Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

A Smorgasbord of Reading


I’ve been gobbling up The Hunger Games trilogy in tandem with my two daughters (they’re reading it in German) and while many of the scenes are incredibly moving, there were no parts of the books I needed to reread for the beauty of the words. Collins is brilliant at plot and she has a cast of memorable characters, led by the inimitable Katniss (such a superstar heroine compared to the dweeb who MC-ed Twilight, name utterly forgotten). I have images in my mind from the novels, whole scenes washing around in my head, but no words. Collins is a world-builder, a plotter and an ace at character, but perhaps not a poet.

The second book I’ve bounced through this week is the much-awaited (by me) The Obamas by Jodi Kantor. Longterm blog readers will know that I was an averred Obama fan. I howled big salty tears at his inauguration, had his poster up in my office and even stopped highlighting my hair in solidarity with his peppery side-burns. Like many, I grew disillusioned with his apparent inability to ring the changes and rise above the bipartisan US politics as he promised the world he would. When we moved house, his poster was relegated to the garage.

The Obamas is a very reasoned attempt to explain why this disillusionment happened for so many, how much it frustrated the first couple and how hard they are both still working to bring changes that will make differences in ordinary people’s lives. My respect for him was largely restored (though Guantanamo and the treatment of Bradley Manning are still blemishes), and my respect for Michelle Obama is hugely increased. I read The Obamas for facts and for the insight of Jodi Kantor, a journalist who followed them closely for years and interviewed hundreds of people for the book. It was engrossing, but dry.

Now I’m doing a third kind of reading. I’m late to the party with Lorrie Moore’s A Gate At The Stairs and I knew in advance that I was likely to enjoy it, given the many glowing reviews. But I had no idea how much. Moore is in love with language. She delights in great sentences and I am having to read some of them twice or three times just for the fun, the lightness, the poetry that they offer. Here is one where the main character describes the mosquitoes on her parents’ farm:

Mosquitoes with tiger-striped bodies and the feathery beards of an iris, their wings and legs the dun wisps of an unbarbered boy, their spindly legs the tendrils of an orchid, the blades of a gnome’s sleigh.

And here’s a great pair about the strangeness of coming home after having left for university:

At home in Dellacrosse my place in the world of college and Troy and incipient adulthood dissolved and I became an unseemly collection of jostling former selves. Snarkiness streaked through my voice, or sullenness drove me behind a closed door for hours at a time.

I’m only 63 pages in, so I have a lot of great sentences ahead of me. Sigh! What a lucky, lucky reader I am. I can tell that Lorrie Moore is about to be put on the list of favourites and her back-list hunted out.

To use my husband’s favourite software analogy, reading The Hunger Games is like eating popcorn (light, fluffy, but oddly compelling), reading The Obamas is like eating broccoli (healthy and enlightening), but reading A Gate At The Stairs is like eating the perfect meal at the perfect moment with the perfect person. It’s apt. It’s delicious. And it’s memorable.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

11 thoughts on “A Smorgasbord of Reading

  1. Sigh – I really do feel something like heartache for the Obamas, Charlotte. I think the (liberal) world’s expectations were unreasonable… They were never going to be able to deliver what we all so badly wanted – needed – from his taking office with a dynamite wife by his side. It was always going to be a tragedy of dashed hopes and it makes me want to cry when I think how sleepless this luckless job must have made such good, smart and hardworking people. He is, after all, just a man. A very decent man, I still believe – and that is a rare enough sight in contemporary politics that I’m more depressed about the whole than disappointed in him personally.

  2. My TBR pile wobbled a bit at the end of your post but I’m heading out anyway to get a copy of “A Gate at the Stairs.” Sounds like an amazing read.

  3. That is a very nice way to describe The Hunger Games. Like popcorn.
    I agree that the language does not stay with you but the scenes and setting do make an impression. It has been a long time since any book has held me quite so fast to its pages. Light and fluffy it certainly is, but by crikey it was compelling to read. I finished all three books in four days. That is not a common occurrence around here at the moment.
    I’m not sure how long the story will last in my mind, but the sensation of compulsion to keep reading certainly will.

  4. I have to read The Hunger Games! At least before the movie comes out. That is also a good review of the Obama book. It will be very interesting to see if his reputation bounces back in time for the election later this year.

  5. I really like Lorrie Moore’s writing; it’s fab. But I find her a frustrating plotter; she has brilliant elements to her stories but can never quite draw them together in satisfying patterns – she’s too wild and random for that. But I love her anyway. As for the poor Obama’s, I think we forget that most of what new Presidents have to do is deal with the hideous messes left by the outgoing President. Mr Litlove was commenting just the other day that the more that comes out about Bush’s administration, the more horrified and angry he feels. Plus I’m with Di – we did expect Obama to walk on water, pretty much.

  6. “Collins is a world-builder, a plotter and an ace at character, but perhaps not a poet.” Couldn’t agree more. Interestingly, she started as a script writer – does this have anything to do with it?

  7. I’ve jsut finished gobbling down the Hunger Games – totally agree wiht you about it being plot and character driven…but light and fluffy? That third book was harrowing – maybe popcorn with lots of salt and vinegar.

  8. Hello Charlotte! I am Malte Zeeck with While looking for great expat blogs on Germany I stumbled upon yours and was instantly convinced by your great writing and contents! I am sure that the members of our expat network will feel the same way. I would love to share your great blog with our community on We will not only feature and link to your blog, but also give you the opportunity to tell us a little bit about yourself in our questionnaire. We have also designed a badge of quality for placement on your blog.
    If you are interested, I would love to hear back from you. Please contact me via mail:
    Malte Zeeck

  9. I have so much to say about ALL of your reading but I will try and be brief…firstly, completely agree on the Hunger Games – she is a world builder. Those books were GREAT when I was conducting marathon nursing sessions with E but in terms of poetry, meh, not so much. Secondly, REALLY? I think our President has fought through a ton of bipartisan insanity and accomplished ALOT. It drives me nuts how everyone expected magic in two years when it took a minimum of eight, if not longer, to get us in the messes we are in. I think he has a ton of integrity and his accomplishments regarding health care alone are great. A-hem. Stepping off that soapbox, re: A Gate At The Stairs…loved the whole book but it must be said the last line is THE best last line of any book I have ever read, ever. I can’t wait to hear what you think!

  10. Hi!

    I am the Books editor at Before It’s News ( Our site is a rapidly growing people-powered news platform currently serving over 3 million visits a month. We like to call ourselves the “YouTube of news.”

    We would like to republish your content on our site. Our visitors would love to read it, and find out more about you as a blogger, author, and/or editor.

    You can also post excerpts of your books directly on our site (if you have any). I can tell you more about that part if you want.

    It’s a great opportunity to spread the word about your work and reach new readers.

    We will be featuring and promoting books, excerpts, posts, and reviews on our homepage, on Twitter, Facebook, in our newsletter, and more.

    Please let me know what you think.

    Sebastian Clouth

  11. Be proud of your big salty tears.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s