Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Quick Note on a Few Good Books

I haven't been reading much fiction of late (though I can tell you quite a lot of theory about attachment in adoption!), but I have read a few good books that I wanted to bring attention to, in case you're looking for a good read:

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout.

Mennonites Don't Dance, by Darcie Friesen Hossack

Left Neglected, by Lisa Genova.

Oddly, two of these three are volumes of short stories.  I say oddly because I'm not a fan of short fact, I often come close to hating books of short stories, primarily because I find that I just get into the story and it abruptly ends; I wind up feeling ripped off or short-changed that I can't follow the characters' lives any more.  I'm one who loves sinking deep and getting lost into the storyline of a good book, and so short stories usually leave me frustrated and dissatisfied.

However, when I (reluctantly) read Olive Kitteridge, just in time for my April book club meeting, I was pleasantly surprised.  Shocked, actually.  Now, it's perhaps a bit of an unusual book of short stories, in that the main character, Olive Kitteridge, is mentioned in each of the short stories - sometimes quite a lot, but on one or two occasions, just once by name.  Somehow, Strout weaves together a picture of Kitteridge through the use of short stories told from the perspective of various people within her circle of acquaintance...and it works.  The themes are somewhat sad (depression, bad communication, aging, love, grief, loneliness, betrayal), but Olive's character is carefully and intricately and slowly wrought, and it is beautifully written.  It is, incidentally, one of the few times in the past five+ years, that most of our book club members gave a book an outstanding review.  I was one of them...I gave it a nine out of ten rating...and I never go higher than nine.

Another book of short stories that completely surprised me was Darcie Friesen Hossack's book, Mennonites Don't Dance.  When I ordered the book through the library system, I didn't know that it was a series of short stories (otherwise I probably wouldn't have wanted to read it) - I assumed that it would be something like a book that I read last year and enjoyed (well, I enjoyed the first half of was killer funny in the first half; dreary and boring and blah blah blah in the second half), which was called Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen.  Well, I was dumbfounded to read Friesen Hossack's book - it was a compilation of short fiction stories about various (Mennonite) characters and families living on the Canadian prairies.  The stories explore how families work, essentially; how families struggle with the conflict between tradition and change.  The characters are relatable and realistic and flawed.  The author's writing is haunting and poignant, and one doesn't need to be Mennonite in order to appreciate this gem of a storyteller.

Left Neglected, by Lisa Genova, is another book that I quite enjoyed last month.  I'd been waiting for this book to come out for some time, having very much liked her first book, Still Alice.  This one did not disappoint.  Though Genova again writes about a woman who struggles with neurological deficits, she does so in a different way than her first novel, and I found this one captivating as well.  There is something about Genova's writing style that draws me in - her characters are, somehow, the embodiment of someone that we fear becoming (as a result of dementia or, in the case of this book, an accident), but she writes about them with compassion and humour, and perhaps with a goal of revealing something about the resilience of human nature.  I will read her next book, too...whenever it comes out.

Anyway, I haven't had a huge amount of time to read of late, and I probably won't yet in the near/medium future, but in case you're looking for a good read, I hope I've turned you on to at least a few!

1 comment:

  1. That's great Ruth...I am finally finally reading "Cutting for Stone"!