Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#14: Brooklyn (Colm Toibin)

Completing this book marks the 1/3 mark in my Library Shelf project (book #7) and is the second of four novels by Colm Toibin on my shelf. I have a huge classic novel looming in the background that is calling my name since I had planned to read one of the Tolstoy novels during the first half of this project. (Can you tell that I am intimidated by War and Peace and Anna Karenna?)

I was first introduced to Colm Toibin’s writing when I began the Library Shelf project and read The Heathers Blazing. The current novel, Brooklyn, is another novel that pleasantly surprised me on this journey. The story follows a young Irish girl from her provincial home to the excitement of Brooklyn, New York in the mid-twentieth century. While in Brooklyn, Eilis becomes a strong, independent woman. She gains confidence as she trains to be a bookkeeper. Eilis learns much about modern society and the rights of women as she explores American fashion and converses with her fellow residents in Mrs. Kehoe’s boarding house. A trip to a Saturday night dance sponsored by the church begins her education about men, race relations, sexuality, and love.

In the final section of the novel, Eilis feels the pull of her Irish home because of the loss of her beloved sister. As she cares for her mother, Eilis finds herself enjoying the familiarity of Ireland and the respect she is given because of her American experience. Our vibrant heroine now finds herself torn between her past and the new life she has forged for herself in America. Toibin does not settle for a simple solution to bring the novel to its conclusion; the reader feels Eilis’ uncertainty as she carefully weighs her decision.

Brooklyn was especially moving for me. The text is lyrical. The emotions parallel my own as I prepare for my own future in light of the responsibilities and duties associated with home. I’m looking forward to reading Toibin’s remaining novels in this project — The Empty Family and The Master — to see if I will enjoy them just as much as the ones I’ve read so far.

 

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#18: The Heather Blazing (Colm Toibin)

I was so inspired by Phyllis Rose’s The Shelf that I decided to begin my own version of the project. I planned to select a random shelf in the library that contained at least one classic novel and had no more than 5 books representing a single author. The selection process was much more difficult than I expected. The main branch of the Memphis Public Library shelves most of its classic novels in an area separate from general fiction. So, on Halloween Day, I made my way to the White Station branch and found my shelf:  THO – TRE.  (At the end of today’s post, I will include a complete list of the books included on my shelf on that day.)

Randomly, I chose my first book from my library shelf project — The Heather Blazing. The story centers around Eamon Redmond, an Irish judge whose life has been plagued by immense loss. As a child, he lost both of his parents. Although still living, he has a decaying relationship with both of his children. The two great loves of his life — his beautiful wife and his childhood home that overlooks the sea — are both facing dire circumstances and will be removed from his world very quickly.

While the novel contains immense tragedy for Eamon, the book is quite beautiful. The descriptions of the Irish landscape are riveting. Toibin weaves a thread of hope throughout the plot and provides an ambiguous conclusion to the novel that allows the reader to determine for himself Eamon’s ultimate outcome. Although I would have never picked up The Heather Blazing on my own, I am happy that I encountered this charming book through my library shelf project.

MY LIBRARY SHELF: THO – TRE

White Station Branch of Memphis Public Library – October 31, 2014

  1. Takedown – Brad Thor
  2. Reboot – Tintera
  3. The Good Thief – Hannah Tinti
  4. The Barbarian Nurseries – Hector Tobar
  5. A Complicated Kindness – Miriam Toews
  6. Brooklyn – Colm Toibin
  7. The Empty Family – Colm Toibin
  8. The Heather Blazing – Colm Toibin
  9. The Masters – Colm Toibin
  10. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
  11. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  12. Tomahawk – David Poyer (This book appears to have been shelved incorrectly. Since it was on the shelf on this day, however, I will include it in my reading project.)
  13. Masked Innocence – Alessandra Torre
  14. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned – Wells Tower
  15. The Key – Simon Toyne
  16. The Oriental Wife – Evelyn Toyston
  17. Sanctus – Simon Toyne
  18. Off the Grid – P.J. Tracy
  19. The Legacy – Kirsten Tranter
  20. The Colour – Rose Tremain
  21. The Crazyladies of Pearl Street – Trevanian
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#3: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Stieg Larsson)

It took me a few years to get around to it, but I finally read the final book of the Millennium Trilogy.  Since so much time had passed since reading the previous volumes, I had forgotten some of the essential facts of the story. Those memory lapses slowed my reading a bit as well as the fact that I was battling (yet another) sinus infection while getting through the novel.

Overall, I really enjoyed the story more than the previous books. In The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the focus turns to finding justice for the mistreatment of Lisbeth Salander. While the story takes on the feel of a legal thriller, I found myself captivated by the story without the violence that marked the earlier novels. I was a little let down by the book’s ending and found myself wanting a better resolution. Perhaps Larsson is leaving the door open to continue exploring the lives of these characters; I, for one, am done with them.

I don’t regret reading the series, but I’m definitely glad that I’m able to mark these books off of my list and move on to other things.  What’s next on my list? I’m in the process of finishing another series and reading Mockingjay, the final book in The Hunger Games saga.

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#11: The Dinner (Herman Koch)

The Dinner is the critically-acclaimed Dutch novel centering around two brothers who lives could not be any more different. One is a powerful politician set to become the next Prime Minister. The other is a history teacher forced to resign his post due to controversial statements in the classroom. The lives of these estranged brothers once again intersect due to the criminal actions of their teenage sons. The two men and their wives meet for dinner to discuss how they plan to handle the situation.

The structure of The Dinner is delicious. Each course of the meal moves the novel into a different section. The appetizers are constructed simplistically and with little depth. As the meal moves into the entree portion, the language becomes rich as does the story itself. The final section of the novel — the dessert — left me unsatisfied and longing for something more.

I simply have to ask one question. What's all the fuss about? Don't misunderstand. I found the book interesting in its concept. Portions of the writing were simply delightful. As a whole, though, the novel felt a bit contrived to me. It seemed as though Koch was attempting to write the second half of the book in a high literary style that was not in agreement with the beauty that opened the work. It almost felt like he decided to try to impress his audience by showing us what we should read instead of giving us more of what drew us into the book in the first place. This was a case of finishing a book because I was so near the end and not because I was drawn into another world by the power of the words.

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