Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue

The title is what drew me to this book. The cover featured the hazy image of the back of a young woman. The saying goes "don't judge a book by its cover" but in truth, a nice cover and an enticing title does quite a bit to make a book stand out among the many books on display at the bookstore.

In this case, the description of the story sounded as intriguing as the cover. Set in New Orleans, a woman, dead 70 years, exists in a realm of "in-between", seeks information about the man she once loved, while observing a newlywed couple struggle with the trials of the living.

I was hoping for something beautiful and tragic and dark. And it was, to some extent. But also, the story possessed a strong sense of practicality that I thought detracted a bit from the intensity it might have had otherwise. This wasn't quite the story of ghosts and lost lovers mired in voodoo that I'd hoped it would be. I liked this book, but I wanted to love this book.

There almost seemed to be too many storylines running through this book. We learn bits and pieces of different people's lives, past and present, enough to make me curious and interested, but not enough to make me care or connect to the people. It felt like maybe too much was attempted. I didn't feel like enough attention was paid to the ways in which the stories connected. The connection is somewhat surprising, but it felt rushed in the end. I felt like I didn't learn enough to fully understand what had happened or more so to really feel the effects of what happened. I had questions at the end -- and if anyone else has read this book or does read this book and would like to discuss, get in touch with me. Seriously.

I'd summarize this book as being about people who met the love of their lives -- their soul mate, the person who set them on fire, the one -- then lost that person. The story lies in how each person manages to move forward, knowing they will never feel love like that again, and in each instance settling for someone comfortable and safe. A practical love. The stories are presented in a way that assumes that this is what a person is supposed to do -- settle for someone you know you can never love as much as the person you lost. This idea bothered me immensely, because while I understand that this is the most logical choice, a person cannot build a life with a ghost, I also believe that in some situations a person would be better off alone with their memories than sharing their life with someone they don't passionately love. Why should Amy settle for Scott? Nothing about his character makes me think he was worthy of her love.

In life, we're forced to live in a logical and practical manner, but in my fiction, I want the characters to find a way to surpass those boundaries and refuse to settle.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

A more appropriate title would have been "Tales of a Prep School Nothing."

If judging a book by its cover, I would immediately steer clear of this book because of the obnoxious amount of pink on the cover. With its simple cloth pink and pale green belt, the cover shouts "girl book," "superficial book," "book about pointless female blathering." Had I judged this book by its cover, I would have been correct in my assessment.

I only read this because someone in our book club selected this book. Oddly enough, the book was selected by the only male in our book club. He said he was interested in the idea of prep school.

I hated this book. I tend to prefer stories with a bit of depth and meaning, both qualities this book was clearly lacking.

I found this book to be offensive on two levels. As a writer, I was offended that something so badly written was published. As a woman, I was insulted and infuriated by the portrait it painted of young females. Books like this perpetrate the myth that young women care about nothing except their appearance and boys. Shocking as this may sound, there are some women who having bigger, more important interests and goals and place getting laid fairly low on the priority list. Had I not known, I would have assumed this book had been written by a man because you don't expect a man to know any better, but it wasn't. Despite the name Curtis, the author is not male.

The story spans the four years the narrator, Lee, attends prep school. She's on a scholarship and the impression is given that she's going to provide some insight into what it is like to be a poor white girl surrounded by wealthy students with entitlement issues. Instead, the book is mostly about how Lee keeps to herself, never gets involved with anything, never really talks to people, doesn't care about academics, obsessing about what people think about her and has a big crush on a guy named Cross. We hear a lot about how she's unhappy and doesn't fit in, but she never makes any attempt to change her situation. She doesn't seem to have any interests or hobbies, knows nothing about music or current events. She truly is a "nothing".

I have a strong understanding of the "outsider," the kid who doesn't fit in with the "popular" crowd. But usually that student has some creative abilities, she/he is into music or art, or they excel in academics. Lee does none of these things. Something that I found baffling was the fact that she was on scholarship, but had very bad grades. I would assume that to keep a four-year scholarship a student would be required to meet certain requirements, but that never seems to be an issue. Also, if she was on scholarship, shouldn't she have at some point displayed some sort of academic inclination? At least with grades she could have created some niche for herself. She could have been the "smart" girl.

But, as I mentioned, she does develop a crush on a guy her freshman year. For the next three years she has absolutely no contact with him. Then one night for no reason at all, he walks into her room and climbs into her bed. As further proof of her "nothing" status, she allows him into her bed, without question. He then proceeds to fuck her on a fairly regular basis. They have no relationship at all outside of the bed. Lee seems honored that she's being used in such a way. She has no qualms about the fact that Cross acts like he doesn't even know her on campus. You realize later that the sex is nothing more than him making the most of his senior year. "He's really into being a senior," advises Lee's roommate, Martha. Later in the book, it is suggested that he's making his way into the beds of many of the female students, compiling a list with his roommate. Lee exhibits absolutely no self-respect. Without hesitation she gets down on her knees on the concrete floor of an empty classroom and delivers a blowjob when asked.

This story might have been able to redeem itself if the author had provided some element of contrition or regret in her reflections. The story is told as a remembrance of her past, from the viewpoint of an adult. But she seems to have learned nothing from her experience. I felt like even as an adult, she remained the "nothing" that she was in school. If anything, she still provides desperate hints that maybe, just maybe Cross did like her. She confronts him at the end of her senior year, not because she finally realizes that she's been used, but rather because she's upset that he quit showing up in her room for sex. At this point, he has a real girlfriend, someone he talks to and hangs out with in public view. She tells him that he made her feel bad about herself and she walks off, and she seems elated, even looking back on that moment because he called her name as she walked away. Even as an adult, she seems unable to accept the fact that he thought nothing of her.

Aspects like that make this book seem uncomfortably autobiographical. She never acknowledges how pathetic and stupid she behaved. She never seems to realize that she was used, that she repeatedly allowed herself to be used and was considered nothing more than a joke to Cross and his friends. I don't understand how someone could tell a story like this, why someone would imagine a story like this and be so blind to the story she was actually telling, unless she was merely relaying events from her own past.

I never figured out the point of this story. What was the author trying to say? What was there to be gained from reading this? What was I supposed to take away from Lee's experiences? Nothing especially insightful happened. Evidently even Lee gained nothing from her prep school experience.

The story was boring anecdote after boring anecdote. She had a teacher from the Midwest; she cut hair; she taught someone to ride a bike; she nearly failed her math class. A lot of little stories that lacked cohesiveness. Maybe if Lee had been a more interesting or observant person these tales might have been enjoyable, but instead I kept thinking, "Why? Why? You, stupid, stupid girl." The first three years were unbearably boring. I didn't find it interesting until the sex during her senior year and that was mostly for the train wreck effect. So gruesome I couldn't look away. Fittingly, it seemed to be the only thing Lee was truly interested in as well.

The writing was inconsistent and the characters were never fully developed. Sometimes the descriptions were brief, but for some reason anytime the author described a bathroom event she felt the need to be crudely accurate. Sometimes Lee was awkward and self-conscious, but then amazingly clever and funny when finding herself seated at the lunch table with the popular kids. Every once in a while, there would be a line or two of brilliance, like this:
"It was like being drunk, how you so rarely feel drunk enough to do the thing you want to, you still feel pinned back by your own sense of the rational or the proper, but the next day, hung over, you realize just how drunk you were. You had a window of opportunity. If you had used it, you probably would have embarrassed yourself, but in not using it, you wasted something irretrievable."

But lines like that were rapidly negated by pages of nothing. She lost her underwear and someone found it. Then she wanted a flower from Cross but didn't get one and her roommate did, and she sent him one and oh woe is me...

I admit it, I'm bitter. Why does crap like this get published when I know that my friends and even I can write better than this? The rest of us are toiling away at our soul-killing corporate jobs while someone who strings together this mess gets paid to write. Life is not fair.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Left Bank by Kate Muir

I read a review praising this book and subsequently put my name on the list at the library. Well known Parisian couple – a philosopher and an actress – cope with the disappearance of their child. At least that's what I thought it was about. Oh, and the actress is from Texas. I usually love a good story about a Texas girl who gets her ass out of the country and does well for herself.

That was a very misleading review. The child's disappearance, though a catalyst to the main elements of the novel, isn't nearly as dramatic as one might imagine.

This is the story of a married couple, the husband very involved in being "French" (i.e. carrying on numerous affairs because he considered it to be his obligation as a French intellectual). He's trying desperately to be Sartre. WWJPSD he asks himself anytime he faces doubt. His wife, in his mind, and hers as well for a bit, is nothing more than a lovely trophy. But eventually his wife starts to see how false and shallow her marriage is by seeing how it affects her daughter and gradually she pulls away from her husband and starts to find herself ... and as I'm describing the book I'm realizing that it could have been a great story. But it gets so bogged down with the details. The endless descriptions of the husband's favorite cheese and the nanny's erect nipples under her thin blouse and wife's red shoes against the gravel. I just skimmed through the last of the book because I wanted to find out what happened. But I didn't care enough about the characters to ever really curl up with this book and dive in.

I wanted an escape to Paris, a glimpse into the life of the intelligent and the beautiful, but it read like any other bad marriage in which the husband thinks much more of himself and his desires than those of the people who he is supposed to care about. This could have been a story about a doctor and his socialite, model wife living here in Dallas. It could have taken place anywhere. Paris doesn't have a monopoly on self-absorbed men, women in denial or bad marriages. Don't waste your time with this book.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Read this book as our second book club selection. I loved this book. It's about a man who spent the first fourteen or so years of his life thinking he was female. But it's about so much more than that.

This book spans three generations of a Greek family that moves to Detroit from Turkey. Within the 500 or so pages of this novel, topics such as culture (the contrasts between the Greek culture and the American culture) and family and gender assumptions (what really makes a person male or female? Biology or psychology, nature versus nurture) and history such as the wars in Greece and Turkey as well as the history of the city of Detroit are all covered extensively. I found this book to be so interesting.

Our book club could have talked about this book forever. That's why I don't feel especially compelled to write much in this review.

I highly recommend this book though.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Two people at work read this book recently and eagerly proclaimed their love for it. It's been on my very long "reading" list for over a year, so I decided to check it out when I saw it on the shelf at the library the other day.

Initially I was put off by the premise of the book. I'm not a big fan of stories about children. Particularly stories about extremely clever children who think like adults. But I got over that fairly quickly and began to like the book quite a bit. I found the character of Oskar, with all his rambling thoughts and fears and inventions to be endearing. But as much I adored the passages about Oskar, I abhorred the storyline about the grandfather. It was so absurd, and stupid. I realize it was supposed to be quirky or surreal or something like that -- he can't speak because he's too sad, he gradually lost his words and now he carries around daybooks and writes all the time, he remembers a house made of walls of books, to look outside you removed books to create windows, cute, right? Groan. I felt like it clashed horribly with the story of Oskar.

Oskar's dad died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. After his death, Oskar found a key and then decided to try to find the lock that the key would open in hopes of learning more about his father. A significant part of the story is about Oskar's quest as he travels through New York and the five boroughs seeking the lock for this key.

Oskar's observations and contemplations provide some truly beautiful passages of loss and regret and fear. I think anyone, any age can relate to his loss of innocence and his desires.

And the passage that captivated me, the part I had to keep re-reading:

We need much bigger pockets, I thought as I lay in bed, counting off the seven minutes that it takes a normal person to fall asleep. We need enormous pockets, pockets big enough for our families, and our friends, and even the people who aren't on our lists, people we've never met but still want to protect. We need pockets for boroughs and for cities, a pocket that could hold the universe.

Eight minutes thirty-two seconds...

But I knew that there couldn't be pockets that enormous. In the end, everyone loses everyone. There was no invention to get around that...

It reminded me of how I feel every time I hear about some tragedy in the world and wish that I could have my friends all right next to me rather than wonder where they are at that moment. Suffice it to say, I loved parts of this book.

But then you have to go back to the daybook entries of his grandfather who abandoneded his grandmother before his father was even born. He's just so very sad and he left because he was scared to love anyone and didn't want to love the baby. But 40 years later, after learning the son he never wanted to know is dead, he returns, and he's so very sorry. Talk about too little way too late. I despised this character so much, I couldn't get past my distain for him. I suspect that's the sign of good writing if someone can conjure up such strong feelings. But I felt like that wasn't the intended response, instead I was supposed to feel sorry for him, because you know, he's just so sad and he'd lost so much. As I'm reading this though I'm thinking of all the people around him who have lost just as much, who are going on with their lives as best they can and I think he is a pathetic worthless man who doesn't deserve the forgiveness of the family he abandoned. He walked out on a pregnant wife because he never quite got over the death of a pregnant girlfriend and he felt completely justified in his actions, never bothering to consider what his actions would do to his wife -- his wife, who had lost her entire family in the same fire that took the life of his girlfriend. I have no sympathy for people so absorbed in their own pain that they treat those who depend on them so horribly. He returns wanting forgiveness, wanting to know all about the son he didn't want, wanting to become a part of his grandson's life.

Had that storyline been eliminated from this story, I would have liked this book much more than I did. To me it felt like two stories, and when the two storylines do interact, it doesn't seem to play a significant role in the story, point being, had it been left out, it would not have detracted from the main story.

Another thing that bothered me was the formatting of the book. I was annoyed by the blank pages or pages with one sentence. I was distracted by the pages covered with red ink and I didn't think the photos contributed much to the story.

Overall though, I'm glad I read the book.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I re-read Wuthering Heights recently. At work I learned that most people in the office had never read the book, so I suggested we start a book club and this be our first book.

As expected, it broke my heart again. I never know what to expect when I re-visit books from my past. When I re-read One Hundred Years of Solitude, I discovered I no longer loved the book. When I went back to Bell Jar, I discovered it meant more to me that it could have ever meant when I was a teenager. With Wuthering Heights though, I loved it just as much as I remembered loving it.

So much passion and desperation, and so much loss. I found myself hesitant to read it though, I kept stopping not wanting to go further because I knew that the situation would only get worse.

Now, almost fifteen years after the first reading, the story still resonates with me. Not because I've ever experienced anything anything like that, but rather because of my lack of passion in relationships. As a teenager I found myself longing for a feeling that intense, assuming it would be in my future. Now as an adult, I find myself facing that awareness that I'll never feel that. It's another sort of fear, my hope has become loss. What if you never find your soul mate? Do you settle for someone less or do you spend the rest of your life alone?

I've always joked that the book ruined me. Too often I find myself in boring, passionless situations which I then quickly end. I'm not happy in relationships because I'm waiting for my Heathcliff. Heathcliff, after all these years, remains as dark and intense as ever... always waiting for my Heathcliff...

my contribution for my book club:

Monday, July 03, 2006

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is one of my favorite writers. I enjoy the way she can tell stories about ordinary people and uncover the pieces of their lives that make them special and unique. It's the idea that everyone has a story and no one's life is as it seems from outside appearances.

This novel is about two very different families that adopt children from Korea. They meet at the airport on the day their babies arrive. Over time the two families become friends, realizing that they share something that not many others share.

I liked this book because it's about the idea of family, and mostly the idea of family being about the connections you make, and not necessarily the connects into which you are born. While initially this story is about adopting children, it expands into "adopting" brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and grandparents.

This book also is about struggling with ideas of perception, self-perception, as well as concerns about the way in which others view you. What am I supposed to be? Who do I want to be? I especially loved the character of MaryAnn -- the grandmother who moved to the U.S. from Iran as a young bride. She struggles with her ideas of how she should live. Her pride won't allow her to take steps to alleviate her loneliness because it would go against the image of herself that she is trying to preserve. Her ideas seem rooted in her culture, but upon reading it becomes apparant that most of these feelings transcend through cultures. In the end we're all much more alike than we realize.

This is a nice book that provides a glimpse of a world in which the idea of family does actually mean something more than unpleasant holidays and shouting matches.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Dispatches from the Edge by Anderson Cooper

I heard about this book while watching an episode of Oprah. She had Anderson Cooper and his mother on as guests.

This is a fairly short book. A very quick read. Cooper provides small bits and pieces about his family life as well as his observations about news events he has covered. He tries to explain the connections between his need to travel around the world and witness tragedy and the tragedies that happened in his own family.

It's an interesting book. But it doesn't contain anything shocking or revealing. But if you want to know a bit more about Anderson Cooper, this is a place to start. It won't take up much of your time.

The Minotaur by Barbara Vine

Barbara Vine is one of my favorite writers. I have about three modern writers that I'll read anything they write, Barbara Vine (who also writes as Ruth Rendell), is one of them, the other two being P.D. James and Minette Walters.

This book was not one of my favorites though. I enjoyed it well enough, but I didn't love it.

The story is told by someone who is reflecting back on an event in her life. She's telling a story about a situation that she observed, something that was happening around her, but something that did not directly involve her. She was hired as a nurse for a family to care for their adult son. During her stay, she learns many disturbing family secrets and witnesses many strange events, leading ultimately to a tragedy.

But the story doesn't leave much of a impact. I felt no urgency to finish the book. It didn't arouse any intense feelings, no anger or suspense or fear. It does paint an interesting portrait of rural English life, as do many of her books. I felt like there was too much distance between the narration and the action of the story. Readers were never allowed inside the heads of the people actually involved, so you're left to assumption and speculation along with the narrator.

If you're looking for a good suspense, thriller though, there are several others that I would recommend over this. Two of my favorite Barbara Vine books are No Night is Too Long and Dark-Adapted Eye. I highly recommend both of those. This one, though, not so much.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Forgetting Room by Nick Bantock

I read this book after I went to Spain. The events in this book take place in Ronda and feature a bridge which I saw on my trip.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, mostly because it's about painting. The Forgetting Room is the room where the narrator and his grandfather before him would enter to become absorbed in their art. Painting is used as a form of escape. I think anyone who paints can relate to the feeling. I forget sometimes how much I love painting, and after reading this book I was reminded of how much I love falling into a painting. It's never about the finished product, but rather the process of creating the work.

This is a nice book, complete with some beautiful illustrations.

Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

I was intrigued by this book because of the use of graphic art -- "comic book" art -- within the novel. I'm something of a comic book fan. But 26 pages into this book, I have decided to stop reading it. After reading a scene in which a fourteen year old girl goes to the school bathroom and tries to slit her wrists with a broken makeup compact, I've decided this book is not for me. The girl is just soooo depressed because her boyfriend broke up with her. She's fourteen! Granted I probably have no sympathy for the situation because I was never a normal teenager, I was always more interested in literature and art and music and sports than in the boys in my school. I dreamed of movie stars and bad boy rockers. I never longed for the smelly kid sitting next to me in study hall.

I couldn't get any further into the book because reading that particular scene sent my mind reeling with angry thoughts. I couldn't focus on the story anymore. What kind of upbringing did this child have that she thinks a boy is worth so much tragedy? How pathetic and empty is her life that she thinks everything is over because of a boy? The beginning of the novel talks about how wonderful her father was at being a stay at home dad, but something was off with this kid. I'm simply not interested in reading this kind of melodrama.

There are so many books I want to read right now, I'm not wasting any more time with this one.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

I picked up a copy of the book at Half-Price Books during one of their big extra 20% sales, but it was another year or so before I got around to reading it. I included this on my reading list at beginning of the year.

When I packed for my week in Spain, I took several books, this being one of them. I decided on this book because on the plane from Dallas to London, I noticed that the movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, was being shown on the return flight. I wanted to have this read before I watched the movie.

This is the story of a young woman, trained to be a geisha. This tells the story of her experiences and the rituals involved in the world of geishas. This is fascinating in that it describes an experience so foreign to most of us. These women, they traveled on this path as a means to arrive at a better life in a society that provided women limited opportunities. They lived in luxury that would have not been available to them otherwise. However, still their lives were completely dictated by the actions and desires of the men they served.

A scene is described in which the woman, years later, is introduced in New York as a former geisha. She said she can tell she's looked at oddly, and can tell that she is being reagarded as a prostitute. But she so accurately points out, were her actions so different than the wealthy wife judging her? The geisha's actions are more formal and precise, the intent more obvious, but so many women follow a similar path. They paint their faces, dress a certain way, act a certain way, all in their attempts to gain the company and adoration of certain men, men with money and prestige, men who will care for them.

Despite the cover quite clearly stating that this book is a "novel" I read the entire thing under the assumption that it was supposed to be a true story. My own fault, I wasn't paying attention to the cover, I was thrown by the use of the word "memoir" in the title. Upon completing the book, I read the pages following the end, the pages explaining the character in the story is entirely made up.

While I found the description of the lifestyle to be interesting, the "love affair" in the book seemed to detract from the story. It wasn't very believable, which makes sense now that I know the story is fiction.

Ovarall though, it's an enjoyable book, especially if you like stories about different cultures and experiences.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Effects of Light by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

This book intrigued me partly because it seemed to be very much about art and people involved in the art world.

Here's the basic premise of the story: The two daughters of a college art professor posed nude on a regular basis for their father’s photographer friend, Ruth. After the photos are displayed in a well-known gallery, and gain national attention as a result of the subject matter, the youngest daughter is kidnapped and killed. This is assumed to be connected to the photos. The older daughter becomes angry and leaves. Changes her name, cuts off all contact with her past. Years later, she receives a letter saying she needs to return home to retrieve a package. So she drops everything and returns to Washington state and reconnects with her past. She stays with family friends, and tries to decipher her father's notes about art -- a "ground-breaking" book on which he spent his life working. In her quest for information, she also uncovers several family secrets and love triangles involving her parents and tries to make peace with the loss of her sister and father, who had a fatal heart attack after his daughter's murder.

The present story follows the older daughter, while their past is revealed through first person flashbacks belonging to the younger daughter.

I thought I would enjoy reading about people who view art as a central point of their lives. But instead, reading this book made me aware of what I don't like about people who take art too seriously.

In the novel, the photos, when displayed created a great deal of controversy. People were offended by the use of children in nude photos. When describing this, the book takes a decidedly pro-photos stance. Then, through the characters dialogue, proceeds to explain why people were wrong to be offended, why the photos were not offensive, but rather "beautiful". The children in the book insist that they wanted to do the photos, this was their choice. This goes on for pages, the small child insisting that she loves the photos, they're a huge part to her life, a part of her life that she treasures. But as I read this, I kept thinking, you're only five (or whatever too young age she was)! How does a five year old know what she wants? At that age, children just want to make people happy. The father and photographer discuss at length how wonderful it is that the photos chronicle the children's growth, they show the transformation from a child to a young woman (in the case of the older daughter).

Their defense of the photos is presented in such a way to indicate that anyone who didn't agree with them was simply not intelligent enough to fully understand the importance of art.

Essentially, the book angered me. I do understand art. I appreciate art. I even appreciate different, unusual and controversial art. But I don't think that children should ever be exploited for the purpose of art. As I read this book, regardless of how the photo sessions or photographs were described, I felt like the children were being used as nothing more than props for the photographer and then convinced that they wanted to be objectified. This made me think of the ways in which abuse victims are convinced that they somehow enjoyed or provoked the abuse, when in fact they are too young to know otherwise. The father seemed to be so involved in his theories on art that he was oblivious as to what was happening to his children. As long as they were experiencing "art", nothing else mattered to him.

Another scene that bothered me: the older daughter, as an adult, is confronting her boyfriend, claiming he doesn't really know her and so she's going to show him her real self. To do this, she strips in front of him and and has some bizarre breakdown of sorts, pointing to her naked body shouting "this is me." Her actions seemed to support my belief that by being a prop in photographs, she now views herself as nothing more than a body. It was an uncomfortable scene to read and I almost stopped right there. But I stuck with it until the end, because I was near the end at that point.

I didn't enjoy this book. I don't recommend reading it at all.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Magical Thinking, as used in the title of this book, is the idea that your internal thoughts have some sort of control on the outside world. In this case, it was Didion believing that she had to keep her husband’s shoes because he would need them when he came back, after dying at the dinner table of a heart attack.

This book, as most people know, is about the year after Didion’s husband’s death. It is very much about the difficulty of suddenly and unexpectedly losing someone who has always been there. Everything was fine one moment and the next it was over.

Didion does an excellent job of describing the suddenness and the extreme feeling of loss. This is very well written. When I started reading this, I had difficulty putting it down because as absurd as this sounds, I felt as if I was leaving her alone if I stopped reading. And her experience was so awful, I didn’t want to leave her alone. Yet that is what this book is about, being alone for the first time in 40 years.

She describes her marriage as different from the typical marriage. She and her husband were friends and co-workers and they talked to each other in ways that families do not seem to communicate. Maybe this is the trick to being married for so long – not adhering to the stupid ideas society present about marriage – wife stays home and keeps house, husband goes off to the office. Didion and her husband seemed to have a collaboration that worked very well for them. They traveled to places all over the world and they sat down at home and “planned.”
On top of the loss of her husband, the year after his death, she is also dealing with the illness of her daughter, who I believe died after this book was published. This is a sad book, but also, I feel like it is a valuable book. The book provides insight to the process of grief and mourning. It also presents a story of what must have been a happy marriage and loving family, and because of that, I enjoyed reading this.

Myth of You and Me by Leah Stewart

I picked up this book because of the title. Silly fact about me – "Myth" is one of my favorite words. I throw it out whenever possible. So the title sounded all dark and mystical. I tend to be much more interested in stories about friendships than romantic relationships and I knew this was a story about friendship. That's all I knew about it.

I didn't realize until I started reading it that it was about a thirty year old looking back on her life -- Someone who didn't feel comfortable in her current setting, someone who was always wanting to run. Suffice it to say instantly I felt a connection with the main character. Also, as I read more of the book, I found it startling that it was about girls growing up in the Southwest and the after effects of living with an abusive mother. Seldom are these situations written about in a realistic manner. There were so many elements in this book that felt like they could have been passages from my life, from driving the west Texas roads to spending your best college days in the newsroom.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I liked the way it explored the depths of friendships, the hold a friend can have over you, the way one’s betrayal can damage you. At what point do you walk away? What do you forgive? And who are you really hurting, what do you have to gain when you do decide it is time to end a friendship?

This is a really nice book. While I've never experienced any sort of situation like the one mentioned in the book, I, like anyone who has ever had a strong friendship, can certainly relate to the themes of holding on and letting go and choosing to forgive or forget.

My only issue with this book was what was an attempt at suspense. What is the package Camaron is taking to Sonia? I suggest you not focus too much on that. It is interesting, but it isn't nearly as important as the buildup presents it to be. The true value of the book is the small details that make the intensity of the friendship feel true.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd

I think Maureen Dowd is pretty darn brilliant. She's so very, very smart and funny and really knows what is going on in the world.

Sometimes the universe places in your hands exactly what you need. I bought this book using a gift card someone gave me for my 30th birthday. Talk about being knocked on my ass. That's a rough birthday. This book though did quite a bit in helping me get back on my feet. I didn't get around to reading this book until the Christmas holidays. It was exactly what I needed as I faced my annual holiday depression.

I've hit this age where all of my friend are now tending to their children and husbands and I don't really have anyone to go out with and go places and such. I don't have any interest in the husband and children thing. None at all. I don't say that as a defense mechanism, but simply as fact. I've never understood the allure of it all. I like not being dependent on others. I like making decisions that affect only me. Sometimes though, I don't like being alone. Doesn't mean I want a man, sometimes just a friend who has time to sit and talk would be nice. That rambling there, it is sort of related to some of the ideas expressed in this book. Not to mention that reading this book felt like having a nice conversation with a like-minded girl-friend.

Much of this book is a reflection of Dowd's disappointment over what seems to be the death of feminism. What the hell happened? Now all these women are doing anything and everything possible to acquire a man, to be a wife and a mommy and that seems to be all that matters. Those of us not interested in those things, we're left standing on the side feeling very awkward and confused. What's wrong with us? Why don't we want that stuff?

One of my many dreams, when I was young and naive and had never set foot outside of a small town and still believed dreams were attainable, was to be a columnist. I thought at the time that I actually had things to say that people would want to read. But now that the real world has beat me down, I've become aware of the fact that there are people signifcantly more talented than me saying the things I would like to say, but in much more readable ways.

So when I'm reading Dowd's work, I'm thinking, "exactly, that's just how I feel." Of course, there is no way I could write those thoughts and ideas in such a way. But it is nice to be able to read them.

That's actually another subject on which Dowd touches. Men tend to go after whatever they want, without regard to whether they will fail or succeed. Almost as if they assume they will always suceed and if they don't, they just keep trying. A woman (in general, of course this doesn't apply to everyone) on the other hand, she waits, and waits and waits until she knows she will suceed. In essence she doesn't take chances and probably misses out on a lot of opportunities. I saw myself in this. I don't try things unless I know I'll succeed. Being that I can't see into the future, and very few things provide guaranteed results... We won't even talk about all my missed opportunities.

Overall, though, I felt the underlying message of the book was that men are not essential to a woman's life. Women are quite capable of managing on their own. We don't need men to take care of us, and we don't need men to dictate the ways in which we take care of ourselves and our surroundings. They seem to cause a lot of trouble. In the end, what made me feel a whole lot better about reading this is that I realized, or rather, I had my beliefs re-confirmed that it is very much okay to be single and essentially alone. This whole "finding a man thing" is way overhyped. Simply a product of marketing. There are many other things in life to which I can direct my focus that do not involve men or "hooking up" with men.

I think all women, single ones especially, and probably a few men, would benefit from reading this book.

Read during the week of Christmas, finished on Jan. 1, 2006.