Powered by
Movable Type 3.2

September 01, 2007

June Books, Part Two

2007 Finishes: Books

So I was reading Rachel's comments on Nineteen Minutes (and other books she read in August) and realized that I never finished posting my June books, never mind July. Oh, and it's September 1, so I guess I owe you August too. We'll get there. Here are the rest of my June books:

Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - And Doesn't by Stephen Prothero
Genre: Religion, current events
Pages: 296
Rating: 4
Prothero, a religious studies professor at BU, argues that Americans need to be more "literate" about religion in order to understand cultural references as well as current national and world events. Among other things, he believes that students should learn about the Bible and world religions in public school. His argument is pretty convincing, but I think in his zeal he underestimates how difficult it would be to enforce that teachers taught about religions without arguing for or against them. He certainly made me want to learn more about various religions, though. I thought the most interesting part of the book was the short history he provides of religion in American public life in general and in public education in particular. After his argument, Prothero provides a "dictionary of religious literacy" - almost 100 pages of terms, definitions, and explanations. He says that he concentrated on those concepts that have played a large role in recent political and other events, but it still seemed odd that he didn't even mention Wicca or other pagan religions. You'd think that would at least come up in Harry Potter/witchcraft/censorship discussions. Prothero could have used a better editor - I found a bunch of typos, and at least two different dates given for the Westminster Confession. And the subtitle bothered me, because it sounds like the "doesn't" means "doesn't need to know" rather than "doesn't know." Overall, though, it was a thought-provoking read.

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
Genre: Literature
Pages: 455
Rating: 4.2
I have a love-hate relationship with Jodi Picoult. (Well, it's entirely one-sided, so not really a relationship, but never mind.) I really like her characters and some of the situations she creates, but at the same time, she drives me crazy. Especially her endings. This time, she addresses the causes and effects of school violence by looking at it from the viewpoints of the shooter himself, his parents, local lawyers (one of whom was a character in Salem Falls as well), cops, and judges, and affected classmates (one of whom happens to be the judge's daughter). As usual, I got pretty attached to some of the characters, and had trouble putting the book down during certain sections. And, actually, the ending wasn't anywhere near as dumb as the ending of, say, My Sister's Keeper. (I have to confess that I peeked ahead at the ending of this one, so I'd be prepared if it were as awful as some of her others. And that's saying a lot, because I very rarely peek.) My main problem with this book was a few big factual errors. Glaring. In a scene set in 1990, a character refers to Elaine Chao as the head of the Dept. of Labor. Chao is the Secretary of Labor NOW (since 2001), not 17 years ago. And in a scene set in 1995, Jeanne Shaheen appears as the governor of NH. Shaheen was elected in 1996 and didn't actually become governor until 1997. Other than that, though, it was a pretty good read, even if the explanations it provided were a bit facile at times.

The Fortune Quilt by Lani Diane Rich
Genre: Chick lit
Pages: 262
Rating: 4.6
Frankly, the synopsis of this book didn't grab me: a television producer does a story on a psychic quiltmaker and is given a quilt with psychic reading, and then her life falls apart and she blames the quilt. So she goes back to the quiltmaker and ends up living for a while in the eccentric small town where the quiltmaker lives. And then elements of her old life resurface and she has to decide how or whether to combine her lives. It sounded pretty formulaic and gimmicky, what with the psychic quilt and all. It ended up being much much better than I'd expected, though. The main character is sufficiently flawed as to be likeable, and the situations in which she finds herself are a bit weird but not ridiculously extreme. And her struggle to decide what she wanted in her life was exactly what I was in the mood to read about. There's a large cast of interesting (if wacky) secondary characters and believable personal growth in several areas. It's definitely a feel-good read, and I will be looking for more by this author.

You Know You Love Me: A Gossip Girl Novel by Cecily von Ziegesar
Genre: Young adult
Pages: 227
Rating: 3.6
This is the second book in the Gossip Girl series, which I started reading because there's a TV show of it (with Kristen Bell, a.k.a. Veronica Mars) starting in the fall. They're complete trash, but fun and addictive. Total candy. Cotton candy, actually. Very little substance. The characters in this series are superrich teens at snobby private schools in Manhattan. They spend lots of time shopping, drinking, and smoking pot in Central Park. They all have Issues, of course - family stuff, eating disorders, etc. But these are just touched on, not explored in any deep fashion. Much of this second volume revolves around college visits and applications. Some of the characters are pretty awful, but most have redeeming qualities of some sort.

Looking for Alaska by John Green
Genre: Young adult
Pages: 221
Rating: 4.5
This novel has been much-discussed in YA circles, and it was one of those books I almost didn't want to read because I was afraid it wouldn't be as good as everyone said it was. And... it wasn't, honestly. It wasn't the Best Book Ever. But it was extremely good. It tells the story of a somewhat pretentious loner who goes to boarding school and meets, among other people, a unique, captivating girl named Alaska. The book revolves around a tragedy that occurs in the middle of the story, and I could tell what was coming practically from the beginning, but I don't think that really ruined anything. This story is more about how the characters react to events than it is about the events themselves. The pretentious tone annoyed me until I realized that it fit with the characters perfectly. The book may have been taking itself way too seriously, but the fact that the main characters took themselves way too seriously made this okay. I'm planning to read another book by Green soon, so we'll see if the tone really belongs to him or the characters.

Anyone but You by Lara M. Zeises
Genre: Young adult
Pages: 245
Rating: 4.7
I picked this up somewhat randomly from a display at the YA section of my local library, and I was very pleasantly surprised. It was great. It's about teenage almost-stepsiblings (Seattle's dad dated Critter's mom and then disappeared, leaving her with the ex-girlfriend) and what happens to them over the beginning of a summer. Seattle* and Critter have always been best friends, but suddenly they're growing up and things get weird. They each start dating someone the other hates, but what's really behind the hatred? How do they really feel about each other? And then Seattle's dad comes back, and things get really complicated. The chapters alternate between the two characters, and Zeises does a very good job of making these voices different from each other but both believable. Seattle uses a bunch of skateboarding technology I didn't understand, but that didn't really take much away from the book as a whole. The romantic in me sort of wanted a more idealized ending, but the actual conclusion of the novel is just how it should be, I think.

I was already pretty impressed, but a few hours after finishing the book, I suddenly realized** that at one point, Critter watches Clueless and then has a dream in which his girlfriend sort of becomes Alicia Silverstone but with elements of Seattle. This little detail seems very telling, as Clueless ends with Alicia Silverstone's character getting together with her almost-stepbrother. The whole thing is very subtle, but it would be too coincidental - Zeises must have done it on purpose. And this made me hopeful about Critter and Seattle's future. Because, as we've established, I'm a hopeless romantic. But anyway. Read this book.
* What's with the weird place name thing in the books I'm reading? Alaska, now Seattle...
** Confession: because I'm a dork, there was an intermediary step in this revelation. Critter/Seattle actually reminded me of Knightley/Emma, and then I realized the Clueless thing after that.

Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky
Genre: Women's fiction
Pages: 358
Rating: 3
Rachel warned us that this was awful, so I had to get it from the library to see the awfulness. I'm not really sure why. Anyway, I read this book while home sick, and it was perfect for that sort of thing. Completely mindless, pretty bad writing, iffy characterization, but a page-turner. It's about a white couple who gives birth to a baby who looks African-American, and what they go through between themselves and with their families and communities. I have a feeling it was supposed to make me think about lots of Important Issues, but it really didn't, since it all seemed so bloody obvious. And the big shocking reveal at the end? It was exactly what I thought was going to happen. Basically, the whole time I was reading the book, I was thinking "this is really pretty awful," but I couldn't put it down.

Posted by Kat at September 1, 2007 03:39 PM

I have the same love-hate, one-sided with Picoult. But like childbirth (so I hear), the pain is quickly forgotten and I'm completely vulnerable for the next book. I downloaded the audiobook for Nineteen Minutes but haven't started it yet. I like Prothero's book too. But I also understand why a public school district would shy away from implementing his recommendations.

Posted by: Sonya at September 1, 2007 05:43 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Page design by fluffa! Hosted at prettyposies.com. Powered by Movable Type 3.2