Monthly Archives: January 2010

Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert

And now, while we’re on the topic of those “my amazing year” memoirs, let’s turn to another giant of the genre, Elizabeth Gilbert, whose Eat, Pray, Love was such a runaway hit (and a book I absolutely loved).  It’s a hard act to follow, which Gilbert seems very much aware of.  Instead of setting out on another interesting year-long odyssey, she writes about the bizarre situation in which she finds herself — although she throws in some research along the way to make her intensely personal reflections more universal.

Gilbert and her partner Felipe, the Brazilian hottie she met at the end of Eat, Pray, Love, are happily living outside the bonds of holy matrimony — which neither of them wants to re-enter — until the U.S. Department of Immigration intervenes and tells them Felipe won’t be allowed back in the country unless they get married.  Since Liz doesn’t want to live outside the U.S., this poses a problem.  The couple goes wandering off through Southeast Asia while the U.S. government ploughs through their paperwork. While bureaucrats decide whether they are allowed to get married, Elizabeth has to decide whether she wants to.

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The Whole Five Feet, by Christopher Beha

Yet another entry in the “I picked a random challenge for a year and got a book deal out of it” series of memoirs.  I really have to get on this bandwagon!!

Christopher Beha, a young New York writer, decided while at a low point in his career and personal life that he was going to read through all the volumes of the Harvard Classics,  a series of books published about a hundred years ago with the lofty aim of introducing average readers to the classics of western literature.

It’s an eclectic collection, and Beha spends as much time reflecting on the purpose of the collection and the role of these “classics” in shaping culture.  Perhaps it’s an antiquated idea, that people without the benefit of a liberal arts university education can be self-educated by reading “Great Books” such as the classics of Greece and Rome and more modern writers as diverse as Dante and Darwin.

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Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters

I’ve been wanting to read Elizabeth Peters’ series of Amelia Peabody mysteries, set amongst archeologists in Egypt in the late nineteenth century, for some time, but waited till I could get the earliest books, since there are many in the series and I wanted to read them in order.  The Crocodile on the Sandbank was well worth the wait.

Amelia, an independent-minded woman who chafes against the restrictions of a woman’s role, is a wonderful narrator.  She’s funny, strident, and extremely perceptive about many things while still managing to have huge blind spots about areas of her own life — like her attraction to the irascible archeologist, Radcliffe Emerson.

The mystery in this particular novel is actually a bit weak, since it has a plot hole you could sail a dabeeyah through (that’s one of the luxurious houseboats that Amelia, like other tourists, rents to travel down the Nile and I want one … because after reading these novels, not only do I want to go to Egypt, I want to go to Egypt in 1880!!).  I’m now on the third novel of the series and I’m happy to say that the mysteries get better and more tightly plotted as they go along.  The narrative voice and the sense of place and time is so vivid and so much fun that I’m glad there are many, many more Amelia Peabody books still ahead of me!

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Nanny Returns, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Last year I was pleasantly surprised by Kraus and McLaughlin’s wildly popular The Nanny Diaries, which was both funnier and more poignant than I expected it to be.  Nanny  Returns is their sequel, picking up the story of Nanny and the horrible X family twelve years later.  Nanny is now married, mired in renovating a house and starting a business, when the now-teenage Grayer X, her former charge, bursts into her life again.

The X family is as dysfunctional as ever, and the satire of upper class New York families who have children as status symbols but have no intention of ever caring for them, is as sharp as ever.  An additional layer is added here as Nan finds work as a human-resources consultant at an upscale private school and uncovers even more levels of crazy rich-family horror.

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God Is, by David Adams Richards

Given my own proclivities, it’s inevitable I would want to read a book about faith by a critically-acclaimed Canadian novelist, so of course I got a copy of David Adams Richards’s God Is just as soon as the library was able to get it into my hands. 

The biggest problem I had with God Is is that I was never quite sure what kind of book I was reading.  The title suggests a work of apologetics; the subtitle (“My Search for Faith in a Secular World”) suggests a spiritual memoir, but the book is really neither of these. Bits of Richards’ autobiography creep in, but seemingly almost by accident.  And his declaration that God is, and that faith is meaningful in today’s world, is not the stance of an apologist who is building an argument to convince others.

Perhaps it’s best to say this book is just David Adams Richards’s meditation on the subject of faith — his own faith, and religious faith in general.  There were points here I strongly agreed with — such as the fact that there is an very strong element of anti-Christian snobbery in the Canadian academic and literary establishment. But his response to that verges on the hyper-defensive at times, which I found unappealing.  I think the biggest problem for me is that this book probably has to be read in the context of Richards’s novels, which I have not read.  Without that context, it was hard for me to get engaged with this nonfiction work, even with the most engaging of subject matter.

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Contest Results

My book giveaway contest ended a few days ago, but this is the first chance I’ve had to post the results. Here are my actual top ten books of the year:

1. Galore by Michael Crummey

2. Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman

3. Bringing Up Geeks by Marybeth Hicks

4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

5. Justice in the Burbs by Will and Lisa Samson

6. Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott

7. Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

8. Salvation on the Small Screen? by Nadia Bolz-Weber

9. The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

10. The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose

Congratulations to the winners: Diana, Dara, Mojgan, Jacqueline and Jacquie.  Your books will be on their way to you shortly!! Thanks for playing!

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