Saturday, October 3, 2015

Musings of a Literate Snob... Episode 1

Do you have a book snob in your life?  Those who ask what you are reading, and you are actually embarrassed to tell them about your current vampire, highlander, or biker book boyfriend - or about that dragon-slaying fantasy heroine that you can't get enough of?  Do you keep your book-loving friends separated according to the genre they read?  

I admit that I will sometimes lie about what I am reading based on who is asking!!! Why? Because sometimes you can just tell that the person who is asking will turn their nose up or give you "that look" if you wax poetic about Jamie Fraser's brogue, or Bones' orgasmic bite, or that dark and dangerous (but oh so yummy) Mafioso hit man that has your heart racing.  Face it, romance readers (and romance books in general), get a bad rap. Normally, I don't care because I have a lot of romance-book-loving friends and acquaintances, and I meet tons more at every book signing I go to.

However, I do like to have an intelligent conversation about books every now and then. (Not that romance readers don't have intelligent conversation... we do, it's just a different type of discussion.) I love all conversations about books... no matter who they are with.  But I do have people in my life who (gasp!) don't read romance books.  I used to read every genre of book.  Over the last few years my tastes have narrowed down for whatever reason, and I have found myself with little to add to discussions about literary works or the latest popular NYT Bestsellers.  So I'm adding those back into my repertoire, mainly in the form of audiobooks that I can listen to as I am getting ready for work in the morning.  

The purpose of this feature is not just to discuss non-romance books... its a place to gab about your various groups of book friends, or complain about that literate snob that snubbed you after they looked over your shoulder and saw your kindle screen being steamed up.  So I hope you will join me to rant, rave, chat or recommend!

Let's get started, shall we!  You would not believe the trouble I had trying to decide on a book to read for this feature!  Seriously, I searched through my library audiobooks for probably two hours before I finally got fed up and picked a book solely based on the cover!  And it wasn't even this book that I decided to go with... I meant to pick the book above this one, and clicked to check this one out by accident.  So I said, Screw It!  This is what its going to be...

Lucky Us
by Amy Bloom
Pub. Date:  July 29, 2014
Publisher:  Random House Audio
Narrator:  Alicyn Packard
Length:  7 hrs 18 min
Format:  Audiobook
Source:  Overdrive / Library

My Rating:  
Sultry Scale:

"My father's wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us."

Brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny, Lucky Us introduces us to Eva and Iris. Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star, and Eva, the sidekick, journey across 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris's ambitions take them from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine through a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life. From Brooklyn's beauty parlors to London's West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat, and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.

I'm not absolutely sure what to say about this book.  It was voted one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post and O: The Oprah Magazine.  But for me, it was just gloomy and depressing. When asked about what I was reading by one of those people mentioned above, I told them it was the story of a two girls (half-sisters) who traveled from Ohio to Hollywood in search of one of the sister's fame and fortune in 1940s America. The story mainly focuses on Eva, the younger sister who was abandoned by her mother on the doorstep of her father and half-sisters at the outset of the book. Throughout the story, Eva gets the short end of the stick to the benefit of her older sister, Iris.  Then, the book evolves from a story about two girls into a familial saga encompassing the girls, their father, and a ragtag band of people that come into their life along the way.

Let me put this out there - Iris is a bad person.  She did horrible things in this book - to the extent that she reported a man (during WWII) for being a German spy because she wanted to steal his wife!  We follow the story of this man, Gus, for quite some time as he is put in an internment camp in the United States, then "repatriated" to Germany (where he has never been before).  Through Gus, we see some of the horrible effects of WWII.  This part was interesting, but again, sad and gloomy.

It was not just Iris, so I can't lay all the gloom at her feet - this story was full of bad people.  The girls' father was a deadbeat dad who would steal from his children or mooch off them at the very least. The whole family were practiced cons - particularly Eva. She is a fake psychic and forges her school transcripts.  Iris is a fake governess at one point, and the father is a fake butler. I just couldn't get behind any one character and root for them to the point that I really was hoping they got their HEA. For that matter, there really was no HEA, and the story just fizzled out at the end (at least for me anyway).

As I was listening, I didn't feel like the story was going anywhere - it was almost like a historical episode of Seinfeld - a story about nothing (but without the comedy).  There were some reviewers that agreed with me, and some who felt the book was poignant and moving.  Let's take a look at some review snippets:
Nothing fits in Lucky Us, much like the Zebra on the Lion on the Tightrope on the cover. This aptly chosen cover illustration is not a beautiful allegory as much as it is a hidden warning to the truly insightful reader. - Valerie
Lucky Us is so multidimensional that it will take a while to think it over. There's the moral dilemmas versus the unscripted destinies; the narcissism versus altruism; the versions of history written by ourselves versus the one written for us by others.  -Margitte
The story is a combination of Eva’s narrative, intermixed with various characters' epistolary accounts. Braided within the novel are many wonderful songs of the times, lyrics that lend a buoyant context of the era. -switterbug
Now those of you who follow me here at Bambi Unbridled know I don't put such in depth thought and insightful prose into my reviews. I could, I'm sure I could wax on about various literary ideas and themes and dissect each book like any good lawyer dissects a document.  For that matter, I don't consider myself an insightful reader.  I don't want to work that hard in my free time.  And, if I did, I would have a whole different audience, and I would probably bore you (and myself) to tears. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the insightful reader and educated reviewer - I myself have an advanced degree.  But for me, I read to be entertained.  And for my readers, would you rather read a review that is written in a lawyerly fashion, or one that is written by the clumsy kinky-haired redhead that is usually just one step left of crazy?  I know what I pick!  

However, I wanted to point these reviews out as an illustration of the purpose of this Musings of a Literate Snob feature. Even though this is not my typical everyday read, I do have these sort of reviewers/people in my life and they like to discuss books.  So I need to read a book or two every month that I can discuss with them in a lofty intelligent manner (or at least fake it).  This prevents me from struggling to find topics of social conversation.  You may have figured out that I am somewhat of a socially awkward introvert - the unbridled Bambi only comes out around true friends or other romance book lovers.  

I'd love to hear from you!  Have you read Lucky Us?  Is there a particular literary, bestseller, or brainy type book that you HAVE read and loved?  Throw out some recommendations!  Do you have a book snob in your life?  Or do you have more than one group of "reader friends" or book clubs?  I hope you will join my musings from time to time... and I promise that I will try not to bore you to tears (or write such long posts in future features).