The Color Purple by Alice Walker

51U9ALbZXjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

I thought I had read this many years ago, but rereading it recently seemed like reading it for the first time.  Maybe I’m remembering the movie and thinking I had read the book before.

In any case, I’m glad I picked it up and read it recently.  The Color Purple, so titled because the color purple, according to one of the novel’s characters, is representative of the beauty in the world in the midst of horrible circumstances, is the story of Celie, a black woman living in rural Georgia in the early part of the twentieth century.  The story spans several decades; it opens when Celie is fourteen and describes her rape and impregnation by her father.  The opening scene and subsequent scenes depicting repeated rapes and another impregnation at the hands of her father called to mind Sapphire’s novel Push.

After giving birth to two children by her father and believing them both to have been drowned by him, Celie is sold by her father to a local farmer – a man much older than Celie whose wife has recently died.  He is looking for a mother for his children.  However, as it turns out, he is an abusive, lazy man who beats Celie, treats her like a servant, and allows his children to do the same.  At some point shortly after Celie is married off to “Mister,” her younger sister Nettie runs away from their father and goes to Celie, but when Nettie refuses the advances of Celie’s husband, he kicks her out.  Celie is heartbroken and spends the next several decades pining for her beloved sister.

Meanwhile, Mister’s mistress Shug shows up.  Shug is a singer and lives by her own rules.  Celie falls in love with her, and the two women begin an affair and a deep friendship that lasts many years.

This Pulitzer Prize winning novel addresses numerous issues, including racism, poverty, incest, domestic abuse, feminism, and homosexuality to name a few.  It’s probably not surprising that it’s one of the most banned or challenged novels of all time.  Despite its grim subject matter, the story manages to not be despairing.  In fact, it’s beautifully told and full of hope.  The characters come to life on the pages, and you can’t help but be deeply moved – and to cheer for Celie.

Highly recommend.


Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

IMG_8171 Lonesome Dove: A Novel

by Larry McMurtry

I first read this book probably 25 years ago, and for all these years it has stood out in my memory as the best book I’ve ever read.  Of course, over those years, I’ve read many, many other books – including many excellent books, and over time I’ve often wondered if Lonesome Dove would still hold up if I reread it.  Despite how much I remember loving it, I do have a hard time making myself reread books, as there are so many unread books yet to read!  Still, I finally dug out my old paperback copy and delved in.  I was not disappointed.

At 858 pages, it’s too big a story to offer any details – and I don’t think I could do it justice.  In a nutshell, it’s the story of Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae, two middle-aged former Texas Rangers, basically retired and living in a “little fart of a town” in post-Civil War south Texas, who impulsively decide to undertake a cattle drive up to the virgin pastures of Montana.  Filled with characters so vivid you could almost hear their voices and smell the dust and sweat of them, it is a sweeping, epic masterpiece story of the wild and unbroken frontier of the American West.

Yeah, it’s a western.  Filled with cowboys and Indians, outlaws and lawmen, heroes and villains, ladies and whores – and plenty of adventure and tragedy.  I was absolutely transported to a different time and place – so much so that I was often dreaming of cattle drives at night.  I was struck by how horrifically hard life was in those times – and yet, in some ways so much simpler than now.  People lived and died as they pleased – there was of course a code of honor, and propriety, but … much of the pettiness and materialism and anxiety over a million things that modern life has brought us was absent.

I cried almost ceaselessly through the last 75 pages or so, and it’s one of those rare books that just leaves me feeling like I’m not going to get over it anytime soon.

To be able to write like this … to imagine a story and put it to paper, a story that truly takes on a life of its own and evokes such emotion – what a gift.  What power!  I am awestruck.

I absolutely love this book, and it remains the best book I’ve ever read.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

200px-The_goldfinch_by_donna_tart The Goldfinch: A Novel
by Donna Tartt

I finished it, I finally finished it!!  After nearly four months, I finally finished this book.  Part of the problem, no doubt, is that I listened to it on audio rather than actually reading it, and it’s not as easy to find opportunities to plug myself into my iPod as it is to just sit down with a book.

Anyway.  I’m just going to be upfront: I did not love this book.  That seems almost sacrilegious to say, but there you have it.  All these months, I’ve caught snippets of conversations, and by all accounts, everyone who has opened this book has fallen in love with it – and then it went and won the Pulitzer Prize!  I’m absolutely sure that I’m missing something, but I don’t get all the accolades.

At the heart of the story are a boy and a stolen painting.  Thirteen-year old Theo Decker and his mother dash into the Metropolitan Museum of Art one rainy day when they have time to kill before a disciplinary meeting at Theo’s school with the principal – so, for all intents and purposes, he and his mother would never have made the chance visit to the museum that day had it not been for Theo getting into trouble at school.  During their short, unplanned visit to the museum, the museum is bombed by terrorists, and Theo, after coming to in a scene of destruction and carnage, escapes the building with a small masterpiece painting – his mother’s favorite piece of art – that was blown from the wall, as well as a ring given to him by a dying old man.  His mother is among the casualties of the bombing.

The book spans the next fourteen years of Theo’s life, in which the ring leads him to an elderly antique furniture restorer/dealer and a young woman whom Theo pines for.  He bounces from home to home – first, the wealthy and dysfunctional family of a school chum, then his alcoholic absentee father and his floozy girlfriend, and then the furniture dealer who takes Theo under his wing when Theo has nobody else and nowhere else to turn.  Through all of this nomadic moving around the country, Theo lovingly hauls along the painting he took from the museum, which is both a connection to his beloved mother, and an albatross by which, as the years go by, he feels more and more trapped.  He forges a friendship with a Ukrainian immigrant his age as an adolescent, and the friendship, though destructive in many ways, is also a lifeline to Theo.

The Goldfinch is intelligently written, and the plot takes many twists and turns.  It held my interest, but in all honesty I felt like it was two or three hundred pages too long.  I also had trouble with the extent of the drug use in the book, which played heavily into the story but seemed gratuitous and unnecessary – and it made it difficult for me to like and sympathize with the characters as much as I might have otherwise.  Call me a prude.

But seriously, don’t take my word for it.  People everywhere apparently love this book, so go read it yourself.

Just goes to show: I may love to read, but that doesn’t mean that I necessarily get or appreciate great literature.

I’m betting this will be adapted for the big screen sooner or later; I would go see the movie.