Friday, January 30, 2015

Hey, guess what? Dresses!!

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag

3 words: magical realism, sprightly, happy

Well, this thing is pure delight. It’s the book version of a cappuccino: light, frothy, energetic, and pleasant.

It’s chick lit for grown-ups, filled with likeable characters and near-misses and happy endings.

The main character, Cora, is a practical-minded scientist who fails to recognize that Walt, the mild-mannered bookshop owner she’s known since they were children, is in love with her.

Cora’s grandmother, Etta, owns a dress shop and has the power to sew dresses that make women’s wishes come true. Only sometimes the wishes take a stray turn, and then we get ourselves a fine little story.

The stories of the four sets of couples intertwine nicely, and their path is a twisty, winding one that is enjoyable to walk.

This book reminded me pleasantly of:
The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean -- because both are chick lit with a dress shop setting and the connection between granddaughter and grandmother

A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff -- also because of the British-chick-lit-in-the-dress-shop thing

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen -- because both are romantic magical realism novels

Also: pairs well with a cappuccino. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Everybody writes

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley

3 words: smart, cheerful, encouraging

Of course you don’t. 

But of course you also knew I’d remind you. I got your back that way.

Well, Everybody Writes is similiarly binge-worthy. 

Handley’s voice is friendly and welcoming, and she’s there coaching you and cheering you on as you flail away at the keyboard.

Here’s the cool thing about this book: She tells you all kinds of ways to suck less as a writer. And while you know it’s gonna be work, she makes you want to do it anyway. And she breaks it down into friendly little pieces, so it’s manageable.

My favorite chapter—the one that will forever stay with me: “Embrace the Ugly First Draft.”

It took first place, even after its preceding chapter (“Organize. Relax, You’ve Got This”) had been awarded the gold medal only minutes earlier.

That “Organize” chapter gives us permission to do the easy thing—just jot ideas down on paper and then pull them together later. Just spew it out, almost like brainstorming. What a relief! (Seriously.)

Then she motivates you (oh, so gently; oh, so cheerfully) to become a better writer.

I’m actually gonna buy a copy of this book. That’s how good it is.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Excellent essays

In Book Bingo Blackout, one of our squares is a “Book of Essays.”

Lark mentioned that this category might be a challenging one, so I thought I’d throw together a list of sure-bet books of essays. 

Here goes…

First, here are the essays by journalists:

The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People by Susan Orlean
Another master writer of the biographical profile

Any essay collection by Anna Quindlen. Try:
Thinking Out Loud: On the Personal, the Political, the Public and the Private
Living Out Loud
Loud and Clear
Essays on modern women’s lives… and much more

Next, the essays by authors:

Thurber Country: A Collection of Pieces About Males and Females, Mainly of Our Own Species by James Thurber
Dude was a master of satire

Any essay collection by Anne Lamott. Try:
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace
An irreverent but hopeful look at faith, by a lovely writer

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Essays as memoir, by the great novelist

Slouching Towards Gomorrah by Joan Didion
Essays on America in the 1960s

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
A collection by the essayist who died days after her graduation from Yale
Any essay collection by Meghan Daum. Try:
My Misspent Youth
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion
A stunningly sharp Gen X essayist

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell
Another excellent Gen X essayist; she’s also a history nerd, so it’s all good

Any essay collection by Nora Ephron. Try:
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections
Wallflower at the Orgy
The Most of Nora Ephron
The smartest, funniest essays I’ve ever read about being a woman

Finally, the comedians:

If you have a favorite comedian, check to see if s/he has written a book. If so, probably it’s essays. Here are some other suggestions:

An essay collection by Jim Gaffigan. Try:
Food: A Love Story
Dad Is Fat
Perfectly hilarious observations about food and family life

From the brain that created 30 Rock

Yes Please by Amy Poehler
From the brain that created Parks and Recreation

Any essay collection by David Sedaris. Try:
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls
Holidays on Ice
Me Talk Pretty One Day Naked
When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
The witty observer of the absurd

While I'm skittish about short stories, I adore (adore!) essays. I think it's because short stories end too quickly, and I want more time with the characters. But with essays, it's usually just the perfect amount of time to spend with that idea. Then it's on to something new and equally fascinating and delightful. 

And essays allow the voice of the author to shine through, and when the author has a distinct voice, that's a gorgeous thing.