Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

So good!

I've always loved the movie version of Rebecca (1940), and the book was just as good. Really unsettling - I lost a little bit of sleep over it, and I mean that as a compliment. Also, lots of girlie details about the famous Manderley. The whole thing is tense and romantic and weatherblown and a little trippy. And the ending is nervy as hell.

If you haven't seen the movie, read the book first. I would have loved to be surprised by all the reveals. And the movie (Alfred Hitchcock's first American film; David Selznick's second consecutive Best Picture Oscar after Gone With The Wind; Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine).

Do it now! It's the perfect weather outside!

Included here are two versions of the Rebecca book cover: the larger one is the cover I wish I had; the smaller is the one I was able to dig up in that used bookstore on Belmont. How embarrassing!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

This book is unique. I've never read another like it: about the war in Vietnam or about any war. One surprise is the degree to which I found myself identifying with the soldiers re: despair in leadership, anger at absurdity and ineptitude, sadness and yearning in the face of...the world. I don't think I've ever been allowed, as a reader safe and sound in my bed, to draw parallels between my civilian life and those extraordinary experiences had by men and women at war.

Matterhorn somehow let me do that. I've read my fair share about war in general and Vietnam specifically, but this book made it real to me. The confusion, the futility, the pointlessness of that war have become American generalizations. This book, in making these elements specific, actually underscored them and made them real to me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The House on Mango Street

Sandra Cisneros' writing is beautiful and stark. This was my favorite vignette from the book:

A House of My Own

Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man's house. Not a daddy's. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody's garbage to pick up after.

Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.

~Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street

Edge of my seat.

What happens to the only girl to survive at the hands of a serial killer? Elizabeth (now known as Eliza) was 15 when she was kidnapped and held by Walter for almost 6 weeks. This is a psychological thriller that weaves back and forth between the present, when Walter has contacted Eliza from Death Row before his execution date, and 20 years prior when Elizabeth was first kidnapped. Lippman handles these transitions smoothly in a slow yet exciting pace, introducing each new character beautifully to the point where I couldn't stop reading. I've never read anything else of hers but I'll definitely be keeping her on my reading radar.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three.

I'm sorry for posting so many poetry books, but not really, because as Mark Wahlberg says in I Heart Huckabees:

Excuse me, ma'am. Poems are amazing. They help you in your mind transform --

Who the hell are you?

I'm with Albert. They will help you to transform your mind into thinking differently. You guys need this, OK? This is great."



This is the beginning.
Almost anything can happen.
This is where you find
the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land,
the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page.
Think of an egg, the letter A,
a woman ironing on a bare stage
as the heavy curtain rises.
This is the very beginning.
The first-person narrator introduces himself,
tells us about his lineage.
The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings.
Here the climbers are studying a map
or pulling on their long woolen socks.
This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn.
The profile of an animal is being smeared
on the wall of a cave,
and you have not yet learned to crawl.
This is the opening, the gambit,
a pawn moving forward an inch.
This is your first night with her,
your first night without her.
This is the first part
where the wheels begin to turn,
where the elevator begins its ascent,
before the doors lurch apart.

This is the middle.
Things have had time to get complicated,
messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore.
Cities have sprouted up along the rivers
teeming with people at cross-purposes -
a million schemes, a million wild looks.
Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack
here and pitches his ragged tent.
This is the sticky part where the plot congeals,
where the action suddenly reverses
or swerves off in an outrageous direction.
Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph
to why Miriam does not want Edward's child.
Someone hides a letter under a pillow.
Here the aria rises to a pitch,
a song of betrayal, salted with revenge.
And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge
halfway up the mountain.
This is the bridge, the painful modulation.
This is the thick of things.
So much is crowded into the middle -
the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados,
Russian uniforms, noisy parties,
lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall -
too much to name, too much to think about.

And this is the end,
the car running out of road,
the river losing its name in an ocean,
the long nose of the photographed horse
touching the white electronic line.
This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade,
the empty wheelchair,
and pigeons floating down in the evening.
Here the stage is littered with bodies,
the narrator leads the characters to their cells,
and the climbers are in their graves.
It is me hitting the period
and you closing the book.
It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen
and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck.
This is the final bit
thinning away to nothing.
This is the end, according to Aristotle,
what we have all been waiting for,
what everything comes down to,
the destination we cannot help imagining,
a streak of light in the sky,
a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I loved it more than The Corrections. It was beautiful, easily the most timely book I've ever read, and eerily relevant to me personally.

One thing though: is there any endeavor or approach to life that Franzen finds worthwhile? I mean really. That was way harsh, Tai.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Loved!!! (Almost as much as The Corrections.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

_________ Up

Charlie Chaplin appears simultaneously in over 200 places across the country. Lee Duncan tries to save him from crashing into a sure death trap while floating helplessly into the California coastline. Hugo Black is upset when Chaplin doesn't show for his planned appearance at a Texas railway station. But the real Charlie Chaplin knows nothing of this whole plot. And after that story line dissolves by page 10, neither does the reader. Which is too bad, because the idea was what intrigued me to pick the book up in the first place.

So instead we're left with 3 mildly connected story lines in the lives of Chaplin, Duncan, and Black during the misery of World War I. One is a famous actor who tries to prove his worth by stumping for the war rather than enlisting. One is a wannabe actor who is forced into enlisting. And the other just enlists.

These 3 plot lines are interesting enough for awhile, but this was one of those books where the last 100 pages or so just felt like labor. And not the good kind. A majority of this book was entertaining and seemed to have a good feel for the mood of the times around WWI (I say "seemed" because I was born 69 years after war's end) but I think the 3-story format might have been too ambitious and the connections between them too loose to sustain that entertainment throughout the whole thing.

However, I did get to read about Charlie Chaplin, World War I, the origins of Rin Tin Tin, and a spectacularly scheming Jewish family. And I did enjoy over half the book. So all in all I think I'd call it a modest success.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Weirdly wonderful

She really IS crushable!! And her writing's not at all bad either. In fact, I really enjoyed the twists and turns and tangents that her stories took. Some were a little strange, some a little uncomfortable, but that's what I loved about them. Ms. July is not your run-of-the-mill story-teller. Oh, and Julie? I agree with you about "The Swim Team". I think that was my favorite too. I listened to this book and was pleased to know that Miranda is the reader and she has a mesmerizingly flat, calming voice that goes well with her tricky stories. I wish I had a hard copy though because there were some lines that I'd love to quote in here and I know if I try to recreate them right now, I'll slaughter them. Maybe I'll just have to take a trip to B&N!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Beautiful, Slim, and Sad.......

This is how Doug Parker's twin sister, Claire, describes him when she points out that he's in great demand by the women in town now. That's because Doug is a 29 year old widower, his wife having died in a plane crash 2 years ago. And he is beautiful and sad and slim and young and there's nothing like a dashing tragic figure to bring out the maternal instincts in all the ladies. Plus he's got a great job writing a column for the local paper and a huge settlement pending from the airlines. This guy's going to be not only beautiful, slim, and sad but rich too!

Jonathan Tropper has written another great story here. I recently reviewed another one of his books: "This Is Where I Leave You" and promised that I'd be reading more and I have and am glad I did and will be reading others down the line. Tropper understands family. He understands family really well! I loved Claire and Debbie, Paul's sisters and his demented father and brutally upfront mom and his 16 year old troubled but lovable stepson. Tropper has written a sad story about a sad man in sad circumstances yet manages to throw in a lot of humor, a lot of wit, enough that this story doesn't even come close to being depressing or sappy. Tropper has been compared to the writer Nick Hornby and I tend to agree but I happen to think that Tropper is better. I loved Doug Parker. You will too.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Skippy Dies.

In the first few pages of this book, Skippy turns purple in a doughnut shop, falls onto the floor, writes a half-message in raspberry filling with his finger, and then, of course, dies.

The book then cycles back in time, splits itself into thirds - Hopeland, Heartland, and Ghostland - and gives us the whole story. It's about a private boarding school in Ireland called Seabrook. It's about the 14 year old boys who live there. It's about the teachers that teach there. It's about string theory and the 11 dimensions of space and time. It's about Irish folklore and repressed Fathers and diet pills and watching girls through telescopes and Hallowe'en dances and text messaging. And then it's about death.

I loved some of this book. The science experiments, the nervous breakdowns, bad boy Carl stealing fireworks to trade for diet pills to trade for blowjobs and anal sex, the musings on space and time and the fabric of reality. I liked all that. Other things, the 14-year-old dialogue, the lighting of farts into fire, the long tirades about priests and repressed homosexuality, and private school behind-closed-door dealings, the rather unlikable 2-dimensional adults... It's 661 pages, and Paul Murray tries to cram in, it seems, everything he's ever learned about the world. Some of it is fascinating. Some of it ends up being rather masturbatory.

But the book is fun, and it's fast, and you get to like Skippy so much that you forget what the book is called, until about halfway through, when you remember again, and then you get sad because you know that Skippy Dies.

Soñé con detectives helados en el gran refrigerador de Los Àngeles en el gran refrigerador de México D.F.


Back then, I'd reached the age of twenty
and I was crazy.
I'd lost a country
but won a dream.
As long as I had that dream
nothing else mattered.
Not working, not praying
not studying in the morning light
alongside the romantic dogs.
And the dream lived in the void of my spirit.
A wooden bedroom,
cloaked in half-light,
deep in the lungs of the tropics.
And sometimes I'd retreat inside myself
and visit the dream: a statue eternalized
in liquid thoughts,
a white worm writhing
in love.
A runaway love.
A dream within another dream.
And the nightmare telling me: you will grow up.
You'll leave behind the images of pain and of the labyrinth
and you'll forget.
But back then, growing up would have been a crime.
I'm here, I said, with the romantic dogs
and here I'm going to stay.


Listen carefully, my son: bombs were falling
over Mexico City
but no one even noticed.
The air carried poison through
the street and open windows.
You'd just finished eating and were watching
cartoons on TV.
I was reading in the bedroom next door
when I realized we were going to die.
Despite the dizziness and nausea I dragged myself
to the kitchen and found you on the floor.
We hugged. You asked what was happening
and I didn't tell you we were on death's program
but instead that we were going on a journey,
one more, together, and that you shouldn't be afraid.
When it left, death didn't even
close our eyes.
What are we? you asked a week or year later,
ants, bees, wrong numbers
in the big rotten soup of chance?
We're human beings, my son, almost birds,
public heroes and secrets.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The City of Ember- Jeanne DuPrau

The City of Ember (its another dystopic young adult novel, I admit it!) is a fun read. In the city of Ember the sky is always dark. The only light comes from the electric lights that line the city and houses. Beyond the city is only darkness and unknown. This is the only life teens Doon and Lina have ever known, and they are happy here. But as the city approaches 500 years in existence, the lights are beginning to fail and the food is starting to run out. If the citizens of Ember don't do something drastic and soon, they will die in darkness.

The concept of the book is great and you spend the novel wondering what happened to the rest of the world and what lies outside the city. However, the characters are pretty weak and I'm going to tell you right now (this is a 4 book series) that the rest of the books are truly bad. But this one has it's merits and I enjoyed it. The world Duprau creates is vivid and bright in it's perpetual darkness.

And one last note, Bill Murray is in the 2008 movie version?

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Yay! Nice conclusion to the series. Very satisfying. Fast-paced. Thrilling. Yay!