Books: The Milagro Beanfield War

August 30, 2015

The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols is what our book club read last month. It was supposed to be an easy read (because it is summer), but some of us found it was not so easy. It’s not difficult reading, it’s just longer than the “easy” reads usually are, and for me, it just wasn’t all that interesting – which made it hard to keep picking it up and reading for any length of time.

It was also supposed to be funny, but I’ve found before that I don’t always share the book club leader’s sense of humor. I found the characters ridiculous at times, but that’s not the same as funny.

I realize there’s a serious theme behind it all, about who has power and who doesn’t, and the struggles of those who don’t have power to hold on to what little they have. But the author spent so much time going on and on telling far-fetched stories about odd people that it was hard to figure out, for most of the book, whether the power struggle over land and water rights really was central to the novel or not.

I know that exaggeration is often used for comic effect, but for me at least, it is effective only when used sparingly. An odd trait in someone may be endearing, and an eccentric in a community may give it character. But a community where everyone seems to do outrageous things all the time? I find that sort of attempt at humor more tiresome than funny.

Books: And the Mountains Echoed

August 29, 2015

Having finished The Kite Runner, I decided to read another book by Khaled Hosseini that the library also had on CD. And the Mountains Echoed is very different, and for a large part of the book somewhat confusing to figure out what it really is about.

I have read several novels recently that tell a story from the perspective of multiple characters, and as long as there aren’t too many of them it can be a very effective way of adding more dimensions to a story. Usually, however, all the characters are telling part of the same story. In this novel, the threads between the different characters’ stories are sometimes tenuous and occasionally hard to discern at all for a while.

Hosseini is a good storyteller, however, and I appreciated each story for itself, though I certainly enjoyed some more than others. I just wondered what they all had to do with each other, where the story was going – if there was any destination at all in the sense I was thinking of, and how in the world the title of the story related to any of them.

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Books: The Kite Runner

August 14, 2015

I had for some time been meaning to read the novels by Khaled Hosseini, beginning with The Kite Runner, which members of my book club had highly praised. But I was hesitant to read a book described as “heart wrenching,” “devastating,” and “brutal,” even if it is also called “beautiful” and “inspiring.” I took it off the shelf in the library one day, started walking toward the check-out counter, then after a few steps returned and put it back, deciding I would wait until some time when I felt ready for that challenge.

I’m not sure just when I would have decided I was ready, but my son was assigned the novel as summer reading for his pre-AP Language and Literature class. I don’t generally read the books he is reading for school, but in this case I wanted to read it first, to know what he would be encountering in the novel and to help him deal with whatever difficult issues arose from it.

It is well-written, but I admit that I was having to push myself to read it in the early chapters. When I discovered it on CDs in the library, I decided that would be an ideal way to get through the book faster than my son would. (Not that he read it through quickly. There are so many more interesting things for a teenage boy to do during summer vacation.)

I knew from reviews I had read before purchasing the book that it contains a scene of homosexual rape, and I was not looking forward to that scene – though it was obvious from the first page when it would happen and I was sort of relieved to finally reach that point instead of continuing to anticipate it. It is awful, what happened, but at least once I had read it, I could stop worrying about how bad it would be.

I also was relieved that it is not a graphic description – in fact, my son did not recognize it for what it was at all. I had to explain later that no, Assef did not “beat up” Hassan. My son is sixteen, old enough now to learn that such things happen. But I also felt good, in a way, that such things were so outside his previous experience, even vicariously in books or movies, that the thought of such a thing did not occur to him from Hosseini’s spare description of the event.

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Books: Wonder

July 19, 2015

This was our book club selection this past month. There seems to be general agreement that books to read during the summer should be fairly undemanding, both in terms of being quick and easy to read, and not dealing with difficult or painful themes.

It hadn’t actually been the intended selection, but whatever that was, there was some problem with the book order and thus the need to come up with another idea quickly. Wonder was recommended by the children’s librarian (it is marketed to middle school children), and it turned out to be a good choice.

One could argue, of course, about whether the topic is in fact difficult or painful. The main character, Auggie, is a ten-year-old with a facial deformity so bad that even people who want to be accepting of his differences may flinch when they first see it.

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Books: Handle with Care

June 27, 2015

Having finished Nineteen Minutes, I decided to try another novel by Jodi Picoult and selected Handle with Care. Like Nineteen Minutes, it explores a contemporary issue from the perspectives of several characters.

This time, the issue is the idea of “wrongful birth.” Charlotte O’Keefe loves her handicapped daughter Willow and dedicates most of her time and energy to caring for her. But when she finds out that she could bring a wrongful birth lawsuit against her obstetrician for failing to diagnose Willow’s osteogenesis imperfecta early enough to terminate the pregnancy, she decides this is the best way to secure a good life for her daughter. Read the rest of this entry »

Books: Nineteen Minutes

June 17, 2015

A good friend of mine told me that her favorite author lately is Jodi Picoult. I’d never read anything by Picoult but decided to give her books a try. So I checked out Nineteen Minutes on audiobook from the local library.

It’s a thought-provoking book, exploring the circumstances and motivation of a school shooting by a boy who had been bullied since he was in kindergarten. It is told primarily from the perspective of the boy, the girl who was once his best friend but who rejected him in order to be accepted by the popular group at school, and their parents.

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Books: A Cultural Handbook to the Bible

May 25, 2015

I first learned of John Pilch’s research into cultural aspects of the Bible when I was looking for resources to help me understand Luke 12:49. What did Jesus mean about wanting to “cast fire on the earth”? Is this the fire of divine wrath? Is it talking about the work of the Holy Spirit (associated with fire in verses such as Matthew 3:11 and Acts 2:3)? John J. Pilch explains that a better translation would be “light the earth-oven” , and that Jesus is referring to himself as a catalyst for conflict, much as salt acts as a catalyst in the earth-oven.

Pilch’s explanation gives a new meaning to Jesus’ teaching about his followers being the “salt of the earth,” which in the past I had always heard interpreted to refer to salt’s use either as a seasoning or a preservative. I was curious what insights on other passages I could gain from his work, and I decided his A Cultural Handbook to the Bible and decided it would be a good resource to have.

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