Sunday, March 06, 2011

Reading Report: Feb 2011

March 6th it is, and I'm just now posting the reading report.  It's been that kind of week.  I've been buried in academic reading, so you may not get any good recommendations, but here 'tis.

Jane Austen-- Lady Susan, Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice.  It's like Nirvana, yes?  Oh, damn, I have to read Sense and Sensibility this weekend.  Poor me.  Lady Susan, which I'd never even heard of before this semester, is an early novel, written in epistolary style (i.e., the whole thing is letters that the characters write back and forth to each other).  It has an extremely rushed ending, but other than that, it is surprisingly good for an Austen novel you've never heard of, and in some ways funnier than her later stuff.  And it's short.  Worth picking up if they have it at your library and you need a quick snarky read.  Northanger Abbey is a parody of the popular romances of the time.  I found it the most tedious read of the ones we've done so far, but it still had some great moments.  I suspect it would be funnier if I had read Castle of Otranto or Mysteries of Udolpho (which were the popular romances of Austen's time), but I haven't, and I didn't have time.  I already wrote about S&S, and P&P... well.  It's brilliant.  There was a thread on Facebook recently between a friend of mine and a bunch of her other friends about how they'd never been able to get through it and they couldn't understand why everyone loves it so much.  I don't understand how you couldn't.  It's not exactly a quick read, especially not at first while you're getting used to her slower pace.  And unfortunately, she has a habit of leaving out the scenes that turn into the best scenes in the movies  (In the movie of S&S, when Emma Thompson totally loses it when Hugh Grant comes back?  (which has to be one of the most brilliantly acted scenes ever) Not in the book.  Not kidding.  the Emma Thompson character is so overcome with emotion that she runs out of the room before she can break down.)  So I suppose if you saw the movie first and then tried to read the book, you'd be disappointed. But I'm not.  I adore these books.

OK.  I think I've gushed enough over Austen.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.  I read this when it came out twenty-ish years ago and thought it was way too depressing and didn't particularly care for it.  But I had to read it for my FemLitCrit class this semester and loved it this time.  It's definitely not a feel-good, cheerful novel-- it's about a young woman who has been convicted of a grisly murder, and the psychiatrist who tries to cure her of her amnesia so she can remember what happened.  But it's far from the dark, despairing novel that I remembered.  I'm not sure why I read it that way twenty years ago.  In fact, probably my main objection to it this time is that it ends a little too neatly.  I can't say anything more than that without spoilers.  Highly recommended.

Ulysses update.  Yes, I'm still reading it.  It goes on and on and on.  It's basically the story of one day in the lives of two men, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus.  During the day, Stephen has various deep conversations with different people and ends up drinking with medical student friends at a maternity hospital.  Bloom, who has spent the day going to a funeral, eating lunch, and masturbating on the beach as he watches a beautiful young woman, has also been avoiding going home to his wife, whose lover has been to the house during the afternoon.  Bloom goes to the maternity hospital to check on a woman he knows who is delivering there and ends up sitting with Stephen and his friends as they get progressively more drunk--although Bloom himself imbibes very little.  Bloom, feeling protective of Stephen, follows him to the red light district of Dublin, where there is a long, astonishingly inventive dream sequence that takes place in a brothel.  Now Bloom and Stephen are sitting in a cheap coffee house.  Bloom is hoping Stephen will sober up a little, and he is still avoiding going home and avoiding even thinking about what happened during the afternoon.  It's brilliantly done, but it isn't easy to read, and I can't possibly recommend it.  You'd kill me.  But if you're determined to read it, let me know and I'll let you know my strategy (for what it's worth, which may not be much).  It involves two commentaries, a paraphrase, a dictionary, and the book itself.

And on a more fun note:  (sorry, this is getting long).

Dream a Little Dream, Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  I've read enough SEP novels to know that I almost never like the way they begin and the way they end, but the in-betweens are good enough that I keep reading them.  This time, I figured I could get the setup off the back cover, so I started reading on about page 75, which worked really well.  The story is about Rachel Stone, who is the widow of a corrupt televangelist. She returns with her young son to the small town where they lived, where almost everyone hates her for the way her husband (and by implication, her) fleeced them out of all kinds of money.  She is so broke that she and her son are living in her car.  She has to find the last bit of her husband's fortune, which she's convinced is hidden in the house where they lived.  Their house has been sold, and Gabe Bonner, a widower who has unwillingly hired her to help him renovate an old drive-in movie theater, just happens to be the caretaker of the house.

There is also a secondary romance between Gabe's brother, a local pastor, and his church secretary. As with most of Phillips' novels, the secondary romance is almost more interesting than the primary one, although in this case it may have meant more to me because of my background.  The brother-pastor is questioning his faith, and has an ongoing conversation in his head with God, in the persons of Clint Eastwood, Oprah, and somebody else whom I'm forgetting.  It's a little weird, but I thought it worked pretty well, and his moment of resolving his faith--although hardly an in-depth analysis of faith issues-- worked well enough that I could buy it.  It will remind you of The Shack, if you've read that, except that it is about a gazillion times more believable than The Shack was, partly because rather than stretching the metaphor till it breaks, Phillips lets it be a low-key, not-too-serious sideline to the main story.

But where the story really got me is the relationship between Gabe and Rachel's son.  I was sobbing by the time they got it resolved.  I thought it was beautifully done, and believable.  And that's where I should have stopped reading.  Because once again Phillips managed to write an ending that all but ruined the book for me.  I could go on and on about what bugged me about it-- tantalizing details that are thrown out and then dumped without resolution, a tacked-on crisis that serves no purpose, big moments that fizzle (after a long, tense night, Gabe's brother volunteers to keep the kid so Rachel and Gabe can go home and talk things out. So what do they do?  in the next scene, Rachel is TAKING A NAP and Gabe is out working in the yard).  When they finally do have their big talk, Rachel insists that Gabe talk about how much better she is than his dead first wife.  Not kidding.  Suffice it to say, yuck.  Now that it's been a couple of weeks since I read it, I will say that the middle 300 pages is good enough that I'd still say it's worth reading, especially if little niggling details don't bother you as much as they bother me.  But if you talked to me the day after I read it, I would have told you to burn it.  Next time I may not only skip the first 75 pages, but also stop reading 50 pages before the end.

1 comment:

  1. I really have nothing much to say, just repeating ealier comments of how I adore it when you do this.