Summer Reading

Tomorrow is the first day of fall, though it doesn’t feel like it yet, here in Central Oregon. It’s more like smoke and fire season. The lack of frost means our garden is still hanging in there, and we may even get some corn, which would be a near miracle. It’s probably the first time since I’ve lived here that September has stayed warm enough that we have only had to cover the squash twice, and haven’t had to close up the greenhouse at all. I would be thrilled with the nice days, if it weren’t for the weeks and weeks of smoke we’ve already endured, and the promise of more to come. To console myself, I’ve been doing what I most love: reading.

Lately, I have gone for some light reading, letting my inner bookworm eat junk food. I went for Skipping a Beat, by Sarah Pekkanen, and I still Dream About You, by Fannie Flagg. I also picked up Small Wars, by Sadie Jones, although it proved a little meatier than the other two.

I literally turned I Still Dream About You into a beach read, finishing it in one day while sitting around a campfire trying to keep warm at the Oregon Coast (and avoid the smoke). For those who haven’t been to the Oregon Coast, it is not a place where one lays out in the sun or goes swimming, at least not usually. The water is icy and the air – well, let me just say that I had on several layers of clothing all weekend. But I was talking about Fannie Flagg’s novel, in which Maggie Fortenberry, a real estate agent, is determined to commit suicide

Cover of "I Still Dream About You: A Nove...

Cover of I Still Dream About You: A Novel

because she has been depressed for quite some time and feels she has nothing left to live for. Only, as a former Miss Alabama, she feels she cannot disgrace the State of Alabama, so she comes up with a complex plan for doing herself in. Life, however, conspires to ensure that she does not succeed. Each time she sets the date, something happens, and this is where the humor enters, and also the sweetness and sadness, as we learn about her life and her reasons for wanting to end it. The cast of characters is priceless, if almost melodramatic: the former boss, with her love of life, who was a midget; the office manager with purple hair; the evil real estate agent who has taken over real estate in Birmingham through lies; etc. And yet, Fannie Flagg makes them all believable while painting a picture of Birmingham and the conflict between the old and the new in this city. While the novel is meant as humor, it addresses deeper questions about how we view ourselves, what we ask of our lives, and what it means to care about other people.

Skipping a Beat would have made a great beach read, but I couldn’t wait that long. It’s also slightly funny and over-the-top. Michael, a business mogul has a heart attack and is dead for a few minutes. When he is revived, he is changed. He no longer cares about making lots of money – in fact, he is resolved to give away everything he owns. He also wants to change the nature of his relationship with his wife and recoup the love they used to have. She wants no part of this at first. She doesn’t understand who he has become. We slowly learn why: their relationship has pretty well died over the years because of his workaholic attitude. She substituted having a fabulous home and any material thing she could possibly want for that love. The idea of giving it up is too much at first. This novel, while definitely chick lit, has a nice depth to it. There is only a little bit of shopping in it. It is written in first person, which was a great choice, as we get to see how Julia pieced her view of the world together, and how she dealt with the hurt of missed birthdays and anniversaries, and believing Michael had an affair. Julia’s rich friend turns out to have real depth. We follow along with Julia as she re – lives the past and learns for herself that money isn’t what she really wants: it’s love. I enjoyed this easy read and thought it was smoothly written, unlike a lot of chick lit.

Small Wars was a different matter. It is not an easy read. I almost put it down and gave up on it, as it starts very, very slowly. The novel takes place mainly in Cyprus during the beginning of the rebellion against the British, when Hal, a British major, is moved there from Germany, and brings his wife to live on the base with their twin daughters. An explosion, in which one soldier is badly wounded and another dies, frightens her, yet she is embarrassed to tell her husband how afraid she really is. At the same time, he begins to experience situations where the British do things he finds immoral, and yet he has to keep quiet. This eats at him. He doesn’t talk to his wife or anyone about them, and he slowly begins to crack and change.

I finished Small Wars with mixed feelings. I thought that it eventually addressed some interesting points about the impact of war on moral human beings, and also about what happens when we don’t talk to those we love about the things that are bothering us deeply.  However, the glacial pace of the novel for the first third while the wife becomes established in Cyprus seemed like a waste. While it may be true that people don’t talk to each other about the important stuff, and that there is a lot of quiet time in real life, I, as a reader, don’t particularly want to spend my time reading about people not talking or doing mundane things. It seemed to me that a lot more could have been done with this first section to help me care about these two characters and their marriage, and that there could have been more showing and less telling, as writing teachers often urge their students to do.

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  1. #1 by Literary Tiger on September 27, 2012 - 8:45 pm

    Haven’t you been a busy girl? We are always driving through Oregon to get to Washington. Someday, I want to actually drive Highway 1 and see Oregon’s beaches. Interstate 5 is hecka boring. Fannie Flagg sounds like a great read, Ann. So glad to see you post!

    • #2 by annstanleywriting on September 27, 2012 - 9:25 pm

      I suppose that going up 97 on the East side of the Cascades is out of the question. But the views are much nicer than on 5.

  2. #3 by KM Huber on September 23, 2012 - 2:54 pm

    I agree with Stephanie regarding your writing and reviews. I always enjoy both. Fannie Flagg is a favorite of mine as well so I look forward to this novel. Frankly, it’s good to see you around the blogosphere, again. Thanks for your support regarding my writing as well as your kind words.

    Karen

    • #4 by annstanleywriting on September 23, 2012 - 3:52 pm

      Thanks, Karen. I heard Fannie Flagg speak at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and just loved her talk. She was both funny and articulate. I had never read anything of hers previously, but will try some more of her books, especially next summer.

  3. #5 by Stephanie Saye on September 23, 2012 - 11:32 am

    Ann, I enjoyed reading your thoughts on these books. Because you write well, you review well, with fluency and grace. Thanks for sharing. Perhaps my favorite part of this post, though, entailed your description of life on the Oregon coast. I learned something. Thank you.

    • #6 by annstanleywriting on September 23, 2012 - 11:42 am

      Thank you for your comment, Stephanie. The Oregon Coast is both beautiful and intense. I love going there, but would never want to live in that cold dampness. I wish that I could have taken some photos, but my cell phone battery was about to die and we were tent camping, so I didn’t have an electric hook-up to recharge it.

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