Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reading Robert Goolrick

I had so much fun participating in the Book Blogger Hop last week, I couldn't resist returning this week, and the topic is one that has intrigued and surprised me. The question is a simple one: Who is your favorite new-to-you author this year.

As I was looking back over my reading in my sidebar, I was tempted to say Marilyn Johnson or Lucy Knisley, but I've gushed about them a good deal lately. The other contender that jumped from the list really did shock me: Robert Goolrick, author of A Reliable Wife.

If you've been reading here a while, you might remember that I had some issues with this book. However, despite my quibbles, it is by far one of the most memorable books I've read this year, and one of the most engrossing. It's hard for me to give a book a higher compliment than that when so many plots and characters are quickly forgotten.

I decided to do a bit of research on Robert Goolrick since I know very little, and while I didn't find a great deal of personal information, the one bit I did find, seems all the more powerful. Before writing A Reliable Wife, he published a memoir titled, The End of the World As We Know It: Scenes from a Life. In this essay, he explains how that book came to fruition. I hope I can entice you by saying that he asked a homeless many "What happened to you" and that question resulted in his own bit of soul searching. Thus, he started writing his life to make sense of it .

While I will always have issues with some parts of A Reliable Wife, I know I'll also remember it and hold onto the characters with all their flaws and intricacies. I admire Goolrick's reverence for normal people and everyday lives, and I do agree that everyday stories can be profound and often very touching and affecting. Worth writing about.

Who is your favorite new-to-you author this year?

Reading Robert Goolrick

I had so much fun participating in the Book Blogger Hop last week, I couldn't resist returning this week, and the topic is one that has intrigued and surprised me. The question is a simple one: Who is your favorite new-to-you author this year.

As I was looking back over my reading in my sidebar, I was tempted to say Marilyn Johnson or Lucy Knisley, but I've gushed about them a good deal lately. The other contender that jumped from the list really did shock me: Robert Goolrick, author of A Reliable Wife.

If you've been reading here a while, you might remember that I had some issues with this book. However, despite my quibbles, it is by far one of the most memorable books I've read this year, and one of the most engrossing. It's hard for me to give a book a higher compliment than that when so many plots and characters are quickly forgotten.

I decided to do a bit of research on Robert Goolrick since I know very little, and while I didn't find a great deal of personal information, the one bit I did find, seems all the more powerful. Before writing A Reliable Wife, he published a memoir titled, The End of the World As We Know It: Scenes from a Life. In this essay, he explains how that book came to fruition. I hope I can entice you by saying that he asked a homeless many "What happened to you" and that question resulted in his own bit of soul searching. Thus, he started writing his life to make sense of it .

While I will always have issues with some parts of A Reliable Wife, I know I'll also remember it and hold onto the characters with all their flaws and intricacies. I admire Goolrick's reverence for normal people and everyday lives, and I do agree that everyday stories can be profound and often very touching and affecting. Worth writing about.

Who is your favorite new-to-you author this year?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Heresy: Naming My Top 10 Books

I said I'd never do it. OK, maybe I didn't say so, but I thought I would never utter (or type) a Top 10 Favorite Books. That's just heresy to a reader. There are so many choices. There are so many variables. WHAT IF I LEAVE SOMETHING REALLY GOOD OUT?

However, like any good shifty freaknasty of a reader, I have a disclaimer.

These are TEN OF my favorite books. Not THE Ten. There is no THE Ten.

OK, I think I've safely covered my reading butt. Without further ado:

1. The Great Gatsby, by Ole F. Scott Fitzgerald. As many times as I've read this book, I practically have it memorized. I can call him "Ole F. Scott" if I want to. If he were alive I'm pretty sure we'd grab a whiskey together (maybe a whiskey sour for me). I first read this book as a junior in high school and I was one smitten kitten. It was subtle. Nothing blew up, there were no orgies (hello, Brave New World!), and no nuclear warfare. It was just a good novel about screwed up people. I loved the symbolism because I actually "got" it. Brilliance!

2. The Lord of the Rings (all of 'em!), by J.R.R. Tolkien. I may never read this weapon of a big chunky book again, but the first time through was sacred and fabulous, and I actually thought about doing grad work at the University of Maryland so I could camp outside the office of one of the greatest Tolkien scholars in the country after I heard her speak at my university where I did my BA. She was THAT GOOD. And I was that in lust with Tolkien's furry-footed creations.

3. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. Because with "Estella" plastered all over my online persona, she'd probably crawl out of my copy of the book and smother me in my sleep if I didn't mention Dickens. People have a very strong reaction to Dickens. They either love the dickens out of him or hate the dickens out of him. I read this one as a freshman in high school, and obviously some of the characters stuck with me. I re-read it a couple of years ago, and got even more out of it. I will always love Estella, but maybe I should've named this blog "Miss Havisham's Revenge" because she's REALLY the star of the show. Rotten wedding dress and all.

4. What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt. I just don't know how to describe this book. It's about art and philosophy and photography and fairy tales and friendship and loveship and it turns into a murder mystery in the last bit. It's just weird, but so lusciously, sexily, smartily written (yes, smartily) that I couldn't resist. I'll be doing a BookDrum profile for it when I re-read it soon. Hustvedt's other stuff is good, too. Especially The Blindfold and A Plea for Eros: Essays.

5. Patrimony, by Philip Roth. If you want a memoir with a sucker punch, go ahead and read this one. Roth writes candidly about his father's aging and what it's like for the child to become the caregiver. It's definitely not all pretty, but it's pretty human and accessible for Roth. Now, he's also believed to be a big fat liar most of the time because he plays with the idea of "truth" in his books, so it might be a load of horse*$%#. Either way, it's worth the read.

6. Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure, by Paul Auster. I avoided his fiction until after I read his memoirs. I don't know why, but it's actually been darned enlightening. It's cool to know where some of the anecdotes that make their way into his stories began. Auster has truly lived a "writer's life" of adventures, hard knocks, and crazy jobs. He's lived all over the world, worked on a ship, starved, stretched, and probably stank a few times.

7. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. DEATH IS THE NARRATOR! I know, I'm screaming in all caps, but it's really worth the scream! Death is a fantastic narrator, and that's what really got me involved in this Holocaust novel told from the perspective of a German orphan. It was one of those "grab you by the hair" novels. I devoured it for a graduate class a couple of years ago, and we had a very spirited discussion. Mostly the discussion revolved around "what is an adolescent novel" because the majority of people I know would argue that this one is just as fit for adults as young adults. Plus, ya know, I cried for the last 200+ pages, and I'm hard-hearted ogre, so that's pretty impressive and worthy of a Top Ten.

8. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham. Because it made me feel sad and lonely and happy and hopeful right alongside the characters. And I'm talking emotions to the bone. Very authentic and well-written.

9. Fables, by Bill Willingham. I devoted two and a half years of my life to Fables, from a term paper my first semester of grad school right on up to my Masters thesis. I love this series because it is smart, thoughtful, clever, and all those good words. Willingham shows off his knowledge of class fairy tales while he updates them and makes them hilarious, heartbreaking, and sometimes downright mean. The early collections are my favorites.

10. Feed, by M.T. Anderson. This is another novel I read in a grad class, and it made my brain explode. When it came time to pick a novel to teach my Freshman Composition courses, I chose this YA novel for its depth, cleverness, and to provoke my classes into discussion. In the story, teens have the Internet wired into their brains, the environment is shot, there's a whole facade of synthetic "stuff" covering up the natural environment. It's just a mess. And it's our contemporary lifestyle turned up to a gazillion. My students had a really good time looking for the similarities and embellishments and identifying the ways sf fiction critiques our society.


This Top 10 is brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish. And I know it's not Tuesday. I'm just running two days behind in general.

Heresy: Naming My Top 10 Books

I said I'd never do it. OK, maybe I didn't say so, but I thought I would never utter (or type) a Top 10 Favorite Books. That's just heresy to a reader. There are so many choices. There are so many variables. WHAT IF I LEAVE SOMETHING REALLY GOOD OUT?

However, like any good shifty freaknasty of a reader, I have a disclaimer.

These are TEN OF my favorite books. Not THE Ten. There is no THE Ten.

OK, I think I've safely covered my reading butt. Without further ado:

1. The Great Gatsby, by Ole F. Scott Fitzgerald. As many times as I've read this book, I practically have it memorized. I can call him "Ole F. Scott" if I want to. If he were alive I'm pretty sure we'd grab a whiskey together (maybe a whiskey sour for me). I first read this book as a junior in high school and I was one smitten kitten. It was subtle. Nothing blew up, there were no orgies (hello, Brave New World!), and no nuclear warfare. It was just a good novel about screwed up people. I loved the symbolism because I actually "got" it. Brilliance!

2. The Lord of the Rings (all of 'em!), by J.R.R. Tolkien. I may never read this weapon of a big chunky book again, but the first time through was sacred and fabulous, and I actually thought about doing grad work at the University of Maryland so I could camp outside the office of one of the greatest Tolkien scholars in the country after I heard her speak at my university where I did my BA. She was THAT GOOD. And I was that in lust with Tolkien's furry-footed creations.

3. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. Because with "Estella" plastered all over my online persona, she'd probably crawl out of my copy of the book and smother me in my sleep if I didn't mention Dickens. People have a very strong reaction to Dickens. They either love the dickens out of him or hate the dickens out of him. I read this one as a freshman in high school, and obviously some of the characters stuck with me. I re-read it a couple of years ago, and got even more out of it. I will always love Estella, but maybe I should've named this blog "Miss Havisham's Revenge" because she's REALLY the star of the show. Rotten wedding dress and all.

4. What I Loved, by Siri Hustvedt. I just don't know how to describe this book. It's about art and philosophy and photography and fairy tales and friendship and loveship and it turns into a murder mystery in the last bit. It's just weird, but so lusciously, sexily, smartily written (yes, smartily) that I couldn't resist. I'll be doing a BookDrum profile for it when I re-read it soon. Hustvedt's other stuff is good, too. Especially The Blindfold and A Plea for Eros: Essays.

5. Patrimony, by Philip Roth. If you want a memoir with a sucker punch, go ahead and read this one. Roth writes candidly about his father's aging and what it's like for the child to become the caregiver. It's definitely not all pretty, but it's pretty human and accessible for Roth. Now, he's also believed to be a big fat liar most of the time because he plays with the idea of "truth" in his books, so it might be a load of horse*$%#. Either way, it's worth the read.

6. Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure, by Paul Auster. I avoided his fiction until after I read his memoirs. I don't know why, but it's actually been darned enlightening. It's cool to know where some of the anecdotes that make their way into his stories began. Auster has truly lived a "writer's life" of adventures, hard knocks, and crazy jobs. He's lived all over the world, worked on a ship, starved, stretched, and probably stank a few times.

7. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. DEATH IS THE NARRATOR! I know, I'm screaming in all caps, but it's really worth the scream! Death is a fantastic narrator, and that's what really got me involved in this Holocaust novel told from the perspective of a German orphan. It was one of those "grab you by the hair" novels. I devoured it for a graduate class a couple of years ago, and we had a very spirited discussion. Mostly the discussion revolved around "what is an adolescent novel" because the majority of people I know would argue that this one is just as fit for adults as young adults. Plus, ya know, I cried for the last 200+ pages, and I'm hard-hearted ogre, so that's pretty impressive and worthy of a Top Ten.

8. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham. Because it made me feel sad and lonely and happy and hopeful right alongside the characters. And I'm talking emotions to the bone. Very authentic and well-written.

9. Fables, by Bill Willingham. I devoted two and a half years of my life to Fables, from a term paper my first semester of grad school right on up to my Masters thesis. I love this series because it is smart, thoughtful, clever, and all those good words. Willingham shows off his knowledge of class fairy tales while he updates them and makes them hilarious, heartbreaking, and sometimes downright mean. The early collections are my favorites.

10. Feed, by M.T. Anderson. This is another novel I read in a grad class, and it made my brain explode. When it came time to pick a novel to teach my Freshman Composition courses, I chose this YA novel for its depth, cleverness, and to provoke my classes into discussion. In the story, teens have the Internet wired into their brains, the environment is shot, there's a whole facade of synthetic "stuff" covering up the natural environment. It's just a mess. And it's our contemporary lifestyle turned up to a gazillion. My students had a really good time looking for the similarities and embellishments and identifying the ways sf fiction critiques our society.


This Top 10 is brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish. And I know it's not Tuesday. I'm just running two days behind in general.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reading About Everyday Life

I love books that paint the characters' everyday lives down to fine, minute detail. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking about The Red Tent (Anita Diamant), The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck), and Pope Joan (Donna Woolfolk Cross). These are just a few historical fiction novels that I've read through the years that really did daily lives justice.

In The Red Tent the details about food, living conditions, and the women's menstrual rituals blew me away. In The Good Earth I was satisfied to visit life in rural China--the backbreaking work, sparse living, and then a richer lifestyle when Wang Lung and O-Lan hit it big. Finally, Pope Joan, a lesser known novel these days but a big book club pick in the early 2000s, is about a rumored female pope in the 9th century. Donna Woolfolk Cross does a great job illustrating how people lived during this time period, and how a woman could've disguised herself to rise to the papal throne. Hygiene, religion, and the pursuit of education played a big part in this novel.

After my last disappointing read, I picked up By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan. When I saw this one reviewed over at Caribousmom, I knew I had to try it, and the author was kind enough to seek me out and offer a copy. It's rare that I get a craving for a very specific kind of book. Most of the time I'm a random reader. I just snatch whatever looks tasty off the shelves and take a taste. For some reason, though, I've been feeling a definite need to be swept into a different time period where I can fall into someone else's everyday life. I'm sure it's a combination of end-of-term stress at work, a very full home life, and other factors.

I'm not far enough in to do this one justice, but so far it looks like it's going to stick. It revolves around the Spanish Inquisition, and I know embarrassingly little about this particular time period, so it's something of a learning experience. I do have a base knowledge. I was prompted to do a little research after I read Alice Hoffman's YA novel of the inquisition, Incantation, which I really loved. I even loved it in the middle of the night during a Read-a-Thon, so it HAD to be good to keep me awake.

So now I need your recommendations for future reference. What are some of your favorite historical novels that have plunked you down in the middle of another time and let you take a peek into the details of how people lived?

Reading About Everyday Life

I love books that paint the characters' everyday lives down to fine, minute detail. Off the top of my head, I'm thinking about The Red Tent (Anita Diamant), The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck), and Pope Joan (Donna Woolfolk Cross). These are just a few historical fiction novels that I've read through the years that really did daily lives justice.

In The Red Tent the details about food, living conditions, and the women's menstrual rituals blew me away. In The Good Earth I was satisfied to visit life in rural China--the backbreaking work, sparse living, and then a richer lifestyle when Wang Lung and O-Lan hit it big. Finally, Pope Joan, a lesser known novel these days but a big book club pick in the early 2000s, is about a rumored female pope in the 9th century. Donna Woolfolk Cross does a great job illustrating how people lived during this time period, and how a woman could've disguised herself to rise to the papal throne. Hygiene, religion, and the pursuit of education played a big part in this novel.

After my last disappointing read, I picked up By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan. When I saw this one reviewed over at Caribousmom, I knew I had to try it, and the author was kind enough to seek me out and offer a copy. It's rare that I get a craving for a very specific kind of book. Most of the time I'm a random reader. I just snatch whatever looks tasty off the shelves and take a taste. For some reason, though, I've been feeling a definite need to be swept into a different time period where I can fall into someone else's everyday life. I'm sure it's a combination of end-of-term stress at work, a very full home life, and other factors.

I'm not far enough in to do this one justice, but so far it looks like it's going to stick. It revolves around the Spanish Inquisition, and I know embarrassingly little about this particular time period, so it's something of a learning experience. I do have a base knowledge. I was prompted to do a little research after I read Alice Hoffman's YA novel of the inquisition, Incantation, which I really loved. I even loved it in the middle of the night during a Read-a-Thon, so it HAD to be good to keep me awake.

So now I need your recommendations for future reference. What are some of your favorite historical novels that have plunked you down in the middle of another time and let you take a peek into the details of how people lived?

Wordless Wednesday (Almost)


Landed in my e-mail during a really bad day at work. Couldn't help but smile.

By the way, this is my first Wordless Wednesday. I'll be more creative next week.

Wordless Wednesday (Almost)


Landed in my e-mail during a really bad day at work. Couldn't help but smile.

By the way, this is my first Wordless Wednesday. I'll be more creative next week.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Where BS Ends and Brilliance Begins

Yesterday's review of Beatrice and Virgil threw me into at least 15 minutes of serious reflection on Postmodernism and the "pretention" in some novels that can bug so many of us. I feel like a bit of a hypocrite since I've actually liked quite a few novels that, by my definition in Beatrice and Virgilshould be considered pretentious. Namely, there are several novels I count among my favorites that are highly self-referential, intertextual, employ techniques of metafiction, or are otherwise experimental. So what's the difference between the novels I love and the novels that make me want to toss them in front of a moving garbage truck? I'm certainly not anti-intellectual and I don't want to bag on novels that are smart, but there comes a point when a novel can move from smart to intellectual self-gratification (aka, intellectual masturbation).


On of my very favorite books (actually three novellas) is Paul Auster's New York Trilogy: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room. They were originally published independently and later collected into one volume.

I found these novellas innovative, beautifully written, and supremely interesting and intellectually stimulating. Auster is self-referential as a character named Paul Auster appears in each of the novellas. However, as I see it, Martel was essentially writing a thinly veiled autobiography of his writing experiences after Life of Pi. While Auster casts himself as a character, it's in short spurts as opposed to making himself the star of the show. His appearances often draw attention to the act of writing instead of expressing his own overt life experience to the audience.

The New York Trilogy also uses metafictional techniques, or draws attention to the "fictional" quality of the writing. When I was in school we often referred to metafiction as "breaking the fourth wall." Instead of allowing us to purely sink into the story, we're made aware of the story in some overt way. Beatrice and Virgil did this, too, so what's the difference? Why did I want to toss B&V at a wall while I ate up The New York Trilogy like nougat? In this case, I think it's all about subtlety. I can see that Auster is drawing my attention to his fictional techniques and his sly writerly tricks, but it seems to work within the context of the story. Basically, I always felt as if Martel was hitting me over the head with a big writer's mallet with I'M SMART engraved on the side. There was a smugness about his writing and his techniques that annoyed me.

When it comes to intertextuality--references to outside texts in the story--Siri Hustvedt is one of my favorites. Her novel, What I Loved, is another of my all-time favorites. She also just-so-happens to be married to Paul Auster. Do they sit around and talk about this stuff at dinner? That's what I want to know.

What I Loved makes innumerable references to outside texts: art, artists, fairy tales and their interpreters, psychology and psychologists, philosophers. What makes it OK for me is the main character. Leo Hertzberg is an art historian and critic. His best friend is an artist. It never seems weird that he should analyze his friend's work or make the observations that he makes because that's his job, and essentially that's his life. The references to art and artists seem effortlessly woven into the text and aren't jarring, whereas Martel's often seemed too overt (that mallet again). Thrown into the mix to make an overarching, very obvious, very "look at me!" kind of observation. In short, he just tried too hard.

I don't want to be too hard on Martel or alienate the readers who loved his book, but these are some of the reasons why his book didn't work for me while so many others that were similar made me beam. I also wonder if the brevity of Martel's work contributed to the problems. In What I Loved and The New York Trilogy, both of the authors were allowed a little more real estate over which to stretch their writing muscles. Points and references and smart writer stuff could develop more naturally without such a whack to the head.\

So I'm wondering whose writing you find pretentious. When is pretention or high-flown, writerly 'stuff' permissable and when does it make you want to scream? What's the difference between writerly novels you love and the ones you want to put down the garbage disposal?

Where BS Ends and Brilliance Begins

Yesterday's review of Beatrice and Virgil threw me into at least 15 minutes of serious reflection on Postmodernism and the "pretention" in some novels that can bug so many of us. I feel like a bit of a hypocrite since I've actually liked quite a few novels that, by my definition in Beatrice and Virgilshould be considered pretentious. Namely, there are several novels I count among my favorites that are highly self-referential, intertextual, employ techniques of metafiction, or are otherwise experimental. So what's the difference between the novels I love and the novels that make me want to toss them in front of a moving garbage truck? I'm certainly not anti-intellectual and I don't want to bag on novels that are smart, but there comes a point when a novel can move from smart to intellectual self-gratification (aka, intellectual masturbation).


On of my very favorite books (actually three novellas) is Paul Auster's New York Trilogy: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room. They were originally published independently and later collected into one volume.

I found these novellas innovative, beautifully written, and supremely interesting and intellectually stimulating. Auster is self-referential as a character named Paul Auster appears in each of the novellas. However, as I see it, Martel was essentially writing a thinly veiled autobiography of his writing experiences after Life of Pi. While Auster casts himself as a character, it's in short spurts as opposed to making himself the star of the show. His appearances often draw attention to the act of writing instead of expressing his own overt life experience to the audience.

The New York Trilogy also uses metafictional techniques, or draws attention to the "fictional" quality of the writing. When I was in school we often referred to metafiction as "breaking the fourth wall." Instead of allowing us to purely sink into the story, we're made aware of the story in some overt way. Beatrice and Virgil did this, too, so what's the difference? Why did I want to toss B&V at a wall while I ate up The New York Trilogy like nougat? In this case, I think it's all about subtlety. I can see that Auster is drawing my attention to his fictional techniques and his sly writerly tricks, but it seems to work within the context of the story. Basically, I always felt as if Martel was hitting me over the head with a big writer's mallet with I'M SMART engraved on the side. There was a smugness about his writing and his techniques that annoyed me.

When it comes to intertextuality--references to outside texts in the story--Siri Hustvedt is one of my favorites. Her novel, What I Loved, is another of my all-time favorites. She also just-so-happens to be married to Paul Auster. Do they sit around and talk about this stuff at dinner? That's what I want to know.

What I Loved makes innumerable references to outside texts: art, artists, fairy tales and their interpreters, psychology and psychologists, philosophers. What makes it OK for me is the main character. Leo Hertzberg is an art historian and critic. His best friend is an artist. It never seems weird that he should analyze his friend's work or make the observations that he makes because that's his job, and essentially that's his life. The references to art and artists seem effortlessly woven into the text and aren't jarring, whereas Martel's often seemed too overt (that mallet again). Thrown into the mix to make an overarching, very obvious, very "look at me!" kind of observation. In short, he just tried too hard.

I don't want to be too hard on Martel or alienate the readers who loved his book, but these are some of the reasons why his book didn't work for me while so many others that were similar made me beam. I also wonder if the brevity of Martel's work contributed to the problems. In What I Loved and The New York Trilogy, both of the authors were allowed a little more real estate over which to stretch their writing muscles. Points and references and smart writer stuff could develop more naturally without such a whack to the head.\

So I'm wondering whose writing you find pretentious. When is pretention or high-flown, writerly 'stuff' permissable and when does it make you want to scream? What's the difference between writerly novels you love and the ones you want to put down the garbage disposal?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Donkey Poo + Monkey Poo = Beatrice and Virgil

What I've come to understand since I started reading Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel, is that few books in recent years have been as polarizing as this one. The reviews I've read range from love to hate.

First off, this one is complicated. It's about a writer named Henry who flees into theater and music lessons after the failure of his second book. His editors pan it, it never sees the light of day, and he hides his head in the sand. He receives a letter from a local taxidermist claiming to need help on a project, and he gets embroiled in the life of the stuffer o'animals, also named Henry. The taxidermist's play is a Beckett-like story of a howler monkey named Virgil and a Donkey named Beatrice. They live in a violence-torn country which serves as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the Holocaust. Henry finds himself deeply involved with the taxidermist the more of the play he hears, and there are plenty of shadows in the taxidermist's life.

I really enjoyed the first half of this novel. The writing really is--dare I say it--lyrical at times. There's a lot to munch on if you're a fan of Postmodern literature. If you're not, you'll hate this book by default. Martel is obviously self-referential. The book parallels his own experience with a scrapped and revamped novel according to news reports during the years between Life of Pi and this book. There's also a good deal of intertextuality--references to works of literature from Flaubert to Beckett himself.

Where the novel falls apart is in Martel's obvious attempts to be clever and hiply Postmodern. There's a line between subtle and deft use of Postmodern conventions and a circus of showing off. The bottom line: the final half of this book was tiresome and left me wishing to hurry on up and pick up another book.

I'll take Paul Auster's self-referential, Postmodern writing over Martel's clunky execution any day of the week.

What the heck do I read now? Still trying to avoid a slump!

Donkey Poo + Monkey Poo = Beatrice and Virgil

What I've come to understand since I started reading Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel, is that few books in recent years have been as polarizing as this one. The reviews I've read range from love to hate.

First off, this one is complicated. It's about a writer named Henry who flees into theater and music lessons after the failure of his second book. His editors pan it, it never sees the light of day, and he hides his head in the sand. He receives a letter from a local taxidermist claiming to need help on a project, and he gets embroiled in the life of the stuffer o'animals, also named Henry. The taxidermist's play is a Beckett-like story of a howler monkey named Virgil and a Donkey named Beatrice. They live in a violence-torn country which serves as a thinly-veiled metaphor for the Holocaust. Henry finds himself deeply involved with the taxidermist the more of the play he hears, and there are plenty of shadows in the taxidermist's life.

I really enjoyed the first half of this novel. The writing really is--dare I say it--lyrical at times. There's a lot to munch on if you're a fan of Postmodern literature. If you're not, you'll hate this book by default. Martel is obviously self-referential. The book parallels his own experience with a scrapped and revamped novel according to news reports during the years between Life of Pi and this book. There's also a good deal of intertextuality--references to works of literature from Flaubert to Beckett himself.

Where the novel falls apart is in Martel's obvious attempts to be clever and hiply Postmodern. There's a line between subtle and deft use of Postmodern conventions and a circus of showing off. The bottom line: the final half of this book was tiresome and left me wishing to hurry on up and pick up another book.

I'll take Paul Auster's self-referential, Postmodern writing over Martel's clunky execution any day of the week.

What the heck do I read now? Still trying to avoid a slump!

The Books JUMPED into My Cart!

That's a big fat lie--the books did NOT just jump into my cart--but I got your attention, huh? In fact, I received a book I won in a contest, one that I shamelessly downloaded on Nook, and one from an author. Here we go...

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, by Frank Delaney was a prize from the effervescent and always delightful Musings of a Bookish Kitty. I actually received an opportunity to review this one from the publisher a while back, but it's about a traveling show. I shy away from books about traveling shows. The blurb:

January 1932: While Ireland roils in the run-up to the most important national election in the Republic’s short history, Ben MacCarthy and his father watch a vagabond variety revue making a stop in the Irish countryside. After a two-hour kaleidoscope of low comedy, Shakespearean recitations, juggling, tumbling, and other entertainments, Ben’s father, mesmerized by Venetia Kelly, the troupe’s magnetic headliner, makes a fateful decision: to abandon his family and set off on the road with Miss Kelly and her caravan. Ben’s mother, shattered by the desertion, exhorts, “Find him and bring him back,” thereby sending the boy on a Homeric voyage into manhood, a quest that traverses the churning currents of Ireland’s fractious society and splinters the MacCarthy family.
When I entered the contest for this book I'd had a change of heart. I seem to be craving reading of a historical bent lately which is tooootally weird for me. Hey, I'm going with it, though! When I was pregnant I ate what I craved and I had a really cool, dashing baby, so now I'm indulging my reading cravings. I figure it represents some bookish "mineral" I'm missing in my diet. Sounds possible, right?

I also read Delaney's wife's book, The Season of Second Chances (by Diane Meier), and I had veryyyy mixed feelings about it. Hoping I have better luck with Delaney.

I received Love in Mid Air from the author, Kim Wright. Somewhere the cover claims to hook the reader with the first page, so Chuck decided to put it to the test. Sure enough, he read the first page, kept going, and ended up reading five pages. Rocketgirl did the same, so I'm looking forward to this one. She's already begging to read it, too. We'll see...

A chance encounter with a stranger on an airplane sends Elyse Bearden into an emotional tailspin. Suddenly Elyse is willing to risk everything: her safe but stale marriage, her seemingly perfect life in an affluent Southern suburb, and her position in the community. She finds herself cutting through all the instincts that say no and instead lets yes happen. As Elyse embarks on a risky affair, her longtime friend Kelly and the other women in their book club begin to question their own decisions about love, sex, marriage, and freedom. There are consequences for Elyse, her family, and her circle of close friends, all of whom have an investment in her life continuing as normal. But is normal what she really wants after all?
Finally, in this mixed bag of reading, I downloaded a book I've been eyeing for a while now: Simon Mawer's The Glass Room. I'm completely taken with the idea of this book as it integrates architecture--one of my favorite things--and WWII. It looks terribly literary and captivating.

The latest from novelist Mawer (The Fall) begins with great promise, as Jewish newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer meet with architect Rainier von Abt, not just an architect but "a poet...of light and space and form," who builds their dream home, a "modern house...adapted to the future rather than the past, to the openness of modern living." World events, however, are about to overtake 1930s Czechoslovakia.
In other news, I think my reading has taken over my brain. I woke up last night after a wickedly vivid dream that was somewhere between The Passage and The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Zombie invaders had taken over a compound where I lived. We tried lights, guns, hiding, etc. and there was always some way those little buggers snuck in. It was an extremely vivid dream--terribly "action movie"--and I woke up unsettled and looking around for Virals or the Unconsecrated. Ugg! It's all fun and games until someone dreams about losing a chunk of flesh.

I got tied up with "stuff" yesterday, so I didn't get to do a Sunday Salon post. Am still trying to finish Beatrice and Virgil. Only about 50 pages left, so I'll polish it off sometime today. Still up in the air about what I think of this one. More to come!

Happy Monday! Oh, and that reminds me...I think this is my first time participating in Mailbox Monday! How did I manage to not participate for so long? I have no idea. Pure laziness, I suspect. It's hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

The Books JUMPED into My Cart!

That's a big fat lie--the books did NOT just jump into my cart--but I got your attention, huh? In fact, I received a book I won in a contest, one that I shamelessly downloaded on Nook, and one from an author. Here we go...

Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, by Frank Delaney was a prize from the effervescent and always delightful Musings of a Bookish Kitty. I actually received an opportunity to review this one from the publisher a while back, but it's about a traveling show. I shy away from books about traveling shows. The blurb:

January 1932: While Ireland roils in the run-up to the most important national election in the Republic’s short history, Ben MacCarthy and his father watch a vagabond variety revue making a stop in the Irish countryside. After a two-hour kaleidoscope of low comedy, Shakespearean recitations, juggling, tumbling, and other entertainments, Ben’s father, mesmerized by Venetia Kelly, the troupe’s magnetic headliner, makes a fateful decision: to abandon his family and set off on the road with Miss Kelly and her caravan. Ben’s mother, shattered by the desertion, exhorts, “Find him and bring him back,” thereby sending the boy on a Homeric voyage into manhood, a quest that traverses the churning currents of Ireland’s fractious society and splinters the MacCarthy family.
When I entered the contest for this book I'd had a change of heart. I seem to be craving reading of a historical bent lately which is tooootally weird for me. Hey, I'm going with it, though! When I was pregnant I ate what I craved and I had a really cool, dashing baby, so now I'm indulging my reading cravings. I figure it represents some bookish "mineral" I'm missing in my diet. Sounds possible, right?

I also read Delaney's wife's book, The Season of Second Chances (by Diane Meier), and I had veryyyy mixed feelings about it. Hoping I have better luck with Delaney.

I received Love in Mid Air from the author, Kim Wright. Somewhere the cover claims to hook the reader with the first page, so Chuck decided to put it to the test. Sure enough, he read the first page, kept going, and ended up reading five pages. Rocketgirl did the same, so I'm looking forward to this one. She's already begging to read it, too. We'll see...

A chance encounter with a stranger on an airplane sends Elyse Bearden into an emotional tailspin. Suddenly Elyse is willing to risk everything: her safe but stale marriage, her seemingly perfect life in an affluent Southern suburb, and her position in the community. She finds herself cutting through all the instincts that say no and instead lets yes happen. As Elyse embarks on a risky affair, her longtime friend Kelly and the other women in their book club begin to question their own decisions about love, sex, marriage, and freedom. There are consequences for Elyse, her family, and her circle of close friends, all of whom have an investment in her life continuing as normal. But is normal what she really wants after all?
Finally, in this mixed bag of reading, I downloaded a book I've been eyeing for a while now: Simon Mawer's The Glass Room. I'm completely taken with the idea of this book as it integrates architecture--one of my favorite things--and WWII. It looks terribly literary and captivating.

The latest from novelist Mawer (The Fall) begins with great promise, as Jewish newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer meet with architect Rainier von Abt, not just an architect but "a poet...of light and space and form," who builds their dream home, a "modern house...adapted to the future rather than the past, to the openness of modern living." World events, however, are about to overtake 1930s Czechoslovakia.
In other news, I think my reading has taken over my brain. I woke up last night after a wickedly vivid dream that was somewhere between The Passage and The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Zombie invaders had taken over a compound where I lived. We tried lights, guns, hiding, etc. and there was always some way those little buggers snuck in. It was an extremely vivid dream--terribly "action movie"--and I woke up unsettled and looking around for Virals or the Unconsecrated. Ugg! It's all fun and games until someone dreams about losing a chunk of flesh.

I got tied up with "stuff" yesterday, so I didn't get to do a Sunday Salon post. Am still trying to finish Beatrice and Virgil. Only about 50 pages left, so I'll polish it off sometime today. Still up in the air about what I think of this one. More to come!

Happy Monday! Oh, and that reminds me...I think this is my first time participating in Mailbox Monday! How did I manage to not participate for so long? I have no idea. Pure laziness, I suspect. It's hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

More SubHerban Gardening

Happy Saturday, folks! Welcome back to my second edition of Sub"Herb"an Gardening, also playing triple duty for Heather's Saturday Farmer's Market and Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking. Since my first post about our rapidly growing patio garden, everything has exploded!

Our sweet banana pepper plant is our biggest success in the patio garden. It has no less than 8 peppers on it right now, and that's pretty much all the time. They're delicious on sandwiches, sauteed on sausage dogs, and sliced on salads.

Our bell peppers have been a little disappointing. They produce reasonably well, but the peppers never grow bigger than a couple of inches. Perfect for an omelette but not much else. I think the Texas heat is keeping them skinny mini.

These are our big pots of herbs. The pot at the top is all basil.The other one is basil, mint, tri-color sage, marjoram, cilantro, oregano, curry, and lemon verbena.

Our flowers: moss roses, zinnias, etc. have gotten even larger than this.

I love my lantanas, acorn squash, and lavendar.

The final big pots of herbs. Left: thai basi. Right: mint.

Thai chili peppers. Pretty AND spicy.

So, how does your garden grow? Show me, show me!

More SubHerban Gardening

Happy Saturday, folks! Welcome back to my second edition of Sub"Herb"an Gardening, also playing triple duty for Heather's Saturday Farmer's Market and Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking. Since my first post about our rapidly growing patio garden, everything has exploded!

Our sweet banana pepper plant is our biggest success in the patio garden. It has no less than 8 peppers on it right now, and that's pretty much all the time. They're delicious on sandwiches, sauteed on sausage dogs, and sliced on salads.

Our bell peppers have been a little disappointing. They produce reasonably well, but the peppers never grow bigger than a couple of inches. Perfect for an omelette but not much else. I think the Texas heat is keeping them skinny mini.

These are our big pots of herbs. The pot at the top is all basil.The other one is basil, mint, tri-color sage, marjoram, cilantro, oregano, curry, and lemon verbena.

Our flowers: moss roses, zinnias, etc. have gotten even larger than this.

I love my lantanas, acorn squash, and lavendar.

The final big pots of herbs. Left: thai basi. Right: mint.

Thai chili peppers. Pretty AND spicy.

So, how does your garden grow? Show me, show me!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Books Headed into the Weekend

I've been on fire this week! Ever since I whipped through The Passage I've been fearful of a slump. I've been trying to get my hands on a diverse sampling of books so I won't get bored. I'm pretty sure this is when I really fall into a deadly reading slump: when I'm bored by what I pick up immediately after a huge favorite.

While The Poison Diaries, by Maryrose Wood, was not a successful read for me, I still managed to finish it in one day. That always makes me feel accomplished and giddy, so crisis successfully averted right out of the box.

Yesterday I picked up Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel. I had to proctor an exam for an absent instructor, so I had some time to read at work. While the book is a little iffy so far, the writing is enough to keep me interested. Many seem to think this book is too self-referential and stuck up, but I haven't decided just yet. I've read a lot of self-referential authors (Hello, Paul Auster!), so that part doesn't bother me in particular. However, we'll see if Martel manages to pull off this animal thing again.

I also managed to catch the reality show I've been salivating over: The Fabulous Beekman Boys on Planet Green. How I remembered to set the DVR in a sleepy haze yesterday morning I'll never know, but I was rewarded with three episodes of the show last night. Funny! Very funny. Gay men from New York City running around helping raise goats is a good time, my friends. It's not as silly as I expected it to be. There was minimal flailing. Still fun and lots of snark.

I have Josh Kilmer-Purcell's book about their move and farming experience--The Bucolic Plague--on my nightstand. I just read the introduction and part of the first chapter last night before I sacked out, but I'm really excited to finish it now. Kilmer-Purcell, a former drag queen and a marketing executive, and his partner "Dr. Brent", who was the medical consultant for the Martha Stewart Show, are wonderfully irreverent and terribly sarcastic and smart.

So what books will be accompanying you into the weekend? Let me know so I can covet your stacks.

Note: I'm also participating in my first Book Blogger Hop this weekend! Happy hopping!

Books Headed into the Weekend

I've been on fire this week! Ever since I whipped through The Passage I've been fearful of a slump. I've been trying to get my hands on a diverse sampling of books so I won't get bored. I'm pretty sure this is when I really fall into a deadly reading slump: when I'm bored by what I pick up immediately after a huge favorite.

While The Poison Diaries, by Maryrose Wood, was not a successful read for me, I still managed to finish it in one day. That always makes me feel accomplished and giddy, so crisis successfully averted right out of the box.

Yesterday I picked up Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel. I had to proctor an exam for an absent instructor, so I had some time to read at work. While the book is a little iffy so far, the writing is enough to keep me interested. Many seem to think this book is too self-referential and stuck up, but I haven't decided just yet. I've read a lot of self-referential authors (Hello, Paul Auster!), so that part doesn't bother me in particular. However, we'll see if Martel manages to pull off this animal thing again.

I also managed to catch the reality show I've been salivating over: The Fabulous Beekman Boys on Planet Green. How I remembered to set the DVR in a sleepy haze yesterday morning I'll never know, but I was rewarded with three episodes of the show last night. Funny! Very funny. Gay men from New York City running around helping raise goats is a good time, my friends. It's not as silly as I expected it to be. There was minimal flailing. Still fun and lots of snark.

I have Josh Kilmer-Purcell's book about their move and farming experience--The Bucolic Plague--on my nightstand. I just read the introduction and part of the first chapter last night before I sacked out, but I'm really excited to finish it now. Kilmer-Purcell, a former drag queen and a marketing executive, and his partner "Dr. Brent", who was the medical consultant for the Martha Stewart Show, are wonderfully irreverent and terribly sarcastic and smart.

So what books will be accompanying you into the weekend? Let me know so I can covet your stacks.

Note: I'm also participating in my first Book Blogger Hop this weekend! Happy hopping!
 
Images by Freepik