Reading Round-Up

Image courtesy ClipArt ETC

There are a lot of books I read this past year that I didn’t take the time to review. This was usually due to the very legitimate reason that I’d rather read more books than write about the ones I’d already finished. Also, it sounded like a lot of work. In retrospect, however, I realize that I like being able to look back on my reactions to books that I might otherwise forget. (Not that the books are forgettable, mind you—I just read too much to keep track of all of them.) I’ve started to notice that many bloggers who are ridiculously avid readers tend to write brief, roughly one paragraph long reviews, and no one even judges them for it! In the spirit of just saying no to verbosity (and, let’s face it, not overexerting myself), I thought I’d do a little one paragraph round-up of some of the books I read this year that I previously failed to comment on. (I sort of had to: I found really cute clip art for it.)

Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell, is a book that I thought I would really, really like. It has everything a whimsy enthusiast like me could ask for: a family of alligator wrestlers, a teenage girl in love with a ghost, and even a Hell-themed amusement park called The World of Darkness. For some reason, though, the novel just didn’t click. It was too depressing, with no promise of redemption. Though Russell is a talented writer who knows how to turn a phrase, she is less adept at pacing, and there were times when I struggled to get through a chapter. The characters were sometimes memorable, but none of them were developed as much as I would have liked. Mostly, they frustrated me: I wanted to shake each of them and tell them that their lives didn’t have to be the way they were. But then, I’m not so sure that’s true. Swamplandia!, both the book and the alligator park, represents a world so removed from normal civilization that it is in some ways unreal. Though grounded in a reality, it is not one that I have ever known.

It’s rare that I encounter a book that is just plain fun, but that’s the best way I can describe The Secret Adversary, an early Agatha Christie mystery. The book is an enjoyable romp that, though largely inconsequential, is so darn appealing that it doesn’t even matter how silly it gets. The main characters, Tommy and Tuppence, are a completely charming duo of flat-broke 20-somethings who, due to their own boredom and poverty, wind up embarking on the adventure of their lives. Portraying themselves as detectives, they become involved in a plot with serious international implications. But, mostly, they just bumble around and have a good time. Though the stakes are high, there’s never any strong sense of danger. The Secret Adversary is a lighthearted adventure that simply entertains and delights.

 The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, is another book I really wanted to like, if only because its cover had me convinced that it must be the best book ever written. Sadly, packaging let me down yet again, though that’s not to say that the novel isn’t worth reading. The biggest problem I had with The Night Circus was that it was not what I thought it would be. That is, it’s not quite as magical as I expected, at least not in the traditional, Harry Potter sort of way. The magic of the book lies in its visuals rather than in its plot; the story, though engaging at times, is nothing compared to the richness of the circus itself. If I could vacation in a book, The Night Circus would be my pick. Morgenstern creates a landscape so vivid and enticing that I’m legitimately bummed it’s not for real. The story, however, left me somewhat less enchanted. It matters, to be sure, but not every part of it feels as essential, as imperative, as the details of the circus itself. It seems clear that Morgenstern herself fell under her own spell, for she appears taken with every tiny facet of the circus, from the contents of each tent to the sweet aroma of the food sold there. I only wish she had been more interested in developing her characters, who remain, at the end, more enigmatic than the circus itself.

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