Monday, 22 August 2011

Monday morning book thoughts...

It really feels like autumn is in the air this morning.   I love the cool weather and my cup of hot chai tea.  I'm especially relishing it since I know that it is supposed to be hotter and more humid for the rest of the week and into the weekend. 

So The Joy Luck Club was not a huge success at my book club.  Three of my members couldn't make it, and of those that did make it, at least one didn't like the revelations about the Chinese culture that were presented in the book and another didn't like it for reasons I can't now recall.  But we did agree that the themes of mothers and daughters, mothers' expectations of daughters and daughters' misunderstandings of their mothers' lives as girls are universal.  I think the most difficult aspect of the book was the challenges it presented when trying to remember whose story belonged to which mother, and which mother had which daughter.  This is Amy Tan's first novel, and I was pretty impressed with it the first time I read it, but this time, less so.  Next month we are reading The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre, a Canadian novel and I believe a recent Governor General's award winner.

I wanted to talk a bit about The Weekend Man by Richard B. Wright, which I finished last night.  It definitely reminds me of The Winter of Our Discontent, my favourite book of all time and the one I've read more often than any other book.  While not as good as Discontent in this reader's opinion, The Weekend Man has many similarities to the Steinbeck novel.  The main character, Wes Wakeham, is a likeable man who is more interested in contemplating life than making any decisions and being successful, which is very similar to Ethan Allen Hawley in Steinbeck's novel, who manages a grocery store and philosophises aloud in Latin to his wall of canned goods when he is alone in the store.  Both men speak of a sanctum sanctorum and both are perceived to be behaving shrewdly when they are really just being nice, accommodating, and indecisive.  Both men are tempted by women other than their wives and both have difficulty making commitments.  Wright offers this definition in his book:  "A weekend man is a person who has abandoned the present in favour of the past or the future.  He is really more interested in what happened to him twenty years ago or in what is going to happen to him next week than he is in what is happening to him today."  Wes makes decisions in his daily life by putting slips of paper with options into peanut butter jars and selecting one each day in order to decide what to have for breakfast and what route to take to work.  He talks of the "Saturday afternoonness" of his, and reflects on the "baffling ordinary sadness of my own existence".  This very much echoes Ethan's character and attitude.  In fact, the characters are so similar in attitude that I wouldn't be surprised if Wright was significantly influenced by The Winter of Our Discontent.  This would not really be a stretch, since Discontent was first published in the early 1960s, Steinbeck is a famous American author, and The Weekend Man was originally published in 1971.  I would love to write an academic paper comparing these two books, but that is for another time.  For now, let's just say they are similar.  I wonder what these types of novels are called, what genre or label can be placed on them?  When I describe The Winter of Our Discontent, I say that it is the move from innocence to experience for a grown man.  If the main character is a child, we call that a "coming-of-age" story, but it must be different for stories in which the main character is an adult with children.  Maybe loss of innocence is a lifelong process and we are constantly moving from naivety to understanding or experience.  This makes sense in a way, but the experiences in adulthood would be less dramatic than the first and probably most significant experience in childhood.  Whatever this genre is called, I like it.

I needed something to read this morning, so I looked on my bookshelf and found Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman, which I've been toying with reading for a few years now.  I really enjoyed Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and have been curious about this companion novel for a while.  I'll give it a try and see what I think, but I have plenty of other novels sitting on my desk at work that are just waiting to be read.

That's all for today.

Bye for now!
Julie

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