Monday, September 6, 2010

What I've Been Reading

It makes me sad to realize how little I've read since getting pregnant. First I was too sick, then too busy, then too exhausted. But now that Kaycie has finally started sleeping at night (at least for the moment, she tends to go six weeks sleeping, then six weeks not) and napping consistently twice a day (1-2 hours each nap!) I have saturated myself with books. I went through a string of books that proved depressing, but only I only regretted one of them. I've also realized that my recent reads have taken me on a journey around the world, from 19th century China to modern Afghanistan and India to the Canaan of Biblical times. All but one of these focus on the themes surrounding women and their relationship with other women, men, and the culture they are born into. Here's what I've been reading:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - This was a fascinating look at the life of women in China in the 1800's. Once I got past the description of the foot binding (yowzers!) I was completely taken in by this book. It focuses on the friendship between two women who are contractually bound together as young girls and face the challenge of maintaining a friendship as they grow older, grow apart, and live in very different social conditions. A showcase of Chinese culture and character development. I can say with some honesty that this book made me stop and think about my own friendships and what I needed to do to be a better friend. It was probably my favorite of the "women" books in this list.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
- I was a bit disappointed by this one. It's a fictional story giving an account of the life of Dinah from the Bible. The first half explored the relationship between Dinah and her mothers in contrast to her relationship with the men in the family. The second half focused on her internal struggles living with her mother-in-law in Egypt. I don't know if it was the attempt to weave as much Biblical reference as possible into the story or the onslaught of characters, but I stayed distracted trying to remember the names and relationships. It was interesting, but for some reason I was expecting a little more.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
- This book is by the same author as The Kite Runner, which I read a few years ago. The Kite runner was a pretty rough story, so I had been a little reluctant to read this one. Despite the depressing nature of the story, I liked this one better. The story spans a few decades in Afghanistan and features two different women from very different circumstances who end up married to the same awful, abusive man. I can't even begin to describe the different relationships covered, it's a pretty tangled web, but the book is very well written, has great character development, and has a good (if slightly 'easy') ending. This was actually the last of these books I read and the happy ending was quite the relief. I will say that my timing was bad. I learned quite a bit about Afghan politics that made me understand our current political position there a bit better, and made me very nervous for my Uncle being deployed there.

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar - Please don't ready this book. The only reason I finished it was because I thought for sure there would have to be one uplifting scene before the end. There wasn't. Every single thing that happens to all the characters in this book is awful. And while the other three books I've mentioned have similar themes and explore different cultures, this one intentionally doesn't do a whole lot of explaining about Indian culture. The author says in the afterward that she didn't want people to read this as a book about the struggle of women in India, she wanted them to read it as a story about the struggle of women everywhere. The problem is that she made a lot of references to Indian culture that weren't explained very well and left me confused. I seriously considered stopping halfway through and at the end I wished I had. At that point I really didn't care much about what happened to the characters, I didn't want to know anymore of their history or their future. I still don't.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
- WHEEEW. That sigh of relief was for a book that wasn't mired in a pit of despair for the women of the world. Very refreshing after the above string of misery. I'd had this book on my Reminder List for a while but the reviews were very mixed. I found it at the library and figured I'd give it a shot. I loved it. This was one of the most unique books I've ever read. Don't read it expecting a story. It's not about the plot, it's about the narrator - a 15 year old boy with autism. The plot is secondary to the character and the glimpse of his world. I understand why some people hated it, but I was amazed. Don't expect to understand everything you read. Part of the point of the story is that we can't understand the mathematical parts of his mind. We aren't supposed to. That's what makes autism different. I can't promise anybody else that they will enjoy this book, but I do recommend giving it a try.

One important thing I take from this list is the difference between Space in Between Us and Snow Flower. Where Snow Flower does an excellent job of taking the reader on a journey through Chinese culture and at the same time connected to my own life and made me think about my own relationships. Space in Between Us gave me a small but confusing glimpse into the Indian culture and left me thinking little more than I just wasted several hours of my life that I couldn't get back. I understand the point the author was making about the gaps between social class being universal, but she would have been better off weaving that into the book instead of explaining it in the interview in the afterward.

In the spirit of honesty, I followed that list up with some serious fluff. I've been flying through a series of trash reads (yes, I've sunk to a new low with the Sookie Stackhouse series of vampire novels, I'm on book 8). But right now I'm 15 pages into Memoirs of a Geisha, which I never read when it came out many years ago. Perhaps that will start my next list. Also on my To Be Read list - Invictus (the book that the movie was based on, about Nelson Mandela and his role in South Africa hosting the rugby World Cup), and Blue Like Jazz.


Allison said...

I have about 6 books on my nightstand. None of them are fiction - all Christian study type books and I have to admit, I'm feeling pretty heavy in theology at the moment. I need a good, light read - though I really don't want to even get started on any more vampire stuff. Just a good ol' novel would be nice. I need to go to the Lib'ary.

Susan said...

I had started reading some Dean Koontz but every time a new book arrives in the mail (or I go to the library) I end up putting it down to start the new one. That says something about how interesting it is. I'll finish it one day when my stash dries up! Have you read the Girl with the Dragon Tatoo books? I have heard they're really good.

Allison said...

I hear those are good too. I think that I've gotten to where my time to sit down and read is SO limited that I want it to REALLY be worth it when I do so I'm getting really, really picky about my books.

Allison said...

Hubby's hinted at getting me a Kindle....I'm in BIG trouble if he does. I don't know if I could stop myself from buying books. Plus I'd be constantly buying books to read to Mini-me....