Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Goodreads and less-good ones

Popping in to say that I joined Goodreads a couple of weeks ago, at my boyfriend's urging. I always keep lists of everything I read (which reminds me, I never posted my 2012 list on my blog) -- so why not do it using Goodreads' interface, and get exposed to new books I might like via Goodreads' fancy book-recommending algorithm?

Posting reviews of what I'm reading on Goodreads also feels more comfortable, somehow, then posting them here on marissabidilla. When I write a blog post here, I feel like it needs to be a well-researched, well-organized piece of writing that makes a clear and interesting argument. You (the reader of my blog) aren't interested in just hearing my random thoughts about whatever book I happen to be reading, I think... so my post needs some other justification for existing beyond "I felt like writing a book review." As a result, I can't remember the last time I wrote a book review on marissabidilla.

Whereas, when I write a review on Goodreads, the "why" of the review is self-evident ("because I just finished reading this book, and this website wants me to rate and review it"). And I don't need to worry about making my review a perfect piece of writing, since it is just one of dozens or hundreds of reviews on the site. I can simply write 250 or so words about the book, listing some of my thoughts and attempting to justify the star rating I gave to it.

My first Goodreads review is for Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub, a book I wanted to read as soon as I heard about it. Unfortunately, I didn't think it lived up to the hype.

Laura Lamont's Life in PicturesLaura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because I enjoy classic movies and wanted to read a novelist's take on Hollywood in the 1940s, but Emma Straub seems more interested in her protagonist's domestic life than in her film career. The novel goes into great detail about Laura Lamont's (née Elsa Emerson) small-town childhood, her marriages, and her children, even to the point of rehashing the same themes and emotions over and over. (Regarding Laura's troubled son, Junior, on page 292 we learn that "Hearing his name from someone else's mouth felt like a hole through Laura's lung," and ten pages later, "Sometimes he looked so much like his father that it poked a hole straight through Laura's heart.") Meanwhile, the novel is comparatively silent on subjects like Laura's filmography, her professional relationships, or the actual extent of her talent as an actress.

The novel follows Laura into the 1950s, '60s, and beyond -- decades during which various tragedies strike her family, and she loses her fame and beauty. For much of the book, she is a lost and melancholy woman (I lost count of the number of times she weeps). While this makes emotional sense for the character, pages and pages of a woman wallowing in grief and regret doesn't always make for compelling reading. I also thought there was a rather off-putting subtext of "being a woman, a wife, and a mother, means a life of suffering and sorrow."

I had hoped that this novel would offer me vivid characters, snappy dialogue, and/or sweeping emotional climaxes, which are some of the things I love best about 1940s movies, but I was unfortunately disappointed.

View all my reviews

(What do you think? Should I keep cross-posting my reviews from Goodreads onto marissabidilla?)

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