September 21, 2011

The Help

"I put the iron down real slow, feel that bitter seed grow in my chest, the one planted after Treelore died. My face goes hot, my tongue twitchy. I don't know what to say to her. All I know is, I ain't saying it. And I know she ain't saying what she want a say either and it's a strange thing happening here cause nobody saying nothing and we still managing to have us a conversation" (The Help by Kathryn Stockett)

To the point.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett appeared by all apparent sources to be a great pick (not mine but my interest was definitely peaked). A HUGE best seller at the moment and was so popular at the time I was trying to purchase it that I had to wait 3 back orders for it to come in).

I usually reserve my blogs for books that I have liked or have been challenged by in some way. No need to be a hater. Kathryn Stockett, however, isn't hurting for book sales (especially now that the movie has come out).

To the point - A great concept but poorly executed across the board. Not unlike some of the other pop fiction, teen novels currently flying off the shelves, the writing style was self explanatory and annoyingly evident. The problem with this was that unlike its national best-seller teen lit cousins, it wasn't placed in that category. The multiple voices narrating the book, of which varied in age and race, appeared overlapped and at times forced. Accents wavered and truth be told at times I found myself picturing a white girl awkwardly mimicking an african american maid - no Kathryn's "Too Little Too Late" section didn't make up for this in the back of the book. A section where she stumbles over her words to apologize for any misgivings in the novel.

Yes - it is a strong and important topic - one that deserves an opportunity to garner far more attention in pop culture venues than it has previously but it can be strongly argued (as is now) that while this book may have been planned as a literary breakthrough - even forecasted as the next To Kill a Mockingbird - it ended up being a big hot mess.

Okay okay, a hot mess that made a ton of money. To each their own.

August 9, 2011

Boy's Life (quote)

Because I couldn't just leave it on one post......and because I have never had a writer indirectly describe my personality so well. I can only hope that my son feels the same way about the balance between she that worries and he that doesn't.

"Worrying was my mother's way. She fretted about the weather, the cost of groceries, the washing machine breaking down, the Tecumseh River being dirtied by the paper mill in Adams Valley, the price of new clothes, and everything under the sun. To my mother, the world was a vast quilt whose stitches were always coming undone. Her worrying somehow worked like a needle, tightening those dangerous seams. If she could imagine events through to their worst tragedy, then she seemed to have some kind of control over them. As I said, it was her way. My father could throw up a fistful of dice to make a decision, but my mother had an agony for every hour. I guess they balanced, as two people who love each other should" (Boy's Life, Robert R. McCammon)

July 18, 2011

SK on HP

A good friend passed this quote along to me and I couldn't help but keep it going....

Boy's Life

"We had a dark queen who was one hundred and six years old. We had a gunfighter who saved the life of Wyatt Earp at the O.K. Corral. We had a monster in the river, and a secret in the lake. We had a ghost that haunted the road behind the wheel of a black dragster with flames on the hood. We had a Gabriel and a Lucifer, and a rebel that rose from the dead. We had an alien invader, a boy with a perfect arm, and we had a dinosaur loose on Merchants Street.

It was a magic place.

In me are the memories of a boy's life, spent in that realm of enchantments.

I remember.

These are the things I want to tell you" (Boy's Life by Robert R. McCammon)

To say I was in the right frame of mind to read this book is a large understatement. While I have been reading quite a bit lately my choices have more often than not been fictional stories based loosely on harsh modern day reality - histories of war, famine, and human suffering. I am constantly moved by the strength and beauty found by those in the darkest depths of existence and find inspiration and humility in their tales of survival. While I come away from many of these reads feeling thankful for the opportunity to hear their tale, it is not hard to imagine that my typical 'pep' on life is slowly drained with each turning page.

Sometimes one needs to feel enamored by life again. Not only that happiness comes from those basic needs and necessities being met but also by the fact that every once in a while, just for a moment, we can experience a true and beautiful moment of magic.


Ok - some claimed this book to fit unceremoniously into the typical coming-of-age, cliched magical realism realm of the 90s. I on the other hand found it to be everything I hoped and needed it to be and loved it.

McCammon for Boy's Life branched away from his typical Horror genre but kept the bouncy and at times punchy writing style that keeps readers continuously on their toes peeking around the corner. While the protagonist Cory experiences all the wonder and magic a young boy ought to it is not without a dualistic vision of the world in it's darkest moments.

On another note - if you have been looking for a great coming of age novel with a male protagonist then this is the book for you! Dynamic, curious and respectfully independent, not unlike Scout Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird), the young Cory Mackenson is a character you miss deeply when his tale comes to an end.

June 17, 2011

A Complicated Kindness

"Imagine the least well-adjusted kid in your school starting a breakaway clique of people whose manifesto includes a ban on the media, dancing, smoking, temperate climates, movies, drinking, rock'n'roll, having sex for fun, swimming, make-up, jewellery, playing pool, going to cities, or staying up past nine o'clock. That was Menno all over. Thanks a lot, Menno" (A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews).

Miriam Toews has skillfully recreated a diary of sorts for the voice of a 16 year old girl. I actually remembered - vividly - what it was like to be that age for 246 pages. That is NOT to say that my experiences were similar to those of the protagonist Nomi. Nomi truly comes to life, she is a character carefully developed with unending depth.

The plot, skillfully mimicking "Menno" life, moves like still water - evaporating slowly over time without creating any form of dramatic ripple. Nomi speaks at one point about spending life in two gears; neutral and fourth - going nowhere fast. She is internally held hostage by the love and personality traits she shares of both her mother - a rebel 'excommunicated' and her father - a passive follower of what is familiar and safe taking solice in his inability to stand out.

Nomi carries gracefully (albeit her constant 16 year old struggle with rebellion and acceptance) an incredible dry sarcasm. Toews created a voice that is fresh and unique and keeps the reader interested when the lack of plot or pace may have otherwise suggested they ditch and run for something more exciting.

Furthermore - I am always a fan of prose that appears the author's pen was flowing smoothly without any blots - seemless lines that leave the reader paused so that due justice is given; "On hot nights when the wind is right, the smell of blood and feathers tucks us in like an evil parent. There are no bars or visible exits".

This book turned out to be something I wasn't expecting and although it struggled to win me over I am more than pleased it fell into my lap.

June 8, 2011

Still Life with Woodpecker

Once again I had a good friend recommend a great read.

It's hard to know where to even start when attempting to discuss Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. He is a writer unlike any other and I mean that whole-heartedly. Having said that - do not expect a typical page turner of pop fiction leaving you with a life lesson, a tear shed, and a refreshed moral integrity. This writer does not follow any scripts and answers to no one (likely not even his editor). He is a true 'outlaw' in the literary world.

Robbins writes in the way a social anarchist with very strong weed and endless summer nights talks to the moon (and anyone else who cares to listen in). Still - it is, not unlike a night described above, packed with interesting discussion topics and unique (if not weird for lack of a better word) characters.

Definitely worth a read - especially if you are looking for something that doesn't fit into any of Chapters pre-destined stacks.

Because nothing will peak your interest more I will leave you with the back cover description:

"Still Life with Woodpecker is sort of a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes. It reveals the purpose of the moon, explains the difference between criminals and outlaws, examines the conflict between social activism and romantic individualism, and paints a portrait of contemporary society that includes powerful Arabs, exiled royalty and pregnant cheerleaders. It also deals with the problem of redheads."

May 28, 2011

Beatrice & Virgil

"Fiction and nonfiction are not so easily divided. Fiction may not be real, but it's true; it goes beyond the garland of facts to get to emotional and psychological truths. As for nonfiction, for history, it may be real, but its truth is slippery, hard to access, with no fixed meaning bolted to it. If history doesn't become story, it dies to everyone except the historian"
(Beatrice & Virgil by Yann Martel).

Maybe you read Life of Pi maybe you didn't.

If you did read it please do not, unlike general tendency, make preconceived opinions about Beatrice & Virgil.

This work of fiction (non-fiction - hmmm?) is nothing short of a heartbreaking work of art. An original and engrossing view of the holocaust told through the eyes of two characters in a play - a donkey and a howler monkey, clinging to "empty happiness" and friendship in a time of sheer horror. The play, written by a taxidermist while he is coached by a professional writer, is a work of historical ingenuity written within the larger context of a modern setting.

Beatrice & Virgil tears at your heart and keeps a piece for its own. A tax paid by the reader for a rare and original glimpse into a world we should never forget rests in our past. Do not assume you can read this book, coming in at less than 200 pages, without forever being changed by what lies within.

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