Thursday, May 7, 2009

Third Annual Island Retreat

J and I are in Friday Harbor, celebrating our second anniversary. We arrived yesterday, and made a beeline to our favorite places: the toy store and the book store. We live a well-balanced life, don't you think? One shark mask, Pirate Mad Libs, and several memoirs later, we checked in to our home away from home: Friday Harbor House. We've been lounging ever since. Everything we want to see is within walking distance. We love it here. It's great to be newly married and know we're creating a tradition, since our honeymoon was spent on Orcas Island, and we're repeating our first anniversary getaway.

All this uninterrupted reading time has been wonderful. Since I last blogged about books, I've come across some great book lists and an inspiring blog reviewing a new book every day. There are three bookstores here in the harbor, and we've been to each multiple times already. There's something so inviting about walls covered in bookshelves. Is it the lighting? Those little stands that display the books like a picture frame or a decorative plate? Multiple copies lined up in perfect symmetry? Book spines that sigh when they are opened for the first time? In a bookstore, beams of light seem to shine from the heavens across glossy covers and fibrous pages. My confidence in completing them all knows no bounds.

In the last two months, the pile of books I've finished has grown. This has taken commitment. I tend to be a fast-food-consumer kind of reader, content with snippets and magazine blurbs and my daily blogroll (have you seen the list lately? It's getting out of hand). So I feel very proud to tell you these are the books I've read in the last 8 weeks.

Devil in the Details by Jennifer Traig

This is the book I listened to on CD while cleaning. You gotta start somewhere, right? The author writes about her Jewish upbringing and a childhood of angst and ardor. It was interesting to learn how the tenants of Judaism created an outlet (or an excuse) for her obsessive compulsive behavior. For example, while preparing for her bat mitzvah she met with a rabbi to learn some Hebrew and Jewish customs. When she learned the rules for kosher eating (which her family didn't follow) she became super-vigilant in her own diet, making sure meat and dairy never touched. She'd go so far as to re-wash all her dishes. She studied the Torah and began to follow the laws for personal cleanliness, and would wash her hands all the time (only drying them on clean paper towels that hadn't touched the plastic packaging, since the glue might contain something unclean). She took religious observance to an extreme and struggled to find a balance between observing her faith and managing her OCD.

I enjoyed this author. She was funny and personal and laid it all out in the open. I did not appreciate, however, the voice of the narrator who read the book on my CDs. Annoying. She tried too hard to sound cynical and ironic and clever, and missed a lot of poignancy just in her tone of voice. Good motivation to pick up the actual book next time.

Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray

This book was total fluff. It was on one of the reading lists of a blogger I like, so I gave it a try. It's the story of a middle-aged woman who has a lot on her plate: husband loses job, divorced parents move in with her, bratty teenage daughter gives her grief. Her way of dealing with stress is to bake cakes. She decides to turn her coping mechanism into a money-maker and starts her own business. I didn't take anything significant away from this novel (except an appetite), but it was fun to read and I finished it quickly. Not all reading has to be deep, and this was a good example.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

This novel definitely had some depth. The protagonist tells the story of her life in the context of the two generations preceding her, jumping back and forth between her own nuclear family, her mother's family (highlighting her aunts' and uncles' relationship with their stepmother), and her grandmothers' family. This made for quite a large cast of characters. The story line seemed disjointed at times, but all the loose ends come together and the result is really moving. I couldn't put the book down for long, lest I forget who's who. Amazon says this about the book:

"I exist!" exclaims Ruby Lennox upon her conception in 1951, setting the tone for this humorous and poignant first novel in which Ruby at once celebrates and mercilessly skewers her middle-class English family. Peppered with tales of flawed family traits passed on from previous generations, Ruby's narrative examines the lives in her disjointed clan, which revolve around the family pet shop. But beneath the antics of her philandering father, her intensely irritable mother, her overly emotional sisters, and a gaggle of eccentric relatives are darker secrets--including an odd "feeling of something long forgotten"--that will haunt Ruby for the rest of her life.

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

Another intimate story of family life. This was the first book by Annie Dillard I've read and boy, she does not waste one syllable. Every sentence packed a punch, and could stand alone as a meaningful quote even out of context. I got a little lost in the poetry of her writing since I'm not used to such a flowery, "more-than-meets-the-eye" style, but I was invested in the characters from chapter one and continued reading for their sake. Here's a great summary I found:

Dillard brings her renowned skills as a naturalist to their full height in this lush character study of a young couple in post-war Provincetown in a story that moves through their meeting, marriage, separation, reunion, and deaths. Who loves more, men or women, characters muse early on. And do they love differently? [Readers] will be as enchanted by these unconventional lovers as they will be by the waves and stars that seem to give their lives a reason to continue. Secondary characters merge with the ever-changing landscape, offering shades of light or dark.

Not a Happy Camper by Mindy Schneider

This was a fun, light hearted read about a Jewish summer camp. The back of the book says, "Mindy Schneider went to a summer camp in Maine in the 1970s that was run by a con artist who lied about the facilities and duped nice kids into spending eight weeks at a dump where it rained every day. It was the best summer she ever had."

Equal parts memoir and adolescent drama, this book made me laugh out loud several times. Although I never went away to camp as a kid, the story still rings true as the author describes how hard she tried to fit in, find her place in the social scene, and make a good impression. Reliving the awkwardness of teenage-dom was excruciating, but with an adults perspective on the highs and lows, it was also refreshing. I think I need to read something else about Judaism, since this is the second book I've read that describes that faith from the guilt-ridden vantage point of teen girls.

Next in my pile of books to read:

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

What are you reading?

1 comment:

  1. I'm reading Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I want some kind of reassurance that this doesn't qualify as chick lit.