Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Literature Snobs

Confession: I'm a literature snob.  I didn't think I was, but I am.  Oh, sure, I happily help patrons find whatever it is they want without judgement.  To each their own and all that.  I honestly don't care who reads what or why, and can be completely impartial in readers advisory.

And then there is my own reading.  I definitely judge certain books as "worthy" of my time.  How can I possibly make that judgement unless I've read something by those authors?  It is completely unfair to dismiss an author's entire works based on what I think I know about their books.

I did a mystery challenge last summer to broaden my horizons in that genre.  It helped a lot, and I've read several more mysteries since then.  I have more authors and series to recommend when I'm doing readers advisory.  So, what I need to do is a reading challenge that includes only authors that I've dismissed as unworthy.  The only criteria for this challenge are that they have to be books I would never have considered or looked twice at previously, but which are popular among my library's patrons.

Here are my first two.

By Danielle Steel

Danielle Steel has written so many books, and is so well-loved by her fans that she seemed like the obvious place to start.  I chose one of her recent historical novels.  (Is that cheating since I typically enjoy historical fiction?)

The story starts with Brigitte, a modern-day academic who just lost everything she held dear.  She agrees to help her mother do genealogy research to pass the time, and finds herself fascinated by a Sioux woman named Wachiwi who shows up in their family tree.  She tracks down Wachiwi's story.  The story then switches to Wachiwi's perspective.  She was stolen from her family by Crow warriors and given as a gift to their chief.  Her story is actually very interesting!  When the book abruptly changed back to Brigitte's, I was actually disappointed.

The best parts of the book are Wachiwi's.  It was a good story!  What I didn't like about this book were the constant repetition and re-iteration of key themes.  Yes, Brigitte wasted years of her life on a man and a job she didn't like.  Yes, Wachiwi was brave and stubborn and beautiful.  Good grief, I wanted the author to stop saying it.

I was actually surprised at the PG-type rating of this book.  There is implied sex, but nothing graphic and virtually no violence or language (even with the warring Native Americans!).  It was all much tamer than I had expected.  I have never recommended a Danielle Steel novel to gentle readers, but now I have an idea who I can suggest her books to.

So...will I read another Danielle Steel book?  Maybe.  I liked the historical story here.  I know that she's written other historical novels.  It was quick, fluffy, brain candy - and there's nothing wrong with that!  Did it change my life?

The Secret
by Beverly Lewis
Seasons of Grace, Book 1

Here's another genre I just never really gave a try.  Grace Byler's Amish family seems ordinary enough.  But then Grace finds her mother crying in the night, and her father goes on as if everything were normal.  When Grace's mother disappears, her world is shattered.  She can't marry her long-time beau and she wants to find her mother, but must keep her family going in her mother's absence.

The story is told partially from Grace's perspective and also from her mother's.  We get little pieces of the puzzle, but I'm sure you have to read all three books in the series to figure it all out.

The story also has a third voice: Heather Nelson.  Heather has been diagnosed with cancer, but can't bare to tell her father.  Her mother died of cancer a few years before, and it would devastate him to lose Heather too.  Heather goes to Amish country, where her father bought a house.  It was one of her parents' favorite places to vacation together.  Heather sees a holistic medicine practitioner in hopes of relief.  Will she find it?

What I liked about this book was an introduction to another culture.  I grew up near enough to an Amish community that they aren't completely foreign to me, but I learned a lot about them by reading this book.  I also liked the mystery aspect.  Darn it, I want to know what's up with the mother!  I may have to read books 2 and 3 to find out.

What annoyed me about this book was the sickeningly-sweet, naive, innocence of it all.  I didn't mind the religious bits because they weren't overwhelming.  (I once read a Karen Kingsbury book and found it waaaayy more in-your-face preaching than this was.)  It seemed more true to the characters and their way of life - necessary to the story to make the setting believable.  My problem was that the characters were supposed to be frustrated, depressed, and facing life-changing obstacles, but it was just a bunch of "golly gee whiz, we're in a pickle."  (Exaggeration, but you get the idea.)

I might read book 2 to find out more about the mother's story.  I'm not invested in Heather's story because I want her to just go to an oncologist.

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