The Memorial Day festivities are done, students are graduating from schools around the country, and baseball season is in full swing. That should mean long, sunny days, perfect for any number of outdoor activities, but the weather in my neck of the woods has apparently not gotten the memo. The holiday weekend was cool and windy and there was definite moisture on the windows on my way to work this morning. Hardly conducive to barbeques or yard work, but perfect for curling up with some espresso, a cuddly cat, and a random draw from the To Be Read pile.
Here’s how my reading went:
A New Author
This month I gave several new authors a try. All were freebies I received from various RWA conferences; a few had been languishing on the pile for quite a while. I had met several of the authors personally, some on multiple occasions, and had high hopes that the books would measure up to the charming, friendly personalities of their author’s. Sadly, in baseball terms, “swing and a miss” is an appropriate description for this portion of my month’s reading. I spent some time trying to identify why the books did not work for me. In one case, the reason was obvious: I was not the target reader for that specific book. It was an erotica novella – not my catnip as Jilly would say – but I gave it a try out of curiosity. The story didn’t work for me, not because of the I’m-not-sure-that-is-even-anatomically-possible-sex the characters had everywhere, but because there seemed to be no discernible story. That was too bad because the two main characters had the potential to be very interesting.
One of the other stories I read was a contemporary southern romance that had its positive points, but two things irritated me right out of the story. First was the fact that the author kept having the hero think about how sexy the heroine was – over and over and over again – but didn’t really show why they were supposed to be attracted to each other. Second, and this was the deal breaker, the heroine had to choose at one point between the hero and the other-guy. She chose the hero, they went off and had hot, sweaty sex, and then she said “no, actually I’m staying with the other-guy” (paraphrasing here). Just no.
Undaunted by striking out in my new author quest, I forged on ahead with The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve followed Gilbert online for quite some time and generally find her posts and TED Talks and articles to be interesting and thought provoking so I had high hopes for this latest book. At almost 500 pages, it was not a novel to breeze through in a few hours and I’ll admit up front that I still have a few pages left to go. The book did not disappoint in terms of delightful prose, like the following:
“His penmanship was shamefully crabbed. Each sentence in tight misery, crawling up on one another as though trying to escape the page. His spelling was several degrees beyond arbitrary, and his punctuation brought reason to sigh with unhappiness.”
Set in the late 1700s, the book was full of fascinating botanical and historical details. It was very obvious that Gilbert had done her research and was passionate about her story and her facts. Although it feels wrong to criticize a New York Times Bestseller, I have to say the botanical details sometimes overwhelmed the story, at the expense of the characters and plot. There was also a lot of narrative summary, rather than active scenes, which made it both challenging to connect with the characters and regrettably easy to put the book down. One review that I read suggested that the book could have done with some strong editing, and I tend to concur.
The structure and flow of the story felt very reminiscent of the slower more intricate style of Victorian novels, when reading was a drawn-out, leisurely pursuit. There was no start with a crash of action and race from one tension-filled plot point to another until the end for this story, which frankly was refreshing. Instead, the book started with a prologue about the birth of a baby girl, followed by a 50 page first section about the life of the father when he was a boy, before returning to the girl (slightly older) and following her through her life. Overall, I enjoyed the story (and learned some things in the process), though it is not likely to make it onto the read-it-again shelf. I’ll let you know if I change my mind after those last remaining pages.
I rounded out the month’s reading with a classic – Frankenstein (The Modern Prometheus) by Mary Shelley. Honesty compels me to admit that I actually read this once before at Oxford, but that was a close, critical, analytical reading, which is not at all the same as a pleasure read. Frankenstein has an interesting story structure, with an outer narrative in epistolary form (letters between a captain and his sister), around an inner narrative (told by Victor Frankenstein), with a deeper inner narrative (told by the Creature). Excluding the letters in the outer frame, the story is told in the first-person, which gives it a very close, intimate feel and made it very easy to connect with the characters.
Where modern stories frequently feature someone working through challenges and set-backs before finally at the end of the story reaching their goal, this story focuses more on what happens once a goal has been achieved. In this case, we see what happens to Victor Frankenstein after he successfully creates his Creature and how achieving that initial goal has terrible, terrible consequences. The story also has a romance component. True, it’s the Creature who is searching for a female companion, not the title character, and that search ends in tragedy not happily ever after, but it is part of the tale in combination with the other elements of horror, Gothic, and the scientific. If you haven’t read this story before, I definitely recommend giving it a read. This is one for my keeper shelf for sure.
So, what have you read (or started reading) recently? Anything for your keeper shelf?