Archive for the ‘writing’ Tag
Somebody get Nathan Hill an editor! The author of The Nix is creative, daring and has a good – no excellent – story to tell. The problem is that it’s about 250 pages too long, including an 11-page sentence. Really?!
Moving back an fourth between a tumultuous Chicago in 1968 just before the Democratic national convention and a calmer 2011, the novel ‘s focus is on the relationship between Samuel Andresen-Anderson and his estranged mother, Faye. It’s been decades since he last saw her. When Samuel was a child, Faye abandoned him and her husband.
Samuel teaches literature at a Chicago university. His heart isn’t in his work; his students are neither inspired, nor inspiring. After hours, on his faculty computer, he plays an immersive video game. He is also 10 years behind on a book that he’s been contracted to write. Samuel is a likeable guy and it’s painful to consider him a loser. But.
Hill is at his best in his descriptions of Samuel’s childhood, before his mother left. It’s vivid, engaging and explains so much about this character. Equally engrossing are the sections about Faye’s youth in a rural town in Iowa.
Less appealing are some of the other characters and situations, if only because the depth of their portrayal is extraneous. Take the sentence that is a chapter unto itself. It chronicles the symptom-by-symptom, reaction-by-reaction experience of a compulsive gamer as his body shuts down.
Ultimately, all the reader, like Samuel, wants is to understand why Faye left.
Almost Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
It’s interesting that I’ve recently read two nonfiction books that both include the word betrayal in their subtitles. After all, it’s a powerful assertion. Michael Paterniti shares his in The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese. Initially the last word, the cheese, is what caught my attention more than the previous three. Those are experiences most of us know on some level, but the best cheese in the world? That’s something outside my realm.
Paterniti tells three stories: that of Ambrosio Molinos, a Spanish farmer turned cheesemaker; of life in rural Spain; and of the author’s own infatuation with the subject of his book, which isn’t the cheese at all, but the man behind it. Although Paterniti’s self-revelations are the least interesting, they’re fun to ride along with since he does such a magnificent job of bringing the larger-than-grand Ambrosio to life off the pages. It’s easy to see how he became so enmeshed in Ambroiso’s world, which is described in rich and vivid detail.
A combination of greed, poor business decisions and, ultimately, different versions of the same story result in Ambrosio’s fall from grace as a gentleman farmer to a man plagued with debt who is no longer able to produce the cheese that garnered worldwide attention.
The Telling Room could easily have been subtitled the power of friendship. It is power that comes from the beauty of reliance, fun and sharing to the more destructive and sad aspects that emerge when friendships fail.
The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese
The Dial Press, 2013
In a twist on the what-did-you-bring-me refrain from my kids’ childhood reactions to out-of-town trips, my oldest son brought me a book. I appreciate that it made him think of me. Shaggy Muses by Maureen Adams examines the relationships between five female writers and their dogs. I’ve had several dogs in my life and all hold special places in my heart. My dog Jackson and I have a strong bond; although I’m not sure I consider him my muse, he might prove me wrong.
Adams’s book is subtitled The Dogs Who Inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton and Emily Bronte. It’s part academic, largely anecdotal, and for dog lovers who happen to enjoy literature it’s particularly enjoyable. The book started as a series in scholarly journals on the bond between dogs and their humans.
The relationships between these writers and their dogs were strong to the point of distraction. In fact, the dogs served as buffers making it possible to limit expressing real emotion. Adams writes, “Elizabeth and Robert [Browning] used Flush as a symbolic go-between to help them express their feelings in conversations and letters.” The other women did the same.
Some of the writers had numerous dogs, other just a single source of inspiration. One narrative involving Bronte and Keeper, her large, intimidating part-Mastiff, is exceptionally disturbing. Bronte beat her dog, and then comforted him, which suggests the love-hate relationship often evident in abusive relationships. Fortunately, the other stories Adams provides are more endearing.
Shaggy Muses: The Dogs Who Inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton and Emily Bronte
The University of Chicago Press, 2007
299 pages, with notes and index
Hazel, the insightful narrator of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, is a 17-year-old who’s fought cancer most of her life. While talking about another book, she could just as easily be talking about this one: “But it’s not a cancer book, because cancer books suck.” Green has written much more than that, and it comes nowhere close to sucking.
This is about living with the knowledge of death’s inevitability loitering closer than it does for most, especially the young. Hazel meets Augustus at a cancer survivor’s support group. Eyes meeting across a semi-circle of young adults in varying degrees of bad health may not sound romantic, yet it’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship between two young adults who teeter alarmingly near to death’s grasp.
Hazel is an endearing character: intelligent, witty and aware of what she has in life, versus what she might be missing. She does not want to be defined by her diagnosis. Although Augustus might be a little too good to be true, he is fun and expands Hazel’s world.
Through a shared passion for the book that is “not a cancer book,” which simply stops with no real ending, the pair find a way to look toward the future. They want to know what happens. Yes, this may be a metaphor for their lives, but it’s far less dismal than that.
A few plot twists help overshadow the novel’s predictability. The story’s beauty is based not on what’s lost, but is grounded on what’s gained.
The Fault in Our Stars
Dutton Books, 2012
Living Out Answers – Twelve Trips of a Lifetime by Dave Jackson, is one of two indie books I recently read for pleasure (others I read for one of my few paid writing gigs). In the interest of full disclosure: I almost know the author. We’ve never met, but Jackson’s the father of a good friend who gave me the book as a gift.
This is a memoir based on trips, yup 12 of them, that he began taking when he turned 50 in 1979. He kept journals of the adventures which are the book’s foundation supplemented by recent afterthoughts. The trips include finding a way to spend time on the Mississippi River, to working for a circus, to learning about coal mines in West Virginia, along with nine others. He hitchhiked, hopped trains, hiked, rode in the cabs of big rigs and developed sea legs on boats.
Nearly as interesting is how the book evolved: Jackson’s granddaughter was prompted by a photo which led to discussions about the travels. Others entered the picture offering advice and encouragement. Although the book became a family endeavor of sorts, the stories are Jackson’s.
Jackson embraced the new opportunities and experiences no matter how exciting, frustrating or unpleasant, but there was always the safety net of a comfortable lifestyle awaiting him after each exploit. What’s most impressive is that Jackson made these journeys at a point in his life where many think self-reflection is either unnecessary or inconvenient. He demonstrates neither is the case.
Living Out Answers – Twelve Trips of a Lifetime
Three and a half bookmarks
Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is a poignant, yet cheerful perspective on getting older. This is the kind of book to share with friends, particularly if they’re around the age of what is now considered to be the new-40s.
As in most of her writing, Quindlen relies on personal experience to make her points. Her writing career includes several stints as a columnist (at the New York Times and later Newsweek) as well as authoring several works of fiction, nonfiction and children’s books. She has a keen sense of observation. Better still, she’s an extraordinary wordsmith. Those two skills result in crafting pieces readers can easily make connections with. Of control, she writes: “I thought I had a handle on my future. But the future, it turns out, is not a tote bag.”
Quindlen examines the important aspects of life, which can be applied to most people, women in particular: friendship, family, love, parenting, and more. She’s humorous and honest. She writes of near-misses, both good and bad. She reflects on how much her younger self was sure she knew and how her older self readily acknowledges what she doesn’t. Without citing the tired phrase that youth is squandered on the young, it’s a major thread. Quindlen puts a new spin on it.
Yes, this is a memoir, but it is much more. It’s a guidebook to accepting that each morning we wake up is a gift – even if we’re older than we were the day before.
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake
Random House 2012
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to wait to acknowledge the first anniversary of The Blue Page Special next month, or do a shout out for this my 100th post. Then I thought, hey I can do both — if I want. It’s a cool milestone: 100 posts. Along the way I’ve experienced some great and not-so-good books and meals, discovered new blogs and learned more about myself.
Mostly, I’m grateful for my readers. Some are family members; many are people I’ve known for years and still others are new-found friends who simply share a common interest in books and/or food. I must admit, though, I was thrilled when the number of followers I’ve never met began to slowly (very slowly) surpass those I know personally. This is not meant to disparage my friends, because I appreciate your support more than I can express. Rather, it’s just an odd sense of validation.
I’d love to be able to make a living writing about books and food, or just books, or just food. Instead, I teach at a community college (something I enjoy a lot), read as much as possible (something essential in my life), dine out more than I should (something I find exceptionally enjoyable), and love my family (something self-explanatory). Although only one of those helps pay any bills, my blog has made me more disciplined in my writing and my readers have made me want to be as creative, honest and as worthy of your time as possible. Thanks for being part of the ride.