Month: March 2015

2015 Book #13: The Good Earth

goodearthI guess it’s for the best that I’ve put off reviewing a couple of books lately, as I’m tired of audiobooks and it’s taking me forever to read It. I read (listened to) The Good Earth almost a month ago, and my procrastination has nothing to do with how much I liked it. It’s really fantastic.

The downside is that I’ve waited so long to write about it that I don’t have much to say. So it goes.

The Good Earth is the first in a trilogy about life in agrarian China. Wang Lung, a young man, lives with his father and farms his land. He marries a slave from a nearby wealthy family, and his exposure to their lifestyle makes him crave it for himself. As the wealthy family loses money, they begin to sell off their land, and Wang Lung is able to by parts of it piece by piece after good harvests. One year, after he has children, a terrible drought forces Wang Lung and his family to move to a southern city and experience near homelessness there until the poor people living around him break into a lord’s house, and he and his wife steal some of that lord’s money and are able to return to their land. They have several years of good harvests and continue to buy the previously wealthy family’s land, and Wang Lung becomes ever closer to his dreams of his own wealth and estate.

(Summaries around the internet give the story a different slant. Interesting.)

I really enjoyed The Good Earth. It had been on my radar for several years, but I hadn’t read it because someone whose opinion I respected years ago told me that it would bore me. That might have been the case when I was in college, but now it certainly isn’t. Without too much of a spoiler, I will say, though, that I’m very hesitant to read the rest of the trilogy because I have a feeling they’ll be depressing. Not that The Good Earth isn’t, in a way, even though Wang Lung and his family prosper.

What all of this means is that if you’ve been considering reading The Good Earth, do it. It’s worth it. It probably isn’t for action fans, but if you like historical novels (which I generally don’t), you’ll like this one. I’m not sure of a good gauge for the type of person who might or might not like it, though, which seems a bit strange. So. Classics and history but not YA? That sounds about right.

Photo credit: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

2015 Book #12: Rabbit, Run

rabbitrunHere’s yet another case of You Got an English Degree…How? I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I got through college and a master’s degree without reading Updike. (In my defense, this time is not as bad as when I got called out in a graduate class for never having read Jane Eyre…which I promptly read and enjoyed. That was several years ago.) Rabbit, Run and the rest of the Rabbit Angstrom series have been on my radar since, say, 2000, and I even own one of his books, but this is the first time I’ve ever read him.

Not far into Rabbit, Run, I became an instant fan.

I think I was turned off by the basketball on every cover of every Rabbit book ever. I thought I was in for a sports novel (which also might explain why I can’t get through Underworld). Fifteen minutes into the audiobook, I realized that Rabbit, Run is not, in fact, a sports novel, but a mannish family novel with some interesting similarities to DeLillo. And better yet, I haven’t ruined Updike for myself like I have DeLillo by studying him. Oh, yeah.

Rabbit, Run is about Harry Angstrom, who was, yes, a high school basketball star. But that’s pretty much where the sports end. Of course, that experience has in a lot of ways shaped his life, but that’s only part of the story. Harry is married to a woman named June and has one young kid and another on the way. He’s unhappy in his marriage for several reasons and runs off…for a couple months. One day, instead of picking up his car and then his kid, he takes the car and heads south. Several hours later, he heads back to town, finds his old basketball coach, Marty Tothero, and asks his advice. He ends up on a double date with Tothero, his girlfriend, and another girl named Ruth. Harry moves in with Ruth for a couple months before returning home when his baby is born. Of course, there are consequences.

I was so surprised by how good this novel is and how much I enjoyed it. I had no idea what I was in for, and I was so pleasantly surprised that I’m having a hard time not immediately reaching for Rabbit Redux. Seriously, y’all. If you haven’t read Updike, run to your local library or bookstore. And if you like our old friend DeLillo, you’ll like Updike, possibly even more.

Featured image credit: Jason Yung

2015 Book #11: Trigger Warning

triggerwarningI’m usually not a short story reader unless it’s in The New Yorker (collections are so disjointed!), but I jumped on Trigger Warning after I had such a good time reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane in 2013. I love Neil Gaiman. I’m pretty sure I’ve read all of his novels, and I’ve liked every one (except Good Omens, the one he wrote with Terry Pratchett, who I also love). Gaiman seems to write exactly the stories I like to read (like Calvino, but so much easier to process).

Anyway. Here’s yet another list, this time of some of my favorite stories:

  • “The Case of Death and Honey” is about Sherlock Holmes and bees. It’s hard to say any more without releasing a massive spoiler. Holmes hears about the mysterious disappearance of an old man in China. The man lived on a hillside and had several beehives, selling honey to surrounding villages. Then rumors circulated about the appearance of a white man asking about bees…
  • “An Invocation of Incuriosity” might be my favorite. A man and his son live at the end of the world, and the sun has just died out. The father takes his son into a secret room in the house, and they suddenly appear in a city millions of years before, near the beginning of the world. The father is rich and has other sons by other women and tells his son-from-the-end-of-the-world that he has to pretend to be a servant. Turns out the father has been collecting stones and other objects from the end of the world to sell to the city folk. So good!
  • “Nothing O’Clock” is a Doctor Who story! Whaaaat, you say? If you’re a fan, you probably know that Gaiman has written several episodes over the years. This story is set during Matt Smith’s tenure, and he and Amelia have to deal with the Kin (who appeared in a few episodes with David Tennant and Martha). Timey Wimey stuff happens, and it ran through my head like a TV episode.
  • “Adventure Story” is really interesting. It’s about family secrets and what people really consider adventures.
  • “The Return of the Thin White Duke” is about a Duke who is really a god and who is bored with ruling, so he goes off on an adventure that doesn’t turn out anything like he expected.
  • “The Sleeper and the Spindle” is a blended retelling of a couple fairy tales (I’m sure you can guess one) with a really good twist.

And I’ll stop there, though I liked so many more. The weakest parts of the collection are the poems, but they’re all pretty short and lead to Much Better Things. Trigger Warning is definitely worth a read (or two or three).

Photo credit: orangejon

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