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Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
It tells the story of married couple Matthew and Marissa Bishop. Marissa is with child and all of a sudden, like a pregnant woman wanting pickles at 2.30 in the morning, she wants her baby to be brought up in the cradle she herself was raised in. It's a civil war cradle. Though not one that her family had since the 1860s; they must have picked it up at some garage sale. But that doesn't matter. She doesn't want the baby to be in any cradle. She wants one with memories already attached. The caveat, it's probably with her mother, and god only knows where she is. Being completely unreasonable she sends Matt off on this wild goose chase, because 'You're Matt. What about my keys? I look for six hours, then you get home and you find them in five minutes.'
Matt, out of husband duty, takes on this tall order and embarks on a small road trip with help from ridiculously estranged characters who get him closer and closer to his goal. It feels a bit hokey that all of the people he meets along the way are insane or deranged in one way or another - an old woman and her Star Trek loving stay-at-home son, Marissa's family who believes in psychics and bizarre energy fields. Although they may fit in some heroic quest, this novella doesn't really lift far enough off the ground, off a light level in order to permit such wild eccentricities.
On top of that, another story is told, about 10 years later, about a woman who's about to send her son off to the Iraq War. She's unhappy about it, but the son feels that it's his American duty. She's a poet turned children's book writer (she used to write the stories for her own son), she's lived through Vietnam. And she's holding a secret back from her husband and her son. It's not hard to see what this secret is, and you'll assume it pretty early in the work. And this second story kind of hurts the rhythm of this short novel, which feels more like two overlong linked tales. That's not to say that it's not heartwarming, and when Somerville gets the tension right he nails it. There are even hints, sans the socialism, of George Eliot's Silas Marner. But overall The Cradle probably could have done with some expansion, with patience, and with more trust in the reader.
Friday, March 26, 2010
- Harriet the Spy—I know I mention this one all the time, but it was the first story that made me want to explore and try a different way of life than the one in which I was raised. Harriet was always surrounded by people, and she became so observant of them, able to put herself into their situations. And now...well, I'm not called The Great Empathizer for nothin'.
- The Nanny Diaries—I did not like this book when I read it back in the 10th grade, and there's not too much to take from it. But for some reason, I always think of the ending when I get really riled up about something. My first instinct is to just say what I think and react without censor. It would feel SO GOOD to just tell someone off, but then I think of this book and how it's better to pick your battles. So now (for example) instead of sending back really passive-aggressive emails when dealing with incompetence, I type out my anger, pause, hit delete, and then write a rational reply.
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—Another favorite I mention a lot but from the moment I read this, I've been reminded to pay attention to the small things and look for the beauty everywhere.
- The Laramie Project—I read this play a few years ago and was struck by the lack of bias about a story that has always been so slanted in the media. Regardless of the why, the story is a tragic one. But, this has since led me to question the people and the lives behind any story. On paper, they're just a name, but individuals are complex; a lot can be behind a story, unseen. Also, I see how the media can stereotype a story—categorize it one way while ignoring all the details surrounding it, just so it becomes a phenomenon, incites emotion in people, and ultimately makes the news media a lot of money.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Monday, March 22, 2010
Oh, and I almost forgot! Harper Perennial has generously offered ONE lucky reader a copy of Crazy Heart! To enter, just leave a comment below with your email address. Contest will end Monday, April 5th at 11:59 PM EST. The winner will be announced the following day. Good luck!
But don't let this discourage you from discussion! Have you read the book or seen the movie??
Friday, March 19, 2010
- Examples: The Time Traveler's Wife, Harry Potter, Twilight, Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, The Baby-sitters Club (remember that awesomeness from the mid-90s???)
- Examples: Alice in Wonderland (the new one), Jumanji, Where the Wild Things Are, Mean Girls, The Hours
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Now I want to test it out! So I ask this of you: make a comment!
It can be anything! What are you watching/listening to/reading right now? Do you like cheeseburgers (because that's what I just had for dinner)? Do you think any chick-flick is better than When Harry Met Sally (because I was just watching that on TV)? Give that REPLY button a whirl as well.
Kristin Harmel's Italian for Beginners is another one of those books that has been sitting on my shelf since I won it in a giveaway last summer. It's about a 30-something woman named Cat who is single, living in Manhattan, and has absolutely nothing exciting in her life. I mean, from the start you want to like this character but you quickly realize she is BORING; she's done nothing interesting since she studied abroad in Rome thirteen years ago. At her younger sister's wedding, Cat gets humiliated by Grandma and, with a push from her nearest and dearest, decides to take a four-week long vacation to Rome and reunite with her former Italian flame.
Well it's no surprise that Francesco turns out to be a dud (I'm not spoiling anything; it's on the back of the book), and Cat must now find her own way in a city all alone for four weeks. Enter a cast of eccentric characters and a setting fit for a movie (oh wait, it is...it's called Roman Holiday), and we have a story about woman who finds herself taking risks for a life she never expected.
When I started reading this, I said to myself, "Oh dear god, I don't know if I'm going to make it." It's not that I'm criticizing chick-lit, it's just that it has a language of its own. I'm sure it is a more accurate interpretation of my verbal skills on a daily basis than, say, Faulkner, but it is not a language I have encountered in a novel in quite a long time. However, chick-lit did what it always does...and it sucked me in. And for a genre I usually find predictable, I was actually anticipating and guessing how it would end.
Italian for Beginners is good for a quick, enjoyable read [perfect for that SPRING READING I have been talking about]. I'm adding Harmel to my list of go-to fun authors because sometimes, you just gotta get lost in some chick-lit. Right Sal and Colin?
Monday, March 15, 2010
Short stories are not usually my thing. It's not that I have anything against them; I'd just rather get sucked in to a story that will last more than 20 pages. However, a daily commute on public transportation is perfect for short stories, and I made a commitment to myself to spend time on each individual story. For instance, when I finished one story on the subway ride to work in the morning, I'd wait until the evening commute to start another one instead of immediately moving on to the next. I found this was the perfect way to read a short story collection, because I had the opportunity to mull over each story.
Crash Diet is McCorkle's first collection of stories, originally published in 1992 (she's since published three more, along with five novels). She tells stories of Southern women—some old, some young, some happy, some sad. The situations are relatable without being too generic, the emotions are raw and real, and the voices ooze honesty.
My three favorite stories in this collection—"Gold Mine," "Departures," and "Waiting for Hard Times to End"—I deem absolute perfection. "Gold Mine" tells the story of a young mother of two as her high school sweetheart husband carries on an affair and their roadside motel struggles for business after the newly opened interstate bypasses their small town. "Departures" is about the daily adjustments of a woman recently widowed as she comes to terms with her own emotions while shielding herself from the behaviors of everyone around her. "Waiting for Hard Times to End" was perhaps the most heartbreaking of the collection, as a sixteen-year-old girl waits daily by the mailbox for word from her older sister who was disowned by the family. These stories had such compelling characters and situations that they will stick with me for sure. Do you ever run across a book or author where you feel the need to underline about every line because it's just so poetic and perfect? That's McCorkle to me, particularly in these stories.
Just pick up a book by Jill McCorkle.
Do you like to read short stories? What are some of your favorite stories or collections?
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
- Carolina Moon by Jill McCorkle (you know my McCorkle love, and this is only 1 of the 5 or so I have waiting patiently on my shelf)
- The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes by Randi Davenport
- The Bird Room by Chris Killen
- Postcards from a Dead Girl by Kirk Farber
- The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard
- Crazy Heart by Thomas Cobb
- The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy
- Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger by Lee Smith
- The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
- The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Friday, March 5, 2010
David Byrne began riding his bike out of necessity in New York City, but after using this “uncool” mode of transportation in numerous cities throughout the world he grew attached to the new point of view cycling gave him. Bicycle Diaries is a collection of Byrne’s notes and recollections of various cities throughout the world as seen by bike.
I received this book as a gift because I am an avid cyclist. I don’t bike every day, but I generally support the lifestyle cycling promotes. Bicycle Diaries interested me on this level and because I am a huge Talking Heads fan. Don’t expect, however, to read about Byrne rehashing the glory days of “Stop Making Sense.”
The most intriguing parts of this book were when Byrne departed from his travels and drifted in his own memories and philosophies. Byrne’s thoughts are generally quite coherent and interesting—his theories on outsiders in foreign countries really struck me. I am sure he’s had a ton of experience in this field. Bicycle Diaries amounts to a glimpse inside the mind of some level of genius. David Byrne is by no means a cyclist on the level of Lance Armstrong, but he’s had years of experience riding in all sorts of environments. There is certainly some nugget of truth in this work.
It’s hard to separate David Byrne bicycle aficionado from David Byrne the co-creator of The Talking Heads. I assume Byrne wrestles with this everyday and it is apparent in his writing. Those expecting to read Bicycle Diaries the treatise on cycling as a means of urban transportation will be most disappointed to find only a few passages dealing with cycling as politics. The politics of this debate are tired, it’s nice to read a cycling piece that deals with cycling and the people who it brings together.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Cold by Bill Streever (Little, Brown) is a fascinating read. Part travelogue, part memoir, part science discussion, Streevers's book takes you through the world of cold: whether it's on the Arctic Circle in Alaska or on the bitterness of the Middle West of America. Streevers,, who chairs the North Slope Science Initiative's Scince Technical Advisory Panel is obviously not just a scientist - he's a rare-breed: a scientist who can make discoveries - and write! Streevers goes into why people sometimes want to take off their clothing when their blood temperature starts to decrease, how nerves begin to die when it becomes bitter cold, how a group of schoolchildren never made it through a blizzard. There are a lot of entertaining and curious anecdotes. This is well worth the trip.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) tells the story of the young girl Minli who has a heart of gold; unfortunately her parents don't have such wealth. They live nearby a mountain - the Fruitless Mountain, so called because there's not much to reep from it. Minli is determined to have better fortune for her family. When told by a goldfish salesman that goldfish bring good luck, she gives the last of her money to him to purchase a fish. And so begins her epic journey, one that includes dragon companions, solving riddles, and eventually discovering the true meaning of friendship. It's a four-colour book, so the sketches, also done by Lin, are absolutely gorgeous. It's something just to have on the bookshelf, at the very least.
The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (Simon & Schuster) is probably one of the best paeans to 'writer's block' I've ever read. It certainly gives Nabokov's Pale Fire a run for its money. The concept is simple: a reviewer/professor of poetry, who himself has been published every now and again, is supposed to write an introduction to this anthology of poetry. But he just can't seem to do it. So his special lady friend leaves him. And he has quite the existential crisis. Oddly enough, the book isn't really about this writer - his name is the ridiculous Paul Chowder - but rather about his strong opinions about English language poetry. Which make this ride wonderfully entertaining. It's like listening to a professor rant, but hysterically. (At least you're not in the classroom.) It's brilliantly done. I'm sorry to say that this is the first Baker book I've read.
The Complete Dramatic Works of Samuel Beckett may have been the best investment I made whilst at Oxford. Though it's sad that it took me until now to read past Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and my personal favourite Play. It's so intriguing to watch Beckett grow as an artist. Not that he needed to grow, per se; but you're able to see how he's able to eliminate character and words more and more through each of his theatre, television, radio, and film work. If anything, this collection makes you respect him more as an artist. Even when the work is tedious, the reader should be able to understand why. Absolutely stunning. And it's gotten me to finish reading his collected shorter prose, which is what's been engaging my mind as of recent.