Fiction Read in September:
And the Mountains Echoed by Khalid Hosseini
Kahlid Hosseini’s third book about Afghanistan is as beautiful as his previous two (The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns). At the heart of the story are Abdullah and Pari, a brother and sister who are devoted to each other and than cruelly torn apart as children. They then grow up in very different circumstances and have very different life paths.
Hosseini chooses to tell the siblings’ story through a series of short-story like chapters, each told from a different perspective and often involving minor characters that only seem peripherally involved in Abudllah or Pari’s life. This postmodern style of multiple perspectives seems to be very common now; I feel like a large number of books I read are written at least in part this way. It’s not my favorite style. I kept wishing I could know more about minor characters introduced in one chapter and never heard from again. I’m also not a huge fan of short stories, for the same reason. However, I will readily acknowledge that it takes great talent to write well in this style and Hosseini certainly has great talent. He manages to weave the threads of the various stories together and come up with a unified whole. However, for me personally, I found his other books much more memorable and compelling as I felt more connected to the characters.
Horse People by Cary Holladay
Somewhat similar, in that it’s a collection of related short stories with one central character. Nelle Fenton is the Northern-born matriarch of a wealthy Virginia family. The story of Nelle’s family and their neighbors spans roughly 100 years, beginning at the time of the Civil War.
Oh, this book had so much promise. Read for my book club, we were all excited to about it. Unfortunately, we unanimously agreed that it fell short of the mark. The main problem for us was that none of us liked, identified, or even marginally sympathized with Nelle at all. It’s difficult to stay engaged with a book when the character is completely unlikable and when the author doesn’t allow the character to change.
Joyland by Stephen King
This was a completely fun read. Only slighty creepy, with a little of the paranormal that he is known for, this short and sweet mystery/thriller stars a young brokenhearted college student as he tries to solve an old murder case at his summer job, an old-fashioned carnival.
The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley
I decided to give Flavia de Luce (girl detective, amateur chemist, and precocious eleven year old) another try. I read the first book in this mystery series set in a post WWII English village a few years ago and was only mildly impressed. Flavia was just too precocious and the village was just too full of the expected oddballs. However, I know many people who really like these books (among them Amy and Sherry). In fact it was Sherry at Semicolon’s most recent review that persuaded me to give Flavia another chance. And I’m glad I did. Perhaps it was just a different mindset on my part but what had seemed too cutesy and quirky-just-to-be-quirky was now funny and charming. Maybe it was that I read this one right after reading a taking-itself-way-too-seriously book (see Cooked below) but I was fine with a book that seemed to have fun.
The Moor by Laurie King (Audiobook)
I continue to listen and enjoy this series about Sherlock Holmes and his fellow detective and wife Mary Russell.
A Scandal in Belgravia by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Solitary Cyclist by Arthur Conan Doyle
John is taking a very fun class at co-op this year on Sherlock Holmes. They read the stories, discuss them and do activities related to the stories (hair analysis, code breaking, fingerprinting). I don’t really need to read the stories with him but I am because it’s fun. Along with the Mary Russell series and the BBC Sherlock series (which H. and are slowly re-watching) it’s become an all-things-Holmes kind of year.
Non-Fiction Read in September:
Kingdom Calling by Amy Sherman
Read as part of a summer reading group at church. All about vocation and calling. The book was ok, the discussions generated by the group were more interesting.
Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior
Add this one to the stack of oh, so satisfying books about books. Prior, an English professor at Liberty University, weaves the story of books into her personal memoir. What I loved was how she talks about how God can use great books for personal tranformation and growth even if those books aren’t explicitly “religious”. I loved the exhortation to read promiscuously. Maybe because of that it reminded me somewhat of Alan Jacobs, although in many ways they are very different books.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
What I took away from this book is that I don’t need to read any more books by Michael Pollan (unless he branches out and starts writing about something other than food). I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and found if fascinating, I read Food Rules and found it practical. I read this one and mostly just found it boring. So much so that I didn’t finish it, almost unheard of for me. It was due back at the library and not able to be renewed. I really hate keeping books out overdue and I realized it was probably time to give up on this one when I wasn’t motivated to try and finish it before the due date.
Pollan looks at four different methods of cooking: grilling (fire), braising (water), baking (air), and fermenting (earth). The information about the history of each technique and the stories of the individuals he meets with to learn how to barbecue, braise, bake and ferment are often interesting. Pollan is a good writer and is obviously passionate about his subject. Sometimes though, too much so. My internal voice was usually saying something like this as I read the book: “Dude, sometimes it’s really just food. Sometimes it’s just dinner. It’s not always a transcendent experience.” The impression I get of Pollan after reading this book is that he takes himself and his message very seriously. And sometimes he just comes across as elitist and unrealistic. He’s quite dismissive of tasks he doesn’t consider “real cooking”. This would mean most of what I (and most people I know) do daily. Making pasta for dinner? Did you use dried pasta and jarred tomato sauce? Doesn’t count as cooking.
The problem with this attitude is that by the time I gave up on the book (about 90% of the way through) I also felt like giving up on cooking. I don’t have time to spend the WEEKS baking and perfecting bread like Pollan. And I’d probably use that flour of the devil…WHITE flour. So, I might as well just buy bread. Heck, we might as well just go to McDonald’s as packaged bread is clearly one step from dietary ruin anyway. If Pollan wanted to inspire people to cook (something he claims will make us healthier, happier and will be better for the environment) he could have tried the approach of someone like Jennifer Reese whose Make the Bread, Buy the Butter had me not only convinced I could indeed make the bread, but thinking it might even be fun to try my hand at making the butter.