book sale books

I went to a book sale several weeks ago which benefitted 826 Seattle, a literacy program that is an offshoot of the San Francisco that the McSweeney's people started. Among the books I picked up were Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson and The Last Life by Claire Messud.

I read Guterson's Our Lady of the Forest when it came out and thought it was great, and Cedars was pretty good too. Cedars takes place in the mid-1950's in the Puget Sound area. There was a movie a few years ago with Ethan Hawke which didn't get great reviews. I don't read a lot of mystery, but I do like the way the details are revealed slowly, asking you to look at the story from the angles of different characters. This novel is ostensibly a murder mystery but in reality is trying to solve the much more mysterious problem of how to deal with the post-war conflicts between the Japanese and the white residents of a tiny island of fishermen and strawberry farmers.

Claire Messud I hadn't heard of, but upon reading The Last Life I am looking forward to reading more of her stuff. In this novel she tells the story of her family as if it were a mystery, which to the teenage narrator it largely is, revealing bits and parts through the personal histories of different members of her family. Sometimes they are telling their own stories and sometimes others are telling them, so the narrator gets a lot of different points of view to choose from when figuring out her family.

Both of these books really worked for me because I am a sucker for stories about storytelling. I haven't been able to enjoy a work of fiction since I read Alice Munro's Runaway last fall -- nothing could live up to it -- but these books got me back on track. Plus they were great to read on the bus. So the moral of the story is: if anyone opens an 826 wherever anywhere near you, go to the book sale. Those kids have great taste.

-angie kritenbrink

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