Monday, January 24, 2011

An Open Letter to Seldon Edwards

Mr. Edwards:  

We recently saw your comment on the Seattle Girl’s Book Group blog.
We wanted to comment back but the blog does not allow for that type of communication so hopefully this email reaches you.
Our apologies if our blog seemed unkind to you. It is true the 7 of us were not big fans of your book.
Our blog is meant as a historical record for us. 
We are not promoting our blog and other than a few friends it is not visited by many outside of our small group.
However, the last thing we hope to do is to offend a writer.
In general in life we believe in the “if you don’t have something nice to say…” mentality.  
But when having a group whose main focus is to discuss books we try to stay honest to the discussion.

Congrats to you on your success.  Having the ideas, time, energy and bravery to write a novel is a huge thing.
Something none of us have done.
While we have read sooo many books that we have loved, sometimes some come up that we don’t.
If you read some of our other posts perhaps you know you’re in good company -- we didn’t like Herzog – which most of the world considers a classic.
We didn’t like Netherland and yet the New York Times Book Review (which we revere) named it one of the top 10 books of the year. 
Many of us disliked Snow by Orhan Pamuk who won the Nobel Prize (we wanted to like it we really did).

The praise you’ve had from Richard Ford, Pat Conroy, NPR and others are fantastic. We wish the best for you and hope you continue to have a great ride with this novel and your next.

Seattle Girl’s Book Group

Thursday, January 20, 2011

2010 Book of the Year

The vote was close this year.  There was a lot of  support for our second favorite "Let the Great World Spin" but "Cutting for Stone" won the most votes for book of the year.  We really loved this book and recommend it without reservation.

In the stinker category the vote was again close (4 to 3) for "The Little Book" as the worst book we read over "Netherland".  We recommend neither.   Someone commented that in other years The Piano Teacher would have taken a beating at year end, but with these two books in our midst, TPT eked out a (lower) middle of the pack placement.

2010 reading list

Hiroshima in the Morning, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

Little Bee, Chris Cleave

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
Zelda, a biography, Nancy Milford

The Piano Teacher, Janice Lee

The Little Book, Selden Edwards

Let The Great World Spin, Colum McCann

Netherland, Joseph O'Neill
The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wrobleski
A People's History of the United States (1492-Present) Howard Zinn

Hiroshima in the Morning

It is rare that we as a group split on our opinions of a book.  Last night was a great discussion because of the passionate discussions that were displayed at the dinner table.  Hiroshima in the Morning is a memoir by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto.  She was given the opportunity to leave New York and live in Japan for six months to interview the few remaining Hiroshima atom bomb survivors in an attempt to draw out their true stories.  She finds that the information she gets feels like the stories they have told and re-told over and over again.  They don't seem to have much truth and emotional depth.  That is, until after 9/11 when the events in New York seem to awaken the people she has been talking with and their stories become more "human."

However, the book is also about Rizzuto's loss of her mother (a Japanese woman who was sent to the interment camps in America during the war) to Alzheimers and the eventual ending of  Rizzuto's marriage.

Complaints about the book is that she was paid to write a story about the survivors and their experience and this novel about how hard it was to adapt to life in Japan and the authors struggles with her own family dynamic didn't quite mesh.  We wondered if THIS really was the book that she wrote about Hiroshima or if 10 years later she's still working on the actual book.

Some of our group took issue with Rizzuto's decision to leave her family for six months.  Is leaving your children who are 3 and 5 wrong when it is for work?  Would we have felt differently if Rizzuto had been the father and not the mother?

Others felt that her actions were fine, but she seemed cold and not emotionally present for anyone.  She spends many pages sharing how difficult it was adjusting to life in Japan, but didn't express missing her children.  When they finally are able to visit she seems to resent their presence. 

There were folks that liked the book and expressed that the longer they are away from it the more it tended to grow and resonate for them. The disdain for the book was not universal, in fact the authors actions and motivations were handily defended.

A little late, but here's Little Bee

In November the ladies packed their cars and snow gear for a weekend getaway.  We ventured over Stevens Pass to Plain, Wa (outside Leavenworth) for a cozy couple days. 

As usual, the food was amazing and the wine flowed freely.  There was a couple AM yoga sessions and walks in the snow.  Over breakfast Saturday morning we discussed our book, Little Bee by Chris Cleeve.

It is the story of a young immigrant girl, Little Bee,  from Nigeria who comes to England to find a husband and wife whom she encountered on a beach in her native land.

The story is told from the perspective of Little Bee and Sarah, the British wife. Their story is unique but at times not really very believable, however the story moved along quite well and we as a group had many topics to discuss. 

We weren't too impressed with some of the decisions that Sarah makes and thought that she was needlessly endangering her own life and the life of her 5 year old son.   Her reaction to certain events seemed untruthful and distant.  She makes a grand gesture for a stranger and then is cold and distant when an intimate is in need.

The book jacket practically implores you to not reveal the plot to others implying a rather large "gotcha" or "wow" moment. There is some devastating violence and the death of significant characters, but perhaps we are jaded as readers we didn't have a "Crying Game" / "Sixth Sense" moment that was somewhat implied. 

We think the author was attempting to comment on the shadow people who are illegal immigrants as well as the corrupt political structure in Nigeria, but both were used as plot points and thus softened somewhat. 

For the most part, we liked the book, bleak as it was, but I think we enjoyed our weekend together more.