Two Mini Book Reviews {The Summer Reading Edition}

Hello!

We are already half-way through September, and I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed settling in to my regular school routine. Before I get too deep into my classwork {I’ll happily chat about a vacation then!}, I wanted to revisit the books I was required to read for English class, A Walk in the Woods and The Joy Luck Club, in a new set of mini reviews. Did you have any summer reading to complete this year?

A Walk in the WoodsTitle: A Walk in the Woods
Author: Bill Bryson
First published: May 4th, 1998 by Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
Pages: 276
Genre: Adult / Nonfiction / Memoir
Source: Bought / Paperback
Series: N/A

God only knows what possessed Bill Bryson, a reluctant adventurer if there ever was one, to undertake a grueling hike along the world’s longest continuous footpath—The Appalachian Trail.

The 2,000-plus-mile trail winds through 14 states, stretching along the east coast of the United States, from Georgia to Maine. It snakes through some of the wildest and most spectacular landscapes in North America, as well as through some of its most poverty-stricken and primitive backwoods areas.

With his offbeat sensibility, his eye for the absurd, and his laugh-out-loud sense of humour, Bryson recounts his confrontations with nature at its most uncompromising over his five-month journey.

An instant classic, riotously funny, A Walk in the Woods will add a whole new audience to the legions of Bill Bryson fans. {Goodreads}

More often than not, I find it difficult to write reviews for the books I read for school in comparison to the books I read for fun. It’s challenging to find the words after weeks spent analyzing the novel in the classroom, and it’s daunting to critique a piece of literature beloved by so many others. Fortunately, all pressure disappears when reviewing as entertaining of a required read as Bill Bryson’s widely acclaimed memoir {and new movie!} A Walk in the Woods. Following author Bryson and former classmate Stephan Katz as they attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail, the popular book brings humor, history, and heart to the backdrop of nature. It’s an excellent piece of nonfiction, and it did its job well: I’m so, so excited for my year ahead in AP English.

This is not a book I would typically gravitate towards: I’m weary of stories set in nature after reading the torture that is Hatchet; I don’t often read from a middle-aged man’s point of view; and I have no particular interest in or passion for the Parks Service. Upon finishing the memoir, however, my first impressions were shown to be wrong, giving proof to the saying, “You never know until you try.” Bryson is an engaging narrator, as his witty, if sometimes snarky, remarks had me laughing throughout, and his frequent observations are backed by thorough historical research. Furthermore, the themes of the work, from friendship to determination, are developed in a subtle, yet impactful, manner.

I can’t commend every element – the middle section dragged, and I found the information on various US forests repetitive by fourth mention – but I can and do recommend it. With a nonfiction-heavy course to look forward to, it’s easy to see why my English department chose this for our summer reading. If my review hasn’t convinced you to give Bryson’s memoir a try, know that A Walk in the Woods is marketed as a modern classic. At the very least, let’s watch the film.

The Joy Luck ClubTitle: The Joy Luck Club
Author: Amy Tan
First published: March 22nd, 1989 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Pages: 288
Genre: Adult / Classic
Source: Bought / Paperback
Series: N/A
Random: I didn’t read this edition, but I love the Penguin Drop Caps cover to the left!

Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who’s “saying” the stories. In 1949, four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money.

“To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable.” Forty years later the stories and history continue. With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery. {Goodreads}

The relationship between child and parent has been explored in literature time and time again, and rightfully so; the complexity of family ties offers a multitude of avenues for authors to pursue in their work. This common motif appears in young adult novels, middle grade books, and most notably, the classics, such as Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. Unlike my other summer reading book, this award-winning novel is fiction, exploring the dynamics of four pairs of Chinese women and their American daughters in a set of connected short stories. Similar to A Walk in the Woods, however, I enjoyed it much more than I originally expected to – I’m easily pleased when it comes to good books.

Linked together by their weekly gatherings and a shared heritage, the Chinese mothers, Suyuan Woo, An-Mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-Ying St. Clair, are advocates of tradition, holding to the beliefs they themselves grew up with. In contrast are their daughters, June, Rose, Waverly, and Lena, who take the modern ideals of America to heart. These two themes shape the sixteen stories, relating the chapters to one another despite the various characters in focus. The time period and settings of each chapter shifts, but the book never feels disjointed, as Tan expertly uses flashbacks to write of the mothers’ childhoods. I didn’t adore every story, but I do appreciate the development they offer the characters.

The Joy Luck Club is based on symmetry. There are four mothers, four daughters. There are four sections, four chapters in each. The book starts in China, ends in China. This is no coincidence on Tan’s part, and I believe it’s the element that earned the book so much praise. From readers’ first introduction to the Joy Luck Club to the closing scene, Tan infuses her work with the power of family. I hope it’s clear: this summer reading selection earns my full approval. {And, hey, look! There’s a movie for this book too :)}.

Have a lovely Wednesday!
Bella

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5 thoughts on “Two Mini Book Reviews {The Summer Reading Edition}

  1. A Walk in the Woods sounds like a book I’ll love. I have only read one book by Bill Bryson–Mother Tongue–and I loved it. It’s mostly about the English language, but there are also lots of interesting knowledge about many other languages. And of course, there’s copious humour. If your a huge fan of languages and linguistics (*cough* like me *cough*) then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this :).

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds so interesting! I enjoyed A Walk in the Woods so much more than I expected to that I’m already on the search for another Bill Bryson book to add to my TBR list – I think Mother Tongue will be it :) Thank you for the recommendation!

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  2. Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors, and I’m working my way through all of his books. For the most part, he does travel writing, and the first book I read by him was Notes from a Small Island, which he wrote right before he moved away from the UK, I think. It’s basically about a grand walkabout through the country, and it was both hilarious and insightful. Another one of my favorites is a Short History of Nearly everything, and I definitely recommend it if you like science. Heck, even if you’re not passionate about science, I would still recommend it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve heard many good things about A Short History of Nearly Everything; it sounds so interesting! I’m on a nonfiction kick, so I will look for it on my next library trip.

      Notes from a Small Island has me intrigued too! If it has Bryson’s trademark humor – and it sounds like it does – I’m game. Thank you for the recommendations! :)

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