Friday, August 31, 2007

July's Reading: Hit-And-Miss

July was a great month as far as the amount of reading I got done. Six books, but there was just as much I disliked as liked:

1. Slackjaw -Jim Knipfel [The author has "Retinitis pigmentosa", which is a genetic disease that attacks the rods and cones of the eyes, destroying them. He also has a lesion on the left temporal lobe of his brain. Both of these conditions are inoperable. "I'm shit out of luck," he assures the reader in the introduction to this funny and caustic memoir. This is no "Oh God I've got a horrible disease!" book, nor is it one of those "life-affirming" books guaranteed to land him in Oprah's book club. For many years, Knipfel is in denial about his condition. For example, he'd rather smack into poles than use a cane. When he grudgingly comes around to the fact that he's gone blind, he has a series of bizzare and often irritating encounters with well-meaning but inept social workers who want to help him, but are often more of a hindrance. For example, one social worker pesters Knipfel to leave work and come look at CCTVs that could aid him at his job, then calls back a few weeks later to tell him that he makes too much money for her organization to give him one. Knipfel's excellent sense of the absurd reminded me a lot of John Callahan's, except without the cartoons.]

2. Who Put That Hair In My Toothbrush? -Jerry Spinelli [It took me a few years to get past that gag-inducing title, but I finally read the book, which is the story of intense sibling rivalry between 12-year-old Megin and her older brother, Greg. Each sibling alternates chapters. It was a fairly boring read -- not one of Spinelli's better efforts -- and topical references date the book (which was published in 1984) badly.]

3. Anne Of Green Gables -L.M. Montgomery [O Canada! After all these years, I finally got acquainted with Anne ("spelled with an 'e'") Shirley, the feisty and wildly imaginative orphan who is mistakenly (they'd asked for a boy to help out on the farm) delivered to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert one day. I enjoyed the younger Anne's antics, and was a little sorry to see her grow up and calm down a little, but I was thrilled to see her succeed at all her ambitions. Matthew and Marilla are wonderful characters, as well. Marilla is a terrific straight man when young Anne is sharing her many flights of whimsy or struggling to explain her way out of her latest predictament. Anne's feud with classmate Gilbert Blythe was cute, like Elizabeth and Darcy for preteens. L.M. Montgomery's breathtaking descriptions of Prince Edward Island helped it to land squarely at the top of my vacation wish list.]

4. The Secret Life Of Bees -Sue Monk Kidd [By the time I finished this book, I felt suffocated in cloying sweetness, almost as if I'd been rubbed with honey like the statue of the Black Madonna in this story. It also had that soap-opera-ish feel to it, like when August would ask Lily to be more forthcoming about her past, and Lily would demur, then when Lily was ready to spill her guts, August was too busy with the feast of the Black Madonna. If a movie is made of this book, Oprah should play August, because the script would allow her to pontificate and make "meaningful" speeches, just like on her TV show. The day after finishing this book, I traded it at What The Book? for credit on future purchases.]

5. Darkly Dreaming Dexter -Jeff Lindsay [Mystery/suspense isn't really my thing, but it was a relief after my previous read to meet up with Dexter, a serial killer who only kills other serial killers. When he was a child, Dexter's foster father, Harry, recognized the signs of what Dexter was, and counseled him to channel his tendencies into killing those who "deserved" to be killed, and constantly worked with Dexter so that he would seem like a normal person in society. Dexter refers to this as the "Code of Harry". In spite of his horrific leanings, Dexter is a sympathetic character, and often quite funny when he's musing to himself. I'm eager to read the sequels and view the Showtime series starring Michael C. Hall as Dexter.]

6. The Witch Of Portobello -Paulo Coelho [The title character is a woman named Athena, who is always searching for greater meaning and spirituality in life. Her quest takes her to many different countries where she learns to dance and do calligraphy and finally, channel Hagia Sophia, and teach others what she has "learned". It all seems very New Age-y, and thin on plot. The characters don't seem real at all, just mouthpieces making one speech after another. After Coelho delivers (and delivers and delivers) his message, he seems in a rush to dispatch these characters somewhere, anywhere, since they're not really needed anymore. Something tells me that this wasn't the best book to start with regarding Coelho, but after this novel, I'm unwilling to try another. The only good things coming out of this reading experience are that this novel was the first I read with my new book group, and Paulo Coehlo is a Brazilian writer, which got me slightly out of my US/England/Canada authors pattern.]


kookie said...

You know how much I love the Dexter books! I'm waiting for the new one ("Dexter in the Dark") from the library

raidergirl3 said...

Let me know when you come to PEI, glad you enjoyed 'our Anne'
Next year is the 100th anniversary of Anne's publication.

Bookfool said...

Hey, you're back! I'm so glad to see some posts! Not a Sue Monk Kidd fan, I take it. LOL I actually picked up The Secret Life of Bees, several times, and it failed my flip test. It just didn't interest me. I didn't bother flipping through The Mermaid Chair - it was only a quarter. We'll see if I wasted twenty-five cents.

That Jerry Spinelli book does have an awful title.

John Mutford said...

Glad you liked Anne. I read the Secret Life of Bees a long while back and had forgotten how I felt about it until reading your remarks- they sound about right.

Dewey said...

I felt the same as you about the Kidd book, but I loved AoGG.

Bybee said...

They are fun reading, aren't they?

I'm jealous that you live on PEI. Tourism should be terrific next year for the 100th anniversary.

Tell me how to administer your flip test, because this is something I definitely should've done during July!

John and Dewey,
I had a lot more derogatory things to say about The Secret Life Of Bees, but somehow managed to restrain myself. Anne, on the other hand, was a gem.

Anonymous said...

The Coelho book I most often have recommended to me is The Alchemist, but I've also read reviews of it that said pretty much what you said about The Witch of Portobello. I'll probably never read of any of his stuff; everything concrete I've heard about his writing is unappealing.

If you liked Anne, you should also try Montgomery's The Blue Castle, the beginning of which is as funny as anything in the Anne books.

Bybee said...

The Witch of Portobello: That's about 3 hours of my life I'll never get back again!

I'd like to try The Blue Castle.