You can tell from my list of books that fiction is my first choice, my true love, but Ilyse Kusnetz’s Small Hours got me all fired up about poetry. HeYou can tell from my list of books that fiction is my first choice, my true love, but Ilyse Kusnetz’s Small Hours got me all fired up about poetry. Here are small, gut-wrenching, perfectly crafted stories, each page a jewel.
My head is filled with images of match girls leaning over chemical vats, dipping the splinters of wood, then licking the sulfur to make the tips stiff, or the bones of Rontgen's wife's hand caught in X-ray (“…the first X-ray ever created was proof of his love:/ Portrait of a hand with wedding ring, diamond and band/ like Saturn perched on her finger, each joint a moon”), or the painting of Jan Provoost’s Annunciation with its ungainly dove (“What can I say? You wanted/ doves in their alluvial grace,/ a fanfare of trumpets? Let’s face it./ Sometimes it’s the chicken / who brings us the news—every flawed,/ graceless thing we must/ take into ourselves and transform.”)
Kusnetz tackles everything from dementia, concentration camps, sadistic Roman emperors, but her searing poetry shows that even the darkest times have moments of incredible light. ...more
I picked this novel up after reading Watkins' recent, and much praised, article/speech "On Pandering." And though there was much to like in this novelI picked this novel up after reading Watkins' recent, and much praised, article/speech "On Pandering." And though there was much to like in this novel, in light of her article, I was strangely disappointed. As a writer, I would gripe that a reader shouldn't expect something specific from my fiction after having read a piece of my non-fiction, but Watkins' addresses how she chose to change her writing from the period of her short stories (when she wrote to make a nebulous white man reader happy) to the period when she wrote this novel and managed to write exactly how she wanted. Since the impetus behind much of "On Pandering" is a woman feeling short changed or at a disadvantage in a male world, I expected the female protagonist of Gold, Fame, Citrus, to, well, kick ass. And that's where I sort of threw my hands up in the air in frustration. Luz, the female lead, is unrelentingly passive, unless she is sleeping with her boyfriend, or the leader of a cult, or the leader of another cult. She is saved by one man after another because this chick seriously can't do anything right (spills both the last of her water and gasoline in the middle of the desert???!). And the ending seemed like an easy-out on so many levels. Now I'm nit-pickin, but it also seemed a little unimaginative to have so many characters named for 'light' in this searing place: Luz, Ray, Estrella, Lucy. Overall, it is a compelling novel. Watkins writes intensely beautiful sentences. The first third of the book is just amazing, as is the strange toddler Ray and Luz take home from a creepy disfunctional family group. I just wish some of the unyielding fire of On Pandering had been transmuted into a female character on the page of Watkins' fiction....more
Bracing and terrifying and totally honest view of women in the Middle East from an Egyptian American woman who has lived the life. She takes Western lBracing and terrifying and totally honest view of women in the Middle East from an Egyptian American woman who has lived the life. She takes Western liberals to task for allowing ideas of social relativism to excuse gross human right violations, as well as Western conservatives for turning a blind eye when it furthers an agenda (securing oil, etc.), and urges everyone to rethink the patriarchal stereotypes that seem to be a given in the Middle Eastern world. A must-read....more
Tremendous. I kept checking the cover to make sure this was nonfiction, seemed impossible that Katherine Boo could have actually done the research/legTremendous. I kept checking the cover to make sure this was nonfiction, seemed impossible that Katherine Boo could have actually done the research/leg work/interviews possible to flesh out an entire, unseen community in such a riveting, multi-layered way. Well, she did. I highly recommend....more
I am feeling a little abashed about not having read Five & Twenty-Fives sooner, but you know how it is, a new book hits your radar, you mean to reI am feeling a little abashed about not having read Five & Twenty-Fives sooner, but you know how it is, a new book hits your radar, you mean to read it, then there is another new book, and another, and sometimes the truly spectacular ones end up waiting for too long. And when you finally get to them you want to smack yourself for not having had put down everything on their pub day. Well, Five & Twenty-Fives is that book, and I am angry with myself that I let more than a year go by in ignorance of it's pure spectacularness. There are some very fine books out there that fall under 'contemporary modern war literature'-- a genre that seems to be growing every day (which is definitely a good thing, and I applaud the readers and writers tackling this subject). Lately there have been some grumblings both in the modern war lit 'community' and those who like to criticize it, people asking to hear less about the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more from the local nationals who have been there all along. Michael Pitre has checked that block. His Iraqi interpreter character, "Dodge" is one of the most compelling, fully-fleshed characters I have ever read. Every time he acted, every time he opened his mouth, I laughed out loud or winced or just had to put down the novel and think about the sinuous implications. This is the story we have been waiting to read, the Sunni upper middle class university student who finds himself working for the Americans, balancing his own runaway past with his infidel-aiding present and spokesman for the Arab Spring future. You should read Five & Twenty-Fives because it is a terrific novel, great tension through-out, strong characters, believable plot and motivations every step of the way. You will remember Five & Twenty-Fives because of the character Dodge, who rears off the page and makes you see the conflict in Iraq in all its terrifyingly tangled, but most of all simply human, ways. ...more
Victoria Kelly’s When the Men Go Off to War weaves history and present day in a way that goes beyond the military family experience to encompass the jVictoria Kelly’s When the Men Go Off to War weaves history and present day in a way that goes beyond the military family experience to encompass the joys and aches, the loss and triumphs, of all families. Each extraordinary poem remains etched in the brain long after the last page has been turned, like the lingering contrails a fighter jet leaves behind as it cuts across the sky. ...more
Harriet Wolf has the feel of a Margaret Atwood novel, it reminded me especially of The Blind Assassin, the way it feels so expansive and innovative, eHarriet Wolf has the feel of a Margaret Atwood novel, it reminded me especially of The Blind Assassin, the way it feels so expansive and innovative, each chapter hands me something unexpected. A wondrous, engaging read....more
Dana Perino’s memoir tracks an exceptional, yet amazingly down-to-earth, life. Dana, from days spent as a child on a ranch to anecdotes aboard Air ForDana Perino’s memoir tracks an exceptional, yet amazingly down-to-earth, life. Dana, from days spent as a child on a ranch to anecdotes aboard Air Force One, embodies American possibility. I was struck by her honesty, her hard work and enthusiasm, and most of all her optimistic attitude toward a political stage where most commentators rely on fighting dirty to get ratings and headlines.
I underlined and starred this early passage in her text, and anyone who has seen Dana on television knows she lives by this dedication to fairness and civility (and it’s also why she’s my favorite host): “I worry how aggressive and vicious our discourse has become. I don’t think all is lost, however. I believe that there are ways that we can get our public debates back on track, because civility and manners are a matter of choice. We don’t have to own each other’s comments, but we are responsible for what we say. In America, we are blessed with the freedom to speak our minds—and we should do so thoughtfully. We also have to recognize that people who disagree with us are not our enemies. We’re all in this together—and we should act like it.” ...more
While there may be a debate about the definition of “hero” in this post 9-11 world, America need look no further than to Travis Manion and Brendan LooWhile there may be a debate about the definition of “hero” in this post 9-11 world, America need look no further than to Travis Manion and Brendan Looney for the true meaning of the word. They are heroes in every way: as military officers and American citizens, as friends, brothers, and sons. BROTHERS FOREVER is more than their shared story; it encapsulates the pride, adrenaline, ethos, and anguish of the entire military community. The best way for our country to honor the sacrifices made by our fallen and their families is to never forget them. We can begin by reading this incredible book....more
Andria Williams writes about the separation and distance of military life in a way that feels wholly original. As a military spouse, Williams brings eAndria Williams writes about the separation and distance of military life in a way that feels wholly original. As a military spouse, Williams brings every nuance of this world to life, but it’s her brimming talent and startling insight into the fragility and tenacity of marriage that kept me glued to the page....more
I found The Dead Lands absolutely incredible. This parched world was so fully realized I found myself constantly drinking water as I read, infected byI found The Dead Lands absolutely incredible. This parched world was so fully realized I found myself constantly drinking water as I read, infected by the thirst of the characters. And when I say 'read' I mean I made my toddler breakfast with my e-reader perched too close to the stove, I read at night forcing my poor husband next to me to wear a sleep mask, I read when I was supposed to be helping my seven year old with her homework, I made any excuse possible to run off to read. Percy is at the top of his game with this dystopian novel, and doesn't let anything slide with his recent shift toward more plot driven narratives: his language is as pure and sharp as it is in his earlier acclaimed story collections and novels. But Percy reminds us that the joyous pleasure of reading can still be there, that a novel can stimulate your brain and be thrilling (and terrifying) at the same time. ...more