Thursday, September 27, 2007

Book Club Redux

I think the fact that I covered the social aspect of our book club night ages ago and am just now getting to the reviews should tell you something about my priorities when it comes to partying vs. literature.

So let that be a warning to you that the following reviews are informal and not only subjective, but subject to time passed since the discussion and wine consumed during the discussion.

Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts
Loved it, loved it, loved it. This was my pick and I think the overall favorite (though maybe tied with Kite Runner). The writing is exquisite; we all copped to rereading passages over and over just for the sheer beauty of them. A big sprawling epic book about the underworld in Mumbai, India we were all fascinated by the autobiographical aspect of it. A convicted bank robber, Roberts escaped a maximum security prison in Australia and fled to Mumbai where he set up a free clinic in the slums and eventually worked as a mobster. He was recaptured later in Germany and wrote Shantaram while serving out his sentence there. Can’t wait for the movie which is to star Johnny Depp.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
We all loved it and thought it moving and beautifully written, but acknowledged that it was difficult to read in places. It led to some pretty heavy discussions about Canada being in Afghanistan and whether we have a responsibility to not only help victims of tyrannical regimes, but to listen to their stories no matter how disturbing or graphic. The Kite Runner is due to be released as a movie soon and the Afghan child actor who plays the rape victim in the story made headlines this week when he claimed that he was tricked into filming the scene and that his family would be persecuted when the movie is released.

19 minutes – Jodi Picoult
Everyone agreed it was a real page turner, if not great literature. It’s a fictional story of a Columbine-type school shooting and how all the characters are impacted. Most everyone liked it a lot better than I did. I found it hard to shut up about how cliché I thought it was and how I thought it was a trashy, beach read dressed up as a serious, issue-oriented book. I also complained about how it was designed to scare (and sell books to) the fearful, white middle class. Yeah – I got pretty self-righteous and irritating during this discussion.

Lullabies for Little Criminals – Heather O’Neill
I liked this book a lot, but I was in the minority. It’s about Baby, a young girl growing up the daughter of a heroin addict and her struggles with foster care, poverty and life on Montreal’s mean streets. I think I might have a sensitivity problem because I found the protagonist's voice somewhat sad, but really funny and refreshing while most of the others were pretty disturbed by the whole thing. We all agreed that we felt lucky none of our children would suffer the neglect that Baby did and we had an interesting discussion about how we would handle the appearance of a child like Baby in our children’s lives.

Law of Dreams – Peter Behrens
Okay, this is the one book that I didn’t read. Everyone seemed to like it quite well but said they picked it expecting it to be more about the Irish famine, a topic of particular interest in our Irish-Canadian family. (Three of us in the book club were in Ireland in April).

Brick Lane: A Novel – Monica Ali
Meh. No one was too crazy about this book. It’s about a woman who immigrates to London, from Bangladesh in the 1980s and while it does offer some insight into the isolation faced by immigrants, it is one slooow read. The underlying theme is fate and whether we truly control our fate. We did have an interesting discussion about how many people in the Third World perceive fate versus the cult of self-actualization that dominates western thinking. So there was that.

The End of the Alphabet – C.S. Richardson
Suzie was the only person in the group who liked this book at all. She even got choked up recalling her favorite part which was lovely and made me a little jealous, because I really wanted to be moved by this book. It’s about a dying man who decides, with his wife, to spend his last days traveling and visiting a place for every letter of the alphabet. I love the concept, but just didn’t dig the book. At all.

A Complicated Kindness – Miriam Toewes
Hated it, hated it, hated it. I think the verdict was pretty much unanimous. How is it possible that eight voracious readers could find virtually no redeeming qualities in a book that was so well-reviewed? I personally couldn’t even finish it and God knows I tried. I found the constant snappy one-liners of the protagonist to be inauthentic and increasingly grating.

All in all, I think there was some disappointment with the crop of books we chose; they were certainly a depressing lot. Anyway, I'm looking forward to next year’s club and not just for the home karaoke follies that followed the discussion.

By the way, if you’ve always wondered whether cosmetic surgery is in my future (and really, who hasn't?) check out my latest Shooting for Hip column over at Mommyblogstoronto.

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stephanie said...

I just have to say that after my last book club meeting, one of us was sick all night, two more were incapacitated, and the rest headed off downtown to keep drinking.

You what though? The Heather O'Neill book looks interesting. Maybe I'll suggest that for our next book.

metro mama said...

We must have similar taste. I loved Lullabies (one of my fave books this year). Hated Complicated Kindness. Thought End of Alphabet was pretty but disappointing. Kite Runner's been lying under my bed for a year, I must get to it.

Anonymous said...

Well written article.