As Scotty and I are both computer-less and have been for the past two weeks, I’ve been doing a lot more reading. A lot. Here’s what’s been piquing my fancy:
The Brothers K by David James Duncan
I had been wanting to read this book for about two years, ever since I finished Duncan’s hilarious The River Why. In The Brothers K Duncan tells the heartwarming and heartbreaking story of the Chance family. At turns laugh-out-loud funny, shockingly irreverent, and tear-jerking, Duncan follows this big, loud, opinionated family as it wrestles with failure, the turmoil of the sixties, political and personal disasters along with the usual joys and challenges of a large family. I think that coming from a large family myself made this book especially relatable. The loudness, the diverse opinions, the shouting to be heard, the frustrations of never being able to have a quiet moment to oneself, the loyalty, the great feeling of returning home and having more than half-a-dozen people greet you with hugs and kisses, the sense of belonging. Duncan is able to capture all of it. He was also able to relate to me the absolute chaos of the 60s. I knew it was at time of social revolution, the Vietnam War was tearing the nation apart, I knew it was rough. But I also think I fell under the illusion that it was a lot more civil than the reality. In the Chance family the Vietnam War makes a huge impression, nearly destroying two of the sons. The social changes pose a serious challenge to the mother’s Seventh Day Adventist fundamentalism. It also draws the family together in most unexpected ways. This book is definitely not light reading, and at 656 pages, it requires an investment of time and the willingness to be challenged.
The Rich are Different by Susan Howatch
I first read Howatch’s Glittering Images almost a year ago. It was my first Howatch novel and in the intervening ten months I think I’ve read four more of her works. Howatch is an extremely talented writer, primarily for her psychological insights. She’s able to create characters and story lines that suck you in and actually show you something about yourself. I know that more than once I have felt literally chastised by her description of a character when I suddenly realize she could be describing me. She seems to be able to tap into those universal neurosis, fears, obsessions, prides and lay them out for all the world to see. She does all of this while being compassionate to her characters. I remember reading Vanity Fair and thinking that Thackeray has absolute disdain for the people he was writing about. He judged, ridiculed, mocked and derided the characters he created. Howatch doesn’t do this. She seems to see them as fragile, broken, and incredibly human. Characters that need honest assessment but also care. I would probably recommend all her books – even though I haven’t read them all. She’s worth taking the time to explore and I would recommend starting with Glittering Images before tackling the 700+ pages of The Rich are Different.
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
I had some trouble with this book because it is a gorgeous love story. Set in Australia, London, and Malaysia during and after World War II there are so many things to like about it. The central figure is a strong, vibrant woman who defies the expectations of her day. The narrator is lovable and the other characters and interesting and well-drawn. The problem I ran into was the British sense of supriority. I know that this book is set in the 40s and was written in the 50s but the portrayal of people of cultures outside the Empire is startling. I also know it’s authentic; Australia has had a terrible record with the Aboriginal people groups. The imperialistic attitude of 19th century Britain was not one that recognized the value of the cultures they were too busy subduing. I think it just came across so strongly for me that it really detracted from an otherwise great story.
Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Ok, I know this book is really popular right now and that it’s a “fable” but I had a really difficult time with it. If you want to hear more just email me and I’ll fill you in on my thoughts.
So that’s what I’ve been reading. Have you read any good books lately? I’d love to hear about them!