Archive for January, 2007

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Friday, January 12th, 2007

Kindred was chosen by the Whiteford book group for their November 2006 discussion. It was published over 25 years ago and it has become a sort of modern classic. It has been published by Beacon Press in their Black Women Writers series, is recommended on reading lists, and is still very much in demand.

Don’t let Kindred’s classic status put you off – it’s a fast read! Kindred is a book that I would recommend for all sorts of reasons. When I read it several years ago I found I could not put it down because I was so absorbed in the story and by the characters. Dana, a young black woman of the late twentieth century finds herself repeatedly transported through time and space to an antebellum Southern plantation. There she must make sure that Rufus, the plantation owner’s son, survives to father Dana’s ancestor. I would be interested to hear what other readers make of the plot, and of the premise of time travel.

The whole book is multi-layered. Complex and difficult issues are explored, such as the effect of slavery on individuals. I felt that these issues were handled very sensitively.
The book has proved to have appeal to a wide audience, black and white, adults and older teens. Not only is it a “good” book – it’s a pleasure to read!

The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs

Friday, January 12th, 2007

This book was discussed at the Norrisville branch of the library in February 2006. It was written by an Esquire Magazine editor and chronicles Jacobs’ “Pilgrim’s Progress” as he reads the entire Encyclopedia Britannica in a quixotic effort to outdo is attorney father and his smart-aleck cousin Eric. While the concept sounds a bit dry, the book is really about a lot more than just a mountain of dates and facts printed in a set of dusty tomes. In reality, Jacobs’ “humble quest” is really about self-image, determination, the difference between knowledge and wisdom, the illusory nature of genius, and the record-breaking patience of his wife. The author, while jokingly referring to himself as a know-it-all, is as apt to make fun of himself as he is of his better-read relatives, the members of Mensa, and the crossword puzzle maniacs who populate his book.

As a book discussion group moderator, I had some trepidation about how the group would respond to this title. It is nonfiction, which is not everyone’s cup of tea, its author’s sense of humor is sarcastic and hip, the book is larded with gratuitous four-letter words, and the format is encyclopedic (i.e., it is made up of alphabetically arranged entries). My fears, though, were groundless. The members found the book clever and the author sympathetic. They readily recognized the various themes hidden within the book’s entries, and had lots to say about them. In addition, the book was stimulating enough to engender a wide-ranging discussion that touched on religion, politics, women’s rights, the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, and several other topics.

If there was anything to be critical of, it was the fact that most group members could only read the book in short bursts (though all were motivated to stick with it). Also, as noted above, the salty language was a turn-off to many readers.

Overall, the group found the book clever, entertaining, and thought-provoking.

By Norrisville Book Group Moderator

Silent in the Grave

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

I received a reader’s advance copy of this first novel by Deanna Raybourn, slated to be published January 2007. I read it in record time, despite its being somewhat of a hefty tome for a mystery at 509 pages. I anticipate that reviewers will be making comparisons to the books of Anne Perry and Elizabeth Peters. Anne Perry because of the closely observed Victorian period domestic details and the social customs that drive the plot, Elizabeth Peters because of the wicked tongue-in-cheek wit with which those customs are commented upon. Just like the series by Anne Perry featuring Charlotte Pitt, Silent In The Grave exposes the dark consequences of the repressive culture of the upper and middle class Victorians. Just like the series by Elizabeth Peters featuring Amelia Peabody, Silent In the Grave features an engaging, intelligent, independent and unconventional heroine.

From the very first page I could not put this book down. It begins, “To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.” The book, which is full of similar delicious understatement, goes on the describe how Lady Julia copes with her socialite husband’s demise, supposedly from a long-standing infirmity. Julia is outraged and disbeleving when Nicholas Brisbane visits her to inform her that her husband had been receiving death threats and was probably murdered. Eventually Julia finds evidence in her husband’s papers that confirms it was murder. She determines to bring her husband’s killer to justice and enlists Brisbane’s help. Brisbane himself has many secrets and is forced to leave Julia to follow the trail of clues herself, along the way exposing many more unpleasant truths.

I thought this book was just thrilling! I loved all the period details, including the attention paid to Lady Julia’s wardrobe. I loved the eccentric characters. I loved the revelations of the dark world of vice so similar to portrayals in the stories of Sherlock Holmes. The ending very definitely makes way for a sequel, and I just can’t wait for it to come out!