Category Archives: Autobiography/Memoir

One for Now, One for Later

And boy, they couldn’t be more different.


One for Now: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

31451186This one is… it’s more sci-fi than I’m used to, let me start with that.  I’m okay about sci-fi, but I’m picky.  Borne was another book that was getting rave reviews at the NCIBA Spring Workshop and the concept is bizarre enough that I decided to give it a shot.

Basically, dystopian society in which our narrator (woman named Rachel) describes a world that was once ruled by the Company and is now actually ruled by Mord, a gigantic bear and one-time project of the Company.  Yep, you read that right.  Bear.  As in big furry mammal.  Rachel and cave-mate Wick (who are also occasionally lovers) hang out in Balcony Cliffs together until one day, while out scavenging, Rachel finds a little pod thing and names is Borne.  She carries it home, and eventually Borne begins to grow.  Rachel takes on an almost maternal role with Borne, and debates arise as to whether or not Borne is a person, what happens after death, and the usual existential crisis sorts of topics.  There’s also a woman named the Magician who pops up occasionally, and the Mord wannabes who try to kill people.

I’ll give you a moment to unpack what I just wrote.

There you go.

Not being a gung-ho sci-fi gal myself, I found it to be almost a little too far-fetched, largely because of how matter-of-factly people dealt with a gigantic flying bear.

Oh, I didn’t mention Mord flies?  Yeah.  Giant flying bear.

VanderMeer, author of the widely acclaimed Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance), is a great writer.  The construction of the novel, told through a first-person narration with occasional disconnected thoughts or oddly broken sentence, works beautifully.  And the end did surprise me.  Not all of it, but enough that I sat there and actually said, “What?”  So that was a pleasant change.

My issues with the book are strictly personal preference — while I would love to say I enjoyed this wholeheartedly and would read it again, I can’t.  I can say that I’m very curious about VanderMeer’s trilogy and might just give that a shot.  As far as Borne goes, there’s a lot of good here, and if you had any interest in it at all, you should read it.  Even if you don’t love it, I think you can easily find something to appreciate about the work itself.

And on a completely shallow note, the cover of the book (U.S. edition) is really cool.


One for Later: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

41q0PArw2hL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_I’m firmly of the opinion that Sherman Alexie is one of the greatest American writers ever.  Like, I’d put him right up beside my boy Fitzgerald.  Easily.  He doesn’t dwell on easy topics or obviously funny things, and he doesn’t make everything out to be pitiable or dark.  Instead, he blends light and dark, tragedy and comedy so beautifully together that everything he does is a work of art.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is a tough book.  After his mother died at 78, Alexie wrote 78 essays and 78 poems about their relationship, and it’s not an easy one.  But Alexie doesn’t shy away from the difficult, scary, horrible parts of life — abuse of all kinds, broken promises, health issues — but tackles everything with his truth.

And I purposefully say “his truth” because some of my favorite moments in the work come when he remembers something one way and is informed he’s mistaken.  The imperfection of memories, especially about those with whom you share an intimate collection, is faced as the best writer should: head-on and with a sense of humor about the bits that might not be completely accurate according to the rest of the world.

I think I keep emphasizing the humor in this book, but I wonder if humor is the right word.  There are a lot of moments in this where I laugh out loud, and there are a lot of moments where I think I’m a horrible person for laughing.  But that’s what I consider Alexie’s greatest strength to be in all his writing that I’ve had the pleasure to read.  Being a writer who only writes “serious” books or a writer who only writes “funny” books usually doesn’t amount to being much of a writer that I appreciate.  A writer who can make me smile in the midst of something terrible, or who can shock me with a funny story — that’s a writer who has a real gift.

I don’t mean to make this an ode to Sherman Alexie, but he deserves it.  Hell, he deserves a whole book of odes about how great he is.  But here’s what I’ll say about his new book: read it.  If you like him at all, read it.  If you’re interested at all, read it.  If you happen to be walking by a shelf in a library/bookstore/grocery store/Target/friend’s house/place on Earth and you see it sitting there, take it.  And read it.

Although I recommend checking it out/paying for it/asking politely if you may borrow it first, just because it seems most of society finds that more appropriate than just straight up taking a book.  But still.  Take it and read it.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is out June 13th.


Other notables before I sign off:

  • Rainbow Rowell’s delightful book Carry On comes out in paperback TUESDAY and the cover is gorgeous.  The book is also a complete delight and is probably one of my favorites of all time, so it just gets better and better.
  • I’m working on my first Daphne du Maurier, Frenchman’s Creek, at the suggestion of a friend and I’m loving it.  Swashbuckling and romance and Cornwall.  Can’t get much better.
  • Still staring at Washington: A Life as it takes up space on my to-read pile.  I WILL FINISH THAT BOOK.
  • I just realized that these two books both have a sort of mother-son relationship in them.  Needed a present for Mother’s Day?  You’re welcome.
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I’d Die for These Books (Figuratively)

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: TODAY IS THE DAY.

9781501144349I’d Die for You has finally been released.  And if you like F. Scott Fitzgerald as much as I do, you’ve got to read this.

I’m not going to say that it’s his best writing (in my opinion, “Babylon Revisited” will always be one of the finest pieces of American literature), but it’s delightful.  This collection of short stories consists of previously unpublished works that often have the beginnings of his other writings.  While the writing itself is lovely (and very telling of his state of mind in each piece), it’s the context that makes this wonderful.

Basically, look at I’d Die for You as a Fitzgeraldian Go Set a Watchman: worthy of reading based on its own merits, but even more delightful when taken in context of its composition and its place in the author’s story.  For Fitzgerald, it’s all down to the editor of the collection, Anne Margaret Daniel, who provides insight into the stories as well as scans of draft pages and pictures from the Fitzgerald collection.  As someone who hates reading introductions first because they can spoil the work, I appreciated Daniel’s statement early on that the reader should read the story first, then go back and read the introduction just in case she includes a spoiler.

And then there are the stories.  Honestly, I don’t have a favorite from this collection because there’s so much.  Daniel has included some of the Hollywood treatments and film ideas, as well as stories that deal with more mature topics.  Instead of having a bunch of cheery jazzy love stories, there are musings on divorce, torture (in the historical story “Thumbs Up,” which might be one of my favorites), and the darker parts of society.  I mean, this isn’t to say that Fitzgerald has never dealt with serious topics, but in these stories there were definitely some moments when I was surprised by how explicit the un-jazzy bits were.

But my goodness, I loved the whole thing.

And yes, I know the whole point of this blog is to be honest, but I also say that any review is totally biased.  This is one case where I know I’m going to be biased, and biased beyond belief.  Fitzgerald is one of my favorite writers of all time, but most definitely my favorite American writer.  As I told my sister, I wouldn’t have cared if it was the worst collection of stories in the world – I think Fitzgerald’s writing alone is worth reading any number of pages, and luckily this turned out to be delightful.

12792In addition to I’d Die for You, I’ve finished Indian Creek Chronicles by Pete Fromm, and I’ve got to say that it brought me great joy.  It’s definitely the kind of book I’d recommend to high school boys who want to go out into the world and make their own way.  My dad handed this one to me because one of my Reading Challenge 2017 books was “set in the wilderness” and the fact that this guy went as a college kid to live in the wilderness for a winter… I figured it counted.

Basic idea: Pete Fromm goes into the wild for the winter to watch a river where salmon are going to be hatching.  He does this to earn some cash and to live out his dreams of being a mountain man.  He quickly realizes that being a mountain man is difficult, and that all the stories are basically lies.  It’s funny, and also has a lot of tragic moments of his understanding of civilization and nature (namely that humans wait until spring when it’s easy to march in and hunt the animals who have been a part of his world for the winter).

As a twenty-something woman, I had to tell my dad that, much as I liked it (and I really did), I can’t believe anyone would volunteer to go live in the woods for a winter when he has no experience.  And then I pointed out it must be a man-thing.  (No offense to the male population, but I can’t imagine a woman in college happily volunteering to live in a tent for five months — I’d be happy to be proven wrong if someone has done this herself, but I’m not expecting to have an overwhelming number of comments telling me I’m wrong.)  That’s why I think it’s great for the young man in your life (or if you’re like me and just want a good outdoorsy book) — this is a real man vs. nature struggle, and it’s told with great humor and writing.

So today has been a day of gloriously different reading material: the delightfully dizzying prose of Fitzgerald and the funny but poignant wilderness story of Fromm.  Both two thumbs up, both on my list of books to read again.

Because it’s Tuesday and I was having a pretty garbage day until I got my Fitzgerald, I’m going to end on a piece of Scott’s wisdom.

quote-F.-Scott-Fitzgerald-the-test-of-a-first-rate-intelligence-is-471

 

Keep testing your first-rate intelligence, and happy reading!

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Another Update

I feel like I’ve been making some serious progress on this Reading Challenge deal – although my thesis is still relatively un-done, but that’s okay… I still have two weeks to get a full draft of at least 80 pages completed… and I already have about 15… so that’s fine…

So, the update.  I’ve read:

  • something aloud to someone else (The Somethingosaur by Tony Mitton to my nephew, and then niece)
  • a middle grade novel (Pax by Sara Pennypacker)
  • a National Book Award Winner (Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me)
  • a book about religion (C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters)
  • a 20th century classic (The Color Purple, which was also Emma Watson’s bookclub pick for February)
  • a book set in my home state (The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mackenzie)
  • a book translated into English (Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue)

And it’s about these last two that I just want to take a moment.

See, on Goodreads, you can only give full stars.  Which is great on one hand and terrible on another.  Because these two books deserved (in my opinion) 3.5 stars.  So I rounded down and gave them both 3.  Giving a book 4 stars means I can confidently recommend it to everyone I know (that would be interested).  Giving a book 3 stars means I enjoyed it all right, but wouldn’t go out of my way to convince someone it’s the best book in the world.

The Portable Veblen is a strange book that takes place mostly in Paolo Alto and follows Veblen and her boyfriend-turned-fiance as they try to navigate crazy families and workplaces and what makes them what they are.  And it’s… fine…?  I think I enjoyed it.  But that’s the trouble.  After 100 pages, I thought I liked it.  At 200, I didn’t think I did.  At 300, I was pretty sure I didn’t like it, but I only had a little over 100 to go, so I finished.  And I think I liked it at the end.  The best part of the whole novel is the squirrel that Veblen talks(?) to that eventually gets a chapter of his own.  I told you it was strange.

It’s just a tough book to find a way to sell to someone.  Like, I’m really grateful I borrowed it instead of buying it because I don’t like it enough to pay $$$ for it.  But I’m glad I read it.  I think.  It’s just a little too off-center for me.  (There’s a reason I like my writers old and dead.)

Enrigue’s Sudden Death is, like Veblen, tough to sell, but I think I enjoyed it more.  It’s completely bizarre.  Like, seriously, try to read any reviews of it and people say it’s riveting, it’s great, it’s intellectual, it’s brilliant.  I found it strange and kind of great.  But it’s for a special type of person that I don’t think would appreciate the completely different nature of the work.  Basically, Caravaggio (yes, that Caravaggio) is playing a tennis match against a Spaniard and they’re going to “sudden death.”  But in between points, you get transported around time and continents, hearing a story about Hernán Cortés and then about Anne Boleyn’s beheading and the creation of tennis balls from her hair and then about the writer and his attempts to write this book and then some stuff about Caravaggio and you basically get wrapped up in a million short essays that are all united by this tennis match that Enrigue has constructed and it’s boggling.  There’s a chapter in there that I really liked that focused on translation and how it changes the meanings of works.  And, knowing that I’m reading a book translated into English made me read it differently.

So again, it’s a tough book to sell to just anyone because it’s pretty much a limited audience.  It’s good, and worth a read if this is your thing, but it’s weird.  And you might not understand what you just read when you finish it.

In non-challenge news, I also read Dear Pope Francis, which is wonderful because the Pope does not shy away from the tough questions children from around the world ask him, and The Warden by Anthony Trollope (which was for class, not pleasure).  I’m also working on Barchester Towers, another Trollope, and am going to have to finish it within the next two weeks because, well, it’s required reading.  It’s better than The Warden, though, so I’m finding it less troublesome than before.

In any case, I’ve lost count of my RC2016 success (I think I’m at 15/63?), but it doesn’t matter because I’m ahead of schedule and that means I have a chance to sit myself down and really get some schoolwork done.  Whoo.

As always, find a new book at your local indie – and see if they read Veblen or Sudden Death and listen to what they think.  I’m curious how anyone else has taken either, or both.

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The Art of Asking

theartofasking_imageSometimes there’s a book that I pick up because I like the author.  Sometimes there’s a book I pick up because I like the cover.  Sometimes there’s a book I pick up because I’ve heard things about it.

And then there’s Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking.  I looked at it first because the cover intrigued me.  And then I thought it sounded pretty good.  And then I thought, “Oh my goodness.  She’s married to Neil Gaiman.”

So if you couldn’t tell, I’m a fan of NG.  Like, I think he’s easily one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever heard of.  Other than, like, Jesus, Pope John Paul II, Mother Theresa, and my parents.  Duh.  But he’s right up there.

Thus, finding out that his wife (who must be equally awesome because, NG) wrote this cool looking book about a meaningful concept meant that I was going to read it.

And let me tell you, it’s worth reading.

Palmer’s book is one of those books that, if you are female or a worrier or bad at asking or sensitive or artistic or a human being, you should read.  Mainly because it’s deeply personal, full of experience, and full of beauty.  The inclusion of her lyrics and photographs adds to her understanding of art and artists because she’s been there.  I mean, if there’s anyone who can say “been there, done that,” it seems like she might be the one.

And this is something we should celebrate endlessly.  I might not be someone willing to sacrifice everything for my art (because, frankly, I don’t know what my art is yet), but I have the utmost respect for those who do.  Because there is a level of bravery that they possess to which I can only aspire.

I’m counting this as my “self improvement” book because it inspires me to do something I’m really bad at: asking.  I think our culture generally does encourage us to be strong individuals and do things all by ourselves, which Palmer addresses, and I believe she is right to say that we all should be asking.  For help, for clothes, for encouragement, for love, for attention, for everything we need as human beings.

Asking is one of the scariest things you can do.  People can say no.  People can laugh.  People can make you feel insignificant.  But you’ll never know if you never ask.

So my goal is that, now that I have read The Art of Asking, I’m going to try to ask more.  Because I am human, and I need help.  And if I need help, I need to accept that sometimes only another person can give me what I need.

Conclusion: read this book.  It’s relatively short, incredibly good, and something from which we can all learn.  All the love in the world to AP, who has truly inspired me.

Now available in paperback from your local independent bookstore.

P.S. This makes me 9/63 on my Reading Challenge.  Whoo!

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Reading Challenge 2016: Update

Well, well, well.  Another day, another celebration of Harry Potter.  Having just survived a really fantastic (and completely packed) HP event at work, I decided I should show you just how far along in my challenge I am.  Spoiler: I’ve done 8/63.  Hooray!

  1. Eligible – see previous post
  2. Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (yes, that Ethan Hawke) – Wonderful book, sweet and insightful and meaningful.  You can read it in one sitting and just enjoy it.  Seriously, get this one.
  3. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem – The first pick for Emma Watson’s bookclub (Our Shared Shelf on Goodreads), this is pretty interesting.  It’s not thrilling, it’s not one that I necessarily think you should buy, but since I borrowed it from the library, it was worth reading.  As a young woman in America right now, it seems like one of those books I should read, even if I’m not sure I really needed to read it.
  4. King Edward III (allegedly) by William Shakespeare – Awesome.  I love the fact that this is one of those plays that people kind of think was written by Billy Boy because it fits his histories and it uses similar language.  I love pretty much all things Shakespeare, especially when it’s his histories, so I found this really interesting.  Also, who actually learns about Edward III?  Not me.  Fun, worth reading, short.  It’s a play, too, so occasionally it’s fun to read aloud to yourself…
  5. Lumberjanes (Vol. 1) by Noelle Stevenson – Fun comic series, lots of girl-power moments.  Love the illustrations and am interested in Vol. 2.  Maybe I’ll add that to another list…
  6. The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine – COMING FEB. 16TH.  One of my coworkers snagged the ARC for this book and said I’d enjoy it, so I borrowed it and will freely admit I read it in two days because it’s a fun teen read.  Redwine is retelling Snow White, and it’s in the style of Snow White and the Huntsman, but it’s how that movie should have been.  No mopey K-Stew. with her weird faces, but instead a legitimately badass princess who’s trying to save her kingdom.  Also love the prince in this (spoiler: he can turn into a dragon!) and how the fairytale is dealt with.  Worth a read if you’re in the mood.
  7. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson – While it’s not as charming as A Walk in the Woods (which had me howling with laughter just about every page), it’s still Bryson, so it’s still utterly delightful.  This time he’s going around Britain, trying to see the most he can.  He has such hilarious insights into the quirks of cultures and the utter strangeness of human beings generally, plus this time it’s British, so obviously I’m going to love it.  A fun book, and worth reading especially now that the “sequel,” The Road to Little Dribbling is now available.
  8. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – One of my all-time favorite books, and the book upon which I am writing my thesis.  Obviously, I love it.  And I recommend it.  Because it’s delightful.  As is the BBC 2004 adaptation starring Richard Armitage.

So… 8/63.  Looking pretty good for it being only February.  Notice I have not yet attempted to take on the 500+ page challenge, nor have I chosen the book that “intimidates” me.  We shall see how this goes.

Meanwhile, I’m working on The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, the delightful wife of the completely fantastic Neil Gaiman (!!!).  It’s charming and meaningful and completely enjoyable.  It also makes me often want to say aloud, “I’ve so been there!”  I think I’m counting this as my “self improvement” book, because I’m feeling like if she’s done it, I can do it.  And by “it,” I mean survive the world in which we live.

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