Friday, September 30, 2011

I'm my own personal book club.

Rather than write a bunch of separate posts about the books I've read lately I decided to lump them all together. That way if you want to ignore them, you're welcome to, and if you are curious about how I liked them, you're welcome to scroll through.  My per-month reading quota is about to go through the roof now that I'm in school, so I decided maybe I'd try grouping reviews together.

This is definitely an eclectic bunch.

Light Years by Le Anne Schreiber

K lent me Light Years and I'm glad she did.  It's not a book I would have found on my own.  My experience with reading memoir is so limited.  It's amazing how much I didn't know existed back when I was in college.  Too bad I didn't have great non-fiction in my life until now--I really like it.  (This makes me immediately aware of the holes in our high school English curriculum.  Hmmm.  I need to start passing out memoirs, stat.)  Since I'm taking a Creative Non-Fiction Cross-Genre course (like a minor in Creative Non-Fiction) this term I need to read a lot of it.  This was a sweet little book.

In Light Years Schreiber writes about her life surrounding the deaths of her mother, father and brother.  She wraps each experience in an awareness of light and the natural world; her descriptions of fishing alone gave me a momentary longing to head up to the river and cast my line.  With some careful consideration, though, I realized it's not the action itself that I love in good writing:  it's the author's enjoyment of and fulfillment by that action that brings me such joy.  Schreiber writes about fishing, walks, and time with her cat in a way that's insightful and enjoyable to read.

There were dark parts of this memoir, but always an awareness of light.  The metaphor was carried throughout and brought a sense of peaceful unity to the entire book.

My recommendation: A good read for writers, people who like writers, or people walking through the early stages of grief.

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Sometimes the way a book finds me is almost as interesting as the book itself.  This is another book that I never would have read if not for a passing curiosity.  Tonja posted a quote from this book on her blog; I believe she saw the quote elsewhere and reposted it.  I did the same, since the quote stuck with me.  After several days thinking about it, I decided I'd look up its source.  My internal monologue went something like this:

I like that quote.
I wonder where it's from.
Hmm, it's from a book on meditation.
Cool. I should read that.  I could probably use a book on meditation.

I've talked about meditation before and how it helps my anxiety, so why not read this book.  That's what I figured.  I liked it.  It's not life-altering or mind-blowing, but I found it to be a nice primer on the ins and outs of meditation--some familiar and some not.  Some of the little exercises it suggested were good.  Some of them were obvious.  Many of them included quotes from various intellectuals who I'd studied in high school. (This book left me wanting to read more Whitman and Thoreau.  Somewhere my 11th grade teachers are smiling.)  It wasn't the most scintillating reading I've done lately, but it was good learning-reading.

My recommendation:  If you're curious about meditation you might want to give it a read.  It's quick and simple.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle was an Oprah book, which I will admit turned me off of it for some time.  I don't know why Oprah's recommendation had that effect on me but people seemed willing to scream and cry over anything she put her name on and I didn't want to get caught up in it.  That said, she did a lot for literacy and for modern authors, so it is possible most likely that my opposition is completely unfounded.  Anyway.

I really enjoyed this book.  My friend Leah recommended it after she read another of my favorite books, The Art of Racing in the Rain.  As a dog person, she said, I needed to read Edgar Sawtelle.  What I didn't know until I stumbled upon an AP English teacher forum this summer is that Sawtelle is a modern retelling of Hamlet.  So I was definitely in.  I added this to my reading list for my fiction class.  I am so glad that I did.

The Sawtelles are a family of dog breeders.  Their special dogs were raised and trained to be different from other breeds.  Their boy, Edgar, is unable to speak though he can hear well.  Edgar's life intertwines with those of their dogs, one of whom seems to act as both his guardian and his voice.  The prose in this book was so comfortable and easy.  I don't tend to like books that are overly descriptive just for description's sake, and I am definitely not a Hemingway-style subtext kind of girl.  I like a little meat on the bones of each paragraph.  This book satisfied my craving for poetic description without feeling overly wordy.

Keep reading if you want to know the rest of the review.  I didn't want to spoil anything for people who might like to read it in the future.

As I said, this book is based on the plot of Hamlet.  That means it's a tragedy.  That does not mean happy ending.  Reading the reviews on Amazon, this seems to shock and anger some people.  I guess since I know Hamlet well from teaching it didn't anger me that it didn't wrap up predictably.  In fact, I enjoyed the way the story was told and how the elements from Hamlet were used.  They were not so glaring as to make the story boring, but I was interested to see how they were used.  In some cases, I was surprised.

This is an emotional book.  It's sad, but it's not manipulative or unbearable.  I really enjoyed reading it and it felt like such an experience.  I was completely captivated by the author's style, and from time to time the action of the book was exciting enough that I had to keep reading.  It just felt good to read.  For me that's the mark of a good book.

My recommendation:  Definitely read it.  A beautiful story.

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