Monday, June 25, 2012

Half Time Report

Each year, The Typical Book Group picks a BFB (Big Fat Book) to read over the summer.  This year, we chose 11/22/63 by Stephen King.  Although I liked Stephen King as a teenager when it was fun to read scary stories, I drifted away from him when I actually became old enough to see R rated movies, and didn't need to read the book anymore.  The last King book that I read was The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, which I read in one day, while my husband and I motored our boat from Mackinac Island to Port Huron with another couple.  I was pregnant with my 12 year old then, so you could say it's been a while since I spent time with King.

I was intrigued by what I had read about 11/22/63 before I started it.  It seemed like it was something different from the type of book that I think of King writing, and I was impressed that it had made the NYT Notable Books list for 2011.  Instead of being a horror film waiting to be be produced, 11/22/63 was said to have an interesting plot.  It is the story of a man who travels back in time in an attempt to stop the Kennedy assassination.  The time traveler wants to save Kennedy, but more than that, he wants to find out what would have happened if Kennedy had lived.  Would we have gone to Vietnam?  Would the 60's race riots have happened?  Would we all be living in Camelot?

Right now I am half way through this BFB, and I'm finding it hard to put down.   I keep telling myself "just one more chapter" and then reading two or three or ten.  My guess is that although the first half of the book took me almost two weeks to get through, the next 450 pages are going to fly by.  What has really surprised me is how good King's writing is.  I know, I know - he's a best selling author.  But he's a best selling author whose books one can buy at a drug store or an airport.  He's not exactly known for being high brow.  I have really taken to his voice, and reading 11/22/63 is making me feel like I've gotten back in touch with an old friend.

I'm also about half way through the book I'm listening to on CD, My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk.  There's something about Pamuk's writing that has me hooked.  It's strange, but good.  In the first book that I read by him, The Museum of Innocence, there was almost no action, but the story moved along at a controlled pace, and kept my interest.  In the end, the action found the story in a way that both defied and affirmed the obvious foreshadowing.  In My Name is Red, there is actually quite a lot of activity, but it still feels like the story is moving at the same calm pace as that in Museum.  Pamuk seems to have found a way to control the reader's emotions, and somehow use them to shape the interpretation of his story. 

I'll tell you more about these soon.  11/22/63 is calling to me, and I want to go read!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fifty Shades of Nancy

As you may be aware, this spring everyone has been reading Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James.  So far, I've avoided the temptation, but many of my friends have given in and read it.  My husband, for one, wishes that I would give it a try.  From what I've heard, Fifty Shades is titillating, intense, and not that well written, but I haven't heard of anyone who quit reading.

Over a year ago, I bought Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.  I read The Little Stranger by Waters, really liked it, and wanted to read more that she had written.  However, in the spirit of judging a book by it's cover, I was a little leery.  I knew that Tipping involved lesbian characters, and that there were two naked women on the cover of my copy of the book, but that's about all.  So, with some trepidation, I started reading.

Tipping is the story of Nancy Astley, who starts off as a girl in her late teens.  She has a boyfriend, lives with her parents, and works with them in their oyster parlour, at the end of the 19th century.  Nancy likes to go to shows at a nearby theatre, and is intrigued when she sees a woman performer dressed as a man, who is known as Kitty Butler.  Nancy can't stay away from the performances, and soon finds herself moving to London as part of Kitty's inner circle.  Through this part of the story, I would describe it as a story of forbidden love, which even the most meek and prudish reader would appreciate.

Soon Nancy finds herself on harder times, and in more illicit relationships.  Like the female lead in Fifty Shades, Nancy stumbles into a relationship with a dominant, wealthy person, only for Nancy this person is a woman.  It is here that Nancy learns tricks worthy of Christian Grey himself.  However, the formula at work in Tipping is more like 80% story and character development and 20% sex, whereas Fifty Shades, (I have heard), uses the reverse proportions.  

If you, like me, are hesitant to read the Fifty Shades trilogy because you've heard the writing is poor, or because, frankly, you don't want the other moms at the library seeing you read it, you may find Tipping the Velvet to be a good alternative.  The New York Times named Tipping as a Notable Book of the Year in 1999, so you can be assured that it is a good book.  Additionally, being a work of historical fiction, focused on lesbians in the last two decades of the 19th century, may make Tipping appealing to those who like British historical fiction in general, but are growing sick of kings and queens.

That's one more down for the Off the Shelf Challenge - 11 more to go.

Next Up:  11/22/63 by Stephen King

Still Listening to:  My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Approved for Beach Reading Only

The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer is not my typical read.  It bills itself on the cover as being the story of a presidential aide, Wes, who is injured when an assassin kills his friend, but who finds out that his friend is really still alive.  The cover also adds the tease that Wes tries to solve the mystery of what happened through "a decade-old presidential crossword puzzle, mysterious facts buried in Masonic history, and a two-hundred-year-old code invented by Thomas Jefferson."  After reading that, I was expecting the book to be the literary equivalent of the Nicholas Cage movie, "National Treasure".  That it was not.

The story in The Book of Fate is that of Wes, who feels responsible for his friend's death, only to find that the friend, Ron Boyle, is still alive.  Wes works for the former president, Leeland Manning, as his personal aide.  Once Wes realizes that Boyle is still alive, he wonders who he can trust, and who else knows the secret.  He finds himself chased by powerful people who would prefer it if Boyle was truly part of the past.

The Book of Fate is action packed, and is a great summer read, especially in an election year.  However, if you are expecting to learn anything about Masonic history, you should look somewhere else.  On the beach, the reader might gloss over some of the leaps that the characters make, like when they notice letters written next to a crossword puzzle and instantly conclude that it is a list of people working for the president, ranked according to who he trusted the most.  They might also fail to notice a fatal inconsistency in the assassin's storyline, or that Boyle's story is left unfinished.  So, if you want to read this one, get to it!  It won't hold up when winter winds are blowing, and your mind is devoted to the plot.

One more down for the Off the Shelf Challenge!  Now I'm half way done!

Next up on CD:  My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

Still Reading:  Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
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