In the last few weeks I’ve been playing catchup with my reading. I was in the middle of The Cider House Rules when I started At Home. Then I finished At Home, finished The Cider House Rules, and sped through The Happiness Project again because my copy arrived from Amazon and I couldn’t put it down. So, I slacked for a week or two and then overdosed on reading. This is how I usually read, at least until this year, so it was a return to my modus operandi to be reading several books at once.
First, The Cider House Rules. I’d heard this book was better than the movie, although I was skeptical because I really love that movie. You guys, the book is SO MUCH BETTER than the movie. It’s so much richer and more detailed, and different sections and subplots are expanded and fleshed out. There are a few characters in the book who didn’t even exist in the movie. Also, the ending, and the whole Wally/Candy/Homer strand, is different. Definitely worth reading, especially if you liked the movie. Even if you’ve never seen/heard of the movie, read the book. I’d been feeling a bit lackluster about fiction lately but this book reminded me why I love to read fiction. Good fiction, that is. Now I think I’ll pick up The World According to Garp, which I’ve been told is another John Irving gem.
Next, At Home. I loved this book because I love everything that Bill Bryson writes, but if you’re not a die-hard Bryson fan, skip this book. He’s famous for his travel books, and this is not a travel book. This book read like an indulgent culmination of wandering research. It is loosely organized into chapters that are named after the various rooms in his house, but the chapters are long, meandering, and get fantastically off-topic before coming back around to the specific room at hand. It read more research-y and pedantic, more like A Short History of Nearly Everything than Down Under. I wondered if the house he was writing about--and seemed to all but give exact directions to--was really his, or if certain details were changed to protect the innocent (ie his wife and neighbors). I don’t mean to be overly critical--I did like this book immensely--but it is not my absolute favorite Bryson tome. One aspect that I really liked was the little asides that he frequently included. When talking about wig fashions, he pointed out that an expensive wig signified a wealthy and important person, thus the term “big wig.” I love little things like that, and the book was full of them.
Last, The Happiness Project, part deux. I ordered my own copy of The Happiness Project, and started re-reading it once I’d finished the previous two books and was not terribly taken with my next book, Bright-Sided (which I didn’t finish and just turned back in to the library). One thing that didn’t occur to me the first time I read it was that Rubin doesn’t look outside herself much in order to find happiness. This may be a good thing and it may be bad, and I’m not criticizing her for this choice, but I thought it was interesting. One of the first things I do when I’m unhappy is to chastize myself because “it could be so much worse.” I could be homeless, only have one arm, be friendless, etc. She touches on this a little, but doesn’t take it the step further that I would think to: volunteer. If you want to be reminded of all the reasons you have to be glad, then start helping out people who are worse off than you. I think that’ll boost your happiness quotient really fast. I assume that Rubin MUST have come across this in the extensive research that she did about happiness, but it gets nary a mention. Also, this time I went through the book, I read it more with an eye towards the “we’re just like you” tone she writes in, although now I know that Rubin is decidedly not Just Like Me. She married a man from a wealthy and powerful family, and she and her husband both make plenty of money and have a very nice apartment in New York City, a housekeeper and a nanny, etc. The more I hunted for this, the more I found places where she’d say “X or Y was expensive, but I thought it was worth it.” Well, what about those of us who can’t afford to (or don’t want to) “spend out?” Anyway, I don’t mean this to be a rant, or overly critical, so I’m just going to file it under “to ponder.” Again, I liked the book, so much so that I bought it, and read it twice. One thing she’s hit the nail on the head with: it is immensely satisfying to clean out closets and de-clutter, and making your bed first thing in the morning is never a bad thing.
Next up: books about space. We watched Apollo 13 the other night (I absolutely love that movie) and the next day found me googling around for good books about the space race. I think I found some gems. Wow, my reading list is totally random. Oh well, stay tuned!