Book reports 5, 6, and 7 (2019)

Vacations makes such a lovely time to read…
After putting this aside after 2/3s done last month, I decided to stick it out till the end in the hopes that it would get better. It didn’t.
Barbara Kingsolver‘s best writing is when her characters are in the wild – forests, jungles, distant lands – and that comes out in this book, as well. The more enjoyable parts (brief as they are) are when the characters are out exploring the land around them. Otherwise, this novel is preachy and uninteresting, trying desperately to make so many political points and forgetting to make the reader care about any of the characters or situations they are in.
Many of the characters are so highly stereotypical they are unbelievable (and mostly unlikable), and the dialogue between them equally so. Kingsolver’s personal politics and beliefs are readily evident in her earlier works, but in ways that helped the reader understand and care about them, too. In this novel, the very characters she wants us to like and believe in – Tig, the teenage communist, or Mary Treat, the 19th century scientist, who I think you’re supposed to admire and empathize with for her limited career in a male-dominated world – you don’t like or believe in because they are tiresomely strident or ridiculously boring.
It might be that there is just too much going on in the world and the US for Kingsolver to pick a topic to focus on, so instead she’s taken a scatter-brush approach to chastise us all (yes, much of the text and dialogue reads like a finger-wagging admonishment of the reader) for the terrible state of the world, and produced a very long novel that goes nowhere, except to the second-hand shop.
3 – a book published in 2018
7 – a book written by a female author
19 – a book with a one-word title
26 – a book that was a gift (from Jodi)
I had somewhat followed the dramatic rise and fall of the brief career of Elizabeth Holmes, Silicon Valley wunderkind cum con artist. I had heard of her a few times in my career, but only just as a woman-in-business-in-engineering, but nothing earth-shattering. In 2014, like many people, I read the long profile of her in The New Yorker and, like not enough people, thought, “sounds unbelievable.”
The following year, it was revealed that the empress was naked – her multi-billion dollar company was founded on a stack of lies and doctored reports a mile high. The author of this book is the investigative journalist who had a similar and more serious reaction to the story a few years earlier, and investigated till all was revealed. The technology was indeed too good to be true, investors had believed in the charisma of the personality and not considered the likelihood (or not) of the business plan and the technology. The writing is okay (a bit colloquial in places, a bit repetitive in others), but the story is a fascinating expose, a whodunnit of the business and tech world.
I was reminded of one of my favourite books from last year – The Rule of Stephens, about a female biotech entrepreneur in Vancouver who is the polar opposite of Holmes. From Forbes cover to fraudster in just three years, Holmes is not only a cautionary tale for inventors and investors, her trail of deceit and personality will ultimately make it that much harder for new up-and-comers to get a break. Like any hoax, the long-term impact is on those who try to play it straight.
1 – title includes a body part (if we can count blood as a body part)
3 – a book published in 2018
6 – an author’s debut book
8 – a book that is being made into a film (of course it is)
24 – a book by an author I’ve never read before
25 – a non-fiction science book (there is quite a bit of it in this book, mostly about the technology’s impossibility)
It took me a bit to get into this book, partly because of the colloquial dialogue but more because of the main character – I didn’t like her in the beginning, and while I felt sympathy for her by the end, I don’t think I would say that I liked her. I found the descriptions of life and society fascinating, and the commentary of the characters describing their lives and lifestyles to be much more interesting than the love stories. Even more enjoyable for me were the lyrical almost poetic phrases throughout. I was trying to mark them, but there were so many I gave up.
I felt a great deal of sympathy for the men in Janie’s life. Her first husband truly loved her, and her deception of and departure from him seemed unnecessarily cruel. The second man, Jody, gave no illusions about his plans and goals for his life and her life with him, and so her disillusionment with him after 20 years and her subsequent scorn also seems cruel as well as irresponsible; her own recognition of him as “just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over” says to me that the pretence was mostly hers. Her last relationship with Tea Cake also seems naive, but for different reasons. As the rebound from Jody, her intense and rewarding love with Tea Cake is destined for tragedy. At the end, when she “…pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net…and draped it over her shoulder” and “…called in her soul to come and see”, she seems at last to be taking ownership of herself and her dreams, rather than relying on her man to define her and realize her dreams.
I would imagine the book was somewhat controversial on many sides for phrases like, “Let colored folks learn to work for what dey git lak everybody else.” but overall it stays away from too much opinion. I would have enjoyed more in the story about the development of Eatonville, and the politics and culture of the times, but those elements were really more backdrop than story.
1 – title contains a body part
2 – before 1939
7 – a book by a female author
8 – a book that is being made into a film (of course it is)
10 – a referral from a fellow bookclubber
24 – a new author to me
26 – a book received as a gift


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