Monday, May 13, 2013

No Braces, New Job, Busy Life, But Still Reading!

"She was the dream of the place that bore her, and she did not even know it."
-The Orchardist
Amanda Coplin

It's been a while since I updated here, but there's been a lot going on, so let's update on that first, then we'll get to the book talk!

First of all, my braces are off! Basically, this closes out my 25 year goals and it feels great! I'm so happy with how it all turned out and I'm beyond thrilled to be able to eat (basically) whatever I want (the Doritos intake has been a little absurd... don't judge). Straight teeth are amazing and it was so worth the time and money! Also, reading out loud (my guilty, only-when-I'm-alone pleasure) is so much more enjoyable and sounds a million times better!

Second of all, I am now in the third week of my new job as the Archivist at the University of Maryland's David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora! The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of starting something new, but I'm so excited to be able to work with these super amazing materials and to have a new challenge!

This past month has also been the beginning of what is going to be a very exciting and busy summer full of lots of weddings, wine festivals, shows (Anything Goes and Book of Mormon!), friends, parties, and (hopefully) some good reading! In true DC fashion, Mother Nature isn't sure what season it is, but that's okay, because it's an opportunity for me to wear my yellow coat!

So you can blame my lack of updates due to all that! :)

Though life has been busy, there's been no shortage of good books being read around here, and there are a few that I'm really excited to tell you about, so let's get to it!

The Round House by Louise Erdrich: When I was in college, one of the best classes I took was on Post-Modern literature and one of the books that we read was Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, and while I don't remember much about it, I do remember that I wasn't a huge fan when I read it, so I was kind of hesitant to pick up The Round House, but I'm lucky that Pat Holzheimer loved it enough to make it one of his top 5 books from last year on his blog! The story is mildly graphic, but quite solidly written. The story centers on a Native American family living in peace until a tragic event happens to the mother. The story is told through the eyes of Joe, the teenage son and only child of the Native American judge and his wife, who is traumatized after being brutally raped. After the rape, Joe's mother shuts herself away from her family completely and Joe is determined to solve the mystery of who did this horrible thing to his mother and essentially changed the lives of his entire family forever and irreparably damaged what was good in his life. Told in a very blatant and essential way, Erdrich brings to life the tragedy, heartbreak, and  confusion that surrounds the horrible crime of rape and what it means to the family of the victim as well as the victim themselves. Interwoven with Erdrich's signature Native American stories and morals, this is a wonderfully written book that will stick with you long after you've finished it.

In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan: A recent HarperCollins book, this one was sent to me a while ago, and I only just got to it! In this memoir, Pete Jordan weaves together his own personal story of moving to Amsterdam and the history of the bicycle in that very bike-centered city. Jordan moves to Amsterdam initially for school, but then his wife follows him there and they make there home. There is no doubt that part of the reason behind Jordan's decision to completely relocate to Amsterdam was the fact that there are more bikes than people in the city and Jordan is obviously crazy about bikes. While you do get some of his own story of his move, what he focuses on more is the history of the bike in Amsterdam which is focused more on the role of the bike during the Nazi regime, which does get pretty interesting. Although generally, I kept feeling like I should love this book, I just couldn't get into it. I don't know if I just kind of found Jordan annoying or not genuine, or what it was, but I was relatively lukewarm about this. I will say that he does a very comprehensive job of getting the history of the bicycle in this very interesting city and getting to the meaty and interesting parts of that history. Not a bad history lesson, but kind of a slow memoir in general.

Life of Pi by Yann  Mantel: Traber and I saw this movie a few months ago, basically on a whim (Silver Linings Playbook was sold out) and I am so glad that we did! It was a beautiful movie (though the screen was very dark at the theater, which was the theater's and not the movie itself's problem) and the only thing that I was disappointed with was the fact that for some strange reason, I hadn't yet read the book. Though I almost always think the book is better than the movie, sometimes it's harder to think that when you see the movie first--I don't know about you, but I always end up not using my own imagination quite as much. But Mantel's visuals and descriptions were so specifically beautiful, I really was able to get my own view of the events that follow Pi as he survives alone on a lifeboat for several months with only a Bengal tiger as company. The twist is perfectly executed and in no way trite or cliche (as twists can be) and the language was so magnificent yet poignant that all I wanted to do was keep reading. I can honestly say that in my "old" age, I usually don't want to read before bed usually (I end up falling asleep), but I just had to keep reading until my eyes got too heavy on the nights I was reading this. I'm sure you already know the premise of the story, so I won't go into too much detail except to say that if you haven't read it, I really highly recommend it and think that if you love The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, you would be happy that you picked up Life of Pi.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin: Stop everything. Go to the library or bookstore or Amazon or whatever your preferred method of acquiring books is and get this. I'm serious. I'm in love with this book and am pretty sure that it is going to be a really hard decision for best book of this year between this and Canada. This was another one that I simply couldn't put down and basically had me obsessed for a week and a half. Coplin's novel focuses on Talmadge who owns an orchard in Washington state. His life was a hard a relatively lonely one that included walking partway across the country during the late 1800s with his mother and sister after his father died, finding a cabin in an orchard and settling down there, having his mother die while he was still a teenager, and then having his sister disappear shortly after. Talmadge relies on few people and knows very few people in town, so when two pregnant runaway teenage girls show up in his orchard, he has few people to consult about what to do with them. Possibly against his own better judgement, Talmadge begins taking care of the girls, later finding out the horrible conditions that they ran away from. With the help of one of his few close friends, Talmadge helps the girls deliver the babies, and though one of the babies doesn't make it, Talmadge takes in the surviving baby as though it was his own. The events that follow are both tragic and life-affirming and Coplin follows the sisters, the new baby, and Talmadge all in an elegant swirl of prose. Through amazingly deft prose, style, and the perfectly placed short chapters, Coplin does an amazing job of leading you up to the climax of the story and making your heart beat faster as you wait for some kind of collision to come. It's amazing how the style of something so simple as telling a story can make my heart beat faster and the hairs on my arms stand up. The characters are wonderfully drawn and the plot is well-wrought, but what really struck me was the telling of the story and the way Coplin drew me in with simple yet elegant words and storytelling that can often go unnoticed but that really made the book for me. You'll like this one if you liked Canada, The Bartender's Tale, or The Art of Racing in the Rain. Simply wonderful.

To put it very simply: books are awesome. I'm pretty sure that's all one needs to know in life to be happy. Am I right?

I hope that this maybe jumpstarts your summer reading plans and that you get lots of time to read some amazing things. I hope to not wait too long before my next post! :)

Keep reading,