Saturday, August 27, 2011

Reflections: The Secret Life of Bees

Marie Teemant shares some feelings on Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees:

"The book has been sitting on my shelves for the last several years, waiting to be picked up. I saw the movie and it only made me want to read the book more. This summer I made the goal to finally do it! I was going to get this one off the shelf and dust off the pages. Definitely worth the effort to set aside the school work for.

The Secret Lives of Bees is one of those books by a woman and very much written for women. With a subtle backdrop of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement ever present, this book is more about the connections of the main character, Lily, to the women in her life. First and foremost, the mother who died when she was young, followed by her caretaker Rosaleen, the Boatwright sisters (all named after summer months) who they live with, and finally with a divine mother figure, the Black Mary statue that becomes the symbol of religious belief among the characters.

The pacing of the novel is its biggest strength. The up and down of life is felt in the incidents that flow from the decisions of both major characters and others that would, by virtue of circumstance, influence them. Nothing feels out of place, but if you’re expecting a large build up to one major conflict, you may find yourself a little disappointed. In fact, what may be the largest matter of conflict builds about two-thirds of the way through, and nothing else can seem to overshadow this event, even the closing moment of tension. This, though, makes you feel as though you’re reading a journal or memoir—where even the worst tragedies don’t have the power to bring the world to a halt, but hopefully leave us with some sense of how to move forward and learn from them.

The characters themselves also move along everything that happens with their decisions, which is a quality in literature that I always appreciate. The variety of personalities are well described by Kidd through dialogue as well as action. Lily’s reactions to each of these women teaches us not only about them, but about Lily and the view of the world that has been handed down to her.

Overall, I would recommend this to any woman looking for a great read to uplift and inspire. For the men out there… you may enjoy it as well, but I can’t guarantee that you’ll quite connect to the spirit of the novel as a whole."

You can find more of Marie Teemant's writings and photos at her blogs:  Judge by the Cover, Rie Around the World, and Rie Reads.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Reflections: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Adam C. Zern offers a few thoughts on Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea:

"I wanted to like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I really, really did.  I burned through the first few dozen pages because I was so intrigued, so interested, so eager to know what would happen within Jules Verne's story and what he would do with his characters.  The main protagonist, whose personal account is the actual book, Scientist and Naturalist Pierre Aronnax, and his two companions then end up as passengers/captives on Captain Nemo's famous Nautilus submarine and Verne effectively murders his story.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a surprisingly dull and meandering book.  Each and every time Verne creates any kind of tension, suspense, and interest in his stories and characters he smothers it by pages and pages of pointless and excessive exposition and cataloguing of sea animals and the environments they inhabit-pages, and pages, and pages of it.  I would repeatedly close the book in frustration after reading a particularly interesting part because Verne would inevitably return to Aronnax and his obnoxious cataloguing.  In fact, Verne seems aware of what he's doing and how annoying it is.  Take, for example, the following thought from Verne's protagonist:

"I here end this somewhat dry, perhaps, but very exact catalogue, with the series of bony fish I observed . . ."

I wish I could recommend reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea simply because it's considered a classic and one of the first of its kind.  Those facts are all fine, and I'm willing to give credit where credit is due.  However, those achievements do not make Verne's book any good.  The saddest part of it all is that the book could have been great!  Captain Nemo is a wonderful character to read about and to try and decipher.  In fact, he is probably the most wasted literary character I have ever come across.  The setting is exciting and there were moments in the book when I genuinely felt a sense of grandeur and a feeling of awe for the living seas.  But, as I said before, it all gets pummeled under the heavy burden of superflous garbage.

Unless you have a goal to read all or as many of the classics as you can, I would not recommend 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I, of course, understand that the book was written before the information age and authors wrote differently because of it, but I don't think that makes the chore that is reading the book anymore worth it or enjoyable.  It was definitely one of the least enjoyable books I have read this year."