Saturday, October 3, 2009
I can remember one of my creative writing professors sharing a famous quote: there are only three types of stories in this world. All stories revolve one of three ideas. I wish I remembered the wording. But google searching for the answer seems to defeat the purpose. These three things are war, love and death. look at these categories and I think: what about loss, self-discovery, catharsis, victory, defeat? And yet I also believe that most stories are about the same basic ideas. Different packaging, same themes. Most of the books I have read lately are about life choices.
While I’m Falling is a modern story. It ruminates on the sandwich generation, couples that get divorced after twenty-five plus years of marriage, career choices, college life. And yet, it is mainly a story that explores: what is the good life? While I was reading it, I stopped to consider my own life choices, the lack of a fire I feel in my belly somedays, the part of me that has wondered if being adult means accepting a more staid daily life. I yearned to be the protagonist, a junior in college trying to find her way, setting off course from the path she had previously chosen. I can’t even remember choosing a course in college. I was too busy having fun, learning, and living. Veronica’s life is nothing to really yearn for. But I suppose I just wanted to be back in an environment where it felt safe to make mistakes.
This evening, I started talking to a woman next to me on the metro platform. She asked about the book I was reading and I tried to explain it. A young woman in college struggles after her parents divorce, she realizes she doesn’t have what it takes to be pre-med, and a train wreck of negative events occur. And then suddenly her mother is at her dorm room, evicted from her apartment and living in her van. I explained to this woman that I felt disheartened reading the book. I didn’t particularly like the characters. Or I suppose at first I didn’t relate to them. I just felt propelled by the story. But something happened. An unlikely character emerged as the most compelling hero. The homeless mother, who doesn’t regret her life choices even as she has nothing to show for herself, made me feel reinspired. Even at her lowest moments, she is a true mother, a caring and considerate person, who truly appreciates the people around her, even the lowly waitress at an all night coffee place.
In the end, I loved this book. I love the way it captured the many conflicts of modern life. It showed that the choices we make alter our lives, but the most important thing is the attitude we use to face each day. The book is about a family unraveling, and yet it isn’t tragic. In the end, I believed that all of the negative events had to occur to get the characters where they needed to be.
I loved this book. It inspired me, made me realize it’s never too late to try new things, to discover a new part of yourself, to set out to create a larger family. Who would have thought a book about a 75 year old widow would be so engaging, informative and compelling. I guess the truth is we don't have to read about people who are like us. We learn the most from stepping inside the mindset of those who are different from us.
Seventy-five year old Sarah Lucas is in mourning over the love of her life, her husband Charles. They lived a wonderful life together and Sarah suddenly faces each new day with dread, as she is without the biggest constant in her life. Now, as I reconsider this novel, I think of the 80 year old Jewish grandmother of a friend I met this summer. She talked repeatedly of her beloved husband, who died a number of years ago, a chemist, "but brilliant, he could have been a lawyer." This woman was smart enough to go to college but girls didn't go to college then (unless they had wealthy parents), and she still regrets this fact. She didn't work and it is obvious that she always defined herself in terms of her wonderful husband. I suppose similar things could be said of Sarah, whose husband was a beloved doctor.
Sarah, is suddenly able to find a new version of herself, defined only by her actions. Her memories take her back to the Great Depression when her parents opened their house to various relatives in need. The married wife of a doctor never imagined doing something similar but the widow who replaces her soon packs her house full. With her teenage granddaughter, fighting for independence from the mother who doesn't understand, two of her teenage friends -one whose mother seems happy to lose a mouth to feed, an Israeli pacifist professor writing a book in Sarah's cabin, and a young mother and child whose husband and father (and breadwinner) lies in the hospital burned from the electrical fire that ruined their small trailer. In Sarah's house a new family forms, and Sarah discovers her inner artist. Young, old and middle aged mingle in the house finding ways to help each other overcome a series of hardships. Movie nights are created, a sullen teenager crafts stories for the young fatherless boy. Sarah and the Israeli widower ruminate on loss and violence, meditation and personal peace.
I loved the characters. They were real, and their problems were universal. Maybe communal living is the way to go. This book made me a ready believer. It also made me realize that one is never to old to try something new, to discover a new passion, savor a new hobby, embrace a new family. So many uplifting messages in a beautifully crafted story. What more could one ask for in a reading selection for a long bus ride?
Jill from Breaking the Spine said she put down this book because it was too intense. I understand her completely. I wanted to enjoy this book as it is about boy girl twins, and I am obsessed with twins (I am one myself). I have only read one other book about boy-girl twins and the unique relationship. I purchased it in Australia, it was written by a New Zealander and it was borderline strange (the girl dressed like a boy and later it was revealed she was gay).
This novel was beguiling and intriguing but it also detailed the sort of story that makes you want to look away and not turn back. The protagonist is an English professor in Philadelphia. As a female twin and compulsive reader who studied English in Philly I felt a kinship towards her. But her relationship with her twin is something else entirely. There is a reverence in their relationship that confuses all of the individuals around them. Together they escaped a traumatic childhood. The story begins with Lila Cole learning of her brother’s death. The cause of death was suicide by police (I will leave you to figure out that for yourself). After her brother’s death Lila is consumed by grief and depression, her marriage is challenged, and her niece and nephew (her brother Billy's children) are suffering as well. The traumatic events pile up one after the other and it is a lot for a reader to take.
In the end, the reader gains closure, and yet there is still so much lingering trauma. There isn’t much really conveyed in this story about the relationship between twins; it is much more focused on living through childhood trauma and abuse.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
I couldn't help but think of the recent Taconic crash while reading the opening of this novel. A mother (who has been drinking, by most definitions moderately) gets in a car accident and a young child dies. She was not technically at fault but that doesn't relieve the guilt and depression that plague her. Obviously the crash on the Taconic (where eight individuals died including the driver, who has since been reported to have been drunk) is very different than the accident in this story, and yet it all connects. Mothers and driving. Loss and blame. Interestingly, since I finished the book, Baker Kline posted on her blog connecting the horrific crash on the Taconic with her inspiration for this story.
At the heart of this novel is two couples. In the past they made the perfect foursome. But now Claire is sleeping with her best friend Allison's husband. Obviously the dynamic has shifted.
Baker Kline creates a complex narrative to explain the connections and experiences between these four well-developed characters. The narrative of the book shifts in time, so that we learn about the events of the present at the same time that we delve into slivers of the past that explain the complex layers of the present. For example, halfway through the book, we learn that Charlie, Allison's husband, studied at Oxford with Ben and Claire. He fell in love with Claire, who was already engaged to Ben, and Claire realized that to keep Charlie in their lives their threesome must become a foursome. So she invited Allison, her childhood best friend to visit.
It angered me to learn about Charlie's complex emotions. At first introduction, he is a cheater, ready to ease out of his suburban life in a family of four. While the reader yearns for an explanation for Charlie and Claire's terrible betrayal, the layered truth Baker Kline reveals did not absolve them in my eyes. Claire comes across as a selfish woman, who seeks as much attention as she can. As a young person she wanted both Ben and Charlie. As a thirtysomething woman she is ready to hurt countless individuals in order to get what she wants: fame and the excitement of the unsafe choice she didn't pick as a young person, Charlie.
Baker Kline uses all four characters to explore the idea of wanting dual lives, and lamenting past choices. Allison years for her working life pre children while also wanting the life she has with her beautiful children. She realizes that she has never once made a decision based solely on her own desires. She is caught up in meeting the needs of her husband and children. Claire wanted a life with Ben, steady and solid, with the promise of his clear adoration and love. He was the safe choice as his love was all-encompassing. Charlie, on the other hand, was the risky choice as he was infatuated with Claire.
Baker Kline uses this novel to explore the choices adults make. City life or suburbs. A life without children or a life with. Suitor 1 or Suitor 2. This makes the book refreshingly real. These are choices most individuals face and the decision is never easy. All of the four main characters, like real individuals, have been forced to compromise. Charlie in particular seems to have thought his choices would lead to a different outcome. There is a sense that he did everything right. Worked hard, married the right type of woman. It is obvious though that he hasn't truly committed to these choices. I found myself frustrated by Claire and Charlie - not because they are adulterers but because they are so extremely selfish. All of their actions seem driven by their wants, in such an extreme manner. It isn't hard to believe that a father would leave his two children to follow his own desires; but it still angers me.
Overall, I found this story incredibly engaging. While I found myself perplexed by some of the character's choices, I felt Baker Kline succeeded in capturing many of the complexities of modern life and modern marriage.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Since quitting work to look after his eight-year-old daughter, Alexa, Thomas Bradshaw has found solace and nourishment in his daily piano study, but his increasingly artistic way of life shocks his parents and his undermining in-laws. Why has he swapped roles with Tonie Swann, his intense, intellectual wife? And how can this be good for Alexa?
Tonie is increasingly seduced away from domestic life by the headier world of work, where long-forgotten memories of ambition are awakened. She finds herself outside their tight family circle, alive to previously unimaginable possibilities.
This was a pleasurable read. At the heart of the story is the interactions of an extended wealthy family. The Wheelrights are a family of bankers. Charlotte, one of the granddaughters, has rebelled against what is expected of her and has started an organic vegetable garden on a parcel of land on her grandmother's Nantucket estate. This has created some tension with some of the other members of the family who feel the grandmother is favoring Charlotte.
The novel mostly focuses on the secrets and experiences of three women in the family. Charlotte, her mother Helen, and her paternal grandmother, Anne, who is celebrating her 90th birthday. Anne has been keeping a huge secret from her son, Charlotte's father. Helen is dealing with the repercussions of her husband's actions. And Charlotte has a secret that explains why she fled to Nantucket. Further drama is added as Charlotte's youngest brother returns home with a pregnant girlfriend.
As always, I enjoyed watching the events unfold for a dysfunctional family. I was rather irritated by Grace, and her daughters (Anne's other child). I enjoyed the historical aspects included in the novel: Anne's husband was stationed in Germany during WWI and this actually forever altered their family. This is a good escapist read.
Friday, July 31, 2009
There is something magical about discovering a new author. Wandering into a room, finding a book you long ago purchased sitting on a bookshelf full of old reads and starting anew. For that is what I do with each new book, I start anew, I dive in, I feel a sense of discovery, of excitement of surprise lurking at every turn. I can't explain why I am a compulsive reader. So much of my life has been spent with my nose in a book, my mind working, my eyes lingering on turns of phrases, artful sentences, passages that emit emotion. On a reader's high at the moment, I feel sorry for those who don't read. A woman at line in BandN said: "It really is a shame that I don't read more. I just never have the time." "I page through magazines," she explained, offering up an excuse, feeling embarrassed. I told her: "that counts too," but a minute later I was decrying modern magazines, fed up with the endless wasted words detailing the lives of Jon and Kate, the Octomom, Angelina Jolie. It's all so unimportant. It doesn't count. Reading is magic. I think that is why I loved teaching middle school English. It allowed me the opportunity to dispel small doses of the magic. I got to regal a classroom with a magical passage. I got to introduce reluctant readers to a book that helped them fall down the well, into the world of a reader. My students knew I would buy them books. My mother never denied me books as a child; I couldn't deny them either.
And there is even more magic in the world, as discovering an old book written by a prolific author allows one to reach out and surround themselves with a full tome. I was ecstatic to discover Bread Alone had a sequel. I longed to know more about Wynter.
Defying the law of sequels, I think I liked The Baker's Apprentice even more than Bread Alone. I suppose it is futile to compare them, for it is the backstory of Bread Alone that supports The Baker's Apprentice, letting it stand supported as a rich story. Tabling all of that, the continuation of Wynter's story expanded to include so many surprises. The cast of characters was expanded and I found myself connected to a whole slew of characters. I loved the community and family that was formed at The Queen Anne's Bakery. I loved watching Wynter mentor her apprentice, Tyler, a young woman with blue hair screaming for help and guidance. I loved being provided with glimpses of Mac's perspective as well as viewing the letters he penned Wynter. I whole-heartedly feel that this sequel was a necessity: the story just got so much richer and fuller and more layered. In many ways the book ends with out a complete ending. But it felt right for things to be left the way they did. I loved the final scene, even as a part of me mourned the fact that there were no more pages to continue to regal me.
One of the factors that added to my love of this story was the setting and time period. I have always been rather intrigued by the Pacific Northwest and Seattle in particular. I can imagine myself in such a location. Beyond that, I love that this story takes place in the late 80s and early 90s. It is a world where mix tapes still reigned supreme, where the internet and the tabloids were less omni present, and local cafes weren't places filled to the brim with lit up computer screens. Individuals sat in bars reading, as they sipped their wine. It's a world I would have loved to inhabit. It is also a world populated by people who came of age in the 70s. I find those individuals fascinating.
I entered pure flow when reading this book. I was basically unaware of my surroundings (oh the life of a student on summer break, done with work!) - and just sat reading for hours on end, something I do way too often, but something I can't stop.
Futzing around on the internet, I have learned Hendricks plans to write a third story about Wynter. I know I will continue to love learning about the lives of CM, Mac, Tyler, Ellen, and the rest of Wynter's cast of characters. I am also deeply excited to read the rest of Hendrick's books.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
I found this book on my bookshelf at my parents' house. It is one of the few books I haven't actually read. I don't know why I didn't read it years ago. I absolutely adored the story. I am not a baker or a chef, but I love people who have a passion for such activities. Wynter's love for baking bread made me want to understand the process more. But I still can't imagine reading non-fiction books about baking or cooking, but more power to those who do!
I wonder if reading about individuals who are starting over, and seeking their place and niche in the world inherently leads to others questioning their own path. I can't consider this personally as I consider my own path daily even without such fictional prodding. I loved reading about Wynter's delayed adolescence - that is how I am defining it -- her attempt to find herself and make peace with all the waves of experiences and emotions that are trying to overpower her. She is an incredibly realistic woman, one who is emerging from a marriage that allowed her to ignore the fact that she hadn't found her niche. She taught high school for a handful of years and sold Real Estate for a year. She hated both. So she easily subsumed her interests and became the corporate wife her husband desired. Seven years later she is forced to to create a new version of herself, and like many that have come before, she proves to be strong and resilient, capable of so many things she had never considered when she was cocooned in a beautiful house in Los Angeles.
This book made me think of a Washington Post article from last week. Matt Crawford has a doctorate in political philosophy from UChicago, and yet he recently penned a surprise bestseller titled Shop Class as Soulcraft. He is quoted as saying:
There's this false dichotomy out there between intellectual work and manual work. The popular image of the plumber is just the butt crack, not that of a skilled tradesman who sets his own hours, figures out complex problems on the fly and probably earns more than most of his clients. Plus, there's that satisfaction of imposing one's will and intellect on the physical world, to immediate effect.He also states:
The issue is not so much whether it is manual or physical labor, but whether your work demands use of your personal skills and judgment. If it doesn't, then you're on an assembly line, no matter how crisply starched your shirt is.
All of this is ruminating in my head as I face my own unclear future, but it also relates directly to the life of Wynter, a woman who finds meaning in making bread. Some may consider it the work of the unskilled or, unintelligent, but it clearly brings Wynter a great deal of happiness. Isn't that what we all want for our children and friends? Work that brings about happiness and fulfillment? I know I do. Sometimes I think we all get sucked into the dominant mentality. A woman I taught with basically removed herself from regular society. She took time to paint and do yoga. She found herself in the brown earth of New Mexico. In some ways I envy her, even as I recognize that I am not capable of living completely off the beaten path.
My experiences in shop class and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity (burned my hair in the woodburner, learned I am not as handy with a hammer as one should be) and in the kitchen have proved that I will never be a car mechanic, construction worker or bread baker. Part of me wishes I was less cerebral and more capable of finding happiness in simple tasks, and grueling physical labor. But, swirling through my head are other ideas as well. It's isn't just about labor; but making a conscious choice to do something for the right reasons. I will file that way in the back of my mind.
I just found out that there is a sequel to Bread Alone. And I am so excited to read the next chapter in Wynter's life.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
This was the second book I purchased for my long train ride. I had read a series of positive reviews of Brice's first novel, which I now plan on reading. This book tackles so many interesting ideas and experiences. It is a truly modern novel, discussing topics such as interracial dating, treatment of young black males by the police, black male identity, single parenting, raising children who are mixed race, fundamentalist Christianity, adoption and what truly determines a person's racial identity. Few authors discuss such topics so insightfully and poignantly (at least few authors I have read). Furthermore, one of the main characters in the novel is adopted but not told by her parents. This intrigues me as my mother has consistently said that she would never tell a child they were adopted -- this fact is made inherently more interesting by the fact that she is a psychologist (thankfully, we have pictures of my mother pregnant with me and my brothers so we know she isn't lying to us!). The book also includes so much about a wide variety of topics I know very little about: veterinarians, Native American rituals, holistic healing, Lupus, Buddhism, and being mixed race. I feel I learned a great deal from reading this book and that isn't always the case with fiction.
Brice creates such layered and real characters. We get a sense of each character's thoughts, emotions, and feelings even though Billie and Trish are focused on the most. We see each character as a full-bodied individual. No detail is left out. Like real people, all of the characters are flawed. Nick is unwilling to be a parent and scared of truly letting Billie inside his head. Billie is stubborn, OCD, controlling and unhappy to find out she is mixed race. At times she is downright mean to her newly discovered sister. Trish is somewhat simple-minded and overbearing towards her son. Will, goes from shoplifting to extreme piousness, believing deeply in the preaching of a corrupt priest. Billie's adopted parents withhold the truth from her.
Overall, I was captivated by this book. It is yet another example of a well-written, unique story written about a complex and slightly-dysfunctional family. One of my favorite types of reads!
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Another memoir about a woman in an unexpected position. I've been wanting to read Pols book for a while having read parts of her blog. While I found her story interesting and compelling, I wanted to be more captivated by her writing. I loved reading about her large Catholic family, her childhood in Maine, how she fell in love with being a movie critic. I liked learning about life as a self-sufficient woman in San Francisco. I was particularly intrigued by the passages about being a late in life mother at the same time that her parents (who had her particularly late as she was the last of 6 spread out over a number of years) were failing in health. I've always found the phenomenon of the sandwich generation fascinating. And it is obvious that Mary's parents were larger than life characters. But I didn't find myself particularly moved by her writing style. I suppose in some ways it was too "journalistic" for my liking. The structure seemed to make it harder for me to become totally enthralled. Maybe I am just too accustomed to fiction.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
In typical Marnes and Noble fashion, I sat in Borders (sorry BandN!) reading Commencement the day it came out (I am currently on vacation so I have way too much free time!) I was a hundred and fifteen pages in when I had to leave the store so I bought the book. I of course finished it in one day - the day of its publication. Such typical MandN behavior. A day later, I am still thinking about so many of the issues this book offers insight on. I guess since I am a twenty-something who is still trying to figure so much out, and I am deeply attached to my college group of friends this book deeply resonated with me.