Sunday 19 March 2017

Tea and books on the last day of winter...

I’m not sure if today is the last day of winter or if it's tomorrow, but I know it’s soon, so I can get away with saying that in my title.  My tea is particularly good today - I got a nice mug from one of my students for Christmas, and because it's bigger than my usual Sunday morning mug, I can put more soy milk in, making is especially creamy... yum! So, as I sip my deliciously steamy cup of chai, I’m thinking about the reading I’ve done (and not done!) over the past week.  Considering that I’ve been off work, I got surprisingly little reading done, and here’s why…

I spent at least half of last week trying to get into Sophie Hannah’s book, The Carrier.  If you recall, I recently read another of her books, A Game for All the Family, which I really enjoyed despite the confusion I felt while reading it.  Unfortunately The Carrier was not riveting at all.  I’m not going to bother telling you what it was about, but here’s a link to her website, where you will find a description of the book:  I read nearly half of this 400+ page book before giving up on it completely.  I was finding it repetitive and tedious, and felt that there was no real story or plot development in the 200 pages that I read, but that the narrative just kept going around and around in circles, repeating details ad nauseum.  This book is part of the “Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse” series, which I haven't really enjoyed in the past (as a couple, Charlie and Simon are annoying at best!), but it wasn’t just their dysfunctional relationship that I was finding irritating, it was the whole story, the characters, everything.  So that was three days wasted on a book I will never go back to finish.

Then I read a very short, rather unusual novel by someone who works with my husband.  The Introvert by Michael Paul Michaud is told from the point of view of the nameless main character, a vacuum cleaner salesman who has a dog named Molly and a girlfriend named Donna.  He leads a quiet, unassuming life, but clearly has some anger management issues (or mental health issues?), because, when people are frustrating him or making him angry, he often has the urge to see them “red and open”.  He (mostly) manages to control these impulses, but when he lands in the middle of a murder inquiry, he must do his best to navigate the police investigation while holding on to his composure and his sanity, even as things threaten to spiral out of control.  In terms of writing style, this sparsely written novel reminded me of some writer(s) I’ve read in the past, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on who:  maybe David Gilmour or Paul Auster, or possibly John Fante, but with a touch of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (I think the nameless narrator is not only an introvert, but is also on the autism spectrum).  If you like short books that get inside the minds of unusual, quirky characters, this may be the book for you.  To use the author’s own words, it may not be much of a book, but it really held my interest.

And speaking of quirky characters, I’ve been trying to get into Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson, the book we will be discussing at my Friends book club tomorrow night, but I’m finding it to be very putdownable.  A reculsive author who, many years ago, wrote one seminal novel, M M Banning is in financial ruin after following some bad investment advice, and her only way out is to write another book.  To do this, she asks her publisher for an assistant to help run her Los Angeles household and attend to her accounts… and to care for her nine-year-old son, Frank, a son no one even knew existed.  Frank is no ordinary child, but prefers vintage or antique costumes to shorts and T-shirts, and playing in the old battered Mercedes to going to a playground with other children.  Twenty-five-year-old Alice Whitley is sent to fill the position until the new book is done, a rather indefinite assignment, as the book hasn’t even been started.  Alice does her best to follow the Rules of Frank, but she falls short again and again.  She is most interested in finding out who Frank’s mysterious, and mysteriously absent, father is, and she finds herself caught up more and more in their unusual lives and unusual relationship.  I’m about a third of the way through this light novel, and while it’s not engaging me at all, I think I will at least skim the rest of it so that when we get together tomorrow night, I can speak somewhat knowledgeably about the story - I can get the gist of most stories if I read the first and last sentence of each paragraph, as well as most of the dialogue.  I think the problem is that this book seems too “light”, feeling more like a collection of humourous anecdotes about a quirky kid and an awkward adult trying to get the measure of one another than a full story with a complex plot and interesting, three-dimensional characters.  The ladies in my Volunteer book group have occasionally asked for something light and humourous for a change from all the dark, depressing novels we usually read, and I have to tell them that they need to come up with book recommendations because I don't read those types of books.  I think this book falls into that category, light and humourous, but lacking depth and substance.  I’ll keep going with the skimming and see if it picks up as I get further along.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the sunshine and milder temperature, and don’t forget to keep reading!

Bye for now…

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