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Friday, April 13, 2012

World Book Night: The First Batch

I've been horribly negligent in my blogging, but I promise you that I've been on top of the reading. I've now conquered 22 of the 30 World Book Night choices. That leaves only 8 to go before the 23rd. Let's go ahead and admit it to each other now, I probably won't finish The Stand by then.

So many of these books have been floating around on my TBR pile for years, but the king among them may have been The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Walls tells the story of her transient upbringing with an artist mother and engineer/drunkard father. It is a story of the wonder of stars as Christmas gifts and the pain of childhood hunger and how one reconciles an entire lifetime of not being "normal." I was so intrigued by this story of unconventional parenting and a basically feral childhood. Walls did not disappoint. This book is a perfect example of what a memoir should be, everything may not be exactly true, but it labors under a greater truth of storytelling (and even catharsis).

As I make my way through this list of books I can't help but consider why each one was chosen. What is it about these books that will bring a nonreader into the fold? So far, I'm still questioning the choice of Marilynne Robinson's Home. It is such a lonely book. I guess that gets to the core of reading as a solitary pursuit, but I wonder if that will serve as a bucket of cold water onto a new reader that would be better off easing into a warm bath. Then again, I am not an evangelist for this book. I'd love to hear from someone that will be passing this one out on the 23rd. I did really enjoy Home. The language is so beautiful that I'm not sure how I wouldn't have. However, I didn't love it. The novel is basically a plotless rumination on loneliness, loss, and expectation, but the beauty of the prose distracted me and kept me from feeling any of those things. I was able to engage with it on an intellectual level but not an emotional one.

Then came Wintergirls. I was jolted from an intellectual reading experience into a purely visceral one. Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls is about two friends with complimentary eating disorders who form a pact to be the skinniest girl in school. That's girl - singular. Each girl in a battle to starve the other. The thing about this book is how real it feels. The main character's voice is so authentic. This could be anyone's story. I am constantly amazed by Anderson, she deals with these real life issues so deftly. She is never judgmental, never talks down to her readers. She seems like the kind of person you could go to with your troubles, which must be way so many kids (and parents! and teachers!) continue to turn to her books.

I must be honest, My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult is the book I was least looking forward to. I came at it with my mind already made up, so if it is a book you love, please feel free to disregard my opinion (it is just an opinion after all, and you know what they say about those). My Sister's Keeper is an issues book that nags at me in all the ways a book like Wintergirls doesn't. Many novels deal with issues, it is one of the things that makes us relate to them, but when an issue is used as a plot device I find it bothersome. So, Picoult's novel is about a young girl who want to be medically emancipated from her parents because she is tired of living merely as life support for her terminally ill sister. And it's all just so melodramatic, cliched, manipulative, and predictable.

Oy vey, then there was Blood Work by Michael Connelly. This one's a mystery about a guy hunting down the killer of the woman whose heart he received after a lifesaving transplant. Frankly, you lost me at mystery. I can't handle the violence inherent to the genre. There is a particular scene in this novel that I still cannot get out of my head two months later. Then detective fiction is just so formulaic. Not the book for me, though I see why this made it on the list. Books like this can definitely create readers, it was a pageturner.

That's the end of the first batch. It's really been up and down with these books, which just goes to show you that every reader is different. I'd love to hear from some of you that have read these or may even be distributing them on World Book Night.

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