Since I wrote about my goal of reading some good books this year, I wanted to update my progress. Thus far in 2014 I’ve read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Fairyland by Alysia Abbott, Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson, and a couple of utterly forgettable beach reads, the titles of which I’ve already forgotten.
The Goldfinch is a long read (about 800 pages), but a good one. Although the premise is an interesting one – boy devastated by his mother’s death and drawn into a strange and unknown world by his obsession with a painting he took from the scene of her death, the story could have been told in many fewer pages with far fewer situations straining credulity. The writing is beautiful and the detail intense; failure to pay attention to every word would have you flipping back pages to find a crucial piece of information that would help explain where the narrator was and how he had gotten there. Ultimately I was left feeling as though I had read the narrator’s self-indulgent fantasy, but at least it passed quickly.
Fairyland is one of the better books I’ve read in recent memory. A story of growing up in San Francisco in the 1970s and 1980s with an openly gay father, the author’s examination of her life and her loss are devastatingly beautiful. Maybe it’s because Alysia Abbott is around my age, perhaps it’s because I recognize the straining against familial duty, perhaps it is her gorgeous prose, or a combination of all three that made this book so affecting for me. I cried reading the final chapters, recognizing in the author a kindred spirit trying to reconcile her life with her father’s death and how the two could live in harmony within her. I tore through this book in two days, and I never wanted it to end. It felt like a privilege to be allowed to share Abbot’s journey with her. I can only hope that someday my storytelling skills rise to her level.
I read Once We Were Brothers for my book club. The tale of three friends, Jewish and non, in pre-WWII Poland, it follows them through the war and beyond, examining human motivation behind betrayal and heroism. I didn’t think the book was particularly well written, the characters were written out of historical and linguistic context, and the character development for the supporting cast was utterly lacking. I understand that Mr. Balson was a long-time trial attorney, but how the legal pieces of the story fell into place just so strained realism. As any trial lawyer can tell you, nothing ever goes that smoothly with everything falling perfectly on the side of justice. However, the research was amazingly thorough, and I learned some things of which I was unaware, despite having studied the Holocaust extensively in college. I expected more.
The next title for my book club is Lies We Wanted to Hear by James Whitfield Thomson. Based on a high profile parental kidnapping case, the author lives in my town and has been generous enough to agree to visit with us as we discuss the book.
That’s my book report for the first quarter of 2014. Any suggestions for titles I should add to my list for the remainder of the year? I’d love to hear from you!