Friday, August 24, 2012

About Grace, by Anthony Doerr

A real grown-up novel. Clocking in at 402 pages. I don't know why I checked this and a book of his stories out of the library, but I did. And I read the whole thing (haven't read the stories yet, but looking forward to them!).

This was a strange book, its own thing. I loved it, really. The story of a guy from Anchorage who, in his thirties, falls in love with a woman whose been married fifteen and a half years, to her high school sweetheart. But they start an affair, end up marrying, and have a baby. But David Winkler has a lifetime history of dreaming people's deaths, and when he dreams the death of his daughter, he leaves his wife and daughter. He goes to St. Vincent, in the Caribbean, and is there for twenty-five years, assuming his daughter died--but after twenty-five years, he realizes he doesn't know for sure, and goes off to track her down.

The last hundred pages of the book, only, are what happens when he finds out what happened to her, but it feels like more.

But the whole book has a weight to it. It's pretty great--one of the best novels I've read in a long time. I'm excited to see what else Doerr has done and does.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ten Albums

My sister and mom and I were discussing what ten albums we'd bring with us if we could only have ten forever. It's a tough question. We're interpreting it loosely--box sets count as one album, for instance. So both Em and I have the Bob Marley four-disc box set that had been our father's--"Songs of Freedom" on our lists. I'm also including a box set of old gospel that I listen to all the time: "Goodbye, Babylon." And one of the Bessie Smith box sets, probably Vol. 3 (there are five two CD box sets total). Some Sam Cooke, for sure. I've had a bunch of his compilation stuff--I'd want something with lots of the early gospel on it. Have to figure that out. Anyway, definitely Bob Dylan, "Nashville Skyline." That's five. There's so much else, of course. But that's a start. Yours?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Meeting the Master, by Elissa Wald

This is Elissa Wald's first book. The library doesn't have it. So I bought it. I blogged briefly about her second book, her first novel, here. I liked these stories a lot. This collection was a lot of fun. Pretty uneven, I thought, but as Pat Califia said in his blurb on the back, overall, it is "a well-written book of S&M fiction." Some of the stories are excellent, really solid, and some don't hold up as well. But yeah, I liked it a lot. Not really my kind of thing--S&M fiction--but a really fun read.

Elegies for the Brokenhearted, by Christie Hodges

I need to keep better track of where I get my recommendations from. I recently read Elegies for the Brokenhearted, by Christie Hodges, and I put that and another one (Hello, I Must Be Going) by her on hold at the library--for some reason--and I'll totally read the other one, because this one was really good. But where did the recommendation come from, Elissa?

Anyway. Elegies for the Brokenhearted is a novel told in five sections, each telling the story of someone in the main character's life who has died. Each section opens with the name and the dates of the deceased's birth and death. "Elegy for," their name, and the dates of their birth and death. So the book begins:

Elegy for

Mike Beaudry


"Every family had one and you were ours: the chump, the slouch, the drunk, the bum, the forever-newly-employed (I didn't need that shit, you'd say), the chain-smoking fuckup with the muscle car, an acorn brown 442 Cutlas Supreme named Michele, the love of your life..."

And it keeps going with its description of the beloved bachelor uncle, its stories about his life, what he meant to Mary Murphy, what he still means to her.

Then we meet Elwood LePoer (1971-1990), an annoying kid she went to school with. Amazing how much we learn about her through the people she knew, both those important to her and those more or less incidental.

Next up: Carson Washington (1972-1993), freshman year college roommate in 1990, Carson's "first and only year of college." She describes herself as "fat and black," which does seem to be the case. "Those first weeks of school, during which we both failed to make other friends, we fell into the habit of sitting together for hours in the cafeteria at a table by the window." Their relationship is such a freshman year college roommate relationship, handled beautifully. It's strange, and perfect.

Then James Butler (1952-1996): "at first you were nothing to me but another in a long line of strange characters I met the summer I went off in search of my sister." But as happens, he becomes something more.

And the last elegy is for her mother, Margaret Murphy Francis Adams Witherspoon (1952-2003), married five times, "born beautiful in a failing industrial city." It's about her mother, about her family--the whole book is, really--but it's also about the rest of her life.

I liked this book a lot. Interested to see what Christie Hodgen's other work is like.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Stolen Pleasures, by Gina Berriault

Just finished this collection of short stories--by a fabulous writer born in 1923, died 1999. Why hadn't I ever heard of her? Such a good writer, and fairly acclaimed during her life--at least, published widely, won a couple Pushcarts, that kind of thing. But--she should be read now, taught, anthologized, not forgotten! There are probably many writers we could say that about. Anyway. Worth reading. So good. Not complicated--I was going to say "Simple," but they aren't that. Set in an ordinary world, mostly northern California--some small town, some little city (" "), lots of San Francisco, some rural California--she talks a lot about... well, I wouldn't say she "talks a lot" about anything, really. She inhabits these characters, their lives. It's beautifully done. She had three earlier collections, and this is a selection from those stories, plus a later one never before published. I think I want to track down and read them all.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I Am J, by Cris Beam

This has been in my "to read" stack for months. But it just never struck me enough. I even opened it a couple times... but eh. But then last week I opened it, and read the whole thing. It's good. Maybe about what you might expect. A little more than that. But yeah. A trans kid novel. Well done.

The Virgin of Flames, by Chris Abani

I'm doing better at reading the adult novels. This one was a little more--weird? Than I'm used to... I don't know how, quite. It's narrative, with distinct characters and even a chronology to it... but it still felt more abstract than what I'm used to. Jumpy? But I loved it, even when it felt like it was taking me a really long time to read. So much happens, and there are so many characters unlike anything I expected--anyone I expected, I suppose. It's also a super queer book, which I was not expecting at all. Excellent. "Also on the desk, in piles on the floor around the room, crammed onto too-small cases, were books. In every imaginable binding and in every state--new, battered, hardbacks, paperbacks. Black loved books and he loved to read, but sometimes he loved books more than he loved to read. And sometimes, what he loved most about books was the space they left for him between the reading and the imagining. Sometimes he lived there more than anywhere else."