Thursday, February 26, 2009

Possibly Cheating

At a library book sale (an entire paper grocery bag full of books for $2.oo; I was ecstatic), I picked up a book called Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith. I was drawn to the book because of its cover (pretty yellow, with a flower), and the author. I couldn't place it at first, but as most people probably know if they've read it, Smith is the author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Great, great book. So I figured I would give this new book a try.

It was GREAT!

Seriously, I think more people need to read it, and it deals with a married couple, thus fulfilling the romance component I need to review it for the Romance Reading Challenge, so I decided to write a review for this in place of 13 Little Blue Envelopes.

In her book Joy in the Morning, Betty Smith relates the lives of Carl and Annie Brown, two young individuals who have been in a romantic relationship since their early teenage years, who decide to marry at the tender ages of 20 and 18 (respectively). The romance in this book is realistic and sweet, and I think it gives the reader hope that romance can occur in real life (some of us have grown rather cynical, by which I refer to myself, of course).

What makes this book great is the characterization. Smith manages to succinctly convey the characters' personality in this book. While the most fully fleshed-out character is Annie, the reader gets a feel for nearly all of the characters who appear in the book.

The main problem with this book wasn't a problem at all for me, really. Yet some people might not like the dated feel of this book. Written in the sixties, it is set in the late 1920's. Some of the language might seem a bit silly to a modern audience. I didn't have a problem reading it, though I might have giggled once or twice; overall, I felt that the original intentions of the author shone through clearly, and the language wasn't an impediment, but an enhancement. To me, the language helps me feel like I'm a voyeur in a different time period.

Honestly, I didn't want to put this book down. I am very glad that I picked this book up at the library sale, and I encourage people who are looking for a new, older book to read to give this a try. Smith's writing is a delight.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

An Austen-Affiliated Novel I Didn't Hate

As part of that Romantic Reading Challenge I joined this year, I read Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club.

I was worried, upon embarking on the journey of reading this novel. I had heard, from a therapist a few years ago, that this book wasn't very good. I believe her words were, "They just read Jane Austen books. It was boring."

And then the movie came out, and it looked cute, so a friend and I rented it and watched it. I liked it, and this caused me to consider reading the book.

There was one more factor that caused me to be reluctant at the idea of reading this book, however: its affiliation with Jane Austen.

I love Jane Austen's books. Every single one of them is enjoyable - witty, realistic, romantic. Unfortunately, most of the more recent books that have been published by fellow Austen-enthusiasts have been horrible. I realize that it is difficult to write a book worthy of the great author from the nineteenth century, and authors who try deserve credit for their endeavor, but I don't like being repeatedly disappointed, either.

In this case, I wasn't. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The characters are all interesting, and described in a captivating way that makes the reader want to avoid putting the book down at all costs.

The one thing that was kind of weird about the book was the narration style. Primarily told in the third person, the narration tends to focus on one, or only a couple, of the characters. There were times, however, when a plural second person point of view was used. So I, as the reader, felt as though I was being addressed by one person in the group, talking about everyone in the group, but in actuality, it was the narrator, who was not in the reading group. It felt kind of voyeuristic, stalkerish, and wrong.

But the novel, overall, is very good. It's one of those magical books that just makes you feel good, even when it recounts bad things happening. It reminds me of Alice Hoffman's books, which are permeated with fantastical creatures and those realistic magic moments that are in our lives.

Since Jane Austen's novels all involve love and courtship, the characters, through reading and discussing the six books Ms. Austen wrote, realize issues in their own love lives. The reading of Austen's books are healing, and feel like a healing balm to the reader, as well.

This book is great, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who has read Ms. Austen's books, is interested in reading Ms. Austen's books, or who loves love. The book is, perhaps, a bit esoteric - it is definitely easier to follow if you HAVE read Ms. Austen's books. But there are summaries of the Austen books, if you haven't read them.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

This is Not the Emma Essay

Instead, I bring forth a book review and a rant, both of which are inspired by Christopher Moore's soon-to-be-released book, Fool.

For those of you who have never heard of this book, it comes out February 10th. Only four days before Valentine's Day (and was, in fact, my early Valentine's Day present, and I don't even like the holiday).

For those of you who have never heard of the author, GO. Stop reading. Walk, run, swim, drive to the nearest bookstore (because you'll be wanting to give him royalties, of course), and pick up one of his books. Any of his books. I started with Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, which was devoured in a manner of hours despite my being sick at the time (plane travel does not agree with me).

All right, then. With those little necessities out of the way, I suppose I can commence my review. Fool is a re-telling of Shakespeare's telling of "King Lear," with the court jester narrating. I think this is a great idea, and eagerly awaited reading this novel, particularly as I anticipated Moore's comedic style. And it is a fun book. The problem with anticipation, of course, is that it's hard for anything to measure up completely, and I think that's what happened here. There were definitely laugh-out-loud funny moments while I was reading this book, and I am glad to have had the experience of reading this book. The book was not quite as enjoyable as I had expected, however. A large part of this, I think, is due to my initial and recurring distaste for the court jester narrator. He had moments of sweetness, but overall, I kind of thought he was a jerk. I didn't necessarily want him to have a happy ending, though I did feel for him at moments. I'm the type of reader who likes to like the protagonist. So while Moore did his research for this book, and used British slang, and told jokes, I didn't find his book as engaging nor as humorous as I tend to find his writing. Much of the book felt a bit flat to me.

It's not that I wouldn't recommend reading this book at all. But I am glad I didn't buy the hardcover copy, which is useful as a weapon, but is not as kind to my decidedly small pocketbook.

On to the rant!

As someone who previously lived in Michigan, and now lives in Indiana, I look forward to those small pleasures in life, chief among them, hearing authors whose work I enjoy speak. Christopher Moore generally spoke somewhere in Michigan, often at Ann Arbor, "the deuce" being a rather literary place and all. So I was eagerly looking forward to seeing Mr. Moore this year, and hearing him talk about Shakespeare and jesters and Medieval Britain and whatnot.

Yet, to my heartbreaking eyes, from the website of Mr. Moore, came the news that not only was Mr. Moore not going to be in Ann Arbor, his publishers had decided the man couldn't come to the Midwest at all!

I rejoice for Mr. Moore, who can now avoid freezing his balls off in this hell-hole I am forced, for the moment, to call home. But I've got to say, his publishers blaming this shitty economy kind of angers me.

As if I don't suffer enough for living here! I had to grow up in this shitty weather, where the cold seeps into my bones, and every year, I expect that one of these days, I'm just not going to wake up, I'll just freeze in my bed, and be undiscovered for days like that homeless man in Detroit (who, technically, didn't freeze in a bed). The Detroit area being where I'm from, I don't have any good sports teams to root for, and even the Michigan Wolverines let me down this year. I come from an area SO BORING, the only thing we kids could do was get drunk, get stoned, or go bowling.

There's already NOTHING to do here, and you're going to punish us more?

You can fly the man all the way across the country, from California to New York, but you can't make a pitstop in freakin' Chicago?

If the economy's that bad, then why not just cancel the tour altogether? You can just send signed books off from a bookstore in Mr. Moore's local area, and do a few YouTube videos and call it a day. If we in the Midwest have to suffer and suffer, then why do the lucky people on the coastlines get everything? They've already got the ocean within easy driving distance, and better weather, and not being surrounded by hicks! They've got better museums, and more money.

I feel slighted. Not personally, but as a community. I don't know how many people in the Midwest have actually thought about this, but I do know plenty of people in this area who read, and I just think it's a shame that now this area is being slighted in visiting literary talent, as well. Especially since a lot of literary talent grew up in the Midwest.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A Bit of Talk About An Upcoming Essay

I recently re-read Emma, one of those famous novels by that famous novelist, Jane Austen.

I love this book. Actually, I love all of Miss Austen's novels.

And so, coming soon will be an essay focusing on one of the characters in this novel (I don't want to tell you which one - you have to read the essay to discover it; I'm a fan of the evil cliffhanger - in my own writing).

I'm really posting to say, that while I doubt that anyone reads this blog with anything approaching a regular basis, while I'm sure that most people who glance at the words published here on this humble webpage accidentally stumbled on the site and then had their eyes physically held open by a sadist, the essay I am about to write is going to be full of those odious spoilers.

When writing an essay, as it is necessary to give examples from the literature I read for evidence supporting my viewpoint that the essay strives to prove is correct, spoilers will be inevitable throughout this blog, except, perhaps, in the occasional review.

So this is your warning: If you haven't read the book that I am writing about (in this case, Emma), don't read my essay, lest the surprise and wonder of the book be spoilt by my poison-tipped pen/keyboard.