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Monday, March 3, 2008

What I'm Reading: February 2008

Another month has ended and I have three more books and some suggested readalikes to share with you.

Early in February I finally got to Away by Amy Bloom. One of last year's better reviewed novels, this title was suggested to me by many friends and colleagues. Away tells the story of Lillian and her struggles as a Jewish immigrant from Russia. Lillian left home after her parents, husband, and possibly young daughter were killed in a massacre of Jews back in her hometown. Once in New York, Lillian manages to get a good job as a seamstress for a Jewish theater and becomes the owner's and his son's mistress. Her life is going well until a relative comes to America and tells her that her young daughter is still alive and living with another family. Lillian leaves everything in New York behind and goes off on a cross country journey to Alaska in an attempt to cross to Siberia and find her daughter.

Along the way, Lillian meets many people who help her. This is the most intriguing aspect of Bloom's novel. She makes an interesting storytelling choice here. As Lillian meets and then leaves people, the reader is told of that left behind character's future. We know what happens to the secondary characters whom we have grown attached to.
I also enjoyed how Bloom chose to end the novel with aspects of wish fulfillment, while still keeping a realistic ending.

Although I enjoyed this novel as a reader, I loved it as a Readers' Advisor. This will be an easy book to suggest to a wide variety of readers. Many of my readers will love both the story and being able to know what happened to everyone, even Lillian's daughter.

Readers who are currently enjoying Geraldine Brooks' newest best seller, People of the Book, with its Jewish history undertones and the journey aspect (of a book, if not a person) should try Away. Also readers of Ann Patchett would enjoy this novel.

Good-bye Chunky Rice was the first graphic novel by Craig Thompson, the critically acclaimed author of Blankets. I enjoy going back to look at currently popular author's earlier works and while some times the trip down memory lane is not worth it (think early Sue Grafton), this was not one of those cases. Good-bye Chunky Rice tells the story of a turtle with an urge to move on and the lovesick mouse he leaves behind. When Chunky Rice boards a rickety boat, we are introduced to other lonely and struggling characters. The pictures are in black and white panels, but the message of the price of "finding yourself" is in full color. Readers who like graphic novelists Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, and David B. will also enjoy Thompson's work.

I am also thankful (for many reasons) that I chose to listen to Stephen Colbert's I am America (And So Can You). I don't know how much more I can add to the discussion of this enormous best-seller, but I will say that I loved how Colbert changed the text for the listener. He reminds us that we are listening to, not reading, his book on many occasions. My personal favorite moment in the book is early on when he relates that the book will not be available in libraries because there are "no free rides." Although I enjoy Colbert's humor, I am glad I listened to an abridged version because the book loses its freshness overtime and becomes repetitive. Fans of Colbert's TV show and this book should also seek out Our Dumb Century: The Onion Presents 100 Years of Headlines From America's Finest News Source.

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