Thursday, 12 April 2012

Tea and book talk...

I've been a busy reader over the past week, and have lots to write about tonight.  First I want to tell you about State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett.  I must have really enjoyed it, because I finished it in just six days.  That may not seem overly quick, and normally I can finish a novel in a week, but this one was the type that I really had to think about, one that demanded time and effort to really understand what was going on.  I gave a brief outline of the plot in my last post, so I won't do that again here, but I'll just say that there's more to the characters and story than the reader may at first believe.  I really don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say that it was absolutely compelling to read and engaging from start to finish.  It reminded this reader of various other novels, for various reasons:  it was a bit like Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible regarding the influences and effects of the western world on indigenous peoples.  It reminded me of Bel Canto, of course, but not because of the writing style.  Well, the writing style was similar, but the stories move at such different pace that I had to remind myself that both books were by the same author.  No, it was the references to music, and the beauty of opera, that brought to mind Bel Canto.  When I was reading it, the novel brought to mind other novels for comparison, and I thought I should write them down as they were in mind, but I didn't, and now it's been almost a week, so they're gone.  I may recall them and pass them on later, but for now those are the only two novels I can come up with.  For me, the novel was about the responsibilities people have towards others and that people must behave in a manner that is responsible for all parties, not just for those acting, but for those being acted upon.  It was about what it really means to be a mother, and again, behaving responsibly when considering motherhood.  It was also about relationships, and about adaptability, and about going beyond one's own expectations of oneself, out of duty, out of necessity, or sometimes out of love.  In case it's not clear from my post so far, I loved it and would highly recommend it!

Something I also wanted to comment on was the design of the book.  My copy is a trade paperback, my favourite format for a book, especially if I own it.  I like the way it opens easily and stays open, and it gives the reader enough text to keep him or her busy for a while, unlike mass market paperbacks, which can sometimes be a challenge.  But the cover of the book is so interesting because it is so sparse.  It has the title and author in the center and some interesting and relevant artwork around the edges, and there is a lengthy description of the plot and some information about the author on the back cover.  Both are an unassuming sand colour.  But what I found remarkable, and this is something I didn't really realize until a few days' reading had passed, is that there are no comments or recommendations from other authors on the front or back covers.  There are no excerpts from newspaper or magazine reviews (here is a link to my cover:  http://www.amazon.com/State-Wonder-Ann-Patchett/dp/0062049801)  This book is relying on the strength of the plot, and of course the familiarity of the author, to sell itself.  I think that shows great faith in the judgement of the reader, and also great confidence on the part of the author and publisher.  It's a nice change to see this type of book cover.  I remember some time ago I wrote about the use of author recommendations or comments on the covers of books, and how I thought that this was somehow insulting to the reader, or a cheap way to market a book.  I like to see a book that "believes in itself", if that makes any sense (it sounds better in my head than it looks on the screen!)  By the way, Patchett recently opened her own independent bookstore in her hometown of Nashville which has put her in the running for Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world (http://www.quillandquire.com/blog/index.php/2012/04/02/the-anatomy-of-ann-patchetts-influence/)... Interesting...

Of course, when coming to the end of a gripping, well-written novel, I was faced with panic, because I wanted to follow it up with another terrific book.  I tried to reread a Minette Walters' mystery, but that was absolutely not what I wanted.  I then tried to read The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, another book that had been a gift, this time from my sister-in-law a couple of years ago.  While I'm definitely interested in reading it, this past week was just not the right time, so I'm putting it back on my bookshelf for future reading.  Then I got a notice from the library that When Will There Be Good News? was in for me, so I picked it up last night and began reading it.  Oh my, I didn't remember it being so "not uplifting"!  It is written more like Case Histories than One Good Turn, and it's been long enough since I've listened to this novel that it's almost like reading a new book, except that I actually understand it better this time since I've read the earlier novels in the series.  But, at only 2 chapters into the book, there is a dead dog and a puppy thrown out of a car window (but also a dog that is loved and cherished by its owner).  I don't remember being disturbed by the animal imagery when I listened to it, so I think I'm safe to read it.  I'll let you know what I think about it once I finish.  I really enjoyed the audiobook, so I'm hoping my reading experience will live up to my expectations.  At least I now know that the answer to the question, "When will there be good news?" is likely to be , "Never!"

On that cheerful note, I think I'll close.

Bye for now!
Julie

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