Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Little Bit of a Book Binge at Borders

One of the worst things about living in Fredericksburg is that, instead of my beloved Barnes and Noble, we have a Borders. Now, mind you, any book store is better than no bookstore, but Barnes and Noble feels more like, "Come in, sit down, read, and stay a while" and Borders is more "what do you want to buy and get out"... (Although, I did go to the Borders in Warrenton VA yesterday and it was amazing, so not all Borders are created equal.)

In any event.

My mom came to town this weekend and we spent a good bit of time book browsing. At Borders. Because it is Year 3 of Lit Chicks, beginning in November, and we are all announcing next year's book choices at our October meeting. And I had no idea what to pick.

I always ask Lesley for book ideas, and she always obligingly provides them, and then I go to the bookstore and browse the shelves anyway, and usually a book absolutely leaps off the shelf at me and I don't wind up using Lesley's selections. (I have a whole folder of suggestions in my favorites, as well, of books that have been recommended.)

Well, miracle of miracles, Lesley, I'm going with one of your selections this year. :-) I'm not going to post which one, just in case the girls tune in for a sneak peak. However, it's a book I've been wanting to read for a while and I'm excited about it.

Now, some other books did jump off the shelf at me while I was shopping and browsing, and I thought I would post them here to see if anyone's read them. I'll also post a couple reviews of the last few books I've read.

The first one is a book that I literally rushed through the end of Augusten Burroughs's Running With Scissors to get to. The cover caught my eye--the feel of the paperback and the overall simplicity of the design, and I read the back of the jacket outloud to Judy and we both commented, "Wow, that sounds pretty darned good!" It is Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. It was nominated for the Man Booker prize (not that that means anything to me, so was Life of Pi) and has been translated into 22 different languages.

From The New Yorker:

In this comic first novel, two estranged sisters living in England discover that their addled elderly father, a Ukrainian war refugee and expert on tractors, is planning to marry a young, enormous-breasted woman who sees his modest pension as her ticket to capitalist comfort. The sisters put aside their differences, and embark on a spirited campaign to save him from boil-in-the-bag dinners, slovenly housekeeping, and such extravagant purchases as a broken-down Rolls-Royce. In the midst of these machinations—which include long-winded letters to solicitors, venomous gossip, and all-out spying—Lewycka stealthily reveals how the depredations of the past century dictate what a family can bear.

Then my mom happened upon her favorite book while growing up, Betty Smith's Joy In The Morning and we got talking about A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, and I've decided to take a crack at it. It's one of those books that everyone raves about, but you never quite get around to reading, and I'm not sure why or in what context, but I've heard people talking about it lately, and decided that, what with my mom stumbling upon it, it was a sign that I should read it.

From Amazon.com:

Francie Nolan, avid reader, penny-candy connoisseur, and adroit observer of human nature, has much to ponder in colorful, turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. She grows up with a sweet, tragic father, a severely realistic mother, and an aunt who gives her love too freely--to men, and to a brother who will always be the favored child. Francie learns early the meaning of hunger and the value of a penny. She is her father's child--romantic and hungry for beauty. But she is her mother's child, too--deeply practical and in constant need of truth. Like the Tree of Heaven that grows out of cement or through cellar gratings, resourceful Francie struggles against all odds to survive and thrive. Betty Smith's poignant, honest novel created a big stir when it was first published over 50 years ago. Her frank writing about life's squalor was alarming to some of the more genteel society, but the book's humor and pathos ensured its place in the realm of classics--and in the hearts of readers, young and old.

Another book which looked just too good to pass up was Lee Martin's The Bright Forever. This one was nominated for the Pulitzer, but I think mainly I was just hoping to find something that would put the disappearing child genre back in my good books after I could not stand The Lovely Bones. I've read the first 30 pages of this book and it's a quick read, but very, very good so far. I'm looking forward to reading more of it after I finish Tractors. I hope it's going to be as good as I want it to be.

From Publisher's Weekly:

The halting, harrowing narrative of Martin's second novel (after 2001's Quakertown) draws upon multiple voices to piece together a tragedy with its own slippery backstory. On a summer evening in an "itty-bitty" Indiana town in the 1970s, nine-year-old Katie Mackey rides her bicycle to the library and never comes home. Her father, Junior Mackey, owns the town's glassworks, and to the town's residents the Mackeys are like the Kennedys, envied for their looks, their wealth and their picture-perfect life. Peeling back the layers of his characters, Martin slips easily into their darker, secret lives—lives that may harbor clues to Katie's disappearance: Henry Dees, the reclusive math tutor who sometimes lurks in the Mackeys' house; Clare Mains, the widow shunned for remarrying out of loneliness; her galling husband, Raymond R., whose drug binges and blackouts occupy stretches of unaccounted-for time; Katie's parents, freshly tortured by their own tarnished past; and Katie's brother, 17-year-old Gilley, who seizes the chance to gain his father's approval by avenging Katie's death. Rich details and raw emotion mix as Martin, in engaging the human desire to excavate the truth, underscores its complex, elusive nature.

For my birthday, Melissa gave me Angry Housewives Eating BonBons by Lorna Landvik. I did get slightly distracted by Running With Scissors, so I'm only about 50 pages into it, but so far, I love it. She gave it to me since it's about a book club set up by some women in a small Minnesota town, and all the women have different stories and struggles to endure. I am greatly looking forward to reading more of it. I've only read one other of Landvik's books, Welcome to the Great Mysterious, which I really liked, but this one already seems a lot better than that one.

An exerpt from Publisher's Weekly:

Five friends live through three decades of marriages, child raising, neighborhood parties, bad husbands and good brownies-and Landvik (Patty Jane's House of Curl) doesn't miss a single cliche as she chronicles their lives in this pleasant but wholly familiar novel of female bonding. When Faith Owens's husband is transferred from Texas to the "stupid godforsaken frozen tundra" of Freesia Court, Minn., in 1968, her life looks like it's going to be one dull, snowy slog-until the power goes out one evening and a group of what appear to be madwomen start a snowball fight in her backyard. These dervishes turn out to be her neighbors: antiwar activist Slip; sexpot Audrey; painfully shy Merit; and widow Kari. They become fast friends and decide to escape their humdrum routine by starting the Freesia Court Book Club, later given the eponymous name by one of their disgruntled husbands.

So, those are all my new "to be read" books, and combined make about 1500 pages of reading to enjoy!

So, now on to my book reviews...

I only have 2 books to review at the moment, since I've been a little bit busy!!! Since I've already mentioned it several times in the above "to be reads" section, I'll start with Augusten Burroughs's Running With Scissors. I selected this book to read because I saw the preview for the movie, and I thought, "Wow, that looks like one crazy story!" Little did I know.

I completely forgot the name of it, and when browsing in the bookstore some weeks ago, came across the new paperback cover, now screaming "Now a Major Motion Picture!" and thought, "Oh yeah, let's see what this is about." So I read the reviews and notes inside, some of which compared it to Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which I loved.
Running is a memoir, detailing Burroughs's life as a teenager dealing with his mother's mental illness and parents' divorce, at which time his mother sends him to live with her psychiatrist and his family. To call Dr. Finch's methods unorthodox would be a gross understatement. To call his family unusual would be the same. Augusten goes from being a pristine, prissy little boy to a sexually active high school drop out. He spends his time shuttling between his mother's apartment, which is full of her lovers, who are now women instead of men, and the Finches, where chaos reigns supreme. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Augusten and Natalie decide the kitchen ceilings should be vaulted, with a skylight, and proceed to knock down the ceiling and steal a window from elsewhere in the house to put in the roof.

I greatly enjoyed Running, though I will confess, I liked Heartbreaking Work so much more. There were times that I would put Running down for a couple of days, almost as if I needed a break from the chaos myself. This to me, makes it an even more powerful book, since the written chaos was so overwhelming. I would recommend it, and I'm glad I read it before I go see the movie, as I always like that better.

The movie will feature quite a cast, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Annette Bening, and Alec Baldwin. It will be released next month.

The other book I've finished and LOVED was Kim Edwards's The Memory Keeper's Daughter. This book created a lot of buzz because it didn't do well in hardcover, but now that it's in paperback, it's flying off the shelves. It was selected as one of Diane Rehm's books for her reader's review, and I was intrigued because they had a journalist on whose daughter was born disabled and he talked about how the book really spoke to him.

The basic story is this: A doctor's pregnant wife goes into labor on a cold snowy night, and he brings her to a clinic to give birth, only the regular doctor cannot make it, so he and a nurse deliver the twins themselves. The first baby is a healthy boy, the second is a girl with Down's Syndrome. He gives the little girl to the nurse and asks her to take Phoebe to an institution he's heard of and leave her there. When his wife awakes from the medication used to keep her calm during delivery, she remembers giving birth to twins, and the doctor informs her that their daughter has died. The nurse cannot bear the thought of leaving the newborn in the institution and decides to keep her and leaves the state. The book then tells the rest of their story--how the doctor and his wife live, how the son grows up, how Phoebe and the nurse live, and how their paths intersect.

This was probably the best book I've read this year. It was not chick-lit, let's all sit around and cry and wipe each other's noses. Instead, the book tells of love, protection, redemption, secrets, betrayal, and forgiveness, without the use of a bunch of syrupy, maudlin prose. It would have been quite easy to turn this into a Lifetime Movie of the Month kind of book, but it was a lot stronger than that. I literally could not put it down. I lent my copy to my mom on Monday, and she's already just about halfway through it. I cannot recommend it enough. A wonderful, wonderful piece of writing.

So that's all I've been reading from this end. Next week, the Lit Chicks pick their 2006-07 books, and I'm so excited to see what the girls all select. Even if someone else selects my book, based on this list, I've got several back ups ready. I haven't read any book club books in a while, since I read ahead and our last book was The Time Traveler's Wife, which I've already read. My gift cards are ready and I'm ready to read!!! Oh and this weekend is the National Book Festival, which I'm pretty excited about. I'm looking forward to meeting Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner, as I really enjoyed that book. And of course, I have my YouTube viewing to keep me busy :-) (If you're not watching Geriatric1927, you really should be!)

Till next time...

2 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Melissa said...

Susan,
I enjoyed Running With Scissors! He reminded me of David Sedaris. Have you read any of his work? He is hysterical. David Sedaris is better than Augsten. Augstens other works I thought were rather confusing - I read Dry and it wasn't quite a enaging as Scissors, the 3rd one I have I don't get at all - I thought it was a memoior only the events don't match up with events from Scissors.

I currently have a long list of must reads - I'm totally bogged down with children's novels for this class that I'm taking but I only have 2 left so hopefully I can get on with "adult" reading soon.

Lesley said...

Hmmm, I'm thinking of the ones I've mentioned before and wondering which one you decided on. Can't wait to find out!

I have both 'Running with Scissors' and 'Tractors' on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. I was going to use 'Tractors' as a book club selection but ending up going with something else and RwS seems like it will pale in comparison to David Sedaris (who I worship and adore), but we'll see.

I agree with the B&N/Borders comparisons, although I'd rather visit an intimate little bookshop over the two behemoths anyday. My least favorite of the big chains is Books-A-Million - I never want to spend any time browsing and just don't feel comfortable there.