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>May 2010 Reviews

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>A little heavy on the fiction this month, but my reading was all over the place, which I love.
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1. Clear Pictures: First Loves, First Guides – Reynolds Price. Price talks about the people he grew up with, the people who most influenced him in his early years. He was lucky to have a loving and supportive extended family and he writes about them lovingly and lingeringly. There’s also a wide streak of shame that runs through the memoir since he’s writing about the American south in the 1930s and 1940s when the color line was so rigid and he’s chafed with sorrow to remember himself and his family in those unthinking, unknowing days. When the Civil Rights movement came, Price remained a bystander and his apology is honest and heartfelt. Although Clear Pictures isn’t a long book, it’s not one that you can race through any more than you could race through a family reunion picnic on a hot July weekend.
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2. Laura Ingalls Wilder and The American Frontier: Five Perspectives – Dwight Miller, editor. Several professors presented papers about Wilder and the “Little House” books at a conference. I feel as if I’ve seen and heard it all before.
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3. Riders of the Purple Sage – Zane Grey. Nothing could ever induce me to read another Zane Grey novel. How did he get to be so popular? The narrative is awkward, the dialogue is clumsy, the characters are two-dimensional and there’s an idiot subplot. The description of the scenery is nice, but the constant mention of it made me feel as if I was staring at a rack of postcards in some two-bit tourist trap. I was compelled to keep reading though, because it was so odd to see Mormons as villains!

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4. Flirting With Pride & Prejudice – Jennifer Crusie, editor. A mixed bag of essays and fan fiction relating to Jane Austen’s masterpiece.
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5. A Cab Called Reliable – Patti Kim. The climax situation in this short novel was similar to one that Nora Okja Keller used in Fox Girl. I thought Keller’s treatment and resolution was much more effective. Kim’s book is a good story with twin themes of acculturation and betrayal, but it’s spoiled by a hasty conclusion.
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6. Paper Towns – John Green. I’m Green’s newest fan. If I were back in high school, his picture would be hanging on the inside of my locker door. Can’t wait to read more of his writing.
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7. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson. Not my favorite read for May, but now that it’s done, I’m glad that I read it — struggles and all. Because of the awesome Lisabeth Salander, I could be prevailed upon to read the two sequels, using active reading, of course.
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8. Shanghai Girls – Lisa See. This story about two sisters sold into marriage by their debt-ridden father moves slowly and regularly through twenty years of death, suffering and immigration then in the very last chapter, one of the title characters opens up a huge can of Stupid and starts spraying evil revelations and long-kept family secrets everywhere and things go into warp speed and the reader is left stranded and mouthing those three little words at the climax, which is also the end of the novel. I smell sequel.
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9. The Warrior’s Path – Louis L’Amour. This was my first trip down the trail with my pardner Louis. I could be persuaded to read more L’Amour, even though this novel was as clunky in its way as The Riders of the Purple Sage was in its way. L’Amour goes down a mite smoother, though. This is the third book (out of 15, I think) in the Sackett saga. My Inner Completist Bookworm tells me that we must find a good used bookstore in the US and hunt up the rest of the series. No need to dig out the spurs, I’m ready!
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10. Thimble Summer – Elizabeth Enright. The 1938 Newbery winner about a little girl named Garnet and her life on a farm in Wisconsin during a summer that got off to a good start because of a “magic” silver thimble she found in a dried-up river bed. The Saturdays remains my favorite of the Enright books I’ve read so far, but I loved reading about farm life, Garnet’s many adventures (which included getting accidentally locked up in a certain establishment) and the authentic 1930s setting. Although I read this book in the spring, I was left feeling so lighthearted and expansive that I’m pretty sure I’ll always perceive it as a summer read. Many thanks to Veronica for giving me this book as a present!

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11. BUtterfield 8 – John O’Hara. This book is both strangely dated and up-to-date all at the same time. BUtterfield 8 is set during the early 1930s and revolves around Gloria Wandrous, a woman in her early 20s who has drifted into casual prostitution. O’Hara is sympathetic to Gloria, showing how her early corruption led her into this lifestyle. Although I enjoy O’Hara’s writing, I really hate that the reader can see how damned impressed he is with all the trappings of WASP wealth and privilege. It’s always a relief when he focuses on the less well-to-do, Midwestern or Catholic characters; his writing seems much more relaxed and real. I’m going to read A Rage To Live and then I think I’m done with O’Hara. Run right out and avoid the 1960 movie version of BUtterfield 8. Elizabeth Taylor is beautiful and does her best, but the story was treated by Hollywood the shameful and shoddy way poor Gloria was treated by men. Laurence Harvey deserves a special mention for a putrid performance.
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12. Out Of The Dust – Karen Hesse. A gritty (in all senses of the word) prose poem about life in the Dust Bowl during the mid-1930s. I was reminded of the excellent nonfiction book The Worst Hard Time. Hesse’s book won the Newbery award and rightfully so.

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13. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons. I enjoyed this 1932 novel so much that I almost can’t review it because I’m afraid I’ll babble. Imagine Jane Austen taking on Lawrence, Hardy and the Brontes and putting them and their rough, inarticulate and impassioned ways in a cool hammerlock. Roger Ebert said it better, of course: “Cold Comfort Farm is like Thomas Hardy rewritten by P.G. Wodehouse.” If you haven’t read this book yet, read it. If you have, isn’t it time for a reread? While you’re at it, check out the well-made 1995 film version.

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