Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mini Book Reviews

Suddenly, I've reading up a storm and have finished several books recently. Only two are worth recommending, but I thought I'd do something different this time and write "mini reviews" for a few of those books. I hope you find something here that sparks your interest.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok: This is a book unlike any I've read of the Asian experience (and I've read a lot of books with Asian protagonists). This book presents a very authentic view of the life of a mother and young daughter who emigrate to NY from Hong Kong. It's not the typical struggle between mother and daughter over traditional vs. American ways. It is the story of how these two people struggle to survive under harsh circumstances. How they work together to better themselves. And how Kimberly, an eleven year old girl, works hard at school all day and then spends her evenings in a sweat shop helping her mother meet her quota. Only to go back to their condemned apartment, which is infested with roaches and has no heat. Eventually, Kimberly wins a place a prestigious private school ,and with the blessing of her mother, enrolls there knowing this is her only way to lift herself and her mother out of their dire circumstances. All the while continuing to work at the sweat shop and hiding her dual life from her friends and from the school authorities. Surprisingly, this is not a dark and depressing story. Not at all. It the story of triumph over hardship. Of determination, support and love. I highly recommend it. One of the best books I've read so far this year. I gave Girl in Translation 4 Stars - I really liked it.

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost: Are any of you as fascinated as I am by the TV show Hoarders? The organizational side of my personality (which is, admittedly, a bit overdeveloped) loves this show. I sit here and talk to the screen and cringe at the mess. Itching to get in there and clean the place up. And throw away all that "stuff". I'm the antithesis of a pack rat (much to the chagrin of my husband, who has some mild hoarding tendencies, based on the information in this book). Anyway, this book was less of a voyeuristic peak into the lives of hoarders than it is an explanation of how hoarders think and how this mindset makes it nearly impossible for anyone to "help" them or for them to change. It was really eye-opening and it did give me a bit more sympathy for hoarders. I'm a little less likely to judge them now when I watch the show. Fascinating, though not riveting reading. If this topic interests you, I think you'll like it. If you are just curious about hoarders for the curiosity factor E. L. Doctorow's novel, Homer and Langley, is probably a better choice. I gave Stuff 3 STARS - I liked it.

Tinkers by Paul Harding: This book was a major disappointment. You might remember that I blogged about it a few months ago when it won the 2010 Pulitzer for Fiction. An event that was a surprise to most everyone. I chose this book for the book club I run here at the library, Books on Main. And while it did generate some good discussion, the book itself was a difficult read. There are parts that were interesting and told in the usual way. You know, a story with a beginning a middle and and end. But there were large portions that were told as the wandering, disjointed hallucinations of a dying man. Long unintelligible sections that left me scratching my head, wondering what the heck was going on. Pretty much everyone in the book club felt the same way, though some disliked the book more than others. Though, as happens occasionally, after discussing the book and sharing some research on it (which was written by a woman with a PhD in comparative literature), we all agreed that we liked the book more after the discussion and that it might warrant a second reading. Well, not me. I don't reread books. Especially books I didn't like the first time around. I would recommend this one to all you PhDs in comparative literature. The rest of you, I would suggest you pass on this one. I gave Tinkers 2 stars - it was OK.

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel: Another disappointment, though I can't say I was surprised. After reading Martel's fascinating and amazing Life of Pi a few years ago, I was thrilled to see he had written a new book. I had read that his newest book was an allegory with two animals, a donkey and a monkey, as main characters. Right there I was sceptical. I don't like allegories. Mostly because I don't understand them. I'm a very literal reader (and person, for that matter). But, considering the fact that Life of Pi also cleverly used animals as characters, I thought I would give it a try, even though I'd read very mixed reviews of the book. I am happy to report that I understood the allegory perfectly. It was very obvious. So that's a plus. The story itself was not very interesting, however. If you are interested in reading something by Yann Martel, I'd recommend Life of Pi. If you loved Life of Pi and can't resist, I won't dissuade you. Beatrice and Virgil is a quick and easy read, which is not something I can say about most allegories. So there isn't much to lose if you want to see for yourself. I gave Beatrice and Virgil 2 stars - it was OK.

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan: I had never heard of this slim book until it showed up on this year's Reading Across Rhode Island nomination list (yes, I'm participating again this year). I really enjoyed this simple, yet thoughtful book about the general manager of a Red Lobster as he prepares for and works through the final shift of "his" restaurant before corporate shuts its doors for good. It's a story of pride in one's work, of ethics, of doing the right thing and of reinventing yourself. I could really relate to Manny as he navigated the last night that his restaurant would be open. A timely book that I recommend. I gave Last Night at the Lobster 4 stars - I really liked it.

So, how about you? What have you read lately? Anything you would recommend? I'd love to hear all about it.

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