Sunday, March 1, 2009

February Book Round-up

Here's a run down of the books I read from my "stash" this month:

The Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman. Our exchange student, Caroline, from Indonesia left this book for me to read when she moved on to another host family. That was two years ago, and I’m just getting around to reading this one. The book started as a serial bedtime story for Carman’s daughters, and it reads like one. Alexa lives in a world of walled cities. More than that, even the paths between the cities are walled, to keep out, well, whatever’s out there. It is only natural that a twelve-year-old girl is intensely curious about the world outside the walls. Alexa begins to discover the truth of the reason the walls were built and learns that her highly protected world is in grave danger. This book may be captivating for young (or non-native) readers, but lacks a lot in character development and explanation of events. For someone who has lived her entire life inside walls, Alexa is disturbingly uncurious about what she encounters when she finally makes it outside them. The book starts slow but picks up a lot in the last third.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway. This is a compilation of ten short stories by Hemingway published elsewhere. I have generally liked Hemingway a lot, but not had much opportunity to read his works. Like many books of short stories, I found some brilliant and a few inscrutable. I particularly liked “A Day’s Wait,” “Fathers and Sons,” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” Hemingway has an incredible ear for dialogue, both internal and external.

Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman. I love Alice Hoffman. I seem to forget just how much I love her until I read another of her books. She sees the magic in every day life, and she sees her characters truly – with all their faults. Here’s a sample: “People in Verity like to talk, but the one thing they neglect to mention to outsiders is that something is wrong with the month of May. It isn’t the humidity, or even the heat, which is so fierce and sudden it can make grown men cry. Every May, when the sea turtles begin their migration across West Main Street, mistaking the glow of streetlights for the moon, people go a little bit crazy. At least one teenage boy comes close to slamming his car right into the gumbo-limbo tree that grows outside the Burger King. Girls run away from home, babies cry all night, ficus hedges explode into flame, and during one particularly awful May, half a dozen rattlesnakes set themselves up in the phone book outside the 7-Eleven and refused to budge until June.”

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I have never read an author with more love for commas, semicolons, and pronouns than Woolf, and I’m sorry to say that this predilection made the book a bit of a slog. Time after time I found myself heading to the beginning of a page-long paragraph trying to determine exactly the subject of the sentence (which was often as long as the paragraph). Superficially the book is about a few days at a summer home with a philosopher, his wife and eight children, and various other hangers-on. The strength of the writing lies in how Woolf sees interactions between people and their inner thoughts without their ever saying anything. Indeed, there is very little dialog in the book. Like Hoffman, Woolf sees her characters with all their flaws but her view is harsher, unforgiving, though I think she does not love them less.

The Girl Who Married the Moon: Tales from Native North America Told by Joseph Bruchac and Gayle Ross. I bought this book a few years ago when I was in New Mexico. I do love a good story. This collection is about girls who are brave, self-reliant, and in control of their destinies. I found the stories to be mostly nice but forgettable. A few were truly remarkable, particularly “Stonecoat,” a story about the innate and mysterious power of being a woman, and “Where the Girl Rescued Her Brother,” a relative recent and true story set in the time of Custer.

I also finished the Librivox recording of Jane Eyre read by Gloriana which I have been hacking away at in the gym for a few months now. I thouroughly enjoyed it. I read the book long ago, and found that it went mostly over my head at the time, and I didn't understand what the fuss was about. Now, I understand, and I adored it. It really pays to go back to books that you have read and not understood, because I have found that many I have tossed off in the past have become favorites with a bit more maturity, even if they are "age appropriate." L.M. Montgomery, who is an absolute favorite of mine, I did not truly discover until late high school and college, even though I tried more than once in elementary school to appreciate Anne of Green Gables.

But, reader, (I stole that from Charlotte Bronte, I'm not ashamed to admit) this reading from the stash thing is kind of backfiring. You see, no less than five new books have found their way into my hands in the last week. It's a good thing there was stipulation in my resolution about the purchase of new books.....

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