A reading roundup.

I have been rather neglectful as far as writing up the books I’ve read. This is partly because I read a few books in a row that were so terrible that they caused me to lose my will to write anything about them and partly because the past few weeks have been busy with Mike’s birthday and other family things. Also, I read one that was so great that I felt that anything I said about it would be lame and ridiculous. Here is a quick roundup of a few that I’ve read lately, in reverse order-ish. I don’t have my notebook with me, but it’s close.

Away by Amy Bloom – I can see why this got glowing reviews, but overall, I would have to pass on it. I don’t want to give away the ending, but it was anticlimactic to the extreme. I really don’t have anything else to say.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See – Did. Not. Like. Just ask Andrea, who had to listen to me rant and rave about how I could not, would not finish it. I finished it. I had to; it was for my book club. But if it hadn’t been, I would have stopped. Here’s the thing. I can (and do) read tons of sad books. I like sad books. Bring it on, I say. The human condition is a sad one for many people, and I like books that honestly deal with that. But what I need when I read those books is a sense that the people are fighting for a better life. That’s why, despite the despair, I can read a book like A Thousand Splendid Suns and not get bogged down in sorrow. Those women were fighting back. In Snow Flower, though, the systematic oppression of women was perpetuated by the women themselves (speaking, of course, of the bound feet), and my feminist 21st century American self just can’t understand that. One of the questions in the back of the book was something about what you would do if you were in that same situation, and I thought, “THAT question is completely missing the point, which is that it was so ingrained in the culture that they couldn’t imagine doing anything else.” I can’t imagine binding my daughter’s feet, hurting her in that way, and I don’t think that a book can break through in order for me to connect with that kind of story in a meaningful way.

Consequences by Penelope Lively – This one was pretty much okay, following three generations from World War II to the present, but it also kind of felt like nothing happened. It’s about how the small choices of our lives affect us.

Peony in Love by Lisa See – I am of two minds about this book. On one hand, I was completely mystified by it the whole way through, thinking, “What is the POINT of this book?” On the other hand, the author’s note at the end was very illuminating: Lisa See based her story on some actual women whose lives centered around a certain Chinese opera that was said to affect women so strongly that they would starve themselves to death, thinking themselves “lovesick.” If I had read the author’s note first, I would have gotten a lot more out of the book, and with that note in mind, I can appreciate the book so much more. In the end, I think that what she was trying to do with the book was interesting, but I am not sure that it worked. If you are going to read it, read the author’s note at the end first. It will give away some things, but the story will make more sense.

Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles – This book was too . . . detached, I think. While I thought it was interesting to learn about the time period (Depression-era Texas), I didn’t really care about the characters. At all.

Atonement by Ian McEwan – This is one of the best books I have read this year, hands down. McEwan managed to string the tension along at such a level that I kept having to put it down in order to breathe. Additionally, the themes of truth and fiction and consequences really resonated. I can’t wait for the movie.

Songs Without Words by Ann Packer – I haven’t read The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, so I don’t really have anything to compare this to. I think I liked it. I liked the character of the daughter very much. I did not like the friendship between the two women all that much (which, now that I think about it, their friendship has some similarities to that of Snow Flower and Lily), and had a hard time with the character of Sarabeth. I also, from reviews, had thought this would be more about the friends than it ended up being. So maybe I had the wrong expectations going in. It was pretty good . . . it went off the rails a bit in the second half, but pretty good overall.

Evening by Susan Minot – Did. Not. Like. I mean, really. A one-night stand was the love of her life? I just can’t buy it.

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