17 January 2012

More books about books

I really do think that readers love to read ABOUT books (myself included) but I've never read so many books about books in a row - or noticed that I was doing so.

Finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on Friday, which was recommended to me by my dear friend Stefanie.  Lots to love in this book, lots to learn, but I wasn't quite as enraptured as I had hoped to be.  It's a novel in letters - an epistolary novel, if you will - an interesting approach for this subject matter, giving an opportunity to hear "many voices" in a work of literature.  Theoretically, we could have heard from the entire island population of Guernsey through this mode.  In any situation, especially a crisis, everyone has a story to tell.

This model showcased an older style of letter writing, one that is quickly disappearing (does anyone write a letter anymore?).  Lots of warmth, "love and kisses" between corresponding friends.  There isn't so much of that in an email or text, (even though both emails and texts can be loaded with distinct "personality").

The style wasn't confusing, but I got confused anyway.  Each letter was prefaced by a "from ---- to ----", but in spite of that, partway through many of the missives I would have to go back and review who was writing to whom.  So, for me, it was a choppy, hard-to-follow go at a book.  Compounded by the fact that I typically read at short stretches (20-30 mins) or with frequent interruptions ("Mom... Mom.... Mom...")

I should have written a brief "character list" for myself.  I had a clear picture in my mind of Juliet, of course, a pretty good one of Sidney, and Isola, but not of Amelia.  I could picture Mark and Dawsey clearly enough, but not Eben or Booker or Will Thisbee.  In my mind's eye, Kit looked like my niece Bridget to me (maybe it was her spunkiness).

I LOVED learning about Guernsey during the War: their hardship, their unique experience of isolation from both England AND the Continent, but especially their creativity and resourcefulness.  I wonder if 21st century people could be so self-reliant, or even neighbor-reliant.  The people of Guernsey were concerned when they ran out of flour, and then ran out of grain to grind into flour.  Today I know many people who wouldn't know how to feed themselves properly even if they had the raw resources to do so (like: a 50 pound sack of flour, salt, lard, laying hens, etc, etc) the sort of WWII-era staple rations that Brits relied upon and felt fortunate to have - that if they have this, they have "enough".  Today people would start to freak out if they didn't have frozen dinners and take-out.

So, a thumbs up and a thumbs down.  A quick read, many charming moments, many sad and tragic ones too, but it never drew me in so that I was fully invested.

Next up: I'm about 60 pages into Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides and 40 pages into Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood.  I need to pick one and run with it, but right now they are both creepy and uncomfortable.....

06 January 2012

A New York state of mind

In the last couple of weeks I've read Martin Dressler: A Tale of an American Dreamer and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.  Loved them both.

Martin Dressler is like a turn-of-the-19th-century cross between Donald Trump, Walt Disney, and a Vegas resort owner.  It's the story of his rise to wealth as a highly-successful property developer in growing Manhattan.  The story starts as realism, but by the end it's drifted off into the realm of magical realism.  I love it.  He's created a hotel/resort so artificial that guests/residents never need to leave.  EVERYTHING they could possibly imagine is there, artificially, but there.  Like the "countries" around the lagoon at Epcot Center.  Like "Venice" or the pyramids in Las Vegas.  And with a lot of the puffed-up pretention of Trump.  The belief that Martin can't possibly fail.  He has the Midas touch.  But in the end, he is undone.  His castle is so artificial, he can create another wife, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law, even another self.  And once he has replaced himself, what is left? Nothing but to wander off to future prospects.  Maybe to do it all over again in Atlantic City?

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: touching and difficult.  Lots of human pain.  Oskar, the protagonist, is tormented, a 10-yr-old who is searching for the lock that fits the key he finds after his father's death on 9/11.  He is haunted by grief, by all that was left undone between him and his father (Thomas).  Similarly, Thomas' father, who has been mute since surviving the WWII bombing of Dresden, had disappeared from his family more than 40 years before.  This tale explores the thin connections we have between one another.  What we say, and what we don't say.  What we think we know, and what we really know.  What parents hide from their children in the hope of protecting them, and how we feel that we've failed them when we reveal our true selves (but really, we haven't).  Oskar wants and needs to see his mother's grief.  I think his final discovery is that adult expressions of grief can "look" different than how they feel.  Adults may grieve terribly without crying.

I love the glimpse inside Oskar's inventive mind.  When he can't sleep, his mind races, and he invents things.  Like being able to fly by wearing a birdseed shirt.  He's smarter than most adults, but doesn't have the life experience to process all the knowledge or subtleties of language.  He's frightened and brave at the same time.  He expresses sorrow as having "heavy boots."  What a wonderful metaphor.  So many beautiful and creative details to ponder from this book.

Extremely Loud is on my mind, but I haven't had the opportunity to discuss it with anyone.  But the film comes out in a couple of weeks.  I think it's likely to be in the running for Academy Awards. 

Think - an Oscar for Oskar.