Monday, October 22, 2012

Book Reviews: Some winners and some stinkers

The Olive Tree, by Carol Drinkwater
I recently wrote about the fundraising dinner I attended called A Literary Feast. The feast I attended was based on The Olive Tree, by Carol Drinkwater. I'd never even heard of it, so I used my Amazon Prime membership to get a copy overnight. It's lengthy, but as it's a travel memoir I figured I could blaze through it in time for the feast.
I read eleven pages, and then I couldn't read any more. It reaches new heights of pretension, and new depths of tedium.
Drinkwater and her husband have an olive farm in Provence, France. Just as a hobby, though. Whatever they do for real garners enough money that an olive harvest destroyed by insects is just a bummer, rather than a travesty. Drinkwater would rather her crops be destroyed by bugs and birds than preserve the vulnerable olives by way of pesticides-- give her organic, or give her death.

"I am not an olive farmer by profession. It is my passion, but, had it also been our livelihood, this unheard-of turn of events would have been sufficient to cause financial disruption, if not ruin."
Don't you hate it when your finances are disrupted? Good thing it's just an expensive little hobby for these folks. They don't have the fear other olive farmers do, of starving to death.

"We bottled our new oil and celebrated its arrival with friends, as was our tradition, though I genuinely believed its quality and taste had been compromised. Still, it was fine, I had to admit it."
I'm trying to think of a more boring party than one centered on oil, complete with a snotty host who would rather have no oil, and probably no party.

Setting up the point of the 407-page tome: "My quest for ancient stories of the olive tree, of those who transported it to remote, watery inlets within the Mediterranean, still held true."

I've already printed the labels to send it back. At the dinner, we all discovered that everyone had trouble with this one. The furthest anyone had gotten was the third chapter, and that was only because she had gotten the audio book to listen to on her commutes. Even the hostesses confessed that they knew the kind of feast they wanted to prepare, so they just picked a book to go with it.
These Is My Words, by Nancy Turner
I was surprised at how much I loved this book; I read it in two days and cried at the end. A fictional diary of a girl growing up in the Arizona territories, These is My Words is a sweet coming-of-age-and-beyond story with genuine emotions, surprising moments of hilarity, and a heroine who will make your heart pound with pride.

Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
I really wanted to like this book. I was expecting a riotously funny satire, along the lines of The Importance of Being Earnest. Plus, it features Oxford and World War II-- two of my favorite topics. I picked it off Time's 100 Greatest Novels (1923--Present) list, for that review sold me. Maybe I didn't get it. Maybe my expectations were too high. But after the first third of the book, I was bored. Trudging to the end, partly to see if it got better and partly just so I could check it off The Shelf.

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck Mo.ley. Most amazing book I've read in years. I had developed a crush on John Steinbeck after reading this letter to his son, posted a Facebook status about said crush, and had multiple friends demand I read East of Eden immediately. So I did. It's a huge book, and one I hated putting down. Steinbeck has a easy way with words, the kind that's so fluid, perfect, and accessible that you forget you're reading one of the most brilliant literary minds of the American canon. His characterization is nuanced and consistent. The greatness of East of Eden means anything I say about it is the equivalent of "It's, like, totally awesome." Read it.
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I really enjoyed One Hundred Years of Solitude, and it's typically my go-to book recommendation. I picked up Love in the Time of Cholera years ago at a used bookstore, and finally got around to reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's arguably more famous novel. The verdict: it was alright. Similar to Solitude, it has a ton of characters, and I probably should have taken notes to even have a prayer of keeping them all straight. The female protagonist Fermina Daza has three beautiful love stories, with two men: one in her youth, one in her prime, and one in her twilight years. There are beautiful moments throughout, but overall I found the male protagonist to be unlikeable, even in his doggedly romantic pursuit of Fermina.

What are you reading lately? What would you recommend? What stunk? Have you ever quit a book only eleven pages in?


  1. My book club just read Gone Girl, which definitely sparked some discussion. I flew through it.

    Have you read Wild by Cheryl Strayed yet? Or her collection of advice letters, Tiny Beautiful Things? Those have been my favorite books of the year, by miles and miles.

    1. Katie,

      You are the fourth person in less than a week to mention Gone Girl! Clearly, I'm behind the times.

      I haven't read any Cheryl Strayed, either. I'll add it to my list.

      Miss you, friend! Let's catch up soon.

  2. Yay, East of Eden! I need to pick it up and read it again...

    1. Kelsey, you were one of ones who convinced me to read it! So glad you did.

  3. i need a good book so badly! "east of eden" is one of my favorites :)

    1. Isn't it wonderful??

      What are you thinking about reading next? I recently moved across the country and most of my books are in storage-- it's a terrible feeling.