Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Monday, March 16, 2009

The last three books I read

There are three books I’ve read in the last week. Well, actually two and a half books. The first book I started reading back in January and finally finished last Wednesday, but I digress. I wanted to share my thoughts on these three books.

P.S. I love you. By Cecilia Ahern.
I saw the movie before I read the book, and quite frankly and surprisingly found the movie to be better than the book. I keep asking myself if I think the book is bad, but I can’t bring myself to say it’s bad, because it’s simply not. It’s a good book that made me laugh and get teary eyed enough to constitute crying, but after much thinking I came to the conclusion that the book simply has a different mood from the movie. The movie did make me laugh and cry, but it had an upbeat feeling to it-- despite the subject matter, which if you don’t know, is a 30-year-old woman who loses her husband to a brain tumor and must pick up the pieces of her apparently directionless life after he’s gone.

It’s the ultimate chick lit story that in the book is full of subplots of relationships between husband and wife (this particular dynamic is minimal), sister and brother, sister and sister, daughter and mother, woman and her friends, woman and man. The movie is significantly rewritten for the better, in my opinion, because it eliminates a lot of the subplots and concentrates on what I feel the book lacks: the dynamics of the relationship between a woman and her dead husband, before and after his death. The book also lacks a clear picture of who this man that this woman has fallen apart after losing is. The cool thing about the book, as opposed to the movie, is that it was written by an Irishwoman and so it is set in Ireland with Irish characters. The worst part about the book, I think, is that it is entirely too long and slow moving for a mere chick lit book. At over 450 pages, a chick lit book just becomes too much, but what saves this book from the genre it falls under is its ability to present a woman facing a serious challenge in her young life and trying to overcome it with the help of her family, friends and ultimately, dead husband—not many chick-lit books (I don’t think) contain such a heavy storyline.

Songs for the Missing. By Stewart O’Nan.
This is not my usual fare. Reading about a person who’s gone missing and the turmoil for those left behind wondering about their whereabouts is not exactly my cup of tea, but I picked this up on a recommendation. Aside from the writing being superb and leaving me awestruck, I found this novel to be slightly problematic.

Of course, what I find problematic isn’t necessarily so for those who don’t mind an author’s evasiveness on a certain part of a story (or at least that’s how I see it), but I have to tell you that I finished this book and thought: “OK. Did I miss something?”

I realize that the book is not about what happened to the missing person, but is about how her family and friends deal with her disappearance; her father, mother, sister, boyfriend and best friend. What I find problematic is that there is much concentration on a secret the boyfriend and best friend know about Kim, the missing girl, but that we never really have explained to us. We sort of have to put the little bits and pieces together on our own, even though we still don’t feel sure we have figured it out once we do. I found myself going back and rereading paragraphs and chapters to see if maybe I missed the part where this secret is explained, but it never was which annoyed me, given how prominent it became in the story (there were moments I felt like the friend and boyfriend each know something, making it two secrets). It was prominent enough to cause a rift between these friends of Kim’s and her family. This rift causes the family to go so far as to not allow Kim’s friends to attend a memorial service for her. When something is that important to cause that big a conflict in a story, I want to know details, otherwise I just get annoyed.

Other than that, I found this book to be very well-written and well-constructed.

The Reader. By Bertrand Schlink.
This was a short book. At just a shade under 220 pages, it packs a lot in a little bit of space. Well, it packed it very well, because the characters were fleshed out very well for me—there were really only two complete characters in this story. From the first page, I found it to be engrossing. Though I have yet to see the movie, I don’t know if the fact that I know Kate Winslet plays Hanna Schmitt made it easy for me to picture her character in the flesh, but I also felt that way about Michael Berg, the protagonist and narrator of the story.

What was interesting about this translated-from-German book is that it asked a lot of questions that made me pause and try to come up with an answer. It is very philosophical and reminded me a great deal of Milan Kundera’s way of probing the reader to really and conscientiously try to put her- or himself in the character’s shoes. It’s quite an intense and haunting book because of this, and one that I highly recommend.

I don’t know what I will read next. Maybe Milan Kundera’s “Life is Elsewhere,” or Ian McEwen’s “Atonement.”

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