Sunday, January 22, 2012

Book Review

I am a bit of a book junkie. I don't get a lot of opportunity to read when I am at home, but luckily I ride the bus to and from work 4 days a week which provides me with ample time to read. And sometimes, especially if I am reading a 'can't put down' book, I will sneak in extra moments at home.

I haven't always been a book reader. When I was young I rarely read except for the Sweet Valley High series which a friend convinced me to read (oh, that Jessica and Elizabeth). I often say that I rarely read then because I really needed to focus on my homework. Anytime I would pick up a novel I would devote all my time to that and not to homework so it didn't seem worth it. But it was actually more than that. Book reading wasn't really encouraged. I never saw others at home reading a book. My dad read the newspaper, but there were no novels, biographies, or even self help books sitting around the house (which there probably was a real need for). I know I had books when I was really little, but not so much as I got older. In fact one of my favorites was The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton.

Years ago I bought this book for a friend's daughter and another for my future child. I still had my copy from childhood, but wanted a fresh, new one so my future daughter or son could have their own. It has a lot of words so Riley hasn't really embraced it yet, but she did patiently flip through the whole book while I told her the abbreviated story this past week and it made my day.

I know that not everyone is a book reader or has to be, but now that I have become one I see what value it can have. My daughter already has quite a book collection and it is the one thing that I am ok with her having 'too' much of. I hope she continues to love reading books. I know I will keep reading and I hope that inspires her to do so as well.

So how did I become a book reader? Well, it didn't happen overnight. As an adult I subscribed to the newspaper and then some magazines. These were great as I continued my education and I could quickly read an article in between homework assignments. I'd read a novel here and there, but it wasn't really until I had forced time to read (such as on the bus) and found a genre that I like (historical fiction, memoirs...). A few years back I started an informal book exchange at work. Leave a book, take a book... whatever. I'm not one to want to keep books (I only read them once),  I don't want to spend a lot on them either (I have found a lot of great books on clearance shelves, thrift stores, and garage sales), and I don't want them cluttering up space at home. The book exchange has worked out great and has encouraged me to read books that I might not have originally.

So this year I decided to keep track of the books I read. Partly out of curiosity as to how many books I read in a year and partly so I can refer back to which books I'd recommend and which ones I wouldn't. The first book of 2012 was The Last Girls by Lee Smith. Apparently, Smith's best known books are often set in the Appalachian Mountains or around the time of the Civil War. This book was neither of those things and  was actually inspired by her own trip down the Mississippi when she was in college.

The book follows the tale of 4 women who travel down the Mississippi river together years after taking a raft down the river with 8 other women in 1965. Smith does a great job of intertwining present with past and a good job of creating 4 very different characters. She does focus a bit more on one of the four women which felt a little awkward and clunky at first, but then she found a decent story telling groove. Overall, I would rate this as a good read. If you don't identify with one character you might identify with another. I probably would have found this even more enjoyable if I were in my 50's or if I was a young woman in the 1960's as there were pieces that just didn't speak to me, but I would still recommend this book. Grade: B

I have to admit that my next reading selection was chosen more for it's size than anything. When I scour the shelves at the book store I usually start with the look of the book. Is it a paperback (hardcovers are often more expensive and heavier to carry around)? Is it a small to medium book? Is the cover pleasing? I know, I know... a book should not be judged by it's cover, but I have to start somewhere. There are a lot of books on the shelves. But once I get past looking at the outside of the book I read the description. Does it appeal to me? Yes? Buy the book. No? Put it back on the shelf no matter how pretty the cover is. I felt like I had been reading a lot of books that were a little heavier (in the weight department) so when I grabbed Montana 1948 by Larry Watson I gave it a second chance even though the cover did not inspire me. Why? Because it was small. A mere 175 pages.

And I'm glad I did give it a second chance. This may have been a fast read, but it was very well written. I assumed it might be lacking details, but I had a definite vision of how the house and the town looked... even if he didn't give his reader a ton of description. The story, as you might imagine, is set in 1948 in Montana. It's a tale of a family and their Sioux housekeeper where a difficult choice has to be made between family and justice. This book was clear, and concise. It didn't wander in ways that didn't benefit the story. It was clean and refreshing, and I look forward to reading more of Mr. Watson's work. Grade: A

Next book review: A disturbing, but can't put down read and another Lee Smith book.


  1. I LOVE "The Little House!" I still have my copy from when I was growing up and it's one of my favorites to read with my son, along with "Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel." Thank you so much for the kind comment on my blog. I appreciate it so much. :)

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    2. Looks like I have another book to pick up as I've never read "Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel". I am throwing my daughter a book party for her second birthday so this might be just the excuse to buy it. Glad you stopped by!


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