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Reality Check

February 9, 2011

In the past four days, I have finished two books.

The Widow’s Season and The Art of Racing in the Rain. I’ve been feeling pretty excited about all this reading I’ve been getting done; I mean…I knew The Passage took me a little bit, but I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks pretty quickly; I read Feed in just three days; and I read The Imperfectionists in a weekend.

I thought, “That’s right. Baby on the way. Busy end to the semester. Busy start to a new semester. Freelance copyediting. You’re rockin’ the reading!”

Until I realized…last year at this exact same time, I had read 12 books! Seriously?!? Twelve books by mid-February? How is that humanely possible? I thought I’ve been doing well and even though my goal for 2011 is nearly half of what I read for 2010…I secretly thought I would be able to exceed my own expectations. Nope. Apparently when I set that 50 book goal, I was right on track.

So, anyway…I digress. The Widow’s Season isn’t worth writing a long review for — it’s a quick and breezy summer read — full of clichés and ridiculous situations. It’s the quintessential beach book; you can devour it in an afternoon with the sun and the ocean and not feel like you’ve wasted your afternoon. It’s not horrific. It’s not great. It just is. And it’s been sitting on my bookshelf, untouched, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The Art of Racing in the Rain — as you’ll remember, I’ve been dying to read — wasn’t exactly the emotionally traumatic experience I was expecting. Although, I did cry, but seriously: The book OPENS with the dog talking about how he’s about to be put to sleep. OPENS with that. And I thought the premise of a canine narrator was interesting; I liked the inner-dialogue, the dog-view. I think dog lovers will eat this book up — anyone who has owned a dog that held a special place in his/her life will love it — but if you’re not a huge dog person, the rest of the book isn’t spectacular. And I have a really big problem with people being treated unjustly. A huge portion of this book deals with the owner’s unluckiness and the trials and tribulations of an unjust and unfair world (I can’t say more, I think that would be too much of a spoiler) — while I knew deep down that the man was going to (probably) find a way to combat this, the emotional turmoil he was facing before that moment arrived was almost too much to bear at times. (And remember, that emotional turmoil was being conveyed to me through dog’s eyes.) I just wanted to reach in and make it all better; there were people I wanted to hit. Yes, great literature makes us respond in physical and visceral ways — this book did both; but I also knew there was no way out of it that wouldn’t feel contrived. And I think I was right about that assessment.

Vague review, I suppose. Considering that I bought the book (with the help of a gift certificate from my mommy — so…no $$ of my own spent) last night and finished it this evening is probably a good indicator that there is something in there worth checking out. The best writing actually takes place when the author is describing racetrack driving…which holds ZERO appeal to me…but those passages are very lyrical and moving. Even a NASCAR hater like myself can find the beauty now in racing in the rain.

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