Sunday, October 11, 2009

About those tears of joy....

I know I am supposed to be a patient reader by now, but John Irving's latest book is a test. The incessant details, the parenthesis riddled asides, the meandering plot have just about bored me or frustrated me to tears and I'm struggling to resume at page 78, knowing there are almost 500 more to go. I find myself drifting off on Irving's laborious history of river logging in New England to Jeffrey Lent's masterful depiction of harsh American history in Lost Nation or After the Fall, wishing to be swept away like that again. I need a story to carry me along this twisted river, and I need it soon. I will dig in, I will finish, no matter what Irving has in store for me, I owe him that much. I'm sure there is drama waiting to unfold, words waiting to pierce my heart, if I will just be more patient.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Currently Reading....

The LibraryThing Early Reviewer program has gifted me with my most prized new book. I cried actual tears of joy when I got the email telling me I was one of 30 out of 1508 who requested a copy. I cried again when I went to Amazon's page and heard John Irving himself read this excerpt:

We don't always have a choice how we get to know one another. Sometimes people fall into our lives cleanly - as if out of the sky, or as if there were a direct flight from heaven to earth -the same sudden way we lose people who once seemed they would always be part of our lives.

I cried a few more tears of joy when it arrived at my door three days later. Yes, I'm a bit moody lately. No excuses.

I've been holding out, waiting for a day when I have some uninterrupted time to read it. Today is the day. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Supremely Bad Idea

This could be a great title for so many books, but works surprisingly well for Luke Dempsey's memoir of the madness of birding. I'm a nature nut, and enjoy feeding and watching the local birds, marking each new bird with a shiny star sticker in my Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds. In winter's doldrums, I'll sit at a window with binoculars and watch the show, but the urge to hit the road for serious birding has never called me.

Luke gets the calling, with the help of his friends Don and Donna, who coordinate escapes from the city to bird watching hot spots across America. From the first pages, Luke's wry British humor shines through as he takes us along on his adventure. I could listen to a lovely British accent all day, and Luke's Bill Brysonesque witty, informative writing style make me feel the same way about his book. It is funny, educational (there are even bird pictures!) and has much to say about life as the quest to find birds helps the author find himself in the bargain.

I think I'll be putting my binoculars in the car just in case.......

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge is a gift, a gem. From the first sentences in this beautiful work, I was smitten, and from the last, deeply sorry for the stories to end. Elizabeth Strout took me to a vivid small town world filled with beautifully complicated, conflicted, real people and their intricate, multifaceted lives. In each poignant chapter, constantly shifting characters and perspective reveal rich human experiences and emotions, spanning all life’s stages, twists and turns, and prove how very hard it is to truly know another person, or yourself.

The author writes with beautifully reticent honesty as she shares these stories, collections of people’s secrets in the world as they choose to see it, and the parts of themselves they wish to show, or need to hide. Some stories sparkle, some startle, with characters ranging from broken or damaged, weary, lonely, fragile or desperate, to surprisingly tender, honest or strong, through love, loss or betrayal, with yearning and need strewn through their lives as randomly as the rocks along the coast.

The characters are so skillfully created that the more I came to know them, the more I wished to know and understand them, especially Olive. She is an enigma, and a perfect vantage point to view the town, and herself: from afar, from her imposing size to her brusque, often rude assessment of her former students or associates or family, her curt, weary, reluctant interaction with the world. Through Olives eyes, and the eyes of those who know her, the stories unfold to paint and unforgettable portrait of life, and of people painfully flawed and human.

I found the novel luminous, haunting and at times, profoundly sad, but true and touching and heartwarming. Olive Kitteridge has my highest recommendation, particularly and especially to book clubs, as there is so much to explore, and so much to learn from bringing our own perceptions and biases and stories into the discussion.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

She Got Up Off the Couch

I was so smitten with Haven Kimmel's writing in her memoir Zippy that the sequel was in my greedy hands the next day. I got the last copy, paid the bookstore megachain full price, and was glad of it. I'd have tipped the author if I could.

I was so happy to be back in Mooreland, listening to more stories, I cannot begin to tell the full extent. I'm 48 pages in and may just stop reading every written thing and read Treasure, the 7th little chapter in the sequel over and over. I laughed until my stomach hurt. I loved the story, the description of the stuff on the floor, the glee with which a child can wear something ridiculous, coloring, happy as a clam, and have her world blown wide open by a random, sparkly person who magically pops into her life. The Hitchhiker. What a perfect story, eloquent and hilarious.

The surprise was when I went back to actually look at the picture at the top of the first page of the story. Both books contain the added perk of actual photographs to begin each chapter, polaroids of actual people stuck in these lovely moments in time. I am such an impatient reader and a total spaz, that I thought it was just a picture of Zip and her Dad, who I thought looked mighty young and not my preconceived notion. I was ill informed. Right there, in black and white, is irrefutable proof, a snapshop of the Hitchhiker and Zip, the little girl whose heart and imagination were gobsmacked, and thought that's the treasure, right there. Not the stuff you have, but the stuff that makes you dream. And the thought of it made tears burn in my eyes, which surprised me, since I was still laughing. Textbook bittersweet.

I remembered the way people have come into my world, thanks to the open minds and hearts of my parents, and plain old serendipity, to make me see more, wish for more, demand to see and do and be more. I had forgotten some of them, people who saw the spark in me and didn't squash it, but instead urged me to see what was out there, if only because I could. It really moved me, the reminder of the gifts people give with their presence, hidden like that in a funny little treasure of a story.

I have finished the book now, and naturally, I'm a little sad to say goodbye to these characters and stories. I didn't realize how much I'd enjoy a skewed look back at my own riduculously unbelievable childhood, so different but so similar to Haven's. I'm sorry that Haven had to lose her father to find her mother, and that, like all of us, she had to grow up.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Girl Named Zippy I wish I knew...

Once in a while I read a book and all I can think about is the author. How did she remember it all so well? How'd she get to be so funny? How'd she think up that phrase or that way of telling her story? How could her life be so hilarious and unbelievably true to small town crazy life? How do some families get to be so funny, so warped with such wicked senses of humor, dripping in irony and insight?

My home town, Laurel, was 10 times the size of Mooreland, but it felt awfully small yet oddly infinite to me. My extended family was sprinkled among a handful of towns with 300, 1200 and 3000 people, the largest with a grocery store and a tastee freeze at the one intersection, all with farms and fields and the highway going somewhere else. Mostly farmers, country folk and factory workers, with every imaginable stereotypical label you could think up. Holy cow, they're pretty much the same everywhere, just different kinds of funny. It's the proximity that makes it all so acute, knowing everything a person does because you can't miss it, being around every kind of crazy, and everything else inbetween. I marvel at the common ground we share watching some of the planet's meaner or dumber or more interesting specimens operate, and living for the fun feeling you get when you're laughing or just happy. So many moments rang true, particularly the church avoiding, camping and packing expert flawed gem of a father, and the freedom of riding your bike all over town.

Anyway, A Girl named Zippy is making me laugh and remember absolutely glorious, ridiculous, pathetic and funny things from my childhood, I thank Haven Kimmel for bringing it all back to me and would love nothing more but to sit in the same room and listen to her stories and snarky sense of humor. Another friend I'll never know. Oh well. At least there's the book, and I'm glad it's my first, so there's plenty more. The blog I'm pacing myself, its strange being late to the party, everybody else is already on the same page, I'm needing a dictionary and a road map as always. But I know funny peoply when I find em so I'm sticking around for the laughs and the great writing.
This excerpt from her blog:

Thank You, Thank You Very Much!

There are a number of questions I’d like to pose to you, my virtual posse, and I’ll get to them in time. But an interesting one came up today: what is the very best (or favorite) compliment you’ve ever received?

Here’s why I ask. On one of my booktours I was flying Southwest and was fortunate enough to get the aisle seat in the third row from the front. The window seat next to me was empty. The last person to board came dashing in and up the aisle and said to me – and I don’t know how to describe the way he said it, because it’s not going to sound funny, but it was VERY funny and I knew it immediately – “Look, it’s your fault you have to get up to let me in.” I said, “OH NAY. It is your fault for being an untimely slacker.” He had trouble getting his carry-on bag under the seat and I said, “You’re one of those.” “One of what?” he asked. “One of those people who don’t want to check a bag because they’re so enormously important they can’t waste time waiting for the bags to be unloaded, and so entitled they believe they can take up as much space as they want.” He looked at me gleefully and said, “You really KNOW me.” Needless to say, we made with the yackety-yack all the way from Houston to Durham, and much of the conversation was side-achingly funny. It turned out he was a breast cancer specialist, on his way to deliver a paper at a conference at Duke Medical School. He had developed a very specialized technique of tumor removal, and he showed me the slides he would use the next day. We took to each other just smashingly well – which is odd, because, you know, he was a doctor, not a bohemian or an outsider or . . . one of us is what I mean. But after an hour I had reached the point where, when he mentioned how much he loved spending a day on his boat I said, “Oh here we go. A boat. Boat Guy. So you get out on the water and you’re drinking a beer and feeling manly, and the wind is in your hair, and the 25-year-old nurse you’re trying to seduce looks SO fetching in her bikini, and THIS is freedom. You are free. And the next day you go back to working 80-hour weeks because you want a bigger boat.” He said, “Hey, that nurse was twenty-seven.”

When we landed in Durham he turned to me and said, “You know, you are so smart and so attentive and quick – just lightning fast – you would make a great bird dog.”

I am complimented constantly by my readers and by booksellers, etc., also my mother, and I appreciate every one, truly. But THAT will always be the best.

Okay, your turn.

Don't you just love her?

Haven's Blog
It figures that 4 days prior to my discovering her, she posted her last post to the blog. FIN

Thursday, May 28, 2009

In the Fall

How do I begin to write about a book that swept me away like this one? How do I explain to a reasonable person why I did this while I read -

- used a ridiculous amount of sticky notes to mark passages and prose that I wanted to revisit or remember or reread. Some of the notes drew arrows to entire paragraphs, often pages of words that brilliantly created a character, an emotion, a sense of place and time. Several passages were so stunning I read and reread them in amazement. As I neared the end of the story, I kept putting the book down and walking away to ponder what might come next, to postpone the ending, because I knew when I finished, I would be a bit lost without these characters, without this story, without another page to read.

What a gift to read such a riveting, truly American novel that begins with the Civil War and echoes for generations affected by the legacy of slavery and the mysteries of life and love. If it's not on your must read list, it should be.

Link follows to the author's website, where exquisite excerpts such as this await:

After midnight he was walking sentry, the Springfield loose alongside him held in just one hand, his tunic unbuckled, open to more than just the spring night. In the darkness he paused and as he stood looking at those men the idea of leaving them frightened him a little. He wondered if the men there he knew from Bethel or Randolph or Royalton or Chelsea would come upon him in years ahead and nod their greeting and pass along by as if this were all nothing more but a great and forever silent part of their lives. Norman knew how glad he'd be back up on the farm with his arms bloody on February mornings from birthing lambs or his back burned and sore from lifting forkfuls of hay from the hot fields. The war was already breaking apart into fragments for his memory to hold, the odd things: the squirrel racing back along the road through the advancing troops that first day at Second Bull Run; the summer mist burning off the Potomac as they marched north into Pennsylvania two summers before; the man out on the field well before him who landed on his back and for a long moment seemed to hold the cannonball with both arms to his belly before he flew apart under it; the boy face up and his mouth open to the air, flies already pooled around his eyes as he called a woman's name, his tone plaintive as if she were nearby and ignoring him. These sights and others, each forever etched in its own small box of his mind. Life after this was not so simple a thing as going home and carrying on from where he'd left off, and he remembered his father's death, a news that at the time seemed just one more in a long chain of life poured out upon the ground. Now he could begin to feel it as the hole he'd forever carry forward with himself: not having the chance to not talk about the war with his father, not even having that silent presence there beside him as he birthed those lambs or dug that potato ground. He was watching his fellows and himself all at once when from behind him she said, "Norman don't you shoot me with that gun of yours."

Monday, May 25, 2009

And so it begins....

A blog to share book reviews, my thoughts on the books I read, links to my favorite places, my favorite people and whatever else strikes my fancy. Come visit anytime.