Thursday, February 27, 2014

Reading: The Good Earth

California has been good to me.  Lots of days with 80+ days, lots of sunshine, and very relaxed days--all of which is good for my broken winter heart.

I have this habit of re-reading childhood favorites when I come home for a visit, so I pick up Just as Long as We're Together, The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case, and a myriad of Babysitter's Club installments. 

But, because of the length of my visit, I kind of surrendered to the fact that, unless I read all 3,000 of my mother's vintage Nancy Drews, I'd have to pick up something else.  You know, something that I hadn't read as a 12 year old.  I was clearing some bookshelves in my old room, and I ran across a copy of The Good Earth I bought for myself when I was still Valerie Appel, but never read.

Its got a Pulitzer Prize to its name, and was written by Pearl Buck, who won it in 1932, which, for 1932, seems like a pretty big deal.  Also, the review on the front cover by the Saturday Review calls it, "A beautiful, beautiful book."  And I like beautiful books.

I know we don't re-name older books, even if a more appropriate title would now apply, but, if we did, a more accurate title of this book might be Why Being A Woman Has Always Been Kind of the Worst.  Then, I would draw an arrow to the illustration of the man on the front cover with the caption, "and this guy's a real piece of work".  I'd use words that better expressed my real feelings, but I think my parents occasionally read this blog.  If you would like to know, corner me at a party or something and I'll tell you what I really think.

Maybe I've just gotten to the point where my keen sense of justice won't allow people to act like tools and not be properly punished for their crimes.  The book is all about cycles, and maybe I didn't really get it, and maybe it would make more sense at a different time in my life, and apparently it's a really good record of both a time and place, but, really, even allowing for a lot of period and cultural relativism, it still left me with a really bad taste in my mouth.

Shiloh came for a visit while I was reading it, and it was lying on the coffee table one warm afternoon.  She picked it up and remembered that she had read it in high school and really liked it.  Which surprised me, because of my reaction to it.  But books are like church, or conversations, or really anything at all; which is to say that you get out of them what you bring into them.  You bring questions, and, if the book is good, it answers them.  Which is how two people can read the same book and have completely different experiences with them.  I can see how someone else could read this book as a portrayal of the tragic and merciful vicissitudes of life, a story about cycles which culminates in our eventual and inescapable return to the earth.  But, for me, it was a story of the brutality of selfishness, and I didn't like it.

Sorry, Pearl Buck.

Now I'm reading Glimpses of the Moon, which is nice, because Edith Wharton dependably punishes absolutely everyone.

1 comment:

  1. Yes. I read this in high school as well in a class called Eastern Civ. And I've never looked back. So the book is slightly marred by that fact (forced school reading in TWMBC, aka The World's Most Boring Class).

    As I recall, I was left with a feeling of "that was an epic tale of someone's crazy life." I can appreciate a life journey, and i guess it was interesting learning about such a different kind of life from my own. But I think the main character left a bad taste in my mouth as well. If you can't find a way to root for him, then what's the point?