I’ve been thinking about my grandma a lot lately. I saw a woman walking toward me at the Y this morning who made me think of her and I found myself imagining Ed walking toward me. I usually think about her whenever I’ve read a good book. She always used to ask about the books I was currently reading. It would be Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday and we’d all be bustling about in the kitchen but she’d always find time to eagerly ask, “well, dearie, what have you been reading lately?” It was like our own miniature book club. I always felt so at ease with her, telling her about the books I was reading and the thoughts they were provoking in me; even if (perhaps especially if) those thoughts wouldn’t have been uttered aloud under any other circumstances or with any other person. No matter what, Ed always liked to hear what I was reading and what I thought of it all.
So in honor of her birthday this week, I thought I would start a book discussion series for those of you who also like to talk about books.
The first installment will be The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
My rating: 7.5/10
My thoughts: I just finished this for my actual book club and it was my second time reading it. I remembered bits and pieces of it from my first read about 6 years ago but having enjoyed it so much the first go-round, I would have thought that I would remember more of it. Here’s what stood out this time…
- I don’t know much about pre-revolutionary China (if I’m honest, I don’t know much Chinese history, period), and I always enjoy learning about a different time period and a different culture by way of an historical novel. The Good Earth spans the life of Wang Lung, a farmer in China, from the day of his wedding to his old age. You get an interesting glimpse into the life of a farmer (which has always seemed sort of romantic to me) and a man who is poor who then becomes very, very rich and the choices he faces along the way. While I did wish for more details at times regarding what else was going on in China at the time, it was a satisfying look into a life far removed from 21st century Seattle.
- The role of women… O-lan, first wife of Wang Lung and a former slave, works thanklessly alongside her husband, farming and cooking and making clothes and bearing child after child. She is, perhaps, the only sympathetic character in the entire book. She gives birth alone (the doula in me couldn’t help but cringe reading about her various labors and deliveries) and immediately (as in, the same day, is out in the fields working again). There was also the foot binding and the selling into slavery, the prostitution and the multiple wives, and the dishonor in bearing daughters. It was so… normal and accepted at the time but was enough to make my head spin with the injustice and cruelty of it all, particularly from my century-later perspective. It made me think of the quote that Martin Luther King, Jr. paraphrased when he said that the arc of the moral universe is long (and slow, I would add) but it bends toward justice. We certainly have a long way to go, world-wide, in our treatment of women but we’ve already come quite a distance, haven’t we?
- I wouldn’t say that the writing itself was anything spectacular, per se. The book was well-written, to be sure, but it wasn’t one of those books where you want to underline every other sentence and pause over the profundity of the writing. The story itself was strong enough though, in my opinion.
- I was surprised that I could like a book so much when there wasn’t a single character that I was rooting for, besides O-lan. I liked Wang Lung and I despised him at the same time. Maybe that’s the mark of a well-developed character?
Would I recommend it? Definitely.
Have you read it? What did you think? If not, what are you currently reading? Would you recommend it?
Books I’m currently reading:
- Holy is the Day by Carolyn Weber
- Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd
- My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman
Happy Birthday, Ed. You are still so very missed.