Saturday, April 13, 2013

So. Many. Books!

I have been reading a lot lately. A few thoughts on the volumes I've perused:

1.) Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. Ok, this book is not easy to read. At all. In fact, there were times I had to close it and take a break. But it is an amazing story and amazing writing. The book is about Esch, a young black girl in Louisiana, and her family. Her mother is dead, her father's a drunk, and she and her three brothers do what they can to survive. As reports of Hurricane Katrina come in from the Gulf, the children try to stock food and get ready, but they are wholly unprepared for the disaster that's about to strike.

This book teaches so much about poverty - the cycles that families get into and can't seem to break out of; the poor choices that have spiraling consequences, sometimes ruining lives forever; the hopelessness; the small and seemingly inconsequential things that become valued. I think the reason I found this book so difficult to read is because I know it's true. And these people are not in some far-off third-world country. They are right here, close, so close to me. This book is definitely worth reading.

2.) A Good American by Alex George. This was a loaner from a friend. The book tells the story of Meisenheimer family, German immigrants to America in the early 1900s. The novel traces the family's descendants to the present day, a headlong rush of sibling rivalries, music, and surprises. While I did think George exhibited a knack for characterization (He has strong descriptive talent.), I didn't find the story particularly engaging. And George has a habit of one-sentence foreshadowing that became tiresome by the book's end. It felt like a device, and a lazy/sloppy one at that. Skip this one.

3.) Bossypants by Tina Fey. Why, oh, WHY have I waited so long to read this book? Tina Fey is hilarious and sharp and my kindred spirit. I love her philosophies on women in the workplace, juggling the demands of everyday life, and parenthood. I love her funny stories about her father, her younger years, and her time at SNL. If you are one of the three people in America who haven't read this book, please do go out and get it. You won't regret spending a few hours with Fey, I promise!

4.) The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. This is a remarkable book. In it, young Julie, who lives in California, explains that as she is coming of age, a strange thing happens. The rotation of the Earth begins to slow. (Didn't expect THAT, did you?) At first, this phenomena just creates slightly longer days. But as the problem worsens, cataclysmic things begin to happen. Less daylight means that fewer crops grow, impacting food supply. The planet's gravitational force is impacted. Radiation from the sunlight becomes a more prevalent concern. What should be a sweet, tender novel about growing up becomes a sweet, tender novel about what happens when a young girl realizes she may never grow up at all.

I found this to be an innovative, creative novel that tells a very personal and fragile story against the backdrop of what could pass as a summer blockbuster disaster movie. Oddly enough, the juxtaposition works incredibly well. Recommended.

5.) Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. I've been wanting to see the movie based on this book, but I felt I couldn't do it before I read the novel. Now that I have read the book, I can't imagine the movie can be any better. This first-person novel is narrated by Pat Peoples. From the first page, we learn that Pat is in a mental institution, one that his mother is checking him out of. We know he's obsessed with getting back together with his estranged wife, Nikki, and that he's doing everything he can to convince her he's changed: he's working out, he's reading English lit, he's practicing "being kind instead of right."

Over the course of the novel, Pat meets Tiffany, a similarly disturbed woman who's lost her husband, Tommy (a cop), in a drunk driving accident. They both understand loss. Before he knows it, Pat is performing with Tiffany in a "Dance Away Depression" contest and remembering all the events he's blocked out for four years.

I loved this novel because it's hard not to fall in love with Pat. He is trying so hard, and he is so determined. He admits his faults. He wants to be a better man. He wants to make his mother happy. He wants some slice of normalcy back in his life. His persona really drives the entire novel. It was hard to put this book down, and I read it in about 2.5 hours. I loved it, and I think you will, too! (And now, I can watch the movie! Huzzah!)

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