's hymn to the bathroom/bathtub; and Lynda Barry's imagining of a teen boy's bedroom. I almost wish this had been one of Barry's comics instead of just prose, but she writes so well that I could see exactly how she'd illustrate.

3. Little House on the Prairie: A Reader's Guide - Virginia L. Wolf. The other novels in the "Little House" series are discussed in passing, but the main focus here is Little House on the Prairie. Wolf notes that it's the only novel of the eight that begins and ends with a journey (I'd never picked up on that!) so she's motif-vated to point out the circular nature of the book and go wild with symbols and patterns. Fun stuff, though. She works in some Joseph Campbell which is nice and touches on Erickson's stages of development as she charts Laura's progress from childhood to adulthood. She also takes a moment to compare the TV show (1974-1982) to the novels, but it's easy to see that she finds the TV series inferior. I like the show on its own terms, but I have to admit that I rolled my eyes a lot during those years, murmuring (softly, so my father -- rabid fan that he was -- wouldn't hear) "Arrrrghhh, not book."

4. St. Mawr - D.H. Lawrence. I rambled a fair bit about this novel during the early hours of the Readathon. Lawrence cracks me up with his ideas about men and women and love and sex and nature and I don't think that was his intention. What is it about you, Lawrence? I can't take you seriously, but I can't leave you alone. I wish I could quit you, but it's not gonna happen, no matter how many figs you peel.

5. Yi Soon-Shin - Korean Spirit and Culture Series. I changed my mind. THIS was my favorite Readathon read. Naval hero General Yi (1545-1598) is the embodiment of everything that's right and good about Korea and the Korean people. There's been a miniseries done about Yi here in Korea, but I wish that Hollywood would make a movie about his life and times and put this hero firmly on the international map. They could hire a bunch of Korean-Americans for the cast and get the utterly scrumptious Jang Dong Gun to play Yi. One small drawback: JDG's not too hot at English. But wait! I'm an EFL teacher...!

6. A Wish After Midnight - Zetta Elliott. Genna Colon lives in a Brooklyn slum with her mother and brothers and sister. She wishes for a different life by throwing a coin into a fountain in the Botanical Gardens and one night, she gets her wish. She's transported back in time to 1863 Brooklyn. Soon she finds that someone else in her life has gone spiralling through time. Elliott, who is a superbly confident writer, tackles several subjects and events with the fearlessness of a pedagogue, but it works. She's like that favorite teacher from high school who knows how to open up students' minds and enable them to see connections between the past and present. I admire her for respecting her young adult readers enough to feel that they're capable of some heavy lifting. The teacher part of me would totally love to teach this novel to a group of 9-12 graders. The reader part of me wishes that Genna's journey into the past had begun a little earlier, but it 's a minor gripe; I was thoroughly engaged and excited to find out that there's going to be a sequel! Thanks so much to Talya for lending me this book.

7. Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh. This historical novel which takes place in India during the first of the Opium wars isn't just the story of individuals whose fate leads them to the Ibis, an opium ship bound for China -- it's also a feast of language. Ghosh serves up a sumptuous banquet of Creole, bedazzling his readers. He's got a Walt Whitman-esque desire to capture it all with the precision of a Flaubert in finding just the right combination of words to make his characters alive and distinctive (Gregory Maguire, take notes!) Did I mention that it's also quite witty? Readers are left wanting more of everything. Luckily Sea of Poppies is the first book of an upcoming trilogy.
8. Crazy Heart - Thomas Cobb. I read this novel about Bad Blake, down-and-out country singer back in 1989, but I only remembered scattered bits and pieces, mostly Bad's thoughts about country music. I don't see how I forgot Crazy Heart. It could be that the 28-year-old me didn't identify with Bad Blake as much as the older, more crumpled version of me. Cobb's writing makes me realize how much I miss minimalism in fiction. This novel is gorgeously gritty and sad -- the way country songs used to be. The ending is stunning -- I read and reread it, trying to get a fix on Bad's chance at redemption. I'm eager to see the movie starring Jeff Bridges as the title character.

9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Jeff Kinney. I really liked this...well, I'm going to call it a graphic novel. Greg Heffley reminds me of Doug Funnie and the kids from Captain Underpants. I love that he's a flawed character -- he's constantly taunted by the bigger kids at his middle school, "gorillas who shave" but he's oblivious to his own rank behavior towards his family and his best friend, Rowley. There's that scene in which he plays a tree in the school production. The song the trees sing is laugh-out-loud awful. Speaking of awful, there's Fregley, the school misfit who Kinney manages to make both nauseating and poignant all at once. I love the way that Kinney draws Greg's little brother Manny almost as small as a bug. Finally, there's...the Cheese that's been lying on the playground so long that it would strike terror in any 7th grader's heart. Lots of fun; I'll be on the lookout for the others in the series.


Kathleen said...

Your opening comments about Good Grief had me falling off the chair laughing! On a more serious note, I have several of these books on my to read list already and will probably add a few more. Thanks for the reviews.

nat @book, line, and sinker said...

i read 'good grief' a while ago--it's on my bookshelf--and have vague recollections of a beach house and green doll shoe? is that the book? if so, i didn't love it. or maybe i'm thinking of another book?

either way, apparently 'good grief' didn't stick with me either.

Care said...

I have Sea of Poppies and something/anything by Elliot on my tbr and now I am adding Crazy Heart - sounds so good! Thanks!!

Eva said...

OMG, I'm almost crying I'm laughing so hard at the cherry chapstick comment. :D

I must read Sea of Poppies and sooner rather than later. :)