Can you believe that I really read only three books last month? Eliminating my daily commute to Portland seriously affected my reading groove (not that I'm begging for my commute back--heavens, no). And really, the hold-up here came in finishing East of Eden. That books affects me so deeply that I have a hard time reading anything afterward. Sadly the book I chose to follow East of Eden wasn't great, and the book I started after that was so poorly written I couldn't bring myself to finish it.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book changes me—it reaches down past my heart and grips my soul. Whenever I reread it I’m a different person from the last time I finished, and so each time I read it I change differently. East of Eden encompasses so much, and I feel so satisfied every time I finish. This is the kind of book where when characters meet death (and being an epic novel, death is a very natural companion) I feel like I need to close the book and hold off continuing for just a little while, allowing pause to process and even mourn. Each of the characters is so full and developed that they teach us about family, money, heartbreak, success, failure, devotion, and fulfillment. Steinbeck's characters—Samuel, Lee, Adam, Charles, Cal, Aron, Abra, and arguably Cathy—are beautifully human, human in the way that celebrates life and opens up potential.
This time reading it, I saw more in the characters, saw more of their complexities and intentions. Steinbeck explores the extremes of good and evil, reminding us that the seeds of both lie within each of us. We can’t deny the bad, and when we try we wind up living an unsatisfactory half-life. Through Cal and Aron primarily, we learn that we first must accept that badness is in us and only then can we choose to overcome it. Choosing against evil is what truly leads men and women to goodness and purity.
East of Eden is all about choosing who you become, regardless of your parentage or surroundings. Today I left this book feeling in myself vast potential for both great depravity and great godliness, realizing that what I become is my choice.
But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—“Thou mayest”—that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on man. For if “Thou mayest”—it is also true that “Thou mayest not.” . . . Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win. (p. 301–302)
Steinbeck had declared East of Eden his magnum opus, and I couldn’t agree more.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Aside from the trite phrases and iffy writing, I spent most of the book so frustrated with the entire premise. I had such a hard time with David keeping such a secret—continually perpetuating such a devastating lie—that I had little sympathy for him. I didn't like Norah too well, and I blame that more on the lie from which this story derives its momentum.
The solution seemed so simple, and I grew tired of the book's unhappiness. While the emotion and discontent of the story shouldn't feel contrived, the writing made it so for me. I also didn't like or care about what happened to the characters. I did like Phoebe, but I wish we could have seen things through her eyes instead of just through Caroline's. The poignancy of her role seemed diminished by her removal from the plot.
Ultimately this is a book that tries to be deep and isn't. The potential was there, but in the end unfulfilled.
How I Planned Your Wedding by Susan Wiggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was a light read that required little to no processing. It's a fun recounting of how one woman planned her dream wedding with her mother. And even though Elizabeth and her mother are best friends, they still ran into their wedding hang-ups. This book would be especially good for brides-to-be, because it gives many helpful hints for wedding planning that you might not have thought of before. (I did cough when I read that her wedding budget was $20,000. Good heavens.)
Really, though, this book made me so grateful for my own wedding. It was beautiful, and I wouldn't have changed a thing. If you need a light, easy read, give this one a shot.
So there you have it: three books in all of August. I told you things have been funky around here. You'll be happy to know I'm already on my second book of September, though, so this funk is well on its way out. I've been enjoying my free time, knowing it won't last forever. Riding out this funk seems to be the best option right now, so I'm filling my days with domestic productivity, some socializing, and a few indulgences. I have a good feeling about September, book-wise and life-wise.