Thursday, January 29, 2015


This was an interesting week. I’m pretty sure these two books are as opposite as you can find in terms of just about everything measurable. It made for a nice contrast. Cookie season is still upon us, so I can’t waste my weekend snuggled under the covers next to a roaring fire while the kids do, well, who cares, really, because I’d be warm and reading. Alas, responsible parenting is still required for yet one more weekend. So I ask you all, in my stead, to stay indoors and do what I want to do, while I stand outside and try not to freeze my bits off doing what my daughter wants me to do.

#14 – The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
Recommended by: MF

I have never read this book. Somehow, it slipped through the cracks of my childhood and that of my own children. So the other night, I read it to my son. He sat next to me, entranced, listening to every word. He is still very much attached to his lovey and while reading the story, it made me think of all the stuffed rabbits, lambs, mice, and pigs that are now grey, tattered lumps with bits and bobs missing that have been so well loved that their gender, color, and even species have long since been rubbed away. It also made me think of Toy Story and how all those toys want is to be loved. I’m not sure what my son thought of it. He has a lovey of his own and while a blanket can really only ever be a blanket, for him, it has always been so much more. His blanket has always been Real.(As an aside, the person who recommended this is an old high school buddy, who back then, dressed in head to toe black. I'm amused that the hard outer shell hid a softy, gooey interior.) 

#15 – The Family – Mario Puzo
Recommended by: AR

For whatever reason, I am drawn to the history of the Borgia family. He was a 14th century pope who enjoyed women, wine, and using his three children as pawns in the game of politics. I can never get enough of them. This was pulp fiction at its finest. The author wrote The Godfather so he knows about families that deal in deceit and deception. Pope Alexander was not your modern religious leader. In fact, there is a hilarious section where the pope seeks to reform the church and is horrified, I mean, downright aghast, that anyone would even think of making the clergy give up their concubines. The nerve! I believe the logic was that if clergy can’t have wives, then surely they should have whores. “What joy will God feel if we feel none?” What a clever way to excuse overindulgence! This book is overwrought, overdramatic, and over the top in ways modern fiction isn’t – and while it takes a bit of getting used to as a reader, it does allow for some howlers of dialogue. 

For example,
“You have ripped the heart from my chest and severed a bond that was tied to the heavens.”

This great line was how Lucrezia Borgia yelled at her father (the pope) for allowing her brother (with whom she has an incestuous relationship) to murder her (second) husband. 

This is not serious literature; this is a paperback at its finest. There are lots of fiction and non-fiction books about the time of the Borgia’s and even a miniseries (which may well have been filmed in the 1400s, the lighting was so bad), but I say start with the classic interpretation as told by the master of family intrigue.

(While I am slightly worried that one of my darling SILs recommended this book, I will sleep well knowing that I never drink the wine anyway.) 

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Dirty Dozen

It was my first full week of work and the first full week of Girl Scout season and I didn’t think I would get to finish a book, let alone find time to write about it. But I did. So I will.

#12 – House of Sand and Fog – Andre Dubus III
Recommended b: AA

This is the description on the back of the book and I couldn't say it any better:
In this riveting work of almost unbearable suspense, three fragile yet determined people become dangerously entangled in a relentlessly escalating crisis.

I have read books where I fly through the pages, rushing to see what happens next. I have read books where I am mildly interested and just want to get to the end. I have read books where every word is a jewel, every sentence a perfect necklace that I want to admire. But this is the first book I have ever read where I could hardly turn the page because I almost couldn’t bear to read what happened next.

I loved this book.

Every character was so fully realized, so clearly written, that you couldn’t help but understand their motivations – even while cringing at some of the choices that they make. I normally hate when characters make poor choices. I have put books down because the characters were stupid and did stupid things. Yet, somehow, with these characters, I could empathize with their motivation. That is some damn good writing. This book is just breathtaking. The location is a fully realized part of the story. The house everyone is fighting over is its own character, its subtle presence watching over all. I’ve read books that have changed narrator and without being told, the reader would never have known the difference. In this book, each character has a different inflection, syntax, and style. There is never any doubt who is speaking. There is never any doubt on what motivates them.

I realize that I am talking about this book like I am writing an essay for an English lit class, but so few writers miss the basics and just coast along on story, that when you find an author that manages to nail every detail of plot, location, and character, it’s like winning the Kentucky Derby of reading. This book was already on my shelf before the 40/40 project began, but who knows how long it would have sat there, languishing, collecting dust. I’m so glad it was recommended to me. I have great respect for the person who did so and even more now that I know she has excellent taste in books. 

If you haven’t read it, do so. Immediately.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sunrise, Sunset

A life changing event took place this week.

I got a job.

An actual, honest-to-goodness, must show up every day at a regular time and do things kind of job. For the past decade, I’ve been a freelance editor. It’s a good gig, but not even remotely steady. It is feast or famine. There are just too many people willing to work for beer money, and while I am not against honest work for honest pay, if I wanted just enough extra dough to buy a case of Rolling Rock, I’d take my time machine to college where I wrote papers for $10 a pop. I’m a grown up now. At the very least, I want enough money for some artisanal root beer. I’ve also filled my time subbing at a preschool and while that was Heaven on a Goldfish cracker, the staff could only be out sick so many times before it would have become obvious that I was poisoning them. I have filled in all the gaps with volunteering and reading, which, while emotionally gratifying, are not exactly paying the Barnes and Noble bill. (Speaking of which, I actually calculated how much money I spent on books last year and it was terrifying.)

While my new job has nothing to do with my career (such as it was), it does have everything to do with being a parent: great location, great hours, and great wardrobe. Scrubs! Considering the sartorial nightmare that is my closet and my complete lack of fashion sense, this last part is a godsend. I’ve got a desk with a big window, a quiet room to get work done, and lots of free snacks I am going to do my damnedest to avoid. However, I can’t read at work. I have a feeling that would be a really big no-no. Hence, there will be a shortening of my reading time. Sad, I know. Have no fear though – I’d still much rather read than parent, cook, clean, or launder, so I’ll find the time regardless.

#11 – The Paris Wife – Paula McLain
Recommended by: DM and JS

What a sad, heartbreaking book. It is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to his first wife, told through her eyes. It kills you to read about their love, the first mad urgency of it through to the final gasping days of pain and betrayal. He is such a passionate man, but fueled by inner demons that cannot be tamed by alcohol, or anything other than the rush of writing something new and important. She just wants to love him and be loved by him. It is one of the love stories for the ages and really shows how love doesn’t always work. That loving one person isn’t always enough, even when it should be. The language really evokes the spirit of Hemingway and his writing, giving you a strong sense of his character as well as those who surrounded him. I almost wish I had time to reread The Sun Also Rises to really see how one was influenced by the other. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Finally at Five

I only read one book on the list this week and that is because I needed to cleanse my palate after the Jodi Picoult fiasco. A quiet interlude with a 785-page Pulitzer Prize winner did the trick nicely. Funny story though, it turns out the Picoult picker didn’t even remember the book! It was a beach read that she instantly forgot and thus, was very, very amused by my response. So, look here people –double check your picks. If you can’t remember what about the books made you recommend it, then please for all that is good and holy in this world, take it off the list! I may even allow substitutions (but no additions.) There are a million books in this world. A dozen that I need to read for book club this year. There are 35 languishing on my to-be-read shelf (which is different than the ridiculously misnamed 40 by 40 shelf), and many others that will be published this year that I will covet. Life is too short to read a shitty book, especially since my reading time is about to get drastically curtailed. Make your books count!

This week, the fifth book on the list finally appeared in my mailbox with the proper sized fonts and margins. The author won a Pulitzer for another book (which I have previously read), so it was a good week for famous book awards.

#5 – The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout
Recommended by: SU

I didn’t particularly like this book. It was a relatively straight forward tale of family discord, but for some reason it just didn’t resonate with me. I didn’t really understand the motivation of the characters, their dialogue was jarring, and the present day drama just sort of tapered off without a real resolution. The entire book was without resolution, really, and while I understand the author’s choices and that they reflect how little resolution there is in life, it frustrated me as a reader. Things happened, or they didn’t, people did things for questionable reasons or almost no reason at all –and it all just left me sort of cold. I can see where it would sing to others though. The writing is clean, the way the author pulls back and examines how every individuals sees the world differently are really interesting, and the differences between small town living and the big city, are just solid enough not to be trite. I don’t know if I would necessarily recommend this book, but I wouldn’t steer you away from it. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Why, Jodi Picoult, Why?

As I wait for book number five to arrive, I found myself able to read the entirety of one person's pick, all in one week. This makes for a very tidy blog post. The good thing is that for the most part, my friend has excellent taste and I quite enjoyed my week in her head. The bad news is that the final book of the week almost sent me to jail. Onwards!

#7 – The Bridges of Madison County – Robert James Waller
Recommended by: GI

This book should not be read on a crowded beach, or in a house with restless children, or on the train to work because you will miss your stop, and forget your children, and get sunburn. This book is short and can easily be read in two uninterrupted hours. If you give it that time it will reward you beyond measure. This is a love story for the ages, but what I took from it is that true love does not conquer all. In fact, what makes true love so strong is when both people realize that the only way to truly love the other one completely is to give each other up completely. They can have four days, but no more. Running away together would corrupt it, corrupt them. The adage, it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, is true, but also trite. Take two hour when no one is home, when you have nothing but privacy, when the clock isn’t ticking, and errands can be ignored, and revel in the love story of Robert and Francesca. Bathe in it. Drink it in slowly. Cry if you must, though I didn’t, and think of what you would do for your family, for your own husband, and your own children, and your own heart.   

#8 – I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
Recommended by: GI

What is most startling about this book is that an autobiography of life as a Southern black girl in the 1930s doesn’t seem like such a long time ago. Is racism still rampant? Check. Are rape victims still being treated as criminals, particularly if they go after a well-respected black man? Check. Are high schools still focusing on black boys as athletes instead of as intellectuals? Check. Maya Angelou lived during a time when black men couldn’t safely walk the streets at night, especially on nights when Joe Louis won boxing matches. Has anything really changed today? Ask the people in Ferguson. If you disagree, read this book.

#9 – Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak
Recommended by: GI

If you have kids, you own a copy of this book. I read this book to my children countless times. Back in the day when all my friends were having baby showers, this book was always wrapped somewhere on the table, either in pink, blue, or androgynous yellow. This book only has 338 words in total. Some pages have no words at all. None of the words are very long, or very hard, or very difficult to sound out loud, but every single word counts. Each page is beautifully illustrated and adds so much richness to the story. There is little I can say about this classic that hasn’t be said, but if it has been a while, I encourage you to read it tonight (if you own a copy) or the next time you hit the library or book store (if you don’t.) The story of Max and his wild things never, ever gets old.  
#10 – Leaving Time – Jodi Picoult
Recommended by: GI

All of the books in this post were recommended by the same person. I love and adore this person. She’s awesome. Which is why it makes me so sad to have to kill her, but that is truly the only punishment that fits the crime of making me read this book. I cannot explain why I hated this book without spoiling it.  This is a conundrum. Suffice to say that when this book was written, reason and logic went on vacation, plot went on a bender, and character development took a long hot bath. The worst part about this book is that it could have been good. The actual whodunit part had a ghost of a chance of being excellent, and then, well. And then it wasn’t. This is the first and last book I will ever read by this author. For those of you who read it and disagree, I can’t wait to fight with you about it. I do love a good book argument, but I warn you, I’m going to come out swinging on this one. (And I’m sure the first one will be with GI. Let’s do lunch!)