Book Ennui

I’ve said it before: I read a lot.

I always like to have a new book on deck, which is one reason we visit our local library so often. But the last couple of books I have read have left me rather flat.

First up was Jodie Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. I’ve read Picoult before, and while I’m not crazy about her narrative trick of writing each chapter from a different character’s point of view, it doesn’t bother me enough to give up on her. I actually picked up this novel because it was on my library’s “banned books” shelf for Banned Books Weeks.

I’m not 100 percent sure WHY My Sister’s Keeper was a challenged book. I’m still trying to track that down. (Anyone?) It deals with a family with three children, one of whom is very ill and one of whom who was deliberately conceived to help her sister with her illness. It was supposed to be a one-time thing — the second daughter was to provide umbilical cord blood to her older sister to put the latter into remission from her cancer. The book takes place with the younger daughter, now 13 years old, going to a lawyer to get medically emancipated from her parents so that she doesn’t have to donate a kidney to her sister.

It is a well-written book, and the language perfectly captures the agony of a parent (or parents) with a sick child. All the characters are compelling and fully realized, with complex reasons for doing what they are doing. I would recommend it.

BUT: If the book is hyped as having a “shocking twist of an ending” (or whatever the wording was), I have news for Ms. Picoult and her publishers: a savvy reader is going to figure it out. I saw a couple of “twists” coming MILES (chapters, I suppose) away from their actual revelation.

Has anyone else read this book? Did you have a similar reaction, or were you surprised?

The other book that pretty much left me feeling “meh” was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. (*SPOILER ALERT*!) I had heard so many amazing critiques about this book, about how moving and affective it was, how the ending was so devastating. As I was reading, I kept trying to guess what would happen, what would be revealed. Turns out: Nothing. There’s no big twist at the end; there’s no sudden change in course for any of the characters. I suspect this novel was supposed to outrage the reader because of what the central characters are (which I won’t give away here, but it’s no mystery in the book; they talk about their role in society quite openly).

Never Let Me Go is beautifully written. That’s the highest praise I have for it. None of the characters is particularly compelling, although the relationship between the three central characters is interesting. And as to their purpose and their narrative… I guess there’s not much of an arc, and the language, while well-crafted, is never exciting or passionate. The whole story is related rather matter-of-factly, and there are no glimpses behind the curtain into the larger issues (medical ethics, for example). It is all very blah, frankly.

I was utterly unmoved and quite disappointed when I finished the book.

The other book I read recently was Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked, which I liked just fine, but I then again, I like his writing style and characters. High Fidelity is probably still my favorite by him, although I really enjoyed About a Boy, too. I just like reading his novels. They certainly aren’t life changing.

++

So, got anything really juicy for me? I am thinking about doing food books for November, the same way I did scary stories last October. (No more Michael Pollan, though, please.) Leave your suggestions in the comments! I’ve resorted to re-reading Sookie Stackhouse novels for the time being. And I’m thinking of re-reading The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I thought was excellent.

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13 thoughts on “Book Ennui

  1. Well, of course, I’ll say you should read my books, especially since I’m donating 50% of my royalties in November and December to charity…

    But they’re not food themed.

    I hated My Sister’s Keeper. I thought it was manipulative, and I resented that. I didn’t read Never Let Me Go; I tend to stay away from Oprah books. I’ve not liked too many of them.

    I really liked Julie Hyzy’s State of the Onion, a fun mystery set in the White House kitchen. If you like mysteries, there are a TON of food-related books out there. That’s because they can put a recipe in the back of the book and talk about it during the book itself and it’s fun.

    And the Nick Hornby … What’s the one about the guy on the roof? Long Way Down? I really liked that one.

    Hmm. I’ll have to think of more food-related books. No need to leave you in a reading funk!

  2. I didn’t even know that “My Sister’s Keeper” was banned! I was actually caught off guard by the ending and remember crying when I read it. That was the first Picoult novel I read and have read most of her other ones since, although I prefer her newer books much more than her older ones.

    I recently bought “Her Fearful Symmetry” by Audrey Niffenegger but haven’t read it yet. I’ve heard mixed reviews about it.

    I read a pretty cute food book recently but it’s only available on the Kindle. The author, Jenny Gardiner, is originally from Pittsburgh! I know I’ve read a few other books that had recipes between chapters that had to do with the storyline, but I don’t remember the names of the books. If I think of them, I’ll let you know!

    • I had heard from other readers of My Sister’s Keeper about the “surprise” ending, and the copy of the book I had touted it in the summary materials. So, yeah, I was looking for a “shocker”. Again, I wouldn’t say it was a bad book, and I certainly will look for more of her stuff. I really think she does a great job with her characters and their voices.

      I want to say “Like Water for Chocolate” is one of those recipe books. I think I read it before but maybe I am thinking of “Chocolat”. I had thought Niffenegger had published another, but I couldn’t think of what it was called. I’ll have to check that one out — I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife.

  3. My recommendations will be more in the fantasy/scifi end of things because that is often what I like to read. If you’re looking for non-fiction, I’ve got some recommendations there, too.

    First up, “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore. I haven’t read it yet but my neighbor recommended it to me because I loved Hunger Games so much. I’ll probably get into it when I finish with the book I’m reading now on the later Roman Empire (see, toldya I read non-fiction, too. :P) She said it was good and she really enjoyed it. I generally agree with her opinion on books with the glaring exception of her loving the Twilight books. *barf*

    Next, the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy by Tad Williams. They are “The Dragonbone Chair,” “Stone of Farewell,” and “To Green Angel Tower.” They are l-o-n-g. When Williams sits down to write and epic he does not kid around. However, he creates a world that is fully realized and complex characters that he spends time developing. The story is engrossing, too.

    Next up, I think you’d really enjoy Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels. As someone who loves language, I loved these books for how they play with words. Fforde is also very imaginative with his world and while it is set in the world we know, it’s also one that is a little cock-eyed, too. I wish I could explain it to you, but you really just have to read them. There are 5 books now: “The Eyre Affair,” “Lost in a Good Book,” ‘The Well of Lost Plots,” “Something Rotten,” and “First Among Sequels.”

    If you’re interested in the non-fiction rec’s, let me know!

    • I like just about anything, including sci/fi/fantasy very much so — except for the Twilight books. No thank you.

      These will all go on the list! Non-fiction recs are welcome.

      Along the food theme, I am thinking of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Vegetable Mineral. I think that’s the title, anyway.

  4. Water for Elephants -Sara Gruen
    Three Cups of Tea -Greg Mortenson n/f

    Not food books… but very very good. They take you somewhere else for sure.
    Brewing up a Business – Sam Calagione (maybe interesting for the hubby as well.)

    I think the banned book thing is simply about ethics/controversy of stem cells/genetic manipulation stuff. I haven’t read it, and wanted to until now. 😉

    • Water for Elephants is an excellent book. I will look into those other two. they’re about consumables! That can count for November!

      thanks for the suggestions. And the insight into why My Sister’s Keeper may be banned some places. It is a very good story. it’s just when you hear the ending is a twist, you’re going to figure it out. Happens to me with movies, too. Although my sister takes the cake for the movie thing. We were like 10 minutes into “The Sixth Sense” and she’s like (*SPOILER ALERT*), “He’s dead.” I’m like, thanks, yo.

      Also: Dan is doing wine this year. We will have to bring you some in the spring when it’s done! I’ll be able to drink again, then, too! 🙂

  5. The book you are thinking about is Water for Chocolate; that was a fantastic read. “Garlic and Sapphires” is a book I really enjoyed. It is by Ruth Reichl who used to be the restaurant critic for the NYT. She is a lovely writer and it brings up how food smells, texture, and tastes produce memories in each of us. It is also about her job and how she disguised herself for reviews which leads her to become different characters for occasions. Warning: The food descriptions are mouth-watering.

  6. I read “My Sister’s Keeper” when it first came out and was blissfully unaware of the ending twist while reading it. I enjoyed the book, but felt completely robbed at the ending.

    Just finished Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal Vegetable Miracle” – I really enjoyed it, especially coming from the point of starting my own garden this year and trying to eat more locally. Love her writing.

    While I throughly enjoyed “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, I have very mixed reactions to “Her Fearful Symmetry”. Interesting in theory, lover’s ghost haunting her flat, but I was completely unmoved by the end.

    The most fun read I’ve had in a long while was ” Breakfast with Buddha” by Roland Menillo. It’s a bit plotting until they get onto the road. But it is quite delightful and provoking as they characters road trip through America.

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