This Week, I Read… (#50)

136-their-eyes-were-watching-god

#136 – Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston

  • Read: 11/30/16 – 12/3/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Challenge: #readthemargin
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

This book amazed me.

Initially I was put off by the heavy phoneticized dialect of the characters–I definitely see why modern writing advice shuns that–but once I picked up the knack of it, which was basically reading it in my head slowly, as if I were reading it aloud, I sank right in and it ceased to cause me problems.

I don’t tend to read a lot of “voyage of self-discovery” works (nope, not even Eat, Pray, Love) so this was a different experience for me. But following Janie, seeking herself through three men and a hurricane, was gripping in a way I didn’t expect, going into it.

On top of that, so much of what I see marginalized groups of all types asking for are stories for them that aren’t just The Struggle. (Or, alternately, Coming Out, a subset of The Struggle.) Here’s one that’s decades old. This book is about black people, a black woman, and it’s not about racism. (There are hardly any white people in the entire story to struggle against.) It’s all about Janie and her life, and according to this edition’s introduction, Hurston was actually criticized by some of her contemporaries for writing a story outside of the accepted black narratives of the time.

This isn’t to say that we don’t need more stories about non-white, non-straight, non-Christian people just being themselves and having stories that don’t relate directly to their oppression, because WE ABSOLUTELY DO. But without knowing that’s what this was going to be (I only knew it was a classic and I should read it, nothing more) I found myself surprised and utterly charmed.

Read this book, everybody. I’m serious.

137-the-miseducation-of-cameron-post

#137 – The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth

  • Read: 12/3/16 – 12/5/16
  • Provenance: Library (hardcover)
  • Challenge: #readthemargin
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

It was a pleasant surprise to me that this story was set in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I’m only three years younger than the titular Cameron would be, and I’m even from the Midwest (though a different chunk of it, not the Plains States) so most of the first half of this book charmed me with childhood nostalgia, summer swimming and snow cones and the music and talking late at night on the phone. I laughed out loud at the mention of Presidential Fitness Exams in gym class–I’d forgotten about those! (I never passed because I couldn’t do the minimum number of pull-ups. Noodly arms, that’s me.)

The second half of the book, not so charming. But it’s not supposed to be. From there, my empathy for Cameron stopped being about the similarities of our childhoods, and started being about feeling like an outsider, an impostor. Though I didn’t go through confusion about my sexual orientation as she did, I was always uncomfortable at church, as she describes–I never felt any connection to God there or elsewhere, I always felt like I was only going through the motions. Though the reasons behind it were different, Cameron’s struggle with the identity imposed on her by the church echoed my feelings about the rigid limitations during my experience with the Christian faith.

To read about her living through a school-based form of conversion therapy? They’re teaching me to hate myself, she tells an investigator. It was so painful. I felt sick to my stomach.

But that’s exactly what we need to be reading, right now, with people coming into power who seem to think conversion therapy is acceptable.

138-a-wedding-in-december

#138 – A Wedding in December, by Anita Shreve

Am I just too young for Shreve’s novels? Because this is the third one I’ve tried (I picked up all three last year at the same sale) and I just can’t help feeling that while they’re obviously aimed at adult women (as opposed to YA) I’m still not adult enough for them.

This train wreck of a novel opens with an entire chapter of two reunited college friends, now in their forties or fifties (I didn’t do the math based on what little hard evidence was given,) talking about old time/catching up while waiting for other guests to arrive for a quickie wedding between two other old college friends.

Way to bore me straight out of the gate. Two characters establishing themselves entirely by giving each other their own backstories. Snoresville. It’s just as boring as listening to two people you don’t know at any social gathering discussing their kids or exes or crippling bunions. If you don’t know them personally, you have no context, and it’s difficult to care. The whole thing feels not like nostalgia, but a sort of nostalgia-fantasy–wouldn’t it be so cool someday to get together with all my old buddies in a little B&B in Vermont?

Okay, yeah, with my college friends it might, but we’d be playing video games and board games and telling each other jokes instead of reminiscing over a glass of wine and snowy scenery. Definite upside to hanging with the geek crowd.

So then we switch to a different character, one whom the first two mentioned. And she spends half her chapters writing (and we read the story she’s penning, which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything but is surprisingly interesting, given that) and the other half pining for the man she’s having an affair with. (He’s married, she’s the mistress.)

MOST READERS DON’T LIKE OR SYMPATHIZE WITH CHEATERS. Myself included. It’s one of the most-repeated bits of advice for writing romance. Use cheating with caution.

So I’m supposed to care about this random cheater? No, thanks.

At 352 pages, I reached page 100, more than a quarter of the way through, and the story seemed utterly directionless. I was more than happy to drop this one, and now that I’ve exhausted my Shreve collection, you can be sure I won’t be picking up any more.

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2 thoughts on “This Week, I Read… (#50)

  1. ‘This book is about black people, a black woman, and it’s not about racism. (There are hardly any white people in the entire story to struggle against.) It’s all about Janie and her life, and according to this edition’s introduction, Hurston was actually criticized by some of her contemporaries for writing a story outside of the accepted black narratives of the time.’ Great point – I loved Their Eyes Were Watching God when I read it but I’m not quite sure I appreciated how it went against the grain in the way you describe. Bronte

    Liked by 1 person

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