Thursday, September 03, 2009

Cheating...er, make that Reading

I have been known to cheat. In fact, this tendency is somewhat of a joke within my family--because the subject on which I am cheating is reading. Many times, when I first begin a book and have met the characters, I am overwhelmed with a curiosity--will this character still be here at the end of the book?

So, I cheat--I skip to the end and read a page or two. Not a pretty habit, but there you have it--one of my weaknesses. In no way does this habit ruin books for me. I keep reading through to the end to see HOW the ending comes about.

Now, with the Kindle, my habit has been reined in. Tough to skip to the end when you are reading a book on an electronic reader. Add to that the fact that Kindle does NOT use page numbers, and I am really foiled.

No matter--I love reading so much I keep reading whether I know the ending or not.

I have just finished, in relatively short order, three books--all of which I commend to you. I will not award my label of "terrific reads" to all, but maybe to one. Herewith the three.

I first read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The literary device that tells the story in this book is a series of letters between Juliet Ashton, an author who was writing light literature during World War II, and her publisher and also various friends. The novel is set in London and on Guernsey immediately following World War II. England is emerging from the ravages of war, as are the Channel Islands--English possessions dating back to the time of William the Conqueror. The Channel Islands, of which Guernsey is one, were the only "English soil" occupied by Hitler's troops.

As you read the work, you learn of the great deprivation people on Guernsey suffered. That is what I enjoyed most about the book. I found it a bit difficult to keep track of all the characters--most of them letter writers. I also was not as invested in them as people as I sometimes am. But I loved the historical aspects, and kept running to the Internet to look up this or that item.

The next book I read was one I downloaded on to my Kindle--hence the inability to thumb through to the end to "see how it turns out." Probably a good thing--this books is a definite page turner (er, page clicker). Titled People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, this novel creates a fictional back story for a real object--the Sarajevo Haggadah.

A Haggadah is "...a book that Jews read on the first night of Passover - and on the first two nights outside of Israel. It tells about our slavery in Egypt and the miracles God did for us when freeing us. The word haggadah means "telling," which comes from the Biblical command: "And you shall tell your child on that day, saying: 'God did (miracles) for me when I left Egypt so that I would fulfill the Torah's commandment." (Exodus 13:8 and Rashi)" (from Ask the Rabbi).

When the Germans marched into Sarajevo in 1941, German officials visited the museum there and demanded the Sarajevo Haggadah be turned over to them. What makes it so unusual is that it is a 14th century document written in Hebrew and illustrated with marvelous lush jewel-like illustrations. Quick thinking on the part of museum officials saved the document--I will let you read how. One of the wondrous things is that along the way, Muslims and Christians played a part in helping to keep this Jewish book from the flames of the Inquisition and from the covetous hands of the Nazis.

The novel tells the story of Hanna Heath--a rare book expert--who is invited to examine the book in the mid-1990s when it came to light, after having been "missing" for decades following World War II. Rumors were flying that the Nazis had spirited it away, or that it had been destroyed. In her examination, Hanna finds various small items within the book that help to tell its history and its long journey from 14th century Spain to modern Sarajevo.

Geraldine Brooks is a marvelous writer--and I had previously read her books Nine Part of Desire, The Year of Wonder, and March. I loved these three books and entirely expected to love People of the Book. I was not disappointed. An extra plus is that this book has been picked for our church book club, and also for a two county wide event where I live--One Book, Two Counties.
And, I simply can't resist a book that features a map like this on the inside cover--remember, I read the Kindle version. I found the map on the Internet and saved it. I also liked the double play on words in the title--the novel tells about the people of THE book, i.e. the Haggadah, and it interweaves characters from the three religions generally called the people of the book--Jews, Christians, and Muslims.


The final book I read I just finished today. I have picked this book up on a whim from the Costco book table. I didn't know a thing about it, except what the cover announced--that is had been short-listed for the Booker Prize. I have previously mentioned my penchant for seeking out Booker Prize winning books, as a kind of short hand recommendation system.

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry is told first person by two people--switching back and forth between Roseanne Clear, a 100 year old patient in a mental institution that is slated for destruction, and her doctor, Dr. Grene, whose job it is to assess all the remaining patients to determine their fitness to be set "free." In assessing Rose, he slowly learns her life's story.

The book goes back and forth between the past--Ireland in the years around the world wars--and the present. Roseanne, despite her symbolic last name, is anything but forthcoming in telling her tale. She hides her history, so that the good doctor has to extract it slowly and lovingly. His name--Grene--takes on significance by the time the reader reaches the end of the book. You learn that his greenness--naivete--has kept him from understanding a critical piece of information.

Oh, for the record--I was absolutely good and did not cheat on reading this book. So the ending, when I got there, came as a complete surprise to me.

Would I give any of these book my "terrific read" award. Yes, People of the Book. The Secret Scripture is close, but not quite--rather like the Booker Prize panel which twice has bypassed Sebastian Barry.

I know summer is almost over, but do add any or all of these books to your reading list.

11 comments:

JeanMac said...

I thought I was the only one who checked out the last few pages! Some books just drive me to do it.

NCmountainwoman said...

While I have no interest in doing it, I don't think skipping to the back is at all "cheating." We read all sorts of non-fiction and we already know the real ending, so what's so special about fiction that we must preserve the ending?

I will definitely try "People of the Book." I enjoyed "Year of Wonder" but I did not like "March" at all. I have a distaste for books that take another author's work and make a parallel story. Just my prejudice.

I became engrossed in "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." I loved the story and the characters and it stimulated me to do a lot of research. Before reading the book I had no idea the Germans occupied the Channel Islands. I liked the characters so much I read the book again over the summer. And that's rather unusual for me.

As always, I do appreciate your reviews of what you've been reading. I'm even giving serious thought to getting a Kindle.

Ruth said...

I am known to read ahead to the end of the book and it drives my one daughter mad! But I do not apologize for the way I read because I do go back and read the rest. I just ordered the Guernsey book from Amazon as there were 40 holds on it at our library. We cannot get Kindle in Canada.
Thanks for the other suggestions.

RuthieJ said...

Thanks for the recommendations Donna. I'm going to add them to my library list.
P.S. I usually read ahead to the ending too, but only when I'm not liking the story a whole lot and decide I'm not going to finish it if I don't like the ending!

Ginnie said...

Thanks. I've read the first two and will get "The Secret Scripture" soon. I am just the opposite from you... I can't bear to know the end of the story and cringe when someone feels they have to reveal it. !!

possumlady said...

These all look like good reads! I do most of my reading in the fall and winter. Spring and summer are just too busy with all the outside yard and house upkeep.

Thanks so much for the interesting succinct reviews.

troutbirder said...

Interesting posts here. Being married to a book "cheater" I've heard this story before. Since I read mostly biography and history skipping to the end has no appeal since I already know it.

Liza Lee Miller said...

I'm utterly shocked. If someone told me that one of my friends cheated while reading books, your name would have been last on my list, below my own mother who wouldn't cheat at anything if her life depended upon it.

Thank you for sharing your "dark secret" though . . . I respect and love you more for knowing your "flaw." :)

I don't skip to the end but I will read so quickly that I miss tons of the story. But, it's okay . . . I go back and read it again. :)

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I don't consider reading some of the end pages before systematically reading a book in a linear manner, cheating. The purpose of reading is to get imformation or pleasure from the activity.
I have written before that there are many ways to "read" a book. A success "read" is when you have gotten out of the book what it has to offer. In non-fiction I have "read" a book by reading just the chapter titles; or read the opening and closing paragraphs of each chapter; or read the Introduction and Conclusiion chapters; or read the table of contents; or reading the Appendices, particularly the one on the frequency of certain words used in the book; and, I have often considered a book read after I read the fly leaf and comments on the jacket.

I never did master speed reading. These shortcuts I mention above were techniques that allowed me to master a large volume of written material.

I have also read for pleasure that required slow reading, for the shear enjoyment of language or plot. I lot of this is best enjoyed by reading out loud with a friend. These are books that are a celebration of language, its use and sound and richness. This kind of reading often involves going back and re-reading paragraphs and chapters. I remember my mother often do this so I could share in the delight she felt on something she had just read.

By reading the ending of a book can enrich the adventure of reading a story that unfolds until it reaches that point. It also may let you to abandon the book as a waste of your time.

Mug said...

I sometimes read the end, also, to make sure it is going to end "right". I don't like to be left feeling devastated when I have thoroughly and completely allowed myself to become one with the characters, so reading the end is how, i guess you could say, protect myself:)

Thanks for the reading list! i've not heard of any of these books, and, while they all look good, PEOPLE OF THE BOOK really appeals to me.
Thanks!

JennyMac said...

My Hub is a book cheater too. This cracked me up. Not me...word for word.

And I LOVED The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Have you read The Help? Very good as well.