24 February 2012

Reading to Know Book Club: Running Away To Home by Jennifer Wilson

First off I apologize for my silence and my need to forego (at least this week...I hope not the next) both the book challenge and the what I read this week posts. Work has been busy. Very busy. I don't really need to go into this too deeply because...I'm not getting paid to do this blog so...hah! No excuses for me!

Next, I had to do this post because I signed on to a book club that I am currently being very lax about. I think because it's online I tend to put it off. It's much easier to stand behind a screen and say, "Oh I just didn't have time to finish this," than it is to stand in front of 8-10 ladies and say, "Oh I just didn't have time to finish this."

That being said, the book pick for this week was by "the other Carrie" (as opposed to my friend Carrie). It was Running Away to Home by Jennifer Wilson. This is what Carrie had to say about it, and this is what the other Carrie had to say (I really loved that she agonized over the decision. I have the same thoughts when I have to recommend a book. It's a shivery thing).

Reading to Know - Book Club

I didn't finish it. But I plan on it! So far, I love it. I love love love love it! Like both of the Carries have noted there is a fair amount of alcohol consumed. Also there is a lot of crude language. Both of these I chose to overlook. I'm a little ashamed that I didn't even think much about the alcohol use until I noticed the Carries talking about it. I did notice the language. The author doesn't make any claim to being a believer, so I just sort of...pushed it to the side. I can't say it didn't bother me, because it did. (And some of the things the children said I would never have dared to say to my parents) I want to just add that caution up front because I don't want people to think my rave has completely ignored that aspect. The excessive drinking and swearing are noted.

That being said, I love travel books. Another secret dream I have (aside from the adventure loving mountain climbing woman I dream that I am) and one that is perhaps a leettle more attainable, is to be a travel writer. I went abroad one time. Ok twice. But it was to the same place (Berlin, Germany) for two weeks. Do you believe in love at first flight? I most definitely do. Traveling the world, meeting different people, eating wacky food, staying in crazy hostels, and getting paid to write about it all sounds like the most delightful thing in the world. So, I have had a blast reading the work of someone I basically want to be when I grow up.

The book is about a family who want to grow together through adventure, and who want to simplify their "middle American lives." So, they go to Croatia. The mother and narrator, Jennifer Wilson, is in a search for her ancestors who came from Croatia. Her family comes with her and lives for a year in the tiny town of Mrkopalj (apparently pronounced MER-ko-pie...those Eastern Europeans really do not like their vowels). The story is an honest account of a family who learns the importance of community and family. Jennifer Wilson's voice is humorous and very open. She conceals nothing of her initial culture shock, and the reader is invited to join her as she learns to adjust to her new life and re-evaluate what is important.

Aside from the personal emotional draw of the book I did enjoy the re-evaluation Wilson and her husband went through during the financial crisis. They had all the "things" we are privileged to have, but they wanted to find what was really important. The part that stood out to me the most was when Ms. Wilson and her husband actually had to sit down and talk again, and she almost felt awkward!

Also, the emphasis on community is fabulous, and something we are probably lacking in America. We have really big houses (I mean compared to the rest of the world). We have home entertainment systems (why leave the house?). We have cars that take us outside our neighborhood (all of my friends live over an hour away...at least!). And has anyone noticed the porch sizes on newer houses compared to older houses? The nice thing about how non-modern Croatia is, is that Croatians still understand what it's like to live in community. The neighbors not only know eachother and are involved in one another's lives, but they take care of eachother. They even have a term "first neighbor" which basically means, the one they trust the most.

Something else I really liked was Ms. Wilson's honesty. She tells a story we can believe. It's not just that her family packed their bags and slid right into the simple life, living off the land, embraced by the entire village, and experiencing immediate harmony. She talks about the good and the bad. She discusses the transition from being "closet shy" to learning how to make friends as an adult. She spares no feelings in her initial experience in Mrkopalj, so much so that you almost think that her plan is completely crazy. Her family had to work to adjust. She had to learn to not be more relaxed. Together they had to learn to love eachother and the little town of Mrkopalj.

Another personal attraction to the story was the characters. I'm a sucker for quirky characters. I just love weird people. Not the weird "kill you in a dark alley" people, but just eccentric and quirky people. Stories about people who are so different from the people around me just have some bizarre fascination for me. Running Away to Home was not lacking in quirky characters. There was the misogynist director of tourism, who gave the Wilsons only one total fact a tourist should know. There was Jennifer Wilson's first friend, Pavice, who told the whole village presumably about Ms. Wilson's "female problems." Not to mention the Wilsons themselves, who seem like funny and adventurous people who could keep you laughing for a while.

Now, truth be told I'm only three-quarters of the way through, but I'll actually probably finish it tonight, and if I completely change my mind in the last quarter I'll let you know. But really, so far, I do think it's a great book. I would issue the same cautions about the drinking and the swearing that the Carries did, but keeping that in mind, I recommend it.


Carrie said...

=D I'm glad you don't like the kind of quirky people who will kill you in a dark alley. Relieves my mind!

Interesting to note about the size of front porches!

(In January it was easy for me to say online that I couldn't finish the book. But I felt accomplished to have finished this one!)

BerlinerinPoet said...

Hahaha! Glad to put you at ease

To be fair, I took a class about Urban Development in America. So, as much as I would love to say I came up with that by my own brilliant powers, I must attribute it to Dr. Green (History professor and my dad-way-from-dad). When I learned that though I was like, Oh my goodness that is SO true!

Yeeeah, I should have finished it, I just got bogged down by a different book (story of my life). I will finish it tonight. I think it's kind of delightful.

*carrie* said...

Enjoyed reading your thoughts on the book--thanks for following along!

the other Carrie =)

BerlinerinPoet said...

And thank YOU for the selection. It was a good one.