May 17, 2012
17. The Story of the Cannibal Woman by Maryse Conde
Another unlikeable narrator. Feel like I’ve been seeing a lot of them lately.  
This was the only book I had left at the end of a road trip, so I read it because I had to. I wouldn’t call it great, but I wouldn’t call it horrible. A portrait of interracial marriage in post-apartheid Cape Town, it helped me step into another world. It explores the intricacies of a relationship, and what we hide from the people we love. 
That doesn’t mean it was good. The plot was rather predictable - the “twist” at the end I saw coming from page one - and this is one narrator whom I couldn’t relate to. Often I can get past unlikeability, but not this time.

17. The Story of the Cannibal Woman by Maryse Conde

Another unlikeable narrator. Feel like I’ve been seeing a lot of them lately.

This was the only book I had left at the end of a road trip, so I read it because I had to. I wouldn’t call it great, but I wouldn’t call it horrible. A portrait of interracial marriage in post-apartheid Cape Town, it helped me step into another world. It explores the intricacies of a relationship, and what we hide from the people we love.

That doesn’t mean it was good. The plot was rather predictable - the “twist” at the end I saw coming from page one - and this is one narrator whom I couldn’t relate to. Often I can get past unlikeability, but not this time.

May 17, 2012   3 notes
16. The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty
Look at me getting all behind again! It’s been weeks! So here’s the clif notes. 

This is a beautifully written coming-of-age story about a shy, smart girl growing up poor. You can’t help but root for her. Her mother has a string of failed love affairs with married men and her grandmother is an arch-conservative Christian. I’d give it an 8 out of 10 - recommended if any of the above resonates with you.

16. The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty

Look at me getting all behind again! It’s been weeks! So here’s the clif notes.

This is a beautifully written coming-of-age story about a shy, smart girl growing up poor. You can’t help but root for her. Her mother has a string of failed love affairs with married men and her grandmother is an arch-conservative Christian. I’d give it an 8 out of 10 - recommended if any of the above resonates with you.

April 20, 2012
15. Secondhand Smoke by Patty Friedman
I worked my way through this one slowly. It was short, but not sweet, and while I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it.
Jerusha Bailey is a nasty Southern matriarch with a recently deceased husband and an axe to grind. Her son, Wilson, is a shivering shadow of a man who teaches at a university and can’t decide whether he loves or hates his wife. His sister, Zib, works at a Winn-Dixie and has forgotten how to feel anything but revulsion for her boss and annoyance at her former best friend, Angela, who still lives next door to Jerusha. Angela’s son Dustin is a chubby kid who is either brave and wise or completely useless, depending on who you talk to. And Jerusha’s chihuahua, Mealworm, just wants to yap.
Now, after reading that, you’re either interested or bored to tears. The first kind of reader might enjoy this book, the second kind definitely would not. 

15. Secondhand Smoke by Patty Friedman

I worked my way through this one slowly. It was short, but not sweet, and while I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t say I didn’t like it.

Jerusha Bailey is a nasty Southern matriarch with a recently deceased husband and an axe to grind. Her son, Wilson, is a shivering shadow of a man who teaches at a university and can’t decide whether he loves or hates his wife. His sister, Zib, works at a Winn-Dixie and has forgotten how to feel anything but revulsion for her boss and annoyance at her former best friend, Angela, who still lives next door to Jerusha. Angela’s son Dustin is a chubby kid who is either brave and wise or completely useless, depending on who you talk to. And Jerusha’s chihuahua, Mealworm, just wants to yap.

Now, after reading that, you’re either interested or bored to tears. The first kind of reader might enjoy this book, the second kind definitely would not. 

April 19, 2012   2 notes
14. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
How do I even start to write about this book? I knew I would love it before I even knew that it existed. I’d been a Dear Sugar fan for a year or so, and loved every word Sugar ever wrote, but I was comforted by her anonymity and expected her to stay hidden. When she came out on Valentine’s day (my fave holiday, of course), and she was reading in Seattle less than 10 days later, I found myself face to face with someone I’d admired and adored. I had her book in my hands. I knew I would love it, and of course I did love it.
So here’s how I write about this book, that I loved so much: inadequately, but fervently.
I don’t have anything in common with Sugar (I just can’t call her Strayed! It’s impersonal, and Sugar is anything but impersonal): though I’m close with my mother, like she was, my mother is blessedly still alive. My father wasn’t abusive, and my (non-existent) stepfather wasn’t absent. I’ve never done heroin, accidentally gotten pregnant, or divorced a man I married too young. And I definitely never decided to take a three-month-long solo hike to sort all these things out for myself, at the tender age of twenty-six (which I haven’t reached yet). I have never faced dehydration, heat stroke, longhorn bulls, knee-deep snow, and my own loneliness in the same trip.
But reading Sugar’s writing, I have everything in common with her. She was the same uncertain, tender, nervous, twenty-something I am now. She’s afraid, she’s raw, she’s honest. She tells it like it is, even when she doesn’t like what it is. This memoir touched me. It told a story that wasn’t mine, but that I already knew. 
I will be reading it again sometime, and I recommend you do too. In the meantime, I intend to “stay Wild in Seattle,” as Sugar eloquently advised me to do when she signed the first page of my copy.

14. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

How do I even start to write about this book? I knew I would love it before I even knew that it existed. I’d been a Dear Sugar fan for a year or so, and loved every word Sugar ever wrote, but I was comforted by her anonymity and expected her to stay hidden. When she came out on Valentine’s day (my fave holiday, of course), and she was reading in Seattle less than 10 days later, I found myself face to face with someone I’d admired and adored. I had her book in my hands. I knew I would love it, and of course I did love it.

So here’s how I write about this book, that I loved so much: inadequately, but fervently.

I don’t have anything in common with Sugar (I just can’t call her Strayed! It’s impersonal, and Sugar is anything but impersonal): though I’m close with my mother, like she was, my mother is blessedly still alive. My father wasn’t abusive, and my (non-existent) stepfather wasn’t absent. I’ve never done heroin, accidentally gotten pregnant, or divorced a man I married too young. And I definitely never decided to take a three-month-long solo hike to sort all these things out for myself, at the tender age of twenty-six (which I haven’t reached yet). I have never faced dehydration, heat stroke, longhorn bulls, knee-deep snow, and my own loneliness in the same trip.

But reading Sugar’s writing, I have everything in common with her. She was the same uncertain, tender, nervous, twenty-something I am now. She’s afraid, she’s raw, she’s honest. She tells it like it is, even when she doesn’t like what it is. This memoir touched me. It told a story that wasn’t mine, but that I already knew. 

I will be reading it again sometime, and I recommend you do too. In the meantime, I intend to “stay Wild in Seattle,” as Sugar eloquently advised me to do when she signed the first page of my copy.

April 12, 2012

5 books behind!

How did this happen? Oh yes, I read a book I loved so much it’s nearly impossible to write about. Stay tuned, friends, one of these days, I will actually finish that entry.

March 27, 2012   5 notes
13. As Simple As Snow by Gregory Galloway
I’m not sure if I really liked this book. Reading it felt a good deal like reading Harry Potter or even The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – the fast-paced, exciting plot draws you in and keeps you reading. But when you’re finished, you realize that it wasn’t all that well-written, you don’t actually care for the characters, and you wouldn’t read it again if given the opportunity. All that said, I guess I actually was sure – I didn’t like it.
The nameless narrator in this young adult novel is a regular guy. He’s boring. Not popular, not unpopular. Not ugly, not attractive. He doesn’t have much of a character except for his dysfunctional family. When a mysterious, well-read, dressed-in-black girl comes to town, he falls in love, and then falls apart when she  vanishes not much later.

 Now that I’ve written the above, I’m almost reminded of the Twilight series (which I admit to never having read). A weak, faceless character is only made interesting by the arrival of a supernatural significant other. Maybe that’s why this novel – though I read it quickly and even thought for a while I might have enjoyed it – fell flat for me.

13. As Simple As Snow by Gregory Galloway

I’m not sure if I really liked this book. Reading it felt a good deal like reading Harry Potter or even The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – the fast-paced, exciting plot draws you in and keeps you reading. But when you’re finished, you realize that it wasn’t all that well-written, you don’t actually care for the characters, and you wouldn’t read it again if given the opportunity. All that said, I guess I actually was sure – I didn’t like it.

The nameless narrator in this young adult novel is a regular guy. He’s boring. Not popular, not unpopular. Not ugly, not attractive. He doesn’t have much of a character except for his dysfunctional family. When a mysterious, well-read, dressed-in-black girl comes to town, he falls in love, and then falls apart when she vanishes not much later.

Now that I’ve written the above, I’m almost reminded of the Twilight series (which I admit to never having read). A weak, faceless character is only made interesting by the arrival of a supernatural significant other. Maybe that’s why this novel – though I read it quickly and even thought for a while I might have enjoyed it – fell flat for me.

March 10, 2012
12. Local Knowledge by Liza Gyllenhaal
When I picked this up, I was hoping for a “middle-aged woman finally finds herself after years of investing in her husband and children” type of novel. Clearly, I didn’t read the back, because it was much more of a “middle-aged woman deals with her ‘dark secret’ and her relative poverty while trying to impress a wealthy friend, and eventually pays for it” type of novel. Not recommended.

12. Local Knowledge by Liza Gyllenhaal


When I picked this up, I was hoping for a “middle-aged woman finally finds herself after years of investing in her husband and children” type of novel. Clearly, I didn’t read the back, because it was much more of a “middle-aged woman deals with her ‘dark secret’ and her relative poverty while trying to impress a wealthy friend, and eventually pays for it” type of novel. Not recommended.

March 9, 2012   3 notes
11. Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
I don’t do a whole lot of drugs. Actually, I don’t do any drugs – it interferes with the whole marathon-runner thing. I would go so far as to say I have never done a single drug. But I have read Await Your Reply, so I feel like I might know what it’s like to be on speed.
This was one of those books that was so fast-paced, I was worried about tearing the pages when I turned them too quickly. There are three separate but intertwined stories going on here, and all the characters are hurtling towards a horrible ending. You can see it coming, you know what’s going to happen, and you are powerless to stop it. All you can do is watch while these characters rush toward disaster.
In a way, reading Await Your Reply reminded me of reading House of Sand and Fog. The novels couldn’t be more different, but the reader’s experiences while reading them are so similar. In both, you are just an observer, watching these lives are unraveling. You can’t do anything about it, but you can’t help but watch. Of course, the pace and plot of each novel are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but I felt the same while I read them. (Confession: never finished House of Sand and Fog. It was just too horrific.)
If you are into modern gothic fiction, or want to read a book in a night, this is for you. I enjoyed it, and will be reading more Dan Chaon. Also, I am a reformed nail-biter and a very nervous person. As a result, this book was bad news for my cuticles. Read it anyway, but be warned! 

11. Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

I don’t do a whole lot of drugs. Actually, I don’t do any drugs – it interferes with the whole marathon-runner thing. I would go so far as to say I have never done a single drug. But I have read Await Your Reply, so I feel like I might know what it’s like to be on speed.

This was one of those books that was so fast-paced, I was worried about tearing the pages when I turned them too quickly. There are three separate but intertwined stories going on here, and all the characters are hurtling towards a horrible ending. You can see it coming, you know what’s going to happen, and you are powerless to stop it. All you can do is watch while these characters rush toward disaster.

In a way, reading Await Your Reply reminded me of reading House of Sand and Fog. The novels couldn’t be more different, but the reader’s experiences while reading them are so similar. In both, you are just an observer, watching these lives are unraveling. You can’t do anything about it, but you can’t help but watch. Of course, the pace and plot of each novel are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but I felt the same while I read them. (Confession: never finished House of Sand and Fog. It was just too horrific.)

If you are into modern gothic fiction, or want to read a book in a night, this is for you. I enjoyed it, and will be reading more Dan Chaon. Also, I am a reformed nail-biter and a very nervous person. As a result, this book was bad news for my cuticles. Read it anyway, but be warned! 

March 6, 2012   2 notes
10. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
I wasn’t particularly excited to read another Midwestern Shakespeare Re-Imagining immediately after finishing Edgar. Frankly, the genre can get a bit exhausting, and how could this possibly hold a candle to Edgar? I read it anyway, on the advice of a friend, and I’m so glad I did.
A Thousand Acres is an adaptation of King Lear, which happens to be my favorite Shakespeare. On a thousand-acre family farm in rural Iowa, Larry chooses to give his life’s work away to his daughters, spurning his youngest, Caroline, when she pauses at the idea. Instead of the great father, wronged by his daughters, that we’re used to in Shakespeare, Ginny and Rose (Goneril and Regan) are our protagonists. What follows is a story that is, impossibly, more tragic than Lear ever was.
It’s hard, in both Lear and A Thousand Acres, to see a previously happy family fall apart. But in the latter, it is so much harder. Ginny and Rose are victims of a domineering, abusive father. They are loyal and faithful nonetheless, but they are punished and tortured by their father for wanting what’s best for the family. The nearness of the family, too, makes it all the more tragic — I can only muster so much empathy for a 16th-century English king. But two women in their thirties, born and raised in the Midwest? Their feelings, their priorities, their plight are all so much closer to mine.  
One thing to keep in mind on this book: I wouldn’t recommend reading it back-to-back with The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. They’re both wonderfully written, powerful novels, and it does them both a disservice to read them together. Spread your Shakespeare adaptations out.

10. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

I wasn’t particularly excited to read another Midwestern Shakespeare Re-Imagining immediately after finishing Edgar. Frankly, the genre can get a bit exhausting, and how could this possibly hold a candle to Edgar? I read it anyway, on the advice of a friend, and I’m so glad I did.

A Thousand Acres is an adaptation of King Lear, which happens to be my favorite Shakespeare. On a thousand-acre family farm in rural Iowa, Larry chooses to give his life’s work away to his daughters, spurning his youngest, Caroline, when she pauses at the idea. Instead of the great father, wronged by his daughters, that we’re used to in Shakespeare, Ginny and Rose (Goneril and Regan) are our protagonists. What follows is a story that is, impossibly, more tragic than Lear ever was.

It’s hard, in both Lear and A Thousand Acres, to see a previously happy family fall apart. But in the latter, it is so much harder. Ginny and Rose are victims of a domineering, abusive father. They are loyal and faithful nonetheless, but they are punished and tortured by their father for wanting what’s best for the family. The nearness of the family, too, makes it all the more tragic — I can only muster so much empathy for a 16th-century English king. But two women in their thirties, born and raised in the Midwest? Their feelings, their priorities, their plight are all so much closer to mine.  

One thing to keep in mind on this book: I wouldn’t recommend reading it back-to-back with The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. They’re both wonderfully written, powerful novels, and it does them both a disservice to read them together. Spread your Shakespeare adaptations out.

March 5, 2012   9 notes
9. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
I don’t know why it took me so long to read this; many people whose taste in books I love and trust have been recommending it to me for years. 
Set in rural Wisconsin, Edgar is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with a twist. Edgar, smart as a whip but mute since the day of his birth, lives on a farm with his mother and father, where they cultivate a rare and unusual breed of dogs. When his father dies suddenly, and his uncle moves in, Edgar has to confront what happened, and strikes out on his own for the first time in his life.
My favorite part about this novel was the straight-up gorgeous writing. It’s no secret I love me a sweeping midwestern description, and this novel is rich with them. The scene where Edgar first sees the ghost of his father was goose-bump-inducing. Serene and beautiful. I hope Wroblewski writes more, because I am very excited to read it. 
The biggest selling point for this novel is that the ignorant reader wouldn’t know it was a Hamlet adaptation. The parallels are subtle (much more so than the next novel I read, which was also a Shakespeare adaptation). If, as a reader, you spend too much time trying to piece together which character is whose analogue, you do yourself a disservice. Sit back and savor this book. Enjoy it.

9. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

I don’t know why it took me so long to read this; many people whose taste in books I love and trust have been recommending it to me for years. 

Set in rural Wisconsin, Edgar is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with a twist. Edgar, smart as a whip but mute since the day of his birth, lives on a farm with his mother and father, where they cultivate a rare and unusual breed of dogs. When his father dies suddenly, and his uncle moves in, Edgar has to confront what happened, and strikes out on his own for the first time in his life.

My favorite part about this novel was the straight-up gorgeous writing. It’s no secret I love me a sweeping midwestern description, and this novel is rich with them. The scene where Edgar first sees the ghost of his father was goose-bump-inducing. Serene and beautiful. I hope Wroblewski writes more, because I am very excited to read it. 

The biggest selling point for this novel is that the ignorant reader wouldn’t know it was a Hamlet adaptation. The parallels are subtle (much more so than the next novel I read, which was also a Shakespeare adaptation). If, as a reader, you spend too much time trying to piece together which character is whose analogue, you do yourself a disservice. Sit back and savor this book. Enjoy it.