30 April 2015

Review of The World According to Garp by John Irving

Title:  The World According to Garp

Author:  John Irving

Publication Information:  First published in 1978

How I Got This Book:  Honestly, I don't remember where I bought it, but I know I purchased my copy.

Goodreads Synopsis: This is the life of T.S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields--a feminist leader ahead of her time. This is the life and death of a famous mother and her almost-famous son; theirs is a world of sexual extremes--even of sexual assassinations. It is a novel rich with "lunacy and sorrow"; yet the dark, violent events of the story do not undermine a comedy both ribald and robust. In more than forty countries--with more than ten million copies in print--this novel provides almost cheerful, even hilarious evidence of its famous last line: "In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases."

My Thoughts:  I really enjoyed this one, even though it took me a while to finally finish.  It's funny because I stopped in the middle of a chapter because it started to drag for me.  Several weeks later I picked it back up and within two pages it picked up and I couldn't hardly put it down.

This is my second experience with John Irving.  I read and loved The Cider House Rules back in high school.  I own two (three?) more of his novels.  A Prayer for Owen Meany will definitely be my next Irving.

Though it didn't seem like it before reading the novel, the above synopsis (which is also on the back of my copy of the book) does a pretty good job of summing up the plot.

It leaves out the hilarious and real characters that Irving creates within this novel.  They are complex.  They have layers.  They mean well and are serious, but at times sometimes totally undermines that and it's hilarious and that's how life is.

One of the main things I took away from this novel is that you should just be good and kind to folks because they're folks.  Don't judge.  Don't hold them to your own personal standards.  Help them, regardless of who they are, because they need help.  And also oftentimes you can help and support someone the most by just listening and being there.  It doesn't always take a crazy act of solidarity to show your support.

My one gripe is the last chapter, which goes through the main characters and details what happens to them.  As I read it, it felt like it dragged.  But I know if this hadn't been included, I would have been frustrated and wondered what happened.  Many of the characters met comical ends, which was kind of "eh" for me.

All in all this is a good book.  And I think I would probably read it again some day.

28 April 2015

TBR Pile Challenge April Update

I'm finally getting around to writing my update post for the TBR Pile Challenge.  I'm actually not doing too badly.

1.  1984 by George Orwell
2.  The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn
3.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
4.  The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
5.  The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
6.  Moby Dick by Herman Melville--as always, in progress...but I am going to finish this SOB
7.  The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas--I'm going to read this in July
8.  Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
9.  Light in August by William Faulkner
10.  Gilead by Marilynne Robinson  
11.  John Adams by David McCullough
12.  Catherine the Great:  Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

1.  Emma by Jane Austen
2.  Reading Lolita in Tehran by Agar Nafisi

I've read 3 of my 12, which isn't too bad for April.  I haven't given up in despair yet, so that's good.  I am currently periodically reading Moby-Dick and I plan on reading The Three Musketeers in July.  Maybe Lisa will volunteer to read another one from this list with me soon so I can cross off another...

25 April 2015

KonMari Cleaning Adventure

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.  I vowed to implement the cleaning methods she details in the book and write about it.  I did the cleaning.  And now I'm finally writing about my experiences.  :)

I started bright and early...after I had coffee and (maybe?) did yoga and after both of my parents went off to work.  I started with my clothes, per directions.

I pulled allllllll of the clothes from both closets.  (I keep my off-season stuff and the stuff that doesn't fit yet in the guest room)  I picked up each thing item by item and made decisions.  Honestly, I didn't have a whole lot to get rid of because I regularly go through my closet and get rid of things and I had just done that a month and a half ago or so.  I do have a good stack to go through and try on and really soul-search...but I figure I can probably get rid of a lot of the things in that pile.

No, this part really helped in that I reorganized the way my hanging clothes go.

Then I pulled out my purses, pajamas, jeans, tank tops, exercise clothes, and other miscellaneous stuff from the drawers.

Many huge piles.

Upon getting rid of things in these categories, I was able to store everything comfortably in the drawer it belonged in.  No more cramming.  Though, to be honest, I can't say that I particularly care for putting things in vertically.  I prefer the neatness of horizontal stacks (and, yes, sometimes things get caught on the top), but I can see everything and won't overlook the things I don't wear as often.  I'm still thinking about this one.

Partway through this leg of things, I got a little punchy and found myself a nice headscarf.

Back to the organizing of the drawers...

I am very happy with how my shoes are organized!  I feel like the little brown shelves in the closet could be better used, but I didn't have a better spot for my boots, so I think I'll keep it for now.

Next was books.  Most of my books are kept in my office.  In my room, I have my nightstand, a small bookcase, and a couple of shelves on the bookcase that holds my stereo.  The easiest thing to do was to drag the books into my office.

I hated transporting them this way.  I know that they're inanimate objects, but it felt a little disrespectful.  Anyway.  It was effective.

But my office was looking like this...

So once I dragged the books in there, I pulled out everything from my office that I could, which meant my room looked like this.

I made sure I had a clear path to the door in case of fire.  Safety first and whatnot.  But my theory was that by moving everything out of my office, I would have to deal with it before moving it back in.

I pulled all of the books from my shelves and separated it into fiction and non-fiction.

The nearer "island" is non-fiction; the further "island" is fiction.

And here's where I got stuck for a while.  I just wanted it to be easy to find whatever I was looking for.  So categorizing the non-fiction books became an issue.  How much did I want to break it down?  History separate from biographies, but what about collections of letters?  What about anthologies?  I finally forced myself to cull.

Again, I had done it recently, so I didn't have a ton that I was getting rid of.

By the time I almost finished with books, it was 7:00.  I hadn't had any supper.  I had run out of shelves (my mom kindly helped me find more space).  And my room still looked like this:

I pulled the discarded books out of my office and into the hallway.  The plan was to get them sold at a local used bookstore ASAP to just get the out of the damn house.  To finally cease and desist with the hemming and hawing and "maybe, one day I'll read this one...perhaps."  Nope.  I just wanted to get them out and move on with life.

I could have left everything in my room for another day, but that would have meant finding another place to sleep.  And I had an important meeting the next day.  So I decided to just move everything back into my office.

So, all in all, the do it all in one day KonMari cleaning method was a failure for me.  I had way too much crap to do the entire thing that quickly.  I didn't feel particularly overwhelmed, but it was kind of exhausting.  And certainly eye-opening.

However, the spirit of the method was a huge success for me.  I sold all of my fiction books (100? 150? 200?) at the used bookstore the next day.  I got a disappointing amount considering that many of the book had never been read.  But they were out of the house.  I felt lighter.  I will do the same with the non-fiction once I hear back from a friend about taking some of them.  For the clothes I'm going to contact a consignment store about buying what they'll take, then I'll donate the rest to a local charity.  I plan on doing that this week.  I think that pulling out everything in one category and dealing with it all before moving along was a big part of the success I did have.  I touched every item.  I considered it.  And I made a decision.

As for everything else...I've done a little bit of work on grouping the stuff still in my office to make it easier to go through.  All of the school supplies I could find are together.  I put all of the papers in one huge plastic bin so I can go through them.  And so on.  I'll probably tackle this stuff bit by bit.  Maybe a couple of categories a day on my days off.

My room is looking a lot better.  I moved some of the things I was wanting out of my room, such as a plastic bin under my desk that held random items, and into the office so I can deal with it when I get to it, as opposed to leaving it in a spot that made me anxious every time I saw it.

I decided that I want my stuff to be arranged, not haphazardly stacked and cluttered the way it had been.  I've also noticed myself dealing with things immediately as opposed to setting them aside for later.  I just got back into town this afternoon and I immediately unpacked and put away my things, which included some new clothes, as opposed to reverting to the old habit of basically living out of my suitcase until it naturally emptied itself (and I found a place to store my suitcase in my closet as opposed to under the chest of drawers!).

Bottom line--This book engendered a change in attitude for me.  I examine all of my belongings pretty regularly now and am constantly finding new things to get rid of that I hadn't previously considered getting rid of.  I feel a lot calmer in my room.  And I feel confident about getting my office to a manageable state in the near future.  Say, by the end of May.  I call it a success.

Read the book.  Learn the lessons you need to learn.  And adapt the method to what will work for you.

21 April 2015

Top Ten Favorite Authors

Yay!  Another Tuesday!  This week, The Broke and the Bookish is discussing our top ten favorite authors.

I actually thought about this one quite a bit.  A lot of my favorite books were written by authors who wrote the one book (or wait 50 years between publishing things), so it's kind of difficult to call them a favorite author because I only know the one book OR I've only read one book by that author, which makes it difficult to say they're a favorite author.  Here we go...

1.  John Steinbeck  Wowzers!  Steinbeck was a fantastic storyteller.  He painted great pictures within his stories, completely fleshing out the setting so that you feel like you were there.  I absolutely adore East of Eden (definitely need to reread this summer! [or sooner]).  I'm taking a volume of his novellas with me this week when I leave town so I can see what he does on a smaller scale.

2.  Ernest Hemingway  I love Hemingway's art of brevity.  He was a master storyteller.  I'm not sure he could have written a fully fleshed out female character to save his life, but I can't help loving him.  He mastered the novel and the short story.  Most of all, though, I love Hemingway's precision.  He said exactly what he meant, was able to write a vivid account, but he said nothing more.  There is very little fat and gristle to his work.

3.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez  Another master storyteller.  He kind of did it all as well--novel, novella, and short story (though I'm not very familiar with the last two forms).  He wrote one of the most beautiful love stories I have ever read and one of the most fantastical epics.  His work is always a pleasure to read because I know it's going to be a great story.

4.  William Faulkner  Faulkner is basically the polar opposite of Hemingway.  And I love Faulkner for his highly descriptive style as much as I love Hemingway for his precision.  His works are epics in and of themselves.  I love how the characters bleed over from one novel to the next.  I had to suppress a loud "Heyyy!" when I came across a reference to Colonel Sartoris in Light in August.  I had the pleasure of visiting Faulkner's home last spring and it was fantastic.  I would love to just dive into his world.

5.  Hunter S. Thompson  This guy is a trip, but he's so much fun to read.  He was an astute observer of the social and political climate of the 60s and 70s.  I think he introduced a lot of people to the counterculture, which is truly interesting (at least to me).  An oral history I read about him after his death illuminated an extremely interesting man who lived by his own code.  And don't even get me started on The Rum Diary.  I love that novel!

6.  Truman Capote  Without Truman, we never would have had Holly Golightly.  The world--at least the world according to Lori--owes him a huge debt for this.  His true crime fiction In Cold Blood is completely creepy, but utterly compelling.  I love that he's written something for my two predominant reading moods--Southern stories and New York stories.  Plus he was a character.

7.  Elizabeth Gilbert  Disclaimer--I haven't read any of her stuff before Eat Pray Love.  But I love how open and honest and raw her writing is.  I follow her on social media and I love reading the snippets she shares regularly.  Her attitude really inspires me to be more introspective.  Her recent novel, Signature of All Things was beautiful and sweeping.  I can't wait to see what she continues to come out with!

8.  Frances Mayes  The first time I started Under the Tuscan Sun, I was bewildered because it was NOTHING like the amazing Diane Lane movie that I adored.  I had to push through.  But I really appreciated the writing.  The whole book is about renovating this dilapidated farm house.  Literally.  She walks you through the selection process for new fixtures and other renovations and includes bits about the culture and the formation of their lives there and I was completely fascinated.  She eventually wrote a cookbook of favorite Tuscan foods, which I love dipping into.  I love her travel writing.  I love what I've read of her memoir Under the Magnolia.  Like so many others, I still haven't gotten into her poetry. :/

And a bit of a throw back to my childhood...

9.  Shel Silverstein  My dad and I read Silverstein's poems regularly at bedtime.  Very, very regularly.  Silverstein had such a great way with language that made it fun to read the rhymes.  Granted, I still haven't gotten into a more serious study of poetry, but I think fondly of these poems.  Also, let's not forget The Giving Tree.  That was a great story!  Though I know there are debates about whether it teaches selfishness or selflessness, I don't feel like it warped me as I grew into adulthood.

10.  Ann M. Martin  Best known for The Babysitters Club series, yes, but I LOVED the California Diaries series.  At least what I read of it.  I have the first ten books.  I have no idea if there are more.  But I remember reading this starting in the 4th or 5th grade and being enthralled.  The girls were a little bit older and their problems were so damn sophisticated compared to mine!  Their problems were a little bit grown-up, but, for me, that really kind of played into being an only child surrounded by adults.

18 April 2015

On Liking Unlikable Characters

Confession--I like unlikable characters.  A lot.  A lot a lot.

Don't get me wrong.  I love me some Atticus Finch.  But his kind of morality is something that mere mortals like me can only aspire to with the knowledge that they probably won't ever live up.

Nope.  Give me someone unlikable--a Scarlett, a Rhett, a Nick and Amy, even a Humbert Humbert--and I'll be happy.

What's there to like about unlikable characters, you might ask?

A lot.

They tend to be more complex than other characters.  They have a unique moral compass, which sometimes points towards good, sometimes towards bad, and sometimes towards self-interested.  We'll go with a spoiler from Gone Girl.  Why would Nick and Amy decide to stay together?  Because they're unlikable characters who have their own unique reasons for doing things.  Nick stays because he feels like it's responsibility, but he also can't quite help himself; Amy stays because Nick kind of returned to the asshole she fell in love with.  Think about it--how often do you (or someone you know, because we're far better at judging other people's actions than our own) do something that makes absolutely no sense to anyone else, but you have you own very good reason?  Quite often, I would imagine.  Doesn't make you bad.  It makes your decision unlikable.

They have a wider range.  I think this makes them more interesting.  You never quite know what they're going to do.  They might do something good or they might do something bad or they might go with a third option.  But you can't really guess what they're going to do.  The good characters, the likable ones, such as Melanie, you know what they're going to do.

They tend to be more fascinating.  Let's take Humbert Humbert.  Pedophile!  Yet we continue to read Lolita, a novel told from the perspective of the pedophile as he walks us through his lust and acting on his lust.  His actions are utterly despicable, but his analysis and insights into himself truly fascinate me.  I can't help but being drawn in by his storytelling.  I don't know much about psychology, but I think if I did, I would love to analyze him.

Lastly, I think unlikable characters are more realistic.  People can change, yes.  But the kind of 180 transformation so often portrayed in movies and books isn't realistic.  People struggle to be good all the time.  And if someone does make a radical change to themselves, I can pretty much guarantee they will struggle for goodness somehow.  An article I read not too long ago was talking about Seinfeld being a show without some sort of moral epiphany at the end.  These characters weren't going to become good at the end of an episode.  They were going to remain the same unlikable people they were at the end.  I don't care for the show, but I do appreciate that about it.  The characters keep it real.  They are who they are and you can take them or leave them--just like real people.  Everybody who's interesting to be around or talk to has a vice of some kind, in my opinion.

Of course, all this might really do is prove that I'm an unlikable character myself...

14 April 2015

#tothegirls and Reading

Today I was positively gobsmacked by all of the #tothegirls messages on Twitter.

As I read through the messages this morning, I wanted to cry.  I went through a long, bad phase where I was thoroughly unhappy with just about everything in my life, but I've recently started coming out of it, returning to who I was when I was my strongest and happiest (only now with the benefit of wisdom and perspective and experiences!).  Oddly enough, that was during high school.  I realized that many of the #tothegirls tweets were messages I had internalized long ago.  I was blessed as a child to live in a world populated by adults who encouraged me in every I wanted to do.  I was never discouraged from wanting or trying or doing anything just because I was a girl.  This is continued today.  Not everyone is so lucky.

Another aspect in which I was very lucky as a child was that my parents and grandparents and uncle all supported my desire to read by buying me books and buying me gift cards to book stores.  I know I was denied toys I wanted, but I was never denied books.  Even books that were quite possibly too old for me, but that's a different story.

The two came together.  I started thinking about all of the female characters I met during those formative years who showed me strength and helped--along with the strong women in my life--inspire me to think I could do anything.  I could probably go on and on, but I'll stop with three strong female characters that touched me during my formative years.

Matilda Wormwood and Miss Honey.  This may be cheating a little bit because I saw the movie first when I was eight.  But Matilda made me unafraid to be smart.  She read books and I thought that that was pretty cool, so I wanted to read books.  I began to believe in the power of books.

“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.” ― Roald Dahl, Matilda

Like Matilda, my parents didn't really monitor what I read, though mine were in no way uncaring and unsupportive like hers.  I had wonderful teachers like Miss Honey who were patient and encouraging and engaging.

Scarlett O'Hara.  I first encountered Scarlett when I was thirteen.  No list of mine dealing with reading experiences during teenage years could take place without her.  As a teenager, I saw only her transformation from a spoiled girl into a woman who did what she needed to do to help her family survive.  She didn't grow up having chores.  The book plainly says she was horrible in school.  Yet she took over the planting on the plantation.  She helped form the lumber business and helped the store prosper.  She made business contacts.  She suffered socially for doing what she wanted.  But I couldn't help admiring her ability to adapt to the new circumstances in which she found herself.  She also went after what she wanted.  She shouldn't always have gone after what she wanted (you know, like, other gals' boyfriends) but I admired her determination.

Novalee Nation.  I first encountered Where the Heart Is my freshman year of high school.  I cannot recall how many times I've reread this novel.  I love that it takes place in Oklahoma.  And I love the resilience of Novalee.  She was in a bad situation--dumped pregnant at a WalMart in a state in which she knew no one and had no one back home to call for help.  She rose above a lot.  She had a horrible childhood with an unreliable mother, no father, and bad foster parents.  No education.  And a bad string of luck with men.  She didn't let those things hold her down.  She had a day job, but also found and thrived at her true calling as a photographer.  And the message "just because he treated you like trash, doesn't mean you are trash."  Admittedly, I've done better at some times than others at drawing a line in the sand as far as my treatment from boyfriends or even just friends and acquaintances goes. But I know that deep down I've always known that their actions are more a reflection of them than they are of me.

There.  Short and sweet.  Three female characters who played a pivotal role during my formative years.

11 April 2015

Review of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Title:  Gilead

Author:  Marilynne Robinson

Publication Information:  2004

How I Got This Book:  I bought a copy at a bookstore a couple of years back

Goodreads Synopsis: Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life.

My Thoughts:  I'm thinking 2015 might be the year of the sucker-punch novel.  This is the fourth (maybe fifth?) novel that I've read this year that can best be described as leaving me feeling sucker-punched...in the best possible way.

The narrative structure of this novel is a Congregationalist minister who is nearing the end of his life writes a journal for his son, who is seven, so that someday the son can discover who his father truly was.  In the course of writing the journal, the father reveals things about himself that no person could ever reveal through the medium of a conversation.  I think when the son eventually reads this journal, he would learn more about his father than if he had spent a lifetime with him.  The father also veers off into writing about his struggle with his feelings towards his godson--the wayward son of the minister's best friend, who suddenly and mysteriously reappears after a long absence.

As I read this novel, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't reading something by Faulkner or Thomas Wolfe.  Robinson has this masterful way of telling a story through small moments.  At one point, I caught myself wondering when something was going to happen, but I quickly realized that she was writing about life, which is comprised of many small moments that amount to a large story.

This is the third novel in a row that I've read that deals with one human's ability to connect with another.  In so many ways we are all alone on this journey through life, but through patience, forgiveness, and understanding, we can form connections with others.

I've got so many passages underlined.  I quickly knew that I was absolutely hooked on this story, so I made sure that I had absolutely nothing planned on Thursday so that I could read all day.  I didn't expect to finish over the course of two days, but I couldn't put it down.

Robinson is a truly beautiful and poetic writer who can pack a lot of emotion and understanding in her seemingly simple prose.  I cannot wait to read the next two books in this set (and the fourth one that is supposedly coming).

10 April 2015

Review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Title:  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:  The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Author:  Marie Kondo

Publication Information: October 2014 by Ten Speed Press

How I Got This Book:  I purchased a copy at Barnes and Noble

Goodreads Synopsis: Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

My Thoughts:  I read this in one afternoon the day I bought it.  At a couple of points I was almost in tears as I confronted thoughts about my stuff and my mess, but in a good way.  Parts of the book felt like a therapy session or having a bottle of wine with a good friend and having a real and serious talk.  I underlined something or some things on many pages.

Kondo walks the reader through the act of decluttering and storing one's personal items--clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous items, and finally mementos.  You pick up each item and determine whether it gives you joy.  If so, you keep it.  If not, you get rid of it.  She preaches that you shouldn't have shame for getting rid of something that is lightly or not at all used.  Sometimes the purpose of the object was to buy it and hang on to it for a while, but it's time to let it go.  For someone who has tremendous guilt over getting rid of things I haven't used, I appreciated that.  Once you determine what you are going to get rid of, she walks you through some advice on how to store each category of item.

This process could also be applied to kitchen gadgets and other stuff throughout the house.

She explicitly says to never ever take the liberty of going through and getting rid of someone else's stuff.

Her students have had tremendous success after following her method.  And to date none have ever backslid into clutter.

I like that she doesn't prescribe how much stuff you should keep.  She allows that different people have different interests and are bound to feel joy from owning more books or shoes or clothes than some other person.  She also doesn't say that you need to get rid of so many items or so much percentage of each category.  It's all up to you and your gut.

I like that she doesn't have you go out and buy various organizational implements.  She says that at first you just need to get rid of stuff, then you store it and that happens all in one fell swoop.  Frequently, you can find all the boxes and whatnot that you need already in your home, but in the cases where you can't, take some time to find boxes or whatever that you really and truly like otherwise you'll start the cycle of clutter over again.

I love that before you even start getting rid of stuff, she counsels you to envision the kind of space you are wanting to create and why.  And add a couple of more whys as follow-up questions to your answers until you finally get to the ultimate reason--because it will make you happy.  Every person is different, but by getting rid of their excess, we can all get to that point of happy and relaxed in our personal spaces.

I also love that you get the whole thing done in one marathon day of decluttering and storing.  The important thing would be to make sure you donate what you're going to donate, recycle what you're going to recycle, and trash what you're going to trash immediately.  So that you don't talk yourself into changing your mind and so that someone else doesn't either guilt you into keeping something or decide to take it for themselves (which would add to their personal clutter).

Now.  The negatives about the book.  At times it gets a little woowoo, such as thanking your possessions on a daily basis for doing what they need to do (I mean, I went ahead and tried thanking my bra last night as I got ready for bed, but I felt a little silly for saying "Thanks for supporting the team.") or unpacking your purse every single night when you get home in order to give it a rest.  But other of her suggestions are totally worth trying, such as her folding techniques for various articles of clothing.

I absolutely plan on trying this next week when I have a couple of days off.  The decluttering and storing part will get done the first day, but anything I decide to donate will likely have to wait until the next day to actually be dropped off, though we shall see.

If it works, I'll only have to do this once.  :)

I'll absolutely write a post about the process when I do it.  Hopefully there will be pictures!

08 April 2015

Review of Light in August by William Faulkner

Title:  Light in August

Author:  William Faulkner

Publication Information:  1932

How I Got This Book:  I bought it way back in the day in the Oprah's Book Club boxed set.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Light in August, a novel about hopeful perseverance in the face of mortality, features some of Faulkner’s most memorable characters: guileless, dauntless Lena Grove, in search of the father of her unborn child; Reverend Gail Hightower, who is plagued by visions of Confederate horsemen; and Joe Christmas, a desperate, enigmatic drifter consumed by his mixed ancestry.

My Thoughts:  I cannot freaking believe that it took me so long to read this novel!

Admittedly, it starts off (like many Faulkner novels) kind of slowly and erratically.  You are introduced to these characters and you learn about them bit by bit, but you don't know why you're learning about them.  Then it clicks.  And speeds up.  Though in true Faulknerian style, there is a lot of description and using of ten words to say one.  (Sidenote--Does anyone else love the classic Hemingway-Faulkner exchange of barbs as much as I do? [see number 8 on the list])  But that's OK.  It's what I love about Faulkner, just as I love Hemingway's sparseness.

There were times I felt the need to read the Sparknotes to confirm what I had just read and make sure I hadn't missed anything important.  And that was fine.  As the novel progressed, I did that less and less.

This was another novel about human connection and interaction and how alone we can all sometimes be, which made it an interesting read coming on the heels of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.  I'm really glad that I read those two so closely, to be honest.  It was interesting to see how both authors dealt with the topic.

Three of your main characters--Lena, Hightower, and Christmas--are all following, hunting something and are also being chased or haunted by something.  And it's interesting to see the way they all deal with that.  My favorite way, of course, is that the journey is the journey and that's part of life.

Byron Bunch is an important character in the lives of the other three characters, but he's not mentioned in the synopsis, which is a shame.

Faulkner has some lovely and powerful passages in here.  I particularly loved "Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders."

And I love how he switches to an unknown narrator to tell the last chapter.  I think that distance, that inclusion of a stranger's perception of the character this chapter deals with, makes the novel.  If he had used a close narrator, I think a lot of the point and power of the novel as a whole would have been lost.

This is a fantastic novel.  It covers all of the topics that are still important today--race, sexuality, religion, class, and others.  We all make decisions and sometimes there are good consequences, bad consequences, and unforeseen consequences--but that is life.  And that is what this novel is ultimately about.

I still think As I Lay Dying might be my favorite Faulkner, but this is so far a close second.  Fortunately, I have tons more Faulkner to read to see how that may or may not change.

Lastly, I am very proud of myself and Lisa for finally finishing a buddy read.  Go us!

04 April 2015

Review of I Feel Bad about My Neck by Nora Ephron

Title:  I Feel Bad about My Neck:  And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
Author:  Nora Ephron
Publication Information:  Alfred A. Knopf, August 2006
How I Got This Book:  Bought it at a local bookstore.

Goodreads Synopsis:  With her disarming, intimate, completely accessible voice, and dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron shares with us her ups and downs in "I Feel Bad About My Neck, " a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself.

The woman who brought us "When Harry Met Sally . . ., Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, "and" Bewitched, " and the author of best sellers "Heartburn, Scribble Scribble, " and "Crazy Salad, " discusses everything--from how much she hates her purse to how much time she spends attempting to stop the clock: the hair dye, the treadmill, the lotions and creams that promise to slow the aging process but never do. Oh, and she can't stand the way her neck looks. But her dermatologist tells her there's no quick fix for that. 

Ephron chronicles her life as an obsessed cook, passionate city dweller, and hapless parent. She recounts her anything-but-glamorous days as a White House intern during the JFK years ("I am probably the only young woman who ever worked in the Kennedy White House that the President did not make a pass at") and shares how she fell in and out of love with Bill Clinton--from a distance, of course. But mostly she speaks frankly and uproariously about life as a woman of a certain age. 

Utterly courageous, wickedly funny, and unexpectedly moving in its truth telling, "I Feel Bad About My Neck" is a book of wisdom, advice, and laugh-out-loud moments, a scrumptious, irresistible treat.

My Thoughts:  We all know I love Nora Ephron.  I read this collection a few weeks after my papa's funeral.  Again, it was the right book at the right time for me.  I'll keep this short and sweet and highlight a few of my favorite essays from this collection.

It's difficult to pick favorite essays from her collections because they all speak to me on some level.  I think from this collection, "I Hate My Purse" was my favorite.  I've always been a purse lady.  I love the never-ending search for the perfect purse.  I love the act of changing out purses and deciding what to put in and what to leave out, how to organize things to make life easier, how to make the purse I carry a statement of who I feel like that day.  So in many ways, this didn't apply to me.  No, it was my favorite because of how much it reminded me of my mom.  She is not a purse lady.  She stuffs her pockets full of her wallet, her cell phone, notes, keys, whatever or she hands it off to me to put in my purse.  Annoying.  I wish I could get her to read this essay because I think she will see a lot of herself in it.

I also really loved the lengthy essay "Moving On," about her first apartment after the break-up of her second marriage.  It was such a love story for a place that we all know--home.  The place where things just kind of fall together for you and help you grow.  The place can change over time, but the feeling of belonging doesn't.

Another favorite is "What I Wish I'd Known."  This is another humorous list that has a touch of seriousness.  Definitely a lot to take away from this essay.  And it will definitely make you think about your own life.

02 April 2015

Review of Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

Title:  Lucky Us
Author:  Amy Bloom
Publication Information:  Random House, July 2014
How I Got This Book:  From BookRiot's RiotRead book club.

Goodreads Synopsis:  "My father's wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us."

Brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny, Lucky Us introduces us to Eva and Iris. Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star, and Eva, the sidekick, journey across 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris's ambitions take them from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island.

With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine through a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war. Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life. From Brooklyn's beauty parlors to London's West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat, and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species.

My Thoughts:  It took me a few tries before I really got pulled into this book, but once I was drawn in, I couldn't, wouldn't, escape.

Bloom created such interesting characters that made me want to continue learning more and more about them.  This was such an interesting place and time to write about and Bloom weaves a very interesting narrative.  Just when you think these down and out people are sunk, something happens that helps further their aims.

I absolutely loved Eva!  She reminded me so much of Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in that she was kind of shuffled here and there by the circumstances of her life, as opposed to by choice, she loved her family, and she had a tremendous love of learning that frequently had to be put on the back shelf.  Still, everything turns out all right somehow in the end.

Speaking of the end--the last few pages of this book made the novel.  I can't really talk about them without spoiling anything major, but OMG!  SO. Beautiful!

I am so glad that I received this novel and that I finally picked it up.  It was a five star read for me and I highly recommend it to people who love reading.  The plot, narrative structure, characters, and language come together to create a wonderful storm of a novel that will leave you thinking and feeling for quite some time.

01 April 2015

Review of My Sunshine Away by M. O. Walsh

Title:  My Sunshine Away
Author:  M.O. Walsh
Publication Information:  February 2015 by Amy Einhorn Books
How I Got This Book:  I bought a copy on my Kindle app.

Goodreads Synopsis:  My Sunshine Away unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson—free spirit, track star, and belle of the block—experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too.

In My Sunshine Away, M.O. Walsh brilliantly juxtaposes the enchantment of a charmed childhood with the gripping story of a violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love. Acutely wise and deeply honest, it is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.

My Thoughts:  Wow.  A Twitter friend mentioned this book and I bought it immediately because I trust her taste.  Only partway through, I began brow-beating Bear into reading this one, encouraging her to abandon her current read and start immediately.  Finally she relented and she thanked me for it.  I think.  I'll just say she did because I know she liked the book, so on some level she did thank me.

This has the elements of a thriller--in the opening pages a teenage girl is raped right down the street from her home and the narrator tries to figure out who did it--but it also is a wonderful, beautiful bildungsroman about growing up and life changing and becoming more complicated that we can all relate to.  The real story is the narrator's personal development from a boy firmly ensconced in his little suburban home to a man who has faced some real challenges and changes and comes out the other side.

My heart broke a number of times throughout this novel, at big and small moments.  The end left me feeling weird and utterly destroyed, yet somehow hopeful and wistful.  For me, it was the same feeling I get at the end of To Kill a Mockingbird.  I felt completely alive, but also somehow detached from my real world.  Somehow I was able to drive to Chipotle and back in a fantastic haze.

This is a book I still think about and carry with me.

I cannot wait to see what else Walsh produces.

An utterly amazing read.

A new favorite for me.

Go buy it.  Now!