Thursday, April 30, 2015

Challenge Accepted! April Books

If I was a little let down by only reading four books in March, I'm feeling really let down by my April accomplishments. Only three.

HOWEVER. One of those books was pretty long and dense, so that has to be factored in.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (A book that made you cry)
I recently wrote about this book's personal effect on me, but for the purposes of this post, I'll just give a quick synopsis. 

Historian Lyman Ward, who suffers from a debilitating skeletal disease, embarks upon a project of writing the life story of his grandparents, Susan Burling Ward and Oliver Ward, gathering the majority of his information from the extensive correspondence between Susan and her life long friend Augusta.  Susan, an Eastern genteel, and Oliver, an aspiring engineer with no college degree, marry after a long and unconvincing "courtship" that existed almost entirely in letters, and she joins him in their first homestead in the West in the late 1800s. As far as Susan sees it, this is a temporary settlement while he gets the experience he needs to return to New York and become an engineer in the East.  He, however, thought she understood that an engineer's life was in the West and always would be.  And thus begins a life of disappointments, successes, stalled work, poverty, hope, love, regret, friendships, loneliness, disaster, and exile.  Amidst the stories of Susan and Oliver's erratic and restless lives, Lyman must also wrestle with the reality of his own life - a failed marriage, a failing body, a meddlesome son, a ridiculous secretary, and a faithful but aging friend/nurse.  He is living alone in the very house his grandparents lived in for the last half of their lives, among the same roses his grandfather cultivated, the same roses whose scents hung in the air as heavy as the memories they carried.

This, in my opinion, is an absolutely fantastic book, one of the best I've ever read.  It is dense and rich, and so very cognizant of the human condition.  Stegner goes right down into the thick of what it is to be married and the cracks and craigs that can develop so very easily.  Even though the majority of the book is based over a century ago, Stegner also manages to draw the reader right into the Victorian era, forgetting our modern philosophies and beliefs about equality and the Women's Lib, and relive life the way it was then with no distaste for their archaic values.  In fact, we become almost nostalgic for it.  

I have read this book three times now, and every single time it has reduced me to tears.  And not just stingy-eye-tears, but full-on sobs, fat plops smearing the ink of the pages, bright red puffy eyes, dripping nose, the works.  I re-read it this time because our book club chose it as our next book. (We all submitted titles and chose one at random. Can you guess who submitted this one?!)  I truly hope the rest of Book Club will love it as much as I do, and I eagerly await our discussion!

Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman (A book based on or turned into a TV show)
If you haven't already watched Seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix, perhaps consider reading the book first. I wish I had.

The book is a memoir, the true story of Piper Kerman's year in a women's prison. It is heartfelt and compassionate and nothing at all like the TV series.  It is not over dramatic, we do not witness any fights or lesbian sex scenes, and the Piper "character" is not as troubled as they portray her on the show. Also - SPOILER ALERT -Larry is faithful.The book re-humanizes the women behind bars that we so often dehumanize because of their crimes.  It reminds us that punishment without rehabilitation is only cruelty.  It highlights the serious ineptitude of America's prison systems, as well as the disservice it does to society, when it perpetuates the cycle of violence and incarceration.  Until America realizes that pure punishment alone does not solve the problem, we will always have people cycling in and out of prison, unable to cope with life "on the outs".  Prisons must do a better job of rehabilitation if we want to see these people living productive and non-criminal lives. (And it should never have become a profitable "business".)

The TV show is great entertainment, but other than some of the characters and scenarios, it is not the same as the book.  Which is better? It depends on what you call "better".  If you ask me, the Netflix Original Series is more exciting, but the book touches your heart and engages your empathy.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (A banned book)
Again, another book with a movie-based-on-a-book.  I saw the movie first and read the book second. I gotta stop doing that.

I chose this as my "banned book". I chose it over several other more classical and well-known banned books, because I love the movie so much.  I figured I knew why the book would be banned in many high schools across the state - it deals with drugs and sexuality - but I wanted to know just how "bad" those concepts are in the book.

Spoiler - not bad at all. Aside - don't ban books because they deal with actual human dilemmas, particularly teen ones.

Charlie, a lonely high school freshman, whose close friend shot himself the year before, meets two seniors, Sam and Patrick, who take him in and show him genuine friendship, in spite of his quirks (and tendency to cry a lot).   It quietly and honestly tells Charlie's story through letters he writes to a "friend".  (Charlie needs an anonymous and understanding person to talk to. We know nothing about this friend, and this friend actually does not know Charlie.)  He talks about his first time getting high, his first kiss, his first girlfriend, his love of books and desire to become a writer, and true love and friendship.  The book is warm, but has an undercurrent of something unsettling. We get the sense of foreboding but cannot be sure why.

I liked this book, but again, it's a little different from the movie.  Obviously.  Movies must dramatize everything to keep the viewer constantly holding his breath.  The book does not feel the need to do so. It plays everything down, with Charlie telling anecdotes to his "friend" with a mixture of youthful naivety and insight beyond his years.  It made me glad I'm not sixteen anymore. It made me frown and sigh at the thought of anyone ever having to be sixteen.

It should not be a banned book. (Should any book?)  Kids need to be able to read this stuff. Kids, more than anyone, need to know they are not alone in their struggles.  This will be required reading for my little ones when they start to become a lot less little.

To see what else I have read this year:

1 comment:

  1. Lori, this is another great reading list! You are so right - youngsters need to read this 'banned' material. It is amazing how late in life I am to learn this lesson. The things that were banned from me as a teenager only came up later in life, and I was not equipped to deal with these difficult things when they did. It stunted my growth and emotional maturity in so many levels! Take care.


Leave your comments here.