Saturday, December 8, 2012

Holiday Gift Guide-2012

It has been a great year for book buying, book finding, book giving and books in general, but for me it has not been a great year for actually getting down to the business of reading books.  So much to read and so little time to read it.  I still find great comfort in entering bookstores and libraries, honing in immediately to the stacks of books, and piling them next to me to figure out what to read first.  I love getting a note from the library:  your book is ready and there it is waiting patiently on the shelf for me to check out and enjoy.  But during the last half of this year, I started considerably more books then I finished.  My appetite proved to be way larger then my brain could process.

My morning routine consists of packing lunches and which books I might possibly get to read that day. Often, I am realisitic and bring just one, but I can carry as many as five books into work, hoping against all hope that i might get to choose and read from more than one.  It rarely happened.
So for my holiday giving guide--the best of the books that I still hope to finish.  All have been returned to the local public library.



A GREAT GIFT FOR ALL WOMEN

We've always loved and admired Anna Quindlen. She is us.  She  reflects our hopes and dreams and parenting styles.  We love her journalism; we love her fiction.  Her words ring true.  So here is her memoir--words about family, faith, career and love. She is 60 and hitting her stride.  I don't know anyone woman who wouldn't love to read this memoir.  I'm on page 43!

              

ANOTHER GREAT GIFT FOR WOMEN

Susan Gubar is a professor of English and Women's studies here at IU.  She is famous for editing the Norton Anthology of Women's Literature during the time people were figuring out that it might be important to recognize women's literature.  In 2008 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and sentenced to an early death.  Well she survived and wrote this fabulous, raw and amazing book about her ordeal.  Notably, she held a public reading of this work here in Bloomington and invited her oncologist to read the poems she (the oncologist) had written right beside her.  It was the most talked about literary event of this year.  I returned it to the library at chapter three. Someone has since leant me another copy.  I have hope I will finish it.


A GREAT COFFE TABLE BOOK and GIFT FOR A WOMAN


For Christmas last year my husband gave me this fabulous collection of photographs by Nancy HIller and Kendall Reeves.  The subject is women's homes, beautifully imagined and decorated and lived in.  They are small, big, victorian, town homes, city homes, barns. They are lavishly decorated with heirlooms and found items and art and personality. Each home is written about with love and intrigue.  When the book was launched the authors had a great exhibition at a local gallery that we attended.  Thanks to my husband who gave me a beautiful book I can feel free to leaf through all year and not be obliged to finish. This is the wonder of the coffee table book.  

GREAT GIFT FOR A CHILD OR A PARENT WHO WOULD RATHER PLAY THAN COOK

Out of the blue I recalled this lovely old book I used to check out from my public library as a kid.  Mud Pies and Other Recipes by Marjorie Winslow was a child's cookbook for making wood chip stew and dandelion lollipops and of course, the best kind of mud pies.  The copy from the library was stained with grass and dirt and lovingly used over and over again for every tea party with dolls any girl ever held.  I don't know what made me remember it, but I had to have it and lucky me it was not out of print.  I will have to haunt the used bookstores to find one that has all the lovely grass stains that I remember, but at least I have this one to share with my daughter when she is ready to start cooking for her dolls.


A GREAT GIFT FOR ANYONE WHO LIKES TO LAUGH


Mike Bribiglia is famous for his storytelling routines often broadcast on public radio's This American Life. This year he came out with a film autobiography called Sleepwalk with Me, basically his memoirs about sleepwalking when the stress hits life.  This is the book that the movie is based on--or perhaps this book is based on his movie which is based on his comedy/storytelling routines. I just read that the movie is available on i-tunes.  I will probably download and watch that since even though the book is funny, I don't think I am going to get to finish it but someone on your gift lift might love it!
I wish all my readers--all three of you--the best book filled Holiday season there could possibly be.  I am going to intentionally take a vacation until after the first of the year in order to possibly get some reading done.  I'll be back with more good reads in 2013.  Namaste.

~Esmerelda

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Adventures of a One Breasted Woman by Susan Cummings

This was my latest Early Review.  Fifteen chapters of interrelated essays about coping in the aftermath of breast cancer.  The author reminds me of many of the women in my writing circle who write exclusively on one subject and have many personal points of view and interesting side angles to a single topic.

I was worried it would be a rehash of all the events leading up to and during her ordeal, but it was as described in the title: reclaiming her moxie after cancer.

Some of the chapters were more interesting and better written then others, but overall it was satisfying, and Susan Cummings does write some lovely prose.  I specifically liked the chapter on faith which deals with signs and symbols and feelings that some otherworldly presence is looking out for her (or are they?) and a great chapter on a specific friendship in four parts, which had a bittersweet ending.

Overall I began to feel sorry for  Susan because the sadnesses in her life (not even related to cancer) seemed to build up and build up, but she saved her good news for last and the memoir had a satisfying, upbeat ending.  A small coda at the end had her planning for her own funeral and death which seemed slightly macabre, but it was interesting food for thought.

I am lending this book to a few one breasted friends I know, but I am sure it is available on Amazon and will definitely save it for anyone who would like to read it.


Friday, November 9, 2012

In honor of the recent events

Like many in this country, I have been mesmerized by the recently past election.  I discovered this book a few months ago and have been slowly working my way through it.  It is fascinating and I thought I'd share it for folks who want to know and understand more about the presidency.

The Presidents Club is the group of past presidents who endeavor to help and advise the sitting president.  No matter the party, these men have a singular view that is shared by a very very few other men.  They form a camaraderie simply to support, assist and advise each other.  Fun fact:  did you know that the only time in modern history that we have been without a president's club is under Richard Nixon?  Or that it was former presidents that counseled Al Gore to give up the fight again George Bush in 2000?  They told him that to continue the challenge was to challenge the legitimacy of the presidency. In retrospect this seems like wise advice.

So this is the book about how Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea to help get the release of two journalists or how Richard Nixon had to lay low when Reagan was elected, but secretly sent him a lot of letters of advice or how Herbert Hoover, much reviled, came out of retirement to make peace with Truman and help feed Europe in the aftermath of World War II.

This is a fascinating historical account of a little examined group of men.  Available at your local bookstore or library.



Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gone GIrl by Gillian Flynn

Dear Readers,

So sorry I have been so absent from the book world.  My life has been a confluence of events--way to complicated to go into here that have precluded me from reading much more than the newspaper and cereal boxes.  But I have finished a thrilling, page turning, New York Times best selling book that I wanted to share with you.

You may have heard of Gone Girl. It is on every bookshelf and every list.  A missing woman, a suspicious husband, an elaborate plan.  It has many twists and turns and is the kind of book you can read in a day or if you need to put it down to eat, perhaps a weekend.

My only bit of criticism was that by the end--it did get a bit predictable.  Not totally predictable, but by the last hundred or so pages I could see where the author was going with it.  Disturbing book, great read, perfect for the airplane or beach.  Long wait list at the library--it should be out in paperback soon.

Happy Fall! Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

January First

Wow!  Captivating story of a father whose small child exhibits symptoms and is eventually diagnosed as schizophrenic.  Michael Schofield takes us through about three years in the life of his family as they grapple with his severely disturbed daughter and all the ups and downs of caring for someone you love who causes you so much pain. 

I could not put this story down. I turned the pages to find out if they ever felt relief, if they ever got a correct diagnosis, or if they adjusted her medication so that she could be calm and stop hearing voices.  I turned pages to make sure Michael and his wife stayed married and if their son Bodhi survived the onslaught of sister malice.

It was a raw energetic work, and yes, it was written too soon.  The girl in the story January "Jani" Schofield is probably not even 10 years old yet, so I know there is a lot more to this story and I do think given time, a different story might be written.  But in this instance, the recentness of the story, works.  There is a real immediacy that makes my pulse quicken.  This tale needed to be told.  January is one of the youngest children to be diagnosed as schizophrenic.  It does not normally present in children so young.

The author has produced a blog so that interested readers can follow along with  the progress his daughter makes and how is family is coping.  

This is a stunning, gut wrenching, draining story of a father's struggle to maintain his own sanity, keep his family safe and try to do right by his little girl.  I can't recommend it enough.  It was out in print on August 7th so you can probably find it on-line or at your local bookseller.  I am glad to lend mine as well.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Le Road Trip

One of my favorite books  of the past few years was a little talked about memoir/sketchbook about a traveling woman who decided to stay put: When Wanderers Cease to Roam.  Her book and drawings and musings about life off the road were so captivating and so thought provoking that it sent me on several writing journeys of my own.  I give it as a gift quite frequently, and I use it for prompts for the many writing circles I run.

When Vivian Swift published this second book modeled much after the first, I knew without looking that I wanted a copy.  She recounts her roadtrip to France that she takes with her new husband.  What they see, where they go and those little travel adventures you have when visiting a foreign country.

Le Road Trip: A Traveler's Journal of Love and France is much like Wanderers in that it is a beautiful book with quirky observations, lovely sketches of all the author does and sees, a breakdown of the phases of a trip from beginning to the inevitable bad travel days to the parting.  This journal is full of reminiscences of past trips, quotes, and the little details that many over look: a mermaid door, the color of the sunset, a cat at a rooming house,  a particular cheese and wine at a cafe.

Ms Swift is taking a post wedding trip with her new husband, a man who is clearly her kindred spirit, so this book in a way is something of a love story--or perhaps a love tribute.   Because of the eclectic, poetic nature of the book, I am a little unclear as to how long the trip was and some of the day to day itinerary was a tad jumbled.  But it really did not matter.  The whole journal was a tribute to adventurers and travelers every where.  It made me a lot nostalgic for the road and anxious to try my hand at my high school french in Paris.  Everything is better with croissant.

Fun fact: did you know that France is the number one tourist destination by far?

This is another lovely book worth owning. Buy it if you can.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

All gone: a memoir with refreshments

There is a scene somewhere in the middle of this book that I can't quite shake.  The author is a teenager-frustrated with math homework, and stands up and makes a gesture at the skies as if to say, "I give up."  The author's father mistakenly thinks his daughter is going to hit him and punches her in the face.  She retreats to her room and her mother comes in and demands that she go apologize, "your father thought you were going to hit him first," she says.

I recount the scene because it is shocking and because it illustrates a bit about what was off about this memoir.  All Gone, a memoir ostensibly about Alex Witchel's mother's descent into depression and dementia, had this strange undercurrent of a story about her relationship with her father that was only hinted at and seemed the true story of this memoir.

Ms Witchel clearly loves her mother beyond all measure and is devastated to watch her formerly strong, independent, educated mother fall into mental disarray.  It is a very true story to which many of us can relate.  Her writing is clear and unadorned and when she finally settles down to tell the story, during the last half of the book, it comes through quite sadly and clearly.

But up until then the book seemed to be all over the place, a bit about childhood, a bit about nana, a bit about how she got to be a writer, some food writing,  and little stories and anecdotes about her horrible relationship with her father.

It felt not quite ready to be written.  This is a complaint I have made frequently about memoirs, and I think this is a perfect example.  At the time of this writing it appears that her mother and her father are still alive. The story feels like it is still in full swing to me and not over yet. It also explains why she may not have explored as much about her relationship with her father as she should have.  The missing stories about him could fill another chapter or two.

The author is a food writer by trade and includes food memories and recipes throughout which I always love. I am definitely going to try her potato latkes.

I recommend this book if you have a parent going through end of life issues related to dementia or if you love food memories and recipes wound up in the narrative. It is an early review book and I would be glad to share it with anyone who asks.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Found Book

A friend found this on a book swap table in my office, and when I expressed interest she handed it over to me.  It was a short, sweet, afternoon read.   Nora Ephron wrote a lot of award winning screenplays and books, most notably, one of my favorite movies: When Harry Met Sally. The observational every day humor she uses in the movies comes through in her short essays.  The last few chapters clearly point to the fact that she knew she was dying, so finishing the book leaves a little lump.  Her humor addressed aging, technology and memory and parts left me laughing out loud.

Ms Ehpron died this past summer of pneumonia brought on by leukemia with which she was diagnosed in 2006.

Fun side note from wikipedia: Nora was married for a few years to Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame.  She always knew who deep throat was and would tell anyone who asked. No one believed her.

Good airplane read or rainy day on the porch.  I remember Nora Ephron.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Eyes Right: Confessions of a Woman Marine

Oh I had big plans this month. I had three memoirs on my stack about life in the military.  August was going to be the month of the soldier.  The plan sounded great, the books looked fabulous, but life got a bit nuts this month.  Sleep took priority over reading.  Just putting one foot in front of the other took priority over reading.

Last night though I finally finished this slim little volume, confessions of a woman marine.  Tracy Crow waited the right amount of time to tell her story of life in the 70's and 80's as a member of the largely male marine corps.  She became a member of the public affairs office and spent her 10 year career snapping photos and writing stories of war and the preparations for war during the Reagan era.  Some of what she put herself through was truly harrowing.  She has a journalists sensibility for telling the stories of how she came to enlist, marine corps training, and how she broke into certain places to get her story (cause she was a woman and wouldn't normally be allowed in).  The narrative was lean and spare (just the facts m'am.)

The framing device was the story of how she was fired and almost court-martialed because of an affair she had with a colonel.  The affair was short and happened during a separation with her husband and the colonel himself was single, but the Marines considered her indiscretions conduct unbecoming an officer.  So on the same day she was promoted, she was also fired and had to pack her bags and move out on a distinguished 10 year career.

I was impressed by the order in which she told her story and the focus she gave the actual affair.  After alluding to it, dancing around the edges of it, telling us how she initially met the colonel, about packing her desk and her harrowing interview with the attorney where she refused to confirm or deny the allegations (what, you can do that?), she told the story of the affair in a few short paragraphs at the very end.  The sad tale of a very short time with a man she clearly loved and said good-bye to. She never saw him again.  He died 11 years later.

I can't get over how skillfully she ended the story and did not need to dwell on the actual affair.  It was the story but still it wasn't.  What the story was about was that she had a glorious career and it ended because of this affair.  She managed a little poker trick to avoid court martial and further avoid the colonel from being court-martialed.  Did he know what she did and how she saved them?

I think some readers might be dismayed not to get more of the salacious details of love, but truly she pitched it perfectly with respect to the man he was and what they may have shared for a short time.  Her telling of the tale felt unique and spot on. It will give me something to think about when choosing how to unveil a personal story. Available at the library.

So what did you prioritize this month?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

One hot afternoon during the era in which you've gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up in heroin, you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She'll offer you one of the balloons, but you won't take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You're wrong.  You do.  --Cheryl Strayed

I have always been an avid reader of advice columns.  I came of age reading Dear Abby and Ann Landers, loved the dry wit of Miss Manners, found special wisdom in consumer help columns and most recently, fell in love with the modern practical humor and wisdom of Dear Prudence.

I read them religiously, pose my own questions (in my head) frequently, and curiously wait to see what their responses will be. What will mine be?  What set of moral values do they set their standards by and do they follow them?  Advice columns are an endless source of story and inspiration.

As you may recall, a few months back, I read a great travel memoir by a new writer named Cheryl Strayed.  Her voice was clear and compelling as she told her story of backpacking on the Pacific Coast Trail, and I looked forward to her next writing.  I stumbled upon it this week in the bookstore and bought it without question.  (This is how much I like her writing.  I knew I would want to own it and keep it.)

Cheryl Strayed writes an on-line advice column under the name Dear Sugar.  Dear Sugar writes clear compelling advice to her readers (in response to letters of course) but also writes her own memoirs and tiny stories as a way of illustrating life lessons.  Nothing here is boring.  All her responses feel spot on and you sense her empathy and conviction through the power of her words.  I loved every letter and every response.  She eclipses any other advice columnist in beauty and compelling argument.  I am going to buy these by the bundle and give them as gifts for all occasions.  Marriage, baby, job crisis, death in the family, middle age crazies...it is all right here. Look no further. These are real letters from real writers and her responses are her own: a collection of columns that is both help, self help and memoir.  Look no further for a great summer read.

This is the best book I have read this summer, and I put Ms. Strayed on my list of writers to see if I am ever able. She is so honest and forthright about her own failings and grief that you cannot help but love her.  The epigraph at the top of the page--written in second person--is her own story.

 You can borrow this from me but if you wait long enough, I might buy it for you.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

All I ever wanted to learn about competitive birding

I met my first birders on a trip around the world by ship.  Many of them haunted the top decks of the ship watching for sea birds with their 20x binoculars. I learned about petrels and boobies and shearwaters and gulls...always the gulls.  In particular, there was a young man, a teenager, who was particularly smitten with birds.  Seeing a gull or a masked boobie, produced a look on this young man's face that lit up the ship. I have never known anyone quite like him, and though I never got into birding myself, he produced in me a lifelong affinity for birders. 

This book appeared on the shelves at Borders a few years ago, and I admired it and considered buying it, but opted not to.  I forgot about it until last week when I accidentally happened upon a movie of the same name starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson.

The Big Year is about competitive bird watching (I know--seems like an oxymoron).  People compete to see who can see the most birds in the US in a single calendar year. The book features three men who vie for the title and shows what hardships, deprivation, discomfort and money they will spend in order to catch a rare species and beat the competition.  The book was a journalistic account--written after the year was over and based on extensive interviews with the top three birders.

The movie, written by the journalist who wrote the book, Mark Obmascik, changed some basic details to make the storylines more compelling, but followed the general arc of the competition that was presented in the book.  Believe it or not you do cheer for a winner, you do become intersted in birding, and how to find the rarest of the rare species.  I don't think either book or movie really delved into what makes these people do what they do. Is it the thrill of the chase? The beauty of the birds?  The love of nature? I was never really sure, but it all made for lively story telling.

I think now of my old friend on the ship.  He'd be in his late thirties by now. I assume that once you are a birder you are always a birder, and I hope he read this book and continues with his life list. Perhaps he has even completed a big year. 

It is hard to choose which is better, the book or the movie, especially since the movie has Steve Martin and who doesn't love Steve Martin?  I'd check them both out and then grab your binoculars. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Poetic Cookbook or Poetry about Food

Tamar Adler has written this wonderfully poetic book about cooking and food. There are a few recipes but more importantly she philosophizes on how to cook with what you have in the kitchen, how to make something grand out of simple ingredients, and really, how to live.

She uses and advocates for copious amounts of olive oil and salt, has finally helped me to understand how and why to use all that extra parsley, and she teaches how to cook things ahead of time so that you can enjoy roasted vegetables and egg all week without having to fuss every night.  I understand the importance of tasting all the time so that you can begin to understand how cooking works.  She includes no times for how long food cooks because every cook and every kitchen and every time is different.

She makes cooking and kitchen work and feeding friends and family seem like an act of the divine.  I am having momentary images of clearing out my refrigerator of all processed foods and filling it with see through containers of salsa verde and roasted eggplant and chopped cilantro, and I think I have to get rid of the microwave to make room for the 55 gallon drum of olive oil I will need to buy.

I don't mean to make fun at all; An Everlasting Meal is a lovely book and I want to own it and refer to it often (this one is a library book) so I can create food easily and effortlessly and also, understand how to use all the parts of food--stems and peels and bones. Alas, cleaning out my refrigerator and spending all day Sunday roasting vegetables might have to wait for another lifetime.  It sounds like a grand adventure from the comfort of my living room chair.

Better yet, perhaps Tamar would be my friend and invite me to her table once in awhile.  Thanks to her for this lovely book on food and cooking.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Imagine

Suddenly this summer, this book appeared on all the bookstore shelves. It seemed to be everywhere I rested my gaze. I resisted it for awhile then, of course, placed it on my library list.  Imagine: How Creativity Works reminded me a lot of the works of Malcolm Gladwell.  Jonah Lehrer takes an idea, in this case, how the creative mind works, and delves into the exploration of that idea through a wide variety of stories and anecdotes.  He backs up his stories with current brain science and social science that helps us to understand why humans can create and how they create.

The book is divided into two parts.  Part I is the story of how individuals create: the origin of those eureka moments, why we need to become more like children in order to be more creative, the necessity of getting away from a problem to solve it.  Part II is how teams become creative.  Lehrer delves into the fascinating story of Pixar Studios, the importance of a seasoned team (with a few newcomers) in creating top entertainment, and why cities make us more creative.

I read it quickly, talked about it at the dinner table and will use a few of its lessons and quotes in my writing workshops.  I highly recommend this great 2012 read.  Library or bookstore, I think you can find it everywhere.



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ghost Written

Once again, I picked up a tell all, behind the scenes, pseudo-celebrity tale, The End of Normal by Stephanie Madoff Mack.  This was the story behind the great Ponzi schemer and notorious crook, Bernie Madoff.  More specifically, Bernie's daughter-in-law, wife of his son Mark, has written her tale, proclaiming her husband's innocence and the great tragedy that befell her and her family when Bernie came tumbling down.

Ms Mack has a sad story to tell and like many memoirs of late, it really needs more time before it can be properly told.  The writer's wrath and anger and vitriol at her horrible misfortune is too fresh.  I would love to read the book she would write in 20 years.  The book is way too angry, and I found myself actually feeling sorry for Ruth Madoff, who she paints as a horrible human being for no other reason than refusing to divorce her husband.

So, if you are interested in this chapter in American financial history, and a version of the story as told by a family member, it is worth reading. It is quite sorrowful (Ms Mack's husband cannot handle the pressure and commits suicide while he is home alone with their baby son.) and could easily be a primer on how to mourn and, again, as always, a testament to the healing powers of telling your story.

But more than anything it made me wonder about the profession of ghost writing.  I noticed after I was almost finished with the book, that there was a second author, a ghost writer, whose name was on the cover page inside.  I wondered what that would be like, to sit by someone who had a front row seat to history, and to talk with her and then piece together her story in a meaningful way: one that suited the teller of the tale, made sense, and was told with drama.  Anyone know how I can get a ghost writing gig? Or better yet, hire me to write your story? I would love to listen.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Ahh Billy Collins

Billy Collins is the rock star of the poetry world.  I was at a live performance/taping of A Prairie Home Companion once and Garrison Keillor's guest star was none other than poet Billy Collins. If Prairie Home Companion Fans swoon, then swoon they did over this short balding man.  Will you sign my arm Mr Collins?

Billy Collins made it cool to write poems that you could access easily, read in one sitting, and walk away feeling like you had read something profound.  He also makes you know, without a doubt, that you could be a poet too.

This is the first book of poetry I have ever purchased, and I felt proud to know and love this collection.  I have read it twice now, and I enjoyed every one.  Mr. Collins turns an ordinary activity into a profound revelation.  Pick up any of his books, google his name, find him on poetr.com.  He is always magnificent.  Go ahead, you can be a poet too. Swoon.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Brooklyn Zoo by Darcy Lockman

This is the second ER book I have been asked to review written about a NYC mental hospital.  I think I rolled my eyes a bit when I got it in the mail.  This one took place in a less toni hospital in Brooklyn that was over taxed, under staffed, and generally scruffy.  The writer, a psychology intern, tries to make sense of her year of experiences: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Darcy Lockman seems largely unlikable to me. Her peers apparently agree as she shares the horrifying moment when her supervisor tells her that while she is an adequate therapist, no one particularly likes her.  That section of the book endeared me to her.   Can you imagine, building up a sort of hatred for a memoirist, wondering why she got into this field of work because she clearly has disdain for everyone and everything and then having her confess that everyone feels the same way?  I kind of loved that angle.  You are redeemable Darcy Lockwood.  Really!

Ms Lockwood profiles many encounters with patients, the ups and down of working in the most notorious mental hospital in NYC, the supervisory struggles she has, the definite conflict between psychologists and psychiatrists (Guess which group of people looks down their noses at the other?), and the often backwards approaches to therapy many well meaning professionals take when the setting is less then ideal.

I both loved and hated this book.  It did get a little dull at times, but she did have some interesting observations and insights into psychology and mental hospitals.  Her own story was the most compelling and had sort of a sweet ending. The year she learned to love and now loves to learn from.  I recommend this if you are at all interested in a career in therapy or the ins and outs of a mental health professional.  It is more personal that the first one I reviewed.

I'd love to loan it to anyone.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Red House by Mark Haddon

I was thoroughly excited when I saw this book on the ER list two months ago and very bummed that I did not get chosen to review it.  I put my self on the library list immediately.

Mark Haddon wrote one of my favorite novels: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.  This was his first novel, and it was an instant hit. I adore this novel told from the point of view of an autistic boy who must solve a family mystery. (Read it, if you haven't.  It is beautiful.)

Unfortunately, this second novel falls very far from the brilliance and sweetness of the first.  I really had to work to get through it, and I really never fell in love with any character. In fact, I really had a hard time understanding a lot of it.

Eight characters come together for a family vacation.  Two families spend a week together in The Red House and negotiate complicated relationships, ruminate on loss and love, parent, have small adventures, and eat.  Each of the 8 characters has a point of view and each point of view is used interchangeably with the others in a fast and very confusing manner.  I was constantly stopping to remind myself who each person was and who they were related to and what their story was.  There are many snippets which were unclear about who was speaking and what the paragraph was about.  I finally got a little interest and rhythm into reading this book about 180 pages in.  There were a few compelling scenes, and I spent a few minutes caring, but then, not so much.

I can appreciate the Haddon likes to play with point of view and he clearly marks it as his strength but this time he tried to hard and played too much with the concept to make it anything but awkward and confusing.

I know there is a long list for this at the library.  I am returning my copy today.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Most Talkative by Andy Cohen

This early review book that I got chosen to read seemed to be written solely to gossip about the Read Housewives series of shows produced and aired by Bravo Network.  Andy Cohen is the executive producer of many of these shows and has some sort of staring role in part of the shows.  Although I have seen teasers for them on Bravo (probably while watching re-runs of the West Wing) I have never watched any of them or been interested in any of them.

The first 3/4 of the book is about Andy's coming of age in real life and in the television industry.  Most of the book is funny and heartwarming.  He came of age in the 80's, about the same time I did, and he also came out at that time. His memoir concerning these early years and his rise through the ranks and his coming to understand his sexuality was really quite moving and powerful.  I have a close friend from this time who I imagine was also thinking and going through some of the same things as he came out.  I loved it.  I laughed aloud many times. I really felt a kinship with Mr Cohen.  

Of course, as you might imagine, the last couple of chapters, all about shows that I have never seen (nor do I want to after reading this) was not very interesting to me at all.  It might be to you if you watch them yourself or have seen Mr Cohen on a late night show he emcees.  I do recommend it, mostly for the for first parts of the book in which he grapples with his own life and how he plans to live it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Once Upon a Secret by Mimi Alford

I needed some light reading before my trip home from Scotland.  I bought this book to keep me company, and it was so interesting I finished it before I even got onto the plane.

Mimi Beardsley, 19 years old, gets a job as an intern in the White House Press office. Within a few days of starting this prestigious job, she become JFK's lover. This affair lasts for over 18 months and ends when JFK is assassinated.

The story of Mimi's ringside seat to history is interesting enough, but the second half of the story, how she kept this secret for more than 30 years, is also very compelling.  It is testament again, to how telling our truth, our own story, is powerful and healing and of course how keeping secrets can nearly destroy us.

Writing is pretty good and it did keep my attention.  It is most likely available at the public library.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed

I chose this book to bring with me on my Scotland adventure this week.  There was something about reading a woman's travel adventure while I had my own adventure that was comforting and exciting.  My adventure involved hot baths and a good nights sleep and thankfully, no rattlesnakes.

I first read Strayed in her essay about grief that got published in an anthology of the best non-fiction.  Her essay was a memoir of her grieving over her mother's death by shooting up heroin and sleeping with as many men as she could.  Both activities led to her divorce from a man she loved very much.  In the essay,  she alludes
to deciding to hike the Pacific Coast Trail as an antidote to her grief. She saves money, plans, buys equipment, and heads out for a 100 day journey through California and Oregon--through the high sierras-- where she quickly learns that though she planned and packed she probably should have trained as well.

Strayed voice is honest and humbled. She goes from novice to seasoned hiker. She grieves, she parties, she experiences solitude and companionship on the trail, kindnesses, and the aforementioned rattlesnakes.  Never in my wildest dreams, even when I was young and fit, could I have ever dreamed of this sort of solo adventure.  I probably enjoyed it so much knowing that she did something that I could never hope to do.

I loved this book and read it quickly on the plane and within 4 days of starting the trip.  I found Strayed's voice to be truly compelling.  I cared about her and wanted to see her complete her magnificent journey.

As a side note, I took this in e-book format and felt sort of guilty and slovenly.  I would love to hand it to a fellow traveler to read or at least leave it in a B & B. But alas cannot.  Also, I discovered halfway through the trip that a fellow traveler is reading the exact same book.   I never would have known had she not mentioned it.  I guess I am realizing that books are a shared experience for me, and that e-readers, don't allow for the sharing of story or the discovering of other people's story journeys.

But you should discover this journey and an important new voice in literature.









Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why be Happy When you Could be Normal?

Years ago I was captivated by Jeannette Winterson's second novel The Passion. I remember her being a magical story teller, so I was intrigued and excited that she had a memoir published this year.  Apparently, her first novel, the wildly popular Oranges are Not the Only Fruit was semi-autobiographical, so this memoir slightly resembles the early novel.  Winterson was adopted as a baby and raised by an evangelical Christian who had a hard time expressing love.  Winterson became estranged from her mother as a teen when she came out as a lesbian.

Jeannette Winterson has an amazing voice.  It feels utterly unique.  I can't compare her to anyone.  The narrative did not follow a normal chronological order.  There was a loose idea of time but mostly the memoir was organized on themes: church, literature, her home town.  Within each chapter she would tell a story about her childhood but also talk about art or religion or literature and how it changed or affected her.  I found a profound moment when she waxed philosophical about the necessity for poetry:  tough language for tough times.

The memoir is laced with Winterson's feelings of abandonment and loss and adoption, as well as, her struggles and inability to love that she blames on the childhood she had which was devoid of real love. We also see how literature and poetry in particular is what saves her.  During the last third of the book, Winterson makes her way through the British legal system to find out the name of her biological mother and finally, after 50 years, meet her.

If you like memoir or just want to read a different voice...Check this out.  Oh, and what  great title, eh?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Wilder Life

I picked up The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure on my birthday.  I, too, grew up reading and loving Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books.  Ms. McClure has decided to follow Laura and go to her various homesteads around the country.  Who knew that this famous series of books would create a small cottage industry in tourism?

But the Wilder Life is more than just travel memoir, it is also social commentary on why we yearn for these simpler times. We meet fellow travelers who also share the fervor for Laura.  Some of whom have some pretty creepy reasons for learning homesteading skills.

McClure also takes a great portion of the book to talk about her own love of Laura and why she so desires to be part of her world.  Everywhere she goes, she lingers over artifacts and enjoys the sights and sounds that Laura and her family would have enjoyed.

I also loved the intellectual discussions of the fictional Laura versus the real Laura, and I learned a lot more about the role Rose Wilder had in bringing her mother's books to life.  At the time, Rose Wilder was every bit as famous as her mother.

I found this book to be insightful and funny. I enjoyed Ms Mclure's travels and insights and sense of humor.  Although I have not read those books in more than 30 years, it was fun to relive all the moments from the books that I could remember through the lens of a fellow Wilder fan and insightful writer.  I think anyone who loved Laura Ingalls as a girl would enjoy this fun look at her and her writing.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

No Pulitzer Prize for Fiction!

I was shocked, shocked to discover that the folks that award the Pulizer Prize could not pick a winner in the category of Fiction.  Really?! No prize for fiction?  Ann Patchett (author of my favorite book--Bel Canto) wrote an excellent Op Ed for the NY Times berating them for their lack of a prize in this category.  In the editorial she surmises why it might have happened, reviews her own ideas for best fiction and concludes like this:

Let me underscore the obvious here: Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps.

Unfortunately, the world of literature lacks the scandal, hype and pretty dresses that draw people to the Academy Awards, which, by the way, is not an institution devoted to choosing the best movie every year as much as it is an institution designed to get people excited about going to the movies. The Pulitzer Prize is our best chance as writers and readers and booksellers to celebrate fiction. This was the year we all lost.

In my last post, I wrote about storytelling as an important survival skill.  Ms Patchett makes the observation that reading stories--long ones--is also an important thinking and skill building  tool.  Fiction, reading, books, all vital to our life on this planet and in these times.  Pulitzer did miss the boat when they failed to award that prize. 

Read on!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When bad things happen to good writers

I am enjoying a gorgeous run of spring weather and for the first time in a long time, I am having a hard time reading and enjoying books.  I have been reading a lot of articles and stories from on-line news and magazines.  Most of what I read can fit into short time spans (or maybe that should be short attention spans.)  My book pile grows, but I can't seem to focus.

I came across an amazing article in the New Yorker this weekend which reminds me of the simple fact that when bad things happen to good writers, the result is often an amazing narrative that brings home heartbreaking truth.

The Aquarium by Aleksander Herman in a June 2011 issue details his families' witness to his baby daughter's brain tumor and ensuing death.  It is not an easy story to read.  It is every parent's nightmare told in sad and all to true detail, but he makes some interesting observations about the power of storytelling to bring us comfort and healing.  Herman, while watching an older, healthy daughter cope with her sister's illness, beleives that the older daughter develops narrative abilities simply to survive.  He equates storytelling with survival: a basic human need.

I recognize this need and believe that we all share this same propensity to tell stories.  We tell the stories we tell to learn about ourselves, to reflect our own experience to the wider world--asking ourselves the questions: am I sane?  am I real? am I who I am supposed to be?  Am I like you?  Aleksander Herman is quite correct, our ability to relate in story is and probably always has been second to only food, water, and air as vital to life. At our dying breath, it is final words we have to say to end the story, and nothing else.

I don't think many of us are lucky enough to be able to write it. Writing for me is filled with solace and import, and I feel grateful that I have been given the gift of being able to use the written word.  I recognize that for most of us simply being able to tell our story out loud or paint our story or perform our story is also soul satisfying.  

I can only imagine that this lovely piece of writing was for Mr. Herman only a small start at healing what for him will be a lifetime of pain, and his daughter's imaginary friend, who she imbued with all the qualities of her sick sister, was also only a stab at understanding the enormous situation playing out in front of her.  For me, it was a chance to relate and to understand, storyteller and listener, as we take part in a great tradition of understanding ourselves, healing ourselves, and making connection, through the power of writing.

I recommend this story.  Thanks Mr. Herman.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reviewing the Early Reviewer Program

I have been a part of the Librarything Early Review Program for almost five years. I sign up for books I think I would like to read, the publisher sends me one of them, I read it, write a review, and post it on their website and my own (if I choose).  I love this program and have been sent some great books over the years and also some real dogs.

On a few occasions, I never received the promised book, but for the most part every book arrived, pristine and new and I have read and reviewed every single one.  I usually receive memoirs and special interest books: Bonk, The Happiness Equation, Situations Matter.  I've read about gastronomy in France and Middle Eastern CIA agents, travel memoirs, self-improvement and cooking and eating.  I've learned a lot about subjects I never would have picked up a book on, and I have become better at evaluating writing.

I try to refrain from reading other reviewers until I have written my own, and am surprised when someone likes a book I hated or vice versa.  I have discovered that I should never request a mystery because I don't like mysteries, and once I looked past my own personal disdain for e-books and put in a request for an interesting e-book.

In the beginning I would get skipped over for a few months in a row but I have received a book pretty solidly every month for the past two years. I have gathered an impressive array of publishers proofs.  I think they know I am good for the review.

I stopped to write this review of the program, which I love, because I finally met my match.  I actually got a book a couldn't review or read.  Suffice to say it was a book in a genre I am not particularly interested in and have no experience reading.  I did not feel I could fairly evaluate it at all and I honestly did not think I could finish the book.   I have learned a lesson in reading the book descriptions more closely.

I think I will send the book to a friend who will like it and ask her to read and review it if she likes.  Sound good?  What do you do when faced with a book you should read, but can't?


Monday, April 2, 2012

Happy National Poetry Month

April is here which can only mean one thing:  Poetry!  Last weekend I had an opportunity to take poetry into the local jail.  The women I read and write with enjoyed this Naomi Shihab Nye poem:


Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

We had some wonderful writing and conversation about kindness and sorrow.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mirror Mirror by Stephanie Hart

Early review of memoirs and stories about just an average woman coming of age in the 50's and 60's.  Ms Hart's writing is lovely and sweet.  Short bursts of observation about leaving home at 7 to attend boarding school when her parents divorced, her mother's alternating rage and undying love, her late life love, and her life in NYC.  These short stories and memories remind me why I love to write and also show me that really everyone has a story to tell.  All of us.  And it is within our power to tell it.

The book is divided into 4 parts and the first three parts are the memoirs. The last part is the most interesting for a writer to read.  She had memories of parents and grandparents and great grandparents that have been told to her as stories.  She has taken these stories and imagined them: place, street, people, smells and feelings and painted them into true tales. This writing and this ability to recreate what has been a part of family lore is especially exciting to read and think about.  Some of the stories in this last part seem a little disjointed. The flow is disrupted now and then, but overall, I loved the exercise and the writing.  They are smart and truly felt.

I don't think this book will get a lot of attention, but would be writer's should take note.  Write it! I would also be happy to lend it to anyone who wants to take a look.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

You know when the men are gone by Siobhan Fallon

I don't often finish a collection of short stories.  I tend to finish one story, feel satisfied, and then move onto something else.  The storytelling in this fine new collection of home front war tales was so even and so captivating that I really wanted to read every one.

All of the tales (save one) in this collection are set at Fort Hood in Texas and all relate to the men who deploy to Iraq and their spouses who wait for them back home.   All the subjects are universal:  infidelity, grief, childhood, teen rebellion, and of course, divorce, and they are set uniquely against the back drop of the people who are left behind when men go to war.

I thoroughly enjoyed this look at a culture and customs that evolve around this interesting group of people.  What unique circumstances threw these people together and how do they make sense of all the craziness? The stories are very loosely connected by a character here and there, so you know that all the characters are part of the same big picture story.

As a writer, I am always looking for new ways to tell some universal themes, and I felt that Ms Fallon mined some clever ideas.  My only regret is that this was not longer.  I know from a life well lived, that for each of these perfectly rendered stories of chaos in the time of war, there are are at least 1,000 more.  I hope there are more, many many more.  This would make a great spring break read.

This book should be readily available at your local public library or, of course, on Amazon.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Time Together by Carol Burnett

I'm so glad we had this time together
Just to have a laugh and sing a song
Seems we just get started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say, "So Long!"
                  -from the Carol Burnett show


As a kid, I loved watching the Carol Burnett show on Saturday nights with my parents.  I was old enough to appreciate the zany humor of Carol and friends, especially the talented Tim Conway.  I laughed aloud along with my parents at Carol when she made fun of Gone with the Wind.  Her dress was made of curtains with the curtain rod still inserted.  The dress was  the classic television funny moment, and no one else but Carol could pull it off.  The dress now resides at the Smithsonian, testament to the wacky days of the Carol Burnett Show and her brilliant costume designer Bob Mackie.  

Carol tells many many tales of coming of age in the entertainment industry and all the people she met on the way up the ladder.  These stories are not literary feats or a great philosophy on life, rather just funny moments behind the scenes with some of America's most beloved entertainers and actors.  

It took me on a trip down memory lane.  Many of the sketches she writes about you can relive on youtube.  If you enjoy Carol Burnett, and want to take out a quick evening for some fun stories and funny reminiscences of a great comic lady, this would be a good book to pick up at the library.  I wonder if we could get her to host Saturday Night Live?

Meanwhile enjoy this old Carol Burnett sketch:



Sunday, March 4, 2012

India Becoming by Akash Kapur

I have vivid and a bit disjointed memories of my one very short trip to India many years ago.  I visited what was then called Madras and is now called Chennai as part of a student group that was sailing the world.  Since that amazing trip, I have had many encounters with Indian Culture and have always been fascinated by the country, its people, food, religion and place in world history.

Akash Kapur was raised in Southern India near Chennai, leaves for the West for many years, and then returns with his family to live and work.  He has written a memoir/literary journal/portrait of the new modern India which seeks to explore all the beauty and beastliness of this ancient and provocative nation.

He paints many individual character portraits of men and women caught in the crosshairs of change:  a young gay man struggling with his identity, a young woman who divorces and then chooses to live with her boyfriend and not marry, another young woman who moves to the city to take advantage of all the amazing work opportunities, but chooses to retain a very traditional lifestyle regarding dating, a man from the dalit caste who defies local customs, a farmer and his wife living apart: country mouse and city mouse.  All these stories he follows over several years. 

Part II of this book is kind of character study of India itself: a painting of the price of progress.  He profiles the immense poverty that still exists in the cities that sits on the backs of the new Indian elite, the huge problem with waste and pollution that plagues even him and his family, the disorganized state of the police and the vast contempt for the rule of law, and finally the state of India once hard times hit the newly prosperous nation.

All of the stories are varied, interesting, often disturbing, and well written. I felt that he could have spent some more research time on some of his topics. He seemed to rely almost solely on anecdotes told by friends, and friends of friends, to make points about poverty and pollution.  A few facts and figures could go a long way to bolstering some of the portraits of people and problems.

All in all, a great read.  Mr Kapur reminded me somewhat of an Indian Malcolm Gladwell.  This was enjoyable.  I plan to share it widely. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A little leap day treat


This one won an academy award.  Life should be so magical!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

I have not survived against all odds.
I have not lived to tell.
I have not witnessed the extraordinary.
This is my story.

I found a pristine copy of this book at a used book fair about a year or two ago and eyed it on the pile for a long time.  Amy Krouse Rosenthal had an interesting idea:  write about your life as a series of entries in an encyclopedia, alphabetically.

I approached it warily, thinking it would be annoying and uninteresting, but I found quite the opposite.  Ms Rosenthal is funny and observant and has a unique sense style.  Parts made me laugh out loud; other parts were thoughtful and bittersweet.  An ordinary life can be interesting and even at times profound.

Also,  she poses some interesting interactions between writer and author via the website she sets up.  She simply asks you write her and let her know you read the book and she will thank you.  Since the book was published in 2005, she is not as fast about responding--not even sure she will respond.  I was hoping I would hear from her before I wrote this, but at press time, e-mail silence.

Still it is a nice idea, thanking your readers.

I found a lot of the entries would prompt my own writing.  What entries would I choose for my list of an ordinary life?  Would you?



Sunday, February 19, 2012

Self Righteous Man

Readers know I love a good social experiment:  a year without this, a year doing only that, living elsewhere, behaving differently.  I am always curious as to how those experiences play out within the confines of the modern world.  I spotted The Moneyless Man by Mark Boyle on a library thing list of recommendations for me and requested it from my library.

While it was an interesting story and informed me greatly of how one might live with no money, I found the author and self described Moneyless Man to be self righteous and annoying.  His basic premise--the goal to live in a Moneyless Society is unsustainable in about every way.  Easy for him to throw great parties and live off the land and use grocery store refuse to feed himself--but it is not a sustainable practice.

Yes, I would agree that our current laws that push stores and wholesalers to throw away perfectly good food are an anathema to people that try to put food in everyone's mouth, and we do live in a wasteful society that is quickly giving up every resource on our pretty (and only) planet.

But one man's social experiment in moneyless living is not the pathway to Utopia and answers to all the planet's ills. Rather it is one man's social experiment in how to be better than the rest of us.  I think people who advocate this lifestyle and this kind of thinking are forgetting that in a free society we all have different needs, wants and priorities.  I thought it was especially insulting that he had a side bar addressing  how I should manage my periods using no resources.  (PS at least have a female friend write it for you.)

I hope Mark can put his energy and ideas to coming up with some more practical ways of living sustainably than teaching us how to forage for wild mushrooms and dumpster dive.  Computers, heat, electricity and warm water are not bad things.  We need to learn how to manage them responsibly.  Please get off your high horse.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

We the Animals by Justin Torres

This lovely book--novella really--made a lot of must read lists for 2011.  I heard the author interviewed on NPR last fall and have been trying to get to it for awhile.

Three boys come of age in an abusive, slightly crazy household.  The boys have an unquestionable love and regard for each other even as they fight and endure abuse and begin to ask the questions all boys ask.

You should read this book because it is simply very very fine writing.  It is, in a nutshell, why we read: to discover lyrical passages, profound insights, concise metaphors, and description that can take your breath away.

You can read We the Animals in one sitting.  You may want to re-read it just to experience the imagery and story again. The second to the last story/chapter is guaranteed to make you want to pick up a pen and tell your own true story.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mud Pies and Other Recipes

As a child this was my favorite book to check out of the library.  It is a collection of doll recipes made from ingredients found outside: dirt, mud, leaves, dandelion fluff.  I loved it and I always remember the pages were stained with others' attempts at doll cookery.

I had forgotten all about it until recently when sitting down to play in the dirt with my daughter.  I did not bother to see if the local library still carried this, I simply went straight to Amazon.  The receipts and pictures are all still there, just as Marjorie Winslow created it.

I can't wait until Tessa is old enough to read and make these timeless recipes on her own.  I hope this copy gets very dirty.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The stack next to the bed

I cleaned my room today and made two large stacks of books that had been collecting under the bed. They are from a few years of books fairs, borrowings, and shopping sprees--when Borders went out of business.  I am humbled by all the reading I have to do: great stories, poetry, memoirs, how-to books, diaries, cookbooks, and curiosities.

I loved stacking these up and picking out which to read first.  I sorted them by genre:  took the writing books to my desk, the kids books to their rooms, and everything else placed on shelves in my bedroom and study.  I left a small stack of 5 books for my current reading.

I found a lot of treasures under the bed, things I had forgotten about.  It sparked some imagination and intrigue.  Its a rainy day and it felt good to visit old friends.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Just finished this incredible book which has already been made into a movie with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.  The movie is being mocked as too sappy, and it does indeed look like a real tear jerker, but I was drawn to the book and enjoyed this incredible post 9/11 tale of a boy who finds a key and goes in search of a lock.

The book was largely narrated by Oskar Schell, a young boy of about 10 or 12.  He reminded me of the boy in the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon.  Both boys had peculiar ways of looking at the world and both set out to solve a mystery that was surrounded by sadness and tragedy.  Those voices immediately draw you into the story, make you love them, empathize with them, root for them.

This book has a lot of fabulous and mysterious pictures that match the stories in the book.  Pictures that will make you flip through the pages and bring you new understanding to the narrative.   Foer has created several compelling voices that add to the various mysteries of the book, but ultimately, the best part about this story, is the fine fine writing.  Foer has an amazing imagination and pulls the reader right into this post 9/11 fable.  I gasped with delight in more than one place.  I can't wait to read more by him.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Rumors of Water

A friend wrote to ask if I had heard of or read this book.  I had not, but I loved the title, and it was a slim little volume that I had to order from a small press.  It felt like an important book to purchase: reading someone who did not have the backing of the large chains, but could come up with a title like this.

Each very short chapter was stories about her daughters who she has home educated.  She writes metaphorically of their unconventional approach to education and a way to approach writing.  It was sweet and simple and easy to read in an evening. I especially like her stories about Grandma and the recorder. Reminds me of why I write.

You probably won't find it at B & N or the library. Shout out if you would like to borrow it.

Thanks for the recommend my friend.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Like Family by Paula Mclain

After reading and enjoying Paula Mclain's NYT best-seller The Paris Wife, I noted that she had published a memoir several year ago.  Like Family is Mclain's account of 14 years as a ward of the State of California. Paula and her sisters moved from house to house while in foster care after their parents abandoned them.

I found this all well written and devastatingly sad.  How can a mother just abandon her children, walk away and not look back? Paula and her sisters don't discuss this much, as they are so young when it all happens, but the writer reminds us that this very fact is at the center of her whole upbringing.  This memoir calls to mind basic questions about what is home and why we call somewhere in particular home.  The writing reminds me of Jeannette Walls classic memoir The Glass Castle.  One keeps turning pages hoping that these kids turn out okay...wondering if these kids will turn out okay.  They do, and the journey to find home and family is worth the read.

If you like memoir, this is one of the  best.  I am guessing that with The Paris Wife doing so well, people will want to reach back and give this true story another look.  Available at the Public Library.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Uncompromised by Nada Prouty

Uncompromised: The Rise and Fall and Redemption of an Arab American Patriot in the CIA is Nada Prouty's very personal story of her young life in war-torn Lebanon and her immigration to the US to begin a new life for herself.  The rise of her life as a CIA agent is the first 225 pages of the book and the fall is the last 50. The redemption takes place only on the last ten or twenty pages.   As of press time she is still waiting to have her US citizenship returned.

One can't help but love Nada and cheer for her as she begins to make her way out of her despicable home life and also find her footing and career in a very male industry.  Nada's story will be fascinating to many as she writes of catching terrorists in foreign lands, interviewing suspects, and being on the forefront of most major investigations in the middle east over the past 10 years.  

But the ugly underbelly to her interesting life is the fact that simply because she is a nationalized American citizen of Arab descent she becomes a suspect in this post 9-11 world.  She was stripped of her citizenship, forced to deplete her savings on lawyers to defend herself, and forced to plead guilty to a crime she committed (and she did commit a crime) in which the statute of limitations had run out, and she fully confessed when she was first hired by the FBI. Nada is not innocent but she certainly did not deserve the treatment she got from the government and the country she sought to protect.

I loved this book and recommend it to you if you are interested in the war on terror and one woman's unique story of her love for America and how it was used against her.  At times it felt like she was working too hard to convince me she was innocent, but then again, she has a lot riding on her ability to do just that.  

This was an early review book and I would love to lend it  to anyone interested.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bill Cunningham's New York


He who seeks beauty will find it.  --Bill Cunningham



I read about this documentary last summer.   I was not able to make a screening of it at the IU Cinema, so I put it on my netflix queue and finally had the opportunity to watch it over the holidays. Bill Cunningham is the long time fashion/style photographer for the New York Times. He has been taking pictures of life on the streets of New York for over 40 years.  His life of photography, fashion, culture and ultimately kindness makes for a fascinating study.

I think in all places and in every line of work there is always someone who does what they do forever, and with a singular love and fascination. These people always become mini-icons in your work place or town.  Bill Cunningham is this for fashion and New York City.

I am not particularly interested in fashion for myself and am always kind of amused by the idea of couture and fashion shows but I love this man.  I especially love that he is really just an honest man trying to do what he loves best--introduce the world to the beauty of the people of New York.   He has done it so well and so consistently and for so long that he has become a celebrity in his own right. He is incredibly modest about it and also very old fashioned--still using real film and having to scan his weekly photos to that the graphic designer can lay out his pages for the style section on Sunday. This documentary made a number of best lists for 2011.

It is a simple story of a life lived happily and very well.  I guarantee if you see this you will fall in love with this man.  It makes me want to do everything I do simply and well and with joy.

Next time I go to new York, I will certainly watch for him on his bicycle with his trademark working man's blue blazer.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain

My oversized holiday led me away from reading, but I managed to sneak in this one extraordinary work of historical fiction:  a bittersweet love story about the first wife of Ernest Hemingway, Hadley Richardson. Paula Mclain has envisioned Ernest and Hadley's early years together before he was so well known and famous. She used the many biographies of Ernest, historical accounts of Paris in the 20's, and letters between Hadley and Ernest as source material. She presents an accurate depiction of their lives in Paris during the twenties when all the important writers and artists of the time were hanging out at Salons and bookstores.

Hadley is probably the most famous unknown wife in history, and this story of hers was a compelling and important one to tell. Now, I am going to have to go back and pick up some of the Hemingway that I dismissed as a young reader, especially A Moveable Feast which was Hemingway's novel about his time in Paris with Hadley.

The ending and epilogue rates at least two hankies.  Mclain makes the reader understand their early love, and subsequent pain at the end of their lives together.  What times they were...