Monday, November 29, 2010

Weekend in Reading

I had a great weekend. We stayed home with the boys, opting out of long drives in molasses-like traffic. Instead we laid low, made some turkey and fixins, and tried to get out as much as possible. On Thanksgiving day we went hiking in Hurd Park with friends John, Jackson, and Mia.

Usually a walk in the woods is such a contemplative event, hearing the rustle of the fallen leaves as you push them from your path, the distant chugging of a brook, the occasional twitter of wildlife. Add in two three-year-olds, one four-year-old, and a five-year-old.

The silence is broken. Shattered, really.

Willy has one mode of communication: shouting. He's enthusiastic, I'll give him that.

At least we tired them out, and we were able to get the dogs out for some running and carousing.

Over the holiday I refrained from the work cycle, and got busy reading, relaxing, and hanging with the fam.

I've finished three books since last Wednesday, and I'm halfway through a fourth.

Here are the reviews:

The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides.

Tiny synopsis: it's the 70s and the boys in this suburban Detroit neighborhood are captivated by the beautiful Lisbon sisters. Their strict parents and insularity make them the perfect subject for endless daydreaming. The boys spend their adolescence trying to understand the Lisbon sisters and the choices they make.

     I don't have to say out loud that book is depressing, do I? It's all right there in the title. There's no way it wouldn't be. I saw the movie when it came out. I wouldn't say it was my favorite film at the time, but I liked it. Much later I read Eugenides' Middlesex. What a fantastic book: an epic, sweeping tale. I love a book that follows a family through several generations (and bonus if it's an immigrant family).

Anyway, I wanted to give TVS a chance because I enjoyed Middlesex so much. It's been on my list for years, but I just haven't gotten around to it.
     It was certainly well-written, and I was surprised to see how closely the movie covered elements of the book (though sometimes with not enough context to truly understand them).

     But it was just so depressing. And a little creepy that the neighborhood boys were so obsessed with the Lisbon sisters. It's not that it wasn't good, it just wasn't my thing. I think also because I've seen the movie, there was no element of surprise.

Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Tiny synopsis: Straight-A student Kristina goes to visit her dad and goes from normal, smart, together student to total and complete meth addict.     

This book (told in verse) relates the horrors of a young girl who gets hooked on meth. At first I was turned off by the verse-- it seemed a little gimmicky and hard to follow.

I should note I am NO poet, and so maybe I'm a little biased.

I have to say, the verse grew on me over time, and though this was a 300+ page book, it was a quick read. It was almost like a modern version of Go Ask Alice.

     Recently, I was browsing Wiki and found the entry on Go Ask Alice. It was an eye-opener, because I took the book at face value and thought it was actually the diary of a girl who tried drugs and suffered the horrible consequences. It was disappointing to see that most people don't consider that to be the case now, but instead a fictionalized account written by a therapist.

     The irony is that Crank is absolutely a work of fiction, but feels like a more honest depiction of what can happen to a person who experiments with meth. Granted, my expertise in meth is limited to the information presented in one Oprah show. Still, that show followed a teenager, and her story was very similar to the protagonist in Crank. Crank seemed realistic and was a compelling read. It is so hard to read a book like this, though, and watch as Kristina makes one terrible decision after another.

The No 1 ladies detective agency, Alexander McCall Smith

Tiny synopsis: Mma Precious Ramotswe takes the inheritance her father leaves her and starts a detective agency in Botswana. She navigates life in her community all the while promoting her business and solving people's problems, or perhaps causing new ones.

Loved it. It's much more my genre than the other two books. A strong clever woman unraveling small mysteries-- it's my thing. I'd heard some buzz about these books, but in searching at the library found the first book in the series was always out. I'm in the habit of walking by this shelf and always looking, so when I went to meet my mentee at the library a few weeks ago I was happily surprised to find the book in.

The book is told as a series of vignettes, it was an interesting presentation-- a nice break from the usual: "wake up and go to sleep with the main character" routine. You get the sense of a much bigger world, with characters connected in multiple ways, but feel as if the author is only giving you a tiny glimpse into the scenes he wants you to see. I liked it. The plot was intricate without being overwhelming, the characters (even secondary ones) were drawn precisely.

I am not sure if I will immediately commit to the whole series at this point (eleven books), but I may slowly work my way through them

What about you? Have you read any of these? What were your thoughts on them?


  1. I haven't read any of those... I know TVS from the movie, and I was disturbed enough by the movie to not want to reach for the book.

    CRANK is one of those I know must be fantastic, but I have to be at the Right Place to pick it up and enjoy it.

    NO 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY -- Now that sounds good! I've been eying it for a while, but after your review, I think I'll actually pick it up. :)

    Great post!

  2. I've read Crank and I LOVED it. In fact, Ellen Hopkins is one of my fave authors. I haven't read the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, but I've seen the TV show on HBO and thoroughly enjoyed it. :)

  3. Sounds like you all had a lovely holiday!


  4. Sounds like such a great holiday--especially the reading! I have been wanting to read the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, so it's nice to hear that they're good. :)

    I got the pin and surprises yesterday. LOVE them! So cute! Thank you so much!

  5. totally Susan- if you've seen the movie, I'm not sure I can recommend the book. I love to re-read, but it's usually uplifting stories, not depressing ones.

    Pam- I added Crank to my list b/c of a suggestion YOU made on a RTW. Thanks for the tip. I am such a worrier, though-- I really worry about EH's real daughter.
    Is she okay?

    It was great EJ-- thanks

    Yay Jess- that's awesome. Hope you enjoy them!

  6. Thanks for the helpful post! I would not have gotten this otherwise!.


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