Nonfiction, Reading, Reviews

Love Books: Read This, Not That

Any book worth its salt has some love in it. Friendship, romantic love, sacrificial love, usually self-love whether glorified or not…humans are made to love and they will love something or someone as a default. In the last week, the two books I read actually had “love” in the title, but they were as different as night and day.

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio is classified as literary fiction, but it’s really not. The only The Look of Loveliterary thing about it is the premise. It had potential, in an O’Henry kind of way, but it falls severely short of the mark of good literature.  And it doesn’t make me happy to say that because I loved Jio’s The Violets of March and enjoyed several of her other books. The Look of Love isn’t anywhere close to Jio’s best work. The book’s main character, Jane, has a gift: she can see true love. She’s just figuring out that she has this gift at age 29, and she also learns that she has to identify the six forms of love before her 30th birthday or she will never find true love herself.

Here’s where you start thinking, “Wuv. Twue Wove.” (Books and movies come and go, but The Princess Bride never fails). The definition of true love and the six types of love Jane defines are not love. They are chemistry, lust, the kind of stuff from songs like “Hooked On A Feeling.” In Jio’s book. people can have love and then just fall out of it, find it somewhere else, and it’s all mystical and inexplicable.  I understand that elements of romantic love are kind of inexplicable, but love has reasons and choices and true love is selfless.

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary WorldEnter the next book of the week with love in the title: Love Does. Bob Goff writes in memoir style about the kind of love that has transformed his life. The whole idea is real love doesn’t just feel or talk but it does stuff. It is action. It is being with people or giving to people, believing in people and telling them you’re for them. Real, perfect love is loving like Jesus. Now, before you roll your eyes, make sure you’re thinking about Jesus here and not the people who claim to follow Him. I’ve been a Christian my whole life, met some amazing and incredibly loving followers of Jesus, but I’ve still never seen anyone come close to Jesus. No one can love the unlovable like Jesus. And we’re all unlovable in some way. But Goff tells stories with humor and intelligence and, his favorite word, “whimsy” about how he has experienced love in his life. For example, when he was in high school, he decided to drop out and move to Yosemite. He packed his car, headed out of town, but stopped by a mentor’s house on the way to say goodbye. And this mentor answered the door in the early morning, and a few minutes later, was in the car with Goff, going on his journey not as a chaperon or a parent figure, but a loving friend who still let Goff hold the reigns but said, “I’m with you, Bob.” These and other stories will blows to bits the love presented in pop culture. Love Does is a challenge to trade in the watered down sensation of love in our movies and books for love that is soul satisfying and deeply changing. This book is also just a plain fun read and if nothing else you will laugh (Thanks to my friend, Mary, for lending it to me!).

So if you’re looking for some summer book love, read this, not that. And feel free to chime in with the books you think give a good picture of real love.

Reviews

Review: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of WingsThough a life long Southerner, I am not a big fan of Southern Literature. But ever since reading The Secret Life of Bees, I knew I would always give any novel by Sue Monk Kidd a try. Mermaid Chair left me pretty disappointed, but I stood by my love of Bees and put myself on the library waiting list for The Invention of Wings as soon as it came out. Here’s what The Invention of Wings is about:

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements. -Goodreads.com

I enjoyed the fact that this book was based on real abolitionists, the Grimke sisters. They were remarkable women in a time when women weren’t supposed to be remarked on for anything but their choice of dresses and hair styles. They were Southern Belles gone wrong, in their society’s opinion. I also appreciated how this novel portrayed a reality of slavery in Charleston, South Carolina, without being as graphic as the recent popular novel, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. Having been to Charleston countless times, it was a hard reality check to really imagine what some of those historic buildings were housing three hundred years ago. The historical element of the novel was the novel’s best point.

Where the book disappointed me was in the character development and very inwardly focused narrative. The narrative switches from the first person perspectives of Sarah and Handful. I got very sick of being in Sarah’s head especially. If Kidd wanted me to feel stuck in molasses, she made her point. Handful’s narrative was more humorous and interesting. I would have rather heard more about Sarah’s sisters, Angelina, but it turns out there’s not really a whole lot known about her. She was the one with spunk in the Grimke family. The slow moving span of 35 years that the novel covers and the misguided patience of Sarah throughout her life made me tempted to throw the book down in frustration. But it was on an e-reader, so I didn’t throw it.

Because of the slow pace and tiresome narrative from Sarah, this book is a 2.5-3 out of 5 star book for me. If you’re interested in the Southern history and the Grimke sisters, I would recommend it, but if you are simply looking for a book that is similar in style and feel to The Secret Life of Bees, I’d give Beth Hoffman’s Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt or Sarah Jio’s The Violets of March a try.

The Violets of March       Saving Ceecee Honeycutt

Reading, Reviews

Coastal Reads

I don’t travel a whole lot (much less than I would like), but when I do, I love to have a book with me that’s set in the place I am visiting.  When I was in London several years ago, I was reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.  The feel of stepping into a place that has been set in a famous book and has been there for over a hundred years is surreal.  More often, though, my reading happens when I’m not traveling, but firmly set at home.  That’s why I love a book that describes a place so well, I can imagine being there.  There are some places I am dying to go see because I’ve read books about them.  In the past few months, I’ve read a couple of books set on two coasts that are now calling my name.

The Violets of MarchThe first coastal call came from The Violets of March by Sarah Jio.  Set on Bainbridge Island in Washington’s Pugent Sound, it’s one of those books that sucks you right into the setting.  I enjoyed how Jio described the area so vividly without going on and on about it.  She has the rare gift of weaving the setting into the plot seamlessly.  How many times have you read a book and gotten sick of all the descriptions?  I wouldn’t worry about that if you’re thinking of reading this book.   The plot started out a little shaky:  a 30-something woman dealing with a washed up marriage is living in New York but is forced to go back to her roots.  Sweet Home Alabama, anyone?  Thankfully, the plot is much more exciting than the kind of book that deals only with past emotions.  Yes, there’s some emotional baggage the main character, Emily, is working through, but there’s also a mystery to unravel.   And I love a well written mystery. I’m of the opinion they’re pretty rare.  Sometimes the tone reminds me of Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, though it’s not quite so dark.   I’d recommend The Violets of March to just about anyone.

 

The next coastal book I read brought me back home to the East Coast.  Moon Over Edisto by Beth Webb Hart is about a woman who Moon Over Edistolives in New York City, is about to get married, and has to return to her hometown, Edisto, to take care of her family in a crisis.  Wait…am I getting these two books confused?  Because, hello Sweet Home Alabama again.  No, they’re different books, but I’m now realizing the starting premises of these books are fairly similar. However, Moon Over Edisto doesn’t turn into a mystery to be solved, but a story of how to forgive and the freedom and healing forgiveness brings.   The setting is very intertwined with the plot, as two main characters are artists.  A lot of the scenery is built on the description of what artworks these two characters are creating.   I wish I owned the real paintings and not just descriptions of their art, because it sounds beautiful.  Though I’ve lived in South Carolina my whole life and visit the coast often, I’ve never been to Edisto.  I know, it’s sad.  After reading this book, I realize even more it’s a problem that must be remedied soon.

 

I can’t embrace travel literature–I need a good plot and intriguing characters to keep me reading–but I think mental travel is one of reading’s greatest qualities.  And even if you’re not looking for a book to take you to a new place, these two books are pretty good light reads apart from their settings.  I’d love to hear what you think if you decide to pick one up!

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