Monday, October 22, 2007

My book reviews

I may not have been blogging that much lately, what I have been doing is reading, lots and lots of great books. Oddly enough, my favorites recently seem to have been either historical novels or memoirs of people growing up in highly dysfunctional families. I’m sure there are other great genres out there, but right now these are the only books that are doing it for me’.

My two favorite historical novels have been:
‘The other Boleyn girl’ by Philippa Gregory
& ‘The birth of Venus’ by Sarah Dunant

And my favorite dysfunctional family books have been:
‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeannette Walls
& ‘Running with scissors’ by Augusten Burroughs

‘The other Boleyn girl’ is about the first few women in the life of Henry VIII, up to the point where he has married for the third time. The cool thing for me is that I know very little of English history, so I had no idea how things would end (I was aware that he chopped off the heads of some of his wives, so I did expect that somewhere along the line). The author, Philippa Gregory is a genius at weaving historical facts into imaginative novels and by the rave reviews I read about her on Amazon, her other books are meant to be just as good. I’ve already ordered some and can’t wait to get stuck into them. Trust me, this stuff is better then any soap opera! It’s totally addictive reading.

‘The birth of Venus’ is set in fifteenth-century Florence and the thing that fascinated me most was the story behind the story. Basically, as the leading character moves through her life, we get introduced to the vibrant art world of Florence of that time & later the emergence of an extremely fanatical form of Christianity, which brought with it the early stages of what would become the frantic Witch hunts of Europe.

‘The Glass Castle’ is the memoir of Jeannette Walls, who is a news anchor at MSNBC. She grew up in an extremely dysfunctional, yet at times brilliantly creative and funny, nomadic family. At some point in the story you wish you were part of the family yourself and at times you are fuming at the carelessness and cruelness of the parents towards the children, hoping that someone would just jump in and take these poor kids away from them.

The interesting thing that this books shows so well is that children, in most situations, seem to stick to their dysfunctional parents like glue. They protect them to the bitter end and seem to view the outside world (police, social workers, etc.) as the enemy. I saw this in some families as I was growing up, witnessing situations where social services probably should have jumped in, but where the children would hide the truth from the outside world, fearing that their parents would get into trouble or that they would be ‘taken away’. ‘The Glass Castle’ is a rolercoaster of a story; it’s funny, shocking, sad and beautiful and then back to being shocking and funny yet again.

‘Running with scissors’ by Augusten Burroughs is quite similar to the Glass Castle in some ways. Augusten’s memoir tells of him being ‘given away’ to an extremely bizarre psychiatrist and his unorthodox family by his psychotic poet mother & his is surely one of the weirdest childhoods I have ever heard of.

And reading about the ‘relationship’ he had with a pedophile from age 12 onwards was both shocking and fascinating to me. It shows the intricate mix of emotions that a child goes through in a situation like this & it’s the kind of stuff you don’t normally hear about. Society likes to keep that whole subject one-dimensional, when of course we all know that it can’t be (no relationship in life is). I guess that most of the time it’s just too shocking and distasteful a subject for us to look at, so we like to just scan the surface & simply say that all pedophiles should be shot, locked up, or whatever we think should happen to them. This memoir will not change your views on pedophilia (it didn’t change mine), but even so, it was interesting to actually hear the voice of someone who has been through this and to see the human aspect of it.

‘Running with scissors’ is actually a very funny book and a highly entertaining read. The part where, together with his adopted sister, Augusten spontaneously decides to knock the ceiling out of the family kitchen or where the family thought that God was sending messages to them through the shapes of the father’s turds/poos/number-two’s (they would actually fish them out of the toilet and dry them in the back garden) all made me laugh to no end.

This book made me realize yet again that there can be some kind of value in ‘disfunctionality’. Apart from the chance of becoming a complete lunatic, addict, drunk or criminal (or all of these together), there is also the chance of becoming a much more interesting person in the process with a tremendous amount of depth, insight, compassion & humor.

So anyway, if you have a spare moment…read these books. They are all total gems. Enjoy!