Tuesday, July 31, 2012

III. A Bird of Wide Experience; IV. Return to Forever & V. Brokeland (Telegraph Avenue Read Along)

So - I was behind, but I caught up! I had a fantastic stay-cation with many visitors. My brother came up first with his boyfriend and we hiked Sleeping Beauty (I'm including a photo of the view as an apology to my read alongers who actually posted on time). Then my sister came to visit and we watched a lot of The Guild, then went to the park for a picnic that was ruined by fire ants. Then my good friend from high school came and we nearly finished Downton Abbey. I mean - there was a lot going on. I'm sorry.

Apologetic view:

I'm going to keep the reviews for last week's sections short. I commented on everyone's blogs, so I know the conversation has already been had. 

 III. A Bird of Wide Experience

I think I noticed that it was one long paragraph on the first page. And not because I'm a genius or anything. The opposite - my mind starts to wander to laundry and other things if it isn't given boundaries. So I immediately thought - something isn't right here! That being said - I loved this chapter. It felt like I was taking flight with Fifty-Eight, watching Telegraph Avenue from his point of view. The sweep of the words and the brilliancy of the visuals swept me away. It's definitely the first section of this book that I actually loved. 

IV. Return to Forever

I had a thought during Part III that I thought I'd save until this section. Do you think Quentin Tarantino was given an early copy of this book? What do you think he thinks of it? Are he and Chabon buddies? I base everything off of Kav & Clay, but it seems both Chabon and Tarantino rely on the same eras of pop-culture. 

Another similarity, which seems to shine through to me even more now that we debated whether or not Titus is gay (and then, whether or not Archy, Chan and possibly even Luther harbor homosexual feelings in V) - Tarantino is kind of known for his ambiguous sexuality - I mean, aside from that foot thing that came out recently. That seems to fit in with some sort of theme here. Not to mention... the author. I know he's married with children, but - given the similar themes of both this book and Kav & Clay in regards to homosexuality... where does Chabon fall on the Kinsey scale

Archy grew a little on me this section. Mostly it was Gwen's admission that Archy is - "a man remained undiminished by her reluctance to confront him." That and the fact that all of Archy's inactions and non-decisions seem to be piling up behind him. He's a stupid man, yet somehow, at his core, a good one. He doesn't mean well, but he also doesn't mean ill. He's driven to stay still only by some sort of fear. And when you finally meet Luther, you can't help buy try and understand why Archy is the way he is. 

V. Brokeland

With the exception of the final passage, I thought this was a fitting ending to the book. There was a lot of that I loved - Gwen's departure from midwifery, Archy finally standing up for himself and family, Julie and Mrs. Jew going to get Titus so he could be there for the birth of his brother (and Gwen's desire to have him there), Nat finally accepting chaos and change. 

It was that last passage - even perhaps the last two passages - that kind of threw the ending for me (in such a way that maybe now the book gets a 3 when I do my full review, rather than a 4). It just felt forced, like everything he meant to accomplish was accomplished in the hospital room, but he still was obliged to tell us about Gwen's lawsuit and what Archy and Nat are going to do post-Brokeland. Though, I did love the last line: 

"He eased his foot off the brake, thinking as they rolled away that, after all, perhaps one day a few years from now, he might have recovered enough to feel like he was ready to stop in. Say hi, drop a little lore and history on the man, tell him all about Angelo's, and Spencer's, and the Brokeland years. See how they put the world together, next time around." 

The End

So that's it! It's over. Thank you so much to Emily from As the Crowe Flies (And Reads!) for hosting. It was a lot of fun and I'm going to miss all of the other participants. If you're interested, you can pre-order the book here

Friday, July 27, 2012

30-Day Book Challenge - Day 17

Day 17 - Favorite Quote From Your Favorite Book

"Always," said Snape.
                  - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Thursday, July 26, 2012

30-Day Book Challenge - Day 16

Day 16 - A Book You Would Recommend To An Ignorant/Close Minded/Racist Person

I don't talk to those kinds of people! But I guess if I had to and I guess if those a-holes asked for a recommendation, I'd recommend To Kill A Mockingbird.

To be completely honest, I couldn't think of a good answer to this one on my own, so I Googled it. The problem is - I've read so many books that I think are extremely important, and that deal with a variety of cultures and race relations within. But they all seemed like something an ignorant/close minded/racist person would twist to fit their own agenda. I mean - that's the problem with those kinds of people. 

Purchase Now from Amazon: To Kill a Mockingbird

Monday, July 23, 2012

30-Day Book Challenge - Day 15

Day 15 - Book That Should Be On A Required Reading List

I remember reading The Color Purple in high school. Possessing the Secret of Joy is just as powerful and emotional, and sparks the same amount of discussion. It is a sequel of sorts, the main character, Tashi, is a minor character in The Color Purple. Tashi leaves Africa with her husband Adam, but is plagued by some of the things she endured there - specifically her genital mutilation and the customs that forced her to experience that mutilation. 

Purchase Now from Amazon: Possessing the Secret of Joy: A Novel

Friday, July 20, 2012

30-Day Book Challenge - Day 14

Day 14 - Your Favorite Book of Your Favorite Writer

Though The Garden of Eden comes in a close second, The Sun Also Rises is definitely my favorite. My copy is so marked up - it's difficult to read the actual words. 

Purchase Now from Amazon: The Sun Also Rises

Thursday, July 19, 2012

30-Day Book Challenge - Day 12

Day 12 - The First Novel You Remember Reading

Maybe, The Secret Garden? I think I read that around 3rd grade? Of course I read a lot of Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, but I'm not sure if Ralph S. Mouse came before or after. Or if it counts. So - the first true grown-up adult novel that I read was Pride & Prejudice. 

I read it for the first time in 5th grade. I didn't understand a word of it. All I think I got out of it was that the mother wanted to marry off all of her daughters. Everything else.... But, I read it. 

Purchase Now from Amazon: Pride and Prejudice

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

30-Day Book Challenge - Day 13

Day 13 - Your Favorite Writer

The papa. Ernest Hemingway. Funnily enough, I didn't really care for Hemingway at first. Mostly because I was obsessed with 10 Things I Hate About You and wanted to have all of the same opinions that Kat had. I read For Whom the Bell Tolls, which I really thought was full of Hemingway chauvinism. Then, my senior year of high school my teacher assigned an research paper and presentation - we had to read several books by same author, write about them, and then give a 30 minute presentation on their life and works. I picked Hemingway because I thought I could a serious critical analysis, and learned to love the man. That's the best sort of love. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

II. The Church of Vinyl (Telegraph Avenue Read Along)

I really came down right the wire on this one. It's 10:36 Monday evening - exactly 6 minutes past my normal bedtime and I only just finished. Don't get me wrong - the book is still very good, but also - it's kind of like exercising. I just don't want to do it, but I guess in the end it's rewarding?

II. The Church of Vinyl
"Councilman, you made me realize, thank you, but me and Mr. Jones and Nat Jaffe and our kind of people, we already got a church of our own. You, too, seemed like at one time, up to not too long ago, a member in good standing. And that church is the church of vinyl." 
"...our kind of people..."  - the most interesting line in the quote above. Knowing that Nat is white (finally, officially verified on page 189. Almost 200 freaking pages of confusion on the color of one character's skin) and Archy is black. Our kind of people - the kind that can't live without, can't express who they are without music. Color blind.

I found this section more tedious than the first. My expectation of diving into the conflict and actually getting to know and love the characters fell a little flat. It seemed to be just a continuation of Dream of Cream.

What irritates me the most is Chabon's circular approach to each piece of the story. He drops you in the middle of a situation, teasingly alludes to the point, taunts you with your lack of understanding for a while, before circling back to the beginning and affording the reader some clarity. This approach is not necessarily bad. It's more the abundance of it - the unceasing rhythm. It's like... when a writer doesn't vary their sentence structure and the prose becomes sing-songy and strange, too much of the same.

(By the way, you can join the rest of the read along discussion here, and if you're interested in pre-ordering this not yet released book, go here!)

Some Random Observations (Contains Spoilers!)

- When Nat admits to Archy that he always tacks on an extra thirty-seven minutes for all black people - I laughed so hard. I had a good friend in college, black, who - whenever we discussed what time we had to be at a party or a class, he would ask me, "Is that in CP time?"

- Why is Archy cheating such a non-issue? I know that, by the end of this section, he sort of gets his. But the actual act of him cheating is never addressed. And that bothers me. A lot.

- The insertion of Obama into the narrative was jarring and strange. It took me right out of the story. I was trying to figure out why. I mean, that's a pretty huge choice, to include a "historical" figure that is still in the process of making history. The only thing that I can think of is that - going with the obsolete American Dream theme of the first part - Obama represents the opposite of that? He says to Gwen, "I have seen a lot of people, met a lot of people. The lucky ones are the people like your husband there. The ones who find work that means something to them. That they can really put their heart into, however foolish it might look to other people." I know the point of his campaign was hope, but I kind of forgot how heavily he leaned on the rediscovery of every-man's dream.

- I very deeply related to Aviva in this line, "Only Aviva's long habit of taking the temperature of her own racism, of her biases and stereotypes..." I grew up in a town that was predominately white.  And so, when I went to college and actually made friends of color, I was so conscious of my own racism. That is to say - I am not racist. So instead of acting negatively prejudiced, I had a tendency to show a prejudice in the opposite direction. Acting nicer. Giving more. Forever checking myself to make sure - this isn't racist, right? It wasn't until a friend pointed out that what I was doing was ridiculous that I learned to stop.

- I very much enjoyed the allusion to the 2001 monolith. This Dogpile Thang is something that must come to pass.

- Gibson Goode tells Archy, "I'm not in it for the money." Is that better or worse? To destroy something just because you can?

Monday, July 16, 2012

30-Day Book Challenge - Day 11

Day 11 - A Book You Hated

I considered Maguire's A Lion Among Men, because it was god-awful and completely unnecessary. But then I remembered Eat, Pray, Love by the insufferable Elizabeth Gilbert.

In my initial review on Shelfari (before I was blogging), I was kind of nice about it:
Well, I must admit that I actually enjoyed Indonesia. Not enough to raise my opinion of the entire book, Ketut, Wayan, and Felipe were wonderful 'characters'. Gilbert focused more on the culture in this section than in any other.
I was very grossly disappointed with this book. At the risk of being accused of being 'close minded' - it just wasn't what I expected. When I'm told I'm going to read about a woman who went on a spiritual journey through 3 amazing countries/cultures in the course of one year, I want to read about a woman who went on a spiritual journey through 3 amazing countries/cultures in one year. I wanted it to be deep. I wanted to feel something. Hell, with all the shit that's happened in my life this year, I NEEDED to feel something. I thought, maybe this woman can show me how to look for God in the face of personal tragedy. Instead, I got distracting sidebars and unamusing anecdotes that lent nothing to the narrative or the point I thought she was hideously trying to make.
That's not to say that this was a BAD book. Like I mentioned before, I can see why the general population has fallen in love with Elizabeth Gilbert and her sassy journey around the world. It was just entirely too informal for my taste and completely lacking in any true emotion. To me, she'd almost get there, and then very annoyingly tack a couple (parenthesis) stating "I remember something my friend said to me once ten years ago word for word..." I couldn't take it. 
Shortly after that was posted, all hell broke loose. People started telling me off, saying they 'felt sorry for me.' To be honest, I felt completely betrayed by Elizabeth Gilbert's superficial approach to these gorgeous countries/cultures. By her making a dime off of her pretense. I really hate her and this book for it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

30-Day Book Challenge - Day 10

Day 10 - Favorite Classic Book

This one, I think, is a tough competition between Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Alcott's Little Women. I read both pretty frequently - Alcott around Christmastime and Austen whenever I'm caught up by the fervent need for more Austen. So - I'm basically 'catching a piggy by its toe' for this one and choosing....

Also - neither of these are listed in my Top Ten of all Time. I apparently don't know what I'm saying at all. 

Purchase Now from Amazon: Little Women

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I. Dream of Cream (Telegraph Avenue Read Along)

Some Things You Should Know

1. I'm reading as a I write. I'm writing as a read. In other words - I'm sticking to the schedule and I'm not reading ahead. This will cause me to make many assumptions on theme and plot that I reserve the right to change as the read along progresses. I figure it'll be more fun that way. I'll still post my usual review at the end of all this. 

2. There will most likely be spoilers. Though I'll try (as I almost always do) to keep it at essential spoilers - i.e. nothing that would ruin any major surprises or plot twists... anything that would make you feel like, well - now I don't have to read this. Because I do want you to read this. 

Summary (via HarperCollins)

As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there, longtime friends, bandmates, and coregents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the sketchy yet freewheeling borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland, on the quintessential East Bay avenue that gives the book its title. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, a pair of semilegendary midwives who have welcomed, between them, more than a thousand newly minted little citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart, half tavern, half temple, stands Brokeland Records. Archy and Gwen are expecting their first baby; Nat and Aviva have a teenage son, Julius. Cranky, flawed, and loving each other with all the fierceness we've come to expect of Chabon characters, they have worked to construct lives and livelihoods that have a groove, looking to connect across barriers of race and class, and clinging to a sense of order and security through their stubbornly old-school ways. 

When ex-NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in the United States announces plans to go forward with the construction of his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby neglected stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. What they don't know is that Goode's announcement marks the climax of a decades-old secret history, encompassing a forgotten crime of the Black Panther era, the tragedy of Archy's own deadbeat father... and the perpetual shining failure of American optimism about race. 

I. Dream of Cream
A white boy rode flatfoot on a skateboard, towed along, hand to shoulder, by a black boy pedaling a brakeless fixed-gear bike. 
That first line pretty much says it all. I mean, most glaringly - the white boy and the black boy let you know that you're most likely in for a story centered on and structured by race relations. But that image invokes more than that - youth, optimism, connection. A fairly simple image of the dream - be it the American Dream, King's Dream or the Dream of Cream.

What struck me right away was the rhythm of the language. Chabon describes Nat Jaffe: "Nat bulled in with his head down, humming low to himself; humming the interesting chord changes to an otherwise lame contemporary pop song; humming an angry letter... humming the first fragments of a new theory... humming when he wasn't making a sound, even when he was asleep, some wire deep in the bones of Nathaniel Jaffe always resounding." And that's what the novel does. It's got a funky, jazzy sort of beat.

Then, after that, the second chord struck (pun intended) was the depth of Chabon's writing. The layers! We've already established that there's the element of race. So we move on next to the American Dream - the story is set in 2004, against the rise of a big box store referred to as the Thang. Which, I was trying to remember - is that around the time when the big boxes really started to hit it big? I think it was around then, 2000, when Target and Barnes & Noble came to my hometown, so it's a pretty significant period of time for Chabon to have chosen - the symbolic decline of the dream, the decline of the ability to pave your own way on these proverbial streets of gold. I mean, Dream of Cream turns out to be this highly coveted desert sold at a neighborhood bakery that will soon be closing its doors. A slice of cake that's moving quickly toward the obsolete.

There are three generations distinctly represented in the novel, each carrying its own parental/lost boy sort of baggage. Early on in this section, Archy contemplates his impending fatherhood against that of his own father - "... Luther Stallings still came around, paid his child support on time, took Archy to A's games... there was something further required of old Luther that never materialized, some part of him that never showed up, even when he was standing right beside Archy. Fathering imposed an obligation that was more than your money, your body, or your time, a presence neither physical nor measurable by clocks: open-ended, eternal, and invisible, like the commitment of gravity to the stars." Both men - Archy and Nat (though both had vastly different relationships with their fathers) - struggle to break free of the cycle themselves, while also dealing with a new, mysterious and hopeful generation.

Oh! And, like Joseph Kavalier and Sammy Clay, the original Chabon lost boys, I love how Julius Jaffe, a misunderstood homosexual teenager, reveres comic book heroes. Nice touch!

Jump around to the other blogs in the read along here.

A Treat for my Read Along Bloggers: Telegraph Avenue Pandora Station! (That I made, sitting here like a dork, scanning the pages for artists mentioned, while the boy sits on the couch attempting to read A Dance with Dragons... "What are you DOING?" he asks.)

Intrigued? Pre-order your copy here.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Maine - J. Courtney Sullivan

Rating: 3 stars

The Kelleher's are one big happy, dysfunctional Irish-Catholic family. It is June, and three generations of the Kellehers are planning to their summer trips to the beach house in Maine, which the patriarch of the family - long past Daniel Kelleher - won as a bet in 1945. Alice, the matriarch of the family, secretly makes a large donation to a church in Maine as penance for an much darker secret in her past. Maggie, her granddaughter, travels to Maine to escape a fight with her deadbeat boyfriend, Gabe, while also figuring out how to tell him she's pregnant with his child. Ann-Marie, Alice's daughter-in-law, struggles to face the next chapter of her life. And Kathleen, Maggie's mother and Alice's eldest daughter, swore she'd never return.

None of these women is particularly likable, with the exception of Maggie. Alice is bitter, mean, selfish, and an alcoholic who doesn't actually think she's an alcoholic. Daniel, as we learn through all of the characters, was a steady rock, good husband, and loving father. Though you do get the impression that both were in love and respected each other in many ways, Alice doesn't seem to treat his memory with the respect the reader assumes he deserves. Ann-Marie pretends to be all that she is - a shallow, nouveau riche housewife - and it's no wonder she's become lost and unappreciated in leaning solely on domesticity. Kathleen is the rebellious daughter who broke loose - starting as an alcoholic married to another, and then divorcing him and joining AA. Though she tries desperately hard to be the opposite of Alice, she's practically exactly the same - preachy and selfish. Maggie is just clueless - forever searching for love and stability in hands of the wrong men. But she's also kind and thoughtful. You get the impression that her temperament is a lot like Daniel's was. Still, you find yourself rooting for these women. Their flaws make them extremely real.

It's even decently written. Though my major gripe with the novel is its lack of action. Told in alternating perspectives, everything seems to happen just before you get to that character's chapter, so you're reading about what HAD happened, versus reading about it actually happening. It's an easy trap to get caught in and is slightly amateurish - I blame her editor.

Read it in the summer. On a beach. Root for the ladies and pretend you're in Maine. Then go read a classic.

UPDATE:  I just had a conversation about this book with a friend. The only character that's actually lives and acts in the present is Maggie. Alice, Kathleen and Anne Marie seem to be doing a significant amount of the "had"s. She maintains it's because these women can't seem to move on from their pasts. They're doing more reflecting than anything else. Worrying about who they are and, with the amount of family secrets floating around, unable to actually find closure. I will agree with this statement and no longer blame her editor.

Friday, July 6, 2012

30-Day Book Challenge - Day 09

Day 09 - A Book You Thought You Wouldn't Like But Ended Up Loving

I used to turn my nose up at graphic novels. My sister begged me to read Watchmen for a long, long time. My infuriating, yet typical answer to requests like these are, "Yeah, sure," with a tone that definitely implies I actually have no intention. I mean, I read Ghost World and pretty much hated that - so graphic novels must be below me right? Well - the year I finally read Watchmen, I read two other graphic novels and they ALL ended up in my Top Ten, with it coming in at number 2.

Purchase Now from Amazon: Watchmen

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Green Hills of Africa - Ernest Hemingway

Rating: 4 stars

Is there anything that Hemingway can't write? Green Hills of Africa is Hemingway's second work of non-fiction, chronicling a month spent hunting in Africa with his second wife, Pauline. Somewhere along the narrative, Hemingway states that if were ever to attempt writing about Africa, he would write a "landscape painting." And that's exactly what he did. As always, Hemingway's language is not merely descriptive, but alive in such a way that makes the reader feel a true part of it. A part of the tall grasses and the salt licks that he hunts. Of the Masai as they, unused to visitors, chase the car into the forest. The reader is a part of the night, as the hunters take their baths, eat their dinners, drink their booze and talk of things in pure Hemingway style - direct, yet full of meaning. Understands Hemingway's need to hunt and his accord with nature, so long as he does it right, and how it all equates to his need to write - his need to do something as it ought to be done. Absolutely beautiful.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

30-Day Book Challenge - Day 08

Day 08 - Most Overrated Book

Easy! I, of course, have a tag on Shelfari - 'not fond of,' which includes some obscure books, but also some books that everyone seems to praise so highly that I just hate. Still, my number one - I DON'T GET IT - isn't even on there. And looking back, I gave it two stars instead of just one - probably because it really is okay in terms of craft and does have some quotable moments. But to me, On the Road by Jack Kerouac is a poor imitation of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Yet everybody loves it and if you don't love it, you ain't cool. Well. I don't care.

Purchase Now from Amazon, I guess: On the Road: 50th Anniversary Edition

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Read Along: Telegraph Avenue - Michael Chabon

In just one short week we begin the Telegraph Avenue Read Along. It's hosted by As the Crowe Flies (and Reads!), one of my favorite reading/travel blogs. I'm definitely not the uber Michael Chabon fan - but I am a fan.  I read and wasn't particularly a fan of  Wonder BoysI've attempted The Yiddish Policeman's Union and wasn't able to get through it - though that may have had to do with the fact that I was in the process of obtaining a new job and thinking about moving. Also - it was lost on the me that the genre is magical realism - a fact that, now that I'm aware, has turned the book back on to me. I'll probably approach it again later this year. 

But I have read and absolutely loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It was one of those books that gets down deep under your skin, that burrows its way into your heart and stays there - always warm and loving when recalled.

Here's the schedule, as laid out by our fearless leader: 

The book isn't out yet, but if you find yourself intrigued and would like to pre-order - visit Odyssey Bookshop.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Rating: 4 stars

So short, and so good - why did I hold off on reading this for as long as I did?

The Yellow Wallpaper is the secret journal of a woman trapped in domesticity. The narrator and her husband, John, have rented a home in the country for a few months. John, a doctor, believes all his wife's nervous condition needs is some fresh air, new surroundings, and idle pastimes. She spends most of her time alone in her bedroom - a room with oddly patterned yellow wallpaper - examining the paper and scribbling her fancies - as her husband calls them - in her journal, an exercise which he forbids her. As the days pass, the narrator begins to isolate herself even more, eventually freeing herself from her domestic jail by falling deeply into insanity.

The short story is one of those literary treats, chock full of imagery, symbols and dramatic irony. The wallpaper is symbolic of the narrator's prison - the woman she sees "creeping" behind it a reflection of herself. The room itself has the furniture nailed to the floor, "rings and things" in the wall, and the wallpaper torn - the narrator associates it with a nursery (also symbolic of her domestic prison) while the reader is left to realize that the room has been used to house others with a similar sickness. The narrator looks out the window to see other women creeping, many of them, as she comes to the realization that the restrictions put on a woman as wife and mother is the type of imprisonment felt all over the world. Mostly, it is a diatribe on S. Weir's (named within the text) 'resting cure' and how idleness can accelerate the deterioration of an already anxious mind.

It was a delightful - if also slightly terrifying - read.
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