June Book Thoughts

I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle

I picked this up because it reminded me of another book I read for a book club, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  I always had a stigma against novels with pictures in them.  Somehow, having drawings made the book seem less than “scholarly.”  As Alexi demonstrated, sometimes pictures are necessary to get the full meaning of the novel.

I Love You, Beth Cooper was another one of those books.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t the type of novel that will change your life and take a prominent spot on your library shelf.  Essentially, it is a teen-movie in written (and sometimes drawn) form.  The characters indulge in an over-the-top adventure that spans the length of one very raucous graduation night.

That being said, for an entertaining read that you (honestly) don’t have to think about, the book served its purpose well.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

This was a project begun by someone who said they were relatively happy and wanted to be happier.  She didn’t want to make any huge changes (move, career change, etc), just little changes to make herself happier.

I enjoyed the premise of the book:  dedicate a month to a change and track it.  Her observations and thoughts on the process were a great insight into the life of someone trying to make a change.   However, halfway through the book, she lost me.

Blogs are amazing.  They connect people, they give you an outlet to voice yourself and hear others in return.  They give a portal for people to reach out to the world and find like-minded individuals.  I read this book to be able to see ONE person’s idea for creating a solid, happy point of view.  I didn’t want to read what your blog-buddies had to say.  In my mind, the book went from being a semi-scientific view to sounding like a girl gush about her new boyfriend.

As I said, the premise was great.  I’ve pondered doing something similar.  The full execution of the book, however, was less than stellar.

Al Capone Does My Shirts and Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

I’m reviewing these two books together simply because they function as an amazing story together.

Last month, I traveled to California and was able to spend a few days gallivanting around San Francisco.  As a history buff (especially a military history buff), I was especially excited to see Alcatraz.  While visiting the gift shop, as I am cursed to adore almost as much as the museums and sites themselves, I saw these books.  It wasn’t until the tour that I learned people LIVED on Alcatraz while their husbands worked the prison.  Can you imagine?

Choldenko takes her research to the Island of the Pelicans and weaves a story of love and “growing up.”  He didn’t want to move there, his mom made him.  His older sister has Autism, although in this time period they don’t have a name for it, and has a chance to attend a special school that will make her “normal.”

Thus begins a glorious tale of courage, schoolyard antics, and family love that will draw you in and make you a kid again.  The writing was amazing, the story well-thought and historically accurate, and the overall “message” a solid one for children (and adults) to learn.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

During high school, we were forced to read The Sound and the Fury.  It was the bane of my existence for almost a month as my teacher continuously drilled us on “What is going on?  Why are we viewing the story from [insert character’s name here]’s head?  What does it MEAN?”

I didn’t care then what it meant.  I just remember having to choke back the Pepsi that was flying out my nose the first time I read that “Caddy smells like trees.”  Trees?  Really?

So I gave Faulkner another chance.  He does end up on my classics list that I had given myself to read this year.  As I Lay Dying is much like The Sound and the Fury in that for 95% of the book I felt I was missing something and the other 5% I couldn’t believe I was wasting my time on it.

From the teaching standpoint, this book would be a goldmine.  I understand the “teachability” of Faulkner.  The personal enjoyment of reading Faulkner, for myself, is not really there.  I wouldn’t even really know how to begin describing the book for you to see if it is something you would enjoy.  You know what happens, the story is in the detail.  If you need a twist or a ray of happiness to your books, run away.  There are no surprises, there is no happiness.  I’m surprised emo kids don’t flock to his writing.

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

National Endowment for the Arts marked this book as one of the novels in their The Big Read campaign.  It was one of the books I’ve picked up several times and went “Why haven’t I read this?”

Two chapters into the book I realized that I HAD read it before.  Freshman year of high school.

Reading books about people from other cultures assimilating into the United States have always held my interest.  How people hold onto their beliefs in a culture that essentially has no culture but a mish-mash of everyone else’s cultures is an extremely interesting place to begin a book.  It brings to mind my own experiences dealing with other cultures and belief systems of my friends and neighbors growing up.  (You mean most people don’t eat the seven fishes on Christmas Eve?  No kielbasa and sauerkraut at midnight on New Years?)

We follow in the life of a young boy named Antonio.  His brothers are off fighting in a war, his father dreams of moving, and his family is taking care of an old cuaderna.  He deals with going to school and not knowing the language, facing his family’s conflicting desires for him, and his own personal superstitions and beliefs.

The Stonemason by Cormac McCarthy

In my quest to read everything Cormac McCarthy (a.k.a. one of my new obsessions this year), I found this book (again) on my San Francisco trip when I graced City of Lights Bookstore with my presence.  More like, I was flattened by the pure literary history of this building/street/city and even more astounded that they had almost an entire shelf of Cormac McCarthy books, this one being one I had never seen before.

McCarthy’s writing lends itself easily to the stage.  His barebones dialogue and heavy reliance on action seem to dictate well for this play.  The story is told from a man standing at a podium with the action going on behind him, which seems to be somewhat unconventional.  The actor that portrays him in the action is completely silent.  All dialogue from that character comes from the man on the podium.  (Weird…)

The play attempts to cover too much.  The family goes through a good deal of trauma in the process of the play which makes the play feel overwhelming at its conclusion.  I understand all of the messages that McCarthy is trying to get across, but it feels like too much.

On the other hand, the way he mingles family history, the history of the stonemasons, and the personal thoughts of the main character is very good.  You get a taste for how he can work so much and how his grandfather (in his 90’s) can continue working.  You also understand why things done a certain way are essential.

It was interesting to read just to see how McCarthy would tackle a different writing venue.  As for the story itself, most of it I wasn’t extremely interested in.

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One response to “June Book Thoughts

  1. The only title I’ve read here is the Faulkner book… and I hated it, as well.

    You’re making me want to read more McCarthy. If I do, and I hate it, I’m coming to Texas to KICK YOUR ASS!

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