Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We the Animals by Justin Torres

I didn't like this book at all.  I've grown tired of stories about "Latino" families in which abuse is considered normal and a sign of passion or love.  I don't like the way this seems to be presented as part of our culture.  Something we tolerate as a result of all of our "intense" feelings.  When I read things like this, I get angry thinking that there are white people reading this book and assuming that we all act this way.  Not fair, I know, but still.  Someday, I'd like to read a story about a Latino family that didn't involve domestic abuse.

This is intended to be some kind of coming of age story, about a rather dysfunctional family.  The parents were too young when their three sons were born.  The children seem to have no discipline at all, I guess because the parents work all the time.  The author writes proudly of the way the boys destroy everything.  The mother is helpless to do anything, she never seems to know what's going on because the night shift she works has her confused all the time.  And she gets beaten by her husband fairly often, and sometimes she thinks of leaving, but never goes through with it.  When they're not fighting, they're fucking, and sometimes right in front of the children.  Also, she seems to be having a lesbian affair with a co-worker, which seems random, until you get to the very end of the book.

The book is written like a lot of popular modern fiction these days, a series of short stories, just a few pages describing some big, tragic incident, just enough information to shock and horrify.  Then the author moves on to another story.  It's a little too much like poetry for me to enjoy.  When I read a book, I want to sink into it, and that doesn't happen with this book.  It's very sparse, vague, almost, never really letting the reader know what's happening.  The ending is intended to be especially shocking and unexpected.  Unfortunately, I'd read a few reviews that had hinted at what was to happen, so I wasn't as shocked as I might have been had I not read the reviews.  It didn't seem to fit with the rest of the story, but then again, nothing in the story really flowed or fit all that well.

This just wasn't my sort of book.  On the plus side, it's very short, so I didn't feel like I wasted all that much time reading it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Seemed like I read about a few books that women losing their memories.  And every once in a while, when I read about several new books, I go to my public library's website and put my name on the hold lists for these books.  So I wasn't even sure which of the "women losing their memories" books I picked up when I checked this out.

This book is fairly light-hearted.  Kind of cute and funny in spots, a lot about family and friends and community.  The other book about a woman losing her memory is quite different.

In this book, Alice falls at the gym and loses consciousness.  When she wakes, she seems to have lost the last ten years of her life.  She thinks she's nearly married and pregnant with her first child.  She's startled to realize that she's going through a divorce and a nasty custody battle for her three children.  In her mind, she's still very much in love with her husband, and has big hopes for their future together, but in reality their future together is over.  She doesn't remember the birth of her first child, or the existence of her other two children.  She doesn't understand why her sister, with whom she'd once been close, is now so distant and bitter. 

This book really made me think about how our past selves would view our future self.  I read this right around the tenth anniversary of 9/11, so it was easy for me to remember exactly where I was in my life ten years ago.  Twenty-five years old, just started grad school, living in a little (but rather expensive) apartment in a fancy suburb.  I was at a job I didn't like much - which is why I was going back to school.  I had big plans to get my masters in women's studies, move to New York City and seriously pursue my writing career, focusing on women's issues.  Back then, I never would have imagined that I'd end up a high school art teacher (sometimes, even now, I'm still not quite sure how all that happened.) 

It's interesting to see how the main character handles this situation.  She's determined to save her marriage, wants to repair the broken relationships that seem to have happened over the past decade.  But as her memory returns, she realizes she's holding on to things that no longer existed, relationships that fell apart over time, for valid reasons.

I liked the book.  As I said, it feels like a light read, but it's deceptively deep.  As Alice's memories rush back to her, the reader almost understands why she would allow herself to forget.  She suffered a horrible loss that anyone would want to forget.  As I said, it really made me think about my own life and the way things can change, or in some cases, remain completely the same, over a decade.  Sometimes maybe we need to stop and re-evaluate our lives because sometimes we end up going a direction we never meant to go. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Darkness Visible by William Styron

I happened to be trapped under an especially dark storm cloud on the day when I saw this offered for a dollar or two on Amazon Kindle's Daily Deals.  At first, I scoffed and thought the last thing I needed was another self help book, and then an hour or so later I thought, maybe it's a sign that this book showed up in my facebook newsfeed at that moment, so I went ahead and downloaded it to my Kindle.

It's not a self help book, but rather the story of one man's struggle with depression. It felt somewhat comforting to read this at the time I read it.  It doesn't really provide any answers or solutions for how to get through depression.  What it does provide though is the sense that someone else knows how it feels not just to be struggling with darkness, but also to be in a situation that no one else seems to understand. 

This is a very short read.  When I downloaded it, I thought it would be longer.  But I'd recommend it to anyone who has dealt or is dealing with depression.  I'm tempted to suggest that anyone with loved ones affected by depression also read this, but I don't know that it would help.  I can't help but think that people who have never experienced true depression can ever have any sort of awareness or understanding about just how debilitating it can be. 
Overall, I felt this was well worth a read.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

All I ever wanted was to be Nancy Drew.  Anything else that I ever claimed I wanted, it always led back to Nancy Drew.  She was smart and confident and always did what was right.  Even when others doubted her, she never doubted herself.  She drove a cool car and she had a couple of fun girlfriends and a really nice boyfriend who respected her. 

Most of all, she never hesitated when following her instinct.  When she wanted something, she went after it, she didn't sit around and worry about all that might go wrong.  The fear of failure didn't exist in Nancy Drew.  Nancy Drew never failed.  If she did, in any way, mess up, she was able to fix it, again, without hesitation.  She never spent hours in front of the mirror, only to decide later that it was better to just stay home.  She never took the easy or the safe route.  She never worried so much about rejection that she eventually decided life would be simpler if she just didn't try.

Nancy was everything I wanted to be.  As a child, I devoured those books, one after another.  My friend, Mollie, and I, kept a list of the ones we'd read.  Couldn't get enough of those books.  I had a set at home that my aunt had given me, they were the Grossett & Dunlop version, with greyish mauve covers, and each book had two stories.  I loved those books so much.  Then I started reading the Case Files and kept reading them until I got to college. 

I've had this book in the stack of books by my bed for a long time, a few years, maybe.  But I was waiting for the right mood before I picked it up.  When I want to sink into a book, I usually want fiction.  But with this book, I'd read a bit, set it aside, read something else, and then return to it for a while.  That's the thing with nonfiction, there isn't the same need to find out what happens because usually, you already know.

I knew all about Nancy having multiple authors.  Nerd that I was, I remember having my mom order the research material about Carolyn Keene from Encyclopedia Britannica. 

What I loved about this book is the way it explained Nancy's creation and evolution alongside the women's rights movement.  This book isn't just the history of Nancy Drew, but also a very thorough explanation of the history of the women's movement toward independence.  Women want to be strong and independent and when it felt like the whole world was telling them it was wrong to want that, they had Nancy Drew to serve as an example.  They read these books as a child, only to become adults who are told they need to be submissive to their husbands and stay at home and take care of babies.  They weren't satisfied with this.  Was Nancy solely responsible for this?  Of course not, but she did play an important role.  I think the problem is that most of us leave Nancy behind as we get older. 

I will admit to feeling more than a little bit of sadness at reading this.  I kept thinking of the child I was so many years ago, reading those Nancy Drew books, and I thought of how disappointed she would be with the person I've become.  That same child who, when not reading, was sitting at a typewriter or a sketching out pictures.  I was going to change the world with my words and my drawings.  But I didn't grow up to be Nancy Drew.  I don't solve mysteries or make great discoveries.  No one is in the least affected by my words or my paintings.  Nancy would not be pleased.       

As I finished reading the book, I found myself thinking of all things I could do, or should do and yet, I know that inspiration will fade soon after I've returned the book to the shelf, and I'll just go back to wishing I could be Nancy Drew.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

The reviews of this book led me to believe that it had a supernatural element.  When something is described as being like the Addams Family, I assume there's some magic or potions involved.  That was not the case, and because of that, I was a little disappointed.

This is still a fairly interesting read, just not what I was expecting or hoping for.

I've spent the weekend sick in bed, and the only reason I got out of bed on Saturday was to run to the library and pick this up.  I thought it would be perfect for getting my mind off the fact that I couldn't breathe.

It did hold my interest, and I read the entire book in one day.  I did stop a few times to sleep because all the allergy and sinus medicine was wearing me down.

This is the story of two parents completely devoted to what they call "art."  They go into random places and create chaos, film it, and consider the reaction to be "art."  As an art teacher and something of a wanna-be artist, I despise people who call nonsense like that "art."  I know this is fiction, but there are lots of people like that out there - and this is why so many other people hate "art."

In this case, the family has become famous for this, they get grants- enough money that they live rather well -- and have exhibits at museums. People study their work and write about them.  But in their devotion to their so-called art, they've used their children as props for years.

This story focuses quite a bit on the effect this has had on the children.  They, understandably, have some issues, and have had a difficult time becoming adults, independent of their parents.  Because of a series of problems they both suffer around the same time, they end up back at home and fear they have yet again been forced into their parents' "art."  Now, as adults, they need to figure out how to deal with this manipulation.

The only thing I didn't like about this book was the ending.  It seemed to be building up to something big, and it didn't happen.  The end was too simple and didn't produce the result it should have.  I was ready for something big and horrible.  That's probably why I read the entire book in almost one sitting, I was waiting for the big end that didn't really happen.

It's a pretty good book though, but as I said in the beginning, not at all what I expected.  I liked it, didn't love it, probably wouldn't have read it if I'd had a clearer idea as to what it was about.

Read:  Sept. 4, 2011