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

Friday, March 16, 2012

"The Princess Diaries" by Meg Cabot

I judged this book by the Disney movie and thought it would be an appropriate read for Bookworm Child (who is eight). Well, while it wasn't completely inappropriate for her, there were a few things that surprised me; I would have thought twice about passing this book along to BC if I'd known about them. There's nothing too horribly graphic (Mia mentions other people kissing via "tongues down each other's throats", and sees her Algebra teacher in his boxer shorts one morning because he is sleeping with Mia's mother. Hmmm. Not to mention the fact that because of this book I had to define the word "testicle" for Bookworm Child. Sure, it was in the context of testicular cancer, but still.) I suppose if I'd noticed it was published by Harper Teen I might have had a clue. Anyway, it's nowhere near as bad as some of the books my mom let me read when I was BC's age, and (though some would dispute this point) I turned out OK.

So, beyond the context of minor age-inappropriateness for my daughter, I had fun with this book. It's the story of Totally Average (if a bit too tall and flat-chested) Mia Thermopolis, a freshman in high school in New York City who lives a Totally Normal life until she finds out that she's next in line to rule the country of Genovia. Cue chaos as the reluctant princess resists her new role. As if a fourteen-year-old's life isn't difficult enough, just imagine how much worse it would be if you had to take Princess Lessons from your martinet Grandmère.

I could be wrong, but I'd like to call this book a forerunner in the current spate of diaries-as-books (see Wimpy Kids and Dorks. Samuel Pepys doesn't count, since I'm talking fiction). Bookworm Child actually mentioned her disappointment that the font in these books doesn't look like handwriting, but I guess when you're breaking new ground you can't be faulted for failing to overturn every convention.

I don't plan to continue with this series. When Bookworm Child asked why, my reply was that there were just so many other books I want to read. But if I ever reach a point where I've read All The Books, I won't mind revisiting Princess Mia. Even though she doesn't like Anne of Green Gables! (I have grave doubts about anyone who doesn't like Anne.)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt

The Secret History is blessed with the absolute best combination: brilliant writing and a riveting story. Why can't all books be like this? Well, really, I don't need allthebooksintheworld to be this good: just all the books I read. So I guess the real question is, why can't all the books I choose to read be this great? I suppose the answer lies buried somewhere beneath my penchant for giving obscure books a chance as long as they're cheap.

But never mind--this book certainly didn't fall in the category of cheap, obscure books. I can't for the life of me remember when or where I bought it, but I'm pretty sure I actually paid full price for it, based on previous assurances that I would love it. Not only is it on this list, but my favorite person claims it as a favorite book.

And love it I did. I was enthralled by the unfolding story. It wasn't truly the narrator's story; it was merely a record of the events he observed. Californian Richard Papen found himself accepted--though perhaps only marginally--by an elite and isolated group of students studying Classics at Hampden College in Vermont. Each of his new classmates fascinated him in a strange way--some of the five to a greater extent than the others--but there was a certain synergy at work, as the enigmatic dynamics of the group were even more entrancing to him than the individuals themselves. Richard admired this group to the point of obsession, falling into step with his new peers, willing to go wherever they led--even when the ultimate consequence was murder. (I promise that's not a spoiler! The eventual death is revealed in the prologue.)

The first half of the book details the events leading up to the murder. You'd think all the suspense and excitement would be in this half, but I was even more intrigued by Part Two: watching everyone fall apart, seeing the delicate balance between each of the co-conspirators that might be destroyed at any minute, knowing they were ready to turn on each other at the slightest provocation, and (of course) wondering if they would get caught.

I've seen this book described as a modern classic (however oxymoronic that phrase may be), and I agree with that label. I believe this book will stand the test of time. In fact, that thought leads to my one complaint about the book: I found it ageless almost to the point of annoyance. There were a few clues by which to date it, but the way the main characters spoke--and even the way they dressed--seemed incongruously old-fashioned. But I can live with that. The book was compelling enough that I can forgive a minor irritation.