Monday, January 19, 2009

Let Freedom Ring....

Just taking a moment to recognize a historic moment in American history, without the textbooks handy.

Memory takes me back to my world as a teenager, purchasing Stevie Wonder's album, Hotter Than July. It was a favorite for many years. I also remember standing on line in front of Madison Square Garden ALL NIGHT LONG to wait for tickets to Stevie's concert, his first in a long time.

On the night of the concert, as on many nights before, during, and after the tour, Stevie exhorted the crowd with a rousing speech calling for the national celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday.

I can clearly recall dancing with complete strangers on the floor of the Garden as we shouted and sang along. I can also recall the joy I felt when our Senators and Representatives were moved to act and the final votes were cast for the creation of today's holiday.

Tomorrow is another day, and with it will come perhaps one of the most important occasions of this new century. It could not have come to pass, though, without the work of Dr. King.

So today is for Dr. King.

Let Freedom Ring.

Friday, January 02, 2009

15: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Well, I'm done.  I've moved several books beyond my pre-set vacation book limit, I still have several vacation days to go, but I'm out of books (even after a visit to the crappy book chain store) and made a promise.

But what a way to go out.  I enjoyed this book so much I just kept putting it down.  I wanted to SAVOR it -- it was so lovely, so out-of-the-ordinary, so filled with beauty and so reflective of the art form of writing -- that I just didn't want the story to end.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, a masterwork by David Wroblewski, shares the tale of Edgar, a child who is born with all of his sense faculties, but who lacks the ability to speak.

As I read it, Wroblewski kept doing this thing that shocked me to the core: he surprised me. Wroblewski is a real literary talent, with beautifully drawn characters and a strong sense of story.  But - more than anything - each chapter was filled with real, thoughtful writing -- and I truly never knew what was going to happen next.  Look, that doesn't seem to be so important, but it really is.  How many times have I been 3/4 of the way through a novel waiting for the author to get to the place I know is waiting in 70 pages.  

That just doesn't happen here.  What does happen is magical and lovely, though.  And I simply didn't want this story to end....

Read it!  It's my #1 piece of fiction for the year 2008.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

14: Outer Banks

I picked this up because I have a number of friends who like to talk about Banks.  

I have nothing to talk to them about.

I hated this and would appreciate my money back.

Really -- it seems as if I don't even have enough to say to cover the .jpg to the left of this text.

I don't. 

Sunday, December 28, 2008

13: Portrait of an Unknown Woman

When you are living in a family with one of the world's leading Holbein scholars, you tend to look at images - even tiny ones - and just know a Holbein when you see one.

I spotted this book on the shelf and reached for it immediately.  Holbein!  I read the bookjacket and added it to the pile immediately.  

Portrait of an Unknown Woman, a work of historical fiction by Vanora Bennett, is a lovely piece that literally takes the reader inside one of Holbein's more famous (but secondary works). Following the family of Sir Thomas More during the Protestant Reformation (and specifically the character of Meg Giggs), Bennett weaves her own version of the story of "the two princes" as England is torn apart by the war between Catholics and Protestants.

I'll recommend the novel to arts students, lit students, and history buffs.  And, of course, to members of my family, all of whom need a new Holbein reading this year.   

Saturday, December 27, 2008

12: A Mercy

Two-book day!  Two-book day!  OK, OK -- I didn't read anything yesterday, and I didn't like this morning's read at all, so I kind of HAD to pick up a second novel today.  I'm sooooo happy that I did.

So, over the past few years, I've wondered about Toni Morrison.  This is not a woman who rests on the many laurels she has received as one of the greatest living writers in America, but (in all candor) I've been left waiting by her past few works.  

I consider Song of Solomon and Beloved to me true masterworks, but I've been disappointed more recently.

In A Mercy, Toni Morrison does not disappoint -- not for a page, a paragraph, or a word.

This work is deep, dense and remarkable.  When I first picked up the actual book, it felt slight and light in my hands.  What I encountered as I turned the first page, though, was a rich and deep narrative, characters that lived both in the page and in the mind, and a sense of survival and passion that is so important to Morrison's work.

I highly recommend A Mercy.  It sits near the top of Morrison's illustrious canon.

11: The Gathering

I'm usually a fan of the winners of the Man Booker Prize, and - when I picked up the title earlier in the month - I didn't recall why I hadn't read this work already.

Now I know.

Clearly, during some previous attempt, my local bookseller likely turned to me and said, "You aren't going to like this" and I probably put the title down.

There's nothing really more to say about it.  I didn't like it.  I was never engaged, I never cared about the world of the characters, and - when it was over - I openly wondered why it had won one of the most prestigious book awards in the world.

Sorry, Ms. Enright, but I'm not recommending the book.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

10: The Spiritualist

Megan Chance has written a dark, mysterious historical novel that works its way through the high and lowbrow worlds of 1850s New York.  Evelyn Asherton is caught up in the murder of her husband and uses the worlds of spiritualism, seance (and seduction) to attempt to free herself from the gallows.

Her husband's partner comes to her rescue, as does one of the grand dames of New York society. Now living in the home of her new patron, Evelyn quickly comes under the sway of Michel Jourdain, who is either a brilliant clairvoyant or a charlatan.

What follows is a tale where - as the book jacket suggests - "sometimes truth is the greatest illusion of all."

Chance writes a clear and quickly-paced narrative, with winning characters.  I only wish the storyline didn't follow the (somewhat) predicted path that played itself out in my mind about 3/4 of the way through the novel.  I also felt kind of stretched by the actions of some of the characters but, even with that said, I enjoyed the read all the same.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

9: The Pesthouse

Just what you want on a 2-book day: another post-apocalyptical novel.  Yes, The Road was one of my favorite books of last year, but that was last year.  Apparently, though, I'm not quite done with the end of our culture and civilization because I really liked The Pesthouse.

I'd never read anything by Jim Crace before, but I'm looking forward to more of his stuff.  There was something altogether poetic and spare about his writing.  The Pesthouse brings us to another version of a future America, one in which no one even remembers the largeness of the nation.  Lincoln is just a face on a coin -- but there are stories about "Abraham," who will return to them someday. People are trying to head East to get to the shore so that they can somehow cross the sea and get to a land they have been told exists: a new land of milk and honey.  

It's a wonderful story, as seen through the eyes of a young woman who awakens to discover that everyone in her town has died in the night.  She is almost completely alone.

I'm not giving any of the novel away, but it's a nice pairing with The Road


8: Join Me!

Um, this book is insane.  Danny Wallace, who is now known as the guy behind Yes Man, clearly has nothing to do with most of his life.  He took out an ad and asked people to join him, without telling anyone what they were joining.

This book is the story of his adventures as he creates a movement called "Join Me" and gets himself up to 1000 join-ers.  

My friend Jen told me that her brother gave her the book and, after reading it, she thought I would like it.

I liked it in the way that I like a puff pastry.  I ate it, and now I'm going to forget all about it...with a smile on my face, of course.