Thursday, January 01, 2015

Unfinished business: Books

2014 was a whirlwind, but a year in which I developed my strongest coping mechanisms yet for managing anxiety. I'm proud of myself for working hard to do that -- even if it meant declining happy hours with friends or taking naps and accidentally oversleeping for soccer games.

The projection for 2015 so far is pretty awesome: new season ticket seats for Sounders FC games, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and a college friend's wedding in Kenya.

Having said that, there are some unfinished reviews from 2014 that entertained me and helped me pass the time....

I never actually read either A Wrinkle in Time or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a kid, but would have loved them both. Both have inquisitive smart girls as protagonists. Wrinkle is a bit darker and uncomfortable, with a not-so-vague religious undertone that comes across as slightly cheesy now.  I would have LOVED Files as a third-grader; the eldest-child heroine so skillfully manipulated her younger brother and managed to turn a museum into a hotel!

I did have to read The Door in the Wall in 6th grade, and I remember taking forever with the reading assignments because it being extremely boring. Twenty-four years later, it's a faster read but still kind of a boring story about a kid crippled during the Plague who recuperates in the country and saves a castle from invasion. Had I read The Trumpeter of Krakow instead, I might have appreciated medieval tales earlier in life. For starters, it doesn't take place in England or France, which is a huge cultural shift. And though the description of the Asiatic Tatars is super-outdated and kind of offensive, it's still a decently rousing adventure story.

One mystery series I found that was cheesy and slightly objectionable in its portrayal of colonial Africa was Suzanne Arruda's Jade del Cameron series.

I'm not sure if "orientalism" can describe 21st-century depictions of 1920s Kenya, Tanzania, and Morocco... but it should. The detective protagonist is a supercool gun-slinging American chick who is welcomed into the British expat colony; but though the Great War and technological developments are at the heart of the white settlers' lives, the tribal Africans in the story are steeped in mysticism and "exotic" otherworldly shrouds. Even if Arruda took pains to make the main characters less racist than they probably would have been in real life, there was still an underlying sense of privilege and superiority that made me uncomfortable as a modern reader. Of course, I still read the whole series. (They were good murder mysteries!)

The last two books in Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy series were much in the same vein as the previous ones: enjoyable, fast reads. Our heroine is now married to her police captain husband, preggers then a mother, and still joining up with her lesbian best friends in upstate New York and Paris to solve mysteries. (Y'know, just the typical life story for an early-20th century Irish immigrant...)

I do hope Bowen releases another Molly book this year. I like her Royal Spyness series better, and am GIDDILY EXCITED to have discovered that while I was bogged down with Election 2014 work, she released a new one which I have now reserved at the library and would totally be worth whatever overdue fines I'm likely to have to pay on it.

Unless I try very hard not to accrue library fines in 2015. Which is not realistic at all.

A book I plodded through because I thought it would be right up my alley (but I absolutely hated) was The Beekeeper's Apprentice, about a young female genius apprentice to an aging and retired Sherlock Holmes. What was so horrible about it? Oh, just the usual idea that intelligent women are incapable of having PLATONIC intellectual relationships with intelligent men. Because the protagonist protegee, who ranges in age from 15 to 20 in the story, ends up (SPOILER WARNING) marrying a 50-or-60ish Holmes.  I was so grossed out and offended, I won't read the rest of the series. Besides, though it was a decent narrative in the Sherlockian tradition, it wasn't that interesting a storyline. Also, the grossness factor.

Sometimes when I read NYT bestseller books that are being turned into movies, I'm disappointed. Not so with This is Where I Leave You.  Though I probably won't watch the movie,  the book was a hilarious, brutal, and oddly poignant look at how families, exes, and friends treat each other in the aftermath of tragedies, heartbreak, and other stresses. A man who catches his wife cheating on him with his boss heads back to his hometown to sit shiva for his father; in the time it takes to officially grieve, he faces a barrage of questions and memories from his siblings, old family friends, and old school chums. It's one of those stories I probably wasn't old enough to appreciate in my 20s;  it's not a hugely life-changing book at all, but I found myself relating to it now in unexpected ways.