Recent Reads

61-64 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.

I’m going to have to cheat here and play catch up by the quick blog plan on my book responses. I have seriously lagged behind on book blogging lately. I’m starting to forget what I’ve even read much less when I read it or what I thought about it. I do have a few books I want to share in an attempt to get myself back in the game, though.

Light in August by William Faulkner

Light in August might just be my favorite Faulkner novel yet. It is simply brilliant. The language is lyrical. The insights are profound. The characterizations make me despair of ever becoming a real writer. It is just brilliant.

The book begins with a young pregnant woman walking from Alabama to Mississippi in search of the man she believes will marry her before her baby is born. Everything else that happens weaves around the story of this young woman, but it is all told in a series of back stories. Something happens, and then we get the back story on one of the characters. Something else happens, and we get another back story. And so on.

I was just bowled over by the narrative structure. The complexity of this structure does not exactly lend itself to easy reading, but it sure is brilliant. I am now a major fan.

Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard

I read Jaycee Dugard’s memoir for my book club. I probably wouldn’t have read it if left to my own devices. She was kidnapped by a sex offender when she was 11 and held captive in a shed in his backyard for 18 years. This is the kind of stuff that’s hard to read even when it is written in a style that is easy to read. I did find it a little creepier than I wanted to think about. I was also disappointed that it wasn’t a stronger book. If I’m going to invest that kind of emotion and lay myself open to being that disturbed, I want something profound in exchange. This book was not profound. It was just honest.

The writing style is not great, and the thinking processes are not complex. The book has a pretty big impact because of the subject matter and because of the fact that it is a first person true account. Beyond that, it’s just okay. It’s sort of — as one of my colleagues pointed out — like reading someone’s therapy journal.

I’m glad I read it, but I don’t know that I want to read a whole lot of other books like it. One book written by a girl held captive by a sex offender is plenty enough for me.

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

The first book in the Song of Fire and Ice series really hooked me in. Since Book 1 alone was nearly 900 pages, and I’m now reading the nearly 900 page Book 2, it must have hooked me.

I didn’t think I would like it at first. It took me about 100 pages to get into the story. The reason for this is the fact that each chapter switches point of view from the chapter before, and a large number of characters are introduced early on in Book 1. I didn’t think I cared to get to know that many characters at one time.

100 pages in I still didn’t care about all of the characters, but I did care about two or three characters, and that carried me through until I really became wrapped up in what might happen next.

The downside to Martin’s style in switching up point of view at the start of each chapter is that the book tends to drag on when it moves to characters and story lines that you aren’t as invested in. The upside to this style is that each chapter reads like a self-contained short story (or novella at times). Those story lines you do care about pack a real punch each time you circle back to them.

There are five books so far in this series. I’ll never win any reading contests for number of books completed as long as I’m dawdling over five 900 page books in a row. It looks like that’s what I’m going to do, though. I have to know what happens next. There’s nothing else for it.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

I enjoyed this book. It’s sort of the same old story of a black man and a white man, a friendship, a wrongful accusation, and a lifetime of guilt. People in the South write books like that by the dozen. This one does have the twist, however, that it’s the white man who is wrongfully accused of murder, and it’s the black friend who never speaks up. Usually, this story is told the other way around.

There are good things here. There are nice descriptions. There are some funny moments. I really did enjoy it. I also found the twist on an old familiar tale to be clever. I still was left feeling like this book didn’t quite accomplish what I hoped it would accomplish. It was clever but not original. It was interesting but not absorbing. It was not quite intense enough to be considered a thriller, yet it was not quite original enough to be considered literary. I think it tried to fall somewhere between the two, and I’d say it accomplished that. I’m just not sure that was where I wanted it to fall.

Next time I’ll try not to read a book set in Mississippi right after I finish a Faulkner novel. I liked this book, but I didn’t like that it wasn’t Faulkner, and that is hardly Crooked Letter‘s fault.

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