Monday, July 27, 2009

Perfection? Well Not as a Reader This Month Anways.

So what ever happened to those summers of my childhood, where I would spend days upon days curled up with seemingly endless stacks of books? Apparently, like so many of the sweet things that fill our childhoods, those days went the way my American Girl dolls and watercolors. Being a grown up--at least for me--means being uber busy and uber delinquent in my reading. Not that I'm complaining about spending a week at the beach and then a week in Europe, but I do have to admit a bit of guilt as I see my TBR pile grow and grow...

But luckily during my trip I did manage to finish one book and start another (time on an airplane can be good for that!)

Julie Metz's "Perfection" is a memoir of the time in her life immediately after her husband Henry's death. A few months after being rocked by Henry's sudden death, Julie discovers something even more earth shattering--that Henry had carried out a number of affairs, including a long term affair with one of Julie's friends. As Julie unravels the secrets surrounding Henry's infidelity, she must come to terms with what this means for the lives of her and her daughter and decide how she will go on living.

This book is catharsis as memoir. The emotions in this memoir are raw, rich, and at times, painful to read. Metz does not hide any of herself from her reader, and you can see the characteristic 12 steps of grief as she recovers from the dual blows of losing her husband and then losing his memory. I found her emotional response moving, but only to a point, and then the memoir seems to shift into self pity. As the self pity begins, I just wanted to shake Metz and tell her to look at all of the good things she has in her life. Ultimately she realizes this herself and moves on, which gives the memoir an uplifting, you-can-overcome tone at its end.

I thought this was one of the more interesting memoirs I've read. I would caution readers that this is an emotional work and it may be too much for you if you are sensitive about the subject matter.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Beach Reading and a Reading Spin

So, we just got back from a week at the beach. And what is the beach great for? READING! I'm not so much of an ocean person, so much of my beach vacay was spent in one of these guys, curled up with a good book!

And what a great book it was--Colum McCann's "Let the Great World Spin." Yes, the book is dense, it takes a long time to get into and it is not exactly light beach reading. But McCann has really created something amazing in this book--with its emotions so rich and raw they simply jump off the page. This book is sure to be in contention for all of the big awards at the end of the year--it's already made Amazon's Best of the Year So Far List--so if big literary novels are your thing, I suggest you read this now so you know what all the buzz is about!

Colum McCann's "Let the Great World Spin" follows the lives of a group of individuals immediately before and after Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974. Although the book does not feature Petit as one of its central characters, the lives of all of the main characters intersect with Petit's walk in a key way, creating a neat puzzle around the event. The book looks at people from all walks of life in NYC in the 1970s--from Bronx hookers to a Park Avenue matron. As the lives of each of these people comes together you wonder who will survive this vicious city, where people and souls seem to be eaten alive.

This was the first work I had ever read by McCann, and wow, was I impressed. McCann is a master storyteller and the way he weaves words together creates such vivid pictures, you feel like you can smell the smoke from the burning Bronx. While this novel wasn't my typical style--it is much darker and rawer than what I typically read--McCann's literary gifts can only leave a reader in awe. I did have a few problems with the structure of the novel--the jumping from character to character sometimes felt jumpy and abrupt, but I think this technique was intended to jar the reader--mimicking the realities of life in 1970s New York. The ending also felt out of place to me.

While this is not exactly light summer reading, I would definitely recommend this book to fans of great english literature. This work has marked McCann as one of the greats of the modern world, and I can't wait to see what else he produces.

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Little Vacation Reading

So we're on vacation this week at the Delaware seashore! I love it down here--so peaceful and fun. Of course vacation does give me a chance to catch up on all of that reading that I didn't get done in June. What a relief!

I've been moving a bit away from review copies recently to read some books recommended to me by friends. I always enjoy recommending books to others, and I'm interested to see what others recommend to me. This review is of a wonderful book that I practically snatched from Elizabeth's bookshelf when I saw she had it, since I had wanted to read it for a while. And like I say in the review--I don't know why I waited so long! Unfortunately, I don't have high hopes for the movie coming out later this summer--leave it to Hollywood to much up a great book like this.

"The Time Traveler's Wife" follows the life of Henry, a man with a strange genetic mutation which makes him travel through time spontaneously. The one thing in life that makes Henry's life worth living is Clare, his wife, who he lives with in the present and visits through time. Although Henry and Clare's love is complicated and challenged by Henry's time traveling, in some ways it makes their bond stronger. This beautiful love story gives a whole new angle to "I will love you forever".

I don't know why I waited so long to read this book--it was fantastic! The time traveling aspect of the novel does take a little getting used to--but I found that I got used to it pretty quickly. Niffenegger's writing style is vivid and emotional, which does a great job of pulling the reader right into Henry's world. The book reads fast, which left me quickly wishing there was more of it to enjoy!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy July and An Oldie But A Goodie!

Happy July! I'm excited that July is finally here, because it means we're leaving for our annual beach vacation on Saturday. woohoo!

But first up, a review of a book that I think everyone but me read in the late 90s, Joyce Carol Oates' "We Were the Mulvaneys". This book got a lot of attention then, since it was selected for the Oprah Book Club. I don't know why it took me so long to read, but finally the recommendation of a friend got me started. After a slow start to the book where I wasn't really sure if I was going to like it, I was so happy I devoted the time to this novel. In the end it was powerful--a real picture of human emotional suffering. I know what you're thinking--great beach read, huh? But it really was great, and I thank Jen for recommending!

Joyce Carol Oates' "We Were the Mulvaneys" follows the fallout in the lives of the Mulvaney family of upstate New York as the result of one fateful night. February 14, 1976--the Mulvaney's only daughter, Marianne, attends the prom at the local high school and high on her popularity makes a mistake and ends up being raped. Marianne's unwillingness to face her accuser in court ultimately rips the family apart--alienating the three Mulvaney sons, disolving the parent's marriage, all as Marianne struggles to find an identity for herself as the exiled fallen hero of the family. The novel follows the family for 20 years--and leaves the reader wondering throughout--will they be the Mulvaneys again?

This is an excellent and powerful work from Oates. The story is told primarily from the perspective of three of the children--Judd, Patrick, and Marianne--although Judd is introduced as the primary storyteller at the outset of the novel and both of the parents, Mike and Corinne, have their own chapters. The emotion in this novel is raw--the event damages each of the Mulvaneys in their own way, and no one of them will ever be the same. But there is redemption in the way that each of the children ultimately overcomes the event and comes into his/her own as an adult. Their struggles against the ghosts of their past are not easy, but the journey is an emotional one that Oates shares intimately with the reader.

This is an excellent book if you are interested in a rich character study. A wonderful lyrical storyteller, Oates makes parts of this novel sing with rich language and settings. If you enjoy literary fiction, this is a book for you.