Friday, September 12, 2014

Re-reading can be weird

This one is odd, guys.

It’s nothing new to re-read a book and experience it differently. That happens all the time. It’s part of the wonder of re-reading, for Pete's sake. 

But this time, I’m struck by something new. 

The first time I read The Sisters Brothers (Patrick deWitt’s marvelous historical Western noir mash-up), I was struck by the humor that infused the book and leavened it amidst all the violence. 

This time around, I’m all about the pathos. This book is breaking my heart.

It’s still charming me with its deceptively straightforward prose and wry humor and storyline of a person who wants to quit the violence of his day job. But the pain suffered by the characters (all of them!) is real and sometimes wrenching.

The cover of my paperback quotes the Irish Times: “So good, so funny and so sad.”

Yes. This time around, I’m getting all three of those things.

So here’s the weird part. When I first read the book back in 2011, part of my life was a cesspool of suck. (Yeah, we don’t talk about these things on the blog. But there it is.) And when I read the book then, I mined it for the humor. Heaven knows I needed it.

This time around, I am happy in every way a person can possibly be. (I hesitate to say that out loud.* But there it is.) And so now I’m reading this book and feeling the characters’ pain. 

It’s not like I’m looking for trouble to balance the happiness, but I think it’s like this: at this stage, I can handle their sadness and wish their lives were otherwise.

So the whole thing makes me wonder: Do we mine books for the minerals we lack at the time? 

*I know! It's not "out loud" if it's in writing. But sometimes, actually, it is.  

Friday, August 29, 2014

If you've been waiting with bated breath...

It’s book club update time!

But none of these titles will be any surprise, since I’ve already written about each of them in their own post.

Yeah, I know: anticlimactic.

But here they are anyway. And this is a fine little list, actually—all of these books led to zippy discussions.

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Next up: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (which I also already read and wrote about; there’s seriously no suspense around here whatsoever. If that’s what you’re looking for, go for a Gillian Flynn novel.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sometimes it sucks to be the wife

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin

3 words: biographical, personal, lyrical

Since I went through a spree of reading everything Anne Morrow Lindbergh ever published (except that horrid-sounding thing, The Wave of the Future) I approached this fictional account of her life with a wary eye. There are so many ways a novelist can get it wrong.

(photo: courtesy of the Library of Congress)
But Melanie Benjamin has seriously impressed me here.

Yes, this is a work of fiction, but yes, she has done the research and I feel like she’s speaking in Anne’s voice in this book. That’s high praise from an AML reader.

The thing I didn’t expect was to come away from this book detesting Charles Lindbergh.

Sure, I already had pushed away from him once I learned of his anti-Semitic speeches in the pre-WWII years. And then there were those other families of children he fathered. Dude had some serious flaws. And big, unpardonable ones, too.  

But this book put venom in my fangs.

I think it’s because fiction did that thing it goes so well: it made things more immediate, more personal, more felt. Even AML’s diaries and letters, which were edited before publication (by both AML and her husband) keep her at a greater distance.

So: this book surprised me with the depth and honesty of its characterization, and by the loveliness of the writing. I went in, expecting to emerge partway through, shaking my head. Instead, I was sorry when it ended, and I'm shaking my head in admiration. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reading more through self-trickery

Ever since I read The Happiness Project, I've been a fan of Gretchen Rubin

I'm on the mailing list for some of her e-newsletters, and in a recent issue, she wrote an article called "13 Tips for Getting More Reading Done.

And I have to confess: I was of two minds when I read that title. 

Mind #1: I love tips! I love reading! Bring me this list!

Mind #2: Seriously? I could write that list. 

And both minds were right. 

I do all of the things on the list (some more successfully than others; until very recently, I struggled mightily with #5: "Get calm.")

But she didn't include my secret weapon, which is: Read while cooking. And I'm not talking cookbooks here, people. I'm talking about scrambling eggs with a novel in your other hand. I'm talking about listening to an audiobook while chopping vegetables. I'm talking: sneak a half a page while you nuke the leftovers. 

It may not result in the finest of cuisine (believe me: that's not what emerges from my kitchen), but you'll have the story to distract you and the delight of knowing that you pulled one over on the universal forces that dictate that you must spend time toiling over a hot stove. 

Talk about happiness... 

Friday, August 15, 2014

(Science) Fiction

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
3 words: character-driven, brutal, thought-provoking
The characters, people. This book is all about the completely engaging characters.

That’s the first thing to know about The Sparrow.  

Because the second thing? It might make you think you don’t want to read it.

Here it is: This book’s science fiction, guys. The completely engaging characters travel to another planet.

Have you just tuned out? If so, come back here right now and I mean it.

I’m not a natural reader of science fiction, and this book has been on my top 10 list. That’s how character-driven it really is. Plus, it’s got a plot. (See: they travel to another planet.)

This is a book of ideas and faith and questioning one’s faith and love and friendship and courage.

It’s also one heck of a great book discussion choice.

It’s the story of a Jesuit mission to a newly discovered planet, and how the whole thing goes terribly wrong. And only one person—Father Emilio Sandoz—survives, though he’s a wrecked man when he returns to Earth with his faith and reputation destroyed.

The story unfolds gradually, told through flashbacks to the joyful days when the crew was formed and began their journey.

This novel is revelatory.

Don’t read it alone. Make sure a friend reads it, too, so you can discuss it right away.