Thursday, December 27, 2007

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham (2007)

I was told that the author had enjoyed traveling in Italy, so wrote a novel so he could describe Italy in detail. That part I liked, though please don't tell me all about churches and architecture without photos or illustrations - which of course is an impossibility when listening to a book, but I'm quite sure the novel wasn't illustrated. (That's why I liked that illustrated Da Vinci Code book so well.)

What surprised me was, that this was a football story. Rick Dockery, a third string quarterback makes major mistakes in a major game and escapes to play in Italy. I could really do without the play by play descriptions of the games, though I did learn something about the game - it has been just a bunch of guys bashing into each other to me. I admit to total ignorance of one of America's great pastimes.

I did like the Italians and their enthusiasm for the game without expecting any pay, and the support and friendliness they showed to Rick, the down and out quarterback. I enjoyed seeing him regain his confidence. I understood more of my uncle Frank, who married my mother's sister. I now regret that I didn't take the chance to be with him and his Italian friends more. The seemed louder than my family, and I didn't understand their joking style. This book has helped clarify that.

A major part of the Italian culture is food, and Grisham did a good job of describing eating in Italy, which just enforced what Gilbert had said in her book Eat, Pray, Love. As with the architecture, I was wishing for a visual, or actually, a taste of all he mentioned. Again, I got insight into my aunt, who was very food focused. She was a great cook and took care to feed us well, though pasta wasn't usually part of her holiday meals.

Down River by John Hart (2007)

Wasn't a favorite, so I forgot to write down, that I had listened to this book this fall. Adam Chase returns to his home town in North Carolina, which he has left as an acquitted murderer, but returns to a mystery intertwined with family secrets and mis-communication. I must just be tired of reading guy books, as I found the main character unsympathetic, though the tale was intriguing. Publisher's Weekly commented that Down River "should settle once and for all the question of whether thrillers and mysteries can also be literature." So I guess it was well written, on the bestseller list, but not for me.

What do I know, I just found out (May 2008) that this book got the Mystery Writers of America 2008 Edgar Allen Poe Award.

Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee (2007)

Another book I had missed entering into my blog. I believe it was the title that grabbed me - and it refers to the free lunches provided to wealthy at an investment bank. I liked this glimpse into the Korean American culture - the hard working parents putting their bright daughter through Princeton, but she can never find satisfaction, and is obsessed with clothes and accessories, which I just can't relate to. The high pressure business world has always repulsed me, but I understand that it is very attractive to numerous emigrant groups. Latvians went more for doctors and lawyers, though we have our share of business men. It was interesting to read about the Korean church and community - with some similarities to Latvians. Not a great read, but again I learned about one more ethnic group. I found a review on Amazon from a Korean American, who felt that too many negative stereotypes were brought out in the book, but that is the way with writers, the negative aspects of our lives are often more interesting to describe.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (2006)

I had been looking at this book for a while, finally bought it in paperback. Fascinating, it seemed unlike anything I have read, but when I read the "discussion points" in the back, I realized it does have a lot of similarities with classic gothic novels, though I haven't analyzed those since high school. Jane Eyre and other classic books are mentioned and play a part in the story. Didn't I just read Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict? How do Austen (1775-1817) and Bronte (1816-1855) fit together? May need to look that up.

There is a story within the story. Margaret Lea works with her father in an antique book store and is asked to write a biography of Vida Winter, who is a famous author on her deathbed, but has never revealed her own life story. The bulk of the book is Winter's strange story of growing up in a crumbling mansion, raised by the employees as the family was non-existent or mentally unstable. There are ghosts, and twin sisters, faint glimpses of romance. Interestingly, Winter became such a prolific author, because she was escaping her own memories and living in the world of her imagination and her characters. The life story of Winter is interspersed by Margaret's story. She too has a past that is unresolved, but we see her get involved in Winter's story. She goes beyond listening to Winter herself, and checks facts where she can, and goes back to the mansion that burned many years ago to unearth more of it's secrets.

The disturbing family life was exacerbated by my parallel reading. As I was reading this at home, I was listening to Virgin Suicides in the car, which parallels the dysfunctional family keeping children imprisoned in an very unhealthy home environment. Both made me very uncomfortable. There was an interesting statement in The Thirteenth Tale, which I was going to mark, but didn't, about having to wait until you get one book out of your system before starting the next. You feel attached to characters, live with them, and it takes a while to let go of them. By reading two or more books at the same time, I really confuse things, and sometimes mix them up, or as in this case, it intensified my feeling of despair.

I loved that this was again about the book world - Margaret helping her father sell old books gave me a glimpse into the rare book market. I wasn't thrilled that she limited her reading to classics, as there is so much interesting literature coming out today. Margaret had to read Winter's contemporary books before she interviewed the author, so she knew something about her subject. At one point Margaret is given Sherlock Holmes' books to read to lighten her up, though much has been published since Sherlock. Of course Winter is an author, and a lot of the stories happen in the libraries of either the mansion of the past or Winter's current residence.

Final answer? Though depressing at times, still one of the best books I've read this year.

An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco (2004)

I haven't picked up any children's books lately, and with the Christmas season I saw this book from one of my favorite children's book authors and bought it - otherwise my kid book collection is getting stagnant. This is another one of Patricia Polacco's wonderful poignant historical stories about one of her ancestors (lucky she has a huge family). Set in Michigan, the father takes the horse and buggy to Lansing to pick up oranges, while everyone else gets ready for Christmas. They live at a railroad stop, feed the hobos traveling on the train, go to the woods for the tree, and get ready for Christmas in the old fashioned big family way. I have always loved Polocco's stories and her illustrations. She pulls you into the story with her animated characters of all ages. Makes me a bit wistful...