Rebecca Kelley writes characters who are exactly as flawed and worthy of love as we are, and the cities that her characters inhabit are as flawed andRebecca Kelley writes characters who are exactly as flawed and worthy of love as we are, and the cities that her characters inhabit are as flawed and worthy of love -- and passion! -- as are the people. The cities, in short, are characters too; Reno with its open pluckiness, its plain and verdant longing; Portland with its earnestness, its dripping moss-and-fern-covered trees, its stubborn belief in the possibility of pioneering in your own back yard.
Yes, there is passion here, passion for place and for sex and for love that won't ever hurt anyone. Joanna is brilliant in her possession of that moral sense women develop in their late twenties after they've seen enough relationships fail; that surely the problem is solvable through sense and independence. In some ways I see, in Kelley's work, a thoroughly modern Jane Austen; this is Sense and Sensibility, Portland style. Austen's protagonists, too, believe they can save themselves from heartache if only they can enter into all affairs of love leading with their intellect and strength of character.
Joanna has decided she can maintain control over her life -- the control she saw her mother lose more than a few times -- by setting ground rules, by never believing in a love that can last forever. By agreeing upfront to end a relationship the moment right before it "gets messy." She, Joanna, will never fall prey to that moviescreen moment, the one in which the protagonist locks herself away in her apartment to subsist on ice cream and tears for weeks! Joanna, with her introspective walks, her belief in problem solving, can always fix anything.
That is, at least, what she believes. The more emotionally confusing the situation, the more Joanna seeks to control herself; when things get intensely confusing, Joanna gets creative. Malcolm presents a problem; he's a love interest she never, ever wants to lose. Given her pragmatic approach to love; the intention to end things before anyone gets hurt; Joanna's only solution is to keep Malcolm her "friend." Friends, after all, never get divorced, never cheat on you. Friends you can safely love forever.
Joanna's passionate life's work, to keep herself safe from damaging heartbreak, fills this book with its delicious friendships and couplings, excursions into online dating, home improvement, vegetable gardening, and lots and lots of adventurous sex. Kelley handles the passion deftly, the way I imagine Austen would write sex scenes were she our contemporary; with intensity, truth, matter-of-factness, and humor. Sometimes she takes our breath away, sometimes she has us shaking our heads in agreement (her description of Joanna's sex with her boyfriend Nate had me laughing in familiarity; for the record, sweet love, this is long ago familiarity).
What Kelley does most is give us a romantic heroine for our times, one who defines the conventional love-and-marriage not as the safe haven at the end of a romantic journey, but as a dangerous journey itself, one for which not everyone is suited. Her protagonists believe in love; but believe it's messy and fraught with peril and are only willing to trust others as far as they trust themselves. That's not very far, so when her protagonists DO take a leap, we can't help but leap with them....more
I grew up in a household where the Bible was read to us, chapter by chapter, at dinner every night. I earned prizes for memorizing whole passages (likI grew up in a household where the Bible was read to us, chapter by chapter, at dinner every night. I earned prizes for memorizing whole passages (like ice cream) at church camp, so my knowledge of the Bible is pretty darn good. Mark Russell's book, still, continued to surprise me. "God did that? Really?" I said, over and over again.
Nowhere is the changing nature of the Christian idea of God more evident than in these smart, witty, slimmed-down versions of the Bible's canonical books. It's more than a summary, though; it's an encapsulation, a quintessence of the Bible. It's the way to truly get beyond the dense language and the lists and endless rule-making and see through to the soul of the book.
It's hard to get through this with a faith in the infallibility of the Bible intact, but you won't go away empty-handed, as you'll have a comprehensive education in the text on which so much of our culture is based. And you'll have fun!
Spoiler: in the end, there is an apocalypse, and horsemen, and a terrible beast, and the world ends. Sorry....more
Like Rebecca Kelley, I was fortunate to read this book in workshop, and we would compete with each other every week to say "funny!" "fascinating!" andLike Rebecca Kelley, I was fortunate to read this book in workshop, and we would compete with each other every week to say "funny!" "fascinating!" and "I can't believe I never knew that!" in new ways. Heather is snarky and sly but does not let her sense of humor get in the way of a truly deep and intelligent analysis of the history of everything from gruel to huevos rancheros for breakfast. She plumbs the depths of classical literature and history for information on breakfasts enjoyed by great philosophers and world leaders; she examines anthropological history for information on breakfasts eaten by peasants and field laborers. She makes you hungry.
I suggest reading this book in small doses, after a full breakfast inspired by the previous day's reading. Otherwise you'll end up (like us) with strange cravings for granola or Johnnycakes or eggs Benedict at odd times....more
Laura Stanfill curates a world of extraordinary enthusiasm and literary possibility in this charming book of interviews and micro-essays; reading it iLaura Stanfill curates a world of extraordinary enthusiasm and literary possibility in this charming book of interviews and micro-essays; reading it is like going to readings and writer's groups all over the state of Oregon. It's very place-based and centers on a surprising number of unpublished, or newly-published writers, so at times it can be less inspiring than other similar books (written by accomplished writers who make you believe, I too can become a famous so-and-so!). But it's like meeting a new group of friends at a workshop, people whose work you want to read, people who you hope will, in turn, show up at your gig, will clap hard, and buy your book....more
I have thought these things: I am done with books proclaiming to tell the story of healing when the wounds are so obviously still raw. I am done withI have thought these things: I am done with books proclaiming to tell the story of healing when the wounds are so obviously still raw. I am done with struggles-that-are-not-really-struggles, the so-called "first world problems" that make one's eyes roll and ones jaw clench. How did she get so much buzz for this terribly whiny book? I'll ask myself, barely able to get through the first third without hucking it across the room. I thank other reviewers for making the contrast between Eat, Pray, Love and Wild. I'd include a few other books written, I thought, in the rush of loss or certainty-of-wisdom that were not, indeed, wise: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination is one that immediately comes to mind. There are others.
I read this book despite all these things, and because I have never been steered wrong by Cheryl before (we're friends, and I've read most of her public writing, including about half of her Dear Sugar columns). I read this book hoping to be proven right in my faith in her and wrong in my worry it would not go well, this struggle-against-the-wilderness, this wisdom-discovery.
Indeed. I was proven right and wrong in all the best ways. Wild is a luminous exception. It is a story of birth more than it is a story of death (though her mother's death a few years earlier is the centerpiece of the book); it is a story of joy more than it is a story of pain (though pain is on almost every page, rippling, fleshy, scarring pain). I skated through it, flipped, plodded, ran, like Cheryl, wanting to rush but then holding back and making sure I read it closely enough to render an informed review.
When you begin, when you join Cheryl on this improbable hike, of course, you expect her ill preparation and her constant desire to give up and many, many complaints. But she does not give up, she stubbornly struggles through, and even I think many times oh, you'd be best to quit right now... but you know that she will not and you are so proud. You are along for the fight, Monster and all. You wish you could float down on a feather with another $20 or a better pair of boots. You wish you could sit her down a few months before her hike and plan out a schedule of training hikes. But you can't, so instead, you begin to imagine your own hike and you are searingly jealous of her 12-hour-days of loneliness and thought. How much I would think in that time, you think. Oh how I could use that right now.
I got it, though; through her voice and eyes I have hiked the trail without the right-sized boots and with a pack far too heavy to imagine. I do not have to leave my boys with their aunt for months while I find myself; I have found myself on the trail with her, there, in the burning heat and the shivering cold, sweaty and wondrous and stinky and limping and profound. How wild it is.
Finally, a disclaimer. Very probably, if I did not know Cheryl I would find quibbles enough with this book to knock my five stars down to four. I don't like to just gush around giving five stars to things, even very good things, because how can one write a perfect book? No. This isn't perfect. But, I am going to invoke my license to be biased, this time....more
I know Kyran through our cozy blogworld, and I have loved her writing for years (even before she became a Good Housekeeping contributing editor -- herI know Kyran through our cozy blogworld, and I have loved her writing for years (even before she became a Good Housekeeping contributing editor -- her poetic talent is clear even when not judged by the big ones). I'd always admired her for her way of turning blog posts into short essays, not the journaling you see in most 'mommy blogs.' She has a weight about her.
And so, much of this material was familiar both in story and in tone. I knew several of these stories from our mutual connection and the briefer, real-time, non-contextual versions on the blog. Seeing how she wove the excellent short pieces into longer, more complete essays was interesting and, again, familiar (though I haven't written a book yet, I too turn bits and pieces from blog posts into longer essays). Every essay in here stands without knowing anything of Kyran beforehand; I could just as easily have walked into her life off the internet's streets, a new mother or a net ingenue. And I would like it exactly as much.
The real strength of this work is that it does not paint the role of wife/mother as the easy-peasy romance so many modern mother-memoirists do (or, conversely, hell's roller coaster into all-caps snark and stories intimate with poop). We see here, marriage in its ups and downs: we see a real story with real arguments that could be lifted straight into most marriages I know without anyone being the wiser. And we see the true heroism of staying in a marriage, through it all; we see a realism without (much) product placement or blithe boosterism. At times, due to (probably) the difficulties of siding with one group or another, the living she must go on doing in her family and social environment, she seems almost blindingly equaninimous. I am a 40-year-old mother, I contain multitudes! (She can be an attachment parent and still put her baby in child care while she writes; she can be a frugal hippie and still send her kids to private school. She does not judge any mother, holding hands instead, across the cul-de-sacs and picket fences and barbed wire and interstate freeways.)
I am missing something from this work, though, and that is a narrative thread and a clear chronology. Each essay can stand on its own, and many of them probably could do so in major newspapers and magazines without any complaint and with, likely, acclaim from other mother-writers; I, however, prefer to see a story in beginning-middle-and-end form. Each essay wraps its idea (not story: idea) up nicely at the end and shows the development of wisdom with age. I would like to see the wisdom come on more slowly; I would like to not always know the end of the story at the end (or even, often, only half-way through) each essay. I had expected a book, not a collection, and was mildly disappointed.
It's also hard for me, a mother-writer with three boys and a husband who shares many character traits with Kyran's husband Patrick, to read a book in which the strife never comes (or extremely rarely comes) from the children. In my world, children are not so pacific. But that is my story, I think; Kyran's story is either simply a different one, or any trouble coming from the children is glossed over. I can hardly fault a writer for her easy children (but oh! they seem so easy!).
As someone who has been through many of the same thought-essays in my own head, I would suggest this book for younger mothers and mothers-to-be. It's especially useful for mothers who share something with Kyran -- a husband with a genetic predisposition to boys, maybe; a bad-girl past; a freelance lifestyle; a transplantation to the South. It's a great gift-book, good for reading like an approachable literary magazine: in snippets and at random, quoting passages out loud to your intractable husband or your mama friends on the front porch....more
The book is approachable and energetic, not just for those sort of hardcore locavore environmental activists like some of us are, but also for the --The book is approachable and energetic, not just for those sort of hardcore locavore environmental activists like some of us are, but also for the -- as Michelle describes herself -- "multitasking working parent and child chauffeur" intent on proving "you don't have to be a stay-at-home parent to cook with your kids." The recipes provide a lot of what a writer last week called "serv[ing] as pitchman for the underdogs: the fruits, the vegetables; the foods without preservatives or ingredients I couldn't pronounce." Honestly, the photo of "Yummy Strawberry Yogurt Parfait" was enough for Everett to demand it, immediately! And some of the names, like "Wish-for-a-Fish Pasta" and "There's a Turkey in Your Pocket" may inspire if your child is, like Truman (six), charmed by such cute things. "That's so funny!" he'll tell me over and over, repeating the name of the dish. "You were like, there's a turkey in my pocket! And I was like, hehe."
The recipes all come with neat color-coded markers that show which steps would be appropriate to let children ages 2-3, 4-6, 7-10, and 11 and up help with. I found they're pretty on target; when we made the Baked Apple Puff, a sweet variation on an old fave, the Dutch baby pancake, Everett (eight) and Monroe (three) helped along with their respective age groups.
While my approach toward ingredients is a little more whole-hog than the recipes in the book (I prefer to make a pot of black beans with orange peel than to buy a can; I prefer maple syrup over brown sugar; I haven't used ground turkey in years, preferring ground beef and pork I get in large quantities from local farmers and keep in my freezer), I affirm utterly Michelle's commitment to spending our cooking time with our kids making that good food to grow on with whole, local and fresh ingredients, instead of focusing all our bonding time on chocolate chip cookies and microwave popcorn (which seems to be the prevailing cultural attitude).
There are a lot of books on cooking with or for kids on the bookstore shelves right now, and this is a rare one that avoids judgment or preachiness, while at the same time embracing the concept of involving our kids in good food decisions (no vegetable hiding or sweet pretenses here). You'll probably be happy to see that Michelle doesn't call repeatedly for using organic ingredients, making a small plug for it in the prologue and leaving it at that. And I think the bar for most of our families is pretty low; if we get two or three new fruit- and veggie-packed recipes into our weekly rotation, we're thrilled! This book easily sails over that bar with plenty of potential. ...more
Reading a book set, not only in your hometown, not only in your home neighborhood, but in your own high school and very nearly your own era: well, thaReading a book set, not only in your hometown, not only in your home neighborhood, but in your own high school and very nearly your own era: well, that's complicated. As Susan walks the halls of Cleveland High School -- where she, near the beginning of the book, hasn't visited since her graduation -- I'm walking with her, but not through the author's eyes but through my own memory. Because I still spend time in those halls, in that auditorium, I keep trying to replace Susan with first one friend, then another; and screwing my brow wondering, how'd the physics teacher come from over THERE? And is that supposed to be Mr. Sauer?
It probably wasn't Mr. Sauer, but it certainly was a good facsimile thereof. And the auditorium seats are absolutely not red vinyl; they're wooden and old as the furnace (that's old!). But we'll forgive Chelsea these things. She probably went to a high school with red vinyl seats and is borrowing that detail.
The story convinces, wins your heart, knocks you still in your bed (or your chair) as you rip through it, noting those novelistic details that make Chelsea the mainstream writer a literary gal can love. Chelsea, don't apologize for this; you're accessible but I see the song here, the careful sprinkling of your real physical life into the character's stories. The interview scenes are told with a photographer's sensibility, and everything has a little meaning without being overly symbolic. There are enough clues so a reader can feel smug for figuring the murder out, but not too much. Some things are left to discover on the page.
And you leave us caring what happens next. I'm picking up the next one. Just 15 minutes, you know, before I go to sleep...
Nice work, Chelsea, I'm a quick convert. Now I want to go meet some timber barons....more
If I may generalize by only having read *reviews* of 'Blackbird,' Jennifer Lauck's unusual gift is to recapture the voice of the person she was, in wrIf I may generalize by only having read *reviews* of 'Blackbird,' Jennifer Lauck's unusual gift is to recapture the voice of the person she was, in writing her memoirs, and so it is often difficult to decide whether or not you like the writing, or her self at the time she was writing of; it is hard to know whether or not the writing is unaware, or it was her long past self, unawares.
There are many pages in the book during which I shook my head, nonplussed with Jennifer's simple and wide-eyed point of view, or overwhelmed with her as she swept herself into Tara meditations. At times, she didn't seem quite altogether; and I cannot tell if this is a literary device or a flaw in the book. I suspect it to be a device, as in the end there is a nuanced and thoughtful summing-up, an always-generous and understanding perspective of why others did the things they did, a clear and non-judging and piercing nugget of intentions as they ultimately conflict with conventions. No one, of course, *meant* to hurt anyone else, no one meant to hurt Jennifer; of course, hurt was done. It was a riveting and soul-shaking hurt, and it's no wonder that this book should be recommended to the adoption community. While it may be useful to those considering giving children up for adoption or adopting other children, its most keen insights are into the substantial and devastating industry behind adoptions in the 50s and 60s, when teenagers were routinely forced into giving up their babies, and it was quite acceptable for the girl's family to pretend the child had never existed.
I want to undo things that have been done; I don't know if that's possible; like Jennifer, I don't know what should be done about adoption today....more