Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Seven Books

Because I couldn't fit them all in the title:

#1, The Other Boleyn Girl (by Philippa Gregory); #2, Morality for Beautiful Girls and #3, The Kalahari Typing School for Men (by Alexander McCall Smith); #4, Survival in Auschwitz (by Primo Levi); #5, The Heart of the Matter (by Graham Greene); #6, The Virgin's Lover (by Gregory again); and #7, The Gum Thief (by Douglas Coupland).

I'm lumping these seven books together because I read them all over the course of our two-week vacation--mostly on the long plane flights. I figure I might as well just run through them all real quick before I forget my opinions about them.

I thought #1 was riveting, and I generally strongly prefer nonfiction, like Antonia Fraser's books, to historical fiction. I actually never read historical fiction. But for some reason I picked this up as a good airplane book, and it totally was. I couldn't put it down! In fact, I went into every English-language bookstore we passed looking for more in the series. But The Boleyn Inheritance was a big book with huge type, and I skimmed it and it seemed inferior, so I bypassed it in favor of #6, and I was quite frankly disappointed with that one too. All Elizabeth seemed to do was whine, "I'm so afraid! I'm so afraid!" Queen Elizabeth should show some spunk, even early Queen Elizabeth, even Gregory's version of Queen Elizabeth. So very wrong.

Anyway the reason I was in the bookshops in the first place was #2 and #3. I listened to the first two books in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series on audio, which I loved, and which took a while. It turns out that if you're reading the books on paper, they take about ten minutes to read. The series continues to be charming but--and I think I mentioned this before with the series--there are often issues brought up that get resolved way too easily and with a lack of detail. It's not that I want overblown drama, but early on in #3, a rival detective agency starts up. What a perfect plotline for some good drama and tension! But you hear virtually nothing about it again until it's quickly resolved in half a chapter at the end. Weak.

#4 was a book Ian brought along because we visited Auschwitz on our trip (although we did not go to Monowitz, where Levi was.) Obviously this book is harrowing, masterful, and totally beyond critique.

#5 is a reading list book, and the protagonist (Scobie) is quite a Javert character--or almost. (I love Inspector Javert, by the way. My absolute favorite Les Miserables character by a mile.) They are both police officers with a very rigid moral code that basically destroys them in the end. But with Scobie, you somehow don't feel for him as much, because he's clearly an idiot. Javert is just...stubborn. Scobie's decisions seems less consistent and comprehensible. (Trying not to give too much away here.)

#7 is charming--another book purchased in a Prague bookshop, Coupland's latest about a couple of people (a middle aged guy and a young Goth girl) who work at Staples and strike up an unlikely friendship by correspondence. I especially enjoyed the story within the story, Glove Pond, which is very Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? If you like the average Coupland novel (and I find him very love-him-or-hate-him in general) you'll enjoy it, I bet.

The end!

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