Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Reader.

Wanted to jot down some of my thoughts about books I've read recently.

I read Bella Tuscany, by Frances Mayes (she of Under the Tuscan Sun fame), while on vacation. This is the kind of armchair traveling that I love. Mayes writes of Tuscany in language dripping with both adoration and vibrant description. She writes of food, of gardens, of little side trips she and her husband take. It's an easy, quick read, with some recipes sprinkled in here and there that I will probably try. Worth looking in to.

And now I feel that I have to go to Italy in the spring. Heh.

I also finally got around to reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. I'd been meaning to pick it up for a while now, and the filming of the movie adaptation here in Jackson finally gave me the kick in the pants I needed. I thought it was a wonderful book. The movie chronicles the lives and relationship of three women living in 1960s Jackson, Miss.: Abilene, a black maid raising her seventeenth white baby; Minny, a sassy black maid who is widely recognized as the best cook in town; and Skeeter, a young, unmarried white woman.

I recognized many of the places in the tome (and some of the character names are alarmingly close to old Jackson names), and I thought the book was even-handed. I loved the characters, and I felt that Stockett's explanation about why she wrote the book was an understandable one.

What interested me about this book was that most stories about racism involve men and violence. This story about racism was about women, and about all the subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways that the race question played itself out amongst them. There were stories that affirmed our faith in people, and stories that called that faith into doubt. All in all, I really enjoyed reading this book. Highly recommended.

Lastly, I picked up The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. I bought this book on a whim, and the cover proclaimed it a New York Times bestseller. Hmmm . . . It was an okay book, but nothing really special. It tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, a smart but melancholy young man who is recruited to go to a magical college called Brakebills. At Brakebills, Quentin learns how to do real magic, makes new friends, even meets a girl and falls in love. He later gets the chance to visit the fantasy world of his dreams.

But here's the thing - none of it makes him happy. He's still the same old depressed, whiny dude we meet on page one. And that became quite tiresome. If someone is going to learn magic and have grand adventures, he should at least appreciate it. But not our Quentin.

The end of the book got too convoluted and dragged on a bit, too. Needless to say, I won't be reading the sequel - The Magician King. (If Quentin became a king, he'd probably still be just as mealy-mouthed as he was before. Sigh.) Skip this one.

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