Friday, April 13, 2012

Elaine Newton - Now I Know What the Fuss is About!

I had the distinct pleasure of attending a lecture the other day at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts. For twenty years now Canadian Literature Professor, Elaine Newton, has been enthralling audiences -  at least 200 people were in attendance - with her in-depth reviews of books and authors. Often in the past our customers have brought us Ms. Newton's reading list just to let us know what she was up to (though I sometimes felt they were rubbing it in that we had to work and could never attend). I did feel vindicated when I saw that her tastes mirrored our own.

She is marvelously enthusiastic about reading, writing, and evaluating literature. Her speaking voice is exquisite and she had me chomping at the bit to return to a novel I previously couldn't read 50 pages of! This month's book? The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. Publisher's Weekly calls it a "big, dense historical ... with literary brawn and stylistic panache." Is that great? What a fabulous description. I think I'll hang on til May when I'll be going north to see family and devote the week to it. Have any of you read it yet? I'd love to hear what you think.

Also this week I hosted 20 people for a book discussion of a novel I had grown to hate after reading it through twice! That almost never happens to me and I was a wreck over what to say and how to handle it. My stomach was in knots for days. On top of that I was going to be "observed" by one of our new staffers who'll also be planning book discussions next year. This maudlin, annoying novel? Please Look After Mom by the prolific Korean writer Kyung-Sook Shin.

Fortunately, I didn't let on how I felt and just let the audience roll. Most of them had much more empathy for mom than I had. I notice there's a new book out about "empathy deficit disorder" (who knew?) and I fear that I may be suffering from it. Ha! Anyway, in this book, which we concluded may have suffered from a poor translation, mom and dad come from the country to Seoul to visit their children but no one seems to have time to pick them up at the train station. Dad hops on and somehow leaves Mom behind and the children are so busy blaming each other that a week passes before they can agree on how to even begin looking for her!

We meet and get to know mom through her children as they flagellate themselves with guilt. The famous novelist daughter, the successful businessman son, and the philandering, clueless husband each speak to mom as if she's still here, toting up all the extraordinary things that she did and sacrifices she made so that they could be who they've become. My nasty little self wanted to say, "how did that work for ya?"

My customers seemed satisfied that, in the final analysis, all those folks mom left behind grew in their understanding and appreciation of her. I said, "Yes, but, she's dead!" My readers felt "better late than never." Hmmmmm-I'm not feeling it!

1 comment:

TooManyBooks said...

I read the book and really found it very depressing! I don't know how you could get through it a second time!