The Color Purple, Alice Walker

You know what I don’t understand? I don’t understand why The Color Purple is so ridiculously awesome, and why when there are all these really subpar books running around, why people don’t just go ahead and read The Color Purple all the time. Why don’t people just read The Color Purple all the time, and forget about that Atonement crap?

The Color Purple. Wow.

When I was young, my mother had told me once that The Color Purple was one of her favorite books of all time, and I remember her telling me her favorite line (“White folks is a miracle of affliction”), and in early middle school I asked her where her copy was because I wanted to read it. And that’s the only time in my entire life I can remember my mother telling me not to read a book. She said wait a few years and I’d like it better. When I finally did read it (and oh my God, it blew me away), I assumed that she had been trying to steer me clear of it because of the fairly extensive sexual and violent content, but I asked her and she said no, she just thought I’d like it better if I waited a few years. She said that giving it to an eleven-year-old to read would be like giving To Kill a Mockingbird to a precocious kid of eight – the kid might be able to read all the words, but s/he’d be missing out on all the richness that’s there. She said you only get to read a book for the first time once, and there are some books that you just really deserve to have the best first-reading experience possible.

I totally agree with that.  And this is a damn good book.  It’s one of those books that everyone should read.  Everyone in the whole world.  In fact I’m just off to ship a few hundred copies off to world leaders.  Do ’em good.

P.S. Although they are both Important Black American Women writers, I am forced to read Toni Morrison much more often than I am forced to read Alice Walker.  In fact I have never had to read Alice Walker, except for one short story once, whereas I have had to deal with Toni Morrison kind of a lot.  And you know what, you know what?  I.  Don’t.  Like.  Her.  Beloved makes me feel queasy.  The Color Purple is a much better book and everyone should just, just, just revise their damn syllabuses.

Love Walked In, Marisa de los Santos

Suggested by: My darling Mum

This was good.  Ms. de los Santos writes most truthfully about relationships.  The little girl was very interesting and intense.

I’d write more but I’m too busy trying to get school things done so that I can watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer later.

Doomsday Book, Connie Willis

Recommended by: Between the Covers

Ah, time travel books.  You are so numerous, and yet you so often do not want me to love you.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  The Time Traveler’s Wife and me are buddies.  Time at the Top makes my life happy by its very existence.  It can be done.  Apparently with Time in the title.

(Just so I don’t feel like a big meanie when I complain about Doomsday Book, I’ll say that Diana Wynne Jones, whom I love more than my luggage, wrote a time travel book that I didn’t much care for either.  It’s one of my least favorites of hers, not quite down there with The Time of the Ghost, but still very not my favorite, maybe even less favorite than Hexwood which I also don’t like as much as her others.)

I don’t know.  I read this over a long period of time, much longer than is normal for me, and at no point did I feel the slightest interest in what was going to happen to anyone.  For this book to have worked, the characters would have had to be really vivid –

Er, P.S., this is a book about a girl from Oxford in the future, called Kivrin, who goes back in time to 1320 in order to study the Middle Ages and she gets there and lives with a family there and meanwhile back in future-Oxford a bunch of stuff goes wrong and everyone gets sick with a weird virus that came from they don’t know where.

– as I was saying, the characters would have had to be really vivid, because Kivrin doesn’t ultimately have much to do in the past.  In fact, no one does.  I’m so glad I didn’t live back in the day because I would have caught plague and furthermore it was obviously AMAZINGLY BORING, because nobody in the past did anything until they all caught the plague and died.  These things kept coming up, and I’d be all, Aha, a plot! and get set for that to be the important thing, like Kivrin crushing on the Manly Priest, or the lady’s husband’s vassal having a big crush on the lady, or the daughter’s engagement to the big old creepy guy.  These were not the important things.  They weren’t anything.  God, it was boring.  And then it would cut to chapters set in future-Oxford where everyone there was bitching about futurey things and asking each other where, oh where, could this mysterious deadly virus have come from?

(The past, as it goes.)

And I’m not saying it couldn’t have worked, this nothing happening thing, because there are books in which the characters are just so vivid and interesting that there doesn’t have to be a lot of action. You’re just content to lie back and watch these interesting characters go about their daily lives doing regular interactions and nothing out of the ordinary.  Doomsday Book does not achieve this effect, and blah, I just couldn’t be bothered with it.

Heck Superhero, by Martine Leavitt

Martine Leavitt is still my new BFF, and great respect to her for raising seven kids and still managing to write books, but I didn’t like Heck Superhero as much as The Dollmage and Keturah.  I think that writing in the present time may just not be her thing, and it may actually be necessary for her to set her stories in strange, alternate versions of England from back in the day.

Heck Superhero is about a kid whose mother goes MIA, and as a result of some pretty spectacular magic thinking (he’s only a kid, so this is permissible), he thinks that he has to be a superhero in order to find her, by doing enough really fantastic and amazing Good Deeds.

It was good.  Just not as good.  I wish I had Martine Leavitt’s other books instead of this one.  It was a teeny bit of a letdown.

Confession

I am a bad blogger, both here and on my regular blog.  This is because I am insanely busy with schoolwork (ugh, it never ends), and trying to secure my future in 500-1000 words; and when all that business is over with, I will still be a bad blogger because I have just discovered that in spite of being initially very unimpressed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it is actually a lot like crack cocaine in that I absolutely cannot stop now that I have started.  This is true to such a vast extent that I have had to give all the Buffy DVDs I borrowed from my sister to my mother to hide from me, so that I can’t put off writing my paper by watching Buffy.

Sheesh.

The Dollmage, Martine Leavitt

My people, lay down your stones.

Before you stone this Annakey Rainsayer, you know it is the law and her right to have her story told. It is my duty as Dollmage to tell it. Each villager has the right to one stone, and no one will forbid you to throw it. But listen to me, and when I am done each of you will decide for yourselves if this Annakey is worthy of execution.

That is right. Lay the stones at your feet, keep them close by if it comforts you. So few of you? The stones will get heavy before the story is done.

Martine Leavitt! You are totally my new best friend! I’m so glad I decided it was worth it to stop at the library on the way to class and picked up the other two books of yours they have! Only I mustn’t get too excited because this is the way I felt about Salman Rushdie and then he went and let me down with Fury and Shame (that sentence is funny because – whatever, you know why that sentence is funny). Here is another bit of The Dollmage, which made me smile when I read it. I heart Martine Leavitt.

It comforted my heart to know that Annakey was afraid of something, and I said thank you to God. He seemed cold to me, as if I had not gotten the point.

The Dollmage was maybe even better than Keturah and Lord Death. I’m in the middle of Heck Superhero, which I think I am liking slightly less but I haven’t finished it so maybe I will turn out to be wrong. The Dollmage was so good that the thirty minutes of exercising I did while I was reading it flew by in a snap, which is not normal for me because exercising makes me tired and normally when things make me tired I quit doing them, except I know I can’t quit exercising because of Health Reasons, so I carry on even though I really, really, really want to stop, and every minute goes amazingly slowly.

The Dollmage is a bit like Keturah and Lord Death in that it has that same dreamy, haunting, fairy-tale sort of quality, but this one’s a little less light-hearted. (Hi, irony, I’m Jenny.) It’s about a small village that is protected and looked after by a person called the Dollmage, who makes dolls to sort everything out, but when she goes to choose her successor, there are two girls born at the right time with the appropriate powers – Renoa and Annakey. She chooses Renoa, but the book’s about Annakey. Annakey is a surprisingly sympathetic character given that she’s kinda flawless, and I really think it works so well because of the fairy-tale feel of the story. And this device, telling the story before the stoning, works absolutely beautifully. I loved this book ever so much. I just – mm, it was one of those books that reminds me why I write. (And read, also.)

And now a word about Martine Leavitt. I saw that she had seven kids, and I was like, And she wrote seven books? so I went to her website to check it out, and apparently there was a five-year period in which she was a single mother with six of those seven kids, going to university, and still publishing two books and working on a third one.

Wow, Martine Leavitt. Respect. You’re a better woman than I.

Keturah and Lord Death, Martine Leavitt

“Tell me what it is like to die,” I answered.

He dismounted from his horse, looking at me strangely the whole while.  “You experience something similar every day,” he said softly.  “It is as familiar to you as bread and butter.”

“Yes,” I said.  “It is like every night when I fall asleep.”

“No.  It is like every morning when you wake up.”

Recommended by: Brooklyn Arden

Oh how I liked this book.  It’s about a girl called Keturah who goes into the forest after a white hart and meets Lord Death.  She doesn’t want to die without having known love (it sounds a little hokey when I say it like that, but I swear it isn’t at all!), so she tells him part of a story, and he lets her live for another day, and if she can find her true love in that day, he’ll let her live entirely.

I was mighty impressed.  I will for sure be swinging by the library and picking up more of Martine Leavitt’s books.  My libraries only have two other ones, because Martine Leavitt is Canadian I suppose, but she has written like six more…  I am hoping this is one of those times where I am on the brink of having a new favorite author, rather than on the brink of being really disappointed by all the other crap I read by her.  Like that time I thought I was going to marry Salman Rushdie after I read Midnight’s Children and The Ground Beneath Her Feet and then I read Fury and Shame and now I’m totally scared to read Shalimar the Clown or The Satanic Verses or The Moor’s Last Sigh (which I’m saving, anyway, because it’s meant to be the best of those three).

Keturah and Lord Death was haunting – which is funny, because it was also light-hearted and cheerful.  It had the feel of a fairy tale, and furthermore it was a tidy-minded kind of book, which I am strongly in favor of.  I completely loved it how Keturah got back to the village and immediately started sorting things out and arranging things and making lemon pies.  Like Flora Post.  Loved it.  I even made a new “loved it” category, just for this book.

The Chatham School Affair, Thomas H. Cook

Meh.

Everyone kept comparing other books to The Chatham School Affair with favorable-sounding opinions, so I picked it up at the library a little while ago and started reading it, and I have to confess that I found it somewhat trying.  I couldn’t get into the story because of all the frantic foreshadowing.  It kept being all Little did we know when first we beheld that peaceful landscape how much BLOOD AND DEATH AND MISERY there would be there later on, and I only read a little bit of it, but I just got fed up with the way Mr. Cook was caking on the foreshadowing.  Like those cakes with that vanilla frosting where normal people have to scrape off the flowers and leaves but some people love it so much that they demand to have the pieces with flowers and leaves on top and even accept your discarded frosting flowers and leaves.  I am scraper-offer, and this foreshadowing was way the hell too much.

(I am apparently really really into dessert similes.  I am now putting a one-month embargo on dessert similes.  Or metaphors.)

Maybe sometime I’ll try to read this again.  Maybe not.  We’ll see.

The Valley of the Wolves, Laura Gallego Garcia

“Hello,” a boy’s voice said.

Dana turned. A smiling boy was sitting on the rock wall, watching her pick the sticky fruit. Though he was about her age, Dana had never seen him before; but her family tended to keep to themselves, so that was not unusual. He was skinny, with unruly blond hair that fell to his shoulders, and his green eyes shone in a friendly fashion. Even so, she did not reply to his greeting but merely returned to her berry picking.

“My name is Kai,” the boy said to her back.

Picked up randomly because I absolutely loved the cover. Look at this extremely cool cover. I just like it so much.

The Valley of the Wolves

Click to enlarge (I think).

The problem with The Valley of the Wolves was that the writing was awkward and uninspiring (very possibly the fault of the translation), and the plot was – frankly – not very interesting. It was about a little girl called Dana whose friend Kai is invisible to everyone else; and then she goes away to study magic; and then there’s intrigue and deception, but it’s all kind of blah. She has to rescue her friends from the clutches of the villain – blah, blah, blah – she has a crush on Kai but he’s invisible and (mostly) intangible – blah, blah blah. I couldn’t be bothered.

If I had to pinpoint a problem with the plot, I think I would say that the different bits of plot don’t really mesh. There’s some unicorn stuff, there’s some dragon stuff, there’s some elf stuff and reincarnationy stuff, and they just don’t work terribly well as a unit. Any one of those things could have been part of a really interesting book, and it just felt like Ms. Garcia couldn’t figure out which book she wanted to be writing so she just threw in a whole bunch of different plot ideas without making a tremendous effort to blend the edges. Like when you’re eating a cookie or a brownie, and suddenly you get a bite that is totally full of flour because when the person who made the brownies was mixing the ingredients, s/he put down the mixer for a second to go check messages and then when s/he got back s/he totally forgot that the ingredient-mixing wasn’t done and then when the brownies come out there are some bites with a lot of chocolate goo (that’s nice!) or a lot of flour (less nice). Um, this simile is less than perfect, but whatever, this is more with the flour than the chocolate.

It’s really too bad. I love the cover. It’s worthy of a cast of more vivid characters and a more coherent plot. Dana looks like she could be a completely fierce character, and I love, love, love the invisible cloak he’s wrapping around her.

Love, Let Me Not Hunger, Paul Gallico

“I’ll let you out of your contracts if you want, so you can get jobs with other circuses, but I’m telling you they’ll all go bust if this keeps up – just like the cinemas. But you know where they ain’t got the telly yet? Spain! And you know how I know? Because I been there!!”He stopped to let the magnitude of this revelation sink in. While they had been loafing the winter away, he, Sam Marvel, had been on the job and had gone ferreting out the situation.

“That’s right,” he continued, “Spain. There’s telly in some of the big cities, but there’s none out in the country. Why, there are some places there that ain’t even got telephones! There ain’t been a British circus on the Continent in the last forty-three years. Well, we’re gonna show ’em. We’re going where there ain’t any bloody tellyvision!”

I liked Jennie (a lot actually), and I like circuses, so I picked up this book at the library last time I was there and I thought it was going to make me happy the way Jennie (it’s called The Abandoned here) always does. I guess I forgot that Paul Gallico, apart from his Mrs. ‘Arris books and sometimes not even then, is not a happy writer. His books are full of sad people with matter-of-fact and depressing approaches to sex, who live hard, sad lives and then die miserably at Dunkirk.

You know what was a circus story that I liked a lot? Mirrormask. And also, also Circus Shoes. Those were such nice, pleasant, friendly, un-soul-destroying circus books. On the other hand, Love Let Me Not Hunger made me feel mighty depressed, and if Water for Elephants had been a better book I imagine it would have made me depressed too since that circus is also depressing (P.S. If Sara Gruen was not hugely influenced by Love Let Me Not Hunger it would surprise me). It is way too sad to read these stories about circuses that can’t sustain themselves and the owners are cheapskates and the animals starve.

Basically Love Let Me Not Hunger is a book about a little circus that goes to Spain, and while they’re in Spain there is a humongous fire (other things I don’t like: massive circus fires in fiction), and there are insurance issues, and anyway what happens is that most of the circus leaves the country to go find other jobs while they’re waiting for the insurance money to come in, and the animals and five of the circus people are left behind. One of them is a nice sweet man called Mr. Albert who looks after the animals; one is an asshole American horse guy; one is a dwarf with dogs (hi, Sara Gruen!) who murders a horse later to give the meat to his dogs (ew); one is a horny British horse guy called Toby; and one is a sweet angelic girl called Rose who is madly in love with Toby and really likes the animals. Toby and Rose have matter-of-fact depressing sex and the animals starve for like, God, such a large portion of the book, and she goes and prostitutes herself to pay for food for the animals and then Toby finds out and throws her out and then Mr. Albert sells himself to this big creepy rich lady in exchange for her paying for the animals’ food and oh my God is it ever depressing.

Yeah, but don’t worry, because eventually Toby falls very in love with Rose too and then there is a touching scene in which he proves that he really cares about her by letting her have an orgasm too, that lucky duck. Then they run away together but Mr. Albert has to stay with the creepy rich lady forever because he promised. Yeesh.