Sunday, July 26, 2015

Redeployment by Phil Klay

23. A Book of Short Stories

Redeployment by Phil Klay won the National Book Award.  The description, a book of stories about soldiers at war in Iraq in the post 9/11 era, caught my attention because I absolutely loved Tim O'Brien's book of short stories called The Things They Carried, short stories about soldiers in the Viet Nam war. I will never know war first hand (at least I hope never to) and am interested in the stories war brings to the table. 

As one would expect the stories are full of irony, horror and hypocrisy. They are full of truth and beauty and terribly compelling. Heres a story about a chaplain trying to help men he ministers to be more compassionate. Heres a marine in a bar with his disfigured friend meeting beautiful women. Heres a story told all in military acryonyms.  Heres a story about a man who comes to lead an NGO to do good works in a horrible place and finds that the best thing he can do is stage a photo of some boys playing baseball.  

All told in first person, by male narrators, some long, some short, some stateside, some in Iraq, all worthy of attention.  This is a fine collection.  I enjoyed it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Bettyville by George Hodgeman

22. A book based on or turned into a TV show

From the dedication page:  "Finally it is for Madison and Paris, where so many I have cared about walked. I will always remember you, good people."

Epigraph from the book: If only one knew what to remember or pretend to remember. Make a decision and what you want from the lost things will present itself. You can take it down like a can from a shelf. ~Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights.

Love for this story and this book and this writer took me by surprise. I spent the first 75 or 100 pages trying to decide what the writer was trying to do and when I finally got it, I was in love.

George Hodgman has written a beautiful memoir about growing up in Paris, Missouri and taking care of his aging mother Betty in the present day. It is an elegy to small town rural life that is disappearing under a haze of poverty and meth clinics; it is a love letter to his mother; it is a painful understanding of what it means to be young and gay and come out to your parents. It is the bittersweet time of life when you are saying farewell to the people who knew you best and are taking stock of what they have given you and what you in turn have made of it.

Page by page Mr Hodgeman won me over with beautiful writing, love for his home and his people, and a slow building of suspense for how everything would turn out with his mother and his life.  Let me add also that the author is hysterically funny. He has a dry with that allows him to slip in great lines and passages again and again.

This is an amazing book made great because Mr Hodgman is a really truly fine writer.  Betty and George could be any one of us.  Betty and George didn't fly to the moon or get elected president. What they did was not extraordinary, but the author's writing is simply superb. So many lines to write down, so many places to stop and hold your breath because he knows exactly how to express love and family and emotion and life.  I truly can't say enough great about this memoir.

This is a book I will gift to many people as we all come to understand what it means to grow old and say good-bye to our past and make sense of how we became who we became.

( I read somewhere that this books has been optioned for a TV series--not sure if i will come about but I think that qualifies it for the above category!)

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Light Between the Oceans by ML Stedman

21.  A Book That Became a Movie

My summer beach read is set in 1920's Australia--on an island called Janus where the lighthouse keeper and his wife live in isolation from the rest of the world.  Tom is a decorated war hero and Isabel is his young bride.  Both are excited about the prospect of having children but when Izzy has miscarriage after miscarriage she begins to go a little mad.  A storm one day brings in a small rowboat with a dead man holding a little crying baby.  Izzy and Tom see it as a gift from God and they raise the baby as their own. Until one day they just cannot escape the truth any longer. They must confess and deliver the child to her true mother.

This is a page turner and a tear jerker all in one book.  I sobbed pretty well through the last few chapters. It was a beautiful story, a tad overwrought in places, and I think the author wrote it to be turned into a movie because there were definitely some cinematic scenes--many of them--and the location of the novel-a distant lighthouse in the sea are also very cinematic. There are also a lot of twists and turns--I really did not guess how it would end.  So its really a fine read.

As a writer, I noticed how deftly she wove points of view back and forth between multiple characters. I loved that about the book.  I personally always have a hard time reading about sad things happening to good people--but hey--thats the point of a good story.

So this is worth picking up.  Good beach read.

(After writing this review, I went back to note that someone has made this into a movie set to be released this year.  When I started the review I had not done that homework.  Cant wait to see the movie now.)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

When Women were Birds: 54 Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams

20. A Book with a Number in the Title

 Terry Tempest William's mother died when she was 54. She told Terry that when she died, Terry would get all her journals. Terry's mother kept years and years worth of journals. When Terry opened them up after she had died all she found were blank pages. Book after book, year after year, white page after white page, nothing but blank white pages.

 Terry uses this fact quite brilliantly as a metaphor for her mothers voice and in fact women's voices everywhere. She tells 54 tales of voice, 54 ways to ponder her mother's enigmatic journal. There were tales of being frightened by creepy men in the wilderness and never telling anyone. Tales of testifying before congress. Tales of her mother's journey, of meeting her husband. All ways of looking at our voice both realistically and metaphorically.

 This book had an ethereal zen like quality. You could read it again and again and find new lessons every time. Lots of prompts for writers. Lots of things to ponder for women and members of the human race. I loved it. It makes me want to write another variation on voice.