Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Fistful of Reads: August Edition

Another month is over and I've got two more books to add to my list.  It was actually a slow month, reading wise for me, and I know that that may seem like a silly statement since the last two months only brought me one new read a month, but I was juggling a newborn and the monstrosity (size wise) that was 'Winter's Tale'.  This month both of my reads were shorter (one was just over 400pg and one was about 250pg) but good lord is my life busy at the moment.

Anyways, one of these reads was for myself and the other was for my daughter, and as it turns out the one for me was a total wash while the one for my daughter was the most unexpected surprise.

I'll start with the bad:

I honestly cannot believe that I'm saying this, because we all know how much I LOVE Russell Banks.  I’ve labeled him the greatest American author on several occasions and have championed his work for years.  The diversity he shows in his layering of complex subjects, themes and focal points is impressive.  His character development is aces and he truly understands how to bring the reader in to the most complex of narratives and deliver an experience unlike any other.

I thought I was going to love this novel.

Conceptually, ‘Lost Memory of Skin’ has a rich subtext that promises no easy answers yet something profound and provocative.  The laws surrounding sex offenders are murky at best and really do need a revisit, since no case is the same and there are many young men who are scorned and scared for their entire lives for a foolish mistake that is NOT the same as some other more serious crimes.  The basic concept of this novel was to bring that necessity to the forefront by delving into the life of a young man, convicted of a sex crime he didn’t actually commit (well, not in whole) and contrast him with the obvious scum he’s associated with.  Enter a mysterious professor and his odd interest in the ‘kid’ and you have a premise that promises something more than it actually provides.

The main issue I had with this book was the overbearing redundancy of the prose.  The character development for our protagonist especially is ridiculously repetitive and not in the least bit insightful.  It was as if Russell Banks drew a blank when trying to formulate this character and so he decided to tell us over and over again about the poor kid’s porn addiction.  He never fleshed out any reason behind his actions and his last ditch effort to give the novel some sort of clarity of purpose was too little too late.  That final chapter needed to come pages and chapters and an entire book length sooner, to be honest.  The Professor himself was an enigma of unnecessary.  His purpose is never really stated wholly, and while there is a sliver of possible credibility given in a case of mistaken identity, he really becomes a non-entity and a mere distraction.  His ‘research’ is non-credible and his attempt to convert the offenders under the causeway feels lazy and is ultimately scrapped altogether when Banks runs out of ideas and decides to abandon ship and move on.

That is what this novel felt like to me; a bunch of ideas that Banks could never fully develop and so he merely bounced from one to the other until he concluded the book by telling us the reason he wrote it.

That brings me to 'The Secret Garden', a novel I probably never would have picked up on my own and yet one that I am so happy to say I have read.  It is my goal in life, as a father, to instill the importance of quality literature in my children.  It is hard to do that in a sea of mind numbing abominations targeted at this new breed of child that I know nothing of and want nothing to do with.  This disregard for the classics and this determination to modernize everything has left a stain on modern culture.  In fact, for my friend’s son’s back to school party, my wife and I bought him a series of classic books, because we were informed he loved to read (a kid after my own heart, or so I thought), but when we handed him a pile of books that included such classics as ‘Treasure Island’, ‘The Jungle Book’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’, he scoffed at us. 

He wanted ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’, or something like that.

So, you have no idea the delight I felt when my daughter, who is only six, begged me for ‘The Secret Garden’ for her ‘back to school’ present.  I obliged, rather excitedly, and we spent the better part of last month indulging on every chapter, fumbling over Yorkshire accents (reading some of the dialog aloud is brutal) and bawling our eyes out as young Master Colin is reunited with his father.

That final chapter was rough to get through.

This beautiful story is such a strong testament to the power of literature, because it reaches so many different types of people.  My daughter, who is obviously a girl and a child, had similar reactions to this story as I did, and I am obviously a man and an adult.  Yet, we were both filled with excitement and joy and overcome with emotion as the ‘magic’ of this beautiful tale filled the room.  Watching my daughter connect to these characters, question their situation and learn from their actions was something you cannot replace.  As Mary and Colin have their rough, selfish, condescending exteriors softened by the power of love and affection, one feels the warmth of their friendship blossom in their own hearts.

I read to my daughter a lot.  I don’t always read books that I enjoy (I suffered through those horrid ‘Emma Dilemma’ books), but when I can watch her eyes light up as I read the words found in a gem such as  ‘The Secret Garden’, it makes all the less rewarding times disappear.

With a cast of characters any child (and parent) will love (Dicken is a great character and probably my favorite in the book) and such powerful themes such as abandonment, loyalty and, of course, love, ‘The Secret Garden’ is a masterpiece.  That final chapter sums up so much and really fleshes out and uncovers so many emotional layers, tying in the story of these budding youths with the floundering spirit of a man dead to the world, waiting for a miracle to bring him back to life.

So that is it for this month.  I'm currently reading 'Catching Fire', lol, to prepare myself for the movie later this year so expect a review of that at the end of the month.  I kind of liked the first book, so you never know.  I'm hoping to at least get three read this month, maybe four, but that really all depends on how many movies I try and squeeze in and how many hours of sleep my kids allow me to get.


  1. I've never read The Secret Garden, but you've got me curious. Of course, I still need to pick up a copy of Winter's Tale!

    1. Yes, you must. Secret Garden is a great read, but it is very much a story for little girls :-D