I just finished my big reading project of the year–reading all (well, nearly all of all) of the titles on the American Library Association Notable Books list. And a good list it was. I’ve made two presentations on the books, with high hopes that some readers in those audiences will try a few of my favorites. I’d be happy to speak to additional groups, so contact me if you’re interested.
I’m always trying to convince readers to take on a reading discipline–it doesn’t have to be a whole list, but maybe just the Pulitzer Prize novel each year, or the Hugo Award winner, or the Newbery Medal winner. I’ve loved the over-the-years perspective that I’ve gained from the Notable Books project.
I also LOVE having free choice. That’s where I am now–I can read whatever I want!
I started with “mennonite in a little black dress” by Rhoda Janzen. I’m a huge fan of memoir, and hoped for something a little quirky here. I scored on both counts. Janzen grew up in a Mennonite family in California. After her 15-year marriage came to an end and she was injured seriously in a car accident, Janzen returned home for a while. This is the story of her picking up the pieces and returning to the fold, sort of.
I’m not Mennonite, and can’t evaluate this as if I were. Janzen clearly loves her parents, loved her upbringing, and is in a position to poke a lot of fun. I don’t believe she’s disrepectful, though she is irreverent. I haven’t laughed out loud so much reading a book in a long time.
Janzen’s reports of her conversations with her mother are drop-dead funny.
There’s also a maturation process at work. For instance, she describes how she once avoided serving the classic Mennonite foods of her youth…and then how she scored big at an English department potluck with a big pan of Hollapse. In many places she notes how she’s grown into a sense of herself that embraces her Mennonite heritage. She begins to find peace regarding her broken marriage.
This book works because Janzen is an excellent storyteller who laughs at herself as well as others. She’s got a great eye for the details that make a difference. She doesn’t shirk from the more ribald and absurd aspects of her life.
I’ll recommend this to my many friends who enjoy memoir, to people who enjoy a funny book, and to those who appreciate a great story.
And now that I’m free to read whatever I want…send suggestions my way, please.