This is such a wonderful book. If you read it and decide that it's "weird" or that it "bugs you" when authors don't use quotation marks for dialogue,...moreThis is such a wonderful book. If you read it and decide that it's "weird" or that it "bugs you" when authors don't use quotation marks for dialogue, please don't tell me about it because then we can't be friends anymore. This is not at all a mystery, but now that I've finished I've considered starting over again and rereading through an already-knowing-the-characters lens. I think it would be twice as good. I love Aimee Bender's short stories, but I wasn't sure she would be able to take one of her quirky, magical characters and situations and stretch it into a novel. Next time I'll know better than to doubt.(less)
The Lottery: And Other Stories is a collection that actually deserves the title "collection"-- there are definite thematic threads weaving themselves...moreThe Lottery: And Other Stories is a collection that actually deserves the title "collection"-- there are definite thematic threads weaving themselves through all the stories and the book is organized into 5 parts that I'm still thinking about because I don't get it yet. (That's a good thing.) This collection is like yellow gingham check fabric: cheerful and light at first glance and slightly menacing with a closer look. And that yellow gingham has a startling, single blue thread woven into the weft in the character of James Harris who appears repeatedly throughout the book. The characters and plots place it squarely in mid-century America-- all the characters are very, very subtly waiting for the bomb to drop and busying themselves in the meantime with raising families, living in small towns, experiencing the big city and wondering if they're the only crazy ones. Most of the main characters are women and there is definitely some homage to "The Yellow Wallpaper" in their thoughts and actions. Jackson expertly wrestles with what it means to be a woman, a mother, a wife, a citizen and, ultimately, a person, while setting it in quietly shocking and shockingly good prose.
This is the second Shirley Jackson book that I've simultaneously wanted to start over again as soon as I finished it and read everything else she's ever written-- as well as read any short story writer who also loves Jackson. (less)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle will take you a few hours to read and will stay with you for a long, long time. At 146 pages it's practically beggi...moreWe Have Always Lived in the Castle will take you a few hours to read and will stay with you for a long, long time. At 146 pages it's practically begging you to read it because, really, how much time will you have wasted if you hate it? And you won't. Although if you disliked Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson because nearly every character within was coping, to different degrees, with mental illness, then you might choose to pass this one by. Because they are deliriously, gloriously and impressively crazy. Jackson draws you into the world of the castle until Merricat, Constance and Uncle Julian seem like completely reasonable people and the villagers that hate them are the unstable ones to be feared.
My edition featured an introduction by Jonathan Lethem that really added to my experience of reading the story itself. Although it divulges a few plot points, the book isn't a mystery at all: the reader and all the characters are well aware of what happened in the dining room 6 years ago and what was put into the sugar bowl. The brilliance of the book, I think, is in the peeling away of the layers of facade-- as the characters become more aware of themselves, more of their past is revealed, although always obliquely, leaving the most sordid details to the reader's imagination. And these mini-denouements are balanced by moments of true funniness: "You will be wondering about that sugar bowl, I imagine. Is it still in use? you are wondering; has it been cleaned? you may very well ask; was it thoroughly washed? I can reassure you at once. My niece Constance washed it before the doctor or the police had come, and you will allow that it was not a felicitous moment to wash a sugar bowl."
I love everything about this book. I'm going to read it again and then move onto everything else Shirley Jackson managed to write in her short life. (less)
This book made me feel sleepy, hungry, claustrophobic, happy, angry, ecstatic, creepy, meditative, youthful, old, pacifistic, animalistic, warlike, em...moreThis book made me feel sleepy, hungry, claustrophobic, happy, angry, ecstatic, creepy, meditative, youthful, old, pacifistic, animalistic, warlike, empathetic, sympathetic, cool, dumb, Western, Eastern, curious, thoughtful, cynical, confused, placid, panicked, frightened, brave, queasy, cold and Japanese. Note that neither "bored" nor "ambivalent" was included in that list.
Holy crap, read this book. And stop worrying about whether or not you're "getting it". You're not. You won't. I promise it won't matter. Just enjoy it.(less)
How did I not know about this book? It's been out for 7 years! It has 4.5 stars based on almost 600 reviews on amazon and 4.29 stars based on over 300...moreHow did I not know about this book? It's been out for 7 years! It has 4.5 stars based on almost 600 reviews on amazon and 4.29 stars based on over 3000 reviews on Goodreads. Is there a way to search by how highly and often something is rated and reviewed? What else am I missing? Thanks to Amy and Sarah who told me I had to read this immediately.
I'm not sure if your faith or lack thereof has any impact on how much you might enjoy this book, but a little Biblical knowledge goes a long way. It's hard to enjoy tongue-in-cheek or satirical humor if you don't understand what is being satirized. But it's not just funny; it's heartfelt and gut-wrenchingly sad, too. Moore creates characters that you want to hang out with for hundreds and hundreds of pages-- I spent most of the book trying to forget that Passover and the crucifixion really will need to happen in there somewhere. Even minor characters are given the same care and treatment that the major players receive, and there are a lot of them.
I thought the construct of Biff being brought back to write his own gospel worked beautifully and made the story seem authentically ancient and modern all at once. The back-and-forth between present day and Joshua/Jesus' life felt natural and actually added to the story rather than detracting from it, which is a rare feat, in my opinion.
So now that I'm finished, do I a) go back and read it again; b) reread The Last Temptation of Christ which I was probably too young for when I read it; or c) read something else by Christopher Moore? Life is full of exciting choices.(less)
I loved reading this book. Richard Yates can make me snicker with superiority and squirm with shameful self-recognition inside the same sentence. Revo...moreI loved reading this book. Richard Yates can make me snicker with superiority and squirm with shameful self-recognition inside the same sentence. Revolutionary Road is the story of an almost archetypal 20th century American couple, April and Frank Wheeler. They believe themselves to be disaffected and on the edge of consumerist, capitalist culture, looking in pityingly as they unconsciously take part in it (which could describe nearly anyone with a liberal arts education at some point in their 20s or 30s). But that is the only thing they do unconsciously. Yates' characters watch themselves have conversations, strike the right tone, move their facial muscles to create the appropriate look and even watch themselves grieve (and comment on whether or not they're doing it right) as they wait for others to stop talking so they can take another turn. And Yates sketches this faux self-awareness with such a deft hand that the plot itself rides along effortlessly on the backs of these people who are so very, very pleased with themselves, so contemptuous of others and so extremely concerned with presenting the right image. Which all makes them so very human.(less)
I have some prejudices that I hold dear. One of them is that I hate books about the South and Southern writers in general. I know; it's stupid. That's...moreI have some prejudices that I hold dear. One of them is that I hate books about the South and Southern writers in general. I know; it's stupid. That's why it's a prejudice. But it's mine and I like it. I blame The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. So I was both intrigued and confronted when I saw all the 5-star reviews for this book on both amazon and goodreads. How could it be such a great book AND be about Mississippi? Then I read it. In about 3 days. I could not stop reading this book and I am lonely and sad now that it has ended, even though it ended perfectly. Honestly, the whole thing was nearly perfect. The plot, which was much more suspenseful than I had anticipated, the backdrop of the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement, and the characters who seem so almost casually sketched but are ingrained within your mind the moment they open their mouths.
It even had written out dialect and I didn't mind! It actually worked for me and flowed beautifully.
Seriously, this book is something of a miracle. I can't wait to see what Stockett writes next. If it's more about Jackson, Mississippi, I might even be first in line.(less)
I finished this book today and gave it to my husband so he could read it while on a business trip. I am already regretting that decision because I won...moreI finished this book today and gave it to my husband so he could read it while on a business trip. I am already regretting that decision because I won't have Hungry Monkey in my hands again for 6 whole days. As soon as I read the last page I wanted to start over again with some little sticky flags in my hand to mark recipes I wanted to try and passages where Amster-Burton says specifically that kaiten sushi is ideal baby food. But no, I was all, "This book is hilarious. It's about cooking and kids and Seattle. You're going to love it. Why don't you take it to LA with you?" And now I can't make dumplings or cornmeal pizza crust until Friday. If you know me at all, and you might not, you'll understand why these four reasons alone merited my five-star rating of Hungry Monkey:
-Amster-Burton writes about Seattle and makes me feel like an insider, even though I live in Bellevue; -he references Bread and Jam For Frances multiple times, which is possibly the best book ever written; -he got a 5 on my humor rating scale, meaning I was laughing out loud to myself AND making my husband listen as I read funny parts aloud; -the way he talks about food and feeding his family is equal parts Anthony Bourdain and M.F.K. Fisher, which is no easy feat.
What I was drawn to most in this book is the author's respect for both his daughter and the food they make together. Their relationship as depicted in the book is really quite lovely and illustrates that one does not have to dumb down conversations, expectations, ideas or flavors just because one lives with someone who happens to be a toddler.
And, on a personal note, as I sat in a nearly empty restaurant today and waited for our order that I could SEE on the warming tray for over 15 minutes (including one child's order of mini hamburgers and grapes...yawn) while my own toddler got increasingly flappy and bouncy in her high chair, I thought about our last visit to our favorite sushi place where she happily ate her fill of tamago sushi and edamame as soon as we sat down. Then I thought about Hungry Monkey and realized that I'm glad to have its message, its spirit and its recipes to guide me through these next several years of eating, cooking and throwing food on the floor.(less)
This is a fascinating story on its own, complete with a lot of unanswered questions about what it means to be an American, a world citizen, a mixed-ra...moreThis is a fascinating story on its own, complete with a lot of unanswered questions about what it means to be an American, a world citizen, a mixed-race individual and a Black American growing up in the civil rights and post-civil rights era. (The idea that we might actually live in a post-civil rights era is laughable to me, too, but here I mean the post-1960's Parks/King/MalcolmX/ era.) _Dreams_ works on a lot of levels, not the least of which probes at the idea: what does it mean to be someone's child? Someone's parent? What does one inherit from parents who were none-too-present during one's childhood? This idea of a person's identity being an amalgam of his parents', paired with Obama's search for his racial identity as a biracial child of a white mother and an (absent) black father...well, it's complicated. I don't even know how else to end that sentence. It's complicated and current and important. I learned more about poverty, race, hope and history from this book than I have in any other in a long time.
And lest you forget, this is OUR PRESIDENT who wrote this book. A PRESIDENT who can WRITE a WHOLE BOOK. Without even resorting to capitals for emphasis. Remember the last guy? The first 8 years of the 21st century? Remember cringing every time he said the word "nuclear" or relied on a mantra-ish sound byte to explain and defend a military engagement? Exactly. Now go read this book and THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS that its author is in the Oval Office, thinking about our country, its people and its concerns deeply and with empathy and intelligence.(less)
This is the best kind of thriller-- compact, claustrophobic, severe and tense. An unnamed protagonist, an unnamed but obvious dictator (his prey) and...moreThis is the best kind of thriller-- compact, claustrophobic, severe and tense. An unnamed protagonist, an unnamed but obvious dictator (his prey) and a number of hulking patriots hunting the hunter. This book made me cold, itchy, frightened and thoroughly opposed to visiting the English countryside. I read that there's a sequel-- Rogue Justice-- but I don't really want to disturb the memory of how this book ends. It's just about perfect.(less)
When I first heard of this book, I thought, "Rural Iowa. Dying preacher. Sums up life in letter to son. Sign me up." I said that last part sarcastical...moreWhen I first heard of this book, I thought, "Rural Iowa. Dying preacher. Sums up life in letter to son. Sign me up." I said that last part sarcastically; this did not sound at all like something I'd choose to read or enjoy. But book groups are good for getting you to expand your reading horizons, and I picked it up.
This book has been one of my most influential and pleasurable reading experiences in the past few years. The plot is interesting and unusual, but this is not a book one reads for the story. At its heart, this work is a treatise on the nature of...almost everything, as near as I can figure. Faith, belief, unbelief, memory, aging, love, forgiveness, community, family, place, vocation and divinity are all addressed (in nearly equal measure) in John Ames' "begats" to his young son. And complex concepts such as prevenient grace are treated with such ease and plainspoken narrative that the reader thinks, "That's exactly how I feel-- and I've never thought about it before." The reader experiences herself as Ames' son, as a resident of Gilead, and as an onlooker to the Boughton family, as well as someone teetering on the cusp of modern America. This is a beautifully written book that celebrates and questions what it means to be a father, a son, a Christian, a friend and, ultimately, human.(less)
Simon Rich is my new boyfriend. In my head, anyway. In reality, I'm married and he's way too young for me-- 24, but really, really looks like a young...moreSimon Rich is my new boyfriend. In my head, anyway. In reality, I'm married and he's way too young for me-- 24, but really, really looks like a young 13. Anyway, he wrote Ant Farm and I'm forever grateful. This definitely earns 5 stars based on my made up rating system of humor books-- laughing out loud, reading parts verbatim to one's spouse and still laughing about it when thinking back to various essays. Ant Farm is a collection of pieces primarily from the perspective of children and teenagers interacting with the adult world: wondering where all the Halloween UNICEF money goes, learning about calculators for the first time, figuring out that The Silent Game is not actually a game. Other essays are imagined conversations between characters such as Abraham and Isaac, ants in an ant farm and color name designers at Crayola. Sure, it doesn't sound funny when I say it. That's because I'm not Simon Rich, who also wrote "Free Range Chickens" which I'm reading next and hear is even funnier than this book. You'll have to trust me. Buy both books-- Ant Farm took me about 45 minutes to read and I want to move directly to Free Range Chickens, but I can't because my husband is still reading it. However, I am comforted knowing that I will hear parts of it read to me until it's mine to read.(less)
Book club people: the Coupland canon was a major part of my concentration in the Paracollege which we were talking about and making fun of at Coho. If...moreBook club people: the Coupland canon was a major part of my concentration in the Paracollege which we were talking about and making fun of at Coho. If you haven't read his books, start here and work your way through chronologically. My favorites include Microserfs, Life After God and The Gum Thief.(less)
I didn't actually read this edition. I waited impatiently for each book to come out, playing the games and solving the puzzles on the publisher's Lemo...moreI didn't actually read this edition. I waited impatiently for each book to come out, playing the games and solving the puzzles on the publisher's Lemony Snicket website. But I wanted to recommend the whole series, so here it is. Go read it now, if you haven't. Just do it. It'll take like 2 weeks, tops, and you'll realize that you know a lot more about modern literature than you thought you did. And way more about Count Olaf than you wanted to.(less)
I love, love, love MFK Fisher. You will too, and you should get this volume because it is actually a collection of 5 of her books, which are all good...moreI love, love, love MFK Fisher. You will too, and you should get this volume because it is actually a collection of 5 of her books, which are all good enough on their own that if you read one, you will think, "Is the bookstore still open? What if they don't have another one in stock because they NEVER have what I want in stock?" Exactly. Save yourself the time, heartbreak and outrage at Barnes & Noble and just buy this (really big) book. 20 pages into it and you'll have delusions of grandeur: you, yourself, are a wildly adventurous expatriate in 1940's Europe, making your way through multi-course meals with panoramic views from The Sound of Music as your backdrop. You will forget about your iPod, cell phone and un-updated blog and think, "Yes, I could plant peas this spring and perhaps make time for an ocean liner trip to France." You will revel in the simplicity of food and friends who choose to eat together and have a sudden, jarring craving for peach pie. Every one of the almost 800 pages is literary gold, and this includes several dozen pages on oysters alone. I don't know anything about food writing, but I loved food, Europe, the early 20th century and Fisher herself a lot more after reading this collection.(less)
I added this book to my 'read before goodreads but awesome' shelf and then David Foster Wallace died 3 days later. I bought Infinite Jest in 1996 beca...moreI added this book to my 'read before goodreads but awesome' shelf and then David Foster Wallace died 3 days later. I bought Infinite Jest in 1996 because I liked the cover and it was one of the longest books I had ever seen. I loved it and understood approximately 12.5% of it. The writing I did for my concentration in the Paracollege contained way too many footnotes, in homage to DFW. I checked the "W" section at the bookstore every time I went in, on the off chance that he had published something new that I hadn't heard about yet.
I highly prefer Wallace's essay collections (this title and "Consider the Lobster") to his fiction. Maybe they're easier for me to understand in that they seem a little more tethered to reality than his fiction does. I may not be smart enough to digest that type of post-modern, self-conscious meta-fiction. Those 3 terms might all be synonyms, and I might not be smart enough to realize it. But that's part of the fun of Wallace's works. They get better, more and less understandable upon each reading.
I probably reread the title essay from this collection (and then reread the whole book) at least once per year. At some point, it got lost/lent to someone mysterious and I had to replace it immediately...I think I even ponied up for 2-day shipping on Amazon, and I am all about their free shipping. It's that good. Wallace has a way of skewering, delighting in and sympathizing with whatever he's experiencing, be it cruise ships, the Illinois State Fair, John McCain, 9/11 or the Adult Video Awards.
I'm really mad at David Foster Wallace. Part of the enjoyment of reading his works was that it felt like having a conversation with someone much more informed and well-read than you, but someone who was completely willing to explain it and let you in on the joke. His prose was current, contemporary, ahead-of-the-curve and very alive. I was always acutely aware while reading Wallace that he was somewhere out there, maybe working on the next thing that I would love. Reading him after his death is going to be a very different experience, and a very sad one. But I will read him again...probably starting with this volume and working my way back up to Infinite Jest.(less)