Monday, July 30, 2012

Binocular Vision, by Edith Pearlman

This is a collection of short stories, new and selected, by a writer I hadn't heard of before. Though she's been in Best American, etc., none of these stories were familiar to me. Honestly, some of them were a little boring, I thought, but the last half of the book--the new stories, after the selected ones--were all pretty great. Another book that I can't remember where the recommendation came from. Another book that sat on my shelf of library books for a while before I picked it up, and then I read a couple stories, read something else, read a couple more stories... So good, though. So glad I read these. Wish there were more! I guess I could tell you something about them. Lots of doctors. Lots of Russians. Lots of children. That's something. Just read them, please.

Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay

A great little--chapter book, I suppose? about an eleven-year-old. The blurb on the cover, from Karen Hesse, says, "I'm so smitten with all the McKay books!" and I can definitely see how that would happen. Saffy--Saffron--has an older sister, Caddy (short for Cadmium), and a younger brother and younger sister, Indigo and Rose. All four of them are named for colors, but Saffron is the only one whose name isn't on the color chart up on the kitchen wall. Beautifully done. Highly recommended. About family, and friendship, and family family family.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bronxwood, by Coe Booth

I checked this out from the library ages ago, and I've looked at it several times, sitting on the shelf, and been surprised that I hadn't read it yet. I read both of Coe Booth's other novels--Kendra, and Tyrell--and loved them. So why'd it take me so long to read Bronxwood? I think it might have to do with not teaching anymore right now... I didn't want to read something I knew I'd be wanting to recommend to students. However, this is a sequel to Tyrell, as it turns out, and I didn't love it nearly as much as I'd hoped to. It's really really good, but I'd keep recommending Tyrell, and say, "Bronxwood is a sequel to Tyrell, but I don't think it's nearly as good. But read it and tell me what you think." But also, nothing's really resolved in Bronxwood. It's like another chapter in Tyrell's life, but it doesn't feel like he figures anything out. Like, nothing. It's frustrating that way. I continue to love Coe Booth, and I'll read anything she writes, but I want more from her, please.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

This book was incredible. Lionel Shriver is a fabulous writer. I also was happy to discover that she's a woman--according to an interview in the back of the copy I'd gotten from the library, her given name is Margaret Anne, and when she was fifteen she started going by a tomboy name that worked for her. All right then. Anyway, this is the story of a woman's son, Kevin, who conducts a Columbine type killing. It's told as a series of letters the mother writes to her estranged husband--the boy's father--right around the boy's eighteenth birthday, the two-year anniversary of his crime. Okay spoiler: The father and the younger sister are not in the story itself, and there are references to how the mother doesn't have the daughter living with her anymore... but it isn't until the second-to-last letter (so page 350 or so of this 400 page novel) that you learn that the son killed his father and little sister that morning before he left for school, after the mother had left for work. So she goes to Kevin's school, finds out he's a mass murderer, goes home still wondering where her husband is and why he hasn't shown up yet to help her through this--then finds the bodies at her house. It's a much more violent book than I usually read. Maybe that isn't even true, actually--I read a fair number of books with violence in them. But yeah, this one takes the cake. It's a hard read. But it's so well done, so beautifully written and so thoughtful about all of this: what it would be like for a mom to be raising a son like Kevin, what it would be like for the dad, what that would do, potentially, to the parents' relationship... But yeah. So glad I'm done with this book. But so glad I read it. Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tell Us We're Home, by Marina Budhos

I've been reading a ton this summer. That's what happens when you don't have much else to do. At least if you're me. I've watched a couple movies--mostly I've turned them off halfway through, so recommendations needed please! I've walked my dog a lot, which is really good for the both of us and makes us happy. I've written a lot--been working on the damn novel, I want to finish revising and get it DONE! (Ugh, that woman is wearing a lovely comfy-looking white cotton dress--with very visible striped underpants!) But so yeah, watching some movies, walking my dog, writing, reading a ton. I'm trying hard to read outside my narrowest comfort zone, the easiest books, which lately is YA fiction. So I have a non-fiction book going too (currently Jane Kenyon's A Thousand White Daffodils, which I'm loving--more on it when I finish!), some poetry (I checked Kenyon's out from the library, but I'm reading a book I got off a free shelf, I think--ddgf by adf. I don't like it so much, so I'm also sort of reading Revolution -- by -- -- which I love... and want to use if/when I teach a poetry unit again, at least to high school age students), and I'm trying hard to read more adult fiction (this is a long-term, standing goal)--I've been working my way through short stories by Edith ---, which has been great, and now that I'm done with Tell Us We're Home, I'm tackling We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver, which is good and awful. More about that one when I finish it too. Anyway, but this is supposed to be about Tell Us We're Home. Tell Us We're Home is narrated by and is the story of three eighth grade girls in a wealthy little New Jersey town--but they're the daughters of nannies and housekeepers, and very aware of their different place in the world of the town. It's pretty great. Maybe that's all I have to say? It's a YA novel about being an eighth grade girl, and all the issues that come with that, but these girls are dealing with different questions than the other girls at their school, largely because their moms work for the other girls' moms. It's very interesting, and very well-handled, I think. The differences between the three girls and their own families are also really interesting and complexly handled. A nice little novel.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


A Facebook friend recently took a week off Facebook--indeed, the whole internet--and when she came back and posted about it, a friend of hers posted these two articles to the thread she'd started about taking time off. I loved them both, found them so interesting. I don't have a religious reason to do this, which is sad, perhaps. But I'm going to try it anyway. Try it once, then again probably not the next week, but within the next couple months? Both articles are about how the fourth commandment says that we should get our work done during six days, then take the seventh day off. Both women talk about all the things they don't do during the Sabbath--turning lights on or off, driving, cooking, shopping, writing... and they talk about the things they do do: spend time with children, family, friends; read; rest. Go for walks. It sounds lovely, really. And so sensible. Whether one is religious or not. And I'm not, but... yeah. There will be a follow-up post to this one, and follow-ups to that. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field

I just finished Hitty: Her First Hundred Years. By Rachel Field, this book won the Newbery in 1930. I recently bought a withdrawn copy at a library sale, and finally read it. I'm interested in reading the Newbery winners I haven't read, but honestly this didn't look like the most exciting book to me, so it took me a while to get to it. But once I did, it went fast. It's pretty engrossing, though it doesn't sound like it would be: Hitty is a doll, and this book follows her through the first hundred years of her life. She starts in Maine, where she is crafted out of mountain-ash by an Old Peddler--a small piece of wood he'd brought with him from home, from Ireland, because "A piece of mountain-ash wood is a good thing to keep close at hand, for it brings luck besides having power against witchcraft and evil." But when he shows up at the Preble's doorstep, it's cold, getting toward winter, and Phoebe's father is off on a voyage at sea, so the Old Peddler ends up staying the winter with Phoebe, her mother, and Andy the hired boy, and at some point during that long winter, the Old Peddler makes the mountain-ash into a doll and gives it to Phoebe Preble. Phoebe treasures Hitty, whose name is helpfully stitched onto her camisole, so she keeps her name through the years. Anyway Phoebe treasures Hitty, but then she and her mother (and Hitty, of course!) end up going--a bit inexplicably--to sea with her father, and Phoebe has adventures in the South Seas. From there, Hitty ends up in India, the doll of a little missionary girl, and from there, she goes back to the U.S., to Philadelphia this time. Etcetera. Eventually she becomes an antique, but first she is a special doll for a lot of little girls.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Been Reading a TON Lately

This is going to be one of those make-up posts summarizing everything I've read lately, because there's too much! I finally read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. I loved Wild. Lots of people have had lots to say about it, though. Perhaps eventually I'll have something to add, but for now, just read what the New York Times and Micha Hohorst had to say, okay? That seems like as good a place to start as any--a better place to start than most, really. I also read The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, by Eleanor Cameron, a sci-fi novel written in the early 50's and set then, too, about a couple of kids who enter a contest to build a space ship, and end up visiting a small asteroid orbiting Earth. It was pretty great for what it is, but I don't really feel the need to read the other five in the series. One was enough. Been feeling that way a lot lately, with series. Also read: Big Machine, by Victor La Valle. It was heavily praised, and it was good, but in the end it was too... strange for me? And too long, which was good to notice in light of my own overly long tome currently being revised and revised and revised. The Buddha in the Attic, by Julie Otsuka. I loved this book too, actually. Amazing. I think I read her other novel years ago, but I have to track it down and read it again, and I'm hoping I didn't read it before, because then I'll get to read it for the first time!