Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What's on Your Nightstand: NOT MUCH Edition!!

Thanks in part to my "Monarch of the Glen" marathon I haven't read much this month! I've also had a hard time connecting with the right audio books for my long daily commute. Books that were interesting stopped being interesting. And, I just plain picked some lousy books! Even bad months do have their gems, though, so here goes!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating biography and science story all rolled into one. I know almost zip about science, but found myself sitting in the car listening to "just a little more" each day. A cell culture taken from a low-income African American woman turned out to be the golden-egg-laying-goose for science. That's the simple part. The more intriguing part is the story of how Mrs. Lacks family dealt with this. Mrs. Lacks grew up in an isolated, impoverished area of Virginia that was kept cut-off from mainstream society by first slavery, then reconstruction and finally Jim Crow. Even in her current-day descendents there is a surreal innocence about science so much so that listening to it brought to mind not contemporary conversation, but a journal of Margaret Mead written on some forgotten island. It's the harsh reality of what was done (and is still done) to African Americans in this country that makes this story so riveting. The Lacks family has endured some of the worst treatment this country can dole out. Henrietta, her elder daughter and consequently her younger daughter have suffered in ways that no middle class white woman like myself can even comprehend. This story will continue to beckon to Book Clubs for generations. Every woman alive should read it and be grateful for the medical advances that came thru Henrietta and to atone for the ill-treatment this family has suffered. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

A Distant Thunder by Anne Topham was a fascinating read that I enjoyed slowly over the last two months. The book is the author's memoir of her time as one of the governesses of Kaiser Wilhelm II's only daughter, Princess Viktoria. It was, of course, interesting to see the Kaiser as his daughter knew him, but what was more interesting was how the attitudes of the Hollenzollern Court helped pave the way for the Nazis. The militarism, the anti-semitism (although not on the part of the Kaiser himself apparently) and the very prescribed roles for men and women. Fascinating social history. An excellent choice for anyone who enjoys reading about royalty in general and the descendants of Queen Victoria especially. A Distant Thunder by Anne Topham
There is so much to love in The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie , but I ended up NOT loving it. I did love that the author's family, like mine, didn't care for the tv version with Michael Landon and preferred instead to watch WKRP in Cincinnati (and who wouldn't?). I loved that she lived in Chicago (one of my favorite cities), that she worked in publishing and that she seemed to share my sense of humor. And I REALLY loved her response to making butter. But after a while it all sounded alike. And, after a while, I got tired of the ever-so-polite Christian bashing (no I don't mean it for those survivalist freaks). Snark only carries a book so far. Her passion for Little House should have carried the book, but her attitude got in the way. As an editor she should have known better. Is this worth reading? Of course--especially if you've ever dreamed of forcing the family into an RV and heading out for Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota or Missouri to see the various places Laura lived. It's a great reality check. It's so fun in so many places--it just should have been way better. The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie , by Wendy McClure.

I was very excited when I read the premise of this book--a girl can "taste" the emotions of the people involved in growing, processing and cooking her food. It made me instantly think of that little touch of fantasy or whimsy in Sarah Addison Allen's fun novels. Sadly, this was not the case. In places it was just plain weird. While mostly "ok," the prose often sounded like an over-reaching MFA student trying to stand out from the pack. Here are some choice examples:

  1. a pepper "PILLAR" instead of shaker or cellar
  2. "a purple-glassed" (votive candle)
  3. "during the babysit" or even "in the babysits"
  4. "[her] quicknesses"
  5. [cheeks or lips] glistering

I was interested enough (just) to finish it, but at best I can only say it's worth maybe 2 out of 5 stars. Add to this the fact that the author was the reader of the audio version (not always a good idea--case in point "Wrinkle in Time" read by the lisping Madeline L'Engle) and you have a not very satisfying fiction experience. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.

Now, take a minute to head over to 5 Minutes for Books to see what's on the other nightstands this month.


Modern Day Disciple said...

I enjoyed reading your brief reviews and thoughts! The Immortal Life... looks great. As does a Distant Thunder. I love memoirs.
Oh, thank you also for your input @ Conroy at my Blog. I picked up The Prince Of Tides paperback for 50 cents at the library book table, but have no desire to read it! The Great Santini it shall be I suppose. I did fall in love with him as a writer but was not sure which to read first of his works. Thanks!

Hopewell said...

Prince of Tides was a tough one--very dark.

Lauren said...

Thanks for sharing your reviews! The Wilder life looks interesting, but I am glad to read your honest comments. It may be further down on my list now!

Lauren from 5M4B

Susan said...

I've gotta read the Little House Book (would you believe I've never seen WKRP in Cincinatti??), although I'm quite sure some of the author's opinions will be pinging my annoy-o-meter as well :)
This looks like quite a bit of reading to me!

Hopewell said...

Susan: I threw back more than I read by far. Annoying, boring, stupid were the themes in those! I bet WKRP is on youtube. It's still an extremely well-written, funny show!

Lisa notes... said...

I'd like to read about Henrietta Lacks. Sounds so interesting.

When an author reads their own book, it's almost sure to be the death toll for me. For some reason I have a hard time connecting; I'd prefer a professional reader to go along with their professional writing.

Nancy said...

Loved your post today! I have Henrietta Lacks on my iPod, hope to get to it really soon. I haven't heard of A Distant Thunder but it sounds fascinating. As for The Wilder Life, I've only heard great things about it so it's always good to hear an opposing opinion, especially since it seems that often I don't love a book that others do. And as for Lemon Cake... I couldn't agree more! I though it started out so strong and had such a great premise, but then kind of petered out. It's like she didn't quite know how what to do with this great idea she had.

Hopewell said...

Nancy: you are exactly right. I kept thinking Lemon Cake should have been a short story, but an editor talked her into making it a novel!

Ilene said...

Looks like a great list! I think I have to add The Wilder Life to my list. Have to agree with you on Lemon Cake too. What a great idea that went nowhere.

Jennifer said...

I think it was bekahcubed who read the Henrietta Lacks book as well. It sounds so interesting to me that I'll probably have to get over to the library and get it!

dstb said...

I read Henrietta Lacks in 2010. I don't think it made my top 10, but it was good and I would definitely recommend it.

A Distant Thunder sounds good.

I just finished The River of Doubt about a trip Teddy Roosevelt took down an uncharted river in the Amazon. I really enjoyed it.

Thanks for sharing.

Hopewell said...

Sarah--I loved that book, and the one she wrote on Garfield is good, too.

Monica said...

Your reviews are very entertaining. I have only read one Memoir. But you have me thinking that I may need to try another...:) Thanks for sharing!

dstb said...

The Garfield book is on my TBR list. One of my friends recommended it. I hadn't realized it was by the same author until after I finished the Roosevelt one.


Hopewell said...

Monica--Memoirs are one of my favorite genres! Even if the person makes it all sound better than it was it's usually interesting.