September 2006
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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(9/20) March by Geraldine Brooks. (read me!)

This incredibly imaginative novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year, tells the story of Mr. March, the father of Meg, Jo, and the other Little Women in Louisa May Alcott's famous novel. In LW, we are told that Mr. March is off fighting the Civil War, and eventually, he's injured, nearly dies, and is brought back home to his girls. But we never know what really happened to him. Until now.

March joins the Civil War out of a sense of duty to his country, despite the fact he's one of the oldest recruits from his town (he's in his 40's). Influenced by close friends Thereau, Emerson, and especially John Brown (to whom he loses his entire fortune), March serves as a Union chaplain in the war. But he's quickly thrust into the horrors of battle himself as he loses friend after friend and witnesses first-hand the brutality of slavery and the violence of fury on both sides of the conflict. Throughout his trials, it's thoughts of his wife Marmee, an activist in her own right (the March's house was a station on the Underground Railroad, for example), and of his brave and independent daughters that keep him going.

But March is not an idealized "good guy" -- he has an affair with an enslaved woman he had met before the war, his faith in God waivers, he struggles with guilt after "letting" a friend be killed to save his own skin, he is almost ridiculously naive about human nature at times, etc. And that was one of my favorite things about this novel. Little Women is not one of my favorite books, primarily because I found the characters too cheesily quaint and perfect. So, to see Mr. March developed into a real, fallible person who screws up, gives up, and eventually seems to wise up, was quite a revelation for me. If nothing else, it has encouraged me to go back to LW with a new eye and see if I can't suss out more depth from it than I was able to find when I read it so many years ago.

In any case, this novel is utterly brilliant, thoroughly entertaining, and extremely thought-provoking. I can't recommend it highly enough! Do not miss this novel, folks!

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(9/8) Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer. (read me!)

Recently, I realized it's been far too long since I checked to see what Jon Krakauer, who wrote the wonderful and amazing Into Thin Air, has been up to. Turns out, he's been up to nothing since he went head-to-head with the wacky Mormons in Into the Banner of Heaven (also wonderful and amazing, btw). So, while I'm waiting for him to publish something again (get hot, Jon!), I thought I'd pick up this book, a collection of essays he wrote eons ago about mountaineering. And man, am I glad I did -- this was just the fix I needed.

From the title story, about his attempt to conquer one of the most challenging climbs Clint Eastwood ever tackled fictitiously in a movie, to the story about the boulder climber guy who can scale up a smooth face using nothing but the strength of his fingertips, this is one phenomenal book. I don't know why I'm so obsessively in love with stories (and movies, for that matter) about mountain climbing, but I think it has to do with the combination of my thinking climbers are ABSOLUTELY INSANE, and my secret wish that I were brave enough to be that crazy myself. In any case, if you liked Into Thin Air and you want some more daredeviling-by-proxy, hie thee to the library for this one ASAP. Recommended!

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(9/2) Read Or Die, Volume 1 by Shutaro Yamada. (read me!)

I'm not going to pretend I understood much of what was going on in this graphic novel, despite the fact it WAS actually in English (translated from the original Japanese). However, it does feature a librarian superhero named Yomiko Readman, so beyond that, what more do you need to know? She's a secret agent for the Library of England, and is also a "paper," which means she draws energy from reading books that she can then turn into the ability to kill people using paper airplanes. Origami equals death! I always knew it!

Anyway, more than that, I can't say, as I don't honestly have clue-one as to what was going on in the actual storyline. I think it had something to do with Yomiko's literary hero being kidnapped by an evil-doer, but where Paul Sheldon from Misery was supposed to fit in, I remain clueless. Nevertheless, there's something uniquely entertaining about Japanese idioms and in-jokes translated directly into English, and for that alone, this is worth flipping through.

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