Saturday, April 30, 2011

March/April 2011 reading report

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress- Rhoda Janzen.  First of all, let me say that I love the name Rhoda, even though (or maybe because) I have a vague recollection of a song about a Rhoda from grade school.  OK, that's out of the way.  I enjoyed her book.  It was laugh out loud funny at times.  It's a memoir sort of along the lines of Eat Pray Love, except way snarkier, less spiritual, and she doesn't travel to exotic locales.  (But other than that, it's just the same!)  Her husband leaves her for a man he met on, and not long after that she is in a very serious car accident.  So she goes back to live with her Mennonite parents to recuperate after many years of not being a Mennonite.  There are obvious parallels with my past, although we weren't Mennonites.  But my dad's family is German and Baptist, and there are plenty of similarities.  Enough that some of her descriptions of her youth made me smile and get a little misty-eyed.  But good lord, is she snarky.  Sometimes it's really funny.  But other times it borders on being cruel.  Oddly, her nearly-cruel moments are reserved not for the Mennonites, but for the sartorially challenged.  God forbid you should have the temerity to wear a fleece vest in her presence.  I'm not sure I would want to be her friend, I don't think I'd measure up.  I own four fleece vests. -smirk-  But I did enjoy her book.  Recommended.

The Fortune Quilt- Lani Diane Rich.  I'm slowly working my way through Lani/Lucy's books, savoring them.  She's a terrific writer.  The three I've read were alike in at least one respect:  once I got into them, it was impossible to put them down.  I read the first chapter of this one before bed one night, then sat down with it about 10:30 the next night intending to read for half an hour or so.  At 1:30 I finished it.  I could not stop.  It's very compelling.  It's about a young woman in her late twenties who loses her job and her (male) best friend all in the same week. And then her mother, who disappeared 17 years earlier, shows up.  The plotline where she is trying to find resolution with her mother is also a major theme of one of the others of Lani's I've read, Little Ray of Sunshine.  About the only complaint I have about this book is that Sunshine does it better. (Well, and that I liked the best friend better than the hero, but taste in heroes is always subjective--there have been other romances I've liked where I didn't particularly care for the hero--so she gets a pass on that.  And Will was growing on me by the end, anyway.)  If I'd read Fortune Quilt first I'd have no complaints.  But after reading Little Ray of Sunshine, this one just doesn't have the same complexity/depth of resolution.  Good book, though.  I'm definitely taking one of Lani/Lucy's books with me on my next plane flight.  The flight would fly by.  (ark, ark)

For school:  Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion.  Yup, still working my way through Jane Austen.  Emma, I think, is my favorite of all of them.  The main character, surprisingly enough named Emma, is so perfectly drawn, and the resolution of all her little schemes is so beautifully done, it's hard not to just gape in awe at the writing.  There's one argument (discussion) between Emma and Mr. Knightley, where they are discussing Knightley's judgment of another person's character, and Emma's judgment of Knightley, that we ended up discussing for over an hour in class--just because there was so much packed into that two-page section.  Another reason I love it is because of the movie Clueless, which has to be one of the best-ever adaptations of a classical work to modern times.  And another reason I love it is because in at least one way-- her arrogant, youthful assumption that she knows everything she needs to know, and way more than anyone else around her-- Emma reminds me of me at that age.  And yet even though she's such a horrible snob, you can't help but love her.  It's such a great book.  And even though she learns the error of her ways by the end of the book, Knightley makes the most touching declaration of having loved her through the whole thing.  *sigh* *gush*

Mansfield Park is, I think, the least likable of all of JA's work.  Fanny, the heroine, is not a woman to interest a contemporary reader.  She's sickly, shy, retiring, and easily embarrassed; but even worse, she seems-- at least on first reading-- to be a priggish, moralistic prude.  But you know, this was my second time reading it, and I found her to be a much more sympathetic character this time.  She is so thoroughly herself.  She has a very clear and consistently-drawn character that makes her bearable, even when you're rolling your eyes at her timidity.  A closer reading reveals her to be not so much a prude as completely loyal to the people whose opinion she values.  If you could divest the word "pure" of its overtones of moral perfectionism, I think you could say she is 'pure in heart.'  Not because her heart is faultless, but because reading about her is like looking into a pool of clear, still water.  I think. But maybe I'm over-reading.  Anyway.  If you're not an Austen fan, this one is definitely not going to change your mind.

Persuasion.  This one is quite different than JA's others-- or at least, as different as one romance novel can be from another. Anne, the heroine, is older-- in her late twenties.  She has loved the same man all along.  She fell in love early but turned him down on the advice of her mentor because he was a young, penniless, unproven naval officer.  When he comes back eight years later, he must get over his hurt, and she must figure out how to reach through all the social barriers that separate them to let him know how she feels.  And another major difference--she doesn't end up with the big house, as the heroine of all her other novels do.  It's a great story, in some ways far more modern than any of her other work.

UlyssesI read it (click on the link for the long, tortured tale of my progress).  The whole dang thing, and since I'm taking an independent study on it, I'm reading it again.  It's difficult and brilliant, bawdy and sublime, but mostly it's long.  the first time reading it is a 650-page exercise in delayed gratification.  You just don't know what is happening much of the time.  But the second time through (and I'm less than halfway at the moment) is an entirely different matter.  Since you know what's going to happen later, you can see how everything fits together.  Is it a great novel?  yes. absolutely. Is it the best novel of the twentieth century, as so many have claimed?  Well, I'd have to say no, because I don't see how you can claim that a novel that only a very few have actually read is the greatest novel of the 20th century.  Gatsby or The Sun Also Rises or The Color Purple or To Kill a Mockingbird or or or.  Recommended?  yes, if you enjoy a challenge, and if you take it on, I'd add:  read it twice.  It's an entirely different (and better) experience the second time through.

Audiobooks-- I'll make this quick since I've already gone on and on here.

Cotillion- Georgette Heyer.  I love Heyer.  I've read or listened to three now (so I can tell you its pronounced "hay-er"), and I'm working my way through a fourth when I'm in the car.  She's terrific.  Here's the thing about Cotillion.  If you've read many romance novels, you know their main drawback:  you know the ending almost before you start.  You know that the heroine and the male protagonist are going to end up together.  The interest lies in how that is accomplished.  But in Cotillion, honest to Pete, about halfway through you're not sure how it's going to end.  She has several little twists up her sleeve that put the whole thing in question.  I'm not giving it away, and if you think you might want to read it, don't read the back cover or the reviews on Amazon, just plunge in.  Another thing to get used to with Heyer is all the exclamation points.  They're wearisome, and that's one of the best reasons to listen to her stuff as an audiobook.  But well worth it.  Highly recommended.  I loved this one.

and you're thinking, I thought she was going to make it short.  sorry.

Bet Me- Jennifer Crusie.  I've read it at least half a dozen times, but it was on sale on Audible a couple of weeks ago, so I thought it would be fun to hear it.  And it was.  I'm a skimmer, so I often miss details.  With an audiobook, you hear every word, and you realize how brilliant Crusie is at dialogue and amusing little details.  It is a tribute to her skill that I can say I love this book, even though it has my least favorite plotline-- the whole thing would be resolved if the hero and heroine just sat down and talked.  And it's especially irritating because they do sit down and talk, many times, but just never about the right thing.  But I still really enjoyed listening to this and was many times driving down the road laughing hysterically all by myself in the car.  Great book.  If you haven't read it, go straight out and get either the print or audio version right now.


  1. Mansfield Park is my least favorite JA novel. Persuasion is my most favorite. And Bet Me happens to be a fav too.

  2. The Fortune Quilt is my favorite Lani story. For obvious reasons.
    Great round up!!!
    (Did you like the extra punctuation?!)

  3. Omg...I'm a skimmer too. Whatever details I miss, I simply make up in my mind. Or perhaps I already made them up in my mind, so I skip the details to avoid confusion. chicken or egg? Who cares. I read all of the Dragon Tattoo books and loved them ONLY because I skimmed through all of the regional descriptions. I've never been to Sweden and will probably never go, so I made it up as I went along.
    Sometimes it backfires when the book becomes a movie (like Hunger Games). I actually get annoyed that it doesn't look like I imagined.