Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fever

I really thought Fever was going to blow up this summer, but while it seems to have a respectful following online, I haven't heard that much buzz about it in real life.  It's by Megan Abbott, of Dare Me, which also gets great reviews - I haven't read it yet.  Anyway, I thought it was fantastic, and while I think it's doing well, it's obviously not reaching like, Hunger Games proportions.

Speaking of, I just saw Mockingjay Pt 1 last night and it was, as my friend duly noted, "the Empire Strikes Back of the series" This morning I looked up what comes after a trilogy and apparently it's a ... tetrology?  I think we'd all better learn that word as Hollywood continues to capitalize on trilogies that could stretch out in a movie.  Also, in a further digression about words that sound suspicious, I took this test at work called a "strength finder" and one of my "strengths" is "Intellection".  Which I looked up immediately because I thought it was made up.  It means an exercise of the intellect.  In other words, I think I'm smart, and I may or may not be.  Also useful.

Anyway.  Fever (btw, that COVER, amirite?):  It's actually been ages since I read it, but here's what I remember:  some girls at this school are having these seizures - it starts with one girl, and then slowly spreads.  And the community and the parents get caught up in this idea that there's some environmental or, you guessed it, vaccination factor that's effecting the girls. But the lead character, Deenie, has a sinking feeling it has to do with having sex.  The repercussions of sex weigh heavily throughout the book, and in fact it begins with this conversation between girls (that sounds like it's about sex but actually isn't, but: clever, right?):
      "The first time, you can't believe how much it hurts."Deenie's legs were shaking, but she tries to hide it, pushing her knees together, her hand hot on her thigh.    Six other girls are waiting. A few have done it before, but most are like Deenie.    "I heard you might want to throw up even," one says. "I knew a girl who passed out. They had to stop in the middle."   "It just kind of burns," says another. "You're sore for a few days. I heard by the third time, you don't even feel it."
Fever is something of a mystery, and as you read, you might suspect that the unsolved seizures are related to the very mystery of girls - which, for me, both hit home and was also unacceptable.  Abbott's story is at once a fairy tale and yet 100% possible.  She really ingeniously taps into the sometimes seemingly inexplicable behaviors of girls and their parents - how both might be searching for answers in an irrational world.

Like the best YA, Fever spans genres, raises questions for all ages and would be appealing to a wide audience.  Like Tana French's latest, Secret Place, it's an intriguing and accurate representation of the lives of teenage girls.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Oh, what a great book The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is!  If you thought fun vampire books were SO OVER, think again!

I read some reviews when this book came out over the summer that said how great it was, but I was like, "Vampires? Nothankyou."  But, this is no Twilight, and it's no Stackhouse either.  In Holly Black's YA novel, vampires have been discovered in the human world and relegated to "Coldtowns" - ghetto-ized parts of big cities where vampires and humans are kept behind walls - a self-sustaining and self-governed area that sustains itself on webcasts and black markets.  They're dangerous and perceived as glamourous - some humans want to go there and become immortals, but are more likely to end up dead.

Tana wakes up the morning after a "Sundown party" in which all of her friends have been killed and her ex-boyfriend is "cold" - he's been bitten by a vampire and will turn into a vampire himself if he drinks human blood.  Tana saves her ex-boyfriend and a mysterious vampire named Gavriel.  Gavriel's an old vampire, and he falls in love with Tana because she saves him - the first person to ever help him.  He's dangerous and gorgeous and old-fashioned, hence, he's smokin' hot and irresistible to Tana, but, thank god there's more to their relationship than mere attraction (ahem Edward and Bella!) Black also inserts a little covert Marxism into her story.  Tana reflects on "a bunch of professors talking about monsters" on tv, "The monster is bigger than human. It represents abundance - overabundance, the white-haired man had said, pushing his glasses up higher on his nose. It has lots of eyes, extra arms, too many teeth. Everything about it is to many and too much."  I happened across this great article in the NY Times while reading the book: Dreamboat Vampires and Zombie Capitalists that helped me understand Black's not just shitting around here, I suspect she could talk some deep theory with the best.

But, whether you love Lacan or just a good old fashioned teen romance (with vampires!), this book doesn't disappoint. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a terrific read that's full of excitement, surprises and steamy kissing.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Redeployment

Redeployment, by Phil Klay, was shortlisted for the 2014 National Book Award - they haven't announced the winners yet.  After reading a glowing review, I grabbed a copy from the library and, I have to tell you, it was one of the most stunning books I've read this year.

It's a group of short stories about the war in Iraq, with each story told from the perspective different figures in the military.  Klay was a Marine (who earned an MFA from Hunter College after his service) and brings a sense of immediacy to each story making the conflict all the more real for someone like me, for whom the war is really just sort of an abstract reality.  Reading books like Redeployment and the breathtaking Be Safe, I Love You, by Cara Hoffman, provide a way for me to make the war more real and better understand the daily reality for soldiers.  It was interesting, having read those two books this year, the dramatic difference between gender roles presented in each author's book.  Hoffman's story is about a female veteran with PTSD - her story is fairly universal, however she certainly had a unique story as a woman at war.  Klay's book is definitely male-focused.  There are very few instances of women characters in his stories, and their appearances are full of meaning.  Treated mostly by his male characters as mere concepts or receptacle, Klay's integration of women comes as a shock - helping the reader realize what a male-dominated arena most soldiers live in.  In one story, for example, a woman makes a short appearance, first smelled by the narrator.

That sort of thing would normally infuriate me if it wasn't so obvious that Klay's treatment of women in his stories was so thoughtful and specific.  In "Psychological Operations", a returned soldier in college wants to unload his stories on a female classmate.  A she struggles to avoid being his emotional receptacle, he pointedly ignores her, undeterred in his new mission of relief.  Finally she gives in and listens, as if choosing to paying the price for his service - allowing herself to be the vessel he's looking for.

For me, one of the more powerful stories was "Frago", a story full of military lingo and acronyms that I could barely understand.  It further exemplified how soldiers lives are so different from civilians - so much that they have their own language.  It must be so difficult for a soldier to simply talk to someone without a military background.  "I'm across from PFC Dyer, and he's not eating much. I'm next to some Navy O4 from the BOS, and he's chowing down. when he sees we aren't exactly FOBbits, he starts talking.  I don't tell him what we're here for, I just say a little about our COP and how it's good to eat something that's not an MRE or the Iraqis' red shit and rice."

I feel fairly confident that Redeployment will earn a spot next to The Things They Carried and Catch 22 in the annals of war literature.  It will be exciting to see what Klay writes next - I would love to see a long-form novel from him.

Here's a last quote from the book which I think beautifully summarizes this incredible group of short stories:
He would have gathered all the personal effects and prepared the body for transport. Then it would have gone by air to TQ. And as it was unloaded off the bird, the Marines would have stood silent and still, just as we had in Fallujah. And they would have put it on a C-130 to Kuwait. And they would have stood silent and still in Kuwait. And they would have stood silent and still in Germany, and silent and still at Dover Air Force Base. Everywhere it went, Marines and sailors and soldiers and airmen would have stood at attention as it traveled to the family of the fallen, where the silence, the stillness, would end.


Sunday, October 05, 2014

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

Joshua Ferris impressed everyone with his debut novel Then We Came to The End - an astonishing book told in first person plural about a group of people that work in an office in Chicago.  I LOVED it.  His second book, I must admit, I forgot I read until I found, ahem, my own review. Looks like I liked it...

I just finished To Rise Again at a Decent Hour and I have mixed feelings.  While I thought the writing was superb and exciting and innovative, I must admit I skipped many a page in the second half because the plot moved so slowly.  There used to be a time in my life where beautiful prose was really all I was looking for, but, I have to say I'm pretty plot-motivated these days.  This book actually reminded me a LOT (in tone) of David Foster Wallace and John Kennedy Toole (Confederacy of Dunces) but not in a good way.... Those two writers initially blew me off my feet but also I quickly tired of them after about 50 pages.  It's like their superlative, effusive prose can't sustain a novel.  With each of these three writers I always start out like, "This is the greatest thing I've ever read!" and 50 pages later, I'm like, "Jesus Christ, give it a fucking rest!"  Causing me to look deep inside myself:  Can I not "handle" a massive prose machine or is it really too much?

The main character in To Rise Again is a fairly successful dentist in Manhattan, Paul O'Rourke.  He's from a poor family in the Midwest - in fact, his father was mentally ill and committed suicide - details of which eek out slowly in unexpected moments.  He has two ex-girlfriends that he's kind of fixated on - one was a Catholic girl from college and another is his Jewish dental hygienist, Connie.  What he loved perhaps the most about each girl was her extended family, but, as an atheist, he was never really able to allow himself to be part of their clan - he felt separated from them as if by an impenetrable barrier, and often put his foot in his mouth when trying to ingratiate himself.  I should mention that the book is really hilarious, and make me laugh out loud a lot.  He's just such an idiot.
Poet are a ponderous bunch. (Connie's a poet.) They're hypocrites, too. They'd never step foot in a church in America, but fly them to Europe and they rush from tarmac to transept as if the real God, the God of Dante and chiaroscuro, of flying buttresses and Bach, had been awaiting their arrival for centuries.  What thrall, what sabbath longing, will overcome a poet in the churches of Europe. And Connie was Jewish!
Anyway, eventually what happens is someone claims that Paul is part of this long line of peoples that have been persecuted since time immemorial and the book becomes this sort of mediation on how a person might practice or be a part of a religion without belief and whether and how couples can or should share the same belief system.  It's ambitious and messy but really admirable.  I love that he tackled this huge theme, even though it got pretty slippery.  I'm not the only one - it was short-listed for the Man Booker this year and was a National Book Award Finalist.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?

You all know I'm a big Dave Eggers fan, so you know I loved Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?  I thought he really brilliantly captured this sort of zeitgeist, as he often does, of our time - particularly regarding responsibility of the person and the state.  Told entirely in dialogue, but without traditional quotation marks or indicators of who is speaking, a young man speaks to these people that he has kidnapped and is holding in a former military base on the California coast.

At first it's kind of amusing - he has kidnapped an astronaut, and he asks him a series of questions about why the space program doesn't go to the moon anymore and how it's disappointed him in terms of giving him and basically all of humanity something to be inspired and motivated by.  And then when he kidnaps another person, that's pretty funny too.  Without giving away too much of the story, which is quite short and better experienced without knowing too much of the story, what he's trying to do is find out some answers and come to terms with this thing that happened in his life.  What's interesting, however, is the more he seems to blame various agencies for this sort of terrible thing that happened, the more you realize he's completely unwilling to take any responsibility for himself and his own actions.  So, just as you're coming around to the side of this obviously troubled young man, the pendulum swings and changes your mind.  Then it swings again.
- So when I got back I tried to talk some sense into anyone who thought going into some country on the other end of the world to exert our will would be a cute idea, and the main problem with a cute idea like that is that these plans are carried out by groups of nineteen-year-olds who can't tie their shoes and who think it's great fun to run around goofing with grenades poorly secured to their uniforms. Wars put young men  in close proximity to grenades and guns and a hundred other things they will find a way to fuck up. These days men in war get themselves killed far more often than they get killed by someone else.
For me, eventually, the young man and his kidnap-ees become less and less character and more symbols of what they represent - which I thought was rather elegant.  I'm not sure if others will have experienced it the same way so I'd be curious what you think if you've read the book - please comment!   The title really slays me too because it's a bit mysterious - like, is the young man asking this question, or are these the questions that arise from the book, which is not particularly about religion in any way but arguably about absent fathers.  So it makes me think... Dave Eggers, Is It About Absent Fathers? And the Title, How Important Is It?  I Have to Think Pretty Important, Right?  But the only place I didn't think the book worked in general was when the dialogue was a bit more Socratic and less natural - just a few times I felt like I was being held too tightly by the hand, despite the fact that I think I have quite similar political leanings as Eggers.  In any event, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is yet another astonishing book by my literary hero and I encourage you to check it out!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Basic Eight

Most people know Daniel Handler as Lemony Snicket but his non-Lemony books are pretty great.  I would suggest Watch Your Mouth to just about anybody (less than 50).  Adverbs?  Great.  Basic Eight (2012) has been on my shelves for a while and I finally got around to reading it this year.  It's a dark YA novel about a young woman who is in prison for murder.  She's responding to all this press and a book that's been written about her and she's trying to set the record straight.

It's quite funny and really spot on - Handler writes teenagers, and women, very well.

I may be wrong, but I suspect that The Basic Eight (1999) is one of the first YA novels to come in with a twist.  Seems like every other book has a twist these days.  I just finished Meg Wolitzer's YA novel, and guess what it's got:  a twist.  Unscientifically, I'd say your top YA novels are going to have either: Vampires, Dystopia, or a wicked Twist.  (Idea for YA novel:  A dystopian world populated with vampires with a twist at the end.  Guaranteed blockbuster.)

Handler breaks up the story in interesting ways, like, he ends chapters as if they're part of a school lesson, with vocabulary lists and questions.  But the questions are like, "4. You have undoubtedly seen photographs of Flannery Culp in newspapers and magazines.  Is she fat? Be honest."  Also there are faux excerpts from TMZ-ish media about Flannery which are quite funny.

Handler can write a wicked sex scene (see Watch your Mouth) and he also manages to write about sex with teenagers that is neither creepy nor milquetoast, somehow (see Why We Broke Up).

Somehow Adam and I were talking about something: theater, I think. The line between audience and actor. I felt something warm on my neck, thrilling me. I kept talking about whether Halloween was a form of theater, if parties were a form of theater, if Adam kissing me meant I should get up and leave but it felt so nice, kissing me over and over on the same spot on my neck. It burned delicious like being branded, but as he ran his hand down my dress it turned out I wasn't such a cow at all. That's what turned me on, as much as him kissing me: feeling my own body, thin and gorgeous against him like a celebrity. Thin, even.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Garnethill

Garnethill is the first in a series by Scottish writer Denise Mina - and I think her first book.  It's about this woman, Maureen, who wakes up and finds her therapist/boyfriend dead in her living room.  Then she ends up solving the case because the police think she did it.

The interesting thing is that Maureen was formerly quite mentally ill/disturbed.  She was abused as a child and she was institutionalized for a while.  She's mostly totally in control of her faculties now, but she still sees a therapist (or did, until he died) regularly.  She feels this sort of tenuous relationship to her own sanity, particularly when this murder happens.  The way people react to her varies depending on their relationship and whether they knew her during her psychotic period.  I really liked the bits with her family, who are mostly terrible people -there aren't many of those moments and a lot of mystery hangs over that, which I assume is explored in the other books in the series.

Too bad for poor Maureen that there are more books in the series, I guess more people get murdered around her?

It's a quite good first novel and first mystery - it won the John Creasey Memorial Award for Best First Crime Novel award in 1998 when it came out.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Dead Yellow Women

I picked up this Dashiell Hammett book called Dead Yellow Women, despite it's terrible title because it had a map of San Francisco on the back and I was feeling a bit homesick.  Also I was hoping the title was ironic or something?  It's not, it's just straight up racist.  I hate reading racist stuff, particularly from writers I like.  It's like watching an old movie you liked as a kid and realizing it's full of casual racism.  Like, Oh great, that Asian kid from Goonies is just a terrible, terrible stereotype and now I hate myself because I didn't notice it before.

I wouldn't recommend it - it's a convoluted mystery that mostly takes place in San Francisco's Chinatown and is really, really dated.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Still Midnight

In the never-ending search for my next favorite United Kingdom Lady Mystery Writer I heard about one Denise Mina who's written quite a lot of books - jackpot! I thought... but, after reading two of her stories I'm not sure she's The One for me, but probably good in a pinch.

Still Midnight is about a couple of bumbling criminals who accidentally kidnap the wrong person and make a fine mess of things.  It takes place in Glasgow (Mina is Scottish) and the kidnapped family are originally Ugandan.  There are some interesting themes re: immigration and profiling and people of color that she tackles.

Ugh, I borrowed this from the library and my loan expired and thus I lost all my notes.  I hate that.  The main detective, as I remember, is a woman who gets passed over all the time.  She's a little rough around the edges (for good reason) and has to play it real cool every time she uncovers something so her co-workers don't steal all the credit.  I like how she writes dialogue - I could really hear their Scottish accents in my head.  Hilarious ending was a nice surprise.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Broken, Karen Slaughter

Karen Slaughter is an American mystery writer that's getting a lot of good buzz on her latest, Coptown.  I didn't read Coptown but got a copy of Broken (2010) from the library.  Broken is apparently part of her Will Trent series but Detective Will Trent doesn't solve this mystery so much as these other two ladies.

We got off to a rough start with this 2nd paragraph:
The wind picked up and she clenched her fists in the pockets of her light jacket. It wasn't so much raining as misting down a cold wetness, like walking around inside a dog's nose.  The icy chill coming off Lake Grant made it worse. Every time the breeze picked up, she felt as if tiny, dull razors were slicing through her skin.  This was supposed to be south Georgia, not the freaking South Pole.
I thought I was in for the metaphorical ride of my life, but, mercifully, they quieted down a bit.  So, this lady, Sara, is visiting her hometown where her parents live and she and her husband used to live before he was killed.  She was the town medical examiner and he was the Sheriff.  But he got killed.  Sara believed that it was the fault of one of his detectives, Lena.  When a local girl is murdered, Sara consults and tries to steer clear of Lena.  Parts are told from Lena's POV and you find out she not the monster Sara thinks she is, but she's not exactly a snow-white princess either.

Will Trent is a likeable character and I wouldn't mind reading more of her series about him.  He's dyslexic and for some reason very ashamed about it and doesn't like to tell anyone.  He sends things to his partner to read because he has a really hard time.  Although, I suppose after I thought about it a while, it seemed like it could be a hard thing to manage with coworkers.

Oh, after reading Amazon, I find that this is kind of a cross-over book between a couple of series Slaughter has written.  I mostly enjoyed this book but it was one of those situations where it turns out the murder is someone you barely meet  and then you find out they've masterminded some kind of crazy plot involving medical experiments and God knows whatall. I find that very annoying.

Please let me know if you've read any K. Slaughter that you really love!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

To the Power of Three

At the beginning of the year, I read some amazing books that kind of blew my mind, and also I thought I was on a roll and going to read nothing but solid gold all year.  Well, that stopped, and I've been chasing greatness for a while now.  I read a bunch of mysteries, searching for a Tana French replacement (she has a new book coming out in September (Arg! Can't wait!)  Laura Lippman's getting a lot of good press lately, so I borrowed her To the Power of Three (2012) from the library.

It begins with a young woman taking a gun to school and quickly follows with three friends getting shot in a bathroom at the school.  One in the foot, one in the chest - dead, and the other in the face - critical condition.  For some reason I couldn't keep the girls straight - I could never remember which one was dead and which one was on life support.  Their names were Kat and Perri.  (Katy Perry? I was irrationally stuck on that.  Which reminds me...  when I was in 7th grade, we were supposed to write a story on a team and my team and I wrote this epic mystery about a rich family, in our minds a kind of VC Andrews thing, and we spent DAYS thinking about what their names should be.  Finally we came up with Levi and Calvin, and then on the day we read our stories out loud to the class, my nemesis made fun of us because we picked names from 2 brands of jeans.  Ugh, I hate that stupid bitch!)

Anyway, there are some weird inconsistencies with the story shot-in-the-foot tells and the police don't believe her version of events, so, even though it seems pretty obvious that coma-girl did the shooting, you know there's more to the story.

The major problem for me was there were just too many characters in this book.   I mean, I could barely keep the three girls straight, which is on me, but then there were all the girls' parents, their classmates, their damn guidance counselor, their fucking uncles and grandparents, their goddamn neighbors, ex-boyfriends who are now in college but back in town for the summer, a whole cast of unpopular girls, the drama teacher!  etc.  My god.  Everyone knows that a good mystery needs a fair number of characters, perhaps limited, Agatha Christie-style, on an island or a train or something, so you have plenty of people to red-herring your readers with, but an entire high school full of people is too much.  And, when you have a huge number of people in your mystery, and in the end it turns out your murderer is someone who was mentioned once in the second half of a paragraph on page 38, it's goddamn infuriating is what it is.

What Lippman does capture, very well, is the language and intensity of high schoolers, not to mention ones that are experiencing a school shooting:
Others were ignoring the guidelines for a Level II emergency, holding their cell phones low by their hips, text-messaging with the ferocity of young Helen Kellers who had just discovered an accessible language.
She also brutally demonstrates the pettiness that teenage girls especially can carry around.  In their world, small slights get conflated into issues of life and death.  What am I talking about?  I'm still mad at that stupid girl for making fun of me in 7th grade and one other insult I could tell you about in excruciating detail if you could bare to listen to a grown woman describe a decades old slight.  The detective ponders:
He was a murder police, well into his third decade, and he thought there was nothing new under the sun, no motivation unknown to him, no scenario he had yet to document.  And he was right. The story Josie told, haltingly yet determinedly, had the usual elements. Jealousy, covetousness, anger of slights so tiny that it was hard to believe they had resonated for even a moment, much less years.  

Ouch.  Nails it, doesn't it?  I think she approaches the kind of animosity women can irrationally hold for one another that Margaret Atwood explores in novels like Cat's Eye.  So, ultimately, I didn't love this book because honestly I couldn't keep everyone straight, but she does get at some important issues that obviously struck close to home for this reader.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Pills and Starships

I heard an interview with Lydia Millet, author of Pills and Starships, on NPR that sort of sparked my interest.  It's a dystopian YA novel, told over the course of 7 days.   The "tipping point" has passed and the environment is in ruins and the whole planet is dying.  Nat and her brother Sam are supposedly the last generation, because no one is having babies anymore, at least in the "First".  Nat's parents have a "contract" which means they have decided to die, and gone on a 7 day vacation where their death is managed by the "Service".  Nat's parents are in their 80s and 90s, but have the health of people in their 40s because people live longer due to vaccines and whoknowswhat.   I found that bit the most improbable - I don't know any parents who would willingly die and leave their 17 and 14-year-old children to fend for themselves in a horror landscape.  Also, say this couple doesn't have a kid until they're in the 60s/70s, in an increasingly unlivable environment where they suddenly decide, hey, let's have 2 kids?   Doesn't make sense.

This book was really disappointing to me because I'm always on the lookout for my next fave dystopian novel, YA or otherwise.  Aside from the unbelievable premise with the parents, the author simply didn't trust her readers enough to let the details unfold elegantly.  Millet spelled everything out as she went, defining her futuristic vocabulary instead of just letting her audience figure it out, laying out the schedule for the 7 days instead of letting it happen.  It felt like coddling to be held by the hand like that, and I really don't think it matters whether your reader is an adult or a teenager.

As you might guess from the title, there's a lot of focus on medicine, vaccines and "mood stabilizers".  Everyone takes pills to avoid depression and to achieve whatever type of mood they desire.  Nat's parents are on a heavy regimen of pills to keep them calm and tranquil as they approach their death.  It reads as a critic of the Prozac Nation, kids on ADHD medication and whatnot... More than once I found myself wondering if Millet's one of those anti-vaccine crazies.

I haven't read Millet's other work - they seem to be pretty well-received.  Let me know if you've read her stuff and enjoyed it, I would like to hear.

Monday, June 30, 2014

On YA, Dickens, and Schadenfreude

There have been a few articles that have shaken up the book world lately - first was this silly article in Slate by Ruth Graham titled Against YA that sent most of the writers I follow on Twitter into a veritable firestorm, not to mention the gals in my book club. We read about one YA book a year, and our next selection is Eleanor & Park  - one of the examples she uses to support her claim that YA books aren't serious literature. Graham goes so far to say "I’m surrounded by YA-loving adults, both in real life and online. Today’s YA, we are constantly reminded, is worldly and adult-worthy. That has kept me bashful about expressing my own fuddy-duddy opinion: Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children."  Listen: I don't feel embarrassed about ANYTHING I read when I'm reading a fucking book, and neither should you.

So, everyone knows that Graham's article is little more than click-bait, but she does express a common opinion, which is that YA literature isn't serious and that reading YA isn't exactly something to be proud of.  When 1 in 4 Americans don't read a book in a year (and the other 75% average at only 5 books a year) I don't give two shits what people are reading as long as they're reading something.

So, to what does Graham think adult readers should turn their attention?  Why, Dickens and Edith Wharton, of course!  Ignoring the irony that Dickens is perhaps the first YA writer (who else read Great Expectations in the 6th grade?) it's pretty hilarious that the example of high literature that she pulls out are two dusty old Victorians.  Which brings me to article #2, which was published in Vanity Fair July 2014: It's Tartt--But is it Art? whereby the runaway success of The Goldfinch is examined.  While it did win the damn Pulitzer Prize there are plenty of purveyors of high Art (with a capital A) who would like to remind us that it wasn't actually that great.  To tell the truth, I myself like to say that The Goldfinch was merely good, but that's kind of beside the point.  James Wood, book critic for The New Yorker, told Vanity Fair, "I think that the rapture with which this novel has been received is further proof of the infantilization of our literary culture: a world in which adults go around reading Harry Potter."   Oh SNAP!  Additionally, plenty of critics are lining up to say that Tartt, who is frequently compared to Dickens (this is where it all comes together) is not really that much like Dickens after all.  Not only is an honest-to-God, "adult", Pulitzer Prize winning novel getting dissed for being too "YA" by The New Yorker but her very Dickensian-ness, generally acknowledged (not by me, but that's beside the point) as the very Bastion Of High Art and Literature is being called into question.

Actually, I think the Vanity Fair article is fantastic - I love a good old fashioned scrap about the very nature of art and literature as much as anyone.  It's true I do find the abject loyalty of Tartt fans a bit curious, which is why I say that books like The Secret History and The Goldfinch are merely good because her fans, and, yes, the Pulitzer committee, seem to go absolutely ape-shit for her work.  That's where Evgenia Peretz nails it in It's Tartt--But is it Art?  when she writes about the "writer's best friends, Schadenfreude and his twin brother, Envy" and the critical reaction to Tartt's work.  Despite the fiscal and literary success of The Goldfinch, it's still fun to sit around and make snide remarks about it because I suppose when we do, what we're really saying is that we have the highest, more pure and excellent taste in literature - higher than Pulitzer-Prize-winning Tartt, higher than Dickens himself.

You know how there are connoisseurs - who eat fine food -  and then there are gourmands - who like fine food AND county fair food? I like to read like a gourmand and I honestly think everyone should.  If I were such a snob that I couldn't read anything but old classics like Dickens and Wharton how would I ever have discovered my great love for mysteries, or apocalypse fiction, or YA?   I'm certainly not going to make fun of someone, or, God forbid, tell them they should be freaking ashamed for reading something - not even my sister-in-law, who exclusively reads Amish romances.  Which are probably full of steamy side hugs.  But I haven't read one yet so I'm not going to judge (that much).

Do you know why people don't read?  I've asked friends who confess not to read - it's generally because it's hard for them - it's hard to concentrate, or they find it boring, or they actually find it painful.  That's a person that never learned to love reading, or maybe has eye problems, or even a learning disability, or maybe got ridiculed all through school, and definitely hasn't found their genre yet.  And I'm certainly not going to poke fun at them when they do.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Compound

The Compound was recommended to me by my sister.  She and I are really close and value each other's opinion, but, it's fairly often that she loves something (book/movie) that I don't love, and vice versa.  But, we keep reading each other's recommendations and watching each other's movies because it's just too terrible to admit that our tastes are pretty different.  And, everyone once in a while, we hit it right on the mark.

Anyway, she totally loved The Compound but I thought it was pretty stupid.  It's a YA book about a young boy, who, at the very beginning, is whisked to an underground bunker with his family, minus his twin brother and his grandma, because there's been a nuclear event or something in the world.  Right from the get-go, it's pretty obvious that there's been no explosion and his dad's off his nut, but it takes this kid five or six years to figure it out.

I did enjoy the descriptions of their underground bunker, or compound - it's huge, with like, hydroponic areas and a gym and big bedrooms for everyone with mood light and mood scents and a huge library and dvd collection and there's even a place for cows and chickens, but they all die right away.

Eventually the kid is effing around on a computer, finds a wifi signal, and for some reason the first thing he does is IM his supposedly dead twin brother, but he answers the chat and immediately they're like, OMG, DAD'S CRAZY AND HE LOCKED US IN A SECRET BUNKER FOR SOME REASON!!  And then the kid goes to tell his family, and with each family member, he's like, DON'T TELL DAD WE KNOW, but the minute his dad walks in, he's like, WTF, DAD?!?!

But, that's not even the stupidest part.  The absolute stupidest part is that his mother is pregnant, and she and everyone call the baby a "supplement".  And, it turns out there's a whole room full of supplements that the kid has somehow managed to completely avoid in 5 years.  And, supposedly they will eat the supplements if they run out of food.

Well, I'm sorry, Sis!  But, I look forward to your next recommendation!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Burning (spoilers!)

I am always following the scent of a good mystery written by a lady from the UK. I can't remember where I saw The Burning by Jane Casey advertised, but, there it was on my Kindle.  It's about this lady who is killed - Rebecca - she's burned to death, actually.  And there's a serial killer who is out there burning ladies to death!  Arg!  The police are working with Rebecca's friend, Louise, to figure out what happened, and it's not quite clear whether Louise is in danger because maybe Louise's boyfriend is actually the killer or something?

Anyway, it wasn't really that great.  I'll go ahead an spoiler! now, because it turns out that smart, capable Louise actually killed her friend for some reason but mostly because she was a sociopath.  I find it very boring when a mystery is solved by: OMG, they're a damn sociopath!  Because, like, sure, anything's possible if we're talking about sociopaths.  It feels like cheating.

One thing I did find interesting was the phrase, I'm not sure how commonly used it is: Poets Day.
"Hmm? Oh, them. Not on a Friday, my dear.  Poets Day, innit? Shame it doesn't apply to the police."  Piss off Early, Tomorrow's Saturday.  I smiled ruefully, thinking of my abandoned plans for the evening...
I'm not ready to write off Casey - The Burning is one of her first books and reviews seem to indicate that the series (Maeve Kerrigan) gets better with time.   Please let me know if you've read and enjoyed her work and which ones you recommend!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How to Tame a Willful Wife

I've read some amazing books this year - All the Birds, Singing, Americanah, Be Safe, I Love You, The Tenth of December, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves... sometimes when I read something incredible, I need to cleanse my palate with a little sorbet.  The sweet interlude was a romance novel called How To Tame a Willful Wife by Christy English.  I am not above reading a bodice ripper, we even read one for book club and had one of our most stimulating conversations.  This one was based, as you might guess, on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.  I was interested to see how English did or did not subvert the message of The Taming of the Shrew, which has some very unpopular and old-fashioned gender roles.  Some say a good performance will include a wink by the actors that Katherine is complicit in her "re-education" which makes the story more acceptable to a contemporary audience, so I was anticipating that this book would have a wink too.

Caroline Montague is married to Anthony Carrington against her will.  Her habits of wearing pants and fighting with a sword aren't allowed by Anthony, who buys her beautiful clothes and sets some ground rules.  They're both insanely attracted to each other and have some crazy, consensual, and frequent sex. I thought for sure there was going to be classic romance-novel sex that started out as rape but somewhere in the middle the woman is overcome by desire or whatever but that surprisingly never happened.  There is plenty of "throbbing member", you may be pleased to hear.  What could be more of a turn-off than the phrase "throbbing member" I ask you, and yet romance novels are riddled with the term.  Anthony's always telling her she can't play with swords and stuff but she really wants to because she's good at it and she wants to be able to protect herself.  Eventually Anthony does something really nice for her family in a Mr-Darcy-kind-of-way and she somehow convinces him that she can and should protect herself and then they have a bunch more sex. 

As romance novels go, it was pretty good.  There's the usual nonsense re: fathers and husbands policing women's virginity/"purity" - I wish I could just attribute that to the time period but of course many women's sexuality is governed by men today. 

As Shakespeare's Katharina points out, however, this is due to her circumstances of passing from one protector (her father) to another (her husband) and finding that keeping peace is a small price to pay in exchange, quite literally, for safety:

Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt.


The redeeming factor of Taming of the Shrew and How to Tame a Willful Wife is that the couple is at least perceived to have arrived at a place of mutual respect and equality in the marriage.  In any event, it's a fun exercise to read romance novels critically and this is a good book to try it with.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Americanah

We read Americanah for book club - I thought we were going to have this amazing conversation about this book because it's brilliant and wonderful, but I accidentally got everyone really drunk on cocktails the minute they walked in the door and we barely talked about the book at all.  That was sad.  But also really fun.

Anywho, it was a great book and would lead to a fantastic discussion, I think.  It's written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who is my new hero.  If you haven't heard of her, check out this great Ted Talk she did a few years ago called We Should All Be Feminists (hell yeah we should!) and definitely watch this interview of Adichie by Zadie Smith, but maybe after you read the book because there are a few spoilers. I think it's great that she was interviewed by Smith because I think their work has a lot of similarities - both approach the issue of people of color in predominately white areas similarly - with humor, honesty and insight.

Much of Americanah is told from the perspective of Ifemelu (pronounced ee-FEM-elu), who's going through the laborious process of having her hair braided in a salon in New England.  Adichie got a bit of shit for saying, I like to say that this is a novel about love, about race, and about hair." I guess because hair is considered a feminine topic and therefore not serious - but, let's face it, hair is a pretty important topic and it has huge implications for the black women in the story - how they style their hair impacts what types of jobs they might get.  It's also a huge financial investment and a time investment - I mean, Ifemelu's sitting in that salon all day having her hair braided.  Hair is not insignificant in Smith's work either - in White Teeth the main characters gives herself chemical burns trying to smooth her hair.

Ifemelu, like Adichie, is from Nigeria, and goes to school in America, at Princeton.  She writes a blog called Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by an Non-American Black.  Differences between herself - a non-American Black - and African Americans, who she calls American Blacks are glacial.  Having grown up in Nigeria, race was not a part of her life or identity as she discovers it is for many African Americans.  What Adichie's careful, specific language choice does is point out how loaded even our "PC" language is in America - what it's generally getting around to is what color people's skin is.

Ifemelu's childhood boyfriend is Obinze, who doesn't have anything near her success in terms of education.  He moves to London and works terrible jobs illegally and has a hell of  a time getting by until he goes back to Nigeria and finds himself working for an unscrupulous person.  It was hard for me to connect with Obinze because he makes some weird choices and doesn't seem nearly good enough for Ifemelu.

During the course of the book, Obama is elected president and Ifemelu and her friends are thrilled and excited.  It was interesting to read that, 7 years after the election, because, as excited as I was back then myself, I read it quite cynically.  But I do think she really captured how truly exciting and promising it felt to have elected our first black president.

Americanah is one of the best books I've read this year - it won the National Book Critic's Award in 2013 and it was short listed for the Women's Fiction Prize (formerly the Orange Prize) in 2014.  I thought it was funny, insightful and eye-opening.  This year with all that terrible stuff happening in Nigeria -those girls getting kidnapped and Boko Haram - I felt an immediacy and a connection for that country that I've never felt before simply because I read this wonderful book.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

Veronica Mars' Fan Alert:  The Thousand Dollar Tan Line is just what you need to overcome kickstarter/VMmovie excitement!  However, it IS meant to be read after the movie.  If you read it first, there are a ton of spoilers on the first page.  Would non-Veronica Mars fans be interested in this solid mystery?  I have to think no - it assumes a knowledge of all these characters and what's come before.

If we're all being honest, we'd all admit that the number one thing we love about Veronica Mars is LoVe, right?  Just like the best thing about the movie was that Kristen Bell had just had a baby and had a cute little belly pouch, amirite?   I'm thinking to myself, oh, wow, I bet there's a bunch of steamy LoVe in the books, the likes that are not shown on cable television or PG rated movies!  So, I have to tell you right from the start that Veronica and Logan make absolutely no physical contact in this book.  They like, Skype a lot.  Because he's a war hero and out on a boat in the middle of nowhere or whatever.  If you want to eternally rectify your Bad Boy, put him in Navy Whites.  Touché, Rob Thomas, touché.

But, what I really loved about the book was it totally captures the voice and tone of the whole series, and when I was going through VM withdrawal, it hit the spot.  Do you really care what it's about?  If you're a VM fan, just go read it, you'll enjoy it.  It's got tons of Veronica, Mac, Keith Mars, a little Weevil, texting with Logan, and plenty of Neptune.  AND, have no fear!  There will be more, there's already one slated to be published in October 2014.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Alias Grace

Alias Grace has been sitting on my shelf for a long time.  Even though I looooove Margaret Atwood, I was never able to get into it.  Also The Blind Assassin.  But, taste in books comes and goes, or so I've noticed, so, after a run of particularly great reads, I decided to give it another go.

It was like Margaret Atwood had just published another book, just for me.  I don't know what happened to me before, but I was absolutely mesmerized this time around.  It's based on the true story of convicted murderer (or, murderess, how shocking!) and Canadian, Grace Marks.  I did some research about her in advance, which I would recommend if you're going to read this book - only because so much of what Atwood includes is based on primary source materials.  You can, for example, read the confession and the trial notes online.

The story is told partly from Grace's point of view - she is in prison and asked to talk to a doctor, Simon Jordan (a fictionalized character) who is studying her case for criminal behavior.  This is in the late 19th century, when mysticism and seances and things like phrenology are actually considered fairly scientific, and the Freudian-style of the young doctor Jordan are considered slightly unusual.  Grace confesses not to have a memory of the murders she's alleged to have been involved with, but it's not entirely clear how trustworthy she is as a narrator.

I thought Alias Grace had a lot in common with The Handmaid's Tale, my benchmark of greatness for all books.  Grace is a lot like the handmaid, who is essentially jailed as well - restricted movements, at the mercy of those considered her betters.  Not surprisingly, there's a huge feminist aspect to this story - for example, much is made over the peculiarity of this female murderer.  What's interesting is that her inner monologue is steady, rational and completely reasonable.  Atwood even frames the story into sections titled with antique quilt patterns - Broken Dishes, Lady of the Lake, Tree of Paradise.  What could be more coded-female, or more perfectly rational? In comparison, the doctor's inner monologue becomes more and more shocking.  He casually fantasizes of injuring or doing violence to people he meets.  He has passing fancies of sexually humiliating practically every woman he meets, and yet he remains a pillar of society.

What's really quite amazing is how Atwood writes the entire book in the style of the late 19th century - no doubt about it, she is truly one of the greatest writers this world has ever known.  She writes:
They were feeble and ignorant creatures, although rich, and most of them could not light a fire if their toes were freezing off, because they didn't know how, and it was a wonder they could blow their own noses or wipe their own backsides, they were by their nature as useless as a prick on a priest - if you'll excuse me, Sir, but that was how she put it - and if they were to lose all their money tomorrow and be thrown out on the streets, they would not even be able to make a living by honest whoring, as they would not know which part was to go in where, and they would end up getting - I won't say the word - in the ear; and most of them did not know their own arse from a hole in the ground. And she said something else about the women, which was so coarse I will not repeat is, Sir, but it made us laugh very much.

Grace is manhandled daily by a couple of prison guards who describe at great length their intentions.  The descriptions are so filthy and so extenuated it's almost funny, and it kind of made me smile to imagine Atwood thinking of all the horrible, ridiculous, awful things these men could say.  Oh ho, says the one, that's what I like, a little high spirits in a woman, a little fire, they say it comes with the redness of the hair.  But is it red where is most counts, says the other, a fire in a treetop is no use at all, it must be a fireplace to cast enough heat, in a little cookstove, you know why God made women with skirts, it's so they can be pulled up over their heads and tied at the top, that way you don't get so much noise out of them, I hate a screeching slut, women should be born without mouths on them, the only thing of use in them is below the waist.

It's been about 30 years since Grace was accused of murder, when she was only a girl of 16.  Atwood explores the impact of imprisonment and the notion of forgiveness.  How can Grace pay for the crimes she may or may not have been party to? Through time, suffering, personal growth?  Near the end, Grace says, "It is not the culprits who need to be forgiven; rather it is the victims, because they are the ones who cause all the trouble. If they were only less weak and careless, and more foresightful, and if they would keep from blundering in difficulties, think of all the sorrow in the world that would be spared."  That odd statement is a good example of the kind of mystery that surrounds Grace until the end.  The wisdom she has was earned quietly observing the outside world through the bars of a prison.   "The way I understand things, the Bible may have been thought out by God, but it was written down by men.  And like everything men write down, such as the newspapers, they got the main story right but some of the details wrong."


Wednesday, May 07, 2014

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

I just finished this AMAZING book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler, who recently was awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award. I read somewhere that it was Ruth Ozeki's favorite book from 2013 so that was just about good enough for me. Ozeki recommended not learning anything about it, although I must admit I scanned the summary on Amazon to make sure it wasn't about genocide in Rwanda or something. No offense to Rwandans, but, I mean, you have to prepare yourself mentally for those things. Genocide. God, I'm an idiot.

Anyway, after reading it, I agree, it is best to not learn anything about it, so, as I often encourage my small (but devoted?) readership, Please, stop reading now! Come back later after you've finished. Take Ruth Ozeki's and my word for it!
______

Alright, spoilers ahead.... Fowler does some interesting things with the narrative, like starting in the middle, then swinging back to the beginning and then wrapping back to the end again. But it's all driven by the main character's sort of inability to express parts of her life she's not ready to confront yet. So, when she begins (in the middle) she talked about being in college in the 90s, which I really loved because I went to college in the 90s. Fowler frequently drops a lot of cultural/scene setting elements, like a reminder that Hale-Bopp was gliding through, Dolly had just been cloned, Charles and Diana had just divorced...

Side note: When I was in college studying Art History at Indiana University, my professor showed a slide of the Bayeux Tapestry, which features a bunch of medieval folks pointing up into the sky with dopey looks on their faces, just like we were doing at night with our comet. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.  I believe the Bayeux Tapestry features Haley's Comet, not Hale-Bopp.  But, whatever.  
I love that comet
So, anyway, the main character, Rosemary, mentions how her sister "disappeared" and her brother ran off many years ago, and she misses them and thinks about them, but in her family, they don't talk about their absence.  Eventually she says that her sister is actually a chimpanzee whom she was raised with as part of a psychology experiment.  Her dad's a psych prof at Indiana University.  Where I went to college!  So, part of this book takes place in Bloomington, Indiana, a place near and dear to my heart.  And, if Bloomington, Indiana appears in a book, I'm pretty much guaranteed to love that book.  Like... The Stone Diaries, for example, which is one of my Favorite Books of All Time.   

Fowler touches on a lot of themes in this book - including memory, language, solipsism, scientific study, what it is to be human or animal - but what's never really questioned by Rosemary is her relationship to this chimpanzee.  She's her sister, plain and simple, and their separation makes her feel like a person who's been ripped apart from her twin.  The image of a mirror, and the mirror test, comes up again and again:

"... some species, like chimps and elephants and dolphins, recognize themselves in the mirror and others, like dogs and pigeons, gorillas and human babies, don't."

Her brother also disappears - he becomes an animal rights activist - considered a terrorist by the government.  He says, "We need a sort of reverse mirror test. Some way to identiy those species smart enough to see themselves when they look at someone else. Bonus points for how far out the chain you can go. Double bonus for those who get all the way to insects."  He's accused of organizing a attack on SeaWorld (this is pre-Blackfish, by the way.  If you've seen it, you'll want to organize an attack on SeaWorld too.)  "I expect the allegations are true, although an 'attack on SeaWorld' might mean a bomb, or it might mean graffiti and glitter and a cream pie in the face. The government doesn't always seem to distinguish between the two."

I'm not surprised this was a favorite by Ozeki because it had a lot of similarities to her work - literature that expands the reader's mind in a glory of language.  How we treat and live with animals is obviously a big theme in the book, and a relationship that I'm still thinking about, a week after finishing it.  The way Fowler writes about the consciousness of animals forces you to consider the way you treat all animals - not just the ones that kind of look like us, like chimps and apes, or the ones we live comfortably with, like dogs and cats, but all animals - with bonus points for insects.  

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Be Safe, I Love You

Here's my review of Cara Hoffman's new book: Be Safe, I Love You about a female Iraqi war vet who comes home with PTSD.

I am crazy about Hoffman's So Much Pretty which you really must add to your to-read pile if you haven't read it yet.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Promise of Amazing

I read The Promise of Amazing quite a while ago, and I'm trying to catch up on my reviews...   Somewhere I read a perhaps over-enthusiastic review of this book which caused me to actually purchase it (a somewhat rare occurrence for me as I usually get books straight from the publisher these days or else the library where I work.)  It's written by Robin Constantine and it's a YA book about a perennial  "good girl" who does what's expected of her and stays out of trouble.  She meets a boy who used to be a star but has made a few screw-ups and is getting a reputation for a "bad boy".  Grayson's a bit of an incongruous character who wears an elbow-patch blazer and has, unbelievably, an eyebrow piercing.  It's his very bad boy charm that Wren (good names, right?) is attracted to, having been pigeon-holed as a middle-of-the-road kid.

The characters never felt fully developed to me, leaning, instead on the sort of stereotypical tropes from John Hugh's movies of which Constantine is clearly a fan.  There are multiple references to Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club (not that there's anything wrong with that - I weep for a generation not weened on 80s movies - I mean, have kids today even seen Say Anything?)  However, there's a bit of a tidiness that rings untrue - Grayson, for example, has done something illegal for which he is eventually caught, however, due to some savvy moves by his dad he basically gets off scot-free.  This freedom from consequence is annoying in a YA novel.... but, I don't know.... they don't all have to be didactic, I'm just saying - in a book about two middle-class white kids, confronting their white privilege might have brought a bit more depth to the story.

Where Constantine does confront a social issue is in the tackling of Grayson and Wren's sexual pasts.  In a chapter written from Grayson's perspective, she writes, "I'd left Wren and her chai latte downstairs, making up some excuse about wanting to get my iPod so she could hear my favorite song from the latest Coldplay album.  In reality I was picking up in my room and figuring out how I could get her to come upstairs, since I pretty much wanted to devour her whole."  
What I did like was how Constantine frees the characters from their sexual "baggage" instead offering a vision of a more sexually empowered teen that's able to experiment and move on.  One of Wren's girlfriends says, "What I'm getting at is - so what if he's been with other girls? It only means he's experienced. You've been with other guys - is he all jacked up over that? We're sixteen... this is how it's supposed to be."  Ultimately this YA novel wasn't really what this adult reader was looking for but I suppose it did have some promising aspects.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

All the Birds, Singing


Here's my review of All the Birds, Singing, on Newcity.  This book was totally amazing, I loved it SO. MUCH.  I first read and excerpt in Granta's Top 20 British Authors.  I believe Evie Wyld is actually Australian/British, but who's quibbling?  Her chapter was the standout of Granta and I was dying to read the whole book after I read it.


Friday, April 04, 2014

Panic

Panic is the name of a game played by high school seniors in heather's small town. The winner gets a pot that all seniors are bullied into contributing $1/day their last year of school, whether they want to or not. The game is extremely dangerous. It begins with participants leaping off a cliff into a quarry, and ends with a game of chicken in cars, though the years, players have been killed or maimed, but they keep playing the game because they feel like it's the only way to escape life in this nowhere town. Sounds a lot like the Hunger Games, right? Except it's not a dystopian future and the game's not mandatory. But it is an impoverished town with little to no options for young people to strive for, and Heather's even got a saintly younger sister she feels responsible for and an incompetent mother that can't care for either one of them.

 Heather falls into a job helping a local woman care for her chickens and farm animals and starts, for the first time, to trust an adult parental figure and experience a type of stability for the first time in her life. This woman improbably has two tigers on her farm, rescues from... somewhere. It brings to mind, naturally, that age-old saying by Chekov: If you introduce a tiger in the first act, it had better go off in the second act. 

I've read Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall previously. I'm not nuts about her writing style, I find it slightly unsophisticated, like a YA novel that is definitely intended for a young audience. Her heavy handed foreshadowing, the obvious conflicts of the love interest are just a little tiresome.

Stephen King recently announced that he was self-censoring his short story, Rage, because it seems to have influenced a number of real-world school shootings. The story will not be published in reprintings of the compilation. I found it interesting that that story came out while I was reading Panic, which explains how to make a car bomb, "easy as making salad dressing", and describes a game of Russian Roulette. I think Panic is unlikely to garner any more publicity than The Hunger Games, particularly because it's main audience is girls. Ultimately I wouldn't necessarily recommend Panic to mature readers but I can see it being appealing to younger readers.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bark

Lorrie Moore, you can do no wrong.  I loved your book, although I wished half of it hadn't been published already in the New Yorker.  Here's my review of Bark on Newcity.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Little Failure

My review on Newcity Lit.

I really enjoyed this memoir - it made me want to read Super Sad True Love Story again as well as everything else Shteyngart has written.  AND, check this out - I tweeted my review and Shteyngart "favorited" it.  (Also my friend Amber. Isn't that cute how she has three followers?  I have like, 7 times that!  haha  There is, alas, no "Shteyngart Bump."



Friday, January 10, 2014

Salinger Contract (2013)

My review of the Salinger Contract by Adam Langer on NewCity Lit!

This book felt like it was written just for me.  Really enjoyed it.


Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Circle (2013)


My review of Dave Egger's The Circle on Newcity Lit!  In which I declare that Eggers has invented a new type of fiction because I am a horrible journalist.  


Monday, January 06, 2014

Guide for the Perplexed (2013)

Here's my review of A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn over on Newcity.  Once again she's written a beautiful book about a fascinating subject - a great return to form for her!


Sunday, January 05, 2014

2013 In Review

In 2013 I read approximately:

39 Books,
35 Fiction and 4 non-fiction,
with 33 by women and 6 by men.

I wrote 16 reviews for Newcity Lit.

That's considerably less than 2012, when I read 54 books.  I suppose it's not about quantity.... Did you know I didn't read a single book for all of December? That's unprecedented.  I've had this terrible illness that made it quite painful to read.  I did manage to read the three pilfered Salinger stories, though.


My favorite reads were...

Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel (2012).

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (2011), a bit silly but so funny.  Every page was delightful.

Lavinia by Ursula LeGuin (2008).  All hail the great and powerful!

So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman (2011) - this book actually had a huge impact on me a reader and a feminist this year...

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013).  Seriously, this woman is taking it to another level.

Claire deWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran (2013) who is out there KILLING. IT.

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum (2013) who I had the honor of interviewing.  Another book that had a HUGE impact on me.

Most Looking Forward to:

Be Safe I Love You by Cara Hoffman (April)
Secret Place by Tana French (maybe?)

I missed the boat on:
Tampa by Allisa Nutting and I never managed to read Diabetes with Owls.  Need to get my hands on those...

Life After Life

Here's my review of Life after Life on Newcity Lit!

These are a few quotes I didn't include in my review but really want to remember.

Ursula found it very odd to think that up above them there were German bombers being flown by men who, essentially, were just like Teddy. They weren’t evil, they were just doing what had been asked of them by their country. It was war itself that was evil, not men.  Although she would make an exception for Hitler. ‘Oh, yes,’ Miss Woolf said, ‘I think that man is quite, quite mad.’


_____


He prodded his enormous tongue, like an ox’s, against the portcullis of her teeth and she was amazed to realize that he was expecting her to open her mouth and let the tongue in.


____



“Long, lazy days like these will never come again in your life. You think they will, but they won’t.”

“Unless I become incredibly rich,” Ursula said. “Then I could be idle all day long.”




Saturday, January 04, 2014

Mad about the Boy, Bridget Jones #3 (2013)

I finished Mad about the Boy a month or so ago, but I've been sick and haven't been up to writing very much.  After re-reading BJ 1 & 2, I was excited to get back into Bridget's universe, but, something about me is that I don't really like change that much, and Bridget had changed a LOT.

I'm going to talk about what may be considered a spoiler, although, several months after publication and the fact that the spoiler was basically on the cover of the New York Times, I'm not too bothered by it.  But, if you don't know ANYTHING about a certain Mr. Darcy and you DON'T WANT TO KNOW, you'd better hit the road...

So, as nearly everyone knows, Mark Darcy is DEAD at the beginning of the book.  Some jerks ran around posting it on every blog and online news headline in the world so it was nearly impossible not to know.  Especially if you're in my book club and I announced it in a drunken stupor.  If one had not heard the, yes, devastating news that Mr. Darcy had died, it would have been quite dramatic to read the first bit of the book because Fielding does do a great job of jumping right into Bridget's life with two kids and a boyfriend while only slowly allowing the reader to discover what happened to poor Mark.

The boyfriend is young - 30?  and she calls him Roxster, based on his twitter feed.  While she and Roxster are a good match, the age difference is difficult for both.  Bridget, 51, is nevertheless as immature as ever.  I admit I laughed for several days over a funny exchange between Bridget and Roxster wherein she texted, "Well, I'm just sending the most GIANT FART WITH EXTRA STINK right out of my bum" to him.

Mad About the Boy has lost quite a bit of edge with this (slightly) more grown-up Bridget.  Just as an example, aside from the constant reference to head lice, Bridget's new model of fashion is this Disney kid's tv show called Good Luck Charlie, which I only happen to know about because my 9 year old neighbor loves to watch it when she comes over.   It's a harmless, milquetoast program that the Bridget of old wouldn't have anywhere on her radar.  So, whatever - I mean, I'm the asshole that thinks I'm too cool for Good Luck Charlie and therefore Bridget Jones is less edgy.  For me, part of fun of those first books was relating to Bridget and I just have much less to relate her now.  But, that doesn't mean the book isn't funny and genuinely moving.

So... about those kids.  I think I would have liked Mad About the Boy if I had kids myself, but since I don't and because I loved singleton Bridget so much and also I think books with small children in them are generally like, beyond lame, I was a bit disappointed.  I suppose it wasn't as terrible as I had feared - where Fielding is more satirical than sentimental she excels.   Fantastically witty, Fielding finds great ways to satirize the state of parenthood today.  Says another mother at Bridget's child's school, "I used to be a CEO of a large chain of health and fitness clubs, which expanded throughout the UK and into North America. Now I am CEO of a family. My children are the most important, complex  and thrilling product I have ever deployed."  And just as Bridget's younger self was dogged by the idealization of the "perfect" couple, her status as a female, single parent is low in a world perceived to be filled with "complete" families.  Her own friends say things to her like, "'What I mean is that for a single man of Bridget's age, it's a total buyer's market. No one's knocking at Bridget's door, are they? If she was a middle-aged man, with her own house and income and two helpless children, she'd be inundated by people wanting to take care of her. But look at her.'"

One of my favorite aspects of the book was how Bridget responds to fashion.  Like myself, Bridget remembers the days when a completely black outfit was not just completely reasonable but quite chic.  Her response to skinny jeans, flowing scarves and oversized handbags is pretty hilarious.  "I now realize everyone has floating bohemian scarves double-looped round their neck.  Is odd, though, when remember all the years Mum and Una spent trying to 'get me into scarves' and I dismissed them as old-lady accessories rather like brooches."

Like the two first Bridget Jones novels, Bridget is unwittingly quite successful in her career.  In this third book she is "updating of the famous Norwegian tragedy Hedda Gabbler by Anton Chekhov" (purists will recognize a few gaffs in that sentence.) I love that Fielding continues to look back into literary history for strong female characters, spinning them into a hilarious, modern version.

A favorite line:
"It's always nice to meet someone more badly behaved than oneself."

Vocabulary Gems:
Brits call Boy Toys "Toy Boys"!

Berk: fool, prat, twit. "The usage is dated to the 1930s. A shortened version of Berkeley Hunt, the hunt based at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. In the Cockney rhyming slang, hunt is used as a rhyme for cunt giving the word berk its original slang meaning."  (via). Apparently not an offensive term despite it's origins.

Curiosity: Fielding thanks both Hugh Grant and Colin Firth in the acknowledgements but not Renée Zellweger.