Book Eight: The Story of a Marriage

The Story of a Marriage, Andrew Sean Greer

I am so glad I loved this book, because my friend Jenn has given me a couple of books to read and I didn't like either of them so very much. So when she put this one on my doorstep I thought, "Oh no! How will I be able to tell her that I disliked this one, too?!" But not this time. Oh my goodness, what a book!

I suspect people either love or hate this (judging by the Amazon reviews, which, by the way, I advise you not to read, unless you want the worst kind of hateful spoilers). Some people found the narrator, Pearlie, unbelievable, and I suppose if you feel that way you won't be able to buy a word of what she says. But I found her story lovely and quite believable because people are strange creatures, and that is, ultimately, what this book is about. "We think we know the ones we love," the book opens, and is repeated throughout. It reads a bit like a poem, at times, with the feel of a short story, but I mean both of those things in the best of ways. It is beautifully written and the story is perfectly told and I found myself to able to imagine everything clearly and precisely.

So thank you, Jenn, for the great little book.

Book Seven: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I'm trying to figure out what it is about books that makes you accept and love everything about them even when you know they aren't great books. You know that they might be trite or overdone or not even well written, and yet you let them into your heart regardless. And then what about those books where you don't get that at all? Where you never really click and so their charms are useless on you. Is it just what your frame of mind happens to be at the moment you start reading? Or weird preconceptions you have about the book?

This highly popular book is 100% preciousness. And yet I think I needed a huge dose of preciousness in my life right about now. This idealized Guernsey and its residents were exactly the kind of world I wanted to imagine, even though I am sure it is so very far from any actual truth.

Did anyone out there hate this book? Can you tell me, in a tangible way, why? Or did we all buy it, hook, line and sinker? A little part of me really did want to dislike this book, and yet I shut up that little voice pretty quickly and just set out to enjoy every single word from the get-go.

Book Six: The House at Sugar Beach

The House at Sugar Beach, Helene Cooper

I'm not really the biggest fan of memoirs. I find them a bit, "And then this happened, and then I did this, and this person is so-and-so, and that person is so-and-so, and I did that, and she did that," et cetera et cetera. You know, lots of tell, not enough show. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule (for example the thoroughly awesome The Tender Bar or the very funny Kick Me), but I usually don't gravitate toward this genre for those reasons.

This one was pretty good, though, but ultimately, for me, still fell into the usual memoir trappings. I learned some things about Liberia that I previously wasn't aware of, I found her writing pretty decent and, at some moments, compelling, and I was even surprised by finding my eyes welling up with tears near the end of the story. But I have this sneaking suspicion that in a few months I probably won't really remember much about this. Not because Helene Cooper's story isn't interesting or tragic or that I don't care about the plight of the Liberian people, but because the telling of it didn't grab me and hold me tight and carry me through the story. Perhaps I'm history's greatest monster for feeling this way about this book, but eh, I'm willing to take that chance if it means demanding great writing at all times.

Book Five: The True Deceiver

The True Deceiver, Tove Jansson

If someone found some lost crate containing 52 previously unpublished books by Tove Jansson, I would put all other books aside and just read her words for a year solid. She creates worlds that I want to inhabit. Even when they are as bleak and cold as the one in The True Deceiver. Where The Summer Book captured the innocence and sweetness of childhood, The True Deceiver is more about the lies and suspicions and conflicts of adulthood. It feels so very allegorical without losing its sense of real characters and real situations or sacrificing the integrity of the story's inhabitants with a trite ending meant to teach us something simple and true. The two women who make up the central conflict--Katri and Anna--feel so very real it's easy to imagine them in your world. But the story is about something bigger, too, and that's what makes it compelling. I'm not sure I can say much more without either A, ruining the plot or B, making it all sound completely ridiculous, so I'll just shut up and admire the beautiful cover some more (a Tove Jansson illustration, natch).

Book Four: Mormon Country

Mormon Country, Wallace Stegner

I love Mormons. Let me rephrase that, I am fascinated by Mormons. What a strange, and curious group of people. I mean, in general I probably summed up my feelings about Mormons and religion in general here, but this book discusses more tangible, day-to-day aspects of Mormonism. It isn't so much a history, as a collection of essays about the Mormons and gentiles that populate that particular large expanse of the West.

I also love Wallace Stegner. If anyone can write, he can. What I never knew about him is that he spent time growing up in Salt Lake City. A gentile among the Mormons. And what's clear from this book is that he has a clear respect for Mormons and their culture. The essays in here cover everything from the United Order to polygamy to the strength of Mormon communities to the lost Deseret Alphabet to the various industries in the area and more. All told simply but beautifully, personally but knowledgeably.

I honestly do share a lot of Stegner's admiration for Mormons. I find it so amazing that a group can be so united together and constantly work so hard toward collective goals. Since they first settled Salt Lake--actually, since they made their way across the horribly desolate expanse of the midwest in order to settle in Utah--they have been a consistently united group. Hence the Deseret analogy: the honeybees working for the good of the hive. But what I wonder is, can you have that kind of togetherness if you are not united against something else? Meaning, it's us vs. them? Because the "them" in Mormonism seems to be anyone who is remotely different from the straight, white, God-believing norm. I really do wish I had any inclination to believe in god, because I am quite envious of people who have a group that they can depend on, who support them. I just wish there didn't have to be a cuckoo nutso* religion behind it.

*Again, I am not singling Mormons out with the cuckoo nutso thing. I am including all religions here. All of you! I love you all, but find you all equally crazy!