Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Catch-22" by Joseph Heller

I thought I had read Catch-22 my junior year of high school in crazy Mrs. Van Patten's class, but when it came up as a selection of the month in the Most Awesome First Saturday Book Club sometime during its heyday between March 2001 and June 2006, I decided we must not have actually read the book in high school. I wonder if the teacher just explained the concept of a catch-22 to us and read a few excerpts from the book? Because I remembered a few passages in the book as clear as day, but the rest of it seemed completely new to me, and I don't think I can chalk that up to my regular "literary amnesia." Not only that, but when I come across the adult language and situations in the book (mostly centering around naked whores) I have a feeling I would never have read this book in high school, if only because all of the teachers knew my parents would never allow it.

Just a few months ago a friend mentioned she was re-reading this book, and then recently my husband picked it up and forced himself to slog through it. So when I found myself with nothing to read (which was not exactly true; I had 3 or 4 half-read issues of National Geographic to catch up on, and a stack of books my mom gave me for Christmas which are all sadly and characteristically books that hold no interest for me) and saw this book was still out (since of course my husband never puts anything away), I picked it up. By the time I was about 1/4 of the way through it, I was sorely tempted to call my aforementioned friend on the phone, say "T. S. Eliot", and hang up. I was dying to know if she would figure out who had called and return the favor, but I never did try it.

This book was just as I remember from reading it for Book Club. It varies from humorous (one of my favorite parts being the chocolate covered cotton idea) to Too Ridiculous To Even Be Funny, with a little tragedy mixed in (the one that stuck with me most was Kid Sampson being sliced in half by a propellor).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"The Monsters of Templeton" by Lauren Groff

This book was an impulse buy at Target. Somehow the kids and I always end up in the book section and we always end up each buying a book. I'm sure the cover of this book caught my eye, but when I read the back about how "a prehistoric moster surfaces..." (they don't tell you it's already dead!) and how the main character "puts her archaeological skills to work digging for the truth" (they don't tell you it's library research rather than field work!) I ended up with a very different idea of how this book was supposed to be.

Not only was I under a misconception about this book's content, but I did not like any of the characters. I did not like the way they looked, I did not like the way they behaved, I did not like the way they thought and spoke, and in general I did not feel a connection with any of them. There was only one character I found slightly likeable (Clarissa) and even she was not someone I really wanted to spend much time with. It was all the more surprising to me to read the "interview with the author" at the end and find that two of my least favorite characters (the main character and her mother) were loved by the author because one was "so wacky and strange" (which to me seemed like an unnecessary and forced quirkiness, mixed in with a deliberate unattractiveness) and the other, a character who I had no respect for, had "the most in common" with the author.

In my opinion, the book's one possible redeeming quality was the interest generated by the interconnecting historical stories, but not enough interest was generated that I would ever want to read the book again.

I regret contributing to this book's position on the New York Times Bestseller list. I will be donating my copy to my local library. They need the help anyway. And now... you will probably read this book and love it. There is something to be said for low expectations; they are easy to exceed.