Monday, September 12, 2011

A Circle of Quiet: Book Review

Yep, today we're actually talking about something other than my tumultuous week! Will wonders never cease.
I never read A Wrinkle in Time. I know, blasphemy, right? I feel like I tried it once when I was young, and never got into it. I was always far more into The Baby-Sitters' Club and Sweet Valley Twins and oh man is my face red right now. But I always just loved series of books. Animorphs. Nancy Drew. The Boxcar Children. Probably the most difficult books I read were Brian Jacques' Redwall books. Which I still think are awesome, by the way. But I've digressed wayyyy from my point, which was that Madeleine L'Engle's memoir A Circle of Quiet was really my first introduction to her writing. It only took me 26 years...
I actually finished the book a few weeks ago. It was exactly what I needed at the time. I started it just after my grandmother died, and I was in the mood for something, well, quiet. Ruminative. It didn't hurt that a lot of these ruminations were about writing, and I love reading about writing. Some choice quotes from the book:
"I'm incapable of saying anything intelligent about anything I've written. When anybody ask "What are you writing about now?" if I try to reply, the book-in-the-works sounds so idiotic to me that I think, 'Why am I trying to write that puerile junk?' So now I give up; if I could talk about it, I wouldn't have to write it."
(I am totally stealing this line. I never know what to say when people ask what I'm writing. I usually just say "fiction." Then they either give me an Exasperated Look or ask if I write about vampires. What. Why. No.)
Quoting Carl Van Vechten: "An author doesn't write with his mind, he writes with his hands."
(Dude, so true! When I started working in the restaurant, I thought it would be so fantastic--I'd plan out scenes for my book all day, then skip home and have 2000 new words before the sun went down. But it seems I can't focus without the act of writing. I got a few revelations here and there, but for the most part, I got a hell of a lot more work done when I started getting up to write at 5am. Drat.)
"I still tend to think of myself in the mirror set up for me in that one school. I was given a self-image there, and not a self, and a self-image imposed on one in youth is impossible to get rid of entirely, no matter how much love and affirmation one is given later."
(Not about writing, I know. I'm unpredictable. I just copied this down because it's true.)
"If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing. I'm glad I made this decision in the moment of failure. It's easy to say you're a writer when things are going well. When the decision is made in the abyss, then it is quite clear that it is not one's decision at all."
(This resonates with me most clearly when I'm dragging myself out of bed at 4:51am to write before work. Either I'm insane, or I'm a writer.)
"...I have found that the longer we have been married, and the more deeply I love [my husband], the less I "see" him visually. "Close your eyes," I'm in the habit of telling my students of all ages, "and think about the person you love most in the world. Do you really see him visually? Or don't you see on a much deeper level? It's lots easier to visualize people we don't know very well.""
(Love this! It's so true! In my mind, Fiance isn't his face or his body. That's all there, I guess, but all that physicality is so overshadowed by what I feel for the guy when I think about him. It truly doesn't matter if he hasn't shaved in three months, if his clothes are a mess of food stains from cooking for twelve hours, or if his hair is veering into JewFro territory. I hardly even notice.)

Lovely, right? I didn't agree with everything she wrote, but when it comes to the writing stuff, this lady and I are on the same page. (Geddit? Geddit? Har har.) Two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Books: Year in Review (Part 2)

I know you've been waiting with bated breath, O Imaginary Reader of Mine! So here we go, the rest of my top ten books read while I was 25!
The Bitch in the House, edited by Cathi Hanauer. This book is a compilation of essays written by women about marriage (or choosing not to marry), children (or electing not to have them), relationships (or being alone). It's about being capable, calm and friendly at work, and then going home and feeling like all you do is nag. It's about making an open marriage work. It's about making choices and living with them. Anyone who reads this will relate to some of the essays, and have your mind opened by others. I want to give this book to all my women friends and make them talk about it with me.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart. Oh man, now this book I want to give to all the teenage girls in my life. Or I would, if I had any...When I started the book, I was a little worried. I mean, how many books are there with a female protagonist who gets hot over the course of a summer? But Frankie won me over in no time. Sure, she blossomed or whatever, and sure, it gets her noticed by the hottest guy in school when she goes back in the fall. But this girl is a feminist. She is her own person, and that person is a believable teenage girl. She can be giddy and flirty and overwhelmed by her crush, and still recognize that he and his guy friends don't treat her like an equal: they treat her like a girl. Just a girl. And she uses her considerable creativity and intelligence to prove herself worthy of their full respect. She makes mistakes and actually pays for them. I unreservedly love this book. I bet you would too.
Locke and Key: Volumes I-IV, by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. I fell in love with Joe Hill's writing with his book of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts. I'm not usually a big short story fan, but his caught my attention. I also loved his novel Heart-Shaped Box. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at a local library a few months ago. He was completely endearing and down to earth. He answered the inevitable questions about his father, Stephen King, with good humor. This was the first time I really heard about Locke and Key, his series of comics. Series of graphic novels? I'm not sure how to differentiate, I'm ashamed to say! But no matter; the concept intrigued me: a house full of keys that each had a different power. One opens your head up--you can put information in or take memories out. One turns you into a ghost. One takes you anywhere...and on and on. This series is phenomenal, dark and funny and moving, and illustrated incredibly. I can't wait to see what happens next!
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs. This book has so much that I love: creepy old, abandoned house; creepy old photos; creepy children; creepy mystery...the unexpected cliffhanger, not so much, but I'm definitely excited for the next installment!
Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray. I wouldn't have thought a book about a kid dying could be so funny. I loved the relationship between all the boys. Their dialogue was often hilarious and felt very true to me.

Honorable mentions:

  • The Borrower, by Rebecca Makkai. On religious intolerance, the love of reading, and road trips.

  • Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray. Celebrating female friendships and girl power with humor. Hurrah!

  • Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. Best. Twists. EVER.

Here's to another year of great books!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Books: Year in Review (Part 1)

So, something you should know if we're gonna hang out is that I love books. I fucking love them. And I love talking about them. I have book recommendations for everyone, including you. But Laura, you've never met me! you remind me. Ha! As though such paltry details could stop me.

I had fun listing my ten favorite books read while I was 25. But just listing them doesn't do them justice! You need to know why I loved them so much! You're in luck, 'cause I'm gonna tell you.

The Unbearable Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender. Have you read Aimee Bender before? She wrote An Invisible Sign of My Own and Girl in the Flammable Skirt. She writes characters so odd that they're unforgettable. Seriously. I read a lot, and my retention skills aren't the best. But I remember her characters. In AISoMO (because that's soooo much simpler...), her main character develops the ability to taste emotions when she eats food. Specifically, the emotions of the person who made the food. Bizarre, right? And awesome! I don't even want to tell you more because I don't want to give things away. But it's a truly original concept at the heart of this book, and I for one read it in one sitting. That was a great afternoon.

Wonder When You'll Miss Me, by Amanda Davis. This one deals with some issues close to my heart: body image, madness, and circus performers. I wish I had written this book. But at least someone did.

House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski. I debated whether or not to include this one in my top ten. It is out there, this book. How to even describe it? Part of it describes a series of films. Not feature films, more like...Blair Witch Project. Except good. And real. These were my favorite parts of the book. The film is about a house that is bigger on the inside. But not in a good, TARDIS-y way. A creepy, you-could-get-lost-in-your-own-home-and-never-escape kind of way. The other part of the book is the increasingly insane ramblings of a narrator who's discovered the film part of the book. To be honest, I skimmed some of these parts. But the parts about the house and the family who moved in were so great that this still made my top ten, so there you go.

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. It's like Jane Austen with time traveling! It's hilarious. It's fun. I loved this book from page one. Read it read it read it!

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. This was another read-in-one-sitting book. It's about two teenagers working out who they are and challenging each other to step outside their comfort zones. It's about reality intruding on fantasy. It'! It made me want to run right out and experience everything my city has to offer. I love books that make me want to do things.

Okay, so I'm gonna break it up into two posts! Consider this post the first. Are you reserving these books through your local library yet? I'll wait here.