Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summer 2007 Books

In spite of, or perhaps because of, all this studying, I have been reading a lot this summer. Last night, my book club met to discuss Marisa de los Santos's Love Walked In. We were looking for a light, summer read that had some substance. This debut novel fit the bill. Cornelia Brown, an educated woman in her late twenties, has given up her academic career to work in a coffee shop in Philadelphia's tony Rittenhouse Square. In walks Martin Grace, a suave businessman, and Cornelia's life changes forever. Cornelia imagines -- and creates -- her life right out of old movies, "The Philadelphia Story", to be specific. Martin is Cary Grant to Cornelia's Katherine Hepburn. Martin, however, has a skeleton in his closet, his 11 year-old daughter, Clare. Clare's mother suffers a psychotic break, and Clare is forced upon her father. When Martin walks Clare into Cornelia's life, Cornelia's movie bubble bursts: Martin is not the man she expected him to be; Cornelia finds herself inexorably drawn to parenting Clare. And, in the midst of everything, Cornelia's brother-in-law, Teo, shows up to enervate and complicate things more.

Marisa de los Santos is an award-winning poet. I am not sure she has successfully morphed her wordcraft from poetry to prose. The novel alternates between Cornelia's narrative in the first-person and Clare's in the third person. This scheme confuses the reader for easily the first 25% of the book. Additionally, the author made each character a shade beyond believable: Cornelia is just a little too petite and perfect. Clare is just a little too mature and wise. Martin is too debonair and charming. Teo is too handsome and dedicated. The author's characters are charicatures of themselves. Nevertheless, Love Walked In is a good book for summer reading. It is heartwarming, well-crafted, and literate.

The book I just finished is another debut novel, The Friday Night Knitting Club, by Kate Jacobs. While FNKC has received less acclaim than LWI, I liked it better. FNKC is the story of single mother, Georgia Walker, the proprietress of Walker and Daughter, a Manhattan yarn shop. Georgia and her pre-teen daughter, Dakota, live above the shop. Thanks to some recent publicity, business is good. Then, Dakota's father, James, comes back into their lives and wants to get involved as he never had before. Georgia's old high-school friend, Cat (a trim, toned socialite), shows up and commissions Georgia to knit a couture gown for her. Cat seemingly wants to re-establish the tie she, herself, broke as the girls were heading off to college. Finally, Georgia is drawn into the lives of those knitters who regularly participate in the weekly knitting club. Fellow knitters become Georgia's true friends as the true crisis of the novel unfolds.

The Friday Night Knitting Club is really about friendship and love with a little knitting thrown in. Kate Jacobs created very "real" characters, not charicatures. The single mother is not just the put-upon woman who found herself pregnant: she is a former careerwoman whose hardworking farm background prepared her to meet the challenges of working and raising a child alone in the city. The widow, Anita, is not just another Jewish mother; she is a vibrant crafter who can tolerate her children and grandchildren for only so long. Darwin, the young Ph.D. candidate, is not the characteristically excellent Asian-American student; she can't commit to a thesis topic, and she is easily distracted by everything. The author created pithy, complex characters who propel the story forward to the last sentence. FNKC does not have a happy ending like LWI, but it is a much more fulfilling read.

I'll finish with a little Hollywood:
  • Sarah Jessica Parker will star in the movie version of Love Walked In. The Hollywood trades report that SJP will co-produce the movie with Paramount.
  • Julia Roberts will star in the movie version of The Friday Night Knitting Club. Roberts, a an avid knitter, will co-produce the film with Universal; it is scheduled for release in 2009.
The next book for book club is The World to Come, by Dara Horn. My friend, Violin, suggested it, although it has been on my to-read list for about a year. Come to think of it, I should suggest it for the synagogue's reading group; then I could satisfy two book clubs with one book.

Did I mention that Brilliant Deb, a mom from Moose's Pre-K class, asked me to participate in the book club she wants to start? I am anxious to join that group because Brilliant Deb teaches English at the private school's high school. Brilliant Deb got her name for good reason: she has masters' degrees in English and American Literature from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's in English Language and Literature from Oxford University. I would gladly discuss books with her anytime!


LSM said...

The Friday Night Knitting Club is has been on my to-read list for a while. I need to move it up!

Kel said...

a light read with substance . . . what an interesting combination

Robin said...

I love it when you talk books. I'm going to add FNKC to my wish list.

After some serious non-fiction reading (The Mayflower), I'm indulging in some sci-fi. The Mayflower was a very interesting read and I learned a lot of things I didn't know about the Pilgrims and the Puritans, but I was in need of an easy read.