sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

June 2, 2006

into the stacks 4
posted by soe 10:58 pm

Last month I bemoaned only reading five books. Sadly that appears substantial compared to the piddling two I managed during May. I find that hard to believe. I mean, yes, there were two knitting magazines I snuck in there. And I started one book before deciding it wasn’t for me. But still … two?

I have been wandering around the house for two days looking in piles, picking up volumes, and wracking my brain for books I may have accidentally taken back to the library without first noting them. But I can find nothing. Apparently I’ve just had an underwhelming month.

Nonetheless, I wouldn’t want those two books to feel in any way unworthy.

They were:

A Good Year, by Peter Mayle

From the book jacket: “Max Skinner is not exactly setting the London financial world on fire — and when his supervisor steals his biggest client, it’s definitely time to inspect the vineyard in Provence that his recently departed uncle left him. Heartily and happily distracted upon his arrival by the landscape, the weather, and the food — not to mention the gorgeous notaire handling the estate and the stunning owner of the local bistro — Max almost forgets about his inherited property.”
Why this book? I don’t remember why exactly I first picked up A Year in Provence. It was probably recommended by one of the dozen bookstores that email me suggestions. But since then, I’ve been hooked and when Mayle himself came to D.C. two years ago to promote this book, we paid money to attend the reading.
My take: If you’ve read any of Mayle’s Provence books, this will come as no real surprise to you. The scenery is luscious, the food leaves your mouth watering, and the characters are sweetly quirky. A charming read.

Wicked, by Gregory Maguire

From the book jacket: “When Dorothy triumphed over the so-called Wicked Witch of the West in Frank Baum’s tales, we heard only Dorothy’s side of the story. The Wicked Witch we think we know is the predictable, green-faced villainess straight out of MGM’s imagination. But there’s more to the story than that. Where did the Wicked Witch come from? How exactly was she wicked? Why shouldn’t she want her sister’s charmed shoes? And, most important, what is the true nature of evil?”
Why this book? It’s come up a lot in my life recently. There’s the musical… There’s the sequel… Rebs bought it and despised the beginning so heartily she took it back to her bookstore… Di liked it enough to IM an endorsement. And I’ve been listening to a podcast version of The Road to Oz over the course of the last few months.
My take: If your only experience with Oz is the movie, you may not enjoy the book as much as if you have read some of the Frank L. Baum stories the movie is based on. But having said that, I thought that most of the book was very clever, thorougly drawing on Baum’s world as it does — from the characteristics of the various inhabitants of the nation to the types of characters he peopled his books with to the small details that changed between the book and the movie (those slippers aren’t really ruby in the stories, for instance).

Maguire enjoys playing with language and includes a number of Word Wealth words. My friend Amani was so taken with his vocabulary she started writing down words she wanted to learn.

Maguire also began an interesting discussion on the role and/or nature of evil. Is there such a thing? If so, what makes a character evil or makes them do evil things — free will, destiny, some combination? Is collateral worth the price of eliminating evil? Is it cut-and-dried? And are there always two legitimate sides or perspectives to things?

Unfortunately, something happened toward the end of the novel and for whatever reason he rushed around trying to squeeze the end of the story in before the book got too long. My head reeled as he bounced from one scene to another and as he tried to wrap Elphaba’s (the witch’s real name) story up as neatly as possible. But in his hurry to close the curtain, he undermined the importance of the questions he raised earlier, leaving me a little disappointed in what was otherwise a terrific novel.

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