Friday, February 26, 2010

The Solace of Leaving Early

The Solace of Leaving Early is a fascinating look at the people in a small town, through the preconceived notions they have of one another. A brilliant student walks away from her academic life, mothers and daughters navigate the mine fields of their relationships, a preacher struggles with his relevance, a marriage unravels with tragic results. As the unique characters in the story struggle to pick up the pieces around them, they find themselves made more whole in the process.

This is my third Haven Kimmel book, my first of her novels, her first novel. I've already gushed in my previous reviews how much I love her writing style, and again, yes, very much. She is unique, brutally perceptive and gifted with descriptive talent. I have to read her in spurts, each chapter is so riveting and thought provoking or ponderous to me that I plaster the pages with sticky notes. Also, I try to make it last, because I know I'll read it too fast. If I were ever to be stuck reading a book over and over, I'd like to start here. Her characters are all so very real and tragic and touching and human. People and relationships shine in every imaginable combination. And she writes a compelling, touching story. But that’s only a piece of my adulation.

Haven Kimmel is a smart writer, she's used her education and curiosity and intellect to great advantage, drawing from sources I can barely grasp. I wonder what she hasn't read or studied. Through her bright characters, she name drops authors of philosophy and theology that make me feel desperately that I need to learn more, read more, think even more, to help make sense of it all. She made me start another reading list, and not much of it fiction: Donne, Whitehead, Updike, Tillich - just to name a few. I think philosophy and reason and religion classes might have given me some perspective or foundation I lack. Luckily, none of that is required to enjoy this story, but it is always nice for me to leave a book enthused about learning more.

It is very hard to pick a favorite quote, but here is one:

Amos knew AnnaLee was nervous around the children. She couldn't determine how to be herself; she was just moved by the desire to save them, to rescue them from the flood. But she's just like the rest of us, Amos thought. The water is wide and her boat is so small.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Spare Room

The Spare Room is a quick, engaging and insightful novel about the bonds and responsibilities of friendship in the face of death. Helen Garner is an exceptional writer, her spare prose so realistic and honest that I actually checked to be sure I was reading a novel, not a memoir. I have since learned that much of the book and the character Helen are based on her life experience. I enjoyed reading her work very much, finishing it in one day, captivated by her characters and the complicated emotional dynamics that unfold, particularly denial, anger and compassion. There are moments of discomfort, peace and heartache in this story, and much to think about when the book is finished. I felt the ending came too quickly, and would have preferred it lasted longer to provide more closure, but otherwise I highly recommend The Spare Room.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What Next?

My To Be Read Pile mocks me.

So What Next?

I read some some exceptional books last year, and I see my trend is toward less books, not more, which is not likely to improve in the near future. Choosing the right book is essential, as I doubt I'll ever finish this pile, at least at the pace I keep adding to it.

I'm happy to report that of the 42 books I read in 2009, there were only 3 stinkers in the bunch. You know who you are.... And at least 20 I rated 4 or more stars who stole a little piece of my heart or fed my soul or fascinated me...There were a few monsters, huge, 700, 900 pages, labors of love or story lust. So I shouldn't be disappointed in myself for failing to hit the 50 mark. It's just a number, and I could read manja or kids books and get there easy. I don't do anything the easy way, do I?

I can't pick a favorite, and can only comment on some of the authors who touched me:

Haven Kimmel, I wish we were kids together, your memoirs made my year. A Girl Named Zippy, She Got Up Off the Couch - I laughed and cried and remembered so much I had forgotten about the magical fun of kidhood in an interesting family.

Jeffrey Lent, Lost Nation and In the Fall will linger in my memory for decades. You are another lifetime favorite author.

Olive Kitteridge and Abide with Me were revelations. I love the way Elizabeth Strout writes, and I will remember her characters for a very long time.

And for Charlaine Harris, a special shout out for the excellent diversion the Sookie Stackhouse books were over a wintry Christmas Break. I read until my eyeballs ached, each book just calling to me from the new shiny seductive kindle... 8 box set, sure! I lost myself in each book, guilty that I liked your sassy fashion forward chic lit so much. Well, I wish I'd stopped at the box set. Your last book was bleak, dark, painful, cruel and a bit sicker that the others, and you let me down, left me hanging on the hope that book 10 will redeem you, and salvage my chances at happy escape with Sookie once more.

So, 2010, we're off to a great start, with 2 by Amy Bloom under the belt, East of Eden queued up on top of the next pile, though Haven is winking at me from underneath are the three Ellen Gilchrists I bought after I read A Dangerous Age. I love her writing very much, and these stories interweave with each other, so I can revisit the characters I loved in the first book. Hopefully before I forget who is who.

Maybe I should focus on deleting books from the tbr pile. Surely there are a few clunkers in there I should just set free in the world. So, feel free to nose through my library, tell me who I must read and who I should toss.

And hope you all have something good waiting to be read in your world. It's the best use of winter I can imagine.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Where the God of Love Hangs Out

Trying to review an author who writes this well, who paints such lyrical and haunting emotional landscapes - it's like trying to talk with a mouthful of marbles. Amy Bloom is an artist. A poet. She creates startlingly dense and rich vignettes, filled with unforgettably complex characters, conflicted and sometimes inexplicable emotions, each story a window into truth.

I found myself equally tongue tied trying to post a review of Away, which I received as my first Librarything Early Reviewer advanced book in 2007. What a gift. I feel like I'm only qualified to write a thank you note and some fan mail, not review any of her writing. Which I love. I would only ask that the stories and books be longer, as I always want just a little more.

She teaches creative writing at Yale, and is a psychotherapist. She's as good as I might expect that combination to be, even better, at telling people's stories, at pulling me into her character's lives, at surprising me. She clearly knows a thing or two about love and life, about painting a picture with words.
I'll read anything she writes.

Her website is a revelation. Lies, Memories and Other Research