Monday, September 3, 2012

Stef's "So Good You Can't Put It Down" Book Reviews: End of Summer 2012 Reading Challenge Book List and Comments

You'll be happy to know that my Summer 2012 Reading Challenge was not a failure. I did sample a nice handful of books this summer. Those are the following:

Equus-Peter Shaffer (Finished in two days)

Northanger Abbey-Jane Austen

The Abstinence Teacher-Tom Perrotta

Summer-Edith Wharton

The Grapes of Wrath (Play Version)-Frank Galati (Somewhat read)

Seminar-Theresa Rebeck (Finished in two days)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?-Edward Albee (Finished)

Steel Magnolias-Robert Harling (Finished)

Dirty Blonde-Lisa Scottoline

A lot of these I bought from the Annual Lacordaire Academy Book Sale and are listed above by order of which I began and/or continued reading them. This is the basic order I remember. I would alternate between books throughout my reading experience. I already wrote pieces about Equus and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, so I will just give a few words about the rest of the books I read. What all of these books have in common is that the all have a strong female lead character, which is probably why I like them and what drew me to them in the first place. What's interesting too is that the female characters are each an evolved form of another or previous female character, each woman representing a different form of feminism, so that is how I am going to list them in my reviews below while also incorporating the order in which I read them.

AND you don't have to worry about spoilers from me, because I don't know the endings of most of these works either! :P

Northanger Abbey
This is the main novel I attempted when I said I wanted to tackle more classics. I had been familiar with this novel since I was a kid and saw the "Wishbone" episode in which it was featured, so I had been interested in the back of my mind in reading it ever since.

I always appreciate a story with a lead heroine, only in this book Austen makes it a point to say that her lead female Catherine Morland is not yet a heroine and is pretty much not heroine material. She is described as goofy and not very attractive. She is pretty much what you would expect from a quirky female character whom is still discovering her world and is not ready yet to be taken seriously because of her youth and innocence. It is because of her that the book is cutesy and light-hearted, understanding the romanticism of younger women, which is nice because not every book should be heavy and it's nice to relax and read a cute novel, but on the other hand...

The thing about this book is that it is extremely slow moving and the characters portray themselves as very snooty and Catherine is just trying to fit in this snooty, wealthy society. It is very repetitive and does not seem to go anywhere, the characters complaining and making comments about the same things more than once. It is just her vacationing at Bath with these people, but there does not seem to be a specific plot yet and so far I am at least a quarter or a third in the novel. I like that the story plays around with gender stereotypes, which is refreshing because it is set in a time period where gender roles were set in stone and Austen is writing in this time period and scoffing at it. I was told and read that this book is supposed to be a parody of gothic novels (but to me it is also a parody of this time period and society), so this makes sense.

I didn't read a lot of this one to really comment about it much, but it does have a quirky yet strong female lead and she stands up for herself more than Catherine would or maybe even needs to. This plot appears to be slow moving as well, but it seems to be one of those books that you take in stride as leisure reading. Like Northanger Abbey, it is a seemingly calm, not-so-heavy book. The book is described as depicting a young woman's sexual awakening, so that's why it grabbed my attention. Even so, the book hasn't really grabbed me in yet fully. It does look like it has the potential to build into something bigger though. I actually really like this one.

The Abstinence Teacher
As soon as I began reading this one awhile ago I liked it because it is very modern in the writing style and takes place in New Jersey, so I can relate. It is up there as one of my favorite books because of the style, familiarity, and subject matter. What the book does is argue Christianity and the controversy that surrounds it, such as abstinence-only education. The lead female character, Ruth Ramsey, is an abstinence teacher, but she also believes in forms of contraception and not keeping the kids in the dark about these alternatives. However, the institution at which she teaches and resides pulls the reigns on her and prevents her from doing so, for she gets into trouble because of it. Homosexuality, sexuality, priesthood, church, parish picnics, infidelity, conversion, misconstrued beliefs, beliefs, etc., are other themes that the novel discusses and believers versus non-believers is a huge part of the conflict in the story. This type of stuff interests me enough in everyday life, which is how the book initially got my attention in the first place and why I liked the book since the beginning, but yet because these are things I often see in my own life, I don't necessarily want to read about it in fiction and get further irritated about it because these topics also have a tendency to stress me out a bit. I am halfway through it, but there are times I do have to take long breaks from it because it can be a little bit too much.

Steel Magnolias
Because my reading of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was such a success, I decided to look in the library for another play to read this summer. This one jumped out at me on the library book shelf in the drama section, partially because I remember that it was performed at the Paper Mill Playhouse. This play isn't as gut-wrenching as the others with deep meaning as it is plain entertainment, with witty one-liners and some sad discussion points. The cast is all female and movies have been based on it, so it is always great to see a written work dominated by interesting women (even though it was written by a man, which is something I didn't quite understand or appreciate until later). It's just a bunch of women having conversations in a hair salon with one central character. After I completed the play I read in the book jacket that this was Harling's tribute to his mother and sister (for a mother/sister duo are the main characters of this play) and after I read this the play made more sense to me. It is considered a gift to these two family members of his and reads that way. It isn't meant for anything else to be explored.

Dirty Blonde
The title itself of this book spoke to me, because I myself have dirty blonde hair, and the description on the back of the book jacket further clenched my interest. A blonde woman, Cate Fante, becomes a judge and is not taken seriously by some because of the way she carries herself. After she makes a judgement on a case, the aftermath of her judgement spirals out of control and soon her own personal life gets involved in the works and hangs in the balance.

This actually might be my favorite one out of this list, because I literally got halfway through the book with flying colors, feeling myself apart of the action, but like with The Abstinence Teacher, I kind of had to take a break from reading this one too. The story takes a turn for the more annoying much like that one, basically making a big deal about a woman and her sexual exploits and her whole world toppling down because of it. An argument that is made in the book is whether or not any of this would be a big deal if she were a man. As I was reading it I saw that the book provides you with book club discussions in the back, so I think that is interesting and take them into account as I read.

However, I still have a lot of positive things to say about the book regardless. What I do like is that Scottoline always ends her chapters with a cliffhanger. I always loved this about fiction books as a child so I am glad to see this style of writing again. These kinds of chapters keep you reading, wanting to learn what happens next, so you know that this is a skillful author who knows how to captivate her readers. Even when I was really tired and did not want to continue reading because of my heavy eyes, it made me briefly read ahead anyway and skip ahead sometimes just to ease my wonder a bit. It is suspenseful, a favorite genre of mine, and somewhat mysterious, which can send chills down one's spine. 

And so my Summer 2012 Reading Challenge comes to a close. I'm not saying that any of these books are bad. These are just the impressions they give me and I am still willing and determined to complete them at some point. I am even considering to read them leisurely during my school and work life. This might also be my last blog post for a little while so I can focus on school and other things, so I think I can safely say that I accomplished the summer blog posts I had planned. Thank you so much for reading!

Oh, and Happy Labor Day! This day can be considered the final day of summer, so coincidentally I am posting this today. Haha.

No comments:

Post a Comment