March 31, 2009

March Reads

The month of March was a nice toss-up of books that challenged me and books that were easy, enjoyable reads. A little glimpse into my reading list for March:

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I had attempted to read this book years ago, gave up after a few pages, and decided to revisit it for a few reasons: it spawned an important genre of literature known as magical realism and the author won a Nobel prize in literature after the book was published (it's considered his magnum opus); I have this thing where I must finish every book I start (it’s a compulsion I can’t quit); the not-very-literary book club I attend every so often had chosen it as our book of the month. Never mind the fact that most of the members in this pseudo-book club don’t actually read the appointed book (don't get me started), I nevertheless felt like it was an opportune time to give the book another chance. And I'm so happy I did.

Admittedly, it was just as difficult getting into it the second time around as it was the first. The story is very slow-paced. Despite many pages devoted to wars and love-making and death and births, you would think that the plot would move quickly, but alas, it doesn’t. There is a lot of jumping around in time and many of the characters’ names are so similar and they seem to pass on the same decisions and mistakes in life over and over again, from generation to generation. I get this pervading sense that life is devoid of meaning--depressing, right? There isn’t one great plot or one great character with difficult choices to make, no tensions or climax leading up to this choice like there are in other novels. Instead, we get the quiet repetitions of life for the Buendia family in the sleepy South American village of Macondo. It wasn't until I got about half-way into the book when I realized that this is part of its charm. I reached a sort of epiphany and became comfortable with the novel's slower pace, it's gentle rhythms and cadences, and I melted with this strange, magical world that is at once like and not like our own. Very much worth the challenge and a true masterpiece.

American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld. This is a fictionalized account of the life of Republican first lady (think Laura Bush). Admittedly, this isn’t the sort of book I’d normally be interested in reading. And it has nothing to do with political persuasions but rather, quite simply, I wasn’t sure if the story appealed to me. I know for a fact that the book's cover does NOT (a woman reposes in a white dress and it looks like she’s either about to get married or make an appearance at her own coming-out party, both events which hold no interest for me at all). But after listening to a book-reading and interview with the author on NPR, I became intrigued. I especially loved reading about the protagonist's stint as a librarian (my friends like to tease me that I am one, which I consider a compliment; librarians are more educated than most people realize!). Sittenfeld, who describes herself as a staunch Democrat, draws a sympathetic portrait of the first lady and has an obvious fondness for her. While it was an entertaining read, I'm not sure I'd thrust the book into people's hands and say, "You must read this!". Though I'm happy I did, anyway.

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. This memoir is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating accounts I’ve ever come across. A woman narrates the story of her peripatetic childhood and life with her two liberal, free-thinking parents who instilled in her and her siblings all the love and self-confidence a child could ask for, but who denied them basic essentials like food (their mother hid chocolate from her family while they were all starving), a comfortable home (the children slept in cars, in cardboard boxes and at one point had no plumbing or heating in the ramshackle house they called home), protection from some rather dubious characters (the father would bring the author to bars so she could distract the men with whom he was playing and betting on a game of pool, thereby winning the jackpot money he gambled...and it was his daughter's money to begin with) in an effort to avoid the rat race and not feel hemmed-in by the trappings of the typical American life. You end up with your own interpretation of whether or not the tale is a cautionary or inspiring one. It was absolutely mesmerizing. If my brief review doesn't compel you to pick up the book, then watch this.

The Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I LOVE this book. It's a completely endearing, heart-wrenching love story about a couple's journey over and with time (a perpetual literary topic, the unceasing march of time). Having read it years ago, I decided to re-visit it again through audiobook; I thought the actors did a phenomenal job portraying the two main characters, one of whom is a time traveler and punk librarian. Reason enough to read it, really, and I wholeheartedly will tell you that you should!

Up next...still working on that Victorian writer's biography and a personal memoir about literary life in Tehran. Hopefully, I'll be able to squeeze in a couple other reads for April!

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I love 100 Years of Solitude. It was one of those books that I read where I thought - wow. This is completely other - not like anything else I have read before.

The other ones sound interesting. Summer reading!