{beach read}

So in honor of the holiday, I refrained from posting a Friday Favorite this week. And by that I mean that I was at my gramma’s on Tgiving with no Internet, and was too lazy/busy knitting leg warmers to post upon returning home Friday afternoon. Such is life.

But leg warmers are complete! Civil War game was attended! Ducks were victorious! And Maine is finished.

When I first heard about Maine this summer, I remember reading a review that said the cover was totally misleading: Rather than a fluffy beach read, this was a rich literary novel that explores the depths of human character and the complexities of generational gaps and family relationships. Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing.

The point is, while I found it to fall under the (for me) incredibly loosely defined category of literary fiction, it was a very quick read and felt like something I would take to the beach. Do I just not know what a beach read is? Probably.

Maine is the story of the Kelleher family, told through the perspectives of four powerful women: Alice, the 83-year-old matriarch, feared and hated by almost all her living relatives; Kathleen, her daughter, who found herself trapped in an unfulfilling lifestyle and was then estranged from her family when she rebelled; Ann Marie, who married Kathleen’s brother and attempts to maintain their image as the perfect family; and Maggie, Kathleen’s daughter, who’s pregnant, recently single, and unsure what to do about all of it.

The narratives delve into the pasts and presents of these four women, all of whom in some way are living a lie, and center around the family beach house in Maine, a summer destination for four generations of Kellehers. The climax comes when all four women, through circumstances both foreseen and unplanned, find themselves together at the beach property for the first time in ten years.

Interestingly enough, the aspect of this book that stood out the most to me was how much I disliked all the characters except Maggie. As I’ve said before, I usually don’t like books if I don’t like the characters, but this one had enough action and intrigue to keep me enjoying it until the end. That said, I found Ann Marie to be silly and foolish; Kathleen was rude with the sole purpose of attracting attention and, in her early 60s, was way too old to still be doing that; and Alice was outright cruel and manipulative. Again, the book focuses heavily on the influence of the past, with all of these women conscious of their flaws and attempting to amend or excuse them through identifying what has shaped them. Maggie definitely had her flaws, but I found them more understandable and forgivable. Is that just because she was the youngest? Were my aspirations, motivations, and perspectives most in line with hers simply due to age? I honestly don’t know. At Thanksgiving this week, I found myself wanting to ask my mom, aunt, and/or gramma to read this to see if they developed a different opinion. (Although honestly, Alice especially was so horrible that I’d actually be terrified if someone in my family identified with her.)

The other part of this book that caught my interest was how much these characters misunderstood or misled each other. True, they were each concealing significant parts of themselves (the whole “living a lie” thing), but at times, they seemed completely blind to each other’s wishes. This was highlighted by several instances in which a single event was retold by multiple characters, with the dialogue and action remaining the same, but the inner monologue and emotional reaction completely different. Now, I don’t consider myself to be a phenomenal judge of character, but I’m no slouch, either (I don’t think). But I found myself wondering just how common these misunderstandings are in real life. I definitely frequently find myself in situations where I attempt to analyze why another person behaved in a certain way (and often I don’t do this alone—hooray for gossip chains), and find myself concluding that this-or-that must have been the reason, simply because I can’t conceive of anyone feeling differently. Clearly, this is a healthy attitude toward human interaction, and so far it’s served me as well as one would expect. But without a shared narrative (or mockumentary-style confessions à la The Office), how are you supposed to understand differently? It’s beyond me.

Next on my library list is On Canaan’s Side, which appears to be a similar historically focused, “contemporary women” read. Judging books by their cover! Next week, I’ll be embarking on a whirlwind roadtrip to the Bay Area for job interviews and other activities practiced by the unemployed, which may or may not involve living on a boat with no wireless and therefore a lot of reading time. Cheers!

{finalement}

It’s extremely rare that I start a book and don’t finish it. Call it what you will, I just can’t stand not knowing the ending of even a very very bad book. Blogging about the books I read has only reinforced this pre-existing neuroticism.

So about a third of the way through Death in the City of Light, I found myself in a pickle. I received an advanced reading copy DitCoL as part of a prepublication promotion, but such is the state of my reading list that I got around to it well after the finished copy had been released. Therefore, take anything I write here with a grain of salt: While books usually don’t go through huge changes after the ARC has been made, there’s a slight chance that some of what I mention here is no longer true in the final version.

Simply put—I wasn’t a fan of this book. I’m not a big true-crime reader by any standards (although I do love a good mystery), and maybe it’s just that this isn’t my genre. But I found DitCoL both slow going and hard to follow. It’s the report of the search for and trial of Marcel Petiot, a French doctor who spent much of Occupied Paris murdering wealthy Jews and mobsters. Author David King pulls no punches in the beginning chapters, which include a grisly description of Petiot’s secret slaughterhouse and begin building the environment of suspicion, terror, and disillusionment that characterized wartime France.

Unfortunately, after an inticingly gruesome start, the story fell apart. The reporting was too lengthy and drawn out, and I was frequently thrown off course by mentions of characters whom I no longer remembered. There were also a few chapters detailing the lives of Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre, which, while informative, really had nothing to do with Petiot’s story. The trial at the end, rather than being a culmination of the book’s suspense, felt flat and disappointing.

Of course, as a true crime author, King was limited in his writing. It can be difficult to turn dry details into drama, facts into fantastics. He did have some success, I believe, in painting an accurate picture of Occupied France and the complete chaos and confusion that followed the Axis surrender. Indeed, Petiot became very difficult to prosecute when the defense claimed he was a member of the French Resistance movement who had made some errors in judgment. What is the protocol for incriminating someone who murdered brutal inforcers of the Nazi regime?

As I said before, I’m not a big reader of nonfiction during my leisure time, so this book was good for me, a broadening of horizons. That said, I grew very frustrated with how long it took me to finish, especially since I have a whole list of wonderful books lined up and waiting. Take a look!

{Is Everyone Hanging Out WIthout Me?; Our Mutual Friend; On Canaan's Side; Maine}

I actually started Maine a couple of days ago, but it’s been slow going so far since I’ve started turboknitting in an attempt to finish a pair of leg warmers before the UO/OSU Civil War game this Saturday, which I will be attending! And hopefully wearing some kickass leg warmers. Maine is great so far, though. Reminds me very much of one of my lesser-known favorites and old-lady read, Colony.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

{blast from the past}

So in a combination of wanting more variety to my posts (Death in the City of Light is STILL dragging out… SHEESH) and picking up some tips from other blogs I love, I’ve decided to add a weekly feature of Friday Favorites. Every Friday, I’ll post on a book, author, or series I consider to be at the top of my biblio-list. I like this plan, especially because I really don’t like blogging about books I read that I didn’t enjoy… and sometimes that happens.

And how could I forgive my 8-year-old self if I didn’t start my list of favorites with the Chronicles of Narnia?

I was pretty much obsessed with these books for the latter half of my elementary school career. I saved up my allowance quarters for weeks and bought the very boxed set you see pictured here out of the Scholastic book orders they handed out in school (remember those?). In a fourth-grade biography assignment, I researched and wrote about C. S. Lewis. When I came home on breaks from college, I still reread them frequently.

When I first read these, I was young enough that the Christian allegory didn’t sink in at all. I’m actually not sure how it would’ve changed my perception of the stories had that happened—as it is, they’ve always remained just amazing magical stories to me. And, like Harry Potter, they’re not just books for kids. In fact, IndieBound doesn’t even list them as children’s books. And who could forget the Lonely Island’s breakout hit??

I figure at this point, especially with the recent movies, if you don’t know the general plot to the Narnia books, you’re probably living under a rock and don’t read this blog in the first place. So I won’t go into it. But fellow Narnia fans should (maybe) read The Magicians, the Lev Grossman book that I blogged about earlier. As a big Narnia/HP fan growing up, I was pretty shocked by Grossman’s treatment of fantasy worlds and magic. I’m actually not sure if fantasy fans would necessarily enjoy The Magicians—but it’s definitely worth a read if you like questioning your own perspective. Has some pretty good meta passages about reading in general, for sure.

Have a good weekend! My goals for this weekend include finishing DitCoL and not drowning in small-town ennui.

{in which i fail as an english major}

Yesterday, Gabe Habash posted his Literary Wall of Shame on the Publishers Weekly blog, and it inspired me to do the same. As an English major with a huge weakness for history and a stubborn inability to understand anything theoretical, I managed to obtain my B.A. with a solid grounding in 18th- and 19th-century literature, but not a whole lot else. I’ve always been aware that there were some glaring holes in my reputation as a bibliophile, and I decided to take this opportunity to face them head-on.

Ten Books/Authors That I Haven’t Read and Probably Should (Or, Things I Pretend to Have Read So I Won’t Sound Stupid)

1. Virginia Woolf. Pretty sure Woolf is equal only to Shakespeare and the Bible for the number of times she is referenced in/compared to/thanked by all of modern Western literature. Also, I really want to see The Hours and understand what’s going on.

2. (More) Dickens. This is really the most shocking omission, considering my education in Victorian literature. Technically, I’ve read three of his books (and dear God, who could forget the brilliance of A Tale of Two Cities?), but that’s still pretty shameful. I find Dickens amazing in small portions, but somehow can rarely muster up the endurance to conquer a whole book.

3. James Joyce. The “real” English majors at my college studied Ulysses for an entire year as their senior seminar. I, obviously, chose historical fiction instead. Since then, I’ve always felt unworthy to share their degree.

4. The Clockwork Orange. This book tops my list of “literary theory books,” namely because of that Connor guy. I recently read part of his undergraduate honors thesis, which was about something pretty important in this book that I can’t remember at the moment. He was looking for some constructive criticism, which I supplied by deleting a lot of commas and erroneously changing “aesthetics” to a plural noun.

5. Ayn Rand. I can’t even count the number of times Atlas Shrugged has come up on a Sporcle literature quiz. Plus, they talk about her a lot on Mad Men, so she must be pretty good.

6. Lolita. I always see people reading Reading Lolita in Tehran, which makes me feel like I’m missing out on something.

7. (More) Tolkein. Okay. This one I really just don’t get. I did have The Hobbit read aloud to me, but I was ten years old and overwhelmingly bored by it. I honestly tried to read The Fellowship of the Ring last year, but didn’t make it past Bilbo’s surprisingly dull birthday party. I would say it’s just one of those things you have to grow up reading, but I honestly can’t imagine myself loving these at any age.

8. (More) Steinbeck. I read Cannery Row in middle school and quite liked it. Every once in a while, I’ll ironically reference Of Mice and Men and hope that no one sees through to my ignorance. Just one of those authors I’ve never gotten around to, I guess.

9. The Divine Comedy. Because I feel like a poser every time I laugh maniacally at this.

10. Paradise Lost. Milton is so important that he is one of three authors that all English majors at my school must study. I, obviously, took the easy way out and went with Shakespeare. The other option was Chaucer, but I felt that I’d said “pil-grim-AHJ-es” and “kn-ICHT” enough times while studying the Great Vowel Shift (!!) to consider myself exempt.

I’m now realizing that exactly zero of these have even heard of Madonna, so maybe my tastes run a little to the outdated side. I’ll throw in a bonus #11 of The Hunger Games, since I can’t spend more than 5 minutes on Facebook without someone posting a movie trailer. Probably should get on that.

{everyone with a heart and an itunes account does}

Well, I don’t know about you, but my weekend went just about like this week’s SNL skit with Adele’s “Someone Like You.”

JK. That was not the story of my weekend. That is the story of every minute of every day of my life, because it was just that good.

(I had really, really hoped to be able to post a video of that skit. Sadly, they are being removed from YouTube as fast as I can find them. If you haven’t seen it yet, please, please watch the episode on Hulu. Emma Stone hosts, the Adele bit is somewhere around 52:00.)

But let’s get serious. While I am still reading Death in the City of Light, today I was thinking (albeit incredibly belatedly) about Borders. In another television reference (my favorite thing to do), anyone catch James Spader’s line on The Office? “Let me tell you how I buy something these days. I know what I want: I go on the Internet, I get the best price. Or I don’t know what I want, and I go to a small store that can help me.”

Now, I was raised on the hippie ideals of supporting local businesses and eschewing big corporations like the plague. Sometimes this gets tricky, like today when I tried to pick a gym that wouldn’t break my unemployed bank. But still, the small mom-‘n’-pops always win in the end. When my parents’ favorite local bookstore went out of business, it was basically like a death in the family.

This made the closing of Borders ethically and emotionally difficult for me. Could I really be sad about the destruction of this megalith of evil? Did people who worked at Borders really deserve my sympathy when they lost their jobs? The answer, of course, is yes. But still—a tiny part of me wondered whether my favorite small-town book joints would still be in business had Borders simply never existed.

What do you think about the Borders liquidation? Any favorite local businesses you wish were still around for you to support? What are your best tips for dealing with the local vs. cheap debacle?

{cold discomfort farm}

It’s been a long week, cyberfriends. Today (!!) the parents return from their 2.5-week jaunt around Morocco. Overall, the housesitting experience was good, except for the misery of last week when the house fell under a Halloween curse, causing the furnace to break and the indoor temp to plummet to 50 degrees. I spent the next four days living in a frigid wasteland, mourning the fact that the local public library appears to have lost their only copy of Cold Comfort Farm, which I need for my upcoming post on the Book Blob. Thus the title of this post (ha, ha). I hate to use a clichéd and overused meme/hashtag (do I really? That doesn’t seem right), but FIRST-WORLD PROBLEMS.

In other book news, my dear friend introduced me to this excerpt from Mindy Kaling’s new book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). Clearly, I need this book. First of all, the title is something I ask myself pretty much every day, a lovely example of girlish self-esteem. Second of all, exactly one day before reading this, my dear friend and I were having the exact same discussion of men versus boys. Although our version was much less funny and much more sad, the coincidence cannot be denied. After next weekend’s shopping trip, I’ll have to call my old boss and thank her for the B&N gift card that allowed me to indulge my inner (and outer) quarter-life neuroses while maintaining my dignity/bank account as an unemployedian.

I’m slowly but surely working my way through Death in the City of Light in my likely-doomed effort to read more nonfiction. I really do love nonfiction in a very nerdy, scholarly-research type of way, but I don’t tend to gravitate toward it at my leisure. This quest is further hampered by the fact that my long-standing library hold on Maine has finally reached its destination. I’m torn between complete excitement lasting from early July when I first saw M on the shelves of the Tattered Cover, and complete annoyance that my aforementioned hold on CCF is not so happily resolved.

Sadly, that’s really all I have for now. I will now attempt to blow through DitCoL for a big post in the very near future—then on to Maine!