Vacation Reading

March 31, 2010 at 12:00 am 9 comments

I recently returned from a vacation and, in the spirit of an early “What I Read on my Summer Vacation” report, I give you the following run-down of my various reading escapades. I ended up taking two books, finishing one, reading a recommendation from a friend, gaining two recommendations from a cousin, purchasing one I didn’t even know existed let alone wanted to own, and completely ignoring the one I was supposed to be reading!

Books I was going to take:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Police Procedure and Investigation by Lee Loffland
The Last Cavalier by Alexandre Dumas

What I ended up taking:
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

What I ended up reading:
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Days of Reading by Marcel Proust (purchased whilst on vacation, couldn’t help myself)
US Weekly
A little bit of the Bible (which resulted in my grandmother beneficently bequeathing a tiny Hebrew Bible to me with little provocation)

What I ended up ignoring:
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (sadly!)

Since I did read two proper books, here are my little thoughts on each.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
This was recommended by many people both directly, indirectly, and via the internet. Being impressed by the raves about its erudition and bookishness, I was thrilled to receive a copy from an old friend. (Incidentally, it seems thoroughly appropriate the circulate this particular book through friends and through the mail.) I don’t know if it was all the raves that built the book up for me, but I came away sorely disappointed.

In terms of topic, the book is quite interesting in that it tells a story about the Channel Island’s neglected history during World War II. Personally, I’ve never heard about this area when studying WWII, so it was definitely interesting to learn more. The book’s failings are considerably more difficult for me to articulate. I’ve been thinking about it, trying to pinpoint what I did and did not like, for the past few days and I’m still not entirely sure.

I was primarily frustrated by the epistolary format of the novel, which to me is a contrived form that rightfully went out of style sometime after Samuel Richardson. It was unnecessarily confusing and I think the novel would have greatly benefited from a more traditional narrative with snippets from letters. On the bright side, that isn’t to say that prose was an issue; on the contrary, the book was pleasantly written in a spritely style very much in keeping with the protagonist’s personality. Additionally, there were a few shining moments of perfect articulation, which is a rare and lovely thing in books.

My supreme frustration came late in the book with a randomly inserted Oscar Wilde cameo that seemed to serve absolutely no function. By that point I was already feeling rather out-of-the-loop since everyone else I’d talked to or read about seemed to love this book so adamantly. Suffice it to say, it was a perfectly nice book. I was not particularly affected by it one way or the other aside from puzzlement about the numerous thrilled quotes on the covers and pages. It was better and far more interesting than most “chick lit” and substantially brainier. Just don’t expect Elizabeth Kostova-like bookishness. My advice: ignore the hype and enjoy it for what it is.

(And definitely look forward to the film version, which I think will be excellent. This book is ripe for filming!)

Days of Reading
I was seduced by the cover of this book (a Penguin “Great Ideas” book) and its topic: a book about books! My favorite kind! This was my first Proust and the first sentence almost did me in: “There are no days of my childhood which I lived so fully perhaps as those I thought I had left behind without living them, those I spent with a favorite book.” Happily, it got much most immediately comprehensible as I went on. And I ended up really liking it. If there is anything that is more obviously an argument for the Guernsey Literary Society’s “secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers,” me randomly stumbling upon this book was it. The part I read (I haven’t finished yet and am savoring it) was about young Proust wanting to read all the time whilst visiting family and being forced to have tea or play outside or eat lunch all the time. I was in the midst of a trying family reunion and this resonated with me beautifully.

–Corey

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Entry filed under: Classics, Contemporary Fiction, Musings and Essays, Romance and Chick Lit. Tags: , , .

Return of Teaser Tuesday! Personal Days by Ed Park

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Britney  |  March 31, 2010 at 2:58 am

    I’m sad to hear that you were disappointed by Guernsey! I too have heard all the great things about it, though I haven’t read it yet. I hate it when I have high expectations and they just aren’t met (I just experienced this last week).

    Reply
    • 2. Corey  |  March 31, 2010 at 5:14 am

      Which book did it for you? It is a definite bummer!

      Reply
  • 3. britney  |  March 31, 2010 at 6:46 am

    This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer, which is the third and final book in a series about what happens after a natural disaster. I loved the first book (Life As We Knew It), and liked the second. I was really hoping the third would live up to the promise of the first, but it didn’t.

    Reply
    • 4. Corey  |  March 31, 2010 at 7:21 am

      Oh, having a series end on a down-note is possibly worse than just a lone disappointing book! I’m so sorry to hear it didn’t live up to the first book.

      Reply
  • 5. Natalie  |  March 31, 2010 at 8:13 am

    I’m sorry to hear that your Guernsey experience wasn’t a positive one! I loved the book, but I am always careful when recommending it to note that it is most definitely not a piece of serious literature, nor is it masterfully written. As you discovered, the book does not benefit from hype.

    I think the book’s major failings come toward the end. I’ve heard that this is due to the death of the author who had the idea for the book and who wrote most of the beginning of it. I suspect that the other author finished the book based on the notes of author #1, which perhaps included some abandoned plot devices (Oscar Wilde?). In any case, the book certainly goes downhill in the last quarter or so.

    Reply
    • 6. Corey  |  March 31, 2010 at 8:29 am

      I think the most disappointing part was that it was not nearly as bookish as I had hoped. The various references to literature just seemed like passing nods (“oh, she’s heard of the Brontes and Charles Lamb, wow!”) used more to prove that any given character was a Reader and less to illustrate in any particular erudition. I think hearing how intelligent and literary the book was before reading it really ruined any chance I had of thinking it was either of those things. Alas!

      And I completely agree with you that the end was the real weak point. It was going along just fine until the last quarter or so. That’s about when I literally started sputtering guffaws of frustration aloud. The obligatory happy ending seemed more in keeping with the quality of the first 3/4ths, though, so perhaps author 1 went ahead and wrote that before her demise? Anyway, I think Oscar Wilde should be cut (it was cute but utterly pointless) and Juliet should finish her book about Elizabeth. It seems to me that that was the ending the rest of the book was building towards and it was so disappointing that it never happened!

      Reply
  • 7. Natalie  |  March 31, 2010 at 8:40 am

    I think hearing how intelligent and literary the book was before reading it really ruined any chance I had of thinking it was either of those things.

    Your comments make me so glad that I knew nothing about the book before I read it! My evaluation of the book’s intelligence, writing, etc. is really much the same as yours, but I had no expectations of the book and was therefore simply charmed by it.

    Reply
    • 8. Corey  |  March 31, 2010 at 9:27 am

      Ah, that sounds just lovely. I wish I had had that experience! Sometimes I just get completely opposed to all reviews since discovering a book on your own with no preconceptions can be completely magical.

      Reply
  • […] book is undeniably a frothy creation, something a little darker than The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but of a similar ilk. It is amusing and touching without ever imposing too much on the […]

    Reply

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