"....few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into [her] heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memories to which, sooner or later - no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover or how much we learn or forget - we will return." -Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Life after the Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver is more than a vocabulary lesson (no, I'm not going to tell you, if you wanna know, you'll have to look it up). It is a work of historical fiction in which I learned more about ancient Mexican civilizations, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the McCarthy era in the United States than I did in thirteen years of compulsory public eduction. I'm not knockin' school. I'm just sayin', either they didn't teach it or I wasn't paying attention.

Ms. Kingsolver got my attention and held it for near on seven hundred pages. As I began to read the Lacuna, I fell deeper under its spell with every page. Let me stop, though, because this isn't a review of the Lacuna. It is my (hopefully coherent) ramblings about how I decide which books to read and whether I end up liking them or not.

The tale begins when our protagonist is a boy, and we soon learn that it will end when he is much, much older. That kind of tale usually gets me right away. I love the epic. By the time we arrive at the house of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo about a quarter of the way through, I was so entranced that I started to ponder: Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, the Lacuna is the type of novel that has me ga-ga from the get-go, so if this book was released four years ago, why am I just reading it now? And really, I'm reading it as a last resort. I picked it up at a yard sale for fifty cents on a summer holiday for lack of anything better to read.

Then it came to me. About four years ago, as I was driving home from work I heard NPR review this book. Maureen Corrigan hated it (read her review here). I remember thinking that she was being a bit harsh and that she couldn't be talking about MY Barbara Kingsolver, but her words must have put doubt in my mind. Over time, I had forgotten this review, but I had also lost all interest in reading the latest work of an author I greatly esteem.

(By the way, I have since read a book of Maureen Corrigan's about how much she loves books. I loved it!  So, no hard feelings, eh, Mo?)

The reviews for the Lacuna weren't all bad.  Many "important" people liked it and it took first place at a few book contests. For me, it was one of those books by which I mark time - my life before I read the Lacuna and life afterward.

I'm sure there is no need to state the obvious for all you literary types and English majors (you can skip the rest of the paragraph). For all others, I'll state it plainly. How I feel about a book is very personal, and should not be based upon the opinion of others, no matter how fashionable or in the know said others might be.

Thanks to Ms. Kingsolver, Ms. Corrigan and yard sales for driving that lesson home. Life after the Lacuna is good!

Do you base book choices on reviews or the opinions of others?

Photos credits: Urban Combing, Jose Antonio Gelado

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Huff's summer reading

Now that I am home, full-time, with an infant and a three year old, I have precious little time to read. We are on holiday for the summer - and so is my reading. Hence, my lack of posts on Huff Reads Stuff. I still think about books, like, all the time, though. So, I thought I'd talk about some of my favorites and readers can take them or leave them as suggestions for something to read this summer.

Compiling this list felt monumental.  For me, reading is an experience that I find difficult to describe (and yet I created a blog about it?). Each book I read changes me, or maybe helps me become who I am. I experience the place, time and characters in the book as if I am there. At times it is so intense, that it's a bit scary. I often go back over and over again, to visit what I felt as I read a book, both in dreams and in dreamier waking moments.

So, this is not simply a list to me, it is a reckoning; a walk through my past.

Okay enough blah, blah, blah.  I present to you Huff''s 19 favorite authors (I'm sure after I post this, I'll think of several more, so I reserve the write to edit):

They are in no particular order. For me, trying to put books in order of favorites would be like listing which child I like best - totally not cool. I also had a little trouble narrowing it down to specific books, so instead of dithering, I decided to just get something down and start with authors.
  1. Walter Mosley - Series: The Easy Rawlins Mystery series - Black Betty is a good place to start; the Socrates Fortlow series - Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned is my favorite; the Fearless Jones series; and the Leonid McGill series. Non-series: The Man in my Basement; Fortunate Son; and The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray. Do not, I repeat, do not, read his Science Fiction, nor his Erotica.
  2. Margaret Atwood - Top 3: The Blind Assassin; The Handmaid's Tale; and Alias Grace. Add Moral Disorder and call it an even 4.
  3. Louise Penny - start with the first in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, Still Life.
  4. Jacqueline Winspear - Maisie Dobbs novels. Maisie is my soul mate.
  5. Janet Evanovich - a bit lowbrow? I love all kinds of books and Stephanie Plum is crazy funny.
  6. Jon Katz - all the dog books and the Suburban Detective series.
  7. Sarah Dunant - several historical fiction novels (love, love, love); the Hannah Wolfe detective series; and Mapping the Edge.
  8. Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre, hello!
  9. Carlos Ruiz Zafon - Shadow of the Wind is his best, but they all put me smack dab in the middle of Barcelona pre-World War II. I literally walked the streets with Daniel. These books helped me appreciate that plot isn't everything. I enjoyed being inside it, regardless of what was happening.
  10. Marion Keyes - Chic lit? Why, yes, yes I do. It's Ireland for Pete's sake.
  11. Alexander McCall Smith - No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series; Isabel Dalhousie series; and Corduroy Mansions series.  I don't care for the 44 Scotland Street series, and I'm lukewarm about the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series.
  12. Philippa Gregory - The Other Boleyn Sister has the most common appeal. I love the others too, but they may be a bit Anglophile for some. I have an unnatural obsession with the courts of Henry VIII, most likely due to past life stuff.
  13. Marge Piercy - In college, the budding feminist in me could not get enough of her. I've read many of her books, my favorites are Gone to Soldiers and Sex Wars.
  14. Alice Walker - The Color Purple; Possessing the Secret of Joy; Meridian; and The Temple of my Familiar.
  15. Toni Morrison - I read all of her books, up until Paradise, at which time I had to stop. Her books haunt me.
  16. Gloria Naylor - Mama Day and Bailey's Café are my favorites.
  17. Barbara Kingsolver - The Poisonwood Bible; Prodigal Summer; and of course, Animal Vegetable, Miracle.  High Tide in Tucson is a good one, too.
  18. John Mortimer - The Rumpole series; Felix in the Underworld; and Quite Honestly, because it is the only book I've ever read that starts with the letter "Q."
  19. Edith Wharton - House of Mirth started it off for me and Mrs. Wharton. I also love The Custom of the Country and The Age of Innocence.  Edith Wharton herself is as fascinating a character as any in her novels.
I would love to hear about your favorite authors, so please comment away!

Photo credit: QuotesEverlasting

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Parishioner by Walter Mosley is not Easy

From what I've seen in the blogosphere, readers generally love Walter Mosley's latest, The Parishioner, which is offered to us as an e-book.  Dear Reader, I do not feel the love.  The best thing I can say about The Parishioner is that it's not terrible.

I like the concept.  A no-name church in a no-name place with an unordained minister.  The congregation contains sinners of the worst kind who have left their lives of heinous deeds behind and are trying to walk the path of righteousness.

Our guy, the Parishioner, has done some terrible things.  Murder not even being the chief among them.  His real crime is not caring about the lives he's destroyed. But once the pastor of the church with no name recruits him, he is a disciple.  It's almost as if he is in a trance.  He leaves the life behind, becomes a newspaper delivery man and does everything the minister tells him in order to be delivered from his sins.

The story revolves around a mission the pastor gives the Parishioner.  Help a fellow sinner atone for her sins by finding the now-grown boys she kidnapped and sold for adoption twenty three years ago.  The Parishioner knows this mission is going to put him smack dab in the middle of the places and people that will temp him back into his evil ways.  No matter, he's up for it.

There are several twists and turns.  Everyone and their mother ends up being involved in the convoluted mystery of what happened to these boys.  The Parishioner even dabbles in romance. 

There are some attractive themes here: can people change; is redemption possible; what exactly is religion, or faith for that matter?

My problem with all this?  This character feels like Mosley put Easy Rawlins, Socrates Fortlow and Leonid McGill in the blender and poured out a smoothie called The Parishioner.  I was somewhat entertained and mildly interested in the outcome, but in the end, I was seriously underwhelmed, and just kept thinking that the people, plot and scenery felt a little recycled.  I expect more from Walter Mosley.  I expect something or someone as good as Easy Rawlins.

There was one part of the book that I LOVED.  The last few pages contained an excerpt from the new Easy Rawlins mystery due out in 2013.  That's right Reader, Easy lives!

Are there books you have read by beloved authors that have let you down?

Photo credit: BugMan50