Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Reading for the Winter Doldrums

For me, there's nothing like a good book to help me get through the winter doldrums. Here are the books I've been reading lately to transport me out of my freaking apartment and help alleviate cabin fever.

The Monsters of Templeton
by Lauren Groff

I can barely believe this is Groff's first novel. It is impeccable and so much fun! Home from college because of an affair with her professor, Willie now on the hunt to find out who is her father after her mother finally admits to it being one of the men in their small New England town. The narrative switches from past to present and comes through the voices of many characters, most of whom are part of the town founding family that Willie to. Woven throughout the story of the people who live or lived in Templeton is the story of the monster in their lake that, at the beginning of the novel, is found floating dead in the water. All about family secrets, town secrets and the way they all eventually come out, Monsters of Templeton was a book that I was barely able to put down.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This book is one of those books about books that can either be awesome or irritatingly self-referential. This one was the former. It reminded me of Italo Calivino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveler if that had a more modernist story telling style instead of being fragmented and postmodern. The Shadow of the Wind is about a boy who is given a book to guard by his father. His book is by an author whose books have been systematically burnt by an unknown person. His guardianship of the book leads our hero to falling in love, investigating his author's life, and becoming helplessly entangled in the affairs that led to the book burnings and that now threaten his own book. Part mystery, part love story and part love letter to literature, this was more fun to read than I think I can convey by just telling about the story.

The Concubine's Daughter by Pai Kit Fai

I love books about how generations affect one another over the years like Concubine's Daughter did. It is the story of three women, a grandmother, mother and her daughter and how each one's life went towards making her daughter's life better. The story is of two women coming of age at different times and with different, if similar, challenges as poor, self-educated girls who are struggling to be themselves in a culture that wants to use them and discard them. It is also two love stories, with the mother and the daughter both falling in love with European "barbarians" who also refuse to accept the Chinese cultural institutions as law. Through their journals, the grandmother and mother look after their daughters, sharing their wisdom and strength of character. And it's just a damn well told story.

The Crow Road
by Ian Banks

Set in Scotland, this story is about a whiny college guy named Prentice who learns that his life's not so bad and to just grow up and deal with it already. Death has a central theme throughout; the novel begins with his grandmother's funeral and other deaths occur throughout. I felt like this book was really a mystery disguised as a coming-of-age novel, as Prentice as family secret that proves both his aunt and his uncle were murdered by another member of his large and wealthy family. While most of the story is told from the POV of Prentice, it also flashes back to the past to show his father's and uncles' interactions that later become significant in unraveling the mysterious murders. There's also lots about partying, unrequited love and the problems of getting along with one's family. This book was pretty much just endlessly surprising and a lot of fun as well.

You read anything good lately?

Related posts:
Anthropomorphized Animal Comic Books
3 Books Every Woman Should Read
My Top 10 Books of 2008

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Jules Bowen said...

Chant to Ganesha, remover of obstacles: OM GUM GANAPATAYAY NAMAHA. Works quickly to bring things back online. Try it. :) I did and I have more readings than I know what to do with! Much love and many hugs. XXOOXX

May said...

Thanks :)