Yep, it’s not a blue moon, or even a full one -but the stars have aligned so that both books clubs I belong to chose to meet this week. Which meant while I took a leisurely 10 days to read one, I crammed the other in over the weekend! These two books are nothing alike, but since I’m reading and dicussing them in tandem, I can’t help but compare apples to oranges, as it were.
First up – as discussed in last night’s meeting: Digging to America by Anne Tyler. I gave it a C/C-…and my reasons are basically the same as one Amazon reviewer, so I’ll include their words here:I finished this book because I was urged to by people who had read and loved it, but the reason why is still beyond me. Nothing much happens in this book except a series of suburban dinner parties. Since there is no plot, some strength of characterization should have been necessary, but none of the characters are engaging and we don’t get to know them very well. There are some sentences and scenes which are good and amusing descriptions of people’s thoughts and conversations, but that’s not enough to carry a book which was conceived without much in the way of content.
This reviewer pretty much covered all my opinions on the book. I’d only add that I was disappointed by the direction the author takes the book: you start out expecting to read a story of 2 families adopting children from Korea and learning about all that goes into that – but this is just glossed over while the focus falls on the grandmother of one of the adopted children: a critical, cold widow who, an immigrant herself, is afraid of becoming too American.
Another side irritant is that I couldn’t help but wonder why Tyler chose to make Maryam (the foreign grandma) and her family Iranian. Any ethnicity would have served her purpose – I felt that Tyler’s choice was an author’s cop-out – an easy way to borrow some drama and conflict thanks to Sept 11. It was a cheap shot, imo, and not used very well besides. Unlike The Namesake – where I felt truly immersed in the Bengali culture – the description of Iranian culture here felt torn from a cookbook.
As for the other book: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, the meeting is Wed night – and I’m hoping for the rain to finally go away, so we can enjoy a nice evening outside – the perfect surroundings for this story. (As for Digging we met at a Korean restaurant, which turned out to earn the same grade as the book: C-. Maybe it’s just me, but Korean food just tasted oilier and saltier than Japanese – I had the salmon, which I always love, and managed to be “underwhelmed.”)
I enjoyed this book – I give it a solid B, a B+ even. Unlike Tyler’s book, Kingsolver does an excellent job developing her characters, both major and minor. The conflicts are subtle, the plot woven gently – so the characters take center stage. There is a great deal of fascinating info about nature, insects, birds, and farms – yet it never feels didactic or overwhelming. One of my favorite parts was her description of scent, and the way we respond to it.
The only time I did get a “preachy” vibe from the novel was in reference to pesticides and organic produce – here, I felt the author was using her characters as a soapbox she could stand on.
I read this book the last week of May/first of June – a perfect time to do so: I was often reading outside, and listening to the wind in the trees, smelling the new bloom of peonies, and surrounded by clover. Even all the bugs heightened my enjoyment of the read. Perhaps the only time I will EVER say bugs heightened my enjoyment of ANYTHING.