Monday, August 03, 2009

Book reviews: The Thorn Birds & Me Talk Pretty One Day

As promised, two reviews.

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

The Thorn Birds has been sitting on my nightstand for about a year now. It was another one of those big ol' sweeping stories that covered generations. Bonus: it was a big ol' huge miniseries (I have yet to watch it.) I knew I wasn't going to be able to get into it if I started it when my own life was still in complicated shambles. I'm glad I saved it for this summer. It wasn't all that complicated, but the freedom of not working while I read the book allowed me to really enjoy it without thinking about reading it quickly.

The novel follows the lives and loves of multiple generations of the Cleary family, an originally-Irish family from New Zealand that ends up in Australia. Confusing enough? Not really. Most of the story takes place in Australia. Theirs is a life of shepherds and those who fight against the unforgiving and isolated landscape of the Australian Outback. Fate finds the family both impoverished at one point and very comfortable at another. Their personal struggles mirror these highs and lows as the stories of the minor characters weave in and out of the family's life.

Without giving anything away, the central love story explores the tension of forbidden love and temptation between the Cleary's only daughter, Meggie, and a much older priest, Father Ralph de Brisscart. Meggie and Ralph are the most carefully fleshed-out characters, but there is an interesting connection between Meggie's lot as a woman and her mother's. The most interesting theme explored in the novel was the fate of women in an almost completely male world, and the repetition of a strong pattern in the main characters' lives. There is a fascinating study of the mother-daughter relationship here, and the repetition of the past. The novel was just imperfect enough for me--that is to say that the loose ends were not too neatly tied up--but satisfactorily realistic.

I liked the book. I didn't like it as much as Gone With The Wind, nor do I think it works on the same level, but it is similar, and not unlike Light A Penny Candle, which I read earlier this summer. It too follows relationships over a long period of time. It starts when Meggie is a young girl and stays with her well into her adulthood. This allows the author to really develop the characters. As was the case with the other two books, I was sad by the time this one ended. It always takes me a while to get myself hooked on the story, but well worth it because it was satisfyingly interesting and compelling.

My recommendation: Read it. Good chick-lit that isn't boring but also isn't too fluffy. (A bit of fluff, but not too much.) A good read. Great for summer. Plus it will give you something to talk about with people who were around in the late 1970s, when everybody just had to read this. You know, back when I was busy, like, BEING BORN.


Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

Oh, this book. I think I've been grasping for something like David Sedaris' nonfiction prose for a long time. Funny. Apt. Embarrassing. Light. Yummy. I just thoroughly enjoyed this book. It couldn't be more different than The Thorn Birds, but they have each made for a delightful summer reading list.

David Sedaris goes there. He's the book equivalent of many of the blogs I read, though I'm sure he'd loathe blogs as much as computers. I have to admit that not everything in his book had me in stitches, but when I did find something funny it was totally and completely worth it. I like his honesty. I like his imagery. I like his brutal self-effacing humor.

This is the kind of book one could really read in small doses. It's a series of loosely connected explorations of things from IQ tests, to the French Language, to moldy fruit under his dad's counter, to a "floater" someone left in the toilet before he entered the bathroom at a small dinner party. So funny, and such a naked soul. It's the kind of writing I hope that I can do one day in this blog. I really, really, really, really enjoyed reading it. Most of the time I read sad or heavy things. It was just nice to read and smile.

I gave this book to E to read after me, and I suggested that it would be great bathroom lit. It would work well for that--and I don't say that because of the previously touched-upon subject matter. (Ew.) It's just short enough and just amusing enough to fill up time well. Is that gross? Geez, I hope not. You get what I'm saying. High praise at our house.

I can't wait to read more of Sedaris' work. I have a feeling I will burn through it quickly. I see why he was successful. Like I said, not all chapters are winners in the hilarity contest, but many of his chapters were so interesting to me because of the reflections they provided on his life. That was reason enough.

This book was worth the purchase price for the chapter on his first experience teaching alone.

My recommendation: Read as much Sedaris as you can. Laugh. Enjoy. The end.

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