Book Reviews

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906
by Simon Winchester

Simon's writing was dry, relying to heavily on facts to draw the reader in. Other authors have managed to blend the factual research with individual accounts in a way that flows easily. Erik Larson did an excellent job with Isaac's Storm (an account of a hurricane), but Winchester fails to connect with the reader. Instead his book feels clinical, referring to one person's account of the earthquake as an "anecdotal example." I loved learning more about San Francisco's history and the science behind the earthquake, but I wish he had made the book less like a term paper.

The Happiness Project
by Gretchen Rubin

Rubin spends a year trying to improve the most important facets of her life; her marriage, work, parenting style, energy level, etc. From the beginning of the book she says she understands that she is already happy and loves her life, but knows there are simple things she can do to improve and simplify it.

I really enjoyed her writing style. Other authors might have sounded preachy or whiny with the same material, but Rubin does a wonderful job blending statistics and studies, her own experiences and a self-deprecating humor to create each chapter. Instead of telling her readers to "be less judgmental" or something like that, she tells them the reasons why this can fuel your own happiness and she gives specific suggestions on how to do it. I'm not big on self-help books, but this one was just my style. Based on facts and her experiences as opposed to just willing yourself to a happier life.

The Heretic's Daughter
by: Kathleen Kent

Sarah, a 10-year-old, moves in with her aunt, uncle and cousins while he family battles through a small pox scare in 1690s Massachusetts. After returning home Sarah watches as her mother, Martha, is accused of witchcraft and carted off to prison and tried during the Salem Witch Trials. It's fascinating and disturbing to read about the ignorance that fueled this historic event. Sarah's perspective gives the whole book an innocence and she learns that her trust is not always justified and that sometimes the biggest sacrifice someone can make is to hold true to their beliefs.

In an Instant: a family's journey of love and meaning
by Lee and Bob Woodruff

TV reporter Bob Woodruff was critically injured by a bomb in Iraq. He and his wife tell their story about his road to recovery. I'm not a big fan of memoirs about a life event. Sometimes they're great, but they just aren't my style. This was a book club book and it was pretty good. Lee and Bob retrace the early days of their marriage when they moved from China to various states as Bob moved up the media food chain. They went through an incredible ordeal, but kept everything in perspective by sharing stories about families who weren't as fortunate as they were.

Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout

This Pulitzer-Prize winner consists of 13 short stories set in a small town in Maine. I liked the way the book is structured around Olive. The stories follow various people in the community, but their lives all touch Olive's in some way. Sometimes the stories focus on Olive and her family, but often she is just a minor character. I liked being able to see Olive as others see her. The book gives you a view of how Olive sees herself and also how others see her.

Olive is a former teacher who is married to Henry, a pharmacist and mother to Christopher. She isn't your typical main female character in a fiction book. She is aloof and condescending. She is someone who is often respected, but rarely liked. She's such a hard character that at times it is hard to like her, but her straightforward attitude rings true in a lot of ways. The style was interesting, the writing was good, but the characters and stories themselves left me cold. I had a hard time trying to make myself care about what happened to them.

Photo by moi.

1 comment:

nomadreader said...

I had a similar reaction to Olive Kitteridge. I liked the idea of the book more than the book itself. I did enjoy the Olive stories, but I did not love the book itself.