Thursday, September 30, 2010
Hey, Andy? Remember when you said these things about this book? I don't want to discount your feelings in any way, but I think you may have been biased as a result of having small or perhaps even a large crush on this lady, the book's author. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame you. I, in fact, am also drawn to her quirky adorableness - that fearless creative spirit, those huge eyes, that curly puff of hair, that bold rejection of quotation marks as an indicator of spoken dialogue. I would say that 95% of the charm of No One Belongs Here More Than You is, in fact, the charm of Miranda July. Her voice as a writer is, as you might imagine, quirky and adorable. It is not, I would say, a versatile voice. The stories in this collection from the point of view of, say, a teenaged girl or a sixty year old man are utterly unconvincing. The stories about a kind of weird woman living alone and thinking about life? Magic. My favorite one of all was "The Swim Team."
I think if this exact same short story collection was penned by someone other than Miranda July I wouldn't have liked it. But she is an appealing person and so the stories have an appealing quality, even though the more I think about them I didn't like very many of the individual stories that much. Still, because of Madamoiselle July, there was something appealing about the experience. Strange how that happens. I also think I might have found these stories to be more compelling if I read them separately in a lot of magazines over a period of time, instead of all back to back where they all sound a lot a like and that quirky adorableness starts to feel redundant instead of imaginative.
It is, however, such a pleasant moment in time, to be sitting on the bus, or on the couch, or in a coffee shop, and pull this volume out of a tattered satchel, clutch this cover and having a quirky, adorable woman remind you, on a backdrop of highlighter pink so there is no mistaking the urgency, that no one belongs here more than you. Affirm, affirm, affirm.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World is a thoughtfully collected anthology of essays all centering around one question: If our world is facing an imminent environmental catastrophe, how do I live my life right now? Dozens of writers, poets, CEOs, activists, scientists, from Alice Walker to Michael Pollan to Howard Zinn and everyone in between, weigh in on the topic.
The result is an inspiring, humbling, thought-provoking tool kit. It is an unflinching look at the ways in which humanity needs to change in order to not completely destroy ourselves and everything all around us, but it always bursting of hope, optimism, and a celebration of the amazing world that we are fortunate enough to live in. The voices included in the anthology are extremely diverse - some I agreed with, some I did not, but all provide a unique and thoughtful perspective on an all-pervading problem. Regardless of you personal or political values, there is a voice in here for you.
Hope Beneath Our Feet is a book that I will undoubtedly visit and re-visit and re-re-visit. I already can't wait to read it again, this time attacking it with a highlighter, circling passages, and jotting down notes and ideas. It's the kind of book that makes you want to get up and do something, and then actually gives you a wide range of tools to follow that urge. Plus, beyond just being helpful and inspiring in its own right, each essay has a short paragraph biography about the person writing it, opening the door to follow up, read more on the topics you connected with the most, and in some cases even directly contact that individual.
This book is indispensable. I hope you all read it.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
I couldn't put this book down. Not because I enjoyed it. Au contraire, mes amis. I couldn't put it down because I simply could not wait to be finished with it so I didn't have to read it anymore. But I guess it's real famous and won a Nobel Prize for Literature and all that, so maybe if you're really into reading about the pointlessness of human existence, The Stranger would trip your trigger in a big way.
Meursault's mother dies. He is tired. It's too hot. His friend beats a woman up. He kills a man. He has a love affair with a woman named Marie. He's put on trial. He's still tired. It's still too hot.
I guess French absurdism/nihilism/existentialism just isn't my cup of tea. I'm sure none of you are surprised by this fact. Life is arbitrary, I get it. But I also think there's room -- and a need -- for hope and optimism.
Friday, September 24, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
I love Margaret Atwood the way Andy Lampl loves The Corrections. Every sentence is so rich and beautiful. It's like sitting down to a perfect meal and savoring every bite.
A related-but-not-related-anecdote. Recently, we had our auditions for Filament's 2010-11 season. Instead of monologues, we asked the actors to perform a poem, and suggested Margaret Atwood as a good poet to check out. The result was marvelous and so I'll just toss out to you all: Margaret Atwood poems can make for some really amazing audition monologues.
The Tent is a collection of not-really-short-stories. Prose-poems? Fiction essays? Hard to define, but marvelous to read. Because Margaret Atwood's writing speaks for itself much better than I could, I will just excerpt one of my favorite ones here. It's called "Faster."
Walking was not fast enough, so we ran. Running was not fast enough, so we galloped. Galloping was not fast enough, so we sailed. Sailing was not fast enough, so we rolled merrily along on the long metal tracks. Long metal tracks were not fast enough, so we drove. Driving was not fast enough, so we flew.Flying isn't fast enough, not fast enough for us. We want to get there faster. Get where? Wherever we are not. But a human soul can only go as fast as a man can walk, they used to say. In that case, where are all the souls? Left behind. They wander here and there, slowly, dim lights flickering in the marshes at night, looking for us. But they're not nearly fast enough, not for us, we're way ahead of them, they'll never catch up. That's why we can go so fast: our souls don't weigh us down.
Everybody's favorite NPR host compiled together a lot of his favorite bits of literary non-fiction (which he refuses to call it); excerpts of journalism that are innovative, captivating, and told as interesting stories. Full disclosure: the David Foster Wallace essay "HOST" was in this collection, and since I'd already read-and-not-loved-it in Consider the Lobster, I skipped it. But since this book was nearly 400 pages long (not counting HOST), I'm still counting it.
This collection was tremendous fun to read, if not a bit uneven. I loved the following essays: "The American Man, Age Ten" by Susan Orlean, "Crazy Things Seem Normal, Normal Things Seem Crazy" by Chuck Klosterman, "Losing the War" by Lee Sandlin, "My Republican Journey" by Dan Savage, and "Power Steer" by Michael Pollan. There were a number of essays, however, that I did not love, and one about being a hostess at a New York hot spot that, while enjoyable, seemed to belong in a different essay collection. Still, it's a great carry-in-your-bag book for something fun and substantial to read in transit.
This is a lovely play. Just lovely. It's one of those that is tender and delicate, and I can imagine being produced very poorly but I can also imagine being a sincere and moving evening of theatre. I might want to direct it someday.
It's based on an actual theatrical project from the 1970s, where a theatre company went to a bunch of farms and interviewed the farmers and then made a play out of it called "The Farm Show." Apparently the show ended up being a really powerful movement in Canadian theatre. Beyond the little mentions of it in The Drawer Boy, I don't know much about the project, although now I would sure like to. The Drawer Boy - whose original production contained several people who were involved with "The Farm Show" - is a play inspired by that event.
A young actor from Toronto, Miles, goes to Angus and Morgan's farm (two salty, middle aged farmers) to stay with them, help out, and collect information to bring back to his rehearsals. What follows is some typical but charming conflict between city and country life. What follows after that is the slow unfolding of Morgan and Angus's history and relationship. This is where the play is at its loveliest.
It's a story about the power of story, a love letter to art. It's also wonderful to see a play that shows two adult male life-long friends who care for each other with extreme affection and tenderness. Definitely worth a read.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Ok, so I have been sooo overwhelmed with trying to read, I have neglected posting any reviews. I am going to try to catch up!
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
I got this book immediately after finishing Twelve Bar Blues for $0.58 plus shipping on Amazon. I'm pretty sure it is autographed by the author on the title page. Maybe I should have taken the hint.
Try walking around with a child who's going, "Wow, wow! Look at that dirty dog! Look at that burned-down house! Look at that red sky!" And the child points and you look, and you see, and you start going, "Wow! Look at that huge crazy hedge! Look at that teeny little baby! Look at the scary dark cloud!" I think this is how we are supposed to be in the world -- present and in awe.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
So, I have about twenty books to read before November. Possible, not probable. First I decided to start reading shorter books that I already own but haven't read. I started with The House on Mango Street, the beautiful book by Sandra Cisneros. It was a much quicker read than I'd anticipated, and I found myself one day with the book finished and me stranded downtown with nothing to read.
SO, I went into that weird used bookstore east of the Belmont red line stop. I scoured the fiction section and left with a pile of four books for $13. They are all books I've always wanted to read, all short-ish. This is GREAT! I am going to try to finish this challenge, and I'm going to do it by reading books I've always wanted to read, and I'm going to find them at used bookstores for cheap.
Woo hoo! I'm very excited about this plan.
Unfortunately, it took me long enough to read Show Boat that I'm guessing I will fall short of the 50-book goal. Unless I quit my job. Wait! I could/should be reading right now!
Anyway. Show Boat.
It's always been one of my favorite musicals. The book is by Edna Ferber, who also wrote Giant (another book on my list...so far used copies have been a bit too expensive). It follows the life of Magnolia Hawks Ravenal, a child raised on the river, on her father's show boat. Something about this book really hit me. The bond Magnolia feels with her childhood on the river, the river itself, and the ramshackle theatrical world of the Cotton Blossom is something I identify with. (Filled-to-the-brim summers at a barnlike summer theatre near the beach = similar feelings of longing.)
I have loved these old musicals since I was a toddler. They are woven through my being, at the risk of sounding silly. It's not something that I've been able to share with anyone, really. Show Boat is about this very thing - growing up, becoming an adult, and being lucky (or cursed) enough to come from a place so specific and magical that you never really get over it and always feel a little separate because of it.
ANYWAY! It's been great to read the books my favorite musicals were based on. Show Boat, Tales of the South Pacific (SO GOOD, I can't wait to read it again). The adaptation is fascinating, and there's a built-in soundtrack.
For people who don't know the musical? This is an historical novel with a lot about southern river towns right after the Civil War, and about early blossoming Chicago. And theatre. Lots of great, highly specific characters, some sadness, some humor, great description, and a satisfying arc.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Dorothy reviewed this one way back at the beginning of YMR 2.0. I looked back at what she wrote before sitting down to do my own write up, and I couldn't agree more with what she said. Everything from "very quick read" to "disturbing" to "makes you realize what cushy lives so many of us lead" to "want to pick up something light and airy to read next" just gets an AMEN across the board.
I can't remember the last time I had such a hard time reading a book. I didn't see Precious and although I'd heard through the grapevine what a sad movie it was, I really didn't know what to expect. There were passages where it was difficult for me to even look at the words, the story was so visceral and graphic and devastating. The true elegance of Push, however, was that even in the midst of the sorrow and violence and pain, it was full of hope.
Although by no means an enjoyable read, Push is an important one. It is profoundly sad and disturbing and forces its readers to confront realities of the world and of the people in the world that we would rather pretend don't exist. It's an agonizing experience, but a worthwhile one.