Sunday, May 07, 2006

Three Book Reviews and a Photo

I've been trying for days to think of something to write for this month's Blogging 4 Books and I've still got nuttin'. But if I can't try to win a book, let's talk a little about books instead, 'k? 'k! First... A while back Dee (who I can't link to but Hi, Dee!) discovered an extra copy of "Blackbird House" by Alice Hoffman and sent it to me saying I'd like it. I loved the cover (you can see it if you click the link above) and thought it sounded really good, so I dove right in and finished the first half of the book before the day was over. And then I paused. I have to admit, at first I thought Dee's normally-powerful book matchmaking abilities might have failed her. I mean, obviously it captured my interest, considering how quickly I moved through it. And I found a lot of the writing and imagery really beautiful. But I found myself getting really frustrated because the cover (and most reviews I read) referred to it as "A Novel" and I was trying to read it as a novel, only to find that just as I was really getting interested in a character and their story, that story would end and the character would never be seen or heard from again. It was like speed dating without any way to contact my favorites and ask them if they'd like to meet for coffee. But then I backed off and thought about it and took another look at what I'd read so far and thought "Aaaah, ok, I get it." No matter what the cover says, this is NOT a novel. This is a short story collection. The stories are linked by a location - the "Blackbird House" of the title - and by certain recurring elements, but still, really - Short. Stories. And while that may seem like a nitpicky sort of distinction to some, it made all the difference in the world to my enjoyment of the book. In novels I want to get to know the characters, and the plot has to (really, seriously MUST) be driven by those characters. The story has to happen the way it happens because those things are what those people would do in those circumstances, and different people - different characters - would make an entirely different story. I know not everyone agrees with that. I realize that some novels are plot-driven and the writer moves the characters around like puppets on a stage, but I don't LIKE those books. Don't spend 100 pages convincing me that your main character is one person and then have them do something that the character you just described would neverEVER do just because you happen to need Aunt Maude killed off to move the plot along and can't figure out who else should do it. But in short stories, there's no time to get to know anyone in depth. What we see is a small slice of life. We don't know what came before. We don't know what happens after. We don't always know what made someone who they are or why they make the choices they do, and I can deal with that in a short story in a way that I just can't in a novel. So I started over and read each story as if it stood alone and then I could see exactly why Dee recommended it. As a short story collection, it's magical. Thanks, Dee! It's on my keeper shelf. Second... I also recently finished "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger. I'd been hearing about this book for ages and have actually had it on my ToBeRead pile for weeks (months?) but only just got around to it in the past week or so. I admit I can be kind of weird about not always wanting to read books that are heavily hyped - the ones that "everyone is reading" and that show up on a gazillion book club lists - and I think that's why it took me so long to get around to this one. It's like I get bored hearing about it before I ever open the actual book, and somehow I convince myself that I won't like it. But I'm so glad I finally read this one. I was fascinated by Clare's and Henry's story. I was crying by the end, but in a good way. It's another keeper. Third... The last book I finished was "You Drive Me Crazy (Love Poems for Real Life)". It's an anthology featuring poems about different stages relationships go through - ecstasy, stability, monotony, uncertainty, misery, clarity. I love those sorts of books as a way to read poetry. When you read a book of poetry by a single author you're reading what one person has to say about many subjects. In anthologies you're reading what many people have to say about one (or a few) subjects. I find that appealing (and it's also a good way to find poets you want to read more of!) and I thought this volume, although small, was quite good. It includes both long-ago and modern poets, and the poems themselves were romantic, sentimental, sexy, funny, snarky, bitter, contented - a little something for 'most anyone or any mood. It's a keeper too. Last... This photo is probably just TOO cliche, but I couldn't resist taking it. There's a large oak tree near a curve of our gravel driveway and on my walk yesterday I saw this acorn trying its best to create a mighty oak right there in the gravel. I don't think much of its chances, but I greatly admire the effort. "From Small Things"