Thursday, July 17, 2008


My mom is a book pusher, which is one of her many endearing qualities. I was thinking about this recently and realized that I don't remember her reading much when I was growing up, which could have been because I wasn't paying attention but was more likely because she was at home with four kids and a home business. By the time I was in college and she had gone back to school herself, though, she was en fuego for the books. Now, as a denizen of Goodwill, she is constantly picking up books on the cheap, especially books that she has read and liked and recommends, and then she just foists them on people who express even the slightest interest in Kaye Gibbons or, I don't know, Carol Shields. When Hob's girlfriend came over to meet the family for the first time, she left with my mom's copy of I Capture the Castle. It's like Mom has her own low-level publicity campaign for the books she likes.

Anyway, last month, which by the way is also when I started writing this post, she handed me Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, a huge brick of a paperback, the first in a series (that is thankfully not yet over). And I was up that Monday night until 1 AM without even realizing it, reading. Then I got up the next day and started reading, and didn't really stop until I finished it. It was a perfect day for it, too, blustery and gray and threatening rain and vaguely Scottish, and not particularly springy. Don't get me wrong, I got a lot of other stuff done that day too. But I'd had ambitions of maybe doing a little shop update that day--I have loads of dresses to add--and didn't even come close to doing that. (This has been true of a few other recent Tuesdays, I have to admit, given that there are other books in the series. When I'm reading something absorbing it's pretty hard for me to do anything else.)

The blurb on the back of the book isn't all that intriguing except for the part about going back in time--otherwise it's all "torn between passion and...other passion" stuff. However, the INSIDE of the book is super-absorbing. It turns out to be mostly intense romance with a lot of violence (it's 18th century Scotland, hello), and I tore through it and got weepy several times, thanks to the love speeches of the über manly yet unbelievably emotionally communicative hero, and found myself all drawn into the action and relationships without a lot of critical thinking, even when crazy shit was happening. So obviously I enjoyed it.

My enjoyment of this book wasn't uncomplicated, though. I got sort of indignant about a number of things that I won't detail here, mostly because reading the 5 subsequent books in the series--it's true, and they're all like 1400 frigging pages--tempered my initial reaction to the first book. The author actually does a good job with some gender role reversals throughout the series, and she certainly doesn't play into the conventions of "romance," even though the first book was originally marketed as such. I will say that, throughout the entire series, there is a sort of fetishization of dominance and a conflation of sex with violence, plus many rehashings of the tired supposition that once men get humping it is impossible for them to stop, which is one of those bogus biological justifications for rape. Guess what, men have brains, and not in the heads of their peens.

Anyway. These books have totally dominated my reading life for the past month, and it has been so fun--I love consuming and being consumed by books. These have been a little bit intellectual/historical and a little bit mystery and a little bit fantasy/romance and very much page-turners. I thought that the one I just finished was the last of them, but it turns out Gabaldon's working on another one. The good news about that is that I'll probably want to reread the whole series when she publishes the new one.

The bad news about all of this is that I have nothing to read while I'm on vacation. I need a big absorbing mammoth of a book, preferably fiction. Suggestions are welcome. Or I suppose I could just ask Mom.


  1. Hi,

    Lurker alert: I often read your blog, though I never comment. Shame on me, I know. Sorry. Let me try and redeem myself.

    I couldn't resist your call for lit suggestions. Have you read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood? I buy up every cheap copy I find and hand them out as gifts, your mom-style. It's good times: complex female characters, a touch of history, suspense, a DELICIOUS plot twist... it's a total page-turner, and beautifully written.

    I'll check out the Outlander series. I too have complex feelings about the just-this-side-of-bodice ripper historical novel genre... but I could use a good page turner right now!

  2. Lauren, thanks for delurking! You know what's weird--I read "The Blind Assassin" right after I first read "I Capture the Castle" and I noticed a whole bunch of superficial parallels in the stories. I don't know if anyone has written about that, but probably I'm not the first to remark upon it. I'll have to go back to it again--I love to re-read, so that one's probably overdue.

  3. As much as I loved The Blind Assassin, and as often as I foist it upon others, I'm actually a little afraid to re-read it. I just loved the way you got little clues throughout the book, which made the ending so satisfying. I wonder if it would be as satisfying the second time around.

    Anyway. Um. I like other books too. Recently good'uns I've read: Middlesex, Moral Disorder (also Atwood), Paris to the Moon.

  4. Oh I'm glad you liked them, when I'd saw you mention reading them and wanting to do a post about it, I was a bit afraid it might be a "totally suck" review. But I had faith in you :)

    My college roommate recommended the first book to me- I can remember being desperate after finishing the paperback copies she'd loaned me, resorting to buying the hardcover version of Drums of Autumn the summer I was in NYC ('97 ?).

    My mom is also avid reader and book pusher, but I think I passed Outlander onto her, of which she approved. One series that mom, my college roommate and my husband all like is by G.R.R. Martin. They are the "Song of Ice and Fire" series and the first one is "A Game of Thrones." Sort of historical fantasy genre, less romance-y. The other big fat book series I like is Auel's Earth Children. But I didn't make it through the latest one of those.

  5. Margaret George's "Autobiography of Henry VIII with notes by his Fool, Will Somers". That book changed my life, odd as that sounds.

  6. Ha, my Mom "pushed" that series on me too, even though I'm usually the one pushing things her way. Come be my "goodreads" friend, won't you? I know, yet another internet site dressed up in social networking clothes but I actually use and appreciate Goodreads and my friend's suggestions and reviews. Cause there are just too many great books in the world! and I am under my real name. You mentioned Carol Shields - have you read her? The books I always give away are "The Stone Diaries" and "Larry's Party" but I love them all.

  7. I will look you up on Goodreads when I'm shirking work tomorrow. I did read The Stone Diaries and Unless; I especially loved the former. I could probably read more Carol Shields. Right after I published this post, my mom came over with a bag of books for me. Hee.

  8. I keep meaning to tell you this: I totally had a dream about this post the other night. I went to the public library looking for the Outlander series, except I couldn't find them shelved withe regular fiction. When I did finally find them, they were in their own glass display case, which was lit and covered in moss(!), and each volume in the series looked like The Neverending Story -- not the actual Neverending Story, but the big fat creepy one from the movie. All the other library patrons fell into a hush as I opened the case and removed one of the books.

    That is all.

  9. Melinda: awesome.

    Apparently the books are sometimes shelved as romance, sometimes as sci-fi/fantasy, and sometimes just as fiction/lit. But I would prefer it if they could be in a mystical glass case.