Books: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

October 12, 2015

I remember reading reviews of this novel when it was first published. Perhaps I was put off by the glowing reviews by a publication whose views often differed so much from my own. Perhaps it was the incongruity of a union of Yiddish policemen in Alaska that made me think the book was kind of off-the-wall. Somehow I just didn’t find the idea of reading it appealing.

But sooner or later my quest for more books on CD to listen to during my daily commute makes me reconsider books I hadn’t thought I was interested in reading. I suppose it didn’t hurt that The Yiddish Policeman’s Union was one of the books recommended by my librarian friend when I asked for suggestions.

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Books: Ordinary Heroes

September 13, 2015

The library has a shelf set up near our Toastmasters meeting room, always with some theme and books connected in some way to that theme. One week recently, it was about heroes. Perhaps there were some books about superheroes; I don’t really remember. But the one that caught my eye was Scott Turow’s Ordinary Heroes.

I had read nothing by Scott Turow previously (though I have thought about reading Ultimate Punishment, which is an essay on the death penalty rather than a novel). But I had an idea of his reputation as a writer, so this looked like something worth reading.

Like several other books I have read recently, it deals with World War II. But while those other novels tell the story from the perspective of civilians or spies, this recounts the experiences of a lawyer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corp.

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Books: Lisette’s List

September 9, 2015

Having enjoyed Susan Vreeland’s novel Clara and Mr. Tiffany, I decided to try another, Lisette’s List. It is interesting for its depiction of life in a rural village in southern France during the 1940’s, but it did not engage me emotionally nearly as much as Clara and Mr. Tiffany did.

I’m not sure how much that is because of the strong emphasis on art. In Clara and Mr. Tiffany, the art of creating masterpieces from pieces of glass was more about the characters and their love of their craft than it was about the art itself. In Lisette’s List, appreciation of art itself is a major theme.

Perhaps I just find it hard to share the extreme devotion Lisette has to painting and everything to do with it. Perhaps it is because the artists featured in this novel are some whose styles I have trouble appreciating.I don’t dislike the Impressionism of Pisarro but I am not as attracted to it as to some of the older styles. I like some of C├ęzanne’s Post-Impressionist landscapes but I am unmoved by his still lifes. Read the rest of this entry »

Books: A Simple Plan

September 8, 2015

I read A Simple Plan by Scott Smith because it was recommended by a co-worker. He usually spends his lunch hour reading history books in the break room, and we have discussed them briefly. When he mentioned a novel that he said was “perfect” in the way the story developed and concluded, I decided to get it from the library without even reading any reviews first.

I disliked it from the beginning, because I disliked the narrator’s character. Which is to say, I disliked the narrator as a character precisely because he lacked “character” – moral integrity. But I pushed myself to keep reading, because my co-worker had said it was such a good book, so I thought if I kept reading I would find what was so good.

I eventually got to a point where I kept reading because I was far enough along that I might as well know how it turned out, rather than keep wondering. By the time I neared the end, I was in a hurry to get to the end, see what happened, and then be done with it and not have to think about it again – once I had written this blog post.

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Books: Barchester Towers

September 7, 2015

I picked up this audiobook some time ago and was intrigued by what I read on the back cover about it. But it said it was a sequel, so I figured I ought to read the first book first to properly enjoy it. And the library didn’t have the first book on CDs.

A few weeks ago, though, I was chatting with my friend who works at the library (and leads our monthly book club), and she was suggesting books on CD I might enjoy. One she suggested was Barchester Towers, and she assured me that it didn’t matter whether I had read the first book, and that this one was better anyway.

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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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