Monday, February 11, 2013

Winter Doldrums? Here's Your Literary Prescription.

"Has that happened to you yet in your life? You hear a word forever, then all of a sudden it makes a whole different sense? That happens to me all the time."
By Richard Ford

Winter-after-New-Years always sucks.

You've worn all your cute winter things too much already, you can't afford to buy new clothes, you've worn your tights so much that they are starting to wear thin, the flu is rampant (and you ride public transportation and have all of a sudden become very paranoid), and all you want to do is either go on vacation or lay around in bed all day and eat.

Or maybe that's just me.

But thankfully, there are few more captivating things to bring one out of the winter funk than books. I usually wait until I've read about three new books to update, but I was so excited upon finishing my last one that I didn't want to wait--I wanted it fresh and vivid in my head. But let's start from earlier in the month and work our way forwards.

Here's what's been getting me through the winter doldrums:

-The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: I walked into the library a few weeks ago and this book basically greeted me at the door. I felt that it was fate. I couldn't believe the library even had it considering it's J.K. Rowling and is pretty new, but then again, this is certainly not Harry Potter. Rowling's narrative centers on a small, fictional town in England called Pagford which is basically run by the town's elected council. Though the town is small, the council fills a large hole in life for many of the people. After one of the main council members Barry dies unexpectedly, there is a run on his seat with people clamoring to get onto the council. Though the plot makes its focal point the upcoming election and the race to the council seat, Rowling spends a lot of time on the character development of the varous people around Pagford, all of whom had some connection to the deceased Barry. Sometimes you wish that Rowling would just get on with the story and stop showing us so much about the characters, who are plentiful, but just when you want her to move on with the plot, she does. Rowling has shown us that she knows how to develop a character and make them real people through her Harry Potter books, and she goes even further here. The great thing is that there are lots of characters to hate and to sympathize with, which is a great mix for the kind of small-town political intrigue that arises when somehow mysterious posts from the "Ghost of Barry Fairbrother" keep showing up on the council's site. Though the world is certainly adult and the election is very adult, the troubled teenagers take up a large part of the focus as they try to cope with their horrible families, impoverished lives, falling in love, and trying to figure out who they are in the light of their parents.  Rowling does a great job of making us care about this small town and the people who reside in it, no matter how broken they are. My one major complaint was that I thought that some of the tie-ups of the story were rushed and a little too loose. But if you love character-focused books, this one is for you!

-Canada by Richard Ford: I love books that make me actually get up out of bed when I randomly wake up at 7:00AM on a Saturday morning just so that I can finish the last 20 pages that I couldn't finish the day before. And thus, I loved Canada. Seriously. I've been trying to think about how I wanted to write about this book and I don't think I've figured it out yet, so bare with me. I've been wanting to read this book since it came out, so when I got an email from HarperCollins about reviewing it, I jumped on it! The main character is Dell Parsons who, along with his twin sister, has grown up his whole life on military bases, moving around from place to place with a family that pretty much just simply functions. When Dell's father gets into some financial trouble and decides that the best way to get out of it is to find a bank to rob, which is just what Dell's parents do. After they are inevitably arrested and jailed, Berner finds her own way to cope with her disappointing childhood by leaving home, and Dell, as the good, rule-abiding boy that he is, heeds his mother's wishes and agrees to be smuggled across the Canadian border to live and work with a stranger who takes him in and puts him to work. And this is where it gets interesting. Dell's employer is a dandy-ish man with lots of secrets, and part of the fun of the story is finding them out, so I won't spoil it too much, but let's just say that his reasons for being in Canada are not particularly kosher. When Dell gets involved in some of the dealings in the small Canadian town, things go awry and Dell's young life will never be the same. One of the more interesting aspects of the book is Dell and Berner's relationship and how it is both affected and not by their parents' new criminality. The story itself is arresting, but what really pulled me in was the spare, yet magnificent prose. It really felt like Ford was telling you the story while sitting under a burningly blue, wide sky--it swallowed me up and held me prisoner until I finished it. I usually like to get through books to get on to the next, but I really took my time with this because I wanted to savor every word. This was the perfect book for a contemplative February. If you like William Faulkner, hell even if you somehow don't like Faulkner, I encourage you to pick it up.

Though Canada was a lovely distraction from winter, there are still several weeks to go, so I'm stock-piling on books to get me through. I just started the fun book Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors and am so far fascinated by the shocking lives of those who have so influenced our culture and society. I will be sure to update you on that one soon!

I hope that you are somehow avoiding the winter blues, whether it be with books, a vacation, parties, or however you prefer to spend your time.

Keep Reading, friends,

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