mmm… Book Check!
Monday Morning Mid-Month Book Check is a way for us to share what we are reading at the moment, no matter how brilliant, menial, or embarrassing.
I just finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I am, once again, late to the party on this book, but I finished it in time to see the movie. Does that count? Anyway, I’d heard some conflicting reviews, which made me a little cautious to begin reading this one. I picked it up last week, and within 15 pages I was hooked. As Darth Vader might say, “The voice is strong with this one,” and, as a reader, voice is one of the crucial elements that I require of a story. The book is set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. The world is on the verge of some crucial events, and Jackson is a flashpoint on the issue of civil rights. The story has three narrators: Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter. Aibileen and Minny are black domestic servants while Skeeter is a rich white girl recently returned from college with the dream of becoming a writer. Skeeter sells a book idea to a publisher in New York – she’s going to write about what its like to work as a black maid in the white homes of the South. The only problem is, she needs to convince at least a dozen maids to tell her their stories. Aibileen and Minny sign on first. As each narrator takes a chunk of the story, we see many different aspects of the white/black tension present in Mississippi at the time as well as peeking into each narrator’s personal life. Some critics have said that this is yet another book about black people’s lives from a white person’s point of view, and while they’re not wrong, they are missing the point. The author has included an afterward, which, in contrast to the usual afterward full of hot air and empty words, is a part of the story that pulled it all together for me. She says, “I don’t presume to think that I know what it really felt like to be a black woman in Mississippi, especially in the 1960s. I don’t think it is something any white woman on the other end of a black woman’s paycheck could ever truly understand. But trying to understand is vital to our humanity.” This attempt, while undoubtedly imperfect, is still an attempt, and it if it has opened a few more minds, it has done its job.
I have a little bit of book ADD right now, mostly because I’m reading at least 2 books and shoving in graphic novels in between.
The first book I’m reading is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (mostly due to Meggan’s recommendation last month). It’s the story of Oskar Schell and his quest to solve a riddle left by his father, who died in the World Trade Center. Oskar is one of the best narrators I’ve read, his voice is distinctive and fascinating, but also rings true of any 9-year-old you might happen upon with his stream-of-consciousness though process. I’m excited to get into the bullk of the story, since I’m only about 100 pages in.
The second book is quite a different one, in terms of tone and audience. It’s called Leviathan and it is by Scott Westerfeld (who you might know from the Uglies, Pretties and Specials trilogy of books). Leviathan is a re-imagining of World War One, with the addition of steam powered walking artilleries (think The Empire Strikes Back) and genetically modified animals. The Clankers, consisting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and her allies, and the Darwinists, England and her allies, are coming to odds due to their differing opinions of industrialization. We view the story from the point of view of Deryn, a girl disguised as a boy in the English air force, and from Alek, the crown prince and heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire after his parents are murdered in Sarajevo.
I really enjoy how facts are intertwined with the steam-punk elements, it’s a nice history lesson. The one aspect that nags at me is that he Darwinists have genetically modified and combined animals to make things such as flying whales, which rival the hydrogen powered Zeppelins of the Clankers. It’s a rather large leap of faith that they are capable of such advanced technology, not to mention the moral problems of enslaving and changing animals.
I won’t bore you with a summary of the graphic novels, but I read Echo Volume 1, 2, and 3 by , Chew Volume 1 and 2 by, and have just started The Walking Dead Volume 1 by Robert Kirkman.
My tendency to get overzealous about books and start five at a time has really come back to haunt me, and I’m now determined to stick closely with one at a time until the task is completed. Right now, I’m getting deep into Six Days by Elinor Glyn. She was a well known romance novelist of the 1920s (I hope somebody out there has heard of It, the origin of the term “It girl,” which was made into a movie starring Clara Bow. That was Elinor Glyn). Anyway, the story follows Laline Lester and David Lamont, who first meet in Washington then again cross paths on a steamer bound for Europe. I am only halfway through the book, and have just begun the “six days” stage: David Lamont’s six days of vacation time between assignments. Of course there is a dash of mystery and political intrigue, what with the recent end of World War I, and the blurb promises a cave collapse and plenty of grand adventures for our heroes before the story ends. This book was lent to me by the erstwhile Mimsi Marsh, who masterfully discussed the book on her blog (warning: she does give away major plot points, so if you have any hope of reading the book, you want to only read the beginning of her post – it is worth it). Sometimes, a romantic adventure from the 1920s is the best cure for a serious case of summer.