Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Barbara's Book Nook

I recently read Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez. A Michigander (I think), Deborah goes to Afghanistan and starts a beauty school there. The cover's great and there's a long poem by Farida Alimi at the beginning, which makes the memoir look like a piece of fine literature, but in the end, Debby's a gum-chewin' hair-cuttin' partyin' kind of gal. I didn't like the writing much, despite the fact that it was written "with" Kristin Ohlson. I did, however, like the vision of Kabul. I liked seeing the lives of some women. I liked seeing the streets. So I recommend it.

And I just finished Hannah's Dream by Diane Hammond. This I recommend highly for its humor, story, and characters. It doesn't really matter what the story is about. That I recommend it ought to be enough for you, don't you think? I laughed out loud (LOL for you youngsters) in several places and cried in another. I also wrote a postcard to a friend, copying down one of the funniest sentences I've ever read. Not only was my computer in the shop that day (those days) but my friend doesn't have a computer herself anyway.

What I did find interesting is that we had a set of lesbians whose lesbianism lent absolutely nothing to the story. They were treated with respect. There was no elbow-poking. But they could just as easily have been a straight couple. There were some black people, too, who didn't have to be black to move the story along. Their race was incidental. They were like, um, that deaf actress in What the Bleep Do We Know? There was no reason for her to be deaf. A hearing person would have filled the role just as nicely. But how cool that a deaf woman was used and no mention was made of it.

The next time I'm in a bookstore, I'll be looking for more of Diane Hammond.

Do you remember doing book reports in school? I don't. I mean, I remember they were assigned, and I have no doubt that I completed all my assignments. I just don't remember them. I know I don't like doing them. I want to say to a reading friend, "Oh! you've got to read this book!" and I want her to say, "Okay!" or even "Yes, Boss," as Sonny Fenwick says ( If you say, "What's it about?" all you're going to get from me is, "Read it and find out!"

In the end, you see, it doesn't matter to me what the book's "about," even if I could figure it out. Look at Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. Was that about predators? Was it about being a Jew among Christians, a northerner among southerners? Was it about widowhood? Moths? Sex? Who cares? Read it and find out!

No. I care about how it's written. If the answer is well, then I'll read it. That's why I've stuck with Stephen King all these years -- first because he was so fine and then because he was so fine. I still have hope for him. Dumas Key may have signaled his return.

I can read poorly written books, of course, but I prefer not to. I was in my late thirties before I realized that I didn't have to finish a book just because I'd started it. Oh freedom! Now I tell myself -- and you -- that I'll give a writer sixty pages, but the truth is that that depends on other factors, too. For instance, do I have another, better book in the wings? Did someone I love recommend it? Am I talking to it? That's a real clue there. If I'm quivering with righteous indignation at least once per chapter, I'm going to finish it just so I can whine and bristle later, shaking my head, stomping my foot at the idiocy of that misbegotten son or daughter of an illiterate anti-semantic.

I recently read a book by Nicholas Sparks. My only other choices at that time were Ken Follet's World Without End, which was too big for my mood (although I know I'll love it when I get to it), and Native Son by Richard Wright, which I assumed would be too gruesome and possibly boring. I often find classics boring. So I was stuck with this Sparks book. Between my Jordanian neighbor's too-loud music and Sparks's vapid writing, I couldn't concentrate. So I started reading out loud (ROL) with an accent, and I found I could get through it. The accent is just a mash of dialects I've heard or wished I'd heard, but it entertained me enough to get into the story a bit. The writing later got really bad, but I finished it, talking to it the whole time. I felt guilty putting the book into the charity pile, but many people obviously like this guy.

It's like Danielle Steele. She's wildly popular. I can't imagine why. I read one of her books, oh, maybe seventeen years ago. It occurred to me that I'd been trashing her -- at least in my own head -- for a long time but I'd never actually read anything of hers. And as some of my Devoted Readers know, the principle most calculated to keep a person in everlasting ignorance is the principle of contempt prior to investigation. Investigate I did. In fact, come to think of it, that's how I arrived at my sixty-page limit for idiot writers. I ploughed my way through those sixty pages. I labored. Ah. It's all coming back to me. My god! I owe a debt to Mrs. Steele! She's the one who taught me that I don't have to waste my time with a bad book!

Anyway, at page sixty, she had a man doing something that was unbelievable. I don't remember what it was. I just remember that I couldn't believe it. I said out loud (SOL), "There's no way he'd act like that!" and I threw the book down.

I believe that in my heart, I'd always wanted to "throw a book down," just like, really, I'd like to spit on someone. I wouldn't want it to be a big production. No hawking, just disdain, just a snide, nasty little spit. To prove a point.

I stayed away from Joyce Carol Oates for years and years because I thought she was a romance writer. Why? Because she's so prolific and she has so many names! Sometimes I'm such an idiot.

I have a friend, a writer, who actually never finishes a book. I don't understand this at all. If I ever interviewed him on his own blog, that would be my first question.

Me: So tell me, Bob, why don't you ever finish reading a book?

Here's what I'd like you all to do, to sort of gear up for the holidays, with a cheerful nod toward togetherness. Name one or two of your Desert-Island Books. Just leave a comment with a couple of your favorite re-readable books, okay?
  • Lamb by Christopher Moore
  • The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker
  • The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Hey! I said one or two, okay? Jeeze!

  • Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Stop it!

  • All of the Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith

I mean it! God.


diane said...

I'm so pleased that my HANNAH passed muster (as did Max, Miss Effie, Sam and the rest of the crew). I'd give a lot (like a signed copy of the book) to know which sentence you copied down on that postcard!


Diane Hammond

Diane from Pinellas Park said...

HI, I am not very intellectual & am currently reading dog training books. The Dog Whisperer by Paul Owens gets too repetitive & boring.

Jason said...

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
-If you've never read this book, you are missing one of the best "real world" (by rw, I mean it takes place in modern day London, which is actually in the early to mid-1990's) fantasy.

Fightclub by Chuck Palahniuk
-It's gritty, raw, and has the best twist I've ever read.

I'd also like a dictionary not necessarily and unabridged one, but a decent one so I can learn new words and sound terribly intelligent to the critters that I find on said Island.

I'd also like the Lord of The Rings Trilogy just for the sheer fact that I'll have all that time to read it.

olga kruse said...

Sadhana of the Heart by Swami Chidvalasanda

Play of Consciousness by Swami Muktananda

Chekhov's complete plays

Ashes at my Guru's Feet - poetry by Swami Chidvalasananda

Poetry by Emily Dickenson

Kati said...

The Floor of the Sky and The Plain Sense of Things by Pamela Carter Joern.
"Prose as clean and beautiful as its prairie setting" draws you into "rich and dignified lives well worthy of our attention."
KT Gallagher

flahoos said...

I'll be checking out "Hannah's Dream"; after seeing 62% vote for Amendment 2 I NEED to experience lesbians blending seamlessly into a story to get the taste of "NO SOUP FOR YOU!" out of my mouth.
Desert Island books: "Orlando" by Virginia Woolf; "Letter To A Christian Nation" by Sam Harris; "East Of Eden" by John Steinbeck

Mark said...

what, no beach music or prince of tides by patrick conroy? no fierce invalids from hot climates by tom robbins? still life with woodpecker? barbara, you're right, it's impossible to stop at just two...

PsychMajor said...

Hmm, let's see if this time I can remember my password in order to post, er, blog on your blog, my dear friend...

So, as referenced earlier, in the old-fashioned way of simply emailing you directly (and yes, I, too, wonder what that makes the U.S. Mail system? Primitive? Ancient? My apologies to my postmaster and postmistress relatives...yes, really, postMISTRESS, as if MASTER wasn't a gruesome-enough term to stand on its own!)...BOOKS I've loved and continue to love:

-Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews (a frequent reference delight of mine).

-Cider House Rules, as well as A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.

-A Kind of Grace, by Jackie Joyner-Kersee (for the old, asthmatic runner in me).

-Stiff, by Mary Roach (bien, gracias!...for the Human A&P studies' fan in me).

-Watership Down, by Richard Adams (for the animal lover and perpetual kid in me).

-The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe (because I was country-grown and city-folk perplex me).

-Elementary Statistics, 10th ed. (Pearson), (because math perplexes, baffles, stresses, and fascinates me...and obviously I haven't learned a THING! Did someone say TWO? Was that two to the tenth power? Hmm, choosing favorite books is like choosing favorite colors...or akin to selecting which arm or leg to hack off! No fair!).

-Every book I've read of Stephen King's (not his personal library selections, but his writings, of that New England flavor...ahhh, memories of home...).

-Every poem by Robert Frost (ditto, as regards NE flavor/memories)...and oooh, POEMS (pronounced poy-ums, of course)! ee cummings, wheee! etc., etc., ad the tenth power!

-The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath (ah, and yes, her POEMS, too).

-The Harry Potter books, by JK Rowling (I'm not ashamed to admit it! So there! And yay for her ability to inspire so many girls and boys to read!).

-The Bastard, and the whole series, by John Jakes (again, not ashamed!).

-The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran (ah, again, a frequently referenced little some ways reminds me of Robert Gibran says: "When you part from your friend, you grieve not; For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his [or her!] absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain." [He had me at MOUNTAIN! Oooh, MOUNTAINS!! Wheee!]).

Okay, no fair. I feel the books around me are shivering on their shelves (and the table, countertop, chairs, nightstands, etc.), ready to revolt! Plus which, Ivy's 17 lbs. of furry, wonderfully warm largesse has stretched out more, so my wee perch at this chair's edge is swiftly diminishing to where I shall soon be clunking off to land upon the bowling ball footrest below...that will not do. Nope. Not at all.

So, TWO, eh? Oooh, I'm so anxious as I await my math grade for this assignment!

Ha, and now, to remember that password...think, think, think...