When it comes to books, I'll give pretty much anything a shot. I will admit right here and now in my first blog post that I'm an Oprah's Book Club kind of girl. This is not to be confused with a Nicholas Sparks/Jodi Picoult kind of girl. You won't be seeing reviews for Sparks or Picoult books from me this year. Or ever. (I read The Notebook. I know what Sparks is all about, and I'm not interested.) The books I enjoy are admittedly "pop" books, but not the brainless kind. I don't read the literary equivalent of "chick flicks" or romance trash. I like a little depth in my melodramatic reading material. I love Wally Lamb (She's Come Undone, I Know This Much Is True) and Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones) -- that's the usual vein of my book choices. That being said, I also enjoy the twisted darkness of Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club) and the self-depreciating humor of David Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day). So, I mean, you'll see a little diversity from me here, but I'm not claiming to be a hipster indie book-lover.
Now that I've made my disclaimer... This book is kind of an off-the-wall choice for me. When I read the synopsis, it kind of felt like the kind of book a Sparks or Picoult fan would read, but if you want to know the truth, I bought it at the same time I bought Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flagg, so maybe I was in a mood. I really wasn't sure how I'd feel about it, but as it turns out, it's one of my favorite books that I've read recently.
The Florabama Ladies' Auxillary and Sewing Circle is one of several books by Lois Battle that focuses on Southern women. So, not only is it a book that's out of my usual genre, but it's also "Southern," which is yet another thing I usually don't enjoy. It focuses on Bonnie Cullman, (Hey! Cullman!) a newly divorced middle-aged woman whose posh lifestyle disappeared with her bankrupt husband. The book follows her as she starts her life over, and part of this new life involves counseling a diverse group of women who have recently been laid off from their jobs as seamstresses in a lingerie factory. Each of these women have their own stories to tell, and the result is a heart-warming read.
I was surprised by how well-written this was and delighted that reading it didn't feel like a waste of time. There are certainly cheesy elements of this book, -- especially some of the romantic sub-plots -- but overall, it's a very intelligent book. The characters have depth, and there's more to their hardships than melodramatic whining. It's definitely a chick book, but it's not mindless drivel. To my surprise, the Southern elements that I expected to be irritating added a charm that I really appreciated. "Southern-isms" tend to be exaggerated to the point of parody in literature and film, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading something that felt a little closer to home.
This isn't a classic to be hailed for years to come or anything, but it's an entertaining, sweet, thoughtful book that I would recommend as a good read for a long weekend or a vacation. As I mentioned before, it's in the vein of Fried Green Tomatoes or Steel Magnolias -- a story about strong women with a bit of Southern charm.
Read January 3, 2010 to January 8, 2010.