You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir — Sherman Alexie (2017)
A complicated book on a complicated subject. Many slight chapters made up of short essays, stories, and poems.
This is a reflection on life with a complex woman and the hazards of mothering and being mothered. Alexie’s mother Lillian … she what? Had demons? Don’t we all. Her demons interfered with her ability to mother. And Alexi’s demons, so very close to those of his mother made it hard for him to be mothered. It’s a two-way problem between mothers and children: sharing the alcohol a bipolar demons. And then there’s crushing poverty — the financial and spiritual and cultural of reservation life. In some ways it’s a tough book to figure out. There is the particular to the Alexie’s experience (and his mother’s.) More broadly, it is also about the hazards to families of living as a reservation Indian. And even more generally to the experience of being Indian. But at both its heart and its outer limits it is about the problem of being a dysfunctional child of a dysfunctional parent. We live and learn, some times late in life, and then we mourn the things that were and the things will never have been.
* grief can be a clear lens *
Vinegar Girl — Ann Tyler (2016)
I used to like Tyler’s work but somehow the voice in this is too? Common and pedestrian. This retelling of Taming of the Shrew didn’t win me over because I didn’t like Kate. Really didn’t like Tyler’s Kate. She is a bumbling, aimless, preschool assistant without a personality. She’s so bland that I cannot begin to care about her. On top of that the voice and the story (which I normally love) didn’t pull me in at all.
* sometimes the original is best left alone *
The Art of Racing in the Rain — Garth Stein (2008)
Ayrton Senna name check aside I had a bad feeling about this book when I read the Kindle preview. But the dog as narrator thing might be interesting and there is racing… so I started it. At 15% of the way through there’s already a nice lady with brain tumor thing going on. Leading inevitably to a tragically motherless little girl and all of that. Not to mention it turns out that the dog is an aging beast with a martyr complex. So I stopped to check the reviews, so much praise, until I hit on a couple of poor reviews with spoilers. (Yeah I sometimes read the spoilers.) Rape allegations? Child taken by CPS? ON top of the already quite melodramatic situation. Really? This is looking more than iffy. I just can’t.
* I don’t read to be manipulated by amateurs *
Adventures of John Blake — Philip Pullman and Fred Fordham (2017)
Graphic novel about a boy trapped on a haunted ship that is shuttled back and forth through time seeking the knowledge and a certain item that will allow them to control their path. The crew is made up of sailors collected along the way. From an ancient roman to the John Blake, a mid-20th century son of a scientist who may have invented the device that allows time travel and that set the haunted Mary Alice on its course. It’s an entertaining, quick read. Don’t expect Pullman’s marvelous prose to show up. It’s a graphic novel and the conventions are different. The illustrations are nice but not terribly imaginative. Which, I think, is a good thing. I’m tired of Extraordinary Illustrations that make following the story difficult.
The plot goes along. There’s a modern technology villain and the end result is a nice victory for John and his modern companion Serena.
I can see this as the script for an action-adventure with teenagers. I might actually go to see it.
I’m looking forward to Pullman returning to prose with his next book supposedly set back in the world of Oxford and Lyra.
* crossing genres to good effect *
Outlander — Diana Gabaldon (2005)
Historical Romance with Time Travel. Yes I capitalized all of those words. Set in 18th Century Scotland and other parts of Europe as the saga goes on. It does help a little to know what’s going on but you can get along even if your grasp of English history is weak. (You can read all about the politics of the time in wikipedia is you want to.)
So (Girl) Claire falls through a hole in time (in a henge) and ends up stumbling into an English Patrol where bad things are threatened. She is then rescued by a Scottish raiding party. Bad things, but not quite so bad, are threatened. She doctors one of the members of the party and we meet (Boy) Jamie Frazer going under the name McKenzie. An outlawed man. The story goes on in sweetly predictable ways — Claire is threatened. Jamie rescues her. They are forced to marry, but later fall in love. Jamie goes off to try to find someone to help him get out from under his death sentence. Claire is threatened Jamie rescues her (a few more times) until in the last huge set piece of the book Claire must rescue Jamie from an English prison. Then all decamp for France. This should be a spoiler but you can tell from the beginning that the two protagonists are going to survive and that the pattern of danger, rescue, danger, rescue, sex, danger, sex, rescue, sex is going to go on for a long time.
The sex scenes are frequent, pretty well written, and occasionally very disturbing. If you have a problem with rape culture (and 18th century Scotland/England is a pretty damned rapey place) — then you might want to skip this.
There are another dozen or so books in the world. Eight directly in the series and a handful that revolve around other points.
So… will I run out and read them all now? No, the books aren’t that good and are a bit predictable. I’d get bored if I read another one right away. But later? The next time I need something to shore up a long weekend at the beach or a deadly dull airline flight? Yeah, I probably will reach out for the next book in the series.
* at least at the end it’s the heroine doing the rescuing *
The Nakano Thrift Shop: A Novel
- Hiromi Kawakami, A.M. Powell, trans (2017)
Weird little novel about a thrift shop in Japan and the owner, his sister, and the two people who work there. A small, inmate book. I kept wanting something amazing to happen but it didn’t. In a way it was an all day toy train wreck. I can’t not love it though. The way in which the protagonist (Hitomi) stumbles through her aimless twenties. Not quite reaching the unreachable boy she works with. And the parallels between her unsuccessful run to love and her boss’s dalliance with the high-powered antique dealer and his sister’s dalliance with the soon to be deceased. Really they are all in love with someone they ought not to be and it just doesn’t quite work out for anyone.
* various states of mis-shapen love *
The Moth: 50 True Stories — Catherine Burns, ed. (2013)
50 short monologues from various Moth events and broadcasts. Just what Moth is well explained the three introductions. (Yes, three.) True stories of one sort and other. I’d estimate that most of them ran 5 — 10 minutes live/on air. Some really effective story telling. If you’re a fan of essays you’ll recognize a couple of the storytellers but most are average people recounting some not so average event in their lives.
* good short monologues — refreshing story telling *
No Planets Strike — Josh Bell (2004)
Alamo Theory — Josh Bell (2016)
A couple of mind expanding collections. The first, No Planets Strike<?em>, is raw and unnerving, what with Ramona, and the gentle handed holy father, and zombies. The second, Alamo Theory, is more accomplished and polished but… it lacks the marvelous nervousness that the first one had. Both contain work that is sometimes random in a carefully plotted way designed to throw the reader off the scent. Both of these collections are very sonic; It’s good to read them out loud but I would say essential for Alamo Theory. Also note that Alamo Theory was published by Copper Canyon and is a square book — a format that allows Bell’s ling line lengths enough room to breathe on the page and a decent type size. No Planets Strike suffers from a lot of crowding and very small font.
* I like bad boy poets, though they are a bit less thrilling as they grow up *