Read Shelf 1/216

I made my way through the first shelf of the Library Project.As a recap, I decided to read:Achebe, Chinua. No Longer at EaseAdler, Elizabeth. The Last Time I Saw ParisAbu-Jaber, Diana. CrescentAckroyd, Peter. The Lambs of London : A NovelI’ll go into reviews after the jump.I started with NO LONGER AT EASE. Here were my initial thoughts in the library:

Chinua Achebe. NO LONGER AT EASE in paperback. I like him. I loved THINGS FALL APART. This cover is an awful purple (my least favorite color), but goes in the like pile simply by strength of the author. Which is I guess what it should be in the first place. Feh, book marketing. 

The book was beautiful. Why have I not read everything this man has ever written? It tells the story of Obi Okonkwo, a man who, as a boy, lived in a South African village. The tribal elders saw Obi was gifted and they worked together to send him to the best schools abroad. He did them proud by getting a high post within the government after college. Unfortunately, that did not last. You know Obi’s in trouble from the get-go because the book opens with him walking into a trial that he’s been dreading. Achebe feeds the reader the rest of the details throughout the narrative. He tells it in simple, straight-forward language, which is a perfect complement to the rich landscape and intriguing portraits he also created. This book hinges on the corruption of South American politics, but unlike his must-read-in-literature-courses THINGS FALL APART, this is not the novel’s primary focus. This book shows the micro level of how corruption affects a single man of promise.I think THINGS FALL APART has a tighter narrative structure, but this one is still worth the read. Achebe’s writing is strong, painful and beautiful, and inspiring. I’m planning on adding NO LONGER AT EASE to my personal library, but I’m hoping to find an edition that isn’t clothed in a hideous purple cover.The next book I read was THE LAMBS OF LONDON. This was the sticker book. Again, a recap of my thoughts before reading:

Peter Ackroyd. THE LAMBS OF LONDON in hardcover. Maybe — good Publisher’s Weekly review, but not thrilled with the idea of historical fiction. Wait! I just opened it. It has Scooby-Doo stickers. Definite second look. 

Not to harp on the stickers thing, but getting cool stickers was the best part of this book. It reminded me of book crossing, a concept I love that is practiced worldwide. This book I did not love, although it is also read worldwide. (The author, Peter Ackroyd, is a Brit.) I’d like to say I had heard of him before, but I would be lying. A quick Google search revealed that he’s quite the literary guy. I’m sure his other work is better than this and would be willing to give his Oscar Wilde stuff a read.This book is a fictionalized version of the lives of Mary and Charles Lamb. In real life, the Lambs were a fascinating brother and sister pair who wrote criticism and a children’s version of Shakespeare’s plays together. They both also suffered from serious mental illness — Mary’s demons caused her to kill her mother. Famous Shakespearean forger William Ireland also makes a fictionalized appearance in this novel. The two stories should give Ackroyd all of the drama needed for a great read.Unfortunately, the fiction isn’t quite as interesting as the truth. The novel is based around Mary’s loneliness (pre-mother-killing). The only things that bring her joy are her interactions with brother Charles and her friendship with William Ireland. Ireland discovers new works of Shakespeare, which he shares with Mary in hopes of getting closer to Charles. Ireland begins to accrue more and more success, but he never quite enters into the social circles he desires (especially the one Charles runs). Then, things fall apart. Oh, and Mary kills her mother, but it’s sort of portrayed as an after-thought.The writing is very, very dry. Not dry like a good martini, but dry as in dull. It feels forced and exaggerated. The characters are but sketches. The biggest issue I had with it is that Ackroyd tries to show off his knowledge of invented Shakespeare. It comes off as preachy and ineffective. That said, everyone from Publishers Weekly to the New York Times loved it. Not true of me, but I loved that it came with stickers.CRESCENT was my next read. My initial reaction to the title:

Diana Abu-Jaber. CRESCENT in hardcover. I like the pretty cover. It looks newish, which means that it probably doesn’t have roaches. Her first book got good reviews from the New Yorker and the New York Times. Hmm, suspicious — no good reviews on this one. I read half a page and it did pass the infamous page turner test. Definite maybe. 

This book was such a relief from the sticker book. Talk about gorgeous writing. Abu-Jaber does an amazing job of interweaving a few contrasting stories. The first is a family myth of a man who gets lost and the woman who goes to find him. The second is the story of Sirine, a woman of Iraqi-American heritage, whose parents were killed during a UN mission when she was a child. She was raised in her uncle’s house, where she still lives. At age 39, she is a bit of a loner, but is an amazing chef who works at Nadia’s Cafe. The third story is of the man she meets, Han, a visiting professor who left Iraq but is still under its power. The fourth one is a myriad of stories from all the characters who frequent Nadia’s Cafe.This book is like a patchwork dream. I want to tell more about it, but every thread of narrative comes together to make the novel work. I can’t illuminate it without giving away even part of the strands. Each strand could have been made out of golden thread — there is nothing that is lost or out of place in this narrative. Read it and it will both satisfy you and make you hungry for more.CRESCENT is a true wow. I’m in line with the critics on this one. Abu-Jaber won the PEN Award for Literary Fiction for this title. I’m adding her to my authors-to-follow list. I just ordered her other books, Arabian Jazz and The Language of Baklava. The way she writes inspires me to do my own. If, out of all the books I plan to read for the Library Project, this is the only author that makes me want to sing out, then the project is a success. Her writing is that good. Yay for discoveries!The final book on my shelf was THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS. This is from the author who had seven books lined up next to each other, none of them calling my name. My initial reaction:

Elizabeth Adler. THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS in hardcover. Ok, she has worn me down. I will take this one. It seems to be the shortest. It’s about France. Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist liked it. Fine. 

You can probably tell that I didn’t go into this with the best intentions, but when I was sitting on my couch with the book in front of me, I really wanted to like it. Alas, it was not meant to be. I made it to page 33. At the end of the fifth chapter, I had seen where it was going and was already bored and depressed. It was this sentence that took me over the edge: “There was just something about her in that red bathing suit…” (Use of ellipses is original to the author.) Thinking about it now, that’s not such an awful sentence. I’m prejudiced against any use of ellipses, so that’s part of it. The other part was that the bathing suit was red. It was the last straw in a line of well-meaning cliches.So, from what I could gather, the story is about Lara, a forty-five-year-old woman whose surgeon-husband is having an affair with his younger, prettier, more educated, surgical assistant. She decides to revitalize their dying marriage by booking a second honeymoon to Paris. He, of course, doesn’t seem really interested and finds an excuse not to go. After Lara spends her entire life working for their marriage and their now-grown daughters (who never really call or care), she finds herself alone. She and her dog go to the beach house where she finds a piece of her deck rotted. She calls in to get it repaired and, you guessed it, the younger repair guy is really hot and interested. That’s where I stopped. Flipping through the rest of the book, she takes him to Paris and uses phrases like, “It’s not easy to leave half a lifetime behind, Dan, please understand that.” and “Pride is no comfort in an empty bed.”I guess there is a large market of women who believe this stuff. G-d knows Cosmo keeps printing things about how to drive your man wild in bed and simultaneously look, act, and smell younger. I just can’t believe in the idea that the guy’s always going to go after the younger girl, that no matter what you do, men just act that way and that, if you’re G-d forbid an older woman, you’re worthless. I’ve been around a lifetime of amazing men who don’t act or think that way. I believe this line of thought is just a lazy and sloppy proliferation of tired ideas. Add boring cliches and stock characters, and I just have no interest in wasting my time. This one goes back to the library unfinished.So, there it is. Only 215 shelves more to go.

1 Comment so far

  1. Dobro Dan (unregistered) on March 12th, 2007 @ 9:16 pm

    If I had a dollar for every time a woman told me that it’s not easy to leave half a life time behind…

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.