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.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Patti Callahan Henry never disappoints. One day I picked up one of her books off a New Fiction table, and two chapters in and I just knew I would read all of her books. I devoured her latest book in one day finishing it at 4 in the morning. I am not sure I can put my finger on exactly what makes her stories so readable, but her characters and settings always easily draw me in.
This book focuses on the relationship between sisters, something I cannot relate to at all as I only have brothers. But I still find it inherently amusing. I suppose a lot of women's fiction focuses on the relationship between sisters, in fact Kristin Hannah's last book focused on three sisters as well. And yet, Callahan Henry's books never seem cliche or derivative. Even though many of her books seem to replay similar ideas or conflicts, they are each unique.
The book also focuses on a small town book store, something I know I would love. I loved my local bookstore as a child--it was called The Corner Book Shop and I spent most of my childhood weekends inside its doors.
At the heart of it this book focuses on how the events of adolescence and childhood stay with an individual - something focused on in most of Callahan Henry's books. She understands young love in such an obvious way. This book also focuses on the sandwich generation, and adults dealing with the sickness of their parents. Callahan Henry grapples with so many issues in this book, and yet the heart of the story is the deep friendship between Mack and Riley and the rift between Riley and Maisy. I suppose it isn't a new story - sisters fight over boy, boy chooses beauty over best friend. And yet, as I said before Callahan Henry's stories always seem new.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
I can remember when the first few fiction books and movies that tried to respond to the events of 9/11 first came out. There was such a collective holding of breath. Could authors and screenwriters tackle this subject artfully? How does one try to say something about such a catastrophic and insane event?
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
This is somewhat of a delayed post. I read this book on the floor of BandN about a week ago. I loved Richmond's last book (The Year of Sand and Fog) and had been meaning to read this latest one for a while.
But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others—especially those we love—above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for.
Monday, June 8, 2009
This is a memoir about a young white woman who according to the blurb on the inside, grows up in "a poor black neighborhood with her single father, a white man who truly believed he was black." The author explains: "He strutted around with a short perm, a Cosby-esqe sweater, gold chains, and a Kangol--telling jokes like Redd Foxx and giving advice like Jesse Jackson. You couldn't tell my father he was white."
Mishna grows up trying to please her father, lost in a world that is foreign to her. Eventually she learns to "cap" (insult her friends with sayings similar to yo mamma jokes) and finds enjoyment in playing on an all black basketball team. But she also attends a special school with upper-class white students who find her weird. She learns to navigate these disparate worlds and obviously turned out alright, as she was previously a model and a comedian and now has penned an engaging memoir.
I found this book completely engaging. As someone who formerly taught African American and Latino students, I felt this book gave a me a greater understanding of some of their behaviors. As someone interested in the effects of growing up in poverty, I found Mishna's story something incredibly elucidating. Neither of her parents finished college, but they still supported her enough to get her on the right track in life. While her father may have been more concerned about her standing in the community, and whether she could stand her own in a fight or be cool enough to hang with the sistas, he also encouraged her to try new things: track, music, basketball, swimming. While he clearly wanted his daughter to excel at the things he deemed important, he found a way to accept her for exactly who she was and was incredibly proud of her accomplishments.
Jennifer Weiner recently blogged about how seeing an author's photo can affect one's reading of a novel (she reported that reading a book via Kindle, which meant she had no photo helped her not to prejudge the author and approach the book with a more open mind). Wolff's photo shows that she is clearly gorgeous. But this book reveals so much of the confusion she felt as a young person. I think it would be impossible for someone to read this memoir and not fall in love with the young version of Wolff we are introduced to. She wants so badly to be accepted. She tries equally hard at mastering capping in second grade then she later does swimming, a sport she loves because she doesn't have to worry about letting down teammates the way she did in basketball. She tries so very hard to be accepted in the disparate worlds she navigates. And she never thinks she is better than anyone else.
The book surprisingly offers somewhat of a critique of the upper middle class lifestyle. It is Mishna's friends from her special school that struggle the most with finding happiness. While Mishna's African American step mother struggles to support her family, and blames a lot of her unhappiness on Misha, we see her through a whimsical light as well. Mishna's adolescent friends seem more troubled dealing with absent parents, the pressure of success and their absolute boredom. Overall the book is funny, insightful and interesting.
Part of me feels this book both tries too hard and yet doesn't deliver. I wanted to like this book but it didn't deliver as compelling a story as I imagined based on the blurb. It was highly readable. But I felt myself just wanting to finish. I wasn't savoring it the way I usually do with compelling fiction.
For me, something was missing in this story. I cared about the narrator, her husband and daughter but not enough. The family seemed so cliche. And while the narrator is a freelance writer, who shares with the reader the entirety of her inner dialogue, I didn't feel that connected to her. For me, the characters never really came alive. I get that the narrator was still coming to terms with her diagnosis of cancer five years before, and was herself discovering that she was going through the motions and not celebrating life. But I still found myself feeling detached from the developing story.
The most interesting part of the novel was the bereft widow who cannot imagine life without her beloved husband and is looking to find a meaningful way to sell the house she shared with him for many years. Their house is the the last beach bungalow on Redondo beach, and the only one that has not been torn down and replaced with a McMansion. To me this woman and her captivating house, is the heart of the story and I think the novel would have been infinitely more interesting if the story was told from her perspective.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
The blurb on the book compares Kiernan to Picoult and Shreve. I could see that. She tackles big controversial topics. I think I might also compare her to Patti Callahan Henry, due to the Southern setting and the focus on island life.
I have always been able to pick up a book, read the first few pages, and know if I will enjoy the book. I read the first few pages of the Visibles and was enthralled. I considered buying it immediately, but was in a hurry to jump on a bus to NYC. Luckily, I recently got it from the library.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
My first waiting on Wednesday selection is This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. It will be published August 6th, 2009.
The typical Foxman family gathering ends with car doors slamming and tires screeching as various factions scatter to nurse their resentments in private. But this time around, the Foxmans reluctantly submit to their father’s dying request: to spend the seven days following the funeral together. In the same house. Like a real family. For Judd it’s a week-long opportunity to come to terms with his father’s death, his failed marriage, and to explain the mess his life has become to a never-ending parade of people he thought he might never see again. Which would be bad enough without the bomb Jen dropped the day Judd’s father died: She’s pregnant."
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
As a History major (who wrote her undergraduate thesis on the 60s), this book was a true pleasure for me. I loved how grounded the story was in historical events. While it is fiction, it is very apparent that Clayton spent time researching events of the late 60s.
Additionally, as a young woman who has only marginally felt the effects of sexism, the book allowed me a completely new view of the opportunities I take for granted. It was completely eye-opening to consider how limited woman who grew up in the 60s were.
The five women in this novel, meet at a local park in Palo Alto. All are young with successful husbands. Each has aspirations that have been put on hold as they fulfill the role of happy homemaker. They are all yearning for more in life. Frankie is insecure that she never went to college; while she had great grades she was forced to work to help pay for her four brothers college tuition. Linda, a talented runner, is outspoken and fierce; she wants women to be allowed in the NYC and Boston marathons, and for there to be more equality in the Olympic events available for men and women. Kath, is an English Lit major who was forced to give up any dreams she had when her parents force her to get married upon getting pregnant. Her husband doesn't deserve her and cheats. She is eventually forced to find a job as her husband moves out to live with his mistress. Ally, is full of secrets. Mostly, she is desperate to have a child. Brett, is a brilliant woman and scientist, who always dreamed of becoming an astronaut. She struggles as she watches her younger sister become a doctor and deals with a complicated history due to a childhood accident. Together the women face many challenges: unfaithfulness, cancer, infertility, miscarriages, racism. It is obvious that Palo Alto in the late 60s was not the easiest place to live. But the women band together in friendship, joining together to create a Writer's Workshop that helps change all of their lives.
Clayton is a masterful story-teller. While some of the events seem unlikely from a historical perspective, I was able to suspend belief enough to thoroughly enjoy this story. I appreciated how much this book allowed me to view how far we have come as a society (at least in terms of the options available to women) and the incredible perspective it gave me on the women who "came of age" (as wives and mothers) post consciousness rising and the first wave of feminism.