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...