BOOK HUNGRY: A Twitter Book Club -- Beauty by Robin McKinley

Posted by Elizabeth Ryann on 5:00 AM in , , , , , , ,
So the official book for October's reading was my responsibility, and, you guys?  I almost caved under the pressure.  I do not like choosing books for other people unless I know them REALLY REALLY well.  That means the only people I don't majorly stress over when I'm asked to recommend books are my mom and my best friend.  That's it.  And "don't majorly stress over" can be translated into "I'm only mildly anxious."  And since all of you are readers, I'm sure you know how often people assume that all books are equal opportunity good, and that you, as a reader, must know which ones are the good ones and can share that secret with them so that they don't have to waste their time or something, sorting through all the other books until they stumble across those gems.  In other words: I get lots of requests to recommend stuff.   And it is total torture.

In my opinion, books are like presents. Everyone likes a good present, right?  The classics are usually like those educational presents that your great aunt gets you for Christmas.  I mean, yeah, it's probably good for you, and you'll likely end up appreciating the learning experience or whatever, but they're rarely truly fun. Science fiction is like those tech gifts that always end up on those magazine lists adamantly declaring that they're the must-have for men, despite the fact that there's no reason women wouldn't like them too (and often do), whether it's a GPS or Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Who Searched (the lovely story about a delightful young girl who grows up to become a spaceship).  And romance novels therefore have to be the generic "girl" gifts of nice smelling soaps, either bland, nice enough, and ubiquitous, like a Danielle Steele novel, or delightfully, unexpectedly rich, the fancy chocolate of "girl" gifts: J.D. Robb.  I'm going to go with J.D. Robb over Nora for the fancy chocolate because I think Eve and Roarke are just as likely to appeal to guys as Godiva is.  The key is picking what you know that specific person will appreciate and making sure you label all the boxes correctly.  I mean, your brother is probably less likely to appreciate that Mary Engelbreit pressure cooker, and your mom likely won't get as much use out of that book on So Gross! facts, you know?

So, back to the book club, and the daunting task of choosing something for everyone to read.  Of course everyone reassured me multiple times that this is about expanding our horizons and you should never try to pick something that everyone will like, and that you should just try to choose something that you think everyone should be exposed to, and of course I promptly ignored that advice because what is this, school?  This is supposed to be fun.  I was all set to choose Robin D. Owens' Heart Fate when one club member mentioned that she doesn't enjoy reading any graphic love scenes, so I double checked, and the love scenes were a touch more graphic than I remember, so I nixed that idea.  Though it's a delightful book, for anyone who really likes a slightly different romance novel, with some unexpected depth to the story.  That particular series is fun, though you don't have to read them all to get what's going on, but that book in particular stood out for me.

So now that you guys all have context for why I chose what I chose, and since reading is all about context, I felt compelled to share.  You're welcome. 

I chose Beauty by Robin McKinley, which no one else had read, and which I reread at least once a year.  This is the book I choose whenever I need some comforting, or snuggling under the blankets on a rainy Saturday morning, and it's just really well done. It's lyrical and lovely, and immerses you immediately into the world and pacing of the fairy tale. She has a gift for writing animals, and making the magic in an atmosphere fairly shimmer off a page, and I love her for it. She doesn't reinvent the wheel or anything, but sometimes the basics done really well can be even more enjoyable, and she nails the rhythm of old-fashioned storytelling so well that even when she writes completely original works (like the absolutely delightful The Blue Sword), you can almost swear you've heard the story years ago, candles flickering beside your bedside, as your mother told it to you while playing with your hair until you fell asleep.  I also like that because this book is called Beauty, and not Beauty and the Beast, we get a more well-rounded look at Beauty herself, and the life she leads that made her the person she is, until she stumbles into magic and quietly breaks a curse.  I thought the real magic should come through during the love story section, and it does. That helps make that part of the book feel more special, more magical, and more complete in the transformation from where she was (boring "plain" Honour, normal girl with normal hard knocks) to where she ends up (magical in-love "Beauty," fairy tale princess). The contrast works for me.  I liked that we get to spend so much time with her, really understanding where she comes from and how she, specifically, fits as The Beast's love interest. I just loved the down-to-earth-ness of her, the contrasts of her life, the eventual magic, the sistery-goodness of the early parts of the book (I only have a brother so they can dwell on how awesome it is to have a sister all the livelong day, as far as I'm concerned), and the seriously great animal characterizations (Greatheart fangirl in the house!).

Normally slower pacing annoys the crap out of me, but when McKinley uses it, it feels less like it's about being slow and more like it's about style--especially since this story is about the telling, and not particularly about the plot. We're all familiar with the basics before the story even starts, and there's no real surprises here.  I personally find it really relaxing, since it adds to the otherwordly fairy-tale-ness of it all for me, by just kind of immersing me in the experience of the story.  Basically, this book is like getting into a really hot jacuzzi. You kind of ease into it slowly, and each muscle relaxes as you do--but you can't just plop down and feel more relaxed. It's the process of doing it that gets you where you want to end up.

Have you guys read it?  What do you think?

Or if you'd prefer to see what the rest of the book club thought, feel free to visit them:





I hear you about recommending books--tastes are so subjective that it's hard to know exactly what somebody else will enjoy. All I ever do is say, "Well, I really liked such-and-such," and then tell why it appealed to me, personally. IOW, let the buyer beware. ;)

That said, BEAUTY sounds like something that would appeal to me. I'm a sucker for fairy tales.

i just love your writing and your explanations, E. i wish i had heard all this BEFORE i read BEAUTY. it would have put me in a more proper (read: less Disney) frame of mind. heck, it makes me want to snuggle under my Snuggie and re-read it with a cup of hot chocolate in my hand.

also, high five for Greatheart!

and one more thing -- your gift giving/book recommendation analogy at the beginning of this is priceless. well done.

Please don't stress about recommending books some of us won't like. I didn't like Beauty, but I enjoyed this month's discussion and review. I agree with Abby; I wish I'd read this before reading the book, to get into the proper mind frame.

BTW, you did give me a priceless gift with this selection... you taught me that while we all have so much in common, we also have our differences. We're free to celebrate them without anyone feeling insulted. Thank you so much for that.

Hey your recommendation was the best so far, because it did start to show our differences in what we choose to like and choose to read. Pulling people out of their comfort zone is a good thing and this being the first one that sparked some serious debate was awesome.

Reading for book club is great but my favorite part is seeing what everyone thought. I loved this choice even if I didn't love the book. It made me review how I have matured as a reader and changed. I bet if I had read this as a younger version of myself I would have loved it too and been reading it once a year just like you do.

I have a story that I do that with and all these years later, yes I can see where it is for a younger audience but I don't care because it makes me feel closer to my Gram and takes me back to that time when I first discovered reading and how it became such a part of my life.

I hear you on choosing books for peeps you're not quite sure as to their tastes, and I'm so guilty of telling people "I read everything" (because it's true...but that really doesn't help the person doing the reccommending, now does it?) Anyway, I think you did a fantastic job in choosing this month's selection. We can't always pick a book that everyone likes. The key is to pick something that will make us discuss the particular points (merits and faults) of a book that stood out. And, you did it well.

Oh, and I, too, am a proud member of the Greatheart fan club ;)

Glad you went with your heart on Beauty. It was still lovely even if we all didn't love it (well, I liked it at least).

Linda: I do that too! But I find that people skip listening to the "I think" part way too frequently. But then, listening skills are kind of a lost art nowadays anyway. :)

Abby: Haha, I tried to warn you guys! But I figured those emails just kept getting lost in the shuffle, since I ended up announcing Beauty as my pick, like, six or seven times. I even ended the recommendation with something along the lines of "even if you don't like it, it's interesting to read as a writer from a stylistic standpoint, since it's so different from a lot of what's out there." I swear I did. Plus, it was written before Belle, so RM had no way of knowing that singing dishes were going to be de rigueur. ;)

Patty: Haha, you're very welcome! :)

Kelly: Exactly, it's total comfort reading. Though interestingly, this book was originally marketed towards adults, and then later it was given a new cover and marketed towards YA. So maybe the publishers had some similar thoughts.

Karla: Thanks, Karla! And just for the record, yeah, I would find you totally difficult to shop for. ;) Also, Greatheart simply rocks. He was one of the reasons I wanted a horse when I was growing up.

Alyson: I'm glad you liked it! And seriously, thanks for speaking up about what you actually do enjoy and don't enjoy reading, since that's really really helpful to know. And I'm sorry if it felt like I was grilling you at the time. :)

I love everything Robin McKinley writes. Beauty has a haunting quality that comes back to me. Interestingly, Robin wrote the Beauty & the Beast story twice - the other is called Rose Daughter. She wasn't satisfied with her first attempt. What a great place to be in publishing, that you get to do that.

i just heard yesterday about ROSE DAUGHTER. i find it incredibly fascinating that one author has written two re-tellings of the same fairy tale. and now, with Jeffe's statement that it's because she wasn't satisfied with her first attempt? i might have to add RD to my library queue....

Thank you, Jeffe!

Abby, I actually liked Beauty more than Rose Daughter (though I still really liked Rose Daughter), but it does have a more magical otherworldly feeling right from the beginning. I'd definitely be interested in your thoughts, if you do end up picking it up.


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