Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Corrections

Imagine sitting down at your favorite fancy restaurant, ordering all of your favorite foods, the crispy fried calamari appetizers, the sourdough rolls and butter, the salad with the sweetened pecans and goat cheese, the 14 oz. juicy steak....medium all the way through, the potatoes au gratin, asparagus, chocolate mousse, a latte. Imagine your eyes being bigger than your stomach yet eating your way through this delightfully delicious meal, getting fuller and fuller yet not being able to help taking one more bite...just one more bite. So stuffed, you're ready to burst but you want one more bite, it's such a fantastic meal. Such is the experience of reading "The Corrections", such is the delight in savoring every page, even when I was too tired late into the night to close the book...I'd go for one more page and then one more after that, and just one more after that one, and even though I didn't want it to end, now that I've finished it, I know it will stick with me for a long only the very best stories can. As Andrew said, "Perfection".

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Corrections

This was great!

Who remembers the scandal Jonathan Franzen caused back when this book was published? Oprah chose it for her book club, and Franzen was all like, "Okay, but you're not putting your Oprah's Book Club logo on my book cover because that is not the audience I was writing for," and then America was all like, "WHAT?! Let's throw things at this ungrateful, pretentious author. How DARE he try to preserve some control and prevent the pigeonholing of his own novel?! What. A. Snob."

It was a great practice run for Americans who were just about enjoy voting for Bush over Gore (what a nerd!) and Bush over Kerry (what a bore!), supporting an unsupportable war, and choosing things like his preference for Dijon and arugula as reasons to steer clear of Barack Obama. And making hateful disdain for education and excellence fashionable.

Reading this book is bizarre, because it was written and published before September 11, 2001. There is no mention of W. None of that had happened. And yet the book is startlingly familiar - it's, on the one hand, an intimate look at an America that disappeared shortly after the book's publication. On the other hand, it's a prescient dagger to the heart. Politics aside, this book is also full of gut-wrenching observations on family, work, and the pursuit of happiness in America. I sometimes had to put it down to give myself a break, but that's okay. Mostly I couldn't stop reading it.

I loved it! This is the best fiction I've read in a long time. I feel energized.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Corrections

And another form of perfection...

Monday, February 15, 2010


Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal by Julie Metz

Did you do a double-take? Expected a book cover, didn't you? Well, behold 'perfection' in its purest form since the book by Julie Metz is not. Julie's husband, Henry, dies suddenly in
his 40's of cardiac arrest. Julie is left a single parent to their 6 yr. old daughter, Liza, and is grieving so deeply for her perfect husband and perfect marriage that she leaves the task of cleaning out his office to her friends who discover that Henry's been a bad boy all throughout their perfect and loving 13-year marriage. 5 affairs to be exact, one with a close friend and neighbor. When Julie finally snaps out of her grief, she goes on a mad rampage and contacts every single one of Henry's women and when she snaps out of her anger, she finds a boyfriend and lives happily ever after. I was really into this book during the first half when she was biting the heads off of the other women but it fell short towards the second half when I
started to feel that I was back in "Eat, Pray, Love" Land. "Oh, look at me, listen to me, watch me, pay attention to me." Gets a little tiring. But since this is a reader's blog, I will now include the picture of the pretty book cover.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Frank Lloyd Wright and the women who adored him...

"The Women" by T.C. Boyle

This is the third book that I've read by T.C. Boyle. No doubt that he knows how to spin a story but this one was a tedious, wordy read. It didn't pick up speed until the last 100 pages (of 451) and by then, I was getting frustrated, but the subject matter was of interest to me and I did like the way Boyle executed it. A fictional Japanese apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright named Tadashi Sato narrates the story of the 4 women who obsessively loved Mr. Wrighto-San (as he refers to the master), working backwards in time from the last wife and ending, tragically, with the murder of his 2nd wife. His first wife, Kitty, is mentioned in brief. Although this is a fascinating story, I'd suggest a better rendering in "Loving Frank: A Novel" by Nancy Horan. And if you're looking for a T.C. Boyle that races with excitement, read "Tortilla Curtain". Much better than this one, in my opinion.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Anne of Windy Poplars

"Well, all I hope is it won't be a case of marrying in haste and repenting at leisure."

I thought I would do one entry for the rest of the Anne series. But that would have been mammoth. So I split 'em up.

I'm including a list of the books, in order of when they take place, along with their original publication dates. I reported on Anne of the Island before on this blog; since then I finished the rest of the series:

Anne of Green Gables (1908)
Anne of Avonlea (1909)
Anne of the Island (1915)
Anne of Windy Poplars (1936)
Anne's House of Dreams (1917)
Anne of Ingleside (1939)
Rainbow Valley (1919)
Rilla of Ingleside (1920)

I did a little bit of research this time around and found that my two least favorite Anne books are the ones that were actually written out of the chronology of the characters' lives, long after the initial series was finished. It explains a lot. Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside are the books most guilty of treating Anne Shirley in a way that I find to be too nostalgic, too obviously foisting her classic traits on the reader and too liberally abandoning the narrative of the books to place Anne in wacky matchmaking schemes and/or hilarious misunderstandings in which she eventually wins friends and fans. And the stakes in these two later books just don't seem high enough, with a couple of exceptions in Anne of Ingleside. At times, they seem like an indulgence for lovers of the earlier Anne books. Imagine if, fifteen years from now, J.K. Rowling wrote another Harry Potter book that took place between books two and three and was mostly about entertaining and inconsequential bits from Ron's and Hermione's summer vacations or Harry's journals from Privet Drive. Or something.

Anne of Windy Poplars (#4/1936) covers the three years of Anne's long-distance engagement. Her fiance is in medical school, and she is boarding as the principal of a school in another town on P.E.I. A lot of the book is presented in the form of letters from Anne to Gilbert - it alternates between her first-person narrative (the only time in the series we get to experience Anne's unfiltered point of view) and the normal close third person. The big stories are Anne's struggle with the clannish Pringle family's grudge against her, and Anne's attempts to break through to the unhappy and unfriendly Katherine Brooke, a fellow teacher. Katherine Brooke's story has always been a favorite of mine; it's a good example of Montgomery's willingness to explore characters and situations that aren't as sparkly and blessed as Anne's own world. Though, in most cases with these less fortunate characters, all turns out well in the end, it usually takes some sort of major trial or agony or revelation or leap of faith to bring about the happy ending. This book has some great parts (and, really, no book is a waste that introduces Rebecca Dew to the world), but it does include a lot of that tiresome Adventures With Anne business that I just don't enjoy very much. Seriously, how many people's lives does she have to improve by happy accident and well-intentioned nosiness?! If you ever want to know which of these stories I still love in spite of myself, just ask. That's another entry.

Rainbow Valley


He looked exactly like a great black tomcat, that he did. I could never abide such a man in the pulpit every Sunday.

Rainbow Valley (#7/1919) was originally published after Anne's House of Dreams. At the opening of this book, the Ingleside children are all older and more interesting. Even better, there is a fresh bunch of characters that are, without exception, thoroughly enjoyable. Glen St. Mary has gotten a new minister, John Meredith, a widower with four young children. He is a highly special minister but an absent-minded man and father, and his children run wild. But of course they're golden at heart and somehow all of their misdeeds are hilarious and spring from honest intentions. They become best friends with the Blythe children, etc. Rainbow Valley has lots of little adventures, but it also has a larger story that threads throughout and deepens the experience for the reader. The Merediths become just as important as the Blythes have been - indeed, they play the larger role in this book. The central conflict centers on John Meredith and his slow struggle with being a better father and recovering from the death of his wife. Montgomery also hints at what is to come, as these children come of age on the eve of WWI. Judging by the publication dates, she wrote this book as the war was ending, and then Rilla of Ingleside after the war was over. Rainbow Valley simultaneously grounds and enshrines just what all the young men will be fighting for when they enlist in a few years' time. Montgomery's dedication reads:
To the memory of Goldwin Lapp, Robert Brookes, and Morley Shier, who made the supreme sacrifice that the happy valleys of their home land might be kept sacred from the ravage of the invader.

Anne of Ingleside


"I have never denied," said Rebecca Dew, taking her well-baked feet out of the oven, "that while we should not forget the Higher Things of Life good food is a pleasant thing in moderation."

Anne of Ingleside (#6/1939) seems rather obviously intended as a loving peek into the previously skipped material of Anne's young motherhood. Like Anne of Windy Poplars, it has a lot of those stand alone stories that I don't really care for as part of the larger whole. In this case, the stories are split pretty evenly between Anne and the Ingleside Children. Anne gives birth to Rilla near the beginning of the book (after a cloyingly nostalgic visit with Diana Wright nee Barry back in Avonlea). Rilla is the last of six children. Each child gets at least one chapter in which to have an adventure and/or learn a lesson. The structure bores me, but there are definitely great moments here and there, as well as hilariously dead-on character dialogue and description. The older I get the more I love the gossipy passages Montgomery sometimes includes, with women talking about people in the town. Miss Cornelia, the man-and-Methodist-bashing lady with the heart of gold from Anne's House of Dreams, has now been married for years and has mellowed a bit, but not too much for our amusement. Susan Baker, the never-married live-in help of Anne's family, is another classic character. When writing from the children's points of view, Montgomery has that Harper Lee knack of remembering how your brain works when you're little. And I don't deny that I plan to use what I've learned about parenting in these books someday. Anne's relationship to her children and her views on raising them still feels fresh and smart. I can't lie.

Anne's House of Dreams


When I was a girl, twenty-five was the first corner. But you look quite young. Redheaded people always do.

Anne's House of Dreams (#5/1917) was originally published as the next chronicle of Anne after Anne of the Island. It picks up at the end of Anne and Gilbert's long engagement. They are married at Green Gables and move that night to a little rented house in Four Winds Harbor, a tiny coastal town sixty miles across the island. Four Winds is adjacent to Glen St. Mary, which is where Anne and Gilbert eventually settle in a home of their own. But for about two years after their marriage, they live in the "House of Dreams," isolated from any town and intimately tied to the ocean. This is one of my three favorite Anne books. It has gorgeous scenery, different (because of the ocean) from the quieter, inland natural landscape of the earlier Anne books. It introduces several characters who are some of my favorites of the series (Cornelia Bryant, Leslie Moore, Captain Jim). It has a spectacular! reveal near the end. And it launches Anne into adulthood, which is exciting to read and richer as I grow older myself. There is more darkness in this book than any of the others until Rilla of Ingleside. And I mean that in a good way.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Rilla of Ingleside


Jack Crawford says he is going to the war because he is tired of farming. I hope he will find it a pleasant change.

Rilla of Ingleside (#8/1920) picks up about eight years after Rainbow Valley's ending, with Anne's youngest daughter Rilla about to turn fifteen, totally unaware of the storm about to descend on the world. England declares war in one of the first chapters of the book, and Germany sues for peace in one of the last chapters. Rilla goes from fourteen to nineteen. These are four years which she, at the beginning of the book, says she expects to be the happiest and most exciting of her life. Instead she grows up. She raises a war baby (James Kitchener, she names him, but calls him Jims) by book, endures constant suspension and dread with millions of others as all three of her brothers and many of her playmates (and, of course, a love interest) enlist and go overseas. This book is very different from all the other Anne books, and I'd definitely recommend it to anyone interested in history or even anyone who is engaged with current events right now. There's a lot of text devoted to the characters' talk about the war - military strategies, political developments, philosophy, religion - grappling with how to endure what must be endured. Montgomery clearly carried heavy the weight of that war. It's evident in both this book and Rainbow Valley. The stakes are never far from the forefront. Meanwhile, there are laugh-out-loud moments and crying moments and practical parenting moments (I now know what to do if a baby has the "real croup" and I happen to have sulfur in the house). Of all the Anne books, this is the one I'd recommend to anyone who isn't interested in any of the other aspects of the books. This one feels like a perspective of history. And, thinking that she went back to write Anne of Ingleside in 1939, on the brink of the second World War, I have to forgive her for wanting to go back and spend more time with Anne's younger family, in the days before wars like that were thought possible.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Is This the Real Life?

For those of you who follow this author's blog posts religiously (pun!), you will undoubtedly recall that one of my goals this year was to read this particular classic. So, regardless of how many books I finish (and I sadly seem to be on pace for 40 again), I guess I fulfilled this particular goal. The two Rushdie books I had read previously (Midnight's Children and The Ground Beneath Her Feet) are amongst my favorite novels of all time, and I had been planning to read what I believe is considered his opus, the book for which the Muslim world threatened to kill him, for some time. My favorite thing about Rushdie's works is that he takes magical realism to a higher level than most...some really fantastical things (like a man turning into a hooved, horned, goat-visaged demon incarnate in the top flat of a London apartment building) are taken as reality and almost commonplace, while at the same time they are able to be read as metaphor, if that makes sense. A transformation like that, or the two protagonists surviving a plane crash, or the preponderance of dead people walking and talking in the novel, are clearly metaphorical and may not actually be happening, but if they are happening, they are simply a part of the world, and are accepted as par for the course of events for the characters they are happening to. Somehow, simultaneously, these are miraculous, life altering events in the book, while also being something that everyone accepts without question.

The Satanic Verses follows two men, two actors, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha. Gibreel, named for the angel (nee Gabriel), is the biggest star in India, most famous for playing religious figures in massive Bollywood productions, but gives it all up to follow Alleluia Cone, female conquerer of Mt. Everest, and the love of his life. Chamcha is an Indian who has made his life in London, and is most famous as being a "Man of 1,000 voices", his accents landing him the part of the main alien on a children's show. The two men happen to meet each other on an intercontinental flight from India back to London (Chamcha's home, and where Gibreel expects to find Allie), which is hijacked and subsequently blown up by Canadian extremists. Gibreel and Saladin fall through the air together and land on the coast of England together, unharmed, but changed. Gibreel begins to believe in dreams he's been long plagued by, dreams that he is the archangel Gibreel, dispensing advice and god's word to various Muslim prophets through the ages. Chamcha begins to sprout hair, hooves, and horns, and believes himself the walking embodiment of Shaitan, and Gibreel's nemesis. The book jumps back and forth between their present (post-London and post-transformation), their past (Chamcha's father in India, Gibreel's doomed love affair with a woman whose ghost will haunt him throughout the book), and the dreamscapes in which Gibreel is GIBREEL, angel (these passages most likely being responsible for the eventual fatwa) until it ends in tragedy and perhaps redemption, back in India.

I love Rushdie's writing. his books are long, full of digressions, philosophy, intertwining narratives, and meta-narrational asides, but they are beautiful written, funny, witty, pop cultural, and thought provoking. While I didn't love it as much as the previous two, perhaps because of how heavily it trafficked in Muslim and Hindu mythologies (which I find fascinating but am not particularly well-versed in, as opposed to the rock n roll and Greek mythologies of Ground Beneath Her Feet) it is an incredible novel, beginning to end. It also is now linked, not unfavorably, in my mind with another philosophy and mythology heavy, magically real, epic story: Lost. They both ask similar questions about miracles, survival, identity, the nature of evil, and fate vs. free will. I recommend both, obviously

Monday, February 1, 2010

And so but then ...... what is V.?

Is she a woman, a place, an idea, something that lurks in the shadows, in sewer systems, in history? Is V. a rat, a temptress, an island where dreams and colors coexist? Is V. the thing you spend your entire life looking for?

Thomas Pynchon's first novel, V., is about a quest of sorts, and about two men who find themselves in the middle of it. The first man, Benny Profane, a self-professed human yo-yo, has been bouncing around the country since his discharge from the Navy. No purpose. No real direction. Profane finds himself in New York City, 1956, and after a brief stint hunting alligators with a shotgun underneath the city, he becomes entangled with a group of bohemian young people who call themselves The Whole Sick Crew. The second man, Herbert Stencil, world adventurer and amateur spy, has also briefly settled into the comforts of The Crew. But only momentarily, for Stencil is on a mission. Ever since discovering his dead father's journal - and a specific line within: "There is more behind and inside V. than any of us had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she. God grant that I may never be called upon to write the answer, either here or in any official report." - Stencil has become obsessed with finding V.

So, that's the first narrative: Profane, Stencil, others, drinking, mythologizing, trying to figure everything out. Trysts with plastic surgeons, dentists with secrets, basically a fantastic sounding New York from a golden age of history. Pynchon then weaves a second narrative through it. This narrative spans an entire generation of time, from the late 1800s to the book's present, and is loosely woven together by Stencil's imagination, documents, and apparent clues as to the whereabouts, or whatabouts, of this elusive V. We travel to Egypt, Malta, the coast of Africa, get lost in dense plots of murder and intrigue, confessions, fever dreams. And as the book progresses, the two narratives inch closer and closer together, until finally, they meet, at the "V" point, so to speak.

This book is brilliant. TIME had a particular line from their review that's been resonating in my brain all day: "In this sort of book, there is no total to arrive at. Nothing makes any waking sense. But it makes a powerful, deeply disturbing dream sense ... What does it mean? Who, finally, is V.? Few books haunt the waking or the sleeping mind, but this is one. Who, indeed?"

And I think I'll leave it at that.