Summer Reading 2002

Maybe it’s because I’ve taken so few vacations in my life, but I’ve never had a summer reading list of light-minded page-turners. Knowing that the weather was supposed to cool down to a bearable temperature for sitting outside, I decided to try “summer reading” this week.

  • Life Skills: A Novel. Katie FForde.
  • How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Terry McMillan.
  • The Enchanted April. Elizabeth von Arnim.
  • The Pillow Boy of the Lady Onogoro. Alison Fell.

Life Skills: A Novel

Life Skills seems basically to be light, romantic fiction by the numbers. Set in contemporary England, it covers some of the same territory as Bridget Jones’s Diary, but more conservatively and less effectively. Julia breaks up with her fiance and loses her job in the same week. She lets her house and takes a job as a cook on one of the narrow boats that cruise the English canal system. The description of running tours on the canals provides an interesting dimension. But you know how this book is going to resolve long before Julia does. It is a light escapist read, better than watching TV, but not much (unless you’re watching Fox, and then it’s much, much better).

Bottom line: Not bad, but not recommended.

If you’re in the mood for this kind of stuff, read Bridget Jones’s Diary instead.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

The more I think about it the more my disappointment grows. This book is pure romantic fantasy. The characters are flat and cartoonish, undeveloped and one-dimensional. You can’t distinguish their voices from Stella’s when she argues with herself; they are just an extension of the sides of her self-conflict. All the men are horrible, with no redeeming qualities, except the young object of desire, Winston. And Winston is absolutely perfect in every way except for the problem that he is just 21. How much of a problem it is for 42-year-old Stella to date a 21-year-old is, of course, the conflict in the book.

Stella really has no problems despite the fact that she’s just lost her job. She lives in an expensive house with a pool, shops at Macy’s, drives a $60,000 sports car, can afford two trips to Jamaica in one summer (flying first class), and has the perfect 11-year-old son who is attentive, respectful, and offers his mother sage counsel.

I sense any criticism I make, any inability to understand the book’s supposed charms, will be dismissed because I’m not black. But I think the book failed to resonate with me because I don’t really identify with the problems of the wealthy.

If I wrote “It’s a white thing.” as often as Terry McMillan writes “It’s a black thang.”, I’d certainly be guilty of racism. I find irritating to be lumped in with slave owners just because I’m perceived as white, when half my forebears were from the Land of Lincoln itself and fought against the south in the Civil War and the other half of my forebears weren’t even citizens of the United States until 1912 when New Mexico was admitted into the Union. But, I digress.

By contrast, Amy Tan manages to write about being Chinese-American in a way that not only celebrates the uniqueness of her culture, but also illustrates the universal themes that connect all cultures.

Bottom line: Not recommended.

The Enchanted April

In 1923 when The Enchanted April was published, it was considered light, romantic fluff. And though it is just as much a fantasy as How Stella Got Her Groove Back, the difference in language is the difference between Stella’s virgin pina colada and a dry martini.

The characters, four Englishwomen on a month’s holiday in Italy, are each carefully delineated. Two of them have husbands, one is a widow, and one is yet unmarried. It is refreshing to read about marital relationships that are well past the bliss of beginning, but not at throes of ending.

I had so much fun reading this book, that I’m going to follow up with the movie.

Bottom line: Recommended.

Comments are closed.

The surface and beneath the surface