Wednesday, November 6, 2013

WWRW: Confessions of an Easy Grader, and Two Recommendations

I have always been the type who can't stand the idea of hurting someone's feelings.  Not that I never have--I'm not that good, unfortunately.  But I try so hard not to do or say the kinds of things that will inflict pain on anyone.  Even having to discipline my boys when they were behaving like young hooligans was tough for me, as much as they might have needed it.

Perhaps, I've been wondering lately, that makes me the wrong type of person to be a book reviewer.

When I have to choose the number of stars I'll give a book, whether on Goodreads, Amazon, or CatholicFiction.net, I almost always give the maximum allowed.  I don't know if that's because I really think the books I read for review are that good, or that as a published author I know how difficult it is to hear negative comments about your work; but there's a very good chance that I'm just an easy grader, and if so, my 5-star ratings are going to stop having any credibility.

Let me just confess something right here: I am a bit of a book snob.  I tend to favor the classics, or modern novels that are written with the same degree of literary prowess as the classics, over the popular mainstream fiction you'll find on the NY Times Bestseller list most of the time.  Nothing against Nicholas Sparks and Danielle Steele (whose books I've sampled) or Stephanie Meyer and J.K. Rowling* (whose books I have not--so I suppose I shouldn't judge), but that sort of fiction just doesn't do it for me.  What I really crave is writing that is so beautiful that I need to go back and read passages over, just because of the way the author put the words together.  I get that from some modern fiction, like Ian McEwan's Atonement and David Nicholls' One Day (and shocker--both books are WAY better than their movie adaptations, even though I liked the screen versions); those novels not only tell great stories, but they tell them with the most incredibly deft employment of the English language.  Those books are not just fiction; they are literature.  They feed something in me that a pedestrian romance novel just can't fill.  (La-di-DAH-di-dah.)

I do, however, want to lend whatever support I can to books that have strong Catholic/Christian content, books that have the power to inspire readers.  And I think sometimes I am so eager to spread the word that such books are being written, even in this God-less age of ours, that my tendency is to heap stars upon them.

Not long ago, I was reading Michelle Buckman's Death Panels: A Novel of Life, Liberty, and Faith.  It was definitely a good book, and I applaud Buckman for weaving this chilling cautionary tale which is so significant, given the age in which we live (but tough to read at times, given the Brave New World-esque subject matter).  I thought about giving it 5 stars on Goodreads, but then gave gave it a 4, because as good as it was, it did not affect me quite as profoundly as Brave New World, 1984, or The Lord of the World, all older works that deal with similar themes.  That was hard for me to do, because I've met Buckman in person, and she is not only an excellent writer, but a lovely woman.  But I cherished my 4-star Amazon review from Sarah Rheinard, and I think 4 out of 5 is still an awesome grade.  I did give Buckman's Rachel's Contrition 5 stars, because I thought it was exceptional.

This essay did not start out as a "What We're Reading Wednesday" post, but I just realized that I could recommend both Atonement and One Day here for ADULT Housewifespice readers.  They are not Catholic or even Christian in any overt way.  (I find there is such a dearth of fiction featuring characters with any sort of faith, don't you?)  But they both deal with sin and redemption, they both contain sweet love stories**, and they are both so well-written and so heartbreakingly, poignantly real.
I don't even know how many times I've read this hauntingly beautiful book already,
but I'm guessing about 6 or 7 times.  And I will read it again, I'm sure.

Among the many enthusiastic endorsements for this book is Tony Parsons' comment that "Every reader will fall in love with it.  And every writer will wish they had written it."  So true!  I just love Emma and Dex--you can't help but root for them.  (This is another book I've devoured multiple times, and I'll most definitely read it again.)


 Okay now, if you're up for more WWRW bookishness, head on over to Jessica's!

*There are some real Harry Potter fans in my family, who will probably tell me I'm out to lunch if they read this.

**Warning: The characters in both of these novels engage in sexual activity outside of marriage.  However, the scenes that deal with that are not so racy or numerous that they ruin the experience of reading either book.  In Atonement, there is only one such scene, and it's a tad embarrassing to read.  In One Day, Emma is lovable, but she is no saint, and it is obvious that the extremely flawed and commitment-phobic Dex is a "player"; but the author makes these things known without including much in the way of gratuitous details about their liaisons.  Sex is not the focus of these two novels at all, the way it is in many modern works of adult fiction.

12 comments:

  1. I love Atonement. Love it. I am a Harry lover. (But Meyers is a terrible writer.) Rowling really comes into her own in the series and there are some wonderful gems and takeaways to be had. The early books are not only about young Harry but they're Rowling as a young writer too. Just in defense of her, because I think she really does get more towards a literature feel as she grows. I agree though, I am always looking to feel with a book and when I don't love it deeply I am disappointed.

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    1. I've heard that before, from some reliable sources, that Rowling is a great writer (and that Meyer is not!); so perhaps I'll have to give Harry a shot. Thanks for your insights! :)

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    2. If it's not your kind of book, that's totally okay! She just is above and beyond Meyers--even in her early books. :)

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  2. I was never able to finish Atonement. I tried, and stopped. Tried again and stopped again. Maybe one more time?

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    1. That's me with Les Miserables. I want to read it so badly, but every time I try, I can't do it. And it's not the length, because I actually like long books. I just can't keep with it. As for Atonement, I just loved the writing so much. But I've looked at the book jackets of several other novels by McEwan, and the subject matter didn't grab me--so this is the only book of his I've ever read.

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    2. Oh and Cari--I'm really enjoying the photos coming across my FB news feed, of people promoting your book! I can't wait to read it! I'm in awe of you for being able to write it while being a homeschooling mother of 6--and for getting an endorsement from Jim Gaffigan!!! That is the coolest thing. :)

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  3. I loved Atonement too! Your review has made me want to re-read it (and I never do that, I think because there are so many books I want to get to and I only have one lifetime :)). I know I have a copy somewhere so I'll have to scrounge it up.

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  4. Did not realize that One Day was a book first; will have to seek that out.
    Thanks!

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    1. It's so well-written, I think you'd enjoy it.

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  5. I have never heard of One Day. I like how you notify potential readers of scandalous situations, but don't use those situations to condemn a book. I don't really see how one can have a plot without sin of some kind, and sometimes those sins happen to be sins of the flesh. Well rounded characters are flawed characters. Thanks for the reviews!

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    1. I don't like to condemn a book for that stuff, unless it's a constant barrage of racy details or you can tell it's put there with no reason, just to titillate and all that. I mean, the characters in these books engage in behavior that is obviously wrong, but that behavior is in no way glorified. I haven't read the "50 Shades of Gray" books (and just hearing what they're about, I know I never will!), but that kind of gratuitous sex in books or movies completely turns me off.

      Thanks for doing this link-up. I don't belong to any book clubs; but this feels like an on-line book club, in a way. It's fun.

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