Saturday, February 6, 2010

More on those pesky readers' guides

One of the readers' guide questions in the book I just finished was:

"The novel featured many references to circles throughout. For example, Mary eats her sandwiches in circles, Cobb describes himself as a circular kisser, and birds circle around carcasses. Identify the ways in which circles appear in or influence the story and discuss their significance."


Again, bringing back my beef about readers' guides, if one is in school and one is supposed to learning about symbolism or mythology or Thoreau (and yes, there are questions about mythology and Thoreau in this readers' guide), then questions like these are what you want.

However, If I am reading for pleasure (which I am), I may or may not care about circles or mythology. I may find something utterly wonderful on my own. The reader questions seem to assume that readers don't know how to find their own insights in a book. Give us a little credit!

I think the more interesting questions are:
    What did you like about the book?
    What didn't you like about the book?

That way each reader can add to the discussion what was important to THEM about the book, which may or may not have to do with mythology or Thoreau.

So. I will answer my own questions about Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger, which I just finished reading.

I'm going to start with the second question first...

What didn't I like about the book?
The two main characters meet and fall in love within the first 24 hours of meeting each other. This bothered me as I was reading, it just seemed too quick, too easy, too pat. Not that it can't happen, I believe that it can, it just annoyed me while I was reading the rest of the book.

The author tells the end of the story in the beginning. Mary, one of the main characters, has Huntington's disease and is going to die. She is found dead on a river in Maine. I'm not giving the story away here, it's on the back cover and on the first page. The rest of the book tells the story of what exactly happened, how she got dead on the river. That was fine, I didn't mind that. What I didn't like was how the author dealt with time...again, the two characters meeting and falling in love so fast, and later in the book there is a huge span of time that he covers in about a page and half. I didn't care for that, it just seemed too quick and I wanted more...

Also, Mary has Huntington's disease. We know this, we know she will die from this, and at the end of her life, her partner, Cobb, has to let her go. Maybe it's because I recently took care of my mom before she died, but I didn't get a sense of the awfulness of Mary's disease. My mom didn't have Huntington's, but she did have dementia, and the decline was awful and sad and heartbreaking. In this book, it seemed as though Mary's dementia from Huntington's was intermittent, we never really got to see what it looked like at her worst (she would go to sleep and was very tired, but that didn't seem so horrible) and maybe that's how it is with Huntington's. But that whole huge time gap I mentioned above, where Mary was getting worse, seemed to gloss over the illness and its effects on Mary. Toward the end of her life Mary was often quite lucid and profound and insightful, which also didn't seem realistic to me. I KNOW how awful it is to watch someone die, and the awfulness didn't come through for me in this book, which made it seem idealized.

I guess it felt kind of like a fairy tale...

That said...
What did I like about the book?
I loved all the characters and the relationships. Mary and Cobb were wonderful, well-drawn, and lovely together. All of the secondary characters were great too...Mary's brother, Freddy, lives in Indonesia and takes care of sea turtles and their habitat. I am wearing a gold turtle necklace because I got to see a sea turtle on a recent trip to the Caribbean, which was absolutely stunning. Freddy was a great character anyway, and that he loved turtles made me like him even more.

I loved that Mary loved crows (and ravens and magpies), she was a biologist, but also loved crow lore.

I can like something and not like the same thing about a book...I said it kind of felt like a fairy tale...the wonderful relationship between Mary and Cobb, the decline and death that seemed pretty calm and peaceful, the friendships and relationships they had with their relatives, the Chungamunga girls...the whole book had a magical quality about it, which was lovely.

All in all? It was a good read.

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