I don't know what took me so long to read Sarah Vowell. I like how she finds engaging angles to introduce somewhat obscure American history. For instaI don't know what took me so long to read Sarah Vowell. I like how she finds engaging angles to introduce somewhat obscure American history. For instance, she opens this book about the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley by discussing the little piece of trivia that Lincoln's son, Robert Todd, had the terrible luck of being present on all three occasions. Fascinating. That poor man.
Vowell folds in popular culture (many references to the musical Assassins! which I want to see now) and personal anecdotes (bringing her young nephew along to cemetery and statue trips) into her tales of death and change. The effect is a lighter kind of morbidity. She pokes fun at her gothic tendencies and at the way she convinces her friends to come along on her strange adventures. I will most likely be reading more of her soon....more
I love Bridget. In her first two books, she was charming, flawed and so funny. Many authors have tried to recreate her, but she remains inimitable. This third installment missed the mark for me. Partly because she remained too much the same. The premise of Mad About the Boy is essentially the same as the original: Bridget tries to fix herself, fails, man falls in love with her just the same. This time there's an older friend that replaced Shazz and she has two kids in tow, but she hasn't learned a thing. Not through the death of v. good husband Mark Darcy, not through her terrible career as a travel show host. I wanted her to have taken something with her from the past experiences and I didn't feel like she had.
I was laughing through the chapter after she has Botox. The rest of the humor felt a little stale to me. I didn't buy that after months of procrastinating the writing of her screenplay she would have it done and off to someone in a week. I though Daniel Cleaver ended up being a sad sack. Somewhere between the last book and this one he lost his cool and turned disturbed.
I don't remember so much rambling in the first two books. Her friendship with Nicorette happened on a dime after many chapters of hate. Her friendship with Rebecca was unfounded. Her interactions with the three Greenlight execs went from realistic to surreal quickly. I don't know what the point of including them was, especially George. I guess what I'm saying is this book just isn't as tight as the others. But I'm so glad one of my favorite fictional characters got a happy ending yet again....more
A woman discovers her husband's secrets after his death.
I will be reading this book again and again. Ann PatA woman discovers her husband's secrets after his death.
I will be reading this book again and again. Ann Patchett's characters are so rich and she shuffles them around in different settings to force them out of their comfort zones. There is so much to study in this book.
Normally I'm bored by stories that revolve around dreams, but Patchett uses Sabine's dreams to have the readers interact with Phan and, more importantly, Parsifal. She wrote these passages with very realistic emotions taking place in odd settings, exactly how those dreams that feel real work. The effect made me wonder if they were actually visiting her or if she was working through the events of previous chapters.
The odd love affair between Sabine and Parsifal is touching, never maudlin. It's complicated in a very real way. I enjoyed Sabine's perspective on loving a gay man and the sacrifices she'd made to find happiness in it. I enjoyed learning about her relationship with Phan, the jealousy, the shared interest.
Sabine's trip to Nebraska and the secrets revealed were riveting. Kitty, Howard, and Haas smacked away the ideal visit Dot and Bertie had in LA. It forced them to bond faster to each other. By the end, I sensed that all the characters were made better for what happened. And I was stunned how beautifully written the theme of the importance one person can have on many lives. ...more
I really could have used Becca at this group. She and I were the only group members who loved it. The rest of the group were either ambivalent or deciI really could have used Becca at this group. She and I were the only group members who loved it. The rest of the group were either ambivalent or decidedly hostile toward it. So, first the summary followed closely by the reasons we had such varying reactions.
A married couple of anthropologists loosely based on Margaret Mead and her Australian husband. They travel to study tribes in remote Indonesian islands in the 1950s. While there, they deal with the stresses of inserting themselves into a foreign community and with an eager anthropologist living with a tribe nearby.
"It was a little too English Patient for me." That is the first note I took during our discussion, a note I completely disagree with. I love history and the study of how others live, so the anthropological breaks the author Lily King took from the novel's central conflict between Nell and Fen were welcome and engaging. I enjoyed how King explained the different approaches Nell and Bankson's approach to their work. Apparently other members of the group were bored to tears by it, likening it to the notoriously artsy and glacial-moving Merchant Ivory film starring Ralph Fiennes as a wounded soldier.
"I've read this story a million times." If I remember correctly, someone said this while we were talking about how Nell's story of being successful and having that success be thwarted by the men in her life. Jealousy, power trips, rage. Fen definitely came across as shitty, someone in the group called him over-the-top. And in the end it was disappointing to all when the author decided to kill Nell at the end. "Of course she had to die, she was interesting and successful," someone lamented. The tone there was that successful women always have miserable fates in books.
We discussed the fact that this book would not have passed the Bechdel test. I thought this story's setting staid true to the time, when women's choices were unfortunately limited. Even a woman like Margaret Mead had to navigate society's weird ideas about the capabilities of women. I think most books should include women who talk to other women about subjects other than men, which is the main tenet of the Bechdel test. But I also think that it's appropriate that this one didn't.
We talked quite a bit about our suspension of passing judgement while we read this story. I thought Nell was doing the best she can shuffling priorities between her marriage, her lover, and her work. I thought the book did very well in explaining character motivations. Other members of the group disagreed.
We agreed that the book was beautifully written. We talked about the wine/bread metaphor. That's the theory that some love is like drinking wine - the intoxication of lust fading as time passes. Other love is like eating bread - sustaining, nourishing. That's exactly Nell's relationships with Fen and Bankson and the book is a quiet simmering of her realization of the situation she's in. 4 stars from me personally, 2 stars from most of the group so I split the different....more
The group was all over the place with this one. A couple of us loved it, a couple of us loathed it, and the rest seemed not to care one way or the other.
I'll speak for myself first. I loved it. I'm usually the one in the group who can't relax into a story and just appreciate the ride, but for this story it was easy. The group agreed unanimously that this book could easily have been shorter by 150 pages. But it didn't bother me; I liked the folklore it was building. The Druid fables and the talk of an eleventh dimension reminded me of the horror stories we told each other during recess about the old farm house next to the elementary school I attended. Letting imaginations run wild is kind of a 13 year olds MO. I like that Paul Murray embraced that.
I cared for Skippy as much as his friends did. He had all of these tremendous pressures on him; I just wanted to see him figure it all out, despite the title of the book.
Some of my fellow book groupers did not. They said and I quote: "What a bunch of sad sacks" and "Why do the students and adults all sound like they're the same age in this book?" I see their point. All of the characters did seem bumbling. We talked about "Howard the Coward" quite a bit. Why would someone get ridiculed for deciding not to attach himself to a bungee cord system set up by a 15 year old? We didn't think that name was justified. But Howard more than earns that nickname during the course of the story. Leaving Skippy alone in the yard despite his feeling that something was wrong. Bad. Cheating on his wife. Inexcusable. Going along with the dean's plan to ship a child molester off to another school in exchange for tenure. Absolutely despicable. We also discussed Lori's unbelievably fast decline into anorexia.
Many people in the group said that the characters didn't change much in the story. One person even felt that there was no redemption at the end. Tom the Molester deserved many more repercussions than that power-hungry corporate dean standing behind him and helping him leave the school. Ruprecht's only change was ceasing to lie after Skippy died. Dennis, Barry, Geoff, and even the hilarious Mario remained stagnant despite the tumultuous school year.
But I saw significant changes in certain characters. I think Carl being haunted by Skippy's ghost is a symbol of remorse. I think Howard realizing that he had a good thing with Halley and his recommitment to teaching were major breakthroughs. Lori broke through her self-absorption and became a human being when she genuinely offered to help Ruprecht. I maintain that in an insulated Catholic school where you are literally being taught what to believe for the rest of your life that these small changes are gigantic.
We ended by mentioning that the entire book felt like satire. We couldn't quite place what was being ridiculed, due to our lack of knowledge of Irish classism and politics.
Four stars from me because of the writing, the philosophy Murray wove into the story, and the nostalgia of being a kid again. Most of my book group cohorts would have given it less.
A nonfiction account of two Mormon brothers who murdered their sister-in-law and toddler niece and expanding outward into a history of the Mormon fundA nonfiction account of two Mormon brothers who murdered their sister-in-law and toddler niece and expanding outward into a history of the Mormon fundamentalist religion.
I've read quite a bit about Mormon history before so some of the book was not new to me. Even still, I think I would have wished for more about the killers and less about the history; or more obvious connections between the two topics.
The author made a point to discuss the complicated lineages of fundamentalist Mormon families - fundamentalists are those families that practice polygamy. He discussed the treatment of women, the problems inherent to a religious system that is based on dictatorship, and religious persecution in America.
It definitely has me thinking about the money I send the church for my Ancestry subscription. I admire people with strong convictions in their faith; but that admiration lessens when I learn that a faith condemns others for not believing, or if it doesn't allow followers to think for themselves, or when their religious culture settles into Us versus Them. Krakauer's book informed me straight away that Mormon Fundamentalism was solidly built on those three tenets.
This book is an eye-opening look at what happens when zealotry takes the wheel. The fact that Dan has no remorse because he is completely convinced he was an instrument of God when he killed his family members is chilling and unbelievable and retched....more
I'm speaking for myself, but no one in the group had much to say about this book. It's always a bad sign when most of the group doesn't come to talk about it. No passion - negative or positive - to talk about what we read kills book club discussions. We were all just meh.
The first few chapters were flat for me. I just didn't care. The story didn't really start until the guests arrived.
There was a point in the novel when the horse was in the bedroom, the cad was pitting people against each other in the dining room, the cook was falling apart in the kitchen, and the guests were getting drunk in the study that I thought the book was setting itself up for something good. A comedy of errors. A lighthearted romp where uppity characters were put in their place. Something like that.
I was disappointed on all counts. Instead of hilarity ensuing, it veered into a ghost story. The seeds of that change in tone were scattered throughout the beginning. But it left me as a reader wondering what the hell I should feel.
Another issue I had was likability. Emerald and Clovis had very little to endear them to me. They were stiff and mocking of their "friends" most of the time. The only tenderness they showed was to their mother, who was more stiff and more cold still. All of them merely tolerated the presence of the lower class in their home; and when it's revealed that the survivors didn't actually survive the wreck, I loathed the members of the household even more. Smudge was the only character and story line I was invested in.
We talked about the parallels made by others to Downton Abbey. I found the similarities weak. DA does a great job incorporating the events and new inventions of the time into the storylines. The unlikable characters of DA have backstories to explain why they act the way they do; you understand their actions. And the upper class at Downtown only look down on their servants when they feel the servants have stepped out of line.
We talked about the weird scene when Ernest walks in on the cook's bath. WTF. We talked about how well the conflict was written in the scene around the dinner table. We agreed that we laughed in a few places, but for the most part this book was a dud.
Two stars for Smudge and the horse, and the dinner scene.
Strange things begin to happen to an English family struggling to keep their family estate.
I saw from the oStrange things begin to happen to an English family struggling to keep their family estate.
I saw from the other reviews of this book that it isn't very popular. It wasn't my favorite Sarah Waters either (Tipping the Velvet is still my fave).
For me, the first 100 pages could have been cut with little effect. The story started with the dog biting the little girl. Much of the back-and-forth between Caroline and Dr. Faraday could have been cut, too. The ending of the book only reinforced the fact that there wasn't much of a reason to linger in the relationship that long. Although, it did add to the tension that these terrible things were happening to the love of the narrator. Anne and David's roles in the novel seemed superfluous.
Sarah Waters is very good at historical pieces. The subdued accounts of the supernatural in this novel seemed to fit right in with the era she set the novel. In other words, the fact that the thrills weren't over the top didn't bother me in the least. I thought she did an excellent job with the psychological implications of the story. The passages where she views what happened to the family through the good doctor's eyes were a great counterpoint to what Caroline and the maid were convinced was happening. Roderick's decline into madness was relatable and sad. The way she wrote the doctor into a corner with the family was intricate and uncomfortable. The scene of Mrs. Ayres being locked in the nursery will stay with me for a long time.
I really enjoyed Faraday's explaining away of the freaky stuff that was happening. Discounting his beloved's worries completely. It painted Dr. Faraday as a clueless "sensible" man. I thought Caroline was a fantastic character. Early on in the novel, Waters makes it clear that Faraday has trouble actually hearing what Caroline says; and that point cleverly worked its magic later in the plot. ...more
After his mother dies, a boy finds a mysterious book in her bedroom that gives him a clue as to the identity of his father. He goes on a journey to fiAfter his mother dies, a boy finds a mysterious book in her bedroom that gives him a clue as to the identity of his father. He goes on a journey to find out more. Interspersed into the boy's tale is a parallel story told only in drawings of a deaf girl in the 1920s who takes a journey of her own.
Selznick's idea that the same themes occur in generation after generation of families is enhanced by the simple drawings of Rose's story. If you ask me, telling her story completely through illustrations was genius: not only does it make sense that a deaf girl's story before she learns to communicate with non-deaf people be told through drawings, it also delineated the two similar plot lines in my head.
I loved the presentations of wondrous things in museums, like the reconstruction of NYC in paper models or the significance of silent movies being replaced with talkies. Ben's discovery that his father made the wolf diorama is similar I think to how I felt when I first found documents on family members I've never heard of. Finding objects with historical and personal meaning like that is exactly the addiction of genealogy....more
I remember when Barrel Fever came out, I brought it to a work party. At the time I worked for a non-profit company of only 5 employees. We sat on my boss's deck on a warm night and read the essays out loud to each other, laughing and drinking and letting the essays guide our conversation. It was a lovely night.
The first thing I noticed reading the first few essays in this book is that the tone is darker than his usual subject matter. They are well written essays; I just had to forget my expectations of reading a Sedaris book. The essays I'm used to came later, especially when he starts describing his new passport picture.
Since the last time I read a David Sedaris novel, I started blogging. I found myself picking apart the structure of these essays and being inspired to apply it to my own writing. I like how he takes two or three disparate ideas and ties them together in a meaningful way. "Loggerheads" is a good example. He combines a trip to Hawaii with his partner with memories of a childhood friend and keeping sea turtles as pets and masterfully turns it into a reverie on growing older. ...more
I love reimaginings of familiar myths and folk tales. When authors play with iconic characters, they often highlight new themes and meanings. In this reimaging Helen Oyeyemi molds a classic tale of jealousy and revenge into a discussion on race.
I saw Boy Whitman as Maleficent (although several characters could fill that role), Frank Novak as Prince Phillip, and Boy and Snow as the Sleeping Beauty duo. Snow is cursed with paralyzing Caucasian (I promise that particular term matters in this story) beauty that results in her being manipulative and insincere because she grows accustomed to people treating her special. Boy sees Snow's growing vanity and casts her stepdaughter out of the house. Bird is cursed with being a living reminder of a family history the older Whitmans would rather forget. She is treated as a lesser being by her grandparents; despite being adored by her mother. Inevitably, Boy and Snow become curious about each other.
Oyeyemi explores both sides of the "passing" coin. She details the shame the Whitmans feel for abandoning their heritage and not speaking up when they see other African Americans being treated unfairly. She also inventories the positive effects of passing as a white family for generations. In the end it boils down to what is most important: doing anything you can to improve your child's life or staying true to your heritage?
I was a little disappointed that the magical realism in the story didn't seem to go anywhere. Snow and Bird bond over their shared and overly meaningful ability to not reflect in mirrors. I liked how Bird's admission that she talks to spiders is treated as a child's fantasy by Snow. But in the end, they didn't factor into the ultimate story line. In fact, I was surprised how the trajectory of the plot changed rails at the end by focusing on Frank Novak's origins. His secret identity was intriguing, but it was revealed so late in the book it didn't really add to Boy, Snow, and Bird's stories.
I was also disappointed that Mia jumped into and out of the plot so much. She was there in the beginning and then she was holed up in her house from her parallel story line (which I found unnecessary honestly). Then she's pulled out at the end so the narrative could explain Frank/Frances.
All the time I was reading it, I felt there were two main stories instead of the three the title suggests. I also felt like the voices of Bird and Snow during the exchanging of letters were too similar. There's a big difference between a 14 year old writing and a 21 year old writing. Perhaps Helen Oyeyemi was trying to pull the two characters together, perhaps Bird and Snow were the differently-raced version of the same person. But in order for that to have worked for me, it needed to be more obvious.
Three stars for beautiful writing and the way Snow's character spoils then flowers through the course of the tale. ...more
A chauffeur-turned-detective suffering from Tourette's syndrome becomes obsessed with finding his boss's killer.
______________SPOILERS AHOY___________A chauffeur-turned-detective suffering from Tourette's syndrome becomes obsessed with finding his boss's killer.
I opened the discussion by asking the group if they thought the novel was gimmicky. After scrolling through the Goodreads review I saw quite a few people write that they couldn't get through the hacky premise. Not one of the 10 of us agreed. People have Tourette's and we talked about people we've seen around our city yelling to themselves who we dismissed as crazy but probably couldn't help it. So, the idea that someone like Lionel Esrogg could be a detective is absolutely plausible. After the initial shock of outbursts, people just ignored or moved away from him. As the book says, Lionel could "hide in plain sight."
Having just read The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, we recognized traditional noir straight away and appreciated that the author didn't mask his influences, having his characters quote Marlowe directly.
A few of the members appreciated reading a main character with OCD tendencies. It's rare that someone suffering from OCD is written as a main character. Lionel's tics added to the tension of the detective story without overpowering it, in my opinion. The calming mechanisms Lionel employed throughout the novel let the reader know when he was getting uncomfortable, often with hilarious effect. I'm thinking of the nervous scenes when he starts tapping the shoulders of the Yakuza in the Maine restaurant or when he gets kicked out of the Buddhist Zendo.
In a novel with such a distinct central character, other characters stood out. Frank Minna's influence on his "Boys" and on Lionel especially was touching and genuine. Especially when Julia explains that Frank kept Lionel around because people consistently underestimated him. Julia's backstory was explored (which is against the traditional noir genre) and her motivations were explained. Most of the other characters are stock, but personally I forgive that because Lionel makes up for it. You can't flesh out such a self aware character without taking the spotlight away from other characters. Plus, as I mentioned before, noir is very much about one fully developed character surrounded by stock characters.
We talked a bit about Lionel's identity. No parents, no family, no home; he finds his identity in his youth in the cool guy who comes to the orphanage to find a crew. This book is about Lionel having to find his own identity after the cool guy gets iced.
We thought it was strange how at the end of the novel Julia just starts explaining her story. But the author probably thought it was odd too because he interrupts the monologue by having Lionel shift the focus with tics.
Those of us who listened to the audio version said it was fantastic. The voice artist's portrayal of Lionel's wordplay tic added a lot to the tension of the story. Some might argue it was overused; I would disagree.
Look for Motherless Brooklyn to come out as a movie starring Edward Norton as Lionel. The movie's currently slated to come out later this year.
Our next book is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Other books we considered for February: The Martian by Andy Weir, The Witch: and Other Tales Retold by Jean Thompson, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman....more