Seriously beautiful crafted book. All the quiet internal scenes and yet there are battles with dragons and wraiths and wizards who change into animals...moreSeriously beautiful crafted book. All the quiet internal scenes and yet there are battles with dragons and wraiths and wizards who change into animals, and yet this book is marked most by contemplation, by deep meaningful friendships between men, by weird and truth-telling characterizations of pain and fear and pride and love. Nothing here is un-cared-for, nothing here is beside the point, nothing here is in-your-face. Ursula takes magic and monsters and makes it all the most human, the most artful(less)
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 (lik...moreI 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.(less)
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!" and...moreLike 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.(less)
Books that attract the moniker 'impossibly slim!' or 'elegant' or 'jewel-like,' as Morrison's 'Home,' seem even harder to review. One is tempted to re...moreBooks that attract the moniker 'impossibly slim!' or 'elegant' or 'jewel-like,' as Morrison's 'Home,' seem even harder to review. One is tempted to resort to cliche: 'prose poem,' say, or 'tightly-composed.' One is tempted to dwell primarily on the symbolism, the deeper meanings of an abstract title, the parallels to myth.
Ok: so we have a broken Odysseus, at first introduced in a dream-like post-war that could be any post-war in the 20th century, fighting battles that are overtly racial and very American, but could so easily be any mistreated ethnic minority anywhere. Like a post-war vet he is angry and harboring a secret. Like in Ithaca, the earnest tradition of hospitality and trust in his hometown has lead to ruin.
As the dream state clears and clarifies, we find everyone feeling broken, and no one taking refuge in the heroism of romantic love (a Homeric attitude if there ever was one). We find the avenging, angry hero ripping heads off like any good Odysseus (complete with the loyal nurse, Sarah). That Penelope is sister and not wife does not, for me, inhibit the story; Penelope was left too long to be an object of homecoming lust. Cee fits.
The ending, however, doesn't fit me so well; I found the gathering of the hometown handmaidens curious and discordant (Odysseus kills HIS 12 ladies), the mending too neat and a little too salacious. (Sun smacking? I don't know what this symbolizes, other than the healing fire of The Lord, and that gives me the creeps). Atonement, for this hero, comes easy; only Penelope is scarred for life.(less)
Laura Stanfill curates a world of extraordinary enthusiasm and literary possibility in this charming book of interviews and micro-essays; reading it i...moreLaura 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.(less)
This book had a great story, but condescending, rushed, repetitive writing and petulant protagonists. I loved the weaving of mythology into present da...moreThis book had a great story, but condescending, rushed, repetitive writing and petulant protagonists. I loved the weaving of mythology into present day reality, and the concepts of auras with strong scents was lovely, but I don't think I've ever read a book by an author who felt it so necessary to remind the reader over, and over, and over, about the character's history and personality quirks and the rules of his fictional world. I actually shouted at the writer several times: "ok! I get it! Auras have scents! Immortality is a burden! Mythology is real!" -- and I know this is YA, but my 10-year-old had the same problems as I did (though it's easier for him to forgive, he gave the book 5 stars). I'd love to read this author if he took three times as long writing the books, and hired someone who cared about sentences and the art of fiction as an editor. I'm available, Michael, and the future of your readers' relationships are worth it.(less)
Reading memoirs while writing memoirs biases a girl. I am biased to language that is not plain. I am biased to tight narratives that fit in a slim tim...moreReading memoirs while writing memoirs biases a girl. I am biased to language that is not plain. I am biased to tight narratives that fit in a slim timeline. I am biased toward looping, and reaching back and forward. I am biased toward the mystery of memory and not as much the plain statement of it.
Jeannette's book is brave and interesting and rollicking and entirely worthwhile. The story of *just how* a couple of adults managed to raise a passel of successful, creative, wonderful children (and one not so successful), while utterly neglecting them, overtly harming them or excusing those who harmed them, leaving them hungry for their entire childhood and literally living in rat-infested filth, and then retire to homelessness in New York City despite having property and valuables worth enough to have made none of that necessary -- well, that's interesting. I do want to read it. (And did, in the space of three days.)
Jeannette's book is also one of those books that starts at the beginning and goes straight through until it gets to the end (presumably, an event that occurred shortly before handing in her manuscript). It is plain and spans her whole lifetime from three years old up until middle adulthood. It is one-way. It baldly states as fact all the events, dialogue, and inner thoughts of her childhood self.
I don't doubt her, except for a few times, and some of her dialogue for Lori is too good. Though, really, Lori or Jeannette do seem quite capable of any advanced, mature, very funny quip at just about any age. It's sure that her recall isn't quite that good; but, with memoir of a childhood, we can excuse that and I, with reservations, do.
So I did not love this book. I liked it; I feel that I will remember it; I am interested in the author and her family and will look eagerly on future essays or short pieces she writes.
The ending, though, was missing something. It was so much like her mother; but it was almost too endearing, as if I should be dabbing my eyes with my handkerchief, and I was not. It was stated plainly like all the rest of it, but described in more detail, probably because she could write it in the presence of recent memories. Never boring! You're right. A little more, though, just for us? (I did like the quantum physics candle flame.)
As predicted, the use of time in memoir was too important to me to excuse an author taking the easy way out.(less)
Two stars? Three? I changed back and forth a half-dozen times. I want to write a longer review, but for now: Katherine has created a character almost...moreTwo stars? Three? I changed back and forth a half-dozen times. I want to write a longer review, but for now: Katherine has created a character almost exactly like her own self (in physical appearance, background, interests, home, and the like) who is mysteriously and at once super, scintillatingly smart and insultingly dull. She has keen insights into people and yet she can't read them at all. She is terribly shy and yet wickedly playful with the boy. Katherine keeps asserting the characteristics of her heroine, and then having her behave in quite another way.
The research is great, which gives it a plus; but the diction is difficult to slog through, a big minus. Katherine and her protagonist both seem to look down at their nose quite mightily at the local New Englanders. I get it: you're smarter than them. Now stop telling me that and SHOW it to me instead!
The magic though; I loved the magic. Her perspective, that this magic is somehow both devout and personal, was lovely and the spells pretty good. The shears and scissors thing made me roll my eyes, but I loved the bits with the fire.
I liked it enough to read all the way to the end, which means maybe I'll get generous and change it back to three stars before the weekend's done.(less)
I'm working up a review of this through a personal finance lens, so I think I'm not quite ready to write my "real" review. But what I've learned so fa...moreI'm working up a review of this through a personal finance lens, so I think I'm not quite ready to write my "real" review. But what I've learned so far in working through my thoughts on this book is that I love it very much because of its thorough grounding in real relationships, real people, and that tablecloth-pulling trick, of yanking all the inhibitions out of one or two main characters so that they say or do or just think on the page the things that all of us dream of. Have you ever, in a fit of rage, imagined slamming a frying pan down on the head of your spouse? Have you ever wondered whether you could injure yourself -- cut your arm, through yourself down the stairs -- in order to really get back at someone in your life? Of course you've had these thoughts and maybe they've even been so real that for a minute you looked over your shoulder for the police banging down the door. But you don't do them. You don't follow through.
Gillian imagines what it would be like and then she does it, fictionally, but in order to make her characters work she takes herself (Nick) and, I assume, her husband or an old boyfriend (Amy) and messes their hair and background up until they're just unbalanced enough to do the actual thing. I know Gillian would never sleep with a hot young thing. But you know she's imagined it. (Come on. We all have thought, just for a minute, what it would be like to be that person, who sleeps with the beautiful young thing who adores us, because they don't know us yet.) So her characters, well, they're allowed.
In the end I didn't believe the bad stuff enough to make it work. I think Amy is Gretchen from Chelsea Cain's books, dressed down and put into a domestic setting. All her delicious evilness, her lack of conscience, jiggled and juggled until I can't quite believe it. Because Gillian loves Amy and she is Nick, so they can't be as bad as all that. (less)
For a work like this I need to write one review immediately, and then another a day later, and then another a week or two later, and another a year af...moreFor a work like this I need to write one review immediately, and then another a day later, and then another a week or two later, and another a year after that. What I have right now is this.
I do not want to live in Yunior's life, and I also do not want to live in Junot Diaz' life, however separate and more upbeat it is from Yunior's life. I suspect the lines between Junot and Yunior are quite immaterial.
And yet he is a master of his art; and yet, as Rebecca pointed out, my writing also has been called "bleak" and "dark" by lots of readers. I suppose, if the life is bleak and dark, the writing is bleak and dark, and it is up to the reader to choose whether to embrace or reject the well-told story because it takes us into the parts of human experience where we do not wish to live.
Today I chose to live in Yunior's existence and I am only better for it, though I have so much more to mourn today than yesterday. Every sentence! Every paragraph! Every opening to every story is the sort of art in which you examine it from every angle, admiring the craft that makes it look effortless and at the same time clearly took untold time to hone and shape. Every ending is the same.
What we discussed in our WCBG was that he has performed that careful, important dance of the novelist-who-is-almost-a-memoirist; that of treating each and every character with compassion and empathy, up to and including himself. We often feel shattered by the choices the characters make, but we never feel as if the narrator is judging them. At least: if he is judging them he is judging them with all the love he can muster and twice the compassion they deserve. (Everyone deserves compassion. But we were all pretty pissed at the mom and the crazy law student. And the dad? I think that goes without saying. Yunior? We wanted to hug him and ruffle his hair.)
Read all the way to the end. See your way through.(less)
I don't know. Maybe today I'll give it three stars and tomorrow, four. Maybe someday I'll want five.
I've been told I should read Howard's End before g...moreI don't know. Maybe today I'll give it three stars and tomorrow, four. Maybe someday I'll want five.
I've been told I should read Howard's End before giving my final verdict, and I think I will. But for now I offer this: I feel this is too subtle a satire for me. I think of myself as quite good at figuring out books and extremely progressive when it comes to matters of race. (I, very seriously, dated and lived with a black man for many years in my late teens and twenties, and my relationship with him was bracketed by two other interracial relationships. None of these relationships was anything like the relationship between Howard and his wife, and of course, we had no children, though plans were in the works when I broke things off. I feel that my education on the history of race in American literature is as good as it can be without an advanced degree in the field -- I took several classes on the topic as part of my literature degree from a school known for its academic rigor.)
That parenthetical is perhaps more than you need to know. I felt lost in Smith's work, sure that it was supposed to be great but spending far too much time disliking her characters and, further, disliking her treatment of her characters. I thought she was condescending and critical and rarely gave them a break, either by writing scenes for them where they could shine or by her cataloging of their thoughts and actions. Kiki! How I wanted to relate to you and how hard it was for me to do so. Maybe there is too much of my almost-sister-in-law in you, although she was never as smart as you. You had so much to work with.
I went back and forth as to whether Smith meant to treat her characters harshly because the world was treating them harshly, critiquing them without compassion or care, prejudging them, deciding them to be what they were only half of (and really? how can you even say you know half of someone because you know the whole of their skin and dress?) -- or if she was simply harsh and critical. I probably will decide it was the former and then I will give her another star, because if that is so it is truly a masterwork. If so, well-played, Smith, well-played.(less)
I am giving this book four stars even though it is bad! Bad! Bad! Because in its badness it is so good. It is legendary in its badness. It is epic. It...moreI am giving this book four stars even though it is bad! Bad! Bad! Because in its badness it is so good. It is legendary in its badness. It is epic. Its world is so rich (like spice, right?) that I am giving Herbert a pass on a dozen or more wrongs to fiction.
His wrongs are, indeed, multitudinous. Chief among them is his use of the close third point of view in a (new?) way that perhaps might be called, "ping pong close third." We get to see everyone's italicized inner monologues, all of which are numbing in their repetition. Never has the inner working of a psychic man-god's mind been so tedious!
Perhaps second among them is the coldness with which the mother treats the son. Her maternal nature seems to be so quickly subverted by her new domain. I began loving her and then quickly, so violently quickly, was shown how haughty and cold she was. I didn't want to believe it; she, after all, chose to bear the boy knowing the consequences; yet the evidence just kept piling up.
Another problem is that, despite how Herbert beats some of his themes into your head, a lot of times I just didn't GET it. I didn't know, for instance, why the jihad was so inevitable. I didn't always follow what was going on in the political juggling and manipulating -- it was exhausting! -- and more than anything this book seems to be an indictment of All Politics Everywhere (plus religion).
But, you know, the idea is just awesome, the idea of the planting of religion in different cultures so that everyone shares a creation myth and certain reverential triggers. It's so much fun. And super good fighters and woman warriors and uncanny wisdom in four-year-olds and men riding worms. How cool is all that? Cool enough to overlook the flaws.
(How much, though, do you all want to invent a time machine so we can go back and get Herbert a good writer's group and a team of harsh-but-indulgent editors?)(less)
I did indeed love many parts of the book, but I agree with the many criticisms that their dialogue was too, too! Too smart, too eloquent, too rapt in...moreI did indeed love many parts of the book, but I agree with the many criticisms that their dialogue was too, too! Too smart, too eloquent, too rapt in philosophy and melancholy and love. And everyone loves a good love story with Facebook walls, yes? Yes!
But I could love it so much more if the characters in John Green's world didn't fall so neatly into irredeemably bad, poignantly and forever good, and dull. I walked away from the book wondering if the theme was, "notice things" (which it seems as if you could avoid killing half the characters from ridiculously painful cancer to get across) or "alcoholics will always disappoint you so deal with it." Or maybe, "God doesn't help anyone but the people who think he will sure are cuddly, aren't they?"
I think the treatment of the alcoholic writer was, in the end, the reason I couldn't love the book. Not because I think alcoholics should be more lovable, but because it just didn't seem necessary to paint such a dark and hopeless character. Hazel goes off on her little quest to redeem him, thinking about how hard he had it when his daughter died, but then gives up with a shrug when she realizes he's just going to keep on drinking. "Oh well. I can still notice things!"
I didn't want him to magically be cured of his alcoholism. But a little more compassion would have only been appropriate.(less)
First I will say something about the book. The book is perfect. It is a book I was so reluctant to read, because, it is about sexual abuse. That is so...moreFirst I will say something about the book. The book is perfect. It is a book I was so reluctant to read, because, it is about sexual abuse. That is something everyone knows, yes? But this is not just a book about abuse but about everything else that you, yes you with your small family with children and your typical relationship with your husband and your acceptable upbringing -- you can find yourself here. Joys, loves, faults, deeps-of-the-pit-of-despair, all of you. It is also funny and it is also sad and it is also happy and it is also TRUE.
And now I will write how I feel, now.
I will always love Anne Enright.
She peels me like a particularly sweet and tiny orange, little unkempt and ragged bits that fall all around me, that stain my fingernails and make my fingers and the table sticky, that bedevil me and through up a terrific fragrance, so every frustration is also a glory, a joy, and then there is the middle and can it be eaten in one bite? No, bit by bit, and when it is done, more, more, we need more.
Anne Enright knows me. We are twins, we two; wrapped 'round each other's fingers and each other's souls. There from the beginning.
This book, too, circles and stabs and drifts and circles again, guessing and hooting with unreliability like The Good Soldier. It is always there. What is exceptional about this book is (many things) but that the woman at the center of the book, Veronica, is absolutely raw and she shows us everything that is ugly or unacceptable or half-crazy or wrong with her and it all is a tearfully loving portrait of a real person dealing with the worst loss of her life, the worst love of her life, the best love, the worst secret and the most wondrous wisdom.
Her brother, Liam, has died, and taken with him a secret, one that even she never really can remember. Was it just him? Did anyone else know? Did she, herself, suffer? How much was lost, how much compromised? Was her mother to blame? We enter and leave and flirt with her memory and her imagination of what came before her, how these evils came to be. Who was complicit? Was it only her? Was everyone?
We think that Veronica is lost, that she will never again be herself: that she cannot stay married to the mildly insufferable man, that she cannot be a right mother to her girls who she loves deeply and finds such quiet fault with, that she will spiral into an immeasurable grief. But she saves herself, or perhaps she is saved, by love, but not by a new love or a newly-discovered love but by the old loves. Because she can only fall into her own life, with the family she "never chose to love, but love all the same."
As all the cliches and storylines twist and tip onto their head, I only can grasp the center of it, put it into my mouth, and chew. I can only want 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 with...moreI 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.(less)