Showing posts from October, 2010

Sunday Salon: on being a novel reader and lover

In two novels I've read this month (So Much for That by Lionel Shriver and Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier), the main characters have mentioned their lack of desire to read novels. It may not be uncommon to encounter people who are dismissive of novels, but I am fascinated by fictional characters in novels dismissing the genre. There's a certain amount of irony at play, to be sure, but my recent encounters are quite different and both interesting. (I'll do my best to avoid plot spoilers.)

In So Much for That, Shep mentions a few times how much his retired father enjoys reading mystery novels. As he ponders what life will be like once he stops working, he muses what he might like to read, but he concludes, "maybe he wasn't cut out for novels. He's rather live a good story than read one." My first thought (full disclosure) was the famous line from You've Got Mail when Meg Ryan's character, a small bookshop owner, muses via email that

book review: How to Escape from a Leper Colony by Tiphanie Yanique

The backstory:  How to Escape from a Leper Colony was one of the 5 Under 35 selections from the National Book Foundation this year.

My thoughts: This book is dubbed a novella and stories, but I would classify it as including two novellas. As always with collections, however, it's difficult to describe. The common themes among the stories are their Virgin Islands setting and ideas on colonialism. I found overtones of ideas from Monique Roffey's White Woman on a Green Bicycle (my review), which looked at an ex-patriot British couple living in Trinidad. I don't mean to equate colonial literature about two different countries, but there were some thematic similarities.

Regular readers know I am not a huge fan of short story collections, but I do often enjoy them. I adored Tiphanie Yanique's writing, and she skillfully evoked strong characters and a setting, which was especially impressive in the shorter stories.
"Movies are like so much art. They can start a revoltuion…

book review: Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

The backstory: I've read and enjoyed all of Tracy Chevalier's historical fiction novels about real people (Falling Angels,  the story of Emmaline Pankhurst and the British suffrage movement is my favorite), so I was excited to read her most recent novel.

The basics: Remarkable Creatures is the story of two female fossil collectors in the 1800's: Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot. The two women become friends after Elizabeth and her two other single sisters move from London to Lyme, England when their brother marries.

My thoughts: Tracy Chevalier makes history come alive. I knew nothing of Mary of Elizabeth when the novel began, but I quickly became engrossed in their stories. The women take turns narrating alternating chapters, but I found myself enjoying Elizabeth's story so much more than Mary. I enjoyed Mary more in the chapters Elizabeth narrated than when I saw the world through her eyes.

While the novel is the story of these two women, it's also a fascinating e…

Waiting on Wednesday: The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine to highlight an upcoming release we can't wait to read.

My pick this week is The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht. This summer, the New Yorker named Tea Obreht one of their 20 Under 40. This month, the National Book Award Foundation listed The Tiger's Wife as one of their 5 Under 35 picks.

Novelists are already praising her too. Colum McCann, who won the National Book Award in 2009 says, "Tea Obreht is the most thrilling literary discovery in years." Ann Patchett calls her "tremendously talented." T.C. Boyle says The Tiger's Wife is "a novel of surpassing beauty, exquisitely wrought and magical.  Téa Obreht is a towering new talent."

Here's the publisher's description:

The time: the present. The place: a Balkan country ravaged by years of conflict. Natalia, a young doctor, is on a mission of mercy to an orphanage when she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death far …

book review: Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel

The backstory: Stiltsville is Susanna Daniel's first novel. It was featured as one of Amazon's August 2010 Best Books of the Month. When I went to read more about it, I discovered an interview with Susanna Daniel and Curtis Sittenfeld, who wrote my favorite book ever,American Wife (my gushing review). They met at the Iowa Writer's workshop, and that was enough of an endorsement for me.

The basics: Stiltsville begins in 1969 when Frances, a young girl from Atlanta, has visited Miami for a wedding and meets Dennis. Each chapter takes place in a different year (in chronological order) of Dennis and Frances's marriage.

My thoughts: Susanna Daniel's writing captured me from the beginning. I saw a lot of myself in Frances, despite the difference in time and place. I was prepared for the novel to move forward in time, but I thought each year would get its own chapter. The first big jump concerned me, but it worked wonderfully well. There was never a moment of disorientation…

Sunday Salon: Book Polygamy

In the past two weeks, I've finished two books, which is fewer than I usually read. Despite only finishing two books, I've actually been reading more. I haven't been in a reading rut at all, and in fact the two books I have finished both earned five star ratings (the books: So Much for That by Lionel Shriver and Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel - review coming tomorrow.) What gives? I'm currently reading eight books. Yes, eight.

How did it happen? I'm not quite sure, but it's actually working for me. The impetus has been a variety of things: library due dates, convenience and mood. Most peculiarly, all of these books have been rocking my reading world. I seem to be suffering from premature separation anxiety, and it's keeping me from finishing books. Here's what has been competing for my attention these past two weeks:
Girls on the Verge by Vendela Vida - I adored Vida's latest novel The Lovers, and her non-fiction exploration of the rituals American gi…

book review: So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

The backstory: So Much for That is a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award for Fiction.

The basics: When So Much for That came out in March, I remember hearing it was a novel about health insurance. And it is, but like most great novels, it's more about humanity. Shep has dreamed and saved since he was eighteen for the "After Life." Moved by a mission trip he took as a teen, he wanted to live in a poorer country on a few dollars a day. Each summer, he and his family take a research trip to a possible location. He's lived simply, paid for everything in advance and is ready to make the move when his wife is diagnosed with caner.

My thoughts: Although the novel is told in both the voice of Shep and his long-time best friend Jackson, it still felt like Shep's story to me. Perhaps it was because his story is the first one in the book or perhaps because it was simply more compelling to me. In some ways the novel was quite political, but Shriver deftly made all sides …

book review: A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield

The backstory: A Bad Day for Sorry was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel written by an American Author in 2010.

The basics: Stella, a much larger woman than the one depicted on the book cover, is a fifty-year-old widow living in rural Missouri. She owns a sewing machine shop and repair store. She's a widow; she killed her long-time abusive husband. Stella also runs a side business where she threatens (and uses force) against men who have mistreated the women in their lives to scare them straight.

My thoughts: Sophie Littlefield has created a memorable character in Stella and an unusual, but compelling mystery story. The mystery part of this novel involves the search for Tucker, the 18-month-old son of Stella's newest client, Chrissy. Stella doesn't play by the rules of law, but she does have a crush on the sheriff, so he pops up from time to time. This premise could easily veer into stereotypical or ridiculous territory, but Stella's sassiness an…