Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Take On Two Tales

I have finished two books in the past week. The first was JK Rowling's new book The Casual Vacancy. I purposely steered away from reading any reviews prior to tackling this book. I didn't want to be prejudiced by the opinions of others, and, more importantly, I didn't want to read any spoilers. I hate spoilers. Even the kinds that just hint at things. So I am going to try my hardest not to do the very thing I hate when writing about these books. Having said that, it would be impossible to write about a book without saying something about it, so be forewarned. I am going to be sharing my opinion of this book.

I want to start off by saying I am a big fan of the Harry Potter books, and an even bigger fan of JK Rowling. Which is saying a lot, because I am not usually a "fan" kind of person. I love her story almost as much as I love the stories she has written. And I love that she is giving back in such a big way. Big enough that she just got dropped from Forbes Billionaire List because she has given so much money away. This is a woman I greatly admire, which makes it difficult to write what follows.

I did not like this book. Sigh...(I wrote that because I literally sighed as I typed that sentence.) I wanted to like the book. I kept hoping as I was reading that I would start to like it. I tried to like it. But I just couldn't, and here's why. Although it is well-written, it seemed to me to miss the mark of the human condition. I believe that most people are mostly good, and that while nobody is perfect, in most circumstances the majority of us will do the right thing given the opportunity. Yes, there are people who are intent on doing harm to themselves and others, who live in a world of dark thoughts and deeds, but I believe those people are the exception, not the rule.

The thing about The Casual Vacancy is it seems to have this balance reversed. Dark thoughts and dark deeds were the norm, to the point I felt Voldemort needed to make an appearance just to lighten things up a bit. It seemed ironic to me that the Harry Potter novels, although based in a world of magic, seemed to touch on the truth of the human condition in a more balanced way than this book which is based in the real world. Yes, there were occasional glimmers of goodness, but not enough to take away the depressed feeling I had when I finished reading this book. That feeling would grab a hold of me every time I thought about the story for the next couple of days, right up until I started my next book.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio is categorized as a middle grade novel, but trust me, this book is every bit as much for adults as it is for kids. I'm in agreement with C.S. Lewis. "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." This book is about August, or Auggie as his friends and family call him. When the book begins, Auggie is preparing to start fifth grade. This might sound all very ordinary, but it's not. First of all, Auggie has never been to school before. Up to this point he has been homeschoooled. Secondly, Auggie has a severe craniofacial abnormality that makes him the object of attention, and not in a good way, wherever he goes.

This book whooshed away every bad feeling left behind by The Casual Vacancy. The characters were realistic - some you empathized with and others you disliked intensely. No character was made to be perfect, and while not every flaw in every person was made right by the end of the story, many characters did grow and change for the better. In other works, it reflected real life. There was a theme of goodness emerging that made me want to stand up and cheer by the time I finished reading it.

I will confess this book also made me cry. More than once. My final bout of tears was in the Costco parking lot yesterday morning (I was waiting for the tire department to open so I could get my winter tires on.) As I finished the last few pages the tears were rolling down my cheeks. This was not good for several reasons. It was snowing outside and I was freezing. Cold and tears are not a good mix. Worse yet, the tire store was due to open in a few minutes and I realized I was going to go in looking like I had some kind of problem.

I used to cry all the time when I read aloud to my kids, so they are quite used to it. I wasn't so sure about being unleashed on the unsuspecting public though, but as it turned out everyone was so intent on getting their place in line nobody paid any attention to the crazy lady who kept wiping her face and blowing her nose. It didn't really matter anyway. You see, the reason I was crying was because this story ended so perfectly, so filled with emotion and goodness and hope, that it didn't matter to me if I did look a bit odd on the outside. On the inside I was cheering for Auggie. And for the power of a good story to carry me outside of myself and into someone else's world in an unforgettable way.

Just off the needles is Who?, a free pattern from Ravelry. This was a very quick knit, and another stash buster. I used the rest of the City Tweed HW left from the Donegal Fingerless Gloves.







The Alexandra update is a good one. The vac dressing is working, and she should only have to wear it for another few days. Three cheers for the wonders of modern medical technology! I would love to hear your thoughts on The Casual Vacancy if you have read it, and also on Wonder if you decide to read it (I really hope you do!).

11 comments:

  1. Cute hat!
    I'm hoping the library will get the new book by JK Rowling soon and I think I will give it a try ;)

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    1. I will be anxious to see what you think after you read it, Hege. I always like reading what you have to say about the books you have on the go! And it looks like we were both on an owl theme this week - you with mittens and me with a hat. :-)

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  2. Very cute hat! My adult daughter has loved everything owls since she was a little girl! She would love this hat! I will have to give the pattern a look.

    Our whole family was a HUGE Harry Potter follower (my husband read all the HP books to my daughters - it was an every night ritual!) but I have heard that her "non HP adult book" is a huge diappointment. That is too bad. Don't think it would be good for me right now in this point of my life to read such a dark and negative book. I think I will pass.

    Thanks for sharing tho.

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    1. Maybe the owl hat would be a good Christmas present for your daughter. It knits up quickly which is always a good feature for a gift knit!

      To be honest I can't think of any time of life that would be good for reading this book. If one was happy they would end up seriously depressed, and if one was depressed, well, it certainly wouldn't make them feel better. :-)

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  3. Forgot to add that I am pleased that your daughter is recovering and making good progress. I know it has a lot to do with her momma's good love and care!!! :-)

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  4. I've been struggling to find a good book lately, something that rarely happens to me. I'd considered reading the Rowling book, but don't think I will. Who needs to be depressed? But I WILL definitely take a look at "Wonder". The last young adult book I read (over 10 years ago!) was very good (Holes, by Louis Sachar). Oh, and thanks for not giving away the story. That's one thing I hate about the reviews on Amazon; sometimes they spoil it for you.

    I'm reading "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett right now. I'm not far into it, but it feels like it's going to be every bit as good as "The Pillars of the Earth", another one of his books I absolutely loved. ~Kim

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    1. Please let me know what you think of Wonder if you read it! I wonder (no pun intended) if I would have been as moved by this book if I hadn't just finished the JK Rowling book.

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  5. I started reading A Casual Vacancy. I made it maybe 20 pages in and got distracted. Haven't made my way back to it, and I'm normally the type to finish a book regardless of how I feel about it. Slow going, and you're right, dark and depressing.

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    1. If you finish it I would love to hear what you think. One of the things I forgot to mention was how confusing I found the cast of characters in those first twenty or thirty pages. I had the hardest time keeping the names straight.

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  6. Love the hat :D

    I've not read Rowlings book but what you describe doesn't surprise me, partly because I've yet to come across a single person who has read it, Potter fan or not, who did like it. It's a rare author who can write children's books and adult's books equally well and the HP series is really just very long chapters in a single book (Rowling herself admits to having the whole thing mapped out early on) ... perhaps she will prove to be a one book bod, which is not to take away from her achievement, but such a huge jump in genre and subject matter was a huge ask.

    I cry at books too!

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    1. I think you are right. There aren't many authors who successfully move between children and adult fiction. Even if it had been a great book it would have been a set-up for failure. There was just no way it could have lived up to the success of the HP books.

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