Thursday, September 20, 2018

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

Book Club Book #1

It has been so long since I've picked up a typical beach read, a standard piece of chick-lit any other time of year, that I'd forgotten how much they bug me. The predictable, formulaic, cheesy storyline of so many books in this genre make my literary brain hurt for at least three quarters of the novel. At that point, I've given in, and, knowing a "Hollywood ending" is on its way, just try to enjoy the ride. 

How to Walk Away starts off immediately rubbing me the wrong way when the central character, a woman, is told to, "act like a man," in order to have better job interviews while she's on the hunt. She's just gotten her master's degree! She doesn't need to act like anyone but herself! It's all moot though since immediately after this disturbing introduction, Margaret and her boyfriend get in a plane crash and SPOILER ALERT she ends up in the hospital recovering from severe burns and a possible permanent paralysis from the knee down. This provides the right setting to introduce the brooding physical therapist, who also happens to be Scottish and incredibly cute, to use his tough-love facade to whip Meg back into shape. Her attraction to him seems one-sided, their love is forbidden, they've so many obstacles to overcome, blah, blah, blah. 

I'm not going to lie though and say I didn't begin to care a little about the characters, because I did. I didn't necessarily appreciate everything they did or how haphazard some of the prose got simply to move the story along, but I was entertained. Sometimes the silly turns the story took were more entertaining than the story itself. 

This soap opera of a book definitely was equal parts annoying and entertaining for me. Now I just have to figure out how to talk about it at book club without seeming too tough on the genre. It's hard to do for someone whose favorite books were all published in the previous two centuries.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

So, I joined a book club

This wasn't something I had ever actually planned on doing. The very idea of being rushed to finish a book within a month, with two kids running my life, has never seemed like a possibility. I maybe read a little every other night before bed, a little being less than ten pages before I nod off onto my book. I maybe sneak in 20 additional minutes twice a week when my daughter has reading homework and I can sit with her without being interrupted. It's not an easy thing. It has actually been a little torturous for an avid reader like myself.

Which brings me to my second point for not joining a book club - I don't like being told what to read. I have eclectic tastes in books, as I hope this long-standing blog can prove. The idea of having my book selection, for what little time I have to read, dictated by someone else is such a terrible idea. How would I have time to read all the books on my "to read" shelf? How would I ever tackle the ebooks on my Kindle? I'd essentially always be reading to the deadline of book club. It would be like being back in college, in a lit class, only without the satisfaction of getting a really good grade.

So, I'm the worst book club candidate ever. That's quite obvious, and I didn't even mention yet that I'm a bit of a lit snob, who loves classic literature almost as much as modern-day stuff. Yet, here I am, almost done with my first book club selection, about three-and-a-half weeks away from my first meeting. How did I get here?

This book club only meets every other month.

What a revelation! Give me two months to read one book, and the pressure is off. I can easily read a book in two months, probably even add in another book of my own so I'm whittling down my own to-reads while being exposed to new stuff. I actually jumped at the opportunity to join this book club because of the instant flexibility I felt in its set up. Why don't more book clubs do this?

I love talking about books, and often do with most of my friends and a lot of my family. I love talking about what I read so much, I have this blog devoted to me reviewing everything I read. Of course it makes sense I'd want to get together with a group of readers and talk about what we all just finished reading over wine. And yet, it wasn't until I found this low-pressure environment that I ever considered being a part of a book club. I'd always fantasized about having a book club where everyone just read whatever they wanted, then regularly got together and recommended books to each other, but nobody ever seemed interested in that. So instead, I'm really looking forward to my first book club meeting of the first book club I've ever officially joined.

The point of this post is to remind all the different readers out there that you don't have to read in a vacuum. There are people out there who read like you, who accept their limitations when it comes to time, but still do what they can to come together and share a passion for the written word. Seek them out. Always be looking. And while you're at it, cross your fingers that my brazen personality does okay in this book club because I've got some harsh things to say about this first reading selection (review coming soon.)

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This is probably the most mediocre book I've read in a long time. The word, "meh" comes to mind when thinking of how to describe my impression of it. 

The premise is enticing enough though -- young starlet, in the early 1960's, gets knocked up by famous actor on set of famous movie before being sent to small coastal city in Italy for discretionary purposes. It's a great start, but all that comes after is varying stages of melancholy for the long list of characters, interconnected through a narrative that bounces all over time.

There are way too many characters and too many literary styles mashed into what really should have been a straightforward story. You don't get to know anyone closely, and the narrative is often interrupted with screenplay synopses, play scripts, and excerpts from unfinished novels that do more to disturb the flow of the story than drive it forward.

The back-and-forth movement through time (from past, to present, to places in the middle, and back again) works for the story when the time shifts go by chapter, but by the end, time is just a jumbled mess as the author wraps up the lives of every character, even minor ones I'd already forgotten. It's at this stage paragraphs got so long and runny, I had trouble finishing the book.

The summary of this book may tantalize you. You may think I'm being too harsh in my judgement and consider reading this book anyway...don't. Trust me when I tell you you're better off finding something else to read.