This book made me fall in love with Julia Child. It is not technically perfect--there are moments in which scenes change abruptly, transitions absent.This book made me fall in love with Julia Child. It is not technically perfect--there are moments in which scenes change abruptly, transitions absent...but i don't care; it feels like I am sitting in a room while Julia narrates her life. If only the book came with her cooking!...more
I learned about opening up while reading this novel. About how to write pain. Cheryl Strayed does a tremendous job capturing grief, a topic that can eI learned about opening up while reading this novel. About how to write pain. Cheryl Strayed does a tremendous job capturing grief, a topic that can easily be expressed in a clichéd manner.
She captures the essence of grief in this novel. And the voice! I’d stay hundreds of pages with her....more
I first read an excerpt from this drug-addiction memoir in New York Magazine earlier this summer. While I've had my fill of drug-addiction memoirs (anI first read an excerpt from this drug-addiction memoir in New York Magazine earlier this summer. While I've had my fill of drug-addiction memoirs (and memoirs about nervous breakdowns, in case you care) and thus find any craving of such subject matter more than quenched, I found myself totally enthralled by the text, and in particular, Bill Clegg's voice. Plus, the guy was a wildly successful literary agent, an insider, whose decline was marked by an addiction to crack. I wanted more. I put my waitlist for the book at the library. More than two months later, the book became available to me.
The book isn't about recovery--it's about addiction told in a most unfiltered, unblinking narrative. There's a craft essay on Brevity by Kerry Cohen that emphasizes the importance and necessity to "sit with your flawed, imperfect self, silence your internal judge, and allow yourself to write toward meaning." Bill Clegg does just that, and his book is an example of how I need to write with such brutal honesty.
The other craft element I found valuable was the structure of this memoir. The book flips back and forth between the main timeline of Clegg's addiction, and snippets of childhood, aptly written in third person. There is no overt connection between the two narratives, and yet there is connection between the shame in his childhood and the shame that drives him to self-destruction in his adulthood. The structure of this memoir is duly noted in my mind.
Also, for the record, this is the first book I've read since Vonnegut's Sirens of Titans--for some reason, I haven't been able to finish a book since Vonnegut. I have tried and tried to read other books, resulting in a stack of books on my nightstand, all with bookmarks at some halfway mark. This book? I began and finished this book in one day/night.
If I could give this book 3.5 stars, I would. But there's no 1/2 option. Thus, the 4 stars.
First few lines: "I can't leave and there isn't enough.
Mark is at full tilt, barking hear-it-here-first wisdom from the edge of his black vinyl sofa. He looks like a translator for the deaf moving at triple speed--hands flapping, arms and shoulders jerking. His legs move, too, but only to fold and refold at regular intervals beneath his tall, skeletal frame. The leg crossing is the only thing about mark with any order. The rest is a riot of sudden movements and spasms--he's a marionette at the mercy of a brutal puppeteer. His eyes, like mine, are dull black marbles."...more
Amazing short story collection--if you read one short story collection this year, this is the one to read. The narrator's voice is pitch perfect, theAmazing short story collection--if you read one short story collection this year, this is the one to read. The narrator's voice is pitch perfect, the prose fantastic....more
Beautiful language. Heartbreaking story (I won’t deign to spoil it for you). This book had been sitting on my shelf for years until I decided to readBeautiful language. Heartbreaking story (I won’t deign to spoil it for you). This book had been sitting on my shelf for years until I decided to read it after a friend urged me to read it. It was just the encouragement I needed! But here’s the rub: this book is a great example of a book that keeps a secret from its reader for longer than it should. I *hate* it when the narrator and characters in a story keep a secret from me, the reader. I get downright resentful.
I could feel the narrator, Kathy H., was keeping a secret from me–she kept telling me about the daily rituals and banal details of day to day life–and when people do that I think, “What’s going on?” This went on for nearly half the book, when suddenly she revealed her secret. I could’ve KILLED her. Kazuo Ishiguro is known for his reserved narrators, and I respect much of his work…but he just went too far (reserving a secret from the reader for that long is unforgivable) on this one....more
I loved the structure of this novel, and the prose, and the characters--Colum McCann is a writer who can write characters of another race extremely w I loved the structure of this novel, and the prose, and the characters--Colum McCann is a writer who can write characters of another race extremely well. Where Arthur Golden fails (miserably) in Memoirs of a Geisha (gong sound effect for emphasis), McCann succeeds. An amazing novel, one of my favorites of recent time....more
Murakami+Junot Díaz, is how I like to describe this book. I had a lot of fun reading this book, and if you live in/near Oakland, you'll have a lot ofMurakami+Junot Díaz, is how I like to describe this book. I had a lot of fun reading this book, and if you live in/near Oakland, you'll have a lot of fun identifying the setting of the book. Even more so if you're familiar with Mills College at all. The pace is awesome, voice masterful, and his usage of time is clever. There is a chapter in which flashback is used exceedingly well, and I'm going to study it over and over and over. One of my favorite books of the past few years....more
As one of my good friends commented, "This is a great book for people who do not normally read". While Julie Powell's blog must have been a great readAs one of my good friends commented, "This is a great book for people who do not normally read". While Julie Powell's blog must have been a great read--this book is...not so much. It reads like a blog post patchwork quilt, and the lack of storytelling and the book's episodic nature drove me a bit nuts. For instance, he mentions her PCOS and other significant personal details in the first five pages...and those mentions never surface again in the rest of the novel. You'd think if a writer tells us something in the first few pages of a book, it might be important to keep in mind later. Many of the chapters have nothing to do with the previous chapter, except for the fact that she's cooking out of Julia Childs' cookbook: like I said, it reads like a series of blog posts. Great for a blog, not great for a book. Julie as a character in the novel was not so charismatic and Julia Childs is never really her own character (I suspect that Meryl Streep does all the work in the movie). But--if you're a foodie like me, you'll still follow the adventure out of middling curiosity--so, two stars instead of one. If you're not a foodie, you probably won't get past page 50....more
I have mixed feelings about this book--it was recommended to me highly by a friend, and I could totally see why: Greene is a master of his prose (checI have mixed feelings about this book--it was recommended to me highly by a friend, and I could totally see why: Greene is a master of his prose (check out the opening lines) and there were brilliant chapters in the novel. The characters were great--this is an example of how if you can write great characters, a reader will stay loyal to your novel out of a pure desire to follow them for hundreds of pages. But the plot was sort of lacking (I skipped entire chapters out of impatience with the slowgoing plot and was able to move forward without being lost). And there were coincidences galore (one character pops up at the most convenient moments only to exit very conveniently as well...and people are coincidentally related to each other--and I won't reveal who/how). But still worth a read, though not Greene's best--this is an example of how brilliant prose and great characters can overcome shortcomings (like an overabundance of convenient coincidences).
The best line in the book: "I felt hopelessly abroad."
"I met my Aunt August for the first time in more than half a century at my mother's funeral. My mother was approaching eighty-six when she died, and my aunt was some eleven or twelve years younger. I had retired from the bank two years before with an adequate pension and a silver handshake. There had been a take-over by the Westminster and my branch was considered redundant. Everyone thought me lucky, but I found it difficult to occupy my time. I have never married, I have always lived quietly, and, apart from my interest in dahlias, I have no hobby. For those reasons I found myself agreeably excited by my mother's funeral."
This is a memoir told by a North Korean escapee who spent his early childhood in privilege, only to be suddenly pulled away and subjected to a labor cThis is a memoir told by a North Korean escapee who spent his early childhood in privilege, only to be suddenly pulled away and subjected to a labor camp, torture and other atrocities. And who survived. It is a particularly mesmerizing read if you are at all interested in contemporary North Korea. He pulls no punches in describing his life in the labor camps (and if he is pulling his punches, then wow).
The book is largely a transcription of his oral narrative and if you speak Korean you will identify Korean phrasing...but if you don't speak Korean, you'll be fine as well, you'll just miss the oral narrative quality of the prose. The book opens with lyrical prose, almost like a poem...and then as his story hurtles from the Eden-like nature of his childhood toward the labor camps, the voice gets more and more matter of fact, an interesting display of what has happened to his own psyche as his life pares down to just survival.
Totally worth a read for insight into a North Korean life....more
**spoiler alert** Farm City is an awesome read, written by Novella Carpenter, whose book I rank up with Bill Buford’s Heat, with the spirit of Michael**spoiler alert** Farm City is an awesome read, written by Novella Carpenter, whose book I rank up with Bill Buford’s Heat, with the spirit of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. And I love the voice–Novella the narrator often wonders why people open up to her and accept her so readily (among others, Chris Lee of Eccolo, who teaches her how to prepare pork from her pigs); the voice of the narrator (straightforward, funny, unblinking to the point of childlike wonder, compassionate) is hers, and as a reader I found myself liking her so very much.
I mean, she describes her community in the ghetto with compassion and humor (describing the “tumbleweeds” as “tumbleweaves”).
I’ve been meaning to buy the book at one of our local stores, at one of Novella’s book tour readings, but my availability did not intersect with her schedule. And so I ordered the book off Amazon–but for as long as I waited to buy her tome, I wasted no time in cracking it open and settling in for what turned out to be an absorbing, delightful, educational reading of a book that drips with optimism and moxie in a world that has in recent months, gone dark and brooding.
Novella has a farm. She has a farm on an abandoned lot in a part of Oakland nicknamed “Ghost Town,” near the freeway and BART tracks. I’ve visited her farm and was astonished on my first visit to discover an oasis in a part of town that is not a destination site for many–most people drive past it on the freeway, ride past it on BART, there are very few grocery stores, and abandoned lots are many. Like the Valley of Ashes in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. But on her street corner, behind a chain link fence, is a lot full of green vegetables and myriad fruits, with a quiet symphony of animal noises.
The farm is serious work, with its share of tragedy: some of her birds die at the mercy of wild neighborhood dogs. Because the abandoned lot on which she squats and plants the garden is purposely unlocked, sometimes others come by and harvest things without permission. (This, she takes in stride–it’s not “her” land and she willingly shares the harvest). A farm, rural or urban, is not a perfect fairytale. Nature is unpredictable–but rewarding and complex, too.
When Novella’s animals are slaughtered (by her or, rarely, by a third party), it is not a heartless act but a very complex one; sad, respectful, awful, spiritual, and ultimately, pragmatic. Once during a visit I commented on how “cute” her rabbits were and Novella quickly responded, “They’re food. Don’t fall in love.” BTW, they were totally cute.
When she buys pigs at auction, unsure of what “Barrow” or “Gilt” might mean, she asks a boy, “Does G mean ‘girl’?” The way she describes the boy’s reaction, “He looked at me as if he might fall over from the sheer power of my enormous idiocy. Then he nodded, so stunned by my stupidity he couldn’t speak,” is so full of humility and frank humor that I was bowled over as a reader. I laughed out loud. (lol to you). Most writers in the foodie/food realm are so pompous and full of themselves, that I was truly delighted and charmed by Novella here, as I am in real life.
I’m always interested in novel structure (in recent months, I’ve been blogging less because I’ve been steeped in writing my fiction), and I took a quick look at how Novella structured Farm City: Rabbit, Turkey, Pig. (Those who read her blog know she has added goats to her farm in recent years, goats with whom I have visited and fallen in love). She now has goats because during her month of living exclusively off her farm and a 100 yard circumference, which she includes in Farm City, she decided she wanted to have a ready source of milk, sorely missed during that month.
The book is written, more or less, chronologically–because Novella really did start with rabbits, moving on to turkeys, and then pigs. But I still found the livestock-centric structure interesting and effective because yes, to a farmer life and time revolves around the livestock at hand.
The book is on Oprah’s list of 25 books to read this summer, and deservedly so....more
Recommended to me by a friend--who spoke so highly of Palahniuk, I had to give one of his books a read. After reading Palahniuk's bio (his father wasRecommended to me by a friend--who spoke so highly of Palahniuk, I had to give one of his books a read. After reading Palahniuk's bio (his father was killed right before he began writing Lullaby) I had to give this particular book a read, I had a feeling that book written in the wake of grief might have a specific kind of emotional intensity. And boy does it. One of my favorite books now. It gave me vivid dreams at night. It spooked me. It pierced my psyche. And the structure is interesting--sort of made sense as I read it, and it all clicked together after the very last sentence of the book. Palahniuk's ability to hold tension in his story, even while revealing all the facts, is amazing and dependent on the structure present in Lullaby. Makes me want to read it all over again. Wow....more
This is an amazing piece of work. An epic. A messy, rich, complicated, awesome epic novel. I learned so much about craft while reading this piece, becThis is an amazing piece of work. An epic. A messy, rich, complicated, awesome epic novel. I learned so much about craft while reading this piece, because Bolaño dares to go where very few writers dare to go–he lurches through several narrative threads, he sweeps continents and settings, he even writes a 4 page long sentence (kudos to the translator, Natasha Wimmer). There are points where you think the novel needed a firm handed editor, but the messiness and expansiveness of this novel is what makes it so incredible. Such as: the entire middle span of the story (the middle span being novel length) is a list of murders. You’d think a list wouldn’t be fascinating…but it is, even if it leaves you emotionally crumpled at its end. (I can only think that had he finished the book with an editor, this middle section might have been edited down). A must read this year (even though it might take a few months)....more