Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Writing About Reading: Multi-book recap

The worst thing about being sick is that it just zaps all of your energy, creative or otherwise. As a result, the most writing I've done lately has been lists: "tissues. robitussin. cough drops." When your hacking and sneezing becomes a topic of conversation at the office, you know you've been sick awhile. The last month has been miserable for that. Fortunately, I have been able to keep up with my reading. And there's been quite a bit of it, too.

Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown

The tagline on the hot pink cover says it all : Before there was Sex & the City, there was [this book]. My mother suggested I read it after a conversation we'd had about old New York and books that mentioned old telephone exchanges and prices for things. I decided to check it out, as I have a soft spot for such nostalgic things. I was not only surprised by how much I enjoyed it, but how much of it was still viable all of these years later. The sections on dieting, makeup, fashion and the office were amusingly out of date, her observations and advice about men and dating were largely as fresh as I imagine they were when the book was first released. I'm certain it was the Down with Love of its day. Moreover, I liked Brown's overall tone. She was very direct, didn't promise to have all the answers to everything or even that reading her book would be a magic bullet to transform your life. Her attitude was "this worked for me. It could work for you, too." That, combined with the insistence that if a person wants anything (a career, a man, a car, a fur coat) they can't sit back waiting for it and complain that they're not getting it. It was nice to read a self-help book that offered actual advice, and not trying to sell their "nine steps" to the world in order to make them rich and famous.

Little Children by Tom Perrotta

This is a book that will be in the running for my personal book of the year. There are varieties of storytelling that amaze me - one in a positive way, the other in a not-so-positive. When an author has a potentially fascinating story to tell - one filled with the promise of excitement, and it collapses into a dull mess like a flan in a cupboard, I'm amazed at how it all got away from whomever was creating it out of air. On the other hand, when I run across something like this book, which takes fairly ordinary events in a small suburban community and turns it into something so riveting it actually pained me to stop reading, I am pleasantly surprised. I'd read Election and enjoyed it more than I was expecting to, but it did not prepare me for this. Perrotta also was successful in creating rich inner lives for all of his characters while using the third person, something I sometimes have difficulty with. It's not a small cast of characters, either. Some of them are barely around for the length of a chapter, but you feel as though you have some intimate knowledge of them when its time to shift focus to the next scene. More than anything, though, it's truly his turns of phrase that I am in awe of. He must have been visited by the line fairy while he was writing this, because nearly every chapter has some really great ones folded into the story.

I have 3 more books to report as of today, but I'm going to pause this entry here and post it, as I want to break things up a bit (and get to sleep).
Coming up: Relic, Something Borrowed, and Here is New York



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