Week 9: Another person’s treasure: books that come highly recommended, but don’t measure up

Welcome Everyone!

This weekend marks the beginning of the summer season here in Yellowstone, and even though it has been snowing at higher elevations, it definitely feels like summer. I am sure that my reading will slow a little now that the sun is out, as it always does. As much as I love books, it is just too hard to focus when there is so much to explore and do outside.

This week was an interesting one for me as a reader, because the two books I have finished were good, but not great. I enjoyed reading them for the most part, but as I started to write about them, it became clear that I also had some issues with them. Writing about books I have problems with is a struggle because I am very particular about giving poor reviews. I don’t mind saying a book isn’t for me and explaining why, but I try to draw the line at asking for more than the writer was intending, or giving a book a poor review because I wanted the writer to write a different book. I’m not sure if I accomplished this in my reviews this week, but I did my best.

Books I finished this week

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Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Written by a famous Kenyan author, Petals of Blood is the book that inspired my post about “important” books earlier this week. Everything about this book screams “important”, the blurb on the back that says “The definitive African book of the twentieth century”, to the life and biography of its author, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who was imprisoned after the publishing of this novel due to the controversial themes in the book.

Unfortunately, a large part of why I finished reading this book was because of its importance. When I talked about important books I referenced the fact that I often appreciated the importance of the message, but was emotionally unmoved by the experience of reading these big, issue driven novels. This is sadly the case with Petals of Blood. It is possible that this was a books that simply wasn’t written for me, and I also don’t want to take too much time talking about when I didn’t like, because writing a book is a difficult process, and the work that went into a book should be respected.

What I will say is that I feel like this book was diluted by its own importance. The issues and symbolism often take precedence over character development and I felt overwhelmed by the length and verbal intricacy of the many paged monologues in this book. I don’t think that all dialogue has to be realistic, but I do start to be incredulous when characters recite page long passages of Shakespeare, or speak speeches that read more like essays.

With that being said, I will also say that I have never read a book quite like this, and that is not a bad thing. Thiong’o is trying to write a book from the African perspective, and I appreciated the subtlety of the different ways the four main characters thought about and interacted with the colonial, capitalist society surrounding them.

Would I recommend it as a great reading experience? Probably not. Would I recommend it to someone who is interested in post-colonial African society, or wants to read books written by authors from other places? Maybe, but only if you have already read Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and wanted more.

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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (on audio-book)

So I have been having an audio-book going in the car pretty regularly these days, and this week I finished listening to Throne of Glass, a YA fantasy novel about an infamous young female assassin who is promised her freedom if she can win a contest to become the King’s Champion.

I enjoyed this book. What I liked especially was the fact that the heroine was full of contradictions, interested in clothes and fashion and yet a skilled warrior, fiercely independent and yet desperate for companionship. The fact that she was a complex young women made this book far better than I feel the plot warranted.

I was surprised however, by the intensity of some of the violence. I would definitely not recommend these books to anyone under the age of 13 because there is a darkness and violence to them that is not always easy to read, but the first book is still fun and worth a read if YA fantasy is something you are interested in.

What went well

Regardless of the fact that I have mixed feelings about these books, I enjoyed reading them, and I am definitely not immune to the smugness that comes with reading a book that has the cultural prominence of Petals of Blood. Overall, I am happy with what I finished, although neither of these books will probably be all that memorable.

What did not go well

I do find myself craving a really well written literary fiction book next week. The feeling of reading a book I love is something I have missed and I hope to get back to that next week.

What I am reading next week

I have a few natural history books in the docket, which I have been trying to get to over the past few weeks but haven’t had the attention span for. I also want to read a book called This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. I have heard a lot about this book, especially on What Should I Read Next, the podcast I talked about in my post on book recommendations last week. I am also listening to Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, which I have tried to listen to before, but now that I have more time in the car, I think it will be easier to finish.

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