sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

May 3, 2006

into the stacks 3
posted by soe 6:04 pm

The beginning of each month offers a chance to look back into the reading piles and new acquisitions of the past month.

I can’t believe I only read five books this month. I have no excuses. Clearly I’ve been slacking off. But I really couldn’t even tell you with what. Those were:

  • My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme (her grand-nephew)
  • From the book jacket: “In her own words, here is the captivating story of Julia Child’s years in France, where she fell in love with French food and found her ‘true calling. … This memoir is laced with wonderful stories about the French character, particularly in the world of food, and the way of life that Julia embraced so whole-heartedly. Above all, she reveals the kind of spirit and determination, the sheer love of cooking, and the drive to share that with her fellow Americans that made her the extraordinary success she became.”
    Why this book? Who doesn’t like Julia Child? She was a national treasure. Plus, I really like France. And food books. Three great books in one, baby! Add to that that it was at the library, and we have a winner!
    My take: I was surprised that there seemed to be a remarkable lack of self-examination within the book. She finds faults and idiosyncracies with others, but I didn’t find that there was a lot of second-guessing of her own role in her life. Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe having a family member co-author and do most of the actual writing of the book makes it impossible to glean insight into a person. Maybe Julia really was just an amazing woman with very few faults (certainly I’ve never heard even an anecdote about her where she wasn’t remarkably kind and generous with her fans).

    This is not to say that the book isn’t interesting. Julia was larger than life and it’s interesting to gain even a glimpse behind the curtain to see how such magic came about. Her life in France was populated with quirky characters (even if they do seem merely two-dimensional in the story).

    I wanted this book to be more than just good. I wanted it, like Julia, to be great. But when the author (and main character) of the story dies in the middle of its production, it cannot be easy to create a masterpiece. I’d like to think that if Julia had lived longer (and subjected the book to the rigorous litany of testing, rewriting, and editing which she applied to her earlier works), that it could have gone beyond good to great.

  • Queen of the Oddballs (And Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan), by Hillary Carlip (due out May 1)
  • My take: A chronological look at quirky episodes and excerpts from Carlip’s life. She asks for nothing deeper and delivers about what you’d expect from a lesbian playwright/juggler/celebrity stalker. It was fun in a summer beach or right-before-sleep read kind of way.

  • How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life, by Mameve Medwed
  • My take: I had heard such nice things about this book, that, again, I really wanted to like it more than I did. I wanted it to be a top 10 book. But you can’t force that kind of designation on a book even if it is clearly aimed at my demographic. Abby is a Harvard drop out and the owner of an antique stall who comes to find out that she has inherited a valuable chamber pot from her mother. What happens after her appearance on a fictionalized Antiques Roadshow makes up the crux of the story and ranges from the amusing to the predictable. Worth checking out of the library.

  • Death of an Addict, by M.C. Beaton
  • From the book jacket: “Recovering drug addict Tommy Jarrett to check on reports of a sea monster near the dour village of Drim. But when he turns up dead, apparently of a drug overdose, Lochdubh constable Hamish Macbeth finds the lad’s demise to be particularly fishy — and not of the local salmon variety.”
    Why this book? Gramma turned me onto this series a few years back and when I’m feeling underwhelmed by my reading options, I know I can read one of the books in the Hamish series in a few hours and enjoy myself with a library book.
    My take: There’s nothing remotely earthshattering about this book or its series. It’s just as comfortable as its lead character and just as ambitionless. It is what it is and one is grateful to Beaton for making it so.

  • Love Rules, by Dandi Daley Mackall
  • From the book jacket: “To Emma Jackson: Love Rule #1: The chances of finding love at this university are slim to none. And Slim went home.”
    Why this book? I think I might have been tidying, came across it in a to-be-read pile from last summer’s ALA meeting. It had been signed to me, so I figured I’d better read it.
    My take: A girl and her best friend’s brother leave their small rural Midwestern town to go to college in California. Before they go, they promise the best friend/sister that every week they will send her a postcard with a rule they have learned about love. The heroine is quirky and has potential, but the story did not. Can you guess what happens? Throw a healthy dose of “I’ve come to believe in God after all [since all the slimy, trampy characters in the story clearly do not]” from the two protagonists and you pretty much can write the story yourself.

I was doing well with not bringing home new books until Saturday. The bookshop around the corner from the Burrow has closed and the owner opened up one last day to give away his remaining stock. How hard to resist when the books are free!

I came home with a bag of books but half were chosen for other people. Those that are staying with me are:

  • The Open Door: When Writers First Learned to Read, selected by Steven Gilbar
  • From the book jacket: “Twenty-nine of history and literature’s most interesting and celebrated writers recall their discovery of books and reading.”
    Why this book? Did you not read the description? The authors he included range from A.A. Milne and C.S. Lewis to Harper Lee and Paule Marshall. I’m intrigued. I admit it.

  • A Woman’s Education, by Jill Ker Conway
  • From the book jacket: “The acclaimed author of the best-selling The Road from Coorain and True North now gives us the third book in her remarkable continuing memoir — describing the pleasures, the challenges, and the constant surprises (both good and bad) fo her years as the first woman president of Smith College.”
    Why this book? I really enjoyed The Road from Coorain when I read it back in college. I’ve always meant to read True North, but came across this volume first.

  • Thinking Out Loud: On the Personal, the Political, the Public, and the Private, by Anna Quindlen
  • From the book jacket: “Thinking out loud is what Anna Quindlen does best. A syndicated columnist with her finger on the pulse of women’s lives, and her heart in a place we all share, she writes about the passions, politics, and peculiarities of Americans everywhere. From gays in the military, to the race for First Lady, to the trials fo modern mother hood and the right to choose, Anna Quindlen’s views always fascinate.”
    Why this book? I always enjoyed her columns and essays. She has a sense of humor and a sharp pen and I look forward to reading a book full of both.

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