Tidying up – brief thoughts on a few books

There is a bunch of books I finished a while ago but somehow didn’t get around to review them. They’ve been sitting on my desk, near the computer, for quite a while and I didn’t want to put them back on the shelves with the other books until I reviewed them so here it goes:

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

An old house, a family trying to keep up with the changing times, a love story – it seemed like the perfect book for me. I bought it in a second-hand bookstore after trying to decide which one of the Sarah Waters novels to pick.
I loved this book – the tragedy of the Ayres family who lived at Hundreds Hall (beautiful name for a house, don’t you think), mother, daughter and son, trying to live in a present that didn’t match the past they were used to. A big old house fallen into disrepair, noises, mysterious patches on the wall, writing on the windowsill and the death of a loved one that marked Mrs. Ayres forever. All this and more is discovered by a local doctor who befriends the family and who gets to see them to their tragic end. The love story added a nice touch to the otherwise gloomy atmosphere of the novel, but I wish the book had a different ending. I’m not saying I wanted a happily-ever-after but it would have been nice if the author had given away a little bit more. Nevertheless, I look forward to reading more of her novels in the near future.

Eleven Minutes, by Paulo Coelho, is the story of Maria, a girl from a Brazilian village who goes to the big city with big hopes and ends up as a prostitute. A few years later, tired and disappointed of her life, she decides to go back to her village but meets a young artist who makes her change her mind. Can love still be possible?
Apparently, it can. Coelho weaves his magic and tries to make us believe in it. I thought the explanations for those eleven minutes quite unexpected if a bit strange and I thought the ending was too Hollywood-like for my taste but then I guess the alternative would have been too depressing.
There’s a certain something that attracts me to Coelho’s books. Maybe it’s the lessons he’s trying to get across to his readers, or perhaps a somehow soulful quality to his stories that makes me shake my head in doubt and also hope. I still like The Alchemist the best, though.

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

“You have to read this book”, a friend of mine said and while I tend to take this kind of suggestion with a dose of skepticism, I didn’t say no. I was too curious.
Greg Mortenson was a climber and this is his real story. While attempting to reach K2, one of the most difficult mountains to climb, he got lost and ended up in a village in Pakistan. In return for the villagers’ kindness, he promised to come back and build them a school. He built not one, but many more, scattered in a region fraught with danger. Not even the difficult conditions (that chai drink recipe sounded foul) nor the threats made him change his mind and in the course of a decade he managed to go back and forth between America and Pakistan, building an organization that helped bring education in some very harsh places.
The story was wonderful and I was moved, the writing however had me roll my eyes a few times and wishing someone had taken the time to “polish” the book a little bit. Calling Mortenson “a hero” so many times that I lost count may have been accurate but I’d rather make up my mind about that than having these two words brandished at me every few pages as if the authors were afraid I was forgetting them.

Waiter Rant, by Steve Dublanica

Funny, outrageous, straightforward and overall entertaining, this book describes one writer’s experience of waiting tables in today’s America. From the stress of coping with verbally abusive bosses, to the intricate art of dealing with the customers (yes, I do think it’s an art to be able to deal with so many different people without losing your mind), this book tells it all. I went from laughing at the apparent witticism – laced with a bit of arrogance here and there – to being appalled at some of the stories – running in the street and yelling after the customers because they didn’t leave a tip seemed a bit extreme. If I ever make it to America, I hope I’ll remember that 15 is a magic number.

Clandestine, by James Ellroy

I got this book from the monthly book-crossing meeting here in Bangkok. My friend Anna recommended it and even though I’m not very keen on detective novels I decided to give it a try. She was the one who recommended The Restaurant at the End of the Universe after all, and I had so much fun reading that book!
The story takes place in the ’50, and the main protagonist is Frederick Underhill, a policeman in the city of Los Angeles. His days are spent on the job and his nights chasing women. He has a passion for golf, a bit of an attitude and an inquisitive mind. When one of the women he spent a night with ends up dead, he’s determined to find her killer but answers will come with a high price: his career ends, his marriage breaks up and the case remains unsolved for years. That is, until new evidence comes up and Underhill realizes that the only way to bring closure is going to be off the record.
This book was better than I expected. It hasn’t turned me into a fan of detective novels but it was a nice change from what I usually read. The writing is flamboyant, the characters flawed and likeable and the story well told. I had no idea this writer was the author of The Black Dahlia – I haven’t read the book but I’ve seen the movie and liked it. Also, there’s a picture of the author and his dog (?) on the inside of the back cover which I thought was funny. The dog I mean, not the author.

The Art of Conversation, by Catherine Blyth

I was intrigued by this book. After seeing it a couple of times at the bookstore, I decided to give it a try.
This is a how-to book. It gives examples of real-life conversational situations, possible answers and ways to improve/counteract verbal interactions. It’s also rather dry and academically formulated. On the plus side, it made me want to pay more attention to face to face conversation, where the gestures and mimic are just as important as the words. What people say can be intriguing, just like the things they leave out of conversation or the way they try to steer clear of some subjects.

***

Coming up: the best books I’ve read in 2011!

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18 Responses to Tidying up – brief thoughts on a few books

  1. Caroline says:

    I thought I’d have a look and say hi as well.
    The photo with the dog is so funny.
    I really need to read fewer books as I have a feeling I’ve read 11 minutes and Three Cups of Tea and can hardly remember them. I often return to Coelho too. I like Veronica decides to die best so far.
    I haven’t read Sarah Waters yet. Something always kept me back but your short review tells me I should give her a try.
    I’m very curious to see your best of 2011.

  2. Delia says:

    Hi Caroline, thanks for visiting.
    That dog looks like it’s about to burst.
    Nice to see you like Coelho’s books as well. I’d like to read “Veronica decides to die” – I have no idea what it’s about but the title is intriguing.
    I really liked “The Little Stranger”. “Tipping the Velvet” sounds good too, I might give that one a try soon.
    Coming soon, I’ve read so many good books it’s going to be tough to choose the best.

  3. JoV says:

    I read Little Stranger in 2010, like you I am left wondering what happens at the end. But certainly not a good ending. Her other books Nightwatch and Fingersmith are better, people say. So I’m looking forward to them. Happy New Year!

    • Delia says:

      Hi Jo,
      I’m glad to hear that about her other books. Now I have to choose between the two you mentioned and another one called Tipping the Velvet. Or maybe I’ll just read all of them. 🙂
      Happy New Year to you, too!

  4. M-----l says:

    Why is 15 a magic number in America?

    • Delia says:

      According to the author, the tip should be somewhere between 12% and 15%. I was being a bit sarcastic. 😉

      • M-----l says:

        I think you’d get something thrown at you if you tipped 12% where I live. I think it’s up to 20% around here.

        • Delia says:

          Well, that’s good to know. Things must have changed in these past years since the book was published.
          Don’t you think that’s a bit too much though?

          • M-----l says:

            Yes, I think it’s too much. I’ve found that it’s easier to go along with social norms than it is to fight them. I still don’t tip at buffets, though. I draw the line there. If I have to get up and get my own food, then I’m not going to tip the person who does nothing but bring me my bill.

            But wait, this post is about books. Sorry for getting off track.

  5. Vishy says:

    Happy New Year, Delia 🙂

    Enjoyed reading your reviews! I loved ‘Eleven Minutes’ when I read it – I think it was my favourite Paulo Coelho book at that point of time. But I have to read it again to find out whether I still feel that way. Sorry to know that the writing in ‘Three Cups of Tea’ wasn’t good enough. Hope when Greg Mortensen writes his next book he either hires a better ghost writer or a better editor. I loved ‘Waiter Rant’ when I read it. I didn’t know about 15 being the magic number before I read it – I thought 10 was the universal norm. ‘Clandestine’ looks like an interesting novel. It make me remember a movie I saw sometime back called ‘The Ambulance’.

    I can’t wait to read your ‘Favourite Books’ post 🙂

    • Delia says:

      Happy New Year, Vishy!
      Have you read The Alchemist? I have a feeling I’ve asked you before but I can’t remember the answer.
      I thought the same, that 10% is the expected tip in restaurants but according to the ex-waiter who wrote the book, between 12%-15% is the norm. It was an entertaining book, the stories about various people were pretty good and well chosen.
      I liked the message of “Three Cups of Tea” and I admired Mortenson’s dedication and because of this I decided to overlook the writing and concentrate on the story instead. It’s an inspirational book, the kind that after you read it, makes you want to go out and do something good, something that will help people.
      “The Ambulance” seems to be similar to “Clandestine” – I haven’t seen it but I’d like to.
      I’m working on that post. 🙂

      • Vishy says:

        I have read ‘The Alchemist’ and loved it when I read it. I found it quite beautiful and inspiring. Just read your ‘Favourite Books’ post and loved it 🙂

  6. My mother said the same of the Mortenson … great, inspiring story but “he’s not a writer” she said.

    I read (and reviewed) The little stranger in 2010. Fascinating book with quite a bit to tease out and think about. Overall, though, I’d recommend Nightwatch ahead of this one.

    • Delia says:

      Yes, my thoughts exactly, but the story is great so I tried to focus on that.
      I liked The Little Stranger a lot but that ending threw me off a little. Thanks for your suggestion, I definitely want to read more novels by Sarah Waters. I’ve heard good things about Affinity.

  7. I have 11 Minutes, I look forward to trying his work and it seems like the morals in the story are quietly done.

    • Delia says:

      I found ’11 Minutes’ quite explicit – it’s a good story and I can see why people like it. I’d like to know what you think of it.

  8. Jenners says:

    Since you read Three Cups of Tea, you should also check out Jon Krakauer’s Three Cups of Deceit, which details a bunch of falsehood contained in the book (like he was never kidnapped by the Taliban) and a fair amount of accusations about how Mortensen is misusing CAI funds. It is 30,000 words — not a full length book but devastating.

    And I have Waiter Rant!! My husband got it but I’ve not gotten to it yet. I totally have to check it out.

    Glad to hear The Little Stranger was good. I have that on my shelves to read.

    • Delia says:

      I’ve read about Three Cups of Deceit on goodreads. I’m not sure what to think, it seems like such a shame if what Krakauer says it’s true…

      ‘Waiter Rant’ is definitely entertaining – I think you’ll like it.

      Looking forward to reading your review on ‘The Little Stranger’. Come back and post a link. 🙂

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