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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

What I'm Reading: December 2007

This month I read 3 different books which all came out (at least in America) over the last half of 2007. I don't always read only "new" books, but these were books that couldn't wait.

After loading it on my computer back in July, I finally listened to Lisa See's Peony in Love. Much like her best selling Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love tells the story of the experiences of young girls in China, this time in the 17th-century. Along with the details of how women lived at this time and place, See also introduces a famous Chinese opera, its effect on young women, the study of literature, and a ghost story into her seemingly traditional historical family saga. I was pleasantly surprised and very much enjoyed the supernatural aspects.

Readers who enjoyed the use of opera in the storyline would also like Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Those who are interested in historical women's lives should try A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini or The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. However, I would also highly recommend See's own memoir of her racially mixed family, On Gold Mountain to any reader who has enjoyed any of her novels or those by Amy Tan.

You may have noticed in my Favorite books I Read This Year post that Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts made the cut. I finished this collection of short stories by 2007's it boy (and Stephen King's son) and was blown away. Granted, I like my stories to be a bit off, so I was probably going to enjoy this read, but what I really appreciated was how creative the stories were. Even a reader such as myself who has been there, and done that with "horror" stories was able to be surprised. The stories range from out right horror, to genre spoofs, to suspense, all the way to even a bit sweet. This collection was originally published in England, but with the success of Heart-Shaped Box, it was finally published in the US late in 2007.

Similar authors who also write short stories and novels with the same feel and depth of imagination as Joe Hill are Stephen Millhauser and Kevin Brockmeier.

Right at the close of 2007, I also finished Tom Perrotta's The Abstinence Teacher. I have been a Perrotta fan way back to the early days of The Wishbones and although I did enjoy his newest offering, it was not my favorite. The basic plot revolves around the lives of a female Sex Ed teacher being forced to teach an abstinence curriculum and a male former drug-addict turned evangelical. The two are both missing something in their lives and are drawn to each other in their quest to fulfill themselves. The novel is told from their alternating points of view, and sometimes, we see the same scene from each character's pov.

I appreciated Perrotta's even handed look at both perspectives. He also did a great job, as usual, of not simplifying complex issues and feelings. And, the book has a realistically open ending, which I loved but may drive some readers crazy. However, with his last two books, I feel Perrotta may have lost a bit of his sense of humor. Maybe it is just part of his personal "growing-up" process. No matter, he is still the best at capturing authentic suburbia. right now.

There are many readalikes for Perrotta and this novel in particular. Richard Russo's Empire Falls works here, as do all of the books in Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe trilogy. For a female perspective on modern family and how abstinence may or may not work, try Julia Glass' Three Junes

Here's to Happy Reading in 2008.

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