Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book review catch-up

Jeremy reminded me last night that I haven't written any book reviews in a while. I won't write a review of everything I've read recently, but here are a few in the interest of playing catch-up.

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell. I had heard such varied opinions of this book I wasn't sure what I would make of it. Then I started reading it and I could hardly put it down. I loved it. Sure, Margaret is a little too languid at times, and I learned more than I wanted to about 19th-century trade union practices, but on the whole, amazing. I liked it much better than Wives and Daughters (and I liked that one quite a bit).

I think having seen the BBC miniseries of N&S so many times helped because I had a very strong visualization of all the characters - and they are spot-on loyal to the book.

Anyone who doesn't like Jane Austen but wants to enjoy period literature would probably like this book. It's not as witty as Austen, but its characters are aware of poverty (as in, actual poverty, not, "we only have eight servants" poverty) and social injustice. I really appreciated that extra depth.

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver. This book really surprised me. I almost stopped reading it a couple of times early on because it seemed shallow and stupid. But somehow it grew into something very moving, meaningful, and life-affirming. I think I would have liked it even more if I had read it as a teenager, but at the same time, if I were my mom, I wouldn't have let me read it as a teenager, you know? Still, a worthy read, even through all the petty high school drama.

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers. What a strange story. It's about an everyman's experience in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, except he's not quite an everyman - and that ended up being an issue as the situation in the city deteriorated.

I really enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book. I loved hearing about this unique man, especially the stories from Zeitoun's Syrian childhood. I appreciated learning about someone who really wanted to do some good in those difficult days during Hurricane Katrina.

For the last 1/3 of the book, everything went wrong. It was one of those times where I was repulsed, yet I could not look away.

In the end, I really only just liked the book. However, I do think people should read it. It is a good book - it's just not an easy one to read.

Uranium, by Tom Zoellner. I've been wanting to read this book ever since I met Tom Zoellner last year. Uranium did not disappoint. It is seriously a book all about uranium (which earned me some raised eyebrows from people who saw me reading it). I liked how the science of nuclear power was dumbed down just a little so I could understand it. I also appreciated gaining some context for those nuclear-crazy 1960s that my parents are always telling me about. And people, I swear I'm not saying this just because I met him, but Zoellner is a seriously lyrical writer, especially in the first section of this book. Lyrical, even when he's writing about freaking URANIUM.

The Last Train From Hiroshima, by Charles Pellegrino. What an interesting book. I never realized I knew so little about what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even though I've visited the former. This book is entirely an amalgamation of eyewitness accounts - there is very little filler narration. I never knew that so many eyewitness accounts even existed.

It was also interesting to learn that the old "hide under your desk in the event of a nuclear bombing" school drill actually has some merit. It really could save you.

However, at times it was a little too touchy-feely. I would have liked to see some hard statistics about survival statistics vs. proximity to Ground Zero, and mortality later in life statistics. But who knows, maybe those stats don't really exist. And come to think of it, what was with the pencil drawings instead of photographs??

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, by Elna Baker. I'll have to watch myself or my review of this book could become a whole blog post.


I think I would have liked this book more whole-heartedly if one or the other of Elna Baker and I weren't Mormon. Even as it was, I liked it. I thought it was funny, engaging, well written, and thought-provoking. However, Elna Baker is very different from me and I found that I could not distance myself from the choices she made. I disagreed with a lot of what she did, and that grated on me as the book went on.

The Mormon issue aside, this is a great memoir. It's the story of journeys: from fat girl to thin girl, from teen to adult, from directionless to employed, from Mormon to...? all in one person.

I loved the description of "Amber Cunningham." So great.

I didn't love the occasionally explicit content.

As more time has passed since I read this (about two weeks), my opinion of it has fallen a bit. When I first finished it, I was more entertained by the book than I was disturbed. Upon reflection, I am more disturbed than entertained. Make of that what you will.

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman. Stupid and unrealistic. I read this while I was suffering from The Throw-Up Sickness and it was just as well.

Thoughts? Agreement? Dissent?


Liz Johnson said...

I had that same feeling about the "New York Singles" book... I was more entertained than annoyed when I was done, and looking back, I am now more annoyed than entertained. Weird.

Little Red said...

I love a good book review blog post. Funny you mentioned "New York Singles." We knew Elna and her family when we lived in London. She was a good friend of my sister and ironically helped keep her active in the youth group at the time. As a Mormon who really likes being a Mormon, this was a hard read for me.

Matthew said...

Well, I can help solve your uranium book cover problem:

lyse. said...

I love your book reviews, they are great. I think I'll have to start the Uranium book and North and South.

And I'm glad you read Elna's book. I feel like its a bit of a fad book, which is sad, because I honestly think her writing is better than that. But it still made me think about a lot of things, which is always good.

I love reading your blog, Bridget! SO much fun!


Suzanne Bubnash said...

I found Elna Baker's book disturbing. Just for a start, she uses humor to disguise her lies and that she uses people. She's sexually aggressive and it was tiresome to keep hearing about that.

Tom Zoellner said...

Hi Bridget,

Thanks, as ever, for your kind words and support! I actually met Elna at a party not too long ago -- nice person, as you might expect. Hope you and the Mr. are enjoying UAE. I'm going to be in Tucson in October; drop me a line if you guys will be there for any reason. -- TZ

Merkley Jiating said...

Right after I finished my review of The Help, I came to your blog to read your review. I couldn't believe that you hadn't read it yet! I am excited to hear what you think once you read it!

Susanne said...

I'm late in reading these, but enjoyed the reviews very much! Thank you for taking time to post them. And thanks to Jeremy for reminding you. :)


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