Sunday, July 23, 2017

Whisper In My Ear, Love...

I'm in love.

I'm in love with a voice.

The voice is, of course, attached to a man.

And, yes, I acknowledge the man is married to someone else (as am I), but...

I am in love.

I had never heard Neil Gaiman tell a story until I saw him in person a couple of weeks ago. I had heard him speak before, yes, and I had seen him interviewed. And as much as I enjoyed the evening I spent with him, hearing him weave his tales to a sold-out audience, I admired him, but I did not love him...

yet.

I will admit I became completely infatuated with him, some time ago, over The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It ranks as one of my all time favorite stories. The story left me in awe and wonder at how he could create such a fabulous story in such a small book  It was, undoubtedly, his beautiful brain that first attracted me, but - even then - I knew it was not love...

until now.

I know what you're thinking: Perhaps, it's his English dialect? No, I've been to England and, while I adore English accents, I do not fall at the feet of Englishmen by the mere sound of their voices. It's more than that. Much more.

So,...when did it become love?

I took the advice of a friend, after seeing Neil in person, and decided to listen to the author read his own books on Audible. If you've never heard Neil Gaiman whisper sweet stories of dark madness in your ears, you have no idea what you're missing. I knew the man was a genius writer and a fabulous storyteller, but to enjoy the cadence of his voice in the privacy of your own mind is much more...intimate. He tells stories the way stories are meant to be told.

He is, simply,...amazing.

I am currently listening to Neverwhere. Yesterday, I became so enveloped in the story, I felt I was walking down a rainy sidewalk in London with Richard, the main character, instead of a sunny Texas park near my home. Neil's voice had me completely wrapped up in the tale, and I almost fell off the park's sidewalk with fright when another walker passed me. She was very apologetic and couldn't believe I didn't see her there. Of course I didn't see her there - I was in London! 

In fact, I'm headed back to London now. Neil's waiting for me, you know. And there's no stopping a girl in love. 




Friday, July 14, 2017

Retraction?

I've made the print a little bigger on this post because I don't normally write retractions. In fact, I've never written one. And even as I do this, I question whether I should or should not (thus, the question mark in the post title). However, when I question my own judgment, I'm not one to slither away and not own up to it. Literary analysis is subjective, which is why I love it. When I wrote my opinion about My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, I had not met with my book club to discuss the novel. We met last night.

As we began the meeting, I quickly announced that I didn't like Lucy, as a character, and I didn't like the book. I also stated that usually makes for the best books to talk about. And I was right. We had a great time discussing the confusing layers of the book, wondering if we trusted the narrator, and trying to answer questions we had about the novel.

One of the ladies informed us there is a follow-up novel, of sorts, that comes after this one: Anything is Possible. She is currently reading it and said it answers many of the questions she had about the novel we read. Some of the characters are carried over, including the Barton family, and she's finding it odd and interesting. She likes it better than My Name is Lucy Barton, but she didn't dislike Lucy as much as I did. Most of the book club said the novel was, and I quote, "Okay."

Is it genius to write a novel that doesn't make good, clear sense so you can write a follow-up novel that fills in the gaps, hoping to sell another book? Or was it just poor planning to begin with and the next book is the edited 'I did it so much better this time, sorry for the gaps' version? Based on interviews I've read with the author, I vote that it was poor planning. She said she doesn't follow an outline or path of any kind when she writes. She writes in chunks, or spells, on different pieces of paper and puts it all together later.  

Hmmm,...even one of my favorite writing geniuses, Patrick Rothfuss, will tell you, while authors don't always call it an outline (including him), everyone has to plan a path to make sure loose ends are tied up and all questions are answered in some way. Maybe she should watch some Rothfuss videos online where he tells writers the importance of these things? I show them to my students. Should I suggest this to her? ;) 

I will say this: While I hate I wasted time on a subpar novel, I greatly enjoyed picking it apart and talking about it with my friends. Was the novel "okay"? I guess. But, as I put it to one of my fellow bibliophiles, "Did it change or add something to your life?" Her answer was no. For me, that's an important question to ask after I read a book. Life is too short for mediocrity. 

By the end of the meeting, though, most of us wanted to read the second one out of varying degrees of pure curiosity. (Sigh.) Yes, even me.

Retraction? 




Sunday, July 9, 2017

Neil, Midnight, and Lucy

Neil

I must begin with this: I saw Neil Gaiman on Friday night!!! It was a delightful evening spent in Dallas with book-loving friends (the best kind) where we enjoyed a lovely dinner, a stop at a fabulous pie shop, and spent a glorious couple of hours with Neil Gaiman at the Winspear Opera House. Gaiman is an excellent storyteller, and I could have stayed there all night and listened to him talk.

The event was a combination of Gaiman answering questions (people wrote them on slips of paper in the lobby before the show), telling a few personal stories, and reading from several different pieces of his writings. Everything blended together very well, and I really enjoyed everything he had to say. He even gave good advice on how to write good dialogue in a story. 

If you ever get a chance to hear him, I'd like to encourage you to go and enjoy the treat. Gaiman is the very best kind of storyteller...and an excellent human being, as well. 

Midnight

I recently finished a debut novel that I really enjoyed (and I am all about promoting good, new authors). Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan is a mystery within a mystery. The premise of the story is a bookseller finds a young man has hung himself in the bookstore one night at midnight, which is closing time. She is devastated, as she felt a special connection with this 'lost soul' that used to haunt the bookstore on a regular basis. The tragedy triggers other memories for the bookseller that she'd rather not revisit, but things begin to unravel and there's no stopping the journey she is on to understand what really happened to the young man...and herself.

I really enjoyed this book because I couldn't figure all of it out. There were some things I thought I knew and, then, there would be a twist. (Love that!) I will tell you that while this book is a bit dark, it isn't depressing. It is mysterious, and it does time jump, but I always knew where I was in the timeline. In other words, It moves forward in time with the story of the young man, but goes back in time to the bookseller's past. I mention this because I have friends who do not like those types of books. I love them, but I know not everyone does.

I hope you'll check it out! I think it's important to encourage new writers who write well. Not all writers write well, you know. Speaking of that...

Lucy

I'm going to try to be nice, but I'm definitely going to be honest. I wish I had not wasted my valuable reading time on My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. It was a book club book, so for that reason I am glad I read it. I like to try different things, and I even like to discuss books I don't like. I appreciate and respect what other people think, as well. But I'll never get that time back again (sigh). Thankfully, it's a small book.

That being said, let me say this...

I had just finished My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier when I read "Lucy," so maybe my bar was set too high? All I know is that I didn't care about the main character, Lucy Barton, and thought her to be a bit of a dimwit. I understood what the book was about, but couldn't believe all the rave reviews and people who thought it was a great book. And, yes, I am aware the author won a Pulitzer for another book, but that doesn't change my opinion. I also read an interview with her, after I read the book (trying to give it another chance), and I wasn't impressed with that either.

I didn't like it. Plain and simple. And that is what the book is: plain and simple. If I see one more review that calls it "beautiful and magnificent in its simplicity," I will scream. I have some sixth graders that can write better than that. In fact, the way it's written reminded me of how a child speaks - not a grown, adult woman. And please don't tell me that was the point because she was dealing with her mother and felt like a child. Ridiculous. Did I mention Lucy is supposed to be a writer? Ha. 

This book, and the reviews I read after I read it, reminds me of when you walk in an art gallery, and there is a painting with a white background and a big red dot in the center. Everyone stands around and raves how wonderful it is. Some say it's a statement on mankind's condition. Others say it represents oppression in the modern world. Me? I look at them like they came from another planet and say, "It's a red dot on a white background. Get over yourself."

My Name is Lucy Barton is the red dot painting. Rave all you want, you'll never convince me it's anything other than a red dot. Period.

One more thing...



I don't like to end on a sour note, so here's what I'm currently reading and enjoying: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. The story is about a man and his past, but the premise surrounding the story is about the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. This is a topic I've done a great deal of research on, and I also teach my students about Japanese internment camps. I appreciate the perspective the novel brings to a topic I've been interested in for quite a few years. I'll let you know what I think once I've finished.

In the meantime,...happy reading!!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Too Busy

Ah, yes,...we all know what it's like to be too busy to enjoy the things we like, don't we? Life seems to come at us going 100 miles an hour and, sometimes, all we can do is go with the flow and know it will let up...eventually. This is what my life feels like for about nine months out of the year, even though I love what I do. But summer? Ah, summer is another story...

Since school let out (in case you don't know, I'm a teacher), I've been very busy in the most fun sort of ways, but it's actually prevented me from reading as much as I would like. I've been traveling and visiting with friends and, when I'm home, we've been working on renovating two rooms at our house. While I enjoy doing all these things, it's left me less summertime reading than usual. (Yes, even the traveling...because I'm busy enjoying the sights and sounds and the people that surround me.)  

I say all this to say, I have just finished Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel. I can't tell you the last time it took me over two weeks to read a novel - especially one I really enjoy! Normally, I would be upset about not finding enough time to read, but the fact that I've been having too much fun to read,...well, I can't complain about that, now, can I? I've also been spending time writing, which is something I need to do. Too busy to read? Well, yes, but...wait until I tell you what I discovered about My Cousin Rachel by having to read it in bits and pieces. (See? I'm always learning something...)

What I discovered, from taking so long to read this Daphne du Maurier novel, is the same thing I already knew from her other stories I read quickly: She is an excellent writer. I know, you're thinking, "Duh. It's Daphne du Maurier. This is your discovery?" But, you see, there's a difference in enjoying a book in a few sittings, when you're absorbed in the story and briefly hold the thread of it in your mind, and holding on to a story for long periods of time while living the rest of your life, especially when you read as many books as I do. 

When I was able to pick up My Cousin Rachel here and there, I never had to reread and remind myself where I was in the story. The story and the characters stuck with me. There is a great deal of depth to this author's writing, and there are many layers to what she says in one passage. It is why the story stayed with me, no matter how long I needed to put it down between readings.

Forgive me for how I am about to say this as bluntly as I think it in my mind: It is wonderfully refreshing to read a realistic fiction story with substance. It's a mystery without a damn detective. It hints at things that are deeply sinister without ever saying exactly what they are, leaving it to your own imagination. It's romance and passion without detailed sex scenes. It's witty banter between intelligent characters without some whiny female who needs to be rescued. 

In other words, when Daphne du Maurier wrote, she trusted that her readers would not be idiots. She doesn't spell out everything, but she writes it in a way to make you think and know. I have many passages marked just for how well she turns a phrase, and she has a way of describing a scene succinctly without going on and on for pages and you know that the descriptions have meaning, as well. The reader is given just enough, but never too much. 

I love this book. And I don't say that as often as you'd think. There are too many books I read that are just too superficial and shallow to even comment on. And, sadly, many of them are YA, which is probably why more and more middle school children don't like to read very much. Children may not always know what they like, until you help them find it, but they certainly know what bores them. (Okay, I'll drop that train of thought for now...because I could go on and on and...)

I'll sum it up this way, if you're a thinking reader (and, yes, there are readers out there who don't think about what they read), you can't go wrong with Daphne du Maurier. I can't imagine the woman wrote anything I wouldn't love. I intend on finding out, as I will continue to sprinkle in her novels throughout my reading journey. By doing so, I know I'll always have substance in my reading diet. And we all need that.

Happy reading!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Jolly Holiday!




I always loved Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins! It was one of my favorite musicals when I was growing up. This random fact popped into my mind today as I was trying to think of a simple way to say the kind of holiday I've decided to take for the next two weeks:

"Ohhhh, it's a jolly holiday with...no technology!"

Okay, so it doesn't go quite as well as "a jolly holiday with Mary," but you get the idea. I usually post every weekend, usually on Sundays, but I've decided to step away from phones and computers and internet technology, as much as possible, for my holiday over the next two weeks. While I enjoy the positive things these types of technologies add to our lives, I also don't mind living without them from time to time. 

I hope you're all enjoying your summer and finding great books to read! I am currently enjoying Daphne du Maurier's novel, My Cousin Rachel. I'm halfway through it and really enjoying it. It reminds me of her novel Rebecca in the way it feels. I'm taking my time reading it and enjoying the author's writing style, which I admire. I usually only take my Kindle with me on holiday, but I've already made numerous notes and tabs in the book version of My Cousin Rachel, so I'm taking it (and a couple of other "real' books) with me.

I look forward to sharing some of my good book finds this summer when I'm back from holiday!

Happy reading! :)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

"More Of This, Too, Please!"

Have you ever read a book and wondered why you waste so much time on reading "lesser" books? I mean, it's not that you do it on purpose, it's that you don't always realize what you've been searching for until you find it. 

Well, I found it.





When my book club chose News of the World by Paulette Jiles, I was less than thrilled. When I previewed it, I didn't like the title, and I didn't like the premise: Texas in 1870? "Ummm, I like historical fiction, buuuut - no thanks." I'm just being honest about my first reaction. I'm happy to report, though, that I believe in always reading the book my club chooses and expanding my tastes in literature. 

What I discovered was...something I didn't know I longed for. News of the World is a great story! The tale is about an older gentleman who travels around North Texas reading the news of the world, from various cities' newspapers, from a podium. People pay a dime for admission to hear it. I never thought about this, you see. How DID people Iearn what was going on in other places back in the 1800s? The thought of what he does is interesting in itself, but that isn't the heart of the story.

The conflict that drives the story is that the reader gentleman, Captain Kidd, is asked to return a young, ten-year-old German girl, named Johanna, to her extended family in South Texas. She was captured by the Kiowa Indians four years earlier and does not remember her past. She thinks she is Kiowa, and she does not want to be anywhere except with the Kiowa family she knows. Johanna resents being rescued and doesn't understand what's going on.

Kidd and Johanna are in for a long, arduous journey from Wichita Falls to the San Antonio area of Texas, especially during this turbulent time in Texas history. There are many different dangers this unlikely pair have to endure together, if they hope to reach the girl's relatives and return her safely to her family. Of course,...Johanna also needs to quit running away and trying to return to the Kiowa Indians. And did I mention she doesn't speak English, and Kidd doesn't speak Kiowa? Needless to say, Captain Kidd has his hands full. 

There is a nice combination of serious, humorous, and heartwarming moments in this novel. I've marked several passages where I treasure the spirit and the wisdom in which Captain Kidd analyzes people and situations along the trail. He is definitely the kind of character we all wish we could meet in real life.

I don't usually assign an actor to a part in a book, but I couldn't help it with this one. I kept seeing Sam Elliott as Captain Kidd. He would be so perfectly suited to the part. He is equal parts "grandfatherly" and "tough as nails" and just about as Texas as a man comes. And, it's rare for me to say this, but...I would love to see this made into a movie. More people need to be exposed to this story.

I find myself extremely glad I took a chance on this one with my book club. I wasn't the only one who was pleased. Everyone else was less than thrilled at the choice at first, just as I was, but we all came back hugging our books to our chests and giving glowing reviews! 

Go ahead, give it try! :)

Happy reading!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"More Dumplins, Please!"

Surely, there are enough deep, dark, sad, disheartening books already written in the world that it wouldn't hurt to add a few more positive ones, right? I mean, "lighthearted" doesn't have to mean it's shallow or a "fluff" read. Right? 

I needed something lighthearted with substance. And I found it. Or, rather, it found me...by way of a good friend. I was visiting my friend, Allie, who has a home library much bigger than mine (which I love her for), and she handed me a book off her shelf one day and said, "When you need something light and enjoyable, you should read this." I took the book and put it in my TBR stack at home.

After reading a few well-written, but depressing, books, I turned my reading eyes (and my hope) on the book my friend had let me borrow: Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. I already had a hint of what the book was about from previewing it, and I was happy to relax into something that would make me smile. What I found in Dumplin' was a whole lot more. Of course, it's set in Texas,...which means you should always expect more. ;)

I can sum up the flavor of this book with just a few key words without giving anything away. Are you ready?

Willowdean (a.k.a. Dumplin'), overweight, high school, Texas, Dolly Parton songs, best friends, dating, beauty pageants

Now, while the words I chose may seem like your run-of-the-mill teen drama, it really isn't. This book is filled with Southern humor, hard truths delivered with a soft touch and a smirk, and gives you a heroine you can't help but understand and cheer for. It's well-written in a simplistic manner that I truly enjoyed. 

Willowdean is the narrator in the novel, and she makes me smile and touches my heart. She gives insights about humans while telling us about her own struggles. And she's one of those characters I know I'll carry in my heart for a long time.

I'd like to send out a special thank you to Julie Murphy for proving a book can be lighthearted and deep, and for proving that humor and substance can go together quite well in the hands of a good writer. 


Quote at the beginning of Dumplin':

"Find out who you are and do it on purpose." ~ Dolly Parton

Amen.