#4

I have to give major props to my book club.  We’ve pretty much run the gamut on genres.  Last time we had a heart-wrenching piece of fiction that was based on historical events.  This time we had The Devil in the White City, a historical account of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that read like fiction (for the most part). 

I was super psyched to read this for lots of reasons.  First, I needed a book that would allow me to disengage, emotionally.  The last one ripped my heart out.  Second, it seems like in high school my history teachers never could make it past the Civil War.  We’d set out with a syllabus that said we get to reconstruction and the industrial revolution, but somehow we always ran out of time.  And this book promised to help me learn more about this country’s almost-modern history.

At first I was a little disappointed by this book.  It was billed as something that read more like a murder-mystery than a historical account.  And while it did read a lot better than a textbook would, it certainly did not feel like a newfangled Sherlock Holmes. 

The constant bickering of the architects bogged me down in the beginning, too.  Later, once you get knee deep into the fair, you start to realize why Larson needed to include this part but it was a bit tough to get through initially.  To Larson’s credit, I think he may have realized how monotonous the architect’s arguments would be for his readers.  Throughout each chapter there are section breaks, sometimes more than one per page, that allows you to say, “okay, enough for today,” and not feel like you’ve stopped at point that disrupts the narrative. 

But then you get to the good stuff…and I may be the most morbid person alive…but the parts that really drew me in were the sections about Holmes, the murder.  So often I’ve heard people say, “Criminals are really dumb!  They don’t even plan stuff out so that they have a chance to get away!  If it were me, I’d…” This is the one guy throughout history that carefully planned out his crimes in such a way that would almost eliminate the possibility of getting caught.  It was intense and intriguing to see how his mind worked.  Towards the end the cruelty of his actions got a bit much to bear, but thankfully most of the 390 pages were not filled with gruesome details.

And I did enjoy learning about some of the quirkier aspects of late 19th century American history.  I won’t spoil some of the “surprises,” but it’s kind of cool to know how we ended up with some of the products/mechanisms that we take for granted today.

If you’re into American history or just looking for something a little different from the average fiction book, definitely pick this one up.

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#4

suns.jpgBack in December my book club chose A Thousand Splendid Suns as the selection for February.  I’d heard all sorts of good things about The Kite Runner and I was kind of looking forward to reading this.  I’m usually the last to jump on a literary band wagon, or any pop culture bandwagon for that matter,  (EX:  I haven’t read or seen the DaVinci Code and I was a sophomore in college before I saw a single Star Wars movie) so I felt “with it” for reading this one while it was still available in hardback. 

The first few chapters of the book were good.  I enjoyed Khaled Hosseini’s writing style and he is a marvelous storyteller as well, qualities that don’t always go hand in hand (read:  Nathaniel Hawthorne or Herman Melville).  I also appreciated the subtle way Hosseini wove a history lesson into the story.  Most of what I know about Afghanistan comes from CNN or BBC and while these are usually credible news sources, they do lean towards a certain point of view.  What’s that saying…history is told from the eyes of the victors?  Anyway, it was good to learn about a culture from a somewhat first-hand account.

But that’s where my enjoyment ended.  By the time Part Two started, I slowly felt the wind being sucked out of me along with every happy feeling I ever had.  It was literally as if a Dementor crept up behind me every time I opened the book.  Perhaps part of my melancholy can be blamed on the fact that I didn’t see the sun for two weeks (damn winter clouds), but in the 14 days that it took me to read most of this book I felt incredibly depressed.  A fog of despair seemed to follow me around from the moment I opened the book (usually on my lunch break) until I went to bed that night.  And it started to make me a little nuts.  I ended up putting it away for a week or so and then forced myself to finish the last 80 pages this weekend. 

The ending did have a bit of an upswing to it, but not enough to make me forget how dark and despondent the bulk of the story was.  Despite my name, I am not a Pollyanna.  I know that horrible things go on all over this world.  Things that would make our head swim with sorrow and pain.  But I do not need or want to read 360 pages worth of it during my spare moments for 2 weeks.  Does that make me an uncaring citizen of the world?  I don’t think so.  Just someone concerned about her own mental health.

If you are not a fan of reliving someone’s most brutal and horrific moments pass this one by.  If you do want to read this book, let me know and I’ll be happy to give you my copy.

#4

gia.jpg   Last night I finished up Joshilyn Jackson’s Gods In Alabama.  This book was a much needed reprieve from A Thousand Splendid Suns.  (I’m almost done with that one and will explain my reprieve when I review it.)  Anyway, this was a good, quick read by one of my very favorite bloggers.  Joshilyn is freakin’ HYSTERICAL over at her blog Faster Than Kudzu, so I was really looking forward to reading it.  And I was not entirely disappointed.  Her humor was all over this book, but not in the laugh-out-loud way it comes through in her blog.  If I had read the book before the blog, I probably wouldn’t complain about that part. 

The coolest part about this book, though, is her interesting twist on the “who-dunnit” genre.  You start out knowing exactly who the “bad girl” is and what she’s done, and then work your way backward, then forward and then around to the left, and back around to the right becore you end up discovering how the whole thing played out.  This book will also appeal to those of you who are refugees from Southern Small Town Life and cringe at the thought of revisiting folks living on the outter branches of your family tree.

All in all this was a good, quick read, but it’s not likely to end up on the shelf with my favorites.

#4

book.jpgThis probably shouldn’t count, but I read The Secret Lives of Men and Women Saturday night while the Hubby played in a guys-only poker tourney.  It’s a mere 144 pages with no more than 5 or 6 lines per page.  But wow.  If you ever entertained the notion that your parents effed you up somewhere along the road to being an adult, read this.  You’ll start to feel perfectly sane.  But on the flip side, it is amazingly refreshing to know that despite all of our efforts to look normal we all have secrets and quirks that make us anything but.  Also, I think the thing that draws people in about these books is the raw honesty.  Rarely in this PC age do you see people opening themselves up without reservation. 

Most people will be quite content to check this out from the library, but I kind of like having this in my collection.  If nothing else, it would make one hell of a coffee table book.