08/9/11

Summer Reading

August is here with all the bounty of the summertime.  Festivals, farm stands, and fun in the swimming pool mark the days of August.  The days are full, but here in Buffalo, New York, we know they are fleeting.  Given the brevity of the season, I thought I’d better begin with my summer reading post while there is still a little summer left!

Long ago in one of my undergraduate classes, we learned that literacy involves the creation of meaning through writing and reading.  An author is most certainly engaged in creative work.  When I read her creation, I make meaning out of it for myself.  Reading and writing both qualify as “creative comforts.”

This summer I read Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells.  The stories are set in Louisiana which makes for good summer reading.  Here in Western New York, I can even read comfortably and enjoy the fact that our summer temperatures rarely rise above the mid-eighties!

Both books center around Viviane Walker and her family, especially through the experiences of her daughter, Sidalee.  Little Altars Everywhere is actually the prequel to Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.  It was written first but often read second.  Opinions abound as to which book should be read first.  I would recommend reading Divine Secrets first and continuing with Little Altars if desired.  Little Altars Everywhere is darker and more intense.

I am puzzled by the reviewers who label the books as “funny.”  Interesting, compelling, and entertaining are descriptors I would use.  Funny is not.  Rebecca Wells offers her readers what I think is a poignant and engaging look at the human condition  viewed through the lens of central Louisiana culture.

The most pleasant chapters are set at the swimming hole and summer camp house at Spring Creek.  The most heart-wrenching chapters involve a lot of alcohol and “belt-whipping.”  The ending is more bittersweet than a fairytale, but love and forgiveness do prevail.

A few words of caution: I am not sure how I would feel about these books if I were either Catholic or from Louisiana.  Ms. Wells was raised as both and must be qualified to write about such things.  What she portrays is not always pretty.  If there were no dysfunction, then there would be very little drama.  We all are prone to a bit of dysfunction, but I think readers will realize that most Catholics and Louisianans are quite healthy and not nearly as dysfunctional as the Walkers and their supporting characters.  Additionally, the language can be a bit strong in places.  It is realistic, I suppose.  If I found myself thinking bad words after I was done reading for the day, I just watched an episode of All Creatures Great and Small to reprogram my language more appropriately!

Have you read Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood or Little Altars Everywhere?  Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  The titles link to Amazon.com, but I’m sure you can find them at your local library.