Friday, February 25, 2011

So Much for That!

I’ve been stuck lately choosing my next book, and haven’t read anything all week! I kind of did myself in by amassing a huge pile of potential next reads. They all look so good, I just don’t know where to start!

Many of the books in the pile are galleys of books I’ve chosen for my next book discussion class, “Hot Off the Press.” You can see these books in the nifty display to the right that my husband made for me with an Amazon widget. I’ll be reading all of those quite soon!

There are also a whole bunch I picked up from the library, including the new novel from Lionel Shriver, So Much for That. I like Lionel Shriver – I really enjoyed and recommend her book The Post-Birthday World. It’s a kind of “Sliding Doors” approach (great movie from 1998 with Gwyneth Paltrow) where the main character, in alternating chapters, lives out two alternative realities that could occur based on choice she makes one night (at dinner, handsome dinner companion, boyfriend out of town, lots of wine – you can imagine what that choice was to be made).

So I read the first 61 pages (3 chapters) of Shriver’s new novel. I do like it so far, and yet I don’t think I’m going to continue right now. The story in large part hinges on an almost-fifty year old woman’s discovery that she has a rare and advanced type of cancer, and the affect this has on her relationship with her husband, from whose point of view her story is told. So far, lots (lots!) of clinical detail about her medical condition, and even about health insurance plans (to the point where I wondered if there was a political message here). I’m starting to feel that I’m not really emotionally ready to spend 430 some pages with a woman around my age going through this. I’ll wait on this one.

And so, my next selection will be…

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hurrah for the New York Times!

In my recent posts (below) about Jonathan Evison's new book West of Here, I commented on how I seemed to be out of step with popular critical opinion. The book was receiving rave after rave, while I seemed to be the lone dissenter, lamenting the book's overambitious scope and plethora of stereotyped characters. One of my students who read the book in my class even wrote to me and said "did they read the same book we did?" I was beginning to wonder if perhaps our manuscripts had indeed been switched at birth, until today's review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review came out. The people shopping at Trader Joe's must have wondered why I was sitting in my car, reading and yelping, but I couldn't help but shout for joy when I read Mike Peed's review. I feel vindicated at last!
Read for yourself:

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Bird House by Kelly Simmons

Last week I went to hear local author Kelly Simmons read from her new book The Bird House. I really like Kelly’s first book, Standing Still, and Kelly herself is smart, funny, and terrific to listen to. I enjoyed hearing her read from the book. I always like hearing an author’s words in their own voice. I feel like it adds to my appreciation of the work. I’ll never forget the first time I experienced this. It was in college, and I had been busily discovering and reading Margaret Atwood in my frenzy of feminist lit crit, loving early complex works like Surfacing and The Edible Woman, when she came to campus. She stood at the lectern in front of a large crowd in a big high-ceilinged room in College Hall, opened her mouth and began to read. I remember being stunned, thinking, at first, but that’s not how the book sounds, realizing I had created my own sound for it in my own head as I read it. But then I realized, it’s her book, and that’s her voice, and that’s how she wants it to sound. I was enchanted.

I even like hearing authors read when I don’t understand what they’re saying, like when I heard Eduardo Galeano read in Spanish (in NY at the 92nd St. Y). It’s beautiful when authors bring their understanding and their meaning and emphasis to words that they put down on the page. An author can’t control how a reader interprets their work – once it’s left their hands it’s free to be understood in any way—but in reading, they can control how it sounds.

After Kelly read she answered questions and talked about some interesting things. Here are some random notes:

1. Writers she admires: Ann Beattie and John Irving;
2. Her story is based on a writing assignment her daughter received years ago that been percolating in her head ever since. Her daughter had to interview a relative and Kelly thought, “Uh, oh, that could spell trouble. What if a family secret came out while the child was interviewing a grandparent?” And hence the genesis of this new book;
3. She often writes, and “wastes,” a 150 pages before figuring out a story;
4. She wrote 8 novels in the last 15 years. This is only the 2nd one being published. She figures those others will probably continue living in a drawer or hard drive;
5. Her writing came about as a result of her work in advertising. She wanted to do some creative work that “didn’t have other people’s fingerprints on it. Love that!
6. When asked what distinguishes a Kelly Simmons book, she and the audience came up with the following: the central voice is a raw essential angry female voice; she plays with time; she has an unreliable narrator.

Thanks for a great Q&A and a great new book, Kelly!