Posts filed under ‘July 2014 reads’

Sometimes Disappointment comes in Threes

The beloved author is quite the phenomenon. They publish a book, and there they are on NPR, in Huffington Post, in the New York times, suddenly selling books hand over fist.  But along with that belovedness comes expectations (*cue music* She’s got high hopes, she’s got high hopes).  If the author gets all this attention shouldn’t the writing be at the very least good? Enter three books, all by the beloved, all unfortunately a bit of a disappointment.

1. “The Circle” by Dave Eggers –  Mae is that young twenty-something who lands a job with the premiere West coast social media company, the Circle.  Very quickly she turns over all  of her personal information (medical history, financial information) and becomes one of fold.  The eventual result is that privacy becomes a thing of the past. Mae becomes completely transparent with her life videoed all the time, sent to a live stream for the world to see.  The Circle begins working on videoing everything in the world with tiny, unnoticeable cameras. Want to know if the surf is up? Check the live video feed. The Circle begins a project to imbed GPS locators in children so that no one will ever wonder where they kids are. But then when they become adults what happens to their privacy with these GPS locators? Eggars commentary is interesting and it is the new if a tree falls in the woods – if something happens in your life and it is not on the internet for everyone to see, does it matter? This novel was interesting, but it takes the long way to bring it home.  A lot of it could have been edited down and still the point would have been made. Do I really need to read about every screen and exchange Mae has on her computer, I am going with no.  Eggers may be above the editing fray (does that happen?) but I would have loved this book a lot more if it were more succinct.

General-Tom-Thumb2. “The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb” by Melanie Benjamin – Much to my surprise, there really was a Tom Thumb (his real name was Charles Stratton).  He was a tiny man who traveled the world in the mid-1800s as one of the spectacles for Mr. Phineas Barnum’s traveling curiosities.  This story is told by Vinnie also a small person who, as the title indicates, eventually marries Tom Thumb. The two travel the world and have a wedding covered by all of the major newspapers.  They meet the British royals and hobnob with high society. It is both an amazing story and a heartbreaking one.  Always having people gawking and staring at you because you are different is a harsh reality.  The fact that they were able to make money off of their “oddity” is both savvy and tragic.  Benjamin highlights all of this very well and truly the topic is fascinating. Where Benjamin failed for me is that Vinnie, this woman who defies all odds and becomes this rich and famous woman, was just not likable.  I found her a bit trite, conceited and condescending.  For that reason alone I really cared a whole lot less about what happened to her.  It is still worth a read if the topic interests you but then you might as well grab some nonfiction on the topic – because there is plenty out there.

3. “Still Life with Bread Crumbs” by Anna Quindlen – This book is mentioned everywhere you turn and I caved. There it was on the library shelf so I grabbed it.  Out of the three on this list, it is certainly the best and I am hesitant to include it here. But it was a bit disappointing. Rebecca Winter is a divorcee in her early 60s. In her younger years she was an extremely successful photographer. Finding her career in a slump and her finances in even more of a slump, Rebecca rents out her Manhattan apartment and rents a small home in a small town in upstate New York.  The town has all of the quaint charm of a small country town and all of the quirkiness as well.  Predictably, Rebecca finds everything she needs to make a fresh start (and the music swells).  This novel has no surprises and it has several cliches. What everyone loves about the novel is that Rebecca is not the beautiful twenty-something, she is 60 and has lived.  Why writing such a character is a novelty is beyond me, because a character like Rebecca has so many interesting dimensions because she is not a clean slate. She has experience and stories.  But I don’t think that is enough to make this book as amazing as claimed.  It is really still a lovely summer read.

 

I am sure even with these minimal disappointments, I will likely be suckered in next time these authors hit the book reviews. But here’s hoping the acclaim is a bit more deserving next time – and honestly, in all fairness everyone gets a one off.   A little disappointment never killed anyone.

 

 

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July 27, 2014 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment

The truth is rarely pure and never simple* – Schroder by Amity Gaige

“Schroder” by Amity Gaige, Published in 2013

I was truly surprised by this novel.  It was well done, compelling and disturbing, in a good way.  I have never heard of Amity Gaige before but she is a happy discovery.

schroder_165x250Eric Schroder’s story doesn’t end well. You know this from the beginning of the novel which takes the form of a letter Eric is writing to his soon to be ex-wife – a letter that his lawyer suggested he write.  Eric is writing from the correctional facility where he is serving time and the letter opens with this statement “[w]hat follows is a record of where Meadow and I have been since our disappearance.”  This type of writing technique can make a novel less interesting sometimes, but here Gaige’s writing and storytelling makes the fact that the reader knows where the story is headed all the more intriguing.

Eric and his father immigrated from Germany to the U.S. in the 70s. Tired of being the strange, immigrant outsider, when Eric signs up for summer camp in his early teens, he changes his last name from Schroder to Kennedy (how very American).  And thus begins Eric’s life of recreating himself.  When he goes to college he continues to use the name Kennedy, and by then the lie, the recreation, has gone too far and he can’t go back.  So when he meets and marries Laura they become the Kennedy family.  Eric fabricates a beautiful, picture-perfect childhood. He becomes the perfect husband and then the perfect father to their daughter Meadow.  But Eric is our narrator and Laura eventually asks for a separation so it would seem what Eric considers perfect is not necessarily a reliable account – it is a another recreation of reality.

When the couple separates there is a custody agreement for the care of Meadow and Eric doesn’t like it.  He believes that he is an amazing father who should be able to spend more than an occasional weekend with his daughter. Eventually this leads to him skipping town with Meadow and disappearing until the authorities finally catch up with him, return Meadow to her mother, and place Eric under arrest.

This novel has been compared to “Lolita” in multiple reviews.  This worried me a bit, but to clarify Eric does not have any kind of sexual relationship with his daughter.  He instead has a twisted view of his abilities as a father, as a husband and just generally as a man.   Getting at the truth is hard for the reader because Eric is the storyteller.  But getting at the truth is also hard for Eric, so while the reader is struggling with what is real so is Eric.  It makes the relationship between storyteller and audience really interesting.

Perhaps even more interesting, I found myself feeling sympathy for Eric. Though he had numerous shortcomings a lot of what he did was understandable, even if not acceptable.   Who hasn’t wanted to recreate themselves? And we all have had those moments where something that we have created, a joke, a lie, a story gets out of control and suddenly has gone too far.   Rather than wish for Eric’s demise, you wish he were different, wiser, just a little more together -because as the reader you can see that this is not the case of someone who is intentionally deception or cruel or sinister.  But instead it is someone who just can’t get it right, who just can’t make a successful life for himself, who just can’t cope with reality.  And if we are honest, we have all been there.

*quote from Oscar Wilde

Other reviews to check out: 

From Lizzy’s Literary Life

From Literary Hour  

From Linus’s Blanket 

 

July 13, 2014 at 8:54 pm Leave a comment

The Southern White ladies have some baggage that they need the help to carry- “The Dry Grass of August” by Anna Jean Mayhew

“The Dry Grass of August” by Anna Jean Mayhew, Published in 2011

book

This is another book about a young girl growing up in the South with the help, an African-American woman named Mary, and how Mary’s struggles affect the girl’s life.  I say “another” book because this is a part of a long line of books like this.  And while, it is not that the topic is unimportant, I just wonder where are the African-American authors for this genre?

In the summer of 1954, Jubie, her mother, her siblings and their maid (Mary) head out from their hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina for a vacation trip to Florida. Jubie is thirteen, so she is just starting to understand the adult world – coming out of that childhood fog.  She is beginning to view Mary’s life in the segregating South as extremely painful, when before she just thought Mary loved taking care of her.  Jubie is also beginning to understand that her parent’s relationship has plenty of complications, more than just her tough experiences with her drunken, abusive father.

As the family heads further into the South traveling with Mary becomes more and more complicated. She can’t stay in the same motels, she can’t touch the ocean (it is only meant for white people) , she can’t eat in the same restaurants.    While the trip has its rough patches, it becomes tragic when the family is in a car accident and finds themselves stuck in a small town, where Mary is certainly not welcome.  For lack of a better term this reality check teaches Jubie that Mary is truly not family, that Jubie’s parents are not brave or as strong as she always thought,  and that doing the right thing does not always end well for everyone.

As with all of the books in this genre, there is the stoicism of the white Southern women and how appearances are important until they just begin to crumble.  It is an interesting topic – these daughters of the 1950s and 60s Southern women.  They watched their mothers put up with terrible cruelty and in many cases commit extreme acts of cruelty in the segregated South.  I have no idea what that would do to your perception of your mother.  In some ways it would be unforgivable but of course, there are also many excuses afforded these women as well.  Though honestly none of those excuses are truly acceptable.

This book is well-written and insightful but I want more. I want this genre to become more about the African-Americans who experienced this life.  I want to hear from the children whose mothers left early in the morning and returned late at night to raise white children.  These books could exist and I have somehow missed them, but I don’t seem to hear about them.  I am now on a mission to find them – and if anyone has suggestions I would appreciate them.  I understand Southern ladies had feelings but the women who were making their sweet tea did too.  And that is a much more interesting story.

Other reviews to check out: 

From Cold Read

From Josephine’s Readers Advisory

From Mrs. Q Book Addict

 

 

July 4, 2014 at 6:28 pm 2 comments


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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