29 February 2008

February Book Report

Leap Day seems like an appropriate time to talk about the only book I actually finished this month - but since I actually did finish the book, I'm feeling much better about things. It is so discouraging to me to start a book and never finish, but it's worse to force it.

Anyway, February was a light reading month for me as far as books were concerned. I did manage to catch up on some of my magazines, and I got a fair amount of knitting done. But for whatever reason, I didn't do nearly as much book reading as usual. Fortunately, the book I did read was a good one.

Women in Their Beds : New and Selected Stories, by Gina Berriault, was my February book for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. It is a collection of short stories, and won both the 1996 National Book Critics Circle Award, and the 1997 PEN/Faulkner Award. Reading the stories, I can understand why. Berriault writes spare language stories that are still loaded with description - of people, places, and events. Most of the stories in the book take place in San Francisco, or at least start out there.

The title story is about a woman who works as a social worker on a ward for women with mental health problems. By observing the women, their families, the constant coming and going of the patients, she sees herself in a different light, and thinks how her life might be if she is ever one of the women in their beds. I really liked this one, because the writer managed to run the gamut from happy to sad, silly to serious, without seeming false or forced.

My other favorite story in the collection was "Lives of the Saints," about a young man whose father (that he has never met) is a world famous sculptor. The background is that once his father learned that his mother was pregnant, he decided that it couldn't be his child (though the mother had been faithful). He abandoned them both, and was reborn as a celibate artist, devoted to the lives of the saints and what he could learn from them. When his son becomes an adult, he decides to go to all of the towns in California where one of the sculptures of the saints can be found. I liked the way Berriault described the sculptures themselves, and how she made the impressions of the son conflicted, as I can imagine they might be. At the end of the story, the son reads in a newspaper obituary that his father has died, and only then does he feel he has really been born. Trust me, it reads much better than my lame description!

If you are in the mood for some short stories, I think this collection would be a good choice. I will admit that I didn't read every single one all of the way through, but I did completely read most of them; the ones I skipped were simply those that weren't interesting after the first four or five pages. But the beauty of a short story collection is that (usually) you don't have to read every story to enjoy any of them.


Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

To the contrary your synopsis were really well done and gave a great feeling for the stories and the emotions they touched. I'm not a fan of short stories but these sound worth reading. Thanks for another great book report!

Anonymous said...

It does sound like a good collection of short stories. I think that I don't read them but once I started keeping track....I do, actually. Some are better than others! But that's true of all books.

Life's too short to force yourself to finish a book but I completely know what you mean about not finishing one. It just feels wrong. It's one thing to pick it up and put it down after a page or two but after that? It feels odd to not finish it but sometimes it feels like pulling teeth, even though it's a perfectly good book!