Monday, February 25, 2008

Book Beat: Sort of Seventies Style

Here's a brief recap of some recent reads.

1. All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki
I listened to this book a few weeks ago and loved it. It is set in an Idaho community known for potato farming (perhaps all Idaho communities are known for this, I don't know). I was both surprised and pleased by the knowledge of potato farming I gained while reading the book: methods of planting, the increased demand for potatoes as the fast food industry grew, the ways government funding subsidies are often tied to required use of pesticides, and the way genetic engineering is changing farming and the actual crops--for better or for worse. I realize all of the above may sound boring, but it really wasn't because it was, after all, a novel and not a survey of potato farming. The characters are the kind I like: damaged but lovable. And, if you've read my previous book posts, you know I also like stories in which people who are very different from one another find ways to respect, connect with, and learn from one another. In the case of this book, the people who come together include an aging potato farmer, his Japanese wife, his estranged daughter and her three multi-racial children (all from different fathers), an infertile couple who grow potatoes, a teacher who once had an affair with his fourteen year-old student back in the seventies, and a group of young food activists who travel across country in a vehicle called the Spudnik that is fueled by leftover oil from the fries at McDonalds and such. It all works. You'll have to trust me on that.

2. Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York by Gail Parent
I learned about this book from Jennifer Weiner, a favorite author of mine, on her blog, who claims this book was one that inspired her to become a writer. This book is from 1975, but my more recent paperback edition's cover proclaims it to be a precursor to Bridget Jones. Most comparisons to Bridget Jones end up being disappointing. Reading about Sheila Levine was satisfying, though not in the same way that reading about Bridget Jones is to me. I'd say Parent's book is a bit darker and bleaker than Fielding's, but still humorous and engaging. I read the book in one day and was really glad to have had the experience.

3. Miss American Pie by Margaret Sartor
I read about this book last summer in O Magazine (which I actually don't subscribe to, if you can believe it). Sartor pieces together her adolescent and teenage diaries from the seventies (I guess I'm on a roll with this decade) and the result is quite readable. Her struggles with relationships and her family are candid, not out of the ordinary and yet quite interesting. She definitely went through an intense period of Christian immersion, which was really intriguing to read about, especially considering that so many teenagers today (at least at the high school where I taught) are passionate about their faith.

I've read a few other books, but they deserve their own posts. Stay tuned for my response to The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta (LOVED IT) and the collection Everything I Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume.

As ever, I ask: What are you reading?

4 comments:

Actchy said...

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. I think I may have accidentally stolen this book from my aunt and uncle's house when we were in Florida. It's a nice book for February: a little gloomy but it moves quickly. The main character has a fascination with freshwater pond microbiology. This serves as a backdrop for the author's observations on familial relationships and class. I like it, and feel the same way about microbiology as you do about potato farming.

E... said...

Great -- another list of books from you that sound great, so I'll be playing follow the leader for the next month, rather than having something new to share with you. I have loved all of your selections of late, particularly the fun Getting Rid of Matthew. I'm re-reading Madeleine L'Engle lately in the hopes of a blog series of sorts, though with the illness around here lately, there's not been much in the way of writing. I LOVED the Judy Blume book when you sent it in honor of N's birth, and will be glad to comment on that post...

msp said...

just started ian mcewan's atonement last night. because i want to read it before i see the movie. i fell asleep after not too many pages...hoping that's not a bad sign.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what that says about me, I rarely have read a book that you blog about. I hope to change that and start on some of your recommendations.

 
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