Monday, September 01, 2008

Off the Shelf: Books by Carol Lynch Williams, Diana Wynne Jones, and Ursula K. Le Guin

One thing I have done this summer is read here and there. Reading seems to be an activity I can occupy myself with while waiting on the girls' activities, but then put down when it's time to go. Believe me, this is something I do not do well. When I can't afford to lose myself in something, I will resolve myself to being bored. Activities I can quickly engage and disengage in are a rare commodity for me. This is why I am a raving news junkie. I can get in and out quick and not worry about forgetting to pick up a daughter from dance, put something on the stove, and even more important, take something OFF the stove when it is done. Besides news, however, I've also been expanding my mind a bit with new novels and genres.

Strangely, I feel compelled to share my thoughts with you on these books. I'm not sure if any will interest you, but here are a few of them nonetheless.

Author Carol Lynn Williams has become a friend of mine over the past year. She's quite active with books in print and more on the way, raising a large family, managing two writers conferences that I know of, and finishing her masters degree this summer in a prestigious writers program in Vermont. She's the type of person I usually loathe because of her boundless energy, focus, and organization. I can only dream of being so productive. I'm lucky I can tie my shoes on my way out the door. However, in this case I'm quite fond of her. I decided to pick up a book of hers and give it a read to show my support. It was middle grade fiction for girls, so it was far afield of my usual reading habits.

A Mother to Embarrass Me is a cute peek inside a small Utah town where a preteen, named Laura, struggles with life. Unfortunately for Laura, her mother is a former model and the belle of the town. This causes grown men to fawn over her, which is quite embarrassing for Laura. In addition, her mother is fairly bad at domestic activities, which inspires Laura to create a massive list of things to change about her mother. The crushing blow, however, is that Laura's mother is pregnant. This means that her parents have actually been "doing it" in the house, which for some reason wasn't a bad thing when Laura's conception was involved. This, however, is not something that occurs to Laura, nor would it for a girl of her disposition.

My oldest daughter went through this stage when she was in sixth grade. She was hotly embarrassed by anything family related. She acted as if our every foolish move was being filmed and broadcast into the homes of her peers. It was a terrible time to live through and nearly broke my heart.

Perhaps this is one reason I never fully enjoyed the story, aside from the fact that I am not a twelve year old girl embarrassed by my parents. Carol quite perfectly captured the negative misery of this young girl. Although her parents were undeniably embarrassing, the daughter was too bitter, and I never really liked her. I kept waiting for her to throw me a bone and give me a reason to root for her. She redeemed herself in the end, but for me the wait was just a bit too long.

Overall, however, I found the characterization wonderful, the narrative voice strong, and the story charming. If you have a daughter who wears dark sunglasses and a large hat every time she is in public with you, or is ashamed by your pregnancy, I imagine she would identify well with this book.

ADHD friendly? Yes. Short and sweet. Uncomplicated narrative.

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diane Wynne Jones is not a favorite book of mine. It had been recommended to me by Brandon Sanderson during a recent writer's workshop. Although the book was witty, acerbic, and scathing in its lampooning of fantasy clichés, it was designed to be a mock guide such as one a tourist might pick up when visiting from out of town. It was also listed by topic alphabetically.

Some entries were perfunctory and some brilliant. The lack of narrative and presentation of topics letter by letter made the book difficult for me to make time for. It is definitely a novelty item and of use only to two types of readers as far as I can see: those that read so much fantasy that they can appreciate all the clichés being ridiculed, and those writing a fantasy novel who want to avoid including aforementioned clichés.

This latter reason is why the book was recommended and why it may one day end up in my library. I found one cliché in my novel mentioned in this book. Magical jewelry. I love the idea so I'm going to still write about it, but I will readily admit I did not invent the idea. I can only hope I present it in a new and interesting way.

Some of the entries were truly inspired. I particularly loved the mocking of commerce, economy, and geography. The character types were spot on, down to plot sequences as the characters "develop". I'd give you examples except I returned the book and forgot to write down any relevant quotes. We can see I should not plan on a career as a book critic anytime soon.

ADHD friendly? A resounding "No!". Although I found entries here and there hilarious and insightful, I had a very hard time moving through the book. It was too disjointed presented alphabetically. This may just be me, however. Your mileage may vary.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin is not a favorite book of mine either, but I was very impressed by it. Le Guin has a tendency to start out her novels with breathtaking premises and end them in unsatisfying ways for me, but the world she created in Left Hand was stunningly believable. This was the hardest science fiction I have read in a long time. Admittedly, it was a strange read. First there were the bisexual beings who changed orientation in cycles depending on the person they were with. If they became female they could become pregnant. If they became male they could impregnate. Fascinating physiology. There was also the problem of changing the point of view chapter by chapter. Often, I would need to read a page or two before I knew which character's head I was in.

The writing style was sumptuous, however, as Le Guin is famous for. I found myself fascinated by the world she created and intrigued by her ability to tie the story together through cascading narratives. It was masterfully written. I just wish the ending had been more satisfying for me. After so much adventure and intrigue, she ended the book with a slow slog through winter filled mountains, a sudden death, and an even more sudden ending. I was as unsatisfied as her main character. I don't need a happy ending, but I do need a good one. This ending was merely fair.

ADHD friendly? Depends. If you don't like books where the point of view changes from chapter to chapter, this book will drive you mad. Otherwise, it is a good read, and I couldn't put it down.

Like reading The Splintered Mind? Share articles with your friends, link from your blog, or subscribe!