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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Recent Reads - Winter's Bone and Tree of Smoke

Have been reading many books, as usual. I typically am going through both a fiction title and a nonfiction title simultaneously. Here are my brief reactions to two recent reads.

First, I have to admit that we rented the movie before I read the book. Woodrell's book is set in winter in the Missouri Ozarks and focuses on extended families living rough and hardscrabble lives, many of them resorting to cooking meth to survive in the grim economy. It is a gritty, harsh story that involves a missing father and his daughter's frantic search for him, when it seems he's jumped bail. The book is beautifully written and captures the tone of the Ozark's - the hill country Ozarks, not Branson. I enjoyed reading it and it was over too soon.

The Indie movie was well received; introduced Jennifer Lawrence; won a Sundance Grand Jury Prize in 2010; and was nominated for four Oscars. The movie captures the Ozark country in winter tones of brown and gray, rather than the snow and ice and bitter cold that feature prominently in the book.

I recommend the book and the movie, although neither are for the squeamish or faint-of-heart.

I managed to make it through Johnson's lengthy novel of the CIA and Southeast Asia, but just barely. This novel was the winner of the National Book Award; I was left wondering "Why?" I found parts of it quite interesting and relevant to the sad history of the Vietnam War. But interesting and readable segments seemed to be separated by tens of pages (the book is a heavy 600+ pages long) of hard-to-read verbiage. It is clear from reviews and reactions online that readers' reacted to the book in a very binary way, either loving it or struggling to read the thing. I wouldn't recommend it but clearly many others would.