I just realized that I haven’t followed up with my last entry on current reads. I’ve finished everything and am left with the following impressions.
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx – fantastic. Although a slow-moving book the drama of the story is in the unfolding. Just as the main character, Quoyle, is slow, lumbering, and seemingly dull this story has a lot of depth that it takes its time in revealing. Watching Quoyle’s transformation from abused, unsure, abandoned and unlikeable to a man who learns that love doesn’t always have to hurt, a man who can voice opinions instead of literally hiding behind his hand is heartwarming. His daughters slowly come into their own as well. In the family’s transition from New York to New Brunswick they find life in a place where life is fragile and harsh. A place that often saps people of their will to live but here in the harsh long winters they all find their places. There is a lot of symbolism throughout the book and its a joy to pick out those little details. I loved this book and am going to be looking for my Proulx in my next fit of book collecting.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – strange. This book is a bizarre mix of Greek mythology, American lore, medical history and sexual politics. I’m not exactly sure what I thought about it. It was very readable and I think that Eugenides is very talented – its just that the story was so incredibly bizarre. It tells the story of Cal Stephanides, an intersex person who is raised in her Greek-American family completely unaware until the age of 16 that she has medical hermaphroditism. I think that her medical condition is a literary device used by Eugenides to communicate feelings of being torn between the culture of ones family and the culture in which one was raised. Eugenides often references Greek mythology in relating the history of three generations of the Stephanides family and intertwines that with somewhat fanciful takes on American history. It was an interesting read: strange, bizarre, confusing.
In addition to those I recently read The Help by Kathryn Stockett for book club. It’s a good book club book because it brings up discussions of race relations in the States along with roles expected from black maids, white southern housewives, and people outside acceptable social circles. There is quite a bit of irony in several of the situations presented in the story: while the Junior League ladies are raising money for “Poor Starving Children in Africa” they’re building additional bathrooms for “the help” in order to avoid having to share a toilet with the black maids who are raising their children. There are also stories of great affection between the white children and their black nannies and it’s heartbreaking to see those children grow up suddenly care about the color of people’s skin. Set in Jackson, MS this novel has a lot of material to deal with in terms of conveying the difficulties and tragedies of race relations in America in the ’60s. There are heartwarming stories of kindness and heart breaking stories of abuse. It’s a good read and I would recommend it although the people who make comparisons to Harper Lee’s phenomenal To Kill a Mockingbird are way off-base.
Next on the book club list is Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. A fictionalized account of the events behind Dutch painter Vermeer’s famous portrait I found this book hard to get into. And as my book club hasn’t met yet I’m going to leave it at that for now. More details to come.
Howard’s End by E. M. Forster is next on my to-read list and I cannot wait. I loved the movie with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson and expect to enjoy this classic as well. Have any of you read it? What were your thoughts?
Paris, The Biography of a City by Colin Jones is also on my nightstand in the to-be-read pile. I’m looking forward to getting into this tome (all 600 pages of it) as Scotty and I enjoyed the month we spent in the magical city last summer. Since we won’t be repeating our July in Paris adventures I will instead learn more about the history and formation of this place I love. Probably a poor substitute but I’ll take it.
Eyewitness Guide to Saint Petersburg. Yes, that’s right! Scotty and I have applied for visas to visit Russia!!! Today we’ll find out if our applications have been accepted and if they are I will be pouring over everything I can find on this fascinating country. We’re hoping to go there in July in conjunction with a trip to Latvia and Estonia. Scotty is presenting a paper in Estonia and we’ve decided to make a trip of it! The hope is to spend about five days exploring Saint Petersburg – a place that has lived in my imagination ever since I was a child and first learned about the Romanovs and Russia’s colorful history. I’ll keep you posted on how things develop. If any of you have advise for things to not miss in Estonia, Lithuania or Russia, please let me know.