Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Three books, three reviews

Do you think most bloggers are readers at heart? We've got to be, since we spend so much time reading other people's stories on the internet. Recently, two blogger friends have been talking about what they've been reading and I've decided to follow suit.

I have always been a reader. As a child, my mother would take us to the Williamsburg Public Library every Friday, where we were allowed to take out ten books. Those ten books were returned the next Friday, because well, I read 'em all. I used to be accused of just skimming the books, but if that's the case why do I still remember some of them? I went through all the series, including the Hardy Boys, Boxcar Children, Bobbsey Twins, Little House, the Eddie/Betsy books (Carolyn Haywood?), the Betsy and Tacy books. I also read non-series books. One of my favorite childhood books was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Loved that one.

My beloved childhood library. How I loved this place.

I continued reading into adulthood. I could polish off one or two books a week, sometimes more before Blogger, Facebook and all the lists I belong to came into my life. Now I do read less, but still in surges. When I start a book, I have to finish it. I wake up in the middle of the night and read by the bathroom light. I read when I get home from work. I used to nurse my babies and read at the same time, which made for some interesting aches. And my favorite time to read, shabbat.

Here's what I've been reading lately and what I think about these books. Obviously, these are my own humble opinions. Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves, or to comment. (Many thanks to my librarian friend, CK, for providing two out of the three books; I hope you come visit again soon!)

First up is Testimony by Anita Shreve. I find her to be a consistently good storyteller, although she has had some misses. In America, I often listened to the audio versions of her books. (Light on Snow is not to be missed for it's beautiful narration). Testimony, it seems to me, may have been inspired by the case of the Duke University students accused of raping a woman when things got out of hand at a party that involved alchohol. Shreve's novel takes place in a New England Boarding School. The novel opens with a bang, as the headmaster of the school is watching a video sent to him of three upper classman engaging in drunken sexual behavior with a younger (underage) student. The first chapter is necessarily graphic in its description. The rest of the novel is told through the eyes of many characters (about twenty!), including all the students involved, some of the parents, teachers, townspeople, media people and friends. The story that unfolds is suspenseful, disturbing and very, very sad. It ultimately tells the story of how one moment in time can have a devastingly ripple effect throughout an entire community. It deals with issues of alcohol and teenagers, as well as teenage sexuality. There is a a bit of a twist to the story and Ms. Shreve is masterful at weaving all the different voices together. I highly recommend this one.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld is a novel "loosely" based on the life of Laura Bush. Alice Lindgren was a democrat-leaning woman who had been involved in a car accident that killed a young man when she was 17. She was a former school teacher and a librarian when she met the "Dubya" character, Charles Blackwell. I always wonder about the words "loosely based". Sittenfeld treats the First Lady character very well, but her husband is treated as a funny, loveable buffoon, without a job whose main concern seems to be his legacy. (One of the more amusing lines in the book is the description of the president passing wind; the Commander-In-Chief loves it that his secret service agents crack up at the leader of the free world "tooting his own horn"). At the end of the novel, the author describes how tortured the First Lady is by her husband's policies. Maybe Alice felt that way, but I'm not so sure Laura Bush does. The story is an entertaining one, though it may annoy you a bit if you're a republican.

Finally, the third book is Rashi's Daughters Book II: Miriam by Maggie Anton. Talk about "loosely based". Look, I like to read. I like to feel what the past was like by someone who has done research into a particular era in history. I'm not even talking about the plot here, I'm talking about how people of that era ate, drank, cooked, interacted, worked, what they wore, how they socialized. And for all of that the book was interesting. But for the author to have me believe that Rashi's son-in-law was a homosexual and that all he ever thought about (but never acted upon) was his homosexuality is to me, appalling. The author's justification: while there is no evidence that he was, well, he could have been. And Moshe Rabbenu could have eaten pig's feet. I feel that when a book like this is written, it is done through the prism of our times: where anything and everything goes, where a novel has to have a "hook" that will help sell it. I did not find this aspect of the character believable, and since the entire novel was based on it,well, it was hard to finish the book. I wonder what's in store for the third daughter.

What have you been reading? What did you read as a kid? Enquiring minds want to know.


Anonymous said...

As a kid, I read lots (tons?) of Enid Blyton.
The first book in your review looks good.

Leora said...

My favorite part of the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankenweiler was the pool in the Metropolitan Museum, where the kids fished out money so they could support themselves. I was so disappointed when the Metropolitan Museum closed up the pool and put in more tables for eating.

Truthfully, tonight I was reading a gardening catalogue. Such pretty flowers.

Batya said...

As a kid, I read all those series, too. We couldn't get them in the library, near us, not that it was near us at all. They cost $1 each. I'd max the amount of books I could take out. Now, most of my reading is on the screen. My #1 daughter passes her books on to me. We've done the whole Michael Connelly series and she also buys the "mother" Clark's mysteries. I borrow books, too. I guess I out to blog about it.

Have you ever been given books to review on your blog?

אנט פרידמן said...

I just read Moloka'i by Alan Brennert. Very interesting and thought provoking. It's about a leper colony in the 19th century in Hawaii.

Phyllis Sommer said...

yes, i loved all those books too as a kid!!! i just recently recommended mrs. basil e. to a young friend. it's so much fun to browse through the library and remember them all. thanks for the prodding on american wife - i have it on my bedside table and a friend who is insistent that i read it. up til now i just haven't been able to get into it. i'll try again, tho!!!!

i'm right now reading "Caspian Rain" about Jews in Iran. Interesting but a little depressing.

SuperRaizy said...

I gotta tell you, the Rashi's Daughters books really ticked me off also. In the first book, Rashi's son in law had a problem with premaure ejaculation. In the second book, as you noted, his other son-in-law was a closet homosexual. But these men are not fictional characters. They may have lived a long time ago, but they were living, breathing people, and attributing all these fictional events to them is a real insult to their memory. Moreover, these men and their sons were highly respected Talmudic scholars. What a cheap way to sell a book.

RivkA with a capital A said...

"From the Mixed Up Files..." was one of my favorites!

I also read voraciously as a kid!

Recently read:
Glass Castle -- recommend it

Reading now:
Plot Against America -- recommend it

JJ said...

I've been a voracious reader all my life- like you, I just keep reading a book til I'm done- it's very hard for me to put a book down!

For Shabbat, I checked out "Tabloid Love" from the library. It was a breezy, fun read. I also reread parts of one of my favorites, "Pride and Prejudice."

And I, too, loved "From the Mixed-Up Files..." It was even made into a not-so-bad TV movie in the early 70s.

Anonymous said...

Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series. I lived and breathed those books when I was a kid

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