Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book 31: To Die For


"Around sixth or seventh grade we got the video camera- one of the first they came out with- and that's when Suzanne got into news. She'd have me tape her so she could watch her performances and work on certain problem areas, like licking her lips and saying um. It's a very competitive field, video journalism. And she figured it's never too early to start. She knew what she wanted by then, so why wait around to start developing her skills, is what she said. We were all so proud of her."

Dates read: March 14-16, 2016

Rating: 8/10

I don't care for the Kardashians. I refuse to purchase magazines that feature them as cover models. I don't watch any of their shows. I don't buy their apps. I find them to be vapid, shallow, and insipid; with no talent and nothing to offer. I am apparently in the minority in holding that opinion. Which is fine, other people apparently enjoy them and they're richer than I can even dream of ever being. But even I have to hand it to them in one respect...they are incredibly skilled at creating and maintaining one thing that many people want but few have: fame.

Suzanne Maretto, the main character of Joyce Maynard's To Die For, desperately wants to be famous. She wants nothing more in life than to be a national news anchor, and she pursues that goal with relentless determination. Not even just like Jim Harbaugh levels of determination. Attacking each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind isn't enough. She will do whatever it takes. If that means taking out her good-natured husband because he has the gall to want to start a family, well, that's what it means. She begins an affair with an underprivileged, not especially bright high school student and convinces him and his friends to carry out the hit.

The story is told in a multiple-narrator format. We don't know at the beginning that this is the story of a murder, just that something big must have happened. Chapters are told from the viewpoints of Suzanne's parents, her teenage lover, his friends, her husband's parents and friends, and even Suzanne herself (among others). Slowly, the story emerges: the affair, the murder, the arrests, the aftermath. It's well-written, with several very different perspectives that each maintain their own voice (her parents both think she's the bee's knees, but the tone of each parent varies from the other) and so engaging that you keep thinking "just one more chapter" (they're all short) and before you know it you've gobbled through half the book.

I remember seeing the movie treatment of this book several years ago, and enjoying both the sharp satire and the strong performances (Nicole Kidman as Suzanne and Joaquin Phoenix as her young boyfriend were both particularly good). Both the book and the movie depict that rare beast: the sociopathic female. It seems that career ambition is the new social climbing for ladies with anti-social personality disorder. While Scarlett O'Hara and Becky Sharp schemed to land themselves wealthy husbands, Suzanne Maretto and her obvious counterpart, Tracy Flick, maneuver to achieve professional goals. This makes me a little uncomfortable, honestly. I don't think you need to look further than the discourse that has surrounded Hillary Clinton during her time in public office to see that a woman who is too obviously interested in power is treated as some sort of freakish anomaly. I'm in my second traditionally male profession (the law, now lobbying) and the double standards at work are very real and very persistent.

Tell me, blog friends...would you want to be famous?

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Popular Authors I've Never Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThis week's post is a freebie, and since I'm relatively new to this TTT scene, I went back and picked a topic I liked: popular authors that I've never happened. This is a great topic, because there are so many authors whose work I've never sampled! Some of these are ones I don't think I ever will, and some are just a liiiiitle further down on my TBR.

Dean Koontz: I do find the occasional mystery-thriller type book to be entertaining, so I might dip into his writing at some point, but I've seen no need to until now. I assume they must be good because they're so popular?

Nicholas Sparks: Once upon a time I was into the doomed-lovers-one-of-whom-has-cancer-or-something-else-tragic genre, but my Lurlene McDaniels phase is long behind me and this seems like it treads pretty similar territory. Also, I have never seen The Notebook nor do I wish to.

Nora Roberts: Romance is not my genre. It just doesn't keep and hold my attention. There are lots of readers out there for whom Roberts novels are must-reads, but I've never felt even the tiniest glimmer of curiosity about her work.

Agatha Christie: Not yet, anyways. Murder On The Orient Express is on my TBR!

Tom Clancy: Espionage-based books tend to be heavy on plot and light on characterization, while I tend to prefer the opposite.

Ian Fleming: Never read a Bond novel. I find the movies enjoyable but forgettable and the Bond character to be problematic at best, so I don't think I'd enjoy the experience of reading about his exploits.

Sarah Maas: YA is not a large portion of my reading, but in the book blogger community, I definitely feel like an outlier for never having read anything she's ever written. I do have a Maas book on my TBR because the raves on the internet are so intense, but she's not been my top priority to get to yet.

Liane Moriarty: From what I understand, her books are usually of the "middle-class white lady in the burbs finds out an awful secret that turns her world upside down". While I'd be interested in reading something she's written eventually, that's not the type of story that's going to fight for a place on my TBR generally speaking.

Harlan Coben: I have a good friend who loves his books, and I'm definitely interested in reading him someday...if you have recs for a good starter Coben book, leave it in the comments!

John Green: This goes back to the not-super-into-YA bit. But I've heard wonderful things about his writing and have a copy of the much-beloved The Fault In Our Stars that I picked up second hand waiting for me when I get around to it.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Book 30: Sex With The Queen


"If the queen followed the traditional pattern of bearing children, embroidering alter cloths, and interceding for the poor- pious duties that the Virgin Mary would have approved of- even if she took a lover she was usually left in peace. There was rarely reason to shoot down a political nonentity at court. But an intelligent ambitious woman who spoke her mind and built up a faction was always open to the accusation of adultery by her political rivals, whether the accusation was true or fabricated."

Dates read: March 12-14, 2016

Rating: 7/10

I don't know about you, but when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a princess when I grew up. There was the influence of Disney, but there was also the influence of Prince William (this was obviously before he grew up and started to look a lot more like his dad). From what you see on the outside, as a young girl, being a princess looks wonderful. You're rich, famous, and you get to wear a tiara. As a 13 year-old, I was pretty sure I'd found my future.

As it turns out, not so much. Also as it turns out, being royalty kind of sucks. There's plenty of speculation that Prince Harry's trouble in finding a steady girlfriend is (at least in some measure) the pressure of becoming a member of the royal family. As an adult, the idea of trading living under a microscope, with public interest in your private life extending not just to juicy stories, but to snooping on your phone and long-lens photography hoping to catch you taking off your top to tan more evenly, is a devil's bargain for getting to wear some pretty headgear once in a while.

But as much as there are significant downsides to being royalty today, it used to be much worse, especially for women. Author Eleanor Herman details the very real drawbacks being a princess or a queen. Royal women weren't people, they were bargaining chips in international diplomacy. They were married off to princes and kings who were old and fat, who were impotent, who were gay. They were expected to tolerate their husband's infidelity without doing anything that would cast doubt on the true parentage of their children. Those children were frequently unceremoniously confiscated from them and raised according to the wishes of others. Their lush castles were drafty and dirty, and their expensive physicians were as likely to kill them as help them. Their access to funding was usually controlled by other people and so they were slaves to the whims of those who held the purse strings. They were often deprived of the company of those to whom they could speak their native languages...their ladies-in-waiting from their home countries could be dismissed without their consent and seeing their family members required long, complex negotiations that fell through more often than not.

Some princesses and queens, though, didn't follow the rules. They took lovers at great risk to themselves...and even greater risks for the men in question. It is those women (and their men) who Herman's Sex with the Queen is about. After detailing how awful it actually was (and still is, on a certain level) to be a princess, Herman moves into the good stuff: dishy gossip. From the Tudor queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard all the way to Princess Diana (it's not just English queens, there are stories from all over Europe), we're regaled with tales of forbidden passion and courtly intrigue. It covers the expected subjects (the aforementioned Tudor queens, Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great) as well as some lesser-known stories, like that of Sophia Dorothea of Celle and Queen Maria Francisca of Portugal. There's not a lot of substance here, it's mostly well-written soap opera, but it's fun and frothy and easy to read.

Tell me, blog friends...would you want to be royalty?

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite 2016 Releases So Far This Year

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! I'm actually barely squeaking this one out: I've only read about 15 books published in 2016 at all (I'm doing some backlog catching up!), so here are the best ten I've read, some of which I haven't even gotten to publish my reviews for here yet!


The Serpent King: I loved this YA novel about a group of outcast teenage friends in the rural South and only wish I had been 16 when I read it for the first time because I would have loved it all the more. 

Enchanted Islands: This piece of WWII-era historical fiction based on a real person is written beautifully and has the kind rich character development I can't resist. Not your typical WWII by a long shot (it takes place in American and the Galapagos Islands, not Europe).

The Big Rewind: Fun, witty, engaging, light...I've recommended this as a beach read more than once and I stand by that: put it in your tote bag and bring it along to the water!

The Winged Histories: This loose sequel is slow to start and get yourself oriented in, but the writing is just heartbreakingly lovely and it is very worth it to stick with it even if you can't get into it at first. 

And After Many Days: I love books that work on multiple time tracks, and the way this novel parallels a family's despair when a beloved son disappears with the lives of his parents and the choice they made during their younger years 

Private Citizens: Millennials (especially those on the older edge, like me) are finally old enough to have biting satire written about us by one of our own. Thought-provoking and skewering at the same time.

Mr. Splitfoot: This wasn't always the most even book to read, but it was haunting and as I thought it might, it's stuck with me since I read it.

On The Edge of Gone: A teenage biracial autistic girl with a drug-addict mother and a transgender sister could seem like melodrama in the wrong hands. But in Corinne Duyvis', Denise and her family are real and relatable. A fresh take on the "end of the world" drama.

Approval Junkie: With super well-known comedians, there's such high expectations for these kinds of books of short essays to be just incredible from top to bottom. Faith Salie's lower profile makes the genuine humor of hers a pleasant surprise

Thirst: Living out west, especially with the protracted drought we've seen lately, makes you wonder about a world without fresh water. The pacing is spotty, but the horror is real and visceral.

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Reading Life: Grassroots Books

I have hundreds, literally hundreds of books. Some still live at my mom's, some at my dad's, but most of them live with me where they belong. And that collection is ever-growing. (sorry husband). I know I should use the library more, it's about a ten minute walk from my workplace, but there's something about owning the books, seeing them on the shelves, knowing that they're mine that I find irresistible.

If I were buying only new books, even at Amazon prices, this would be a significant financial investment. I've already highlighted Thriftbooks one of my favorite ways to get my paws on used books, but the place I can't tear myself away from is a place that made me pretty sure Drew and I were meant to be when he took me to: Grassroots Books.

Grassroots is amazing, you guys! For most of their books, their pricing is easy: $1.99 for paperbacks and $3.99 for hardcovers. Since they are a business with people to employ and everything, they do have recent/popular titles individually priced for more, and they do keep a stock of some new books that they sell around list price. But that means there are hundreds and hundreds of other books at their baseline price (which is either two or four dollars, again). This is cheaper than Thriftbooks, where the lowest price is usually about $3.60. You CAN find cheaper secondhand at Goodwill/thrift stores, but those tend to be treasure hunts, scouring loosely organized shelves for what you're looking for. Not so at Grassroots. They are categorized and alphabetized like they would be in pretty much any other bookstore, so it's easy to find where what you want should be and if they have it.

And that's not even the best part! Not only does every shopper get a free book every year (!!!), there are also monthly warehouse deals, where the books that they don't have room for in the proper store (i.e. things in less-than-great condition because they only sell things in good shape, things that there a million copies of like Twilight) are sold for just $1. And if you wait until Sunday (the sales usually start Thursday and end Sunday), you can fill a grocery bag for $5. It's definitely a warehouse, books are NOT in neat order so it's a hunting expedition, but $5!

If you live in Reno and love to read and you haven't been (ever or in a while), you should go! They're open from 9 AM to 8 PM every single day and their calendar with information about when sales are happening is on their website. Happy reading, Reno!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Book 29: American Gods


"There are stories that are true, in which each individual's tale is unique and tragic, and the worst of the tragedy is that we have heard it before and we cannot allow ourselves to feel it too deeply. We build a shell around it, like an oyster dealing with a painful particle of grit, coating it with smooth pearl layers in order to cope. This is how we walk and talk and function, day in, day out, immune to others' pain and loss. If it were to touch us it would cripple us or make saints of us; but, for the most part, it does not touch us. We cannot allow it to." 

Dates read: March 8-12, 2016

Rating: 8/10

Awards/Lists: NY Times Bestseller, Hugo Award

I'm an atheist. I was going to soften that a little, say that I'm agnostic, but when push comes to shove, I don't believe in god(s). I respect that other people do, and on some level I wish I did. It must come with a measure of comfort to feel like that there's a greater plan for us and what feel like personal setbacks to you are a part of that plan, that a higher power wouldn't give you obstacles to overcome that you weren't capable of handling. But when I search my heart I know that I don't.

Virtually every culture, around the world and across time, has some kind of religious/mythological belief system. Where did we come from? How are we to live? Those basic questions gave rise to hundreds, even thousands, of myths to give the answers (see: the entire Masks of God series I spent months of my life reading). In an anthropological/psychological sense, God did not create man. Man created the gods. And in Neil Gaiman's American Gods, we didn't just create them as concepts in the sky; they are corporeal beings and they need us, our prayers and our tributes, to thrive. But we as Americans haven't been giving them what they need for a long time now. What idols do we regard with something close to reverence today? TVs. Our phones. Our computers. And that has given rise to new gods in competition for our devotion with the old ones.

In its central and most straightforward plot line, American Gods follows Shadow Moon, a convict released from prison at the very beginning of the novel, and his work with the mysterious Mr. Wednesday to round up the old gods to do battle against the new in a final battle. But this isn't a straightforward novel, and its reach expands far beyond the basic premise. Gaiman explores the history of the gods, explaining how they got to the United States in the first place...from prehistoric travel across the land bridge over the Bering Straight, to the Vikings, to the slave trade and more. He shows us how these neglected gods survive in the real world: Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba, is a prostitute, and Thoth and Anubis have set up shop as undertakers for the minority community in a small town in Illinois. There's a short story within the novel of a gay Arab man, trying desperately to sell his brother-in-law's trinkets to distributors in New York City, and his encounter with an ifrit. There's a subplot about an idyllic small town in Wisconsin and how it stays prosperous and comfortable even while surrounding communities suffer. Gaiman has created a rich and thick and layered experience to read and absorb.

So why not a more glowing review, a higher rating? Well, as much as I appreciated it, I didn't connect with it very much. Shadow, our main character, is a cipher who neither speaks particularly often or has an especially rich inner life. And it makes sense, for who he's supposed to be: the only son of a peripatetic single mother who never had many friends growing up, who's spent a few years in the clink and loses the person closest to him right from the start. Why wouldn't he be withdrawn and closed off? Left alone in the world, why wouldn't he practice coin tricks instead of losing himself in his thoughts? But as much as I understand the characterization, it keeps the book at a distance, at least at first. As it moved along I got more swept up in it, but it still didn't quite click. It's actually a book I think would improve on that I know what's coming and how it all plays out, I'd like to go back and start it from the beginning. Not right now. But eventually.

Tell me, blog friends: do you re-read often?

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Most Anticipated Releases For The Second Half Of The Year

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic is books that will be published over during what remains of 2016. I'm fortunate enough to have ARCs for many of these books and I can't wait to get to them!

Chronicle Of A Last Summer (June 28): A coming of age story set thirty years ago in Egypt (when Hosni Mubarak assumed power), it follows a young woman through the course of her life. This debut novel has good buzz and I've never read anything set in modern-day Egypt.

The End of the Perfect 10 (July 5): I'm one of those weirdos that prefers the Winter Olympics (figure skating is my second favorite sport after Michigan football), but when the Summer Games come around I am all gymnastics all the time. I watch the men, but the ladies are really where it's at, and this look at the post-Comaneci era seems like it will be super fun to read.

The Hopefuls (July 19): As a lobbyist, I'm a sucker for stories set in and around the political sphere. And as a lady four(!!!) days from her wedding, stories about newlyweds have a particular appeal for me right now. Since my fiance and I are both involved in the political scene here in Nevada, I think this book is going to really hit the spot for me.

You Will Know Me (July 26): Remember how I was just talking about how much I like women's gymnastics? This book is about a family whose daughter is an aspiring Olympic gymnast and whose family is doing everything they can to support her and make her dream happen, but when a fellow young gymnast dies, everything is thrown into turmoil. I can't wait to read this on a beach somewhere and get sunburned because I'm too focused on it to remember to turn over.

American Heiress (August 2): I'm a big Toobin was his book about OJ that got adapted into that killer FX miniseries (which I've actually not read yet), but I got into him from his Supreme Court writing. I love books about the Court, but this one is another true-crime style nonfiction: about Patty Hearst, whose story I know only the outlines of and I'm really interested to learn more.

Harmony (August 2): This one has a plot that's a little murkier, but intriguing. It's about a family whose oldest daughter isn't neurotypical (maybe on the spectrum, maybe a kind of savant, it's not clear) and go to a camp in the woods to seek the help of an expert to care for and understand their child. Family drama is territory I reliably find fascinating,

How To Party With An Infant (August 9): I unexpectedly loved Kaui Hart Hemmings' The Descendants. This novel, about a Bay Area woman who finds out her boyfriend is someone else's fiance only once she is pregnant with his child and what she does when she finds out a few years later that he wants their daughter to be in the wedding, seems quirky-could-go-ridiculous but I have faith in Hemmings' skill.

The Underground Railroad (September 13): I've heard good things about Colson Whitehead's previous novel, Zone One, which is sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read. But I've heard incredible things about this, his newest, which posits the Underground Railroad as a literal railroad and I expect it to provoke both thoughts and tears.

The Terranauts (October 25): Even if there's disagreement about cause, I don't think many people are disputing that climate change is real these days. This book is set in the near-ish future, where people are preparing for the idea that they may not be able to stay on earth and developing a module for colonizing other planets, which is run as half

Solutions and Other Problems (October 25): Just because I read every entry on Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half website doesn't mean I didn't buy the book. I get actual crying laughter jags from reading her stuff, and on the flip side, her writing related to her struggles with depression (which I have a history with myself) is so on-point and relatable. I can't wait to see what her follow-up brings.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Book 28: Dead Ever After

"I'd never imagined feeling this way, but I couldn't handle this emotional jerking around. I'd start to feel okay, then I'd get poked in the sore spot, like taking a scab off my knee when I was a kid. In books, the hero was gone after the big blowup. He didn't stick around in the vicinity, doing mysterious shit, sending messages to the heroine by a third party. He hauled his ass into oblivion. And that was the way things should be, as far as I was concerned. Life should imitate romance literature far more often."

Dates Read: March 6-8, 2016

Rating: 6/10

I can't remember exactly when it was that I started watching True Blood, but I do remember it was with my sister, on her laptop. She told me I just had to watch it  and we binged the first three or four episodes in a row...each episode ended with a cliffhanger so the lure of another one was hard to resist. After I watched the first season or two, I got curious about the books they were based on, so I picked up a copy of Dead Until Dark, the first in the series. Just like the show, I was hooked. I devoured the available books and read each one as they came out until the last one in 2013. I was in the middle of my first legislative session and busy, and then I kept telling myself I could read Dead Ever After any old time, that I should read the more Serious Literature I had accumulated first. So that's why it's three years later and I'm just now catching up.

My preferred genres to read tend to be contemporary and historical fiction...romance, especially paranormal romance, isn't really up my alley at all (with the exception of the Twilight series). So I was surprised by how much I really enjoy reading Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Mysteries series, but enjoy it I do. For those who watched the show, Sookie Stackhouse in the books is a different (and much more compelling) character than she is on TV, so if you're thinking you might not want to read these because Sookie annoys you, don't let that keep you away. Book Sookie is stronger, sassier, more independent. She does have the same kind of improbable love life (even more suitors in the books than the show, actually), but hey, it's a romance series.

Harris has stated that she ended the series, which was still quite popular, because (to paraphrase) she was just not really feeling it anymore. And to be honest, it's pretty obvious over the course of the last three or four books that her interest was waning. The "mystery" at the center of the story doesn't build a ton of tension, but it serves okay as a framing device. There was a lot of storyline tying up going on here, and token final appearances by Sookie's very much feels like a "farewell" to the series.

As for the final resolution of Sookie's love life, I know a lot of fans pitched a fit at who she ends up with, and while that wasn't my personal OTP for this series, it's Harris' story to tell and I didn't feel like it came out of left field or anything like that. It's hard to evaluate the final book in a series on its own merits. You can take it on its own to a certain extent, but it's inextricably (to me, at least) tied in with how you feel about the entire series and how the whole story was told. In the end, I feel like my fondness for the series is likely overshadowing the weaknesses of this individual volume. I did really like reading these books, and I'd recommend them even for those who don't usually dabble in this genre. They're quick and entertaining, and I think of them kind of as literary snacks, like maybe a Hostess cupcake or something. Not a lot of nutritional value or lasting fullness there, but every once in a while it's a fun way to indulge a little.

Tell me, blog friends...what books that you've picked up outside of your usual reading niche have surprised you in a good way?

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Reasons I Love Going To The Bookstore

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThe honest truth is that I do a lot of my book buying either on Amazon (because price) or thrift/secondhand stores (also because price). I read/buy a lot of books, I would never be able to afford it paying full retail value. But I do stop at my local independent bookstore as often as I can reasonably do so (3-4 times per year), and here's what I love about it!

Supporting a local business: I don't know about you, but I like knowing that when I go in and buy books, I'm helping support people in my community having book jobs. This is one of the biggest reasons I feel bad about shopping on Amazon, so if someone could go ahead and plant a money tree in my backyard, that would be great.

The smell: There's an amazing smell of pages and ink when you walk in the door to a bookstore that's intoxicating enough that I blame it for my inability to control myself and only buy one book. Giles was right, knowledge should be smelly.

Actual humans to that like books to talk to: Obviously all my internet friends are human, too, but it's really nice to get to chat about book things face-to-face. Asking employees for recs based on the books you already enjoyed can yield some really great quality discoveries!

The unexpected: Even when I go in with an idea of what I want to pick up, I always like to take the time to browse at the tables and see the employee never know what's going to be there to catch your eye!

Bookish goodies: I haven't been in a bookstore yet that only sells books...there are cards, bookmarks, journals, mugs, and other book-type swag. Lots of things to discover!

Finding the perfect thing for someone else: This is part of why browsing is key...something can catch your eye that someone you love clearly needs and even if birthdays/Christmas are a while away yet, you can just buy it and stash it in the back of the closet and done.

Readings/signings: I'm super bummed I'm going to miss Stephen King at the Reno Barnes & Noble coming up here in a few weeks...because it's on my wedding day! Getting married will be better, I expect, but getting to meet the people who wrote words that you love is the bestest.

People watching: Sometimes I like to find something I'm interested in and kind of leaf through it while I make up little stories in my head about the people around me and who they are to each other. I tend to assume the best about them because if they're in a bookstore they have to be good people, right?

Coffee and snacks: Not every bookstore sells coffee, obviously, but when they do it just encourages you to linger, and something about the smell of the coffee and the books together is just about the most magical smell in the world.

Walking out with books: Obviously, this is the best part!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Book 27: The Good Earth

"Moving together in a perfect rhythm, without a word, hour after hour, he fell into a union with her which took the pain from his labor. He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect symmetry of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over to the sun, this earth which formed their homes and fed their bodies and made their gods."

Dates read: March 3-6, 2016

Rating: 4/10

Awards/Lists: Pulitzer Prize

Once upon a time, many if not most people lived a predominantly agrarian lifestyle. You were born on a farm, you lived on a farm, you died on a farm, and while you were alive you ate the food you grew. Money for things you couldn't grow came from selling the things that did. And then the Industrial Revolution happened, and cities boomed, and no matter how much presidential candidates like to say the opposite when they're spending time in Iowa at the beginning of the campaign cycle, the era of the small family farm is effectively over and it's never coming back. That's not to say that no one in America lives on a family farm anymore, obviously, but the numbers are small and declining every year.

Besides Iowa, why is it that we romanticize those days so much? For my money, there's a very profound appeal of a time when it seemed like life was so much simpler, when you worked with your hands to get what you needed. Especially in this day and age, where I'm sitting at a desk typing this into a computer, but the sentimental attachment to that time seems to have been around for quite a while, because when Pearl Buck won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Good Earth, the Dust Bowl hadn't even happened yet.

The Good Earth takes place in China in the early 1900s, and tells the story of the rise and subsequent decline of Wang Lung. A peasant farmer, the book opens with his marriage to O-Lan, a former slave for the Hwang family (the wealthiest landowners in the town close to where Wang Lung lives). O-Lan is not beautiful or clever, but she's just as hard of a worker as Wang Lung himself, and together the two of them manage to run his farm well enough that they are able to buy some of the Hwang's lands. They have two sons, but just after their first daughter is born, a terrible famine strikes. When there is no longer anything to eat and the countryside is turning to cannibalism to survive, the family sells most of their possessions (but Wang Lung refuses to sell their land) and moves south to survive through cheap labor and begging in the city. When a peasant uprising happens, Wang Lung and O-Lan grab money and jewels and return north. Having learned a powerful lesson about having reserves, the family buys the rest of the Hwang land and farms diligently, to the point where Wang Lung is wealthy and can send his children to school instead of keeping them in the fields. Indeed, soon Wang Lung himself doesn't need to be in the fields, and that's when the problems start.

The book is not subtle about its equation of land and manual labor with virtue...the farther removed Wang Lung and his family get from the labor of their own hands on the earth they own, the farther they morally decline. Wang Lung becomes infatuated with a spoiled young prostitute and buys her for a concubine, putting aside his faithful wife. His school-educated sons marry petty women and have no interest in farming or running their father's the once-wealthy and powerful Hwangs in the beginning, they just want to get rid of the land and seeking their fortunes elsewhere. It's actually pretty socialist in its depiction of money as evil and corrupting and the glorification of the proletariat lifestyle.

At the end of the day, I just didn't like it very much. The characters aren't people, they're symbols who are used to illustrate Buck's parable. And they're not even particularly compelling symbols: Wang Lung is never all that sympathetic, O-Lan is a doormat, the sketchy uncle and his wife are terrible and gross right from the start. If reading all that Joseph Campbell recently taught me anything, it's that symbols done right can be incredibly powerful (for instance, Francis Ford Coppolla's The Godfather, and I'm specifically referring here to the great film rather than the mediocre book, tells a similar story about a man who becomes what he once despised in a much more interesting and emotionally resonant way). Not so here for me. The writing is solid, but not anything special enough to drive interest in the lack of a good story and characters. This particular piece of classic literature (which is a genre I've been exploring over the past few years) doesn't do it for me.

Tell me, blog you have any classic lit that you've been disappointed by?

Note: Review cross-posted at Cannonball Read