Literary Besties

Best friends can be fictional too! If I could go inside of a book and pick out any character to be friends with, it would consist of the list below.

1. Hermione Granger (The Harry Potter Series - Rowling): Book nerd who isn't afraid of much and can help you out with the perfect incantation whenever you are in a pinch!

2. Sally Jay Gorce (The Dud Avocado - Dundy): Sally is tough, funny and has an unrestrained sense of adventure. She is constantly failing at love, so of course we'd always have a lot to talk about.

3. Janie Mae Crawford (Their Eyes Were Watching God - Hurston): Curious and confident, and never settling for anything less that what she deserves, I think I could learn a lot of Janie.

4. Renée Michelle (The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Barbery): I'd love to have tea with her and talk books and philosophy.

5. Cécile (Bonjour Tristesse - Sagan): Drive fancy cars and lay out on the beach all day - I'm in.

6. Oskar Shell (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Foer): Always eager to learn new things and go wherever the day takes him, Oskar is one of the funniest characters I have read.

7. Jake Barnes (The Sun Also Rises - Hemingway): Constantly having fun at endless parties, but exuding intelligence and stability, I think Jake and I would have a ton of fun.

8. Luna Lovegood (The Harry Potter Series - Rowling): Luna has a great outlook on life and isn't afraid to stay true to herself. There is a lot to be said about people like that.

9. Mma Ramostwse (The Number One Ladies Detective Agency Series - Smith): Incredibly wise and down-to-earth, while not afraid to kick some ass, I think I'd get along great with Mma Ramostwse. Not to mention she owns her own detective agency. It would be fun to help her out.

10. Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre - Brontë): I feel like this is a character I could talk with intelligently for hours. Not to mention that she was completely ahead of her time with gender equality... my kind of girl.

Thanks to The Broke and the Bookish for hosting Top Ten Tuesday!


I'm sorry, did I just see you smell that book?

Rory is one of those characters who:

a. I wish wasn't fictional so I could be friends with her and
b. reminds me that dorky can be cool too


The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster

I've heard great things about Paul Auster but didn't pick up one of his novels until earlier this week. It was another one of those instances when I wasn't sure what I wanted to read next so I began to read a page or two from books sitting on my TBR pile; 45 pages later I realized I had chosen Paul Auster's The Book of Illusions.

This book follows David Zimmer, a man coping with the recent loss of his wife and two sons. He is incredibly depressed and relying heavily on alcohol to numb his pain when late one night he sees a television show that details the history of the silent movie industry. One clip that is shown, written and directed by Hector Mann, makes David laugh. He realizes this is he first time he has laughed in nearly two years, and makes up his mind to find out more about Hector Mann. What follows is a story that becomes increasingly complex, a dark suspense full of intrigue, sex and corruption. 

Auster writes in a way that is fluent and engrossing. From beginning to end I was fascinated with both the story and the way Auster's words worked to communicate that story. In addition, Paul Auster relates the power and point of silent films in a way that gives meaning to the medium that I had never considered:
Most silent comedies hardly even bothered to tell stories. They were like poems, like the renderings of dreams, like some intricate choreography of the spirit, and because they were dead, hey probably spoke more deeply to us now than they had to the audiences of their time. We watched them across great chasms of forgetfulness, and they very things that separated them from us were i fact what made them so arresting: their muteness, their absence of color, their fitful, speeded-up rhythms. They stood between us and the film, and therefore we no longer had to pretend that we were looking at the real world. The lat screen was the world, and it existed in two dimensions. The third dimension was in our head.
In these ways, literature acts almost as silent films do, allowing the reader to add his or her own dimension with their imagination. These meditations, combined with Auster's incredible ability to understand the human mind at it's darkest moments, make this a book well worth reading. This is a novel about pain and mortality, sin and redemption, about art and the artistic muse, and explores the role of the artist capturing something that is greater than himself. I look forward to reading more Paul Auster.  

Publisher: Picador, 2002


Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

I'm typically not one for historical non-fiction. At all. However the title of this book caught my eye and it turned out to be worth the read. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich offers interesting vignettes that detail women in history who were "well-behaved" and therefore overlooked.

Cotton Mather called them "the hidden ones." They never preached or sat in a deacon's bench. Nor did they vote or attend Harvard. Neither, because they were virtuous women, did they question God or the magistrates. They prayed secretly, read the Bible through at least once a year, and went to hear the minister preach even when it snowed. Hoping for an eternal crown, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven't been. Well-behaved women seldom make history.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's argues the women who didn't try to make history but did were the women who changed the face of female possibilites and feminism. Ulrich's goal was to uncover these well-behaved women's history and tell it. This book is well-researched and included clever anecdotes that make the book accessible - even to readers like me who don't often read historical non-fiction. My favorite section was the one entitled "Slaves in the Attic" and detailed the lesser known stories of Harriet Tubman, Harriet Powell and Harriet Jacobs; women who all contributed to 19th century feminism in their own unique way. 

Harriet Tubman, 1869 woodcut

While I did enjoy the book enough, I wouldn't say it was great. I found some sections dull repetitive. The overall message was inspiring, but the delivery lacked a certain punch. As I've mentioned, I haven't read much historical non-fiction that covers women in history, but I can't help but think there is a better book out there on the subject. 

Publisher: Vintage, 2007


Fragmentary Girl

“I am still so naïve; I know pretty much what I like and dislike; but please, don’t ask me who I am. A passionate, fragmentary girl, maybe?”
-Sylvia Plath


The Missing Statues - Simon Van Booy

I've been interested in reading Simon Van Booy's collection of short stories The Secret Lives of People In Love ever since it was compared to Miranda July's Nobody Belongs Here More Than You, which is my all-time favorite collection of short stories. But, before I acquired the book I stumbled upon Van Booy's short story "The Missing Statues" via Fifty-Two Stories. (Read it here for free.)

This is a whimsical story, told in a tone that reminded me of a fairy tale, in which Van Booy captures the feeling of what it's like to be a child. There isn't a specific message van Booy relates in the story, except perhaps to highlight the importance of stories themselves:
"That sounds nice, and I like stories very much," the priest said. "They help me understand myself better."
Overall "The Missing Statues" is a nice story, but I'm not sure I'll be running out to get The Secret Lives of People In Love. Then again, he did win The Frank O'Connor Award for his collection Love Begins In Winter, so I probably shouldn't judge his writing on this one short story.


One Day - David Nicholls

I try to avoid books about relationships. Let me be more specific; of course every book involves relationships of some kind. I try to avoid those that center on romantic relationships. But every now and then, I read reviews about a book that I just need to read. One Day was one of those books. Don't get me wrong, some of my favorite books are those that examine love and it's complications, misconceptions and inevitable disappointments. But, I think about these ideas more often than not in real life, I'd rather not dwell on them while reading.

That being said, in my experience, books that I relate to are often the ones that captivate me most. David Nicholl's One Day is no different. He structures his novel in a very unique way; every chapter details the relationship of Emma and Dexter on the same day (July 15th) each year, beginning in 1988 and continuing each year for the next 20 years. A lot can change over a year and with each chapter, Dexter and Emma's relationship becomes more complicated and confused than the previous year, as many relationships do.

This is a book about who you want to be and the person you inevitably become. This is a book about timing and examines the hopes we have and the reality that ensues. Nicholls explores themes of fate and the the power of one moment, or one day, to change everything. The premise and structure may seem trite (cf The Time Traveler's Wife) but I promise you, Nicholls delivers in a unique and fulfilling way.

This is a lovely and bittersweet read that is all at once captivating and honest. It's not life changing, but certainly makes you think about what is and what could be - at least if you are the type succumb to the reverie of what it's like to be young and in love, ambitious and unsure.
Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.
Publisher: Vintage, 2009


Back to the Classics Challenge

Hosted by Sarah at Sarah Reads Too Much, this challenge spans from January until June 2011 and will push me to read more classic literature! I try to be good and mix it up by throwing in classics here and there, and I'm thinking this challenge will ensure that I keep it up. I've been on a contemporary kick lately so this should help me out.

So, there are 8 goals to complete:

1. A banned book
2. A book with a wartime setting (any war)
3. A Pulitzer Prize (fiction) winner or runner up
4. A Children's/Young Adult Classic
5. 19th century classic
6. 20th century classic
7. A book you think should be considered a 21st century classic
8. Re-read a book from your high school/college classes

I'm really excited about challenge. I was dreading the children's/YA goal until I remembered Hans Christian Anderson and Lewis Carol. If you are interested go sign up on Sarah's blog.


A mind is like a parachute...

image via thingssheloves

A mind is like a parachute. It doesn't work if it's not open. 
-Frank Zappa

National Book Award Winner Announced Tonight

Big news kids! Tonight the National Book Award winner will be announced and four of the five nominees are women:

Nicole Krauss, Great House
Lionel Shriver, So Much For That
Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel
Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America
Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule

Hopefully this shuts Jodi Picoult up for awhile. NPR books and I are on it:

NPR Books
Yeah! RT @: Lots of women on that list. Take note @ RT @ 2010 National Book Award Nominees


Top Ten Villains, Criminals and Degenerates

Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

1. Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter Series - Rowling): "The most powerful dark wizard to ever live!" Voldemort put his soul in seven horcruxes to attain immortality and gain ultimate power. That will make my list any day.

2. Richard III (Richard III - Shakespeare): Richard is who I believe to be the ugliest of all Shakespearean men - both in appearance and character. Richard's only motivation is power and he is prepared to take down anyone who stands in his path.

3. Humbert Humbert (Lolita - Nabokov): Arguably the most cunning characters of all-time, Humbert Humbert is the lowest of the low.

4. Rabbit (Rabbit, Run - Updike): Not a villain or criminal, but certainly a degenerate. Rabbit's inability to find satisfaction in life brings a lot of pain to many people in his life.

5. Stanley Kowalski (A Streetcar Names Desire - Williams): One of the ultimate bad boys of literature, Stanley's uncontrollably rage and violence sends his wife's sister into a mental institution after raping her. Sesh.

6. Patrick Bateman (American Psyco - Easton Ellis): The scariest kind of criminal; a serial killer with a mask of sanity.

7. Long John Silver (Treasure Island - Louis Stevenson): A one-legged pirate determined to take the treasure for himself, this is a degenerate I love to hate.

8. Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye - Salinger): A degenerate I absolutely hate, Holden is the ultimate hypocrite and, to be honest, seems quite contrived. He's the real "phony"!

9. Miss Trunchbull (Matilda - Dahl): I was seriously afraid of Miss Trunchbull as a kid. Ugly, mean and abusive, Miss Trunchbull still gives me the creeps.

10. Napoleon (Animal Farm - Orwell): In my mind, the character who represents everything that is wrong with dictatorships.


The Diving Bell and The Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby

After 43 year old Jean-Dominique suffered massive stroke he was only left with the ability to blink his left eye. He was a victim of "locked-in syndrome" - aware and awake but unable to move or communicate because of complete paralysis. Then he wrote this book, choosing each letter of each word by blinking his eye.
It's a simple enough system. You read off the alphabet until, with a blink of my eye, I stop you at the letter to be noted.
Bauby's alphabet was ordered differently than the traditional a,b,c. Rather, he used an order that began with the most frequently used letter and digressed to end with the least used letter. In French, this begins with e,s,e. The amount of effort that went into writing this memoir makes it even more powerful, poignant and unique.

The title for The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon) is an analogy Bauby uses for his condition. "A giant invisible diving bell holds [his] whole body prisoner... and [his] mind takes flight like a butterfly." While parts of this memoir are incredibly heartbreaking, the overall tone is hopeful. It is less a lament of Bauby's paralyzed state and more a celebration of the freedom his conscious mind offers. When reliving favorite moments of his past and creating alternate lives, Bauby uses rich descriptions that captures the power of imagination.

This is one of those books that makes you put your life in perspective and reconsider your priorities, both touching and life-affirming.

Publisher: Vintage, 1997


Amazon Thinks I'm Fat.

Today's Recommendations For You

Here's a daily sample of items recommended for you. Click here to see all recommendations.

Dear Amazon, 

Are you trying to tell me something? I haven't looked at weight loss books ever, so I can't help but wonder why you are recommending them to me. Maybe you are worried I may put on a little winter weight. You're lucky I'm skinny, or I might consider these recommendations to be offensive. 

Please explain.



The Edible Woman - Margaret Atwood

I love Margaret Atwood. She is one of my top three favorite writers. That being said, I didn't love The Edible Woman as much as the other works of hers I have read. Of course the story was interesting and thick with irony and metaphor, but the "umph" that Atwood normally delivers was absent.

This novel is heavy in feminist themes and for me, certain parts even recalled Ibsen's A Doll House. The Edible Woman follows the life of a newly engaged twenty-something, Marian McAlpin. Marian's daily life is surrounded a traditional, consumer society. As Marian struggles to gain control of both her life and her identity, she not only loses her ability to eat, she also feels that she herself is the one being consumed. 
She was becoming more and more irritated by her body's decision to reject certain foods. She had tried to reason with it, and accused it of having frivolous whims, had coaxed it and tempted it, but i was adamant; and if shes used force it rebelled.
To be fair this was Atwood's first published novel so she was just warming up. I should also bear in mind that this novel was written in the 60's and it's themes were much more relevant and perhaps more risque than they are today. The concept of the novel is intriguing and had I not known what Atwood is capable of I probably would have liked The Edible Woman more. But for me, it took awhile for the story to get going and once it did, the denouement was a little lack-luster. 

Publisher: Little, Brown, 1969


Ethan Frome - Edith Wharton

If I were to review this novel using one word, I would say "bleak". After the last novel I read, I wanted to read something a little more uplifting. I picked up Ethan Frome - my first Edith Wharton - thinking it was probably a love story that would leave me smiling. Well, it was a love story, but it is one of the saddest love stories I have read in quite awhile. It's a very beautiful novel, but also incredibly heartbreaking. Since the novel is told in flashback form, the reader knows from the start Wharton does not offer a happy ending. Because of this device each page seems a little heavier, ultimately delivering a deep and emotional punch.

This is a novel about tragic longing and reckless passion. For me, what stood out the most in Wharton's work (besides the beautifully tragic ending) was her winter imagery. She writes of winter in a way that actually makes me yearn for snow, but look forward to Spring:
But at sunset the clouds gathered again, bringing an earlier night, and the snow began to fall straight and steadily from a sky without wind, in a soft universal diffusion more confusing than the gusts and eddies of the morning. It seemed to be a part of the thickening darkness, to be the winter night itself descending on us layer by layer.
The frozen, sparse landscape mirrors the state of Ethan's heart and also works to create a sense of oppressiveness throughout the novel, an oppressiveness that effects each character in the novel: 
He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface.
I really enjoyed this novel. Wharton is a fantastic writer and I look forward to reading more of her work. 

Publisher: Scribner, 1911

They're in my head, but who knows where!

Margaret Atwood interview with The Paris Review, 1990

Yet you write as if you’ve lived through violence.

But I write as if I’ve lived a lot of things I haven’t lived. I’ve never lived with cancer. I’ve never been fat. I have different sensibilities. In my critical work I’m an eighteenth-century rationalist of some kind. In my poetry I’m not at all. There’s no way of knowing in advance what will get into your work. One collects all the shiny objects that catch the fancy—a great array of them. Some of them you think are utterly useless. I have a large collection of curios of that kind, and every once in a while I need one of them. They’re in my head, but who knows where! It’s such a jumble in there. It’s hard to find anything.

Read the entire interview at The Art of Fiction no. 121.


Top Ten Books That Made Me Cry

Hosted by The Broke and The Bookish , this week's Top Ten Tuesday will detail books that made be tear up. Let me preface this post by saying books don't often make me cry. It takes something truly touching or heartbreaking, for a book to make me cry. However, considering I did come up with ten books that made me cry, maybe that's not the case.

1. Zeitoun (Eggers): Probably the saddest book I've read in awhile, not only is this story a source of despair, it also enraged me. This story defines heartbreak, and outlines serious problems in our country.

2. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Beah) : An account of the life and mind of a 12-year-old boy soldier trying to survive in Sierra Leone's civil war.

3. The Time Traveler's Wife (Niffenegger): The love story that gets me every time. I've read it 4 times and without fail, I'm a mess upon completion. A mess.

4. The Diary of a Young Girl (Frank): I'm in love with Anne Frank's story. In college I took a class that was devoted to studying her diary and it's historical implications. Then when I was in Amsterdam I went to see her annex. It's so heartbreaking and heartfelt I can't help but cry.

5. Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck): Lennie!

6. What Is the What (Eggers): Based on the life of a boy soldier and the hardships he faced after moving to the US.

7. Les Misérables (Hugo): Both the book and the play are quite depressing. I mean the title says it all.

8. Cry, the Beloved Country (Paton): A moving and tragic fictional account of apartheid in South Africa.

9. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Safran Foer): I just finished this yesterday. It's amazing - making me laugh out loud and cry. The descriptions at the end are so beautiful but utterly heartbreaking. I want to give Oskar the biggest hug.

10. Frankenstein (Shelly): No, this book did not make my Top Ten Scariest Books list. It didn't scare me at all. Rather, it made me feel awful. The poor monster, he's so misunderstood. No, I didn't actually cry, but I was really upset.

Honorable Mentions: The Bluest Eye (Morrison), For One More Day (Albom)

There it is; racial injustices and children getting hurt get me every time.

Congratulations to Dave Eggers, who has made me cry twice so far. Two for two isn't bad, hence my hesitation to start A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (it's been sitting on my nightstand TBR for ages).


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer

I'm not quite sure how to review this book, except to say I loved it to pieces. Foer's novel is very post-modern, so it is hard to give it a traditional review. This is a book about making sense of the world around you, coping with loss and learning how to live. 
It was one of the the best days of my life, a day during which I lived my life and didn't think about my life at all.
As I mentioned, it's hard to offer a traditional review of this novel, so I am going to offer a list of thoughts:
  • Oskar Schell, the novel's protagonist, is one of the most interesting, hilarious and lovable characters I have read since Nichole Krauss' Leo Gursky (The History of Love). 
  • This book has more passages that I underlined and circled than any book I've read to date. Foer's prose is beautiful and truthful, and speaks to the reader in a way that makes the ideas very relatable. 
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is my favorite piece of fiction I have read so far this year.
  • This is one of those books that reminded me why I love books so much. 
Some of my favorite passages:
"I've thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it."
"sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living."
"I thought, it's a shame that we have to live, but it's a tragedy that we get to live only one life, because if I'd had two lives, I would have spent one of them with her."
"It made me start to wonder if there were other people so lonely and so close. I thought about "Eleanor Rigby." It's true, where do they all come from? And where do they all belong?"
"Sometimes I imagined stitching all of our little touches together. How many hundreds of thousands of fingers brushing against each other does it take to make love?"
"I regret that is takes a life to learn how to live"
All in all, I truly can't recommend this book enough.

Publisher: Mariner Books, 2005