Thursday, October 13, 2011

Goon Squads, Book People, and Forgotten Gardens

With thousands of titles currently available, finding a great read seems like such a gamble sometimes but recently I hit the jack-pot with three fabulous books. 

It was many months after I bought the book that I finally read it. Pulitzer Prize winners have been good to me and I was afraid the heightened expectations would mar my reading experience. And when I found out the structure of the book was non-standard--one of the linked stories was told entirely in power point slides--my anti-gimmick-o-meter lit up and made me even more hesitant.

Which just goes to show how external things--covers, synopses, structure, and reviews and, yes, even awards--can fail to show what a book really is. All these worries were unnecessary. The book is like an elegant 3D puzzle. It takes an extremely creative and logical mind as well as authority to pull it off. 

I am not sure how a novel without a central protagonist (there are several recurring characters) or a real plot can evoke so much empathy and intrigue. I am not even sure I'd know how to analyze the book to find the secret ingredients, so I'll just recommend that you read it. 

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
I had been meaning to read Geraldine Brooks for a while. After browsing excerpts from several of her books at the bookstore, I took this one home. The premise of the story is simple: a book-restorer tries to uncover the mystery of an ancient treasure.

We travel to different times and places to where this book had been. The historical and cultural aspects are so richly described that they jump to life. Reading about them made me feel at once aware of my ignorance and hungry for more knowledge.

The book is much more than a history and social studies book, of course. The characters, some of whom appear for only a short time, feel authentic, with palpable struggles and hopes. For me to be able to go along on their journeys, to be privy to how they make moral decisions, difficult and life-changing, was what kept my mind going back to the book long after I"d finished it.

Forgotten Gardens by Kate Morton
When I started the book, the constant moving of the story from one protagonist to the next and one time period to the next pulled me out but I was willing to put up with the intrusion because the writing was engaging  I was also very much aware of some of the devices the author had used to enhance the story: repeated themes--losing a child; children being taken and plopped down in foreign environments--and characters with evocative names: the evil landlord named Swindell and the rat-catcher named Rodin.

At some point, however, I realized I no longer paid attention to those things. All I wanted to do was to finish off whatever I was doing: cooking, talking on the phone, chauffeuring children, so that I could get back to the book. It recaptured for me the delights of my childhood reading experiences. It reminded me what a otherworldly joy reading can bring. The book may contain stock characters or cliched phrases, but I didn't notice, nor did I care. My writer-self was convinced early in the book to stay out of the way and just let my reader-self have at it. Smart self, that one. 

Read any books lately that have given you the goose bumps or made you laugh or brought your nostalgia?


scott g.f.bailey said...

I read Geraldine Brooks' March after it won the Pulitzer and I thought it was a very good book and I learned a lot about first-person narrative from it. I haven't read People of the Book but we have it at home. Mighty Reader didn't care for it, so I hesitate.

I've been sort of circling around Goon Squad all year, picking it up in bookstores and putting it back down. I've been burned by a lot of current literary fiction but, because it won the Pulitzer, I know I'll read it.

MG Higgins said...

I haven't read any of these, but your review of Goon Squad makes me really curious. I think I could get into a story told through power point slides! (I know it shouldn't make a difference, but I'm attracted to the Forgotten Garden cover--it's like a lovely oil bottle label. :)

Yat-Yee said...

Scott: Good Squad is a unique book. Give it a try. Just curious: what does MR not like about People of the Book?

MG: My olive oil purchases are often heavily influenced by the label! If you do read Good Squad, let me know what you think.

Bish Denham said...

Sigh...MORE books to read? It just never ending is it? But how I love it and all the wonderful suggestions I get from all these wonderful blogs.

Yat-Yee said...

I feel your pain, Bish. I just came back from the library with two sparkling new reads I had not even planned to check out...

nutschell said...

Hello! dropping by from Bish Denham's blog hop.
Was hoping to see your Halloween ghost story, but I'm glad to have found your blog just the same! thanks for the book reviews.


Yat-Yee said...

Welcome, Nutshell. I'm behind in getting my post up but it will be. Hope you'll come back later to visit.