Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

A couple of days ago I posed some questions about Aimee Bender's critically acclaimed and seemingly polarizing novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Namely, is it fluffy (because it sounds fluffy)? What makes it such a critical hit?

So this is the way it went for me: I started seriously reading this novel on Friday or Saturday night. I dipped in and out over the course of Sunday and Monday, and yesterday I ripped through the last half.

Straight off...I FRACKIN' LOVED IT!!! And this does seem to be something of a love or hate kind of book. For the uninitiated, Rose Edelstein discovers just a few days before her ninth birthday that she tastes emotions in food. Specifically, the emotions of whomever made the food. She realizes some pretty serious things about her family and herself over time by eating their food and eventually the food she cooks for herself. All sounds fluffy and fine until we factor in her emotionally starved mother, her emotionally distant father, and her socially awkward, genius, recluse brother, Joseph.

What a mess of a family! They are decidedly dysfunctional, but this does not read like the typical dysfunctional family novel. This reads like a real dysfunctional family. There's not much serious drama until the last third of the book. They eat together, watch TV together, but much goes unsaid. All of them are suffering but they don't discuss it. They spread out to their separate corners, find comfort where they can, and just go on in whatever capacity they choose.

I think what really throws people off and polarizes readers is the path some of the characters choose to deal with their pain. Rose feels loneliness, longing, depression, anger. All through the foods that she eats. Those things come rushing in, and as a child she literally wants to tear her mouth out of her head. She retreats into processed foods that have hardly been touched by human hands. It allows her some solace from others' emotions. Other characters in the book feel pain as intensely but with fewer coping mechanisms. I'm dancing around this point a little to avoid spoilers, but this harsh choice was what made the book golden for me.

Here's where I don't know if I can avoid spoiler territory, so...

SPOILER ALERT!!!!

SPOILER ALERT!!!!





Joseph was, without a doubt, my favorite character. I found Rose intriguing and special and wonderful. I was proud of her for growing up and harnessing her "gift" and using it to explore life rather than stay locked within herself and motionless.

Joseph just didn't have that luxury or the coping skills. I found him incredibly sympathetic, even though he made an ass of himself for most of the book. When Rose finds out her father senses that he has some type of skill and stays away from hospitals because that's the key to his special skill, she also deduces that Joseph experiences pain in similar ways but without a filter. Maybe he just absorbs the emotions of others. I think this may be exactly right, especially given that he was so set on attending college and rooming with George. George was the only person he could stand to be around at length, and he was decidedly the most pleasant, optimistic, and well-adjusted in the novel. Without George he had no solace. He had no escape. He had no processed food to make it all stop rushing in. The better option was living alone, getting away from the crashes and waves of even his mother's love. What better option than to disappear and make it all stop.


End of Spoiler Alert!!!

What impressed me about Bender's novel is the writing and the story's unfolding. It all seems like lighthearted fare until the real weight of these characters' lives sneaks up. When I turned the final page last night, I just sat. I laid on my couch, I looked around, I thought. I considered writing this review then, but I couldn't quite leave the book. I read the final chapter four times.

I appreciate novels that can make me feel. This book certainly did, and it achieved these sensations in new and surprising ways. The concept of this book is not totally new and different, but the way Bender wrapped it all up and executed the twisty ending, was just perfect. It left me feeling a little sad and melancholy, but a whole lot of hope for Rose and a whole lot of longing for Joseph.

This was quite a way to start my Tournament of Books Reading Challenge, and I hope I haven't ruined all of the other contenders for myself. This one made it a good length of the way through the Tournament, and I can certainly understand why. I'm aching to discuss this book, so if you'd like to carry on the conversation in the comments, PLEASE POST SPOILER ALERTS!!! Comments without them will be deleted. But I do want to hear from you all, and if you'd prefer to e-mail, feel free.

This book will be with me for a good long time. A significant compliment for certain.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday's Messy Mishmash of Books

Stuff! I'm in a flurry of booklove, booklust, and bookblah! All at once! How's that for a Monday state of mind?

Booklove first. Still loving The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. It's beginning to get a wee tad darker (roundabout halfway through), and I just can't figure out what the hell her brother is up to.

Booklust! I was over at Frances's place (which always gets me into trouble) and read her review of Alan Bradley's A Red Herring Without Mustard. I'm wondering why it's taken me so darn long to try the Flavia de Luce series. Seriously!? What is wrong with me? I'll chalk it up to 2011 reading stumptitude. It's not been the most numbery of years so far. Will be attempting to get The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie from the 'brary soon.

Finally, the Bookblahs. Sadly, I don't know if I'm going to be able to stomach ROOM. I soooo want to read it, and I downloaded the audio from my 'brary using Overdrive, but I find myself in a constant state of anxious yuckery while I'm listening. Before I had Greyson, my dog Daisy was my child. I damn near refuse to read a book with animal cruelty involved. Now since I have a kiddo of my own, I have the same feeling about children in books or movies. DO NOT HURT THEM. I flat-ass refused to watch Paranormal Activity 2 because there's a dog AND a baby involved.

So for those of you who have ingested ROOM already, should I just give it up? If I have these feelings now are they only going to be intensified??? I just can't stand the idea of this cute, sweet, innocent boy TRAPPED with his mom by this crazy effer. Ugg. To Be Announced on this one.

That's what's swirling in my bookish world. Whatcha up to?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tournament of Books Reading Challenge

Hey y'all!!! I love a personal reading challenge, so I think I'll personally challenge myself. My personal reading challenge throughout the remainder of the year is to read the 2011 Morning News Tournament of Books contenders!!!

For some readerly bloggerly types this was probably a challenge DURING the Tournament of Books, but for a slow-as-mole-asses reader such as myself, it's a challenge that will likely take the rest of 2011.

I had such fun watching the unfolding of this year's Tournament, I can't leave it behind just yet. I even printed a copy of the Tournament poster brackets and put it on my office door when the contest was going on. Several in my office called me a huge nerd, but they also followed the Tournament from then on, so BOO-YAH!!!

The majority of these books were already on my Lust List, and some have gone on to win really big prizes since the Tournament.

Here's the illustrious list:
  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (in progress)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  • Next by James Hynes
  • So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
  • Nox by Anne Carson
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  • The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
  • Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky
  • Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
  • Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
  • Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne
  • Room by Emma Donoghue
  • Bloodroot by Amy Greene
  • Model Home by Eric Puchner
  • Savages by Don Winslow
And I hereby forbid myself to slave and stall over sucky books, so if I hate any of these, I will not hesitate to toss.

If anyone wants to join me, please do! I will likely need some moral support at some point. However, since I'm a sucky leader of groups I will not provide any prizes, giveaways, or other stuff. The prize is knowing I finished more than five books for the year. And I'm only sort of kidding!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Is That a Book Holding Onto My Nosehairs?

Before you run screaming at the title of this post, it goes hand in hand with my old saying that I want a book to really grab me by the nosehairs. I think one might've finally done it. But I'm saying it very softly, never out loud, for fear that my reading mojo will turn tail and RUN again.

Yesterday was Greyson's and my mom's birthday. I can't believe Greyson is a year old already. And for the record, my mom is 56, but she's starting over at 1 this year. We had a good day with cake and treats (pictures to come), and while Chuck was napping with Greyson, I started a new-to-me book! It's no stranger to the Interwebs, and especially book bloggers, but I'm just getting to The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender.

I've really been surprised--and maybe I won't be by the time I'm done reading this book--at all the critical attention it's received. The premise doesn't feel new!!! Rose Edelstein discovers, on the eve of her 9th birthday, that she can taste emotions in food.

OK. That sounds sort of Sarah Addison Allen to me. A little Alice Hoffman.

But WHOA the attention this book has gotten. It was even a strong contender in this year's Morning News Tournament of Books! I suppose my biggest curiosity diving into this one is what makes it different (ie, more literary) from any number of other food-emotion books of a fluffier fare. Is there really any difference? Only reading it can tell me for sure, and so far, I'm game. Bender seems to have an approachable, easy-to-read style, and I can't wait to see where this one takes me.

In other news, my Great Expectations re-read seems to have stoked my reading fire. Not sure I'll finish that re-read this time around, though. I just re-read the book a year or two ago, and it's still pretty fresh. We'll see. I'm enjoying petting my pretty Penguin classics edition, though.

Finally, I've put Affinity on hold for only a short while. I'm really loving it, I just needed something different since it fell victim to a lot of work and life stress.

Happy Monday, y'all! How's your reading going?

P.S. I'm reading Lemon Cake on my Nook. A copy I downloaded from kobo.com. I actually started reading it yesterday on my iPhone--a testament to its awesomeness.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Great Book Purchase

I needed a little literary comfort food, and Heather suggested re-reading Great Expectations! What a novel idea! I stopped on my way home from work that very day and picked up the COOLEST COPY OF GE I'VE EVER SEEN!!! It's worth all those caps...

From Penguin:

Front Cover

The EVEN COOLER back cover. I *heart* Havisham and Estella!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Reader Shuffle

After a very recent move, I find myself very low on books and OK with that. I deal with reading on a daily basis. Examples, anyone?

My class is discussing poetry today, and we've covered:
  • "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams
  • "In a Station of the Metro" by Ezra Pound
  • "my old man" by Charles Bukowski
  • "Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy
  • "Dulce Et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen
  • "Jilted" and "Mad Girl's Love Song" by Sylvia Plath
The class was really onboard with "Barbie Doll" and "my old man." They seemed to have their doubts about some of the others, but I think I won them over in discussion. Now they're working on a PowerPoint over specific poems, the author's background, and some literary terms.

In other book-related life stuff, I've always wanted a literary tattoo. Ever since I discovered Contrariwise, it's been a constant search for just the right thing. Low and behold, I think it was right in front of me all the time. In Great Expectations, Estella says, "...suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but -- I hope -- into a better shape."

I would shorten it down a bit, but you get the gist. It's a lesson and the bestest literary tattoo I can imagine for me personally.
I have exactly two boxes of books at my disposal right now. After the move, much is in storage and scattered around, and I'm oddly OK with that. I've long said that I'm a bookish glutton, so if I have tons of books at my disposal, it becomes even harder than usual to choose just one to read at any given time. Limits are good. Boundaries are good. I have them in my reading right now, and additional books will be introduced slowly and in limited supply.

Even though I read to some extent every day and have dealings with the written word for a living, I haven't been reading. I miss it to the bottom of my little teensy toes. Here's praying the urge and peace of mind come back soon.

Now, instead of assuring me that my reading mojo will return, just tell me what you're reading. I want to live vicariously! :)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Affinity Readalong, Part 1 and 2 (Finis!)

Part II Post

Morning, y'all! It's now Tuesday, April 5th, and I'm adding Part 2 to my original Part 1 Affinity Readalong post. This is actually the second of two, and therefore, the last post of this readalong. Of course, I'm not done with the book! That would just be madness to actually be on schedule. The good news is, after Greyson's first virus, everyone seems to still be standing. After some hellish weeks at work, also still standing (I seem to be saying that a lot lately). The good news is that Greyson is on a perfect, wonderful, awesomely timed schedule and falls asleep prompty at 8pm, so I usually still have some energy to paint my nails or, OH, read!

So, what do y'all think? Have you finished? Still working on it?? I wanna know! I'll post my official review when I'm done. Getting there!

Part I

Hey folks! It's finally here! The Affinity Readalong is underway. I'm sorry it's quite late in the day, but as usual, I'm scrambling to keep up with work/home/reading balance. That said, my portion of this will be quite vague. I'm not quite through Parts I and II but I certainly already have some impressions of these characters and this novel.

First off, I am absolutely, positively entranced by prison. Don't want to go there myself, but I initially picked this book for myself because it's set in a prison during this time period. After reading about the real, and now defunct, Millbank Prison, I was even more excited to dive into the pages.

Thus far, the setting is right up my alley. I've just passed the portion where Margaret Prior gets to see exactly how the new prisoners are brought into the system. Their hair is cut, they're examined by a doctor, they're stripped of all their possessions. It's a frightening thought, for sure, but also quite fascinating to see how these women are indoctrinated into their new "home." I've also been quite interested to "meet" some of the prisoners and learn of their crimes. Of course, Selina Dawes is at the center of it all.

Someone mentioned the other day (on Facebook or Twitter...sorry, my brain has left me) that they'd struggled with knowing who was speaking in the beginning. Jill! Ha! It was Jill. My mind is not completely gone! And at first I had that issue as well. It threw me to switch back and forth between Margaret Prior's journal and Selina Dawes' journal? I guess it's her journal. Chronicles of the "spirits" who have visited her, their cause of death, and so on. Fascinating, but confusing in the beginning, nonetheless.

The pacing of the whole thing strikes me as very "Wilkie Collins." I'm repeatedly reminded of The Woman in White as I'm reading. I'm really at quite a precarious spot to be "discussing" because I just want to know so much MORE at this point. I want to know more about Dawes' living situation and her fellow mediums. I want to know more about Margaret Prior's dead (and supposedly haunting) father, I want to know more about Prior's past! More, more, more!

And as I type, my Nook is charging in my office. I will most definitely be using my lunch hour to do some more reading and get caught up with everyone.

How's it going so far? What are your thoughts on the characters, writing, setting? How does this stack up with others of Waters' novels you've read?

Feel free to leave a link in the Mr. Linky below or your thoughts in the Comments section!