Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review: Move over Nobel Laureate, Make Way for a Newcomer!

I said in an earlier post that I would never openly disparage another writer on my blog, and I plan to stick to that promise. I have no problem with a little anonymous disparaging, though! I recently picked up a highly-regarded book whose author won a Nobel Laureate for writing it.

So I read, and I read, and by page 100, I didn't hate what I was reading, but I didn't love it, either. Ninety-percent of the book was exposition - well-crafted exposition, to be sure, but distancing exposition all the same. (Now we all know that I am not one to talk when it comes to the overuse of exposition, but hey, no one's given me a Nobel prize, and for good reason!) I'm not saying this author didn't deserve the prize, because at the end of the day, literary tastes are subjective. I respect the fact that one reader's treasure is another reader's yawn. But I decided not to fight my opinions, and put the book down in accordance with my "new policy."

This new policy states that, if I am not fully engrossed in a book after 100 pages, I have no "obligation" to continue reading it. There was a time when I would struggle through a book to the very end, no matter how bored I was by it. That's because I viewed quitting as a failure on my part (if I were smarter, I'd be "getting this" ... must not give in to my own frailties ...) In recent years, I gained the confidence to say, I don't have to impress anyone with what I read. If I can't get into a book, it means it's not the right fit for me - like a blind date with no chemistry. Neither party is superior to the other, it's simply time to go our seperate ways.

I was still in Australia when I set the novel aside, so I went to a small bookstore in the town where we were staying to hunt for something new. I came across a memoir called "Bruce & Me" by a local author named Oren Siedler which looked intriguing. Ms. Siedler is an American whose family immigrated to Australia when she was a child.

The theme of the memoir appealed to me immediately: the author was on a quest to understand her Bohemian parents - specifically her highly-intelligent, vagabond, outlaw father - and the events of her extremely unconventional childhood split between two continents. Two years ago, I wrote a book about a young woman who struggles to understand her family, specifically her highly-intelligent outlaw sister, and what it means to be the child of vagabond, Bohemian parents. Unlike Ms. Siedler, I grew up in a very straight-laced household, and could only imagine what such a life would be like.

My unpublished first novel's greatest failing was not the fact that I hadn't actually lived the adventures I described. It was the fact that I failed to explore my characters' psyches in a meaningful way. The situations I created were interesting, but that did little to enhance the cardboard cut-outs I'd put in place to experience them.

Ms. Siedler proves that a good memoir is about much more than reciting one's life-story. She creates full, rich characters out of herself and her family. Her writing style is clear and clean, and subtly age-appropriate to each phase of her life. Her reactions to the confusing world around her evolve as she grows up. She is always introspective, but never engages in heavy-handed philosophizing. Her writing is witty, warm, and nostalgic at times, but never sentimental. Put simply, Oren Siedler has created a compelling, endearing read out of her quest to resolve unanswered questions about her childhood. In the end, she realizes that some questions may never be answered, and that that's okay. She makes peace with her past and embraces the future with optimism.

I don't think the book has distribution in the US yet, but you can buy it online here. And while we all know that literary tastes are subjective, I can pretty much guarantee you'll agree your money was well spent!


  1. I want to read Oren's book NOW!!! Your review was very well-written, by the way.

    From a very objectively critical, Anonymous Mom

  2. I've decided to give myself permission to quit reading a book if I'm not into also. I've wasted precious reading time forcing my way through ones I didn't really care for.

  3. Oooh, sounds like a great book. And being a memoir writer I make it my business to know if there are great memoirs out there to read.

    I like your policy on reading. I think 100 pages is fair enough!

    Thanks for your comment on my blog.