Again, there are books I’m reading now (as a mother) that resonate differently with me than they would have pre-having my son. William Haywood Henderson’s “Augusta Locke” is one such novel. It’s the story of Augusta “Gussie” Locke, who leaves her family behind as a teenager and makes her way through Wyoming for the rest of her life, trying to get work, meeting people, sometimes dressing as a man, having a daughter of her own, and trying to find a place in the world while still remaining a wanderer.
Now, I don’t love this book. I probably won’t keep it on my shelf, because I know I’ll never re-read it. That said, it’s a well-written book, with prose that perfectly conveys it’s rural western setting and quickly defines characters. There were certain sections of it – such as a sequence where Gussie’s daughter earns the over-attention/obsession of a woman who lost her own son years ago – that are breathtaking, and terrifying to read as a Mom myself. Gussie is a perfectly imperfect heroine, and no one in the book is entirely likable – just like real life, right?
More than once, it brought to mind “The Grapes of Wrath,” which I totally mean as a compliment. Take that as you will – if you liked Steinbeck’s epic classic, “Augusta Locke” might be one you should read.
I’m not really a Sci-Fi kinda girl, but I wound up with a copy of M.M. Buckner’s “The Gravity Pilot” while at a convention. It was handed to me by someone at a booth sponsored by The Sci-Fi Project, who try and get Sci-Fi into the hands of people who don’t typically read this genre. Basically, they hand out free books. So I took the book, and it sat on my shelf, and now that I’m reading through all the books I’ve never read, I picked it up.
Dude, this is a good book.
Less “Sci-Fi” than a superbly written story about people who happen to work in high-tech environments in a futuristic version of Earth, “The Gravity Pilot” tells the story of brilliant skydiver Orr, who signs a sponsorship deal to make the first skydive from the stratosphere. At the same time as this amazing fortune falls into his hands, his girlfriend leaves him and moves away to start a new life and a new job. Basically, while Orr tries to focus on his new celebrity and training, his new boss schemes to make Orr a huge star and tries to make him fall in love with her. Also, she tries to keep him away from the news that his beloved girlfriend has fallen into a seedy underground world of internet addiction. A mysterious reporter enters the story, tells Orr the news, and the action begins.
It’s an exciting read, and a fast one. I liked it — and I didn’t expect to!
My copy of “Sophie’s World” has been traveling with me across cities and states for a decade now, since some college friends were all abuzz with how great it was. I got a copy, but never got around to reading it. These friends were all Green Party members and amateur philosophers, mind you, and having read the book I see exactly why they liked it.
“Sophie’s World” is bestseller, and a rather remarkable novel — a history of philosophy told within the context of the story of a young girl discovering magic in the world around her. It’s not unlike “A Wrinkle in Time” or “Alice in Wonderland,” except for the addition of enough philosophical history that a reader could probably pass a college-level Introduction to Philosophy class just by reading the book and paying close attention.
Therein was my problem — I just couldn’t pay attention to the philosophy parts. What this says about me, I have no idea, but I found myself skimming large passages of this book and seeking out the bits with Sophie, her tutor Alberto, the dog Hermes, and the other real-world characters in the book. Gaardner lays on the philosophy quite heavily in the letters and booklets Sophie is given and reads to learn about the subject, and it tends to drag down the pace of the book. On the plus side, the scenes of Sophie trying to unravel the central and essential WTF mystery of the book are very interesting.
(This complicated book was apparently made into a Norwegian film, and I might have to check it out — because I can’t imagine how this book can be put onscreen and retain it’s “history of philosophy” angle at the same time.)
While glad I read it, this one’ll be going into the donate bin. Perhaps there is some young reader out there who will get their hands on it and launch themselves into a whole new world of questions and answers. I’m hoping.
“Shanghai Girls” came to my book collection while I was walking down my street one fall day. There’s an apartment building not far from us, and outside it was a cardboard box full of books with a “Free” sign. Never one to turn down free books, I peeked in and was astonished to find quite an awesome little collection of books. In addition to “Shanghai Girls,” I scored two of the George R.R. Martin books, a biography of Stalin, and Russell Brand’s “My Booky-Wook.” (Free is the only amount I would ever consider paying for Brand’s book, but I figured I should give it a shot.)
Having just finished “Shanghai Girls,” I can officially say I got damn lucky the day I stumbled into this book. What a fantastic read! Author Lisa See writes about Chinatown with some frequency, per her bibliography, but this book stands alone as a gripping novel of historical fiction. The story of two beautiful and modern Chinese sisters in 1937 – Pearl and May – the story goes from China to San Francisco to Chicago as these young women are forced to give up all their silliness and freedom after their father’s gambling debts results in their marrying a pair of brothers they’ve never met. Fortunately, they stay together, but unfortunately the circumstances for the rest of their lives are marred by war, violence, and racism as much as they’re blessed with happiness and love.
It’s a beautiful tale of these women’s reality, with no fairy tale ending, lively and engrossing characters, and some absolutely brutal scenes – the kind that make you physically recoil while reading the words. This book made me want to read more by Lisa See.
Fantastic book! Read it!
“Oh, I read that — I don’t really remember it.”
I’m pretty sure that’s how I’m going to feel in a few days when I look back on finishing the book. While reading it, I was aware that Erdrich is obviously a talented writer with a real knack for prose, and that these regular, rural folks are pretty vivid characters, but as a whole the book left me a little cold. Other than the bratty tween daughter of a character, who shows up only toward the end of the book, I didn’t really care about anyone or what happened to them.
“The Beet Queen” is the story of Mary and Karl, who are abandoned by their mother as kids and wind up in Argus, North Dakota. From there, their paths diverge. Tough as nails workhorse Mary stays put, while Karl chooses to wander the country as a (kinda sleazy) salesman. These two people, and those who revolve around them over the course of lifetimes, make up this story.
As someone who grew up in a rural setting, there’s usually something I can latch on to and ride out a book. Not this time. Oh well.
All that said, I got the book for $2.50 at the Open Books Half-Off sale, so I don’t regret my purchase. The book caught my eye as it lay on top a pile of other books, and so I snagged it. I regret nothing!
I’m going to keep this short and snappy. Staying up late watching election coverage, and dealing with a baby with a fever today have me wanting to do nothing more than sit down and stare out the window for a while.
And coffee. There should definitely be coffee.
I guess I’m just not meant to be a huge Faulkner fan. After reading “Sanctuary” and “The Unvanquished,” I find myself in the position of getting why people think he’s great without actually falling in literary love myself.
“The Unvanquished” is a good enough read, though, with some colorful characters. The story of the southern Sartoris family picking up their crumbled lives after the Civil War, the book deals with the things people will do to get by. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the character of “Granny” Rosa Millard. Once a proper Southern matriarch, she’s reduced to stealing and re-selling mules to keep the family business going. She’s a heck of a lady. Personally, I cared most about Cousin Drusilla, who jumps into men’s clothes and joins the action, then finds herself “beaten” by people’s expectations of her as a woman of her time. It’s quite an interest portrait of feminism, though I really don’t know if that’s what Faulkner had in mind.
I’m glad I spent a couple days with this one. While I did not love it, it gave me a little more insight into what people go crazy regarding Faulkner over. He’s obviously a great writer who offers terrific insight into important issues. While I recognize this completely, he’s just not for me.
First of all, I won a copy of this novella from Melville House via Twitter. Social Media is awesome. And, the fact that I came about the book the way I did seems appropriate – as Melville House is doing something really neat and quite innovative. They publish lesser-known novellas (too long for a short story, too short for a full novel) that have often never been put into book form before, and enhance them with a bunch of corresponding online material. By scanning a QR code in the back of “The Enchanted Wanderer,” I can access photos, additional works by Leskov, maps, and other materials. It’s nice to see a publishing company embracing modern media in such a cool way. Kudos to them.
AND, the book is pretty good. The official release calls it “..a Russian Candide with a revolutionary edge,” and that’s an apt description. Our hero, Ivan Severyanych, is cursed to live always on the brink of death after killing a monk, and he regales the story of his lengthy life over the course of a book — he’s been a Tartar slave, a horse thief, and even encounters the Devil. (You know, like you do.) I can’t say it’s a read that will ignite everyone’s desire to keep reading — there are definitely a few duller passages — but if Russian lit is your thing, this would be one to check out. I am certainly glad to have read it, and am pleased to have it among my collection.
To those curious about Melville House, I’d suggest you peruse their other book offerings. They have loads of stuff. (I first learned of them when I came across their edition of Jane Austen’s novella “Lady Susan.”)
My owning a copy of Paul Gallico’s “The Poseidon Adventure” in the first place is kind of a joke.
For our wedding, my husband and I used small piles of books as our centerpieces, so I got to go on a massive (and exhilarating and so much fun) expedition of Chicago’s used book stores to find titles that we loved, that defined us, and heck — made us laugh. For a brief moment, there was even an outrageous L. Ron Hubbard sci-fi novel that almost got used, until we realized people might not find it as funny as we did. From “Jane Eyre” to Stephen King, our wide-ranging literary tastes were present.
Among these piles was “The Poseidon Adventure,” which I just thought was funny. I hadn’t read it. Heck, I’ve never seen the movie — or the supposedly awful 2005 remake. For some reason, though many of the extra books we bought got donated back or given to friends post-wedding, this one hung on and has been on the bookcases ever since.
I picked it up the other day to read it — since it had also made it’s way onto the list of 30 books I own and have never read.
Omigosh you guys. I couldn’t put it down. I tore through these pages, needing to know what would become of these characters, and feeling the claustrophobia and terror they were feeling along the way. They’re not an incredibly likable bunch, but they’re all familiar folks; the family that looks to have it all on the outside, the heroic priest, the silly dancer girl, the bitchy former starlet, the cranky old lady. As they race through a deadly and gory labyrinth of bodies, upside down ship equipment, stragglers, and the unknown around every single corner just hoping to get to the one place they think they might just have a chance at being rescued, knowing the ship could just sink any moment and there might be any happy ending to any of this at all, this breathless reader was hooked.
This is a heck of a good read, I’m not even kidding.
I don’t mark up or earmark my books, but I folded down the pages a few times in this one at passages and parts I want to re-read and will never forget, most of which involve the previously mentioned family that appears to have it all. Bad stuff happens to this family along the way, and there’s one scene where the Mother (Jane) unleashes on her husband after a huge and life-changing loss, and it’s some tragically glorious writing. It’s the kind of writing that, if put into the movie, might get an audience to cheer.
Now, I find myself rabid to watch the movie. I cannot wait to see what changes were made in the transition to the big screen — because there are a couple of things about the book I can’t imagine a big 70s Hollywood blockbuster including; namely, a lot of politically incorrect talk, a rape, and let’s just say the children don’t all make it to the end, which seems quite un-Hollywood.
(Also, Shelley Winters. ‘Cause really.)
I’m adding Paul Gallico’s other two novels: “The Snow Goose” and “Lili” to my (endless) list of books to look for when I’m out and about. “The Poseidon Adventure” far exceeded my expectations, and it’s largely due to his skill with creating people who are flawed, sometimes terrible, and incredibly real.
Damn, this is a good book. It was a thousand times better than I expected, and I wish I could read it again for the first time. You can probably get a copy for a buck at a used bookstore somewhere near you, and it’s worth twenty times that.
I’m done raving, I promise. I’m off to hunt down the movie.
The illustrious Ms. Margaret Atwood has a special place in my heart and on my bookcase. (She and Christopher Moore have their very own shelf. If you understand my Chris Moore adoration, you realize the value of that real estate.) “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Oryx and Crake,” and especially “The Blind Assassin” are some of the greatest books I’ve ever read. So, along my travels as a reader, when I see an Atwood book I haven’t read at a used bookstore or book sale, I pick them up.
Such is the case of “Lady Oracle.” This one’s been hanging around my bookcase for a few years now, and I’ve never read it. Finally, I plucked it from the shelf and opened it up.
It’s quite different than other Atwood. There’s no vaguely sci-fi leaning, and the political undertones are largely confined to a few characters. It’s a really good book, though it’s nothing like the writing Atwood has become known for. “Lady Oracle” reminded me more of Wally Lamb’s “She’s Come Undone,” as it charts the life story of a woman from an unhappy fat daughter of a harsh Mom to a famed poet (who writes lurid romance novels on the side.) Also, she might have faked her own death. It’s a mystery!!!!
Our heroine, Joan, is brutally honest about her tale and her reasoning for her life choices and the people in her life. Atwood’s writing is in fabulous form here, vivid and snappy. The characters she creates are people we know instantly – from Joan’s slacker/political husband to her endearing Aunt Lou. I liked Joan a lot, as I think many women will, and rooted for her to figure out/get what she wanted from life.
Good read. If you’re just getting into Atwood, I’d send you to “The Blind Assassin” first, but this one is totally worth your time.
A few months back, I had my reading heart busted wide open by Ramona Ausubel’s “No One is Here Except All Of Us,” which told the story of a village of Jews that give up their past and start anew to survive during WW2.
The book was brutal, and beautiful, and unforgettable.
Louise Murphy’s “The True Story of Hansel and Gretel” has a lot in common with Ausubel’s book, and I mean that in the best way possible. Both are powerfully written stories of young people enduring the horrors of World War 2, and both will destroy you as a reader. But isn’t that the point of reading, to get destroyed and/or uplifted once in a while?
In Murphy’s transplanted fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel are the new names given to a Jewish brother and sister as their father and stepmother send them into the woods to keep them alive while on the run from the Germans. Along the way, they meet an old “witch” named Magda who takes them in, and they begin a new life as orphans taken in by this woman who lives on the outskirts of a small village. Danger isn’t far away, though, as the village is controlled by the Germans, the commander of whom has his eyes on Magda’s beautiful great-niece.
It’s a clever play on a fairy tale that’s familiar to everyone. All the famous elements of the original tale are present. There’s candy, a cage, true love, creatures in the woods, and of course there’s an enormous oven that comes into play in a wonderful twist of writing. Murphy boldly humanizes characters that are too often stock crones – the Stepmother and the Witch – reminding us that life is rarely as black and white as fairy tales would paint it to be.
“The True Story of Hansel and Gretel” is very seriously not for kids. It’s a book I recommend, if not simply for the quality of Murphy’s powerful writing, then as a historical reminder of what was and what should never be again.