It’s been a summer of teaching old dogs new tricks, hasn’t it? I’ll leave reviews of the newest Dr. Seuss book to people with kids and/or souls, and stick to two books that were a little more in my wheelhouse.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
As you probably know, Watchman was a rough draft of the universally-loved* classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s editor read Watchman, realized the childhood flashbacks were the best part, and counseled Lee to write a book set wholly at that time rather than one that moves between Scout’s past and present.
And here’s the thing about editors: sometimes, they’re RIGHT. Because the childhood flashbacks are just about the only thing in this book that aren’t a mess. Without the background of Mockingbird, the reader has no reason to care about these characters since there’s almost no driving action or suspense. Though the book opens with adult Scout on a train ride to Alabama (promising!), her arrival in Maycomb puts an end to the travelogue and cues up the casual racism.
Which, look: I get it. This book was written and set in the 1950s and it was a different time. I repeat: IT WAS A DIFFERENT TIME. The attitudes and language in the book must be considered in that context. It’s not that I was offended. I was bored…bored by Scout’s inner struggles regarding her father, her fiancé, Maycomb’s racist community leaders, et al.
Harsh as it seems, this appears to be an instance of an interesting kid growing into a boring adult. It happens all the time. Harry Potter is probably an accountant now or some such.
Read this if you seek completeness (as I did). There’s not much other reason.
Grey by E.L. James
I was a little mislead about what I was getting into with Grey. I thought it was the entire 50 Shades trilogy from Christian’s POV. Turns out it covers just the events of the first book. So much for completeness.
It’s been quite some time since I read the trilogy, so I didn’t remember what was coming as I read (no pun intended, ew). I had hoped for a little more insight into Christian’s background, since I find him the far more interesting character. Call me a misogynist (I certainly do), but Ana seems to be there mostly to be there.
Alas, other than a few childhood flashbacks (indicated by italics, which is apparently some kind of typography commandment), most of Christian’s time is spent using his ostentatious wealth and/or genitalia. I guess that’s the life of a playboy.
Read this if you seek titillation (I didn’t). There’s not much other reason.
*I came to Mockingbird late in life, since the tiny religious schools I attended didn’t discuss race relations and certainly didn’t acknowledge the existence of rape outside the Old Testament. The Scarlet Letter made everybody PRETTY CLAMMY and everybody in that was white. So I had to pick up Mockingbird—and a host of other classic works—once I graduated, was allowed to think on my own, etc.