Book Reviews

Virtual Book Club Meeting #3

Welcome! Thanks to Sandra for bringing such delicious appetizers. Be careful not to spill them on your keyboard.

This promises to be a stimulating and controversial meeting. Today I’m going to try to stay away from the traditional “book club books” like The Kite Runner and The Time Traveler’s Wife in favor of some books that are not on everyone’s must read list.

First, a little feedback. You will recall that last month I oohed and aahed over Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. The Voice of Reason took it on our beach trip and was underwhelmed. I’m not sure she gave it the full attention it deserved, as she was also knitting a fuzzy purple poncho for her youngest daughter and worrying about my tooth fairy ineptitude.  Fortunately, I found a fellow book lover in MetroDad, who wrote: “Strange departure from his previous works but beautifully written. Pick any paragraph or sentence out of the book and marvel at how well it’s crafted.”

Happily, the Voice did like another of my recommendations: Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief by Bill Mason. It’s a true story written by a man who stole jewels from the rich and famous. He tells of his adventures, including the painstaking research and preparation each heist required. It was a fun, quick read.

While we’re on the topic of crime, here’s one from the past. I recently re-read Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, which is a gripping story about a famous crime, a tenacious investigation, and a lengthy trial. Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor, convicted Manson and his followers of the grisly murders, despite the fact that Manson himself was not even present during the killings of Sharon Tate and her friends. People tend to forget that now; at the time it was an overwhelming obstacle to convicting Manson for his role. It has a little something for everyone: the culture of the late 60’s, bungled police work, famous characters, and good lawyering.

After I finished that book, I checked around to see what else Bugliosi had written. Like most everyone else in the world, he has weighed in on the O.J. Simpson case in Outrage : The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder. The book is most interesting when Bugliosi addresses a certain piece of evidence, such as the blood drops, reviews the arguments Marcia Clark and Chris Darden made when prosecuting the case, and then in bold type sets forth the way he would have argued the same evidence. No one would accuse him of being modest, and the book is a little long, but it is fascinating to see the way he creates persuasive jury arguments. The closing argument he would have given in the case likely would have resulted in a different outcome.

I asked for The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States for Christmas, and devoured it. Although it’s a government report, it’s beautifully written. It starts out with a description of the events of 9/11 (“Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the eastern United States….”) then goes back and traces the history of Al-Quaeda and the way America dealt with Al-Quaeda before 9/11. The report also analyzes the country’s response to 9/11 and makes proposals for reorganizing the government to better address the current threats we face. I guarantee you it’s the most interesting government report you’ll ever read!

On a completely different note, I have been hearing a lot about the Christian writer Francine Rivers and her book Redeeming Love. I read it and disliked it immensely. It’s the story of Hosea retold in the setting of the California Gold Rush. The harlot is subtly named “Angel.” It goes downhill from there. This book is different from The Red Tent or The Preservationist in that those books are historical fiction, while Redeeming Love is meant to be inspirational fiction. It didn’t inspire me to do anything but take a nap.

I’ll be sticking to the Bible for Christian inspiration. Now, if you want to read a bodice ripper about a harlot named Sugar, you should read The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber. It is set in London in the late 1800’s and is crammed full of interesting characters. If nothing else, it will inspire you to keep your day job. I loved it.

I have run across two other books with a spiritual theme.

Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality is a series of essays on Christianity, so it makes for good bedtime reading. (It doesn’t put you to sleep, but you can read a short piece and then have something to think about all night.)

Girl Meets God : A Memoir is about a girl who converts to Orthodox Judaism and practices it very seriously for years. She describes in detail many aspects of Judaism, especially the parts of the religion that are very dear to her. Later, with equal vigor, she converts to Christianity. The author is not a serial converter; she is someone who takes her spiritual life quite seriously. She packs more information about both religions into one book than I have been exposed to in a lifetime.

READER RECOMMENDATIONS

You have been wonderful about sharing your favorite books. Here are some books my readers have recently enjoyed.

Machine Dreams, Life of Pi, and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant are books that members liked that I can personally vouch for. MetroDad also mentioned Atonement which is one of my favorites. He says Ian McEwan’s followup novel, Saturday, is even better. Because we thought alike on Ishiguro, I’m going to give it a try.

One of my friends recommended Middlesex. Middlesex is like The Kite Runner— don’t focus on what the reviews and the jacket say it’s about; just read it. At heart it’s a rollicking story about a Greek family. I read it over an enjoyable weekend.

On the non-fiction side, a new member says that the story of the Enron collapse, Conspiracy of Fools : A True Story is a captivating book.

Thanks to SMA for reminding me what irritated me so much about The Other Boleyn Girl. D’you know, after you gave me that hint, it came right back to me!

Happy reading, and keep the feedback rolling in….

Anne Glamore

4 Comments

  • KLee

    What was it that you found so objectionable about “The Other Boleyn Girl”? I ask because I, too, found something not quite right about it. i just could never put my finger on what it was.

  • Belinda

    WOW–thanks for all the great book recommendations! I’ve just been scouring Bookmarks magazine looking for inspiration…I’m in kind of a reading slump where nothing sounds “just right”…not even good ol’ brain candy!

  • Susan from Montgomery

    Hi! I’ve got an oldie but a goodie. It’s a light hearted read–perfect for reading aloud during a
    trip with the girls. Before the Sweet Potato Queens, there was “Why Princess Margaret Could Never Be a Kappa Kappa Gamma”. It tells of “tiny kingdoms” all across the south and their weird, quirky little inhabitants. It discusses everything from attending a wedding where Bear Bryant was present, to the cattiness at club meetings alluded to on this site, as well as being blackballed from the League for putting dark meat in the chicken salad. This little book came out back in the days when I was a V.H. bell, complete with the big dress and gloves and everything–and I found it to be completely accurate and hysterical! I reread it recently as an adult and enjoyed it all over again, especially since I now reside in the land of barefoot children and big hairbows!