Thursday, March 28, 2013

Four New Books (How's That For A Title?)

"People always think that happiness is a faraway thing, something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains-a cup of strong hot coffee when you're blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you're alone-just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness."
-A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Betty Smith

It's been a while since I posted here and I really only just realized it the other day when someone asked me what I was reading. You know those months where you just feel like time is whizzing by without your permission and then all of a sudden you wake up and it's the end of March? That was how this month was. And I will say that I did a little bit of reading, so there are things to update you on.

In my last post, it should have been clear that I was over winter. If it's possible, I'm even more over it now. Spring continues to taunt us here in DC, though it's looking like Opening Day (go Nats!) is going to be a beautiful one, so I'm thankful that I'll be continuing my three-day weekend with some baseball and beers. But still, spring hasn't completely shown her face yet, so I still don't have that feeling like in You've Got Mail when Meg Ryan finds out it's Tom Hanks while they're in a beautiful garden, which is what spring sometimes feels like to me. Yes.. you know what I'm talking about--where you're so full of it all that you feel it in the back of your throat.

So to tide me over, I've been doing some reading and thought I'd share it with you from earlier to later in the month:

-Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors by Andrew Shaffer: I love random facts and I love writers, so this was a perfect fit for me. If you were ever an English major or ever thought about being an English major or a writer, this is a really fun book that you'll enjoy. Shaffer takes you in time through the badasses of literature from the Marquis de Sade through James Frey focusing on those authors who drank, smoked, did drugs, shot people, or generally incited mayhem in society in their day. Not only are the stories great (I mean, you have to love Hemingway), but Shaffer has a really raw, real way of writing. He blows through the pretty words and tells you the story of the authors in a shockingly small number of words. It's quite amazing what he manages to get across in each chapter. It's helpful when you already have a general idea of who the people are and what they wrote, but it's certainly not necessary and it doesn't make the ride any less fun. If you like books about books or flaunting your literary knowledge about, this is the book for you.

-A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle: I can already hear your intake of breath when I tell you that I had never read A Wrinkle in Time before. Somehow it slipped through the cracks of my childhood, most likely because it was "science fiction" and I was way too good for that (I've been a snob for a long time, you know). Anyway, I was looking at one of the blogs I like and there was a link to a list of the 50 best sci-fi books ever. Of course, I sent it to my science fiction loving boyfriend and since it's been a while since we read something together and neither one of us had read it, we decided it would be fun to read together. Since it's technically a children's book, it didn't take us very long (I read a paper copy and he listened to it so we didn't finish at quite the same time but close). If I was 10 again, I probably would have loved it--Meg and I would have been kindred spirits in a way, I think. But since I'm 26 (oh, god) I think it was a little harder for me to enjoy. I liked the characters (for the most part, though I wanted to smack Charles Wallace around a little bit) and the whole idea of a "wrinkle in time" was wonderful and I even loved the jab at Communism that was quite relevant for its time, but I must say I didn't love it and I'm not even sure I can put a finger on why (and after sending a text to Traber to see if it was okay if I told my very small reader-base that we read this together that he read it, he said: "For the record, did not love it"). But actually, I'm glad we read it because it was fun to talk about, especially with him because we saw different things, him being more science-minded, and me being more literary-minded. It was fun and I bet that you'd love a good re-read of it if you read it as a kid.

-The Bartender's Tale by Ivan Doig: For some reason, my reading list this year has been full of stories of young boys and the thing that  makes them grow up (see This is How You Lose Her and Canada) and I'm kind of loving it. It's not usually a tandem I go on (though this is an unplanned tandem), but I'll run with it, especially if it's taking me to books like The Bartender's Tale which I very simply loved. And for so many reasons. The writing is flush with simple beauty as Doig tells the story of Rusty who grew up for the first six years of his life with his aunt and horrible cousins only seeing his father Tom once a year for a vacation. When Rusty turned six, his father came and picked him up and took him to live with him in Montana where he owned a bar and where he was "...the greatest bartender that ever lived." Rusty grows up admiring his father and learning all about the rough life in Montana as he gets to listen in on the life in the bar from a hidden vent that he can hear through. Rusty's twelfth year is a memorable one as Rusty becomes inseparable friends with Zoe who is new to town, he finds a love of theater as he helps a wealthy woman in the community prepare for a role in a Wilde play, and a new complication to life shows up in the form of a teenage girl who claims to be Rusty's father's daughter. One of the greater characters in the book is Del who comes to Tom with the plea to help him capture an oral history of a military base where Tom used to bartend. The detail-without-going-into-detail that Doig executes in this storyline is amazing. Oral history has been a fascination of mine for a while (I even took a class in grad school about it) and it's so finely interwoven into the story that you almost don't realize that you're learning something. It's a story of growing up to the point of not being able to fall back into childhood anymore and of learning who you can become as a person even at a young age. I loved it and if you loved Canada or The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, I recommend you grab this one too.

-Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse by Jennifer Worth: Though this book was published a while ago, it's gaining recent recognition as it is one of the volumes by Jennifer Worth that is inspiring the (wonderful) series on PBS by the same name. I love the PBS show and can't wait for it to come back at the end of the month, and I felt similarly about the book. You have to get over the fact that Worth is writing literary nonfiction and that she's embellishing on some of the parts of the story that she doesn't know first-hand, but once you do, it's a wonderful and heartwrenching read.  Worth was a nurse working at Nonnatus House in East End of London during the 1950s where she saw all kinds of poverty, abuse, love, family, and despair going on around her.The book is split into three parts which each have their own story lines: one is about children who grew up in the workhouse and somehow made it out alive which is fascinating and brings to light some of the atrocities that the poor suffered in the early 1900s in England, the second part is about Sister Monica Joan who is losing her memory with her age and is accused of stealing jewels and must go on trial, and the third part is about Jennifer's relationship with an ill man with whom she shares tea after hours and who tells her his stories of the war and of his life. Though a very uplifting read, it does shove the reality of the slums at you and it's well done. Worth's experiences are fascinating and her storytelling is very fluid and relatable. If you love the show, pick up the book--you'll recognize some of the storylines and it's fun.

Unfortunately, I haven't been doing as much reading as I'd like to be, but I'm hoping that life will slow down a little bit in the coming weeks and I'll have a chance to catch up. I'm halfway through The Round House by Louise Erdrich right now and I'm basically obsessed with it and am going to be picking it up right after I post this. Also, thanks to HarperCollins for sending me Call the Midwife and

Also, on a totally personal note, I'm getting my braces off in two weeks from today and I couldn't be more excited! I'm sure that I'll bombard you with before and after pictures, so prepare yourselves.

I'm looking forward to a relatively quiet April as we gear up for a very busy May through August and I hope that spring comes your way soon!

Keep reading,