Sunday, January 30, 2011

"A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle

Published: 1990 in US
Read: 2011
Genre: memoir
Setting: Provence, France
Rating: 4
Review: Bookgirl's Nightstand

I agreed with the reviews on the front and back of the book:

  • "Delightful."  (Washington Post)
  • "Get a glass of marc, lean back in your most comfortable chair, and spend a delicious year in Provence"  (George Lang)
  • "Stylish, witty, delightfully readable."  (The Sunday Times - London)
  • "I really loved this book."  (Julia Child)

- neighbor's winter meal
- Mistral
- stone table top
- truffle hunting
- goat race
- home repair and "Provence" time

About food:
"That night, we ate for England."

"Butchers, for instance, are not content merely to sell you meat.  They will tell you, at great length, while the queue backs up behind you, how to cook it, how to serve it, and what to eat and drink with it."

"But of course, he said, it is well know that the English kill their lamb twice; once when they slaughter it, and once when they cook it."

Great description of a neighbor
"His face was the color and texture of a hastily cooked steak, with a wedge of nose jutting out above a ragged, nicotine-stained mustache.  Pale blue eyes peered through a sprouting tangle of ginger eyebrows, and his decayed smile would have brought despair to the most optimistic dentist."

After a snow storm:
"Otherwise it was so still that, as Massot observed later, you could have heard a mouse fart."

What the French love the most - after food, of course:
"There is, however, a well-established ritual of respectable cheating which has the double attractions, so dear to every French heart, of saving money and screwing the government."

Dancing after much food and drink:
"I don't think it is given to many of us to witness fifty or sixty couples in the advanced stages of inebriation attempting the swoops and turns and heel-stamping flourishes of the true tango artist, and it was a sight I shall never forget."

Read his other books:
  • Toujours Provence
  • Encore Provence
  • A Dog's Life
  • French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew

"the book shop" by Penelope Fitzgerald

Published: 1997 in US
Read: 2011
Genre: fiction
Setting: small English town in 1959
Rating: 2
Review: A Work in Progress, Dovegreyreader, Stuck In A Book

This book was reviewed by several book bloggers recently.  The reviews made the book sound interesting so when I found it at the library, I brought it home.  Being a short book, I read it in one night. And apart from some good quotes, I am sorry to say that I did not see the point.  My preference is for happier endings or if not happy, at least tidier.  My expectations were probably too high, which didn't help.


So true!
"But courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested"

"She did not know that morality is seldom a safe guide for human conduct"

I love this sentence:
"The hall, boarded with polished elm, breathed the deep warmth of a house that has never been cold."

Great bookish quote:
"A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life."

"You're either a child or a woman, and neither of them have any idea how to relax."

 - start a favorite bookish and writing quote on the blog
- research independent booksellers in the DC area

Friday, January 28, 2011

"The Girl Who Fell From the Sky" by Heidi Durrow

Published: 2010
Read: 2011
Genre: Fiction
Setting: 1980's; Chicago, Portland
Rating: 4
Awards: Bellweather Prize for Fiction
Review: The Prairie Library
Author's book web site
Heidi Durrow's "Light-skinned-ed Girl" web site

A short book and therefore a quick read but the characters and topics are disturbing and haunting.  I saw this in a Washington Post book review a while ago and since the topic appeared to be about suicide, I wanted to read it.  Glad I did.  It is a story of surviving.

Rachel - survivor
Nella - Danish mother "mor"
Roger - Black father, military
Robbie - brother
Grandma - Roger's mother
Aunt Loretta - Roger's sister
Charles - brother
Laronne - boss

Suicide and surviving suicide
Bi-racial marriage and children
Family tragedies

Quotes:  I wrote the quotes and thoughts in my journal and will probably write a post on Josh's blog

How Rachel deals with her grief and anger:
"When something starts to feel like hurt, I put it in this imaginary bottle inside me.  It's blue glass with a cork stopper.  My stomach tightens and my eyeballs get hot.  I put all of that inside the bottle."   Then later: "I open the blue bottle.  Mad goes in there too."

Last time things:
"I am caught in before and after time.  Last-time things and firsts. Last-time things make me sad like the last time I called for Mor and used Danish sounds.  I feel my middle fill up with sounds that no one else understands. Then they reach my throat.  What if these sounds get stuck in me?"

Do I have lines or an edge in my smile?
"It's easy to smile just to make other people feel better.  But when a person fakes happy, it has edges. Regular people may not see, but the people who count, they can see the edges and lines where your smile ends and the real you, the sadness or the anger, begins....You shouldn't hold onto things that give you edges."

Keeping sadness company
"The sadness is coming over me....I can't get rid of the sadness."  "Well...then we'll just keep it company."

The other side of the story:
"If there's no one else to tell another side - the only story that can be told is the story that comes true."

Grief as a barrier in relationships:
"We live in the same house but we both feel lonely.  We and lonely don't belong in the same sentence.

Dreams with low skies:
"The way Grandma paints her dream for me, there's a low sky."

Author inspiration for the story:
On the author's personal blog, she talks about how the book is based in part, on her life, but also on a true story.  This quote is taken from the site, posted on June 28, 2006.

the story is autobiographical only insofar as it is about a biracial and bicultural girl growing up in the northwest.  i guess that is to say: the confusion of the character is a confusion i experienced.  but, the story--the girl who survives the family tragedy--well, that's inspired by a real story i read about in the news many years ago.  so, as i think about the story of the story: i realize that i wrote this novel because i wanted to imagine the young girl's life--but now, the young girl must be going into puberty--and teenager-hood.  i think i will try to find her.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Published: 2008
Read: 2010
Genre: historical fiction
Setting Island of Guernsey, off England during and after WWII
Rating 5
Review: A Guy's Moleskine Notebook, Sarah Reads Too Much, Stuck-In-A-Book, I Write in Books

Loved it, loved it, loved it.  My favorite topics: a love of books, reading and writing with a little history thrown in.  The story is told via written words: letters, notes, telegrams, etc.  So many POV which gives insight to the writer and also recipient.  Interesting question - would this work today?  Email, FB messages, texts?  Our communication these days are so short and terse.

Authors are not British - could have fooled me.  I was a bit disappointed when I found this out.  Could the story have been even "more British" than what it was?


  • Juliet - writer of letters, newspaper articles, books.  Very clever, funny, self-depreciating. 
  • Sophie - her best friend who lives in Scotland.  Married with 2 children
  • Sidney - Sophie's older brother and her editor/publisher.
  • Mark - Wealthy American publisher who wants to marry Juliet

People at Guernsey:

  • Dawsey Adams - has a book previously owned by Juliet on Charles Lamb.  He makes initial contact with her. 
  • Ameliea Maugery - hid the pig and hosted the pig roast
  • Elizabeth McKenna - came up with the idea of the society, after being caught post -curfew.  Was caught assisting a refuge and was sent to camp.  Has a daughter, Kit, via a German doctor.  She is shot at the camp, after aiding a poor woman who was being beaten for having her period.  This was days before being set free. 
  • Isola Pribby - loved Bronte sisters.  Eccentric. 
  • Will Thisbee - came up with the Potato Peel Pie
  • Eban Ramsey - grandson is Eli.  Fisherman. Loves Shakespeare.

"Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books."     Isola

I could use this as a quote for Josh's blog
"When my son, Ian, died at El Alamein - side by side with Eli's father, John - visitors offering their condolences, thinking to comfort me, said "Life goes on."  What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn't.  It's death that goes on; Ian is dead now and will be dead tomorrow and next year and forever.  There's no end to that.  Be perhaps there will be an end to the sorrow of it.  Sorrow has rushed over the world like the waters of the Deluge, and it will take time to recede.  But already, there are small islands of - hope?  Happiness?  Something like them, at any rate."      Amelia

"All these people I've come to know, and even love a little, waiting to see - me.  And I, without any paper to hide behind.  Sidney, in these past two or three years, I have become better at writing than living - and think what you do to my writing.  On the page, I'm perfectly charming, but that's just a trick I learned.  It has nothing to do with me."           Juliet

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"The Calligrapher's Daughter" by Eugenia Kim

Published: 2009
Read: 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Pre modern Korea 1915-1945
Rating: 4
Review: A Guy's Moleskine Notebook
Author's web site

Ordered this book after reading a Wash Post review.  Obvious connection is Korean background. Historical fiction allows me to learn about history without reading actual history books.  Najin is a spirited, strong-willed intelligent woman with a good heart (as opposed to her selfish brother).  She desires to do what is right in the eyes of her traditional parents, which makes for a constant internal battle.  She finds a good man to marry but after 1 day of being together, they are separated by 9+ years.  I like this character and identified with her, although not sure I could be as good as she.  Her love for family, her husband, and her country are admirable.

Story Synopsis
The story centers around a young girl and her family in a turbulent time in Korean history, Japanese occupation and oppression and WWII.  Najin is the oldest of two, is close to her mother, a devout Christian who is a traditional, subservient wife and has a distant, difficult relationship with her father.  He is a strict, traditional man who did not name his daughter and favors his second, a son.  Najin is supported by her mother in the postponement of an arranged marriage at 14 years in order to pursue an education. Eventually she is married to a good-hearted man from a lower caste and is excited to go to America with him.


Opening Sentence: “I learned I had no name on the same day I learned fear.”

Closing Sentence: “Yuhbo, since you’ve been home, there is much I wanted to tell you.  The moon swelled as the evening advanced.  Its silvery light shone through the clear glass windows and diffused the shadows between us.”

"Brick Lane" by Monica Ali

Published: 2004
Read: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Setting: London 1990 - 2001
Rating: 2

I had a hard time reading this book slowly.  I wanted things to happen!  Was impatient to see what would happen next...where was this story going?  Like watching a movie where midway through, Tim and I ask each other - “where is this going?”  Not good.  Not spellbinding like good fiction.  I want to be lost in a story, not skimming through.  I want to be impatient in a good way - can’t read fast enough to see what happens, not impatient waiting to see what happens.  A very big difference.
There were sections where Nazneen was reading letters from her sister, Hasina who lived in Pakistan.  I skimmed through these pages - not a compelling enough reason to stop and read.  What was the point of the letters?  Not even finding the answer to that question was enough motivation to read.

Story Synopsis
Nazeen leaves her village in Pakistan for a husband via an arranged marriage who lives in London.  He is a gentle man, does not beat her but is man years older and although he is a scholar (according to himself), he is not able to do much with his life. She succumbs to Fate and does not expect much from life.  The death of her firstborn, a son, must be horrifying for a young mother but she buries her feelings.  Has two girls and play more the referee between the oldest and her husband.  She recognizes him for who he is - a bunch of hot air who likes to hear himself speak. Time passes and she meets a handsome, young radical, Karim.  They begin a passionate affair in which she lives in sin and deceit.  But is awakened and feels alive.


Description of Buckingham Palace - perfect!  Page 240

Description of why her husband and Dr. Azad were friends:  I absolutely love this paragraph.  So beautifully written.  Says exactly what is meant.  

“She remembered the night, many years ago, when she had fist wondered what brought these two men together.  Now, what kept them together was clear.  The doctor had status and respect and money, the lack of which caused Chanu to suffer.  But the doctor had no family; none he could speak of without suffering. Chanu had a proper wife, daughters who behaved themselves.  But this clever man, for all his books, was nothing better than a rickshaw wallah.  And so they entwined their lives to drink from the pools of each other’s sadness. From these special watering holes, each man drew strength” (271).  

Opening: “An hour and forty-five minutes before Nazreen’s life began - began as it would proceed for quite some time, that is to say uncertainly, her mother, Rupban felt an iron fist squeeze her belly.”

The "Hunger Games" Series by Suzanne Collins

Published: 2008, 2009, 2010
Read: 2010
Genre: Fantasy
Setting: Dystopic Future
Rating: 4

All three books are very quick reads.  Engrossing story, captivating characters, interesting plot.  Life and death situations of the most horrible kind - involving innocent children.  Very gory and graphic.  Clever story world - everything made sense within it.  Personally, very disturbed by how little value is place on lives in this book.  Being a YA, it troubles me how prevalent “death” is in teen media (books, movies, TV, video games).  I fear young people being de-sensitized to it.  As a writer, can learn about the tight and fast-moving plot.  Description of the story world via dialogue, summary and description.  Likeable heroine in Katniss.

Story Synopsis
The Hunger Game series for young adults is an dark action/drama set in a dystopic society.  The US is divided into 13 districts with the Capital as the center of power.  The Capital established the Hunger Games as a consequence for the unsuccessful uprising attempt over 70 years ago. An annual event, it is meant as a horrible reminder as each district must send two children to compete in gladiator type games that are televised throughout the country.  There is only one survivor.  These children must be prepared to kill or be killed.

"The Likeness" by Tana French

Published: 2008
Read: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Setting: Ireland

I read her first book, In The Woods and like her writing.  Feel very close to the character.  Sees things as she does - unfolding before me, as the reader.  I felt scared, angry, troubled, puzzled, thoughtful, combative, nervous right along with her.  Would like to read the 3rd book in the series, about Frank.

Story Synopsis
The story takes place when a young woman named Lexie Madison is found dead.  She could be Cassie Maddox’s twin.  Cassie and her boss, Frank Mackey made up Lexie when Cassie worked undercover at a University trying to infiltrate a drug ring on campus.  Lexie lives with 4 other post-grad students who are possible suspects.  Cassie goes undercover as Lexie and loses objectivity while living there.


First sentence:
“This is Lexie Madison’s story, not mine.  I’d love to tell you one without getting into the other but it doesn’t work that way”

Last sentence: 
“I hope those last few minutes worked like hell for her.  I hope in that half hour she lived all her million lives”.

"Shantaram" by Gregory David Roberts

Published: 2003
Read: 2010
Genre: Autobiographical Fiction
Setting: India
Rating: 4
Review: Goodreads
Author's web site

Highly recommended by my sister-in-law. When I first started the book, absolutely loved it.  Couldn’t put it down - true page turner.  Fast moving plot.  Bombay as a character was fascinating.  Descriptions of people, slums, prison well done.  Scenes were graphic, vivid and real.  Written in the first person, the reader is right there, in the midst of all the action.  However, with 100 pages to go, got really bogged down.  Felt like Sunday brunch, when absolutely stuffed with great food and cannot eat another bite.  For me, it was 250 pages too long.

Story Synopsis
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is an autobiographical novel with strong elements of action/adventure, romance and travel.  Published in 2003, the novel is set in 20th century India, sometime in 1980 - 1990.  The story is centered in Mumbai or Bombay, India.  The city is a strong character in the book.  There is some time spent in a rural Indian villiage, and other cities/countries, most notably, Afghanistan/Pakistan.  The story begins with a man, Mr. Lindsay, who has been caught, tried and convicted of armed robbery in Australia, has escaped from a maximum security prison, and after being on the run for several years, ends up in Bombay.

Scenes: - very vivid, powerful, descriptive, interesting

  • Standing Babas
  • Madame Zhou’s
  • Child slavery
  • Legit and illegitimate slums
  • Leopolds
  • Bribery/corruption
  • Mob mentality
  • Bear hugging
  • Monsoon season
  • Fire in slums
  • Leper colony
  • Black markets
  • Prison - torture
  • Karla’s ultimatum
  • 3 month heroin
  • Afghanistan
 “It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.”

 “For this is what we do.  Put one foot forward and then the other.  Lift our eyes to the snarl and smile of the world once more.  Think. Act. Feel.  Add our little consequences to the tides of good and evil that flood and drain the world.  Drag our shadowed crosses into the hope of another night.  Push our brave hearts into the promise of a new day.  With love: the passionate search for a truth other than our own. With longing: the pure, ineffable yearning to be saved.  For so long as fate keeps waiting, we live on.  God help us.  God forgive us.  We live on.”

"A Perfect Spy" by John LeCarre

Published: 1986
Read: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Setting: England
Rating: 4
Review: Goodreads
John Le Carre's web site

Was very helpful to read other Goodreads comments after starting the book as I found it quite confusing.  But really liked it once I got used to the deuces: two people Pym was writing to (Tom/Jack), the switching of persons telling the story (first person/third person), and the two time periods (past/present).   Hated the ending but it made perfect sense.  Also, as the book unfolded, Pym's profound decisions became clear too.  My question at the end was this: how did he become who he was?  First thought was 50% innate character, 40% father and 10% Jack/Axel.  Then I thought 25% Pym, 75% father and 25% Jack/Axel.  The latter makes more sense.   Would highly recommend.

Story Synopsis

The story begins with Magnus Pym as Mr. Canterbury, one of his many aliases in Devon.  He has holed up to write the truth about his life, before either of his handlers, Jack Brotherhood from MI5 or Axel (Czech handler) can find him.  He is writing for himself - tired of the deceit and games, and he writes for his son, Tom.  He will not be captured alive so once capture is imminent, at the end of the book, he shoots himself - a double agent.   The book is a record of Pym’s memories as he attempts to answer the following questions through frenetic autobiographical writing, basically how he justifies his decisions

  • who he is and why he is the way he is (how can deceit come so easily and naturally to him)
  • the influence of his father, Richard Pym, con-man supreme
  • how he became a British spy working for the “firm”
  • How he married Mary, who also works for the firm
  • how he became a double agent, working for Axel
Other books by author: 
  • The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963)
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974)
  • Smiley’s People (1979)
  • A Most Wanted Man (2010)

"In The Woods" by Tana French

Published: 2007
Read: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Setting: Ireland, 1984
Rating: 4
Awards: 2007 Edgar Award
Reviews: Reading Matters, Sarah Reads Too Much
Tana French's US web site
Interview with author

I like her writing.  Quick read. Engrossing story.  Pulls you along so want to find out what happens next.  Interesting she can do male POV so well.  Liked it enough to read other books.  That said, the author left two issues unresolved which I did not like. 1) what happened to the three kids in the woods and 2) what was the significance of the following plot line - companies who wanted the motorway built through an archaeological site?  Book ended feeling unfinished.

Story Synopsis
In the Woods is a mystery/crime novel by Tana French, her first book.  Published in 2007, the story takes place in a town a few miles from Dublin, Ireland in 1984.  Flashbacks take the reader to the same town, twenty years prior.

The story takes place when a young girl, Katy Devlin is found dead in the woods, which has now become an archeological site.  The detective is Adam Robert Ryan, the one child who survived the unsolved mystery of the two missing children, presumed dead.  His partner is Cassie Maddox, a tough, strong, smart detective who spent four years as an undercover cop.  She had gotten stabbed in the line of duty and was able to transfer to any other division.  She chose the murder squad.  They work well together.

Subjects Explored

  • Unsolved mystery whereby three children went into the woods and only one came back, the narrator, Adam Robert Ryan.
  • Detectives should not be involved in solving crimes that are personal to them.  Creates a bias, emotions.  Unable to look at things objectively.
  • Murder squad is not usually a place for women.  Cassie Maddox is unique.
  • Partners on a murder squad put their lives in each other’s hands - the bond is tight and strong, maybe even more than family. 
  • Psychopaths are manipulative, have no conscious, no empathy, are pathological liars, narcissistic, intuitive, will do anything to get their way

Story Question: 
Are the two related?  Is the person responsible for Katy’s murder the same person who took the two young children, Adam’s best friends?  Will Ryan and Maddox be able to solve both crimes?

The past will never leave you.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"The Spy Who Came In From the Cold" by John LeCarre

Published: 1963
Read: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Setting: England, Germany during Cold War
Rating: 3
Awards: Edgar, Gold Dagger
List: 1,001 books
Review: Goodreads
John Le Carre's web site

On the 1,001 books to read list. This book made LeCarre famous.  A different type of spy novel than the James Bond thrillers. LeCarre’s novels were grim and realistic. A quick read.  I would like to read more of his work.

Story Synopsis

Published in 1964, this spy novel is set London and Eastern Germany during the Cold War.

British agent, Alec Leamas has been a spy for a long time and is ready to come in. Before he does, he agrees to one last play - setting up the demise of a long-hated rival named Mundt. It is a chess game that tragically involves and innocent second in command Jew, Fiedler and a young girl whom Alec meets, Liz Gold.  All this is set up by “Control” and it is not until the end that Leamas realizes that he’s the one who has been played.  Instead of setting Mundt up as a double agent, to be killed by the Germans, he actually is a double agent that Control needs to protect. Therefore Fiedler is set up to be the double agent and is killed.  Alec and Liz are escaping Germany by climbing the wall. Alec gets over and grabs for Liz. She is shot. Alec can jump to the West and safety but chooses to jump to the East and is shot.

"The Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison

Published: 1952
Read: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Setting: Deep South, NYC in pre civil rights time
Rating: 3
Awards: 1953 National Book Award
List: 1,001 books
Review: A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

One of the books on the 1,001 list.  Because in the first person, as a reader, you take this coming-of-age journey with the protaganist.  Naive, gullible, optimistic - he takes everything at face value, like a child.  Betrayed and used by adults over and over.  We as readers, feel his confusion, misunderstandings, anger, rage, bitterness and pain as he comes to grip with the “real world”.  It is a harsh, sad untrusting and lonely place.  A real statement as to the world of the black person, with fellow blacks and whites.  Not a book that I would normally pick up, but glad that I did.  I am still thinking about it.  Too bad the author did not write anything else of note.

Story Synopsis
An unnamed black boy, whose grandparents were slaves is intelligent, ambitious and a talented orator.  He received a scholarship to a black college and makes the mistake of driving a white Trustee, Mr. Norton, to a black shanty and bar/brothel.  Disciplined by Dr. Bledsoe (black president of the college), he is expelled.  Deceived into thinking that letters he’s been given will help him find employment in NYC, after which he will return to school.  Both are wrong.  He ends up recruited by The Brotherhood, a communist grass roots organization due to his public speaking skills.  But he is ousted from any kind of meaningful impact after becoming to successful.  A riot in Harlem literally drops him into a manhole, after which he emerges as an invisible man.

Memorable quotes
I like this definition:
 “A hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action” (13)

Boy realizes his “hero”, Dr. Bledsoe, a successful black man is as racist as the white man:  
“You’re black and living in the South - did you forget how to lie?...Why the dumbest black bastard in the cotton patch knows that the only way to please a white man is to tell him a lie!  What kind of education are you getting around here?...Nigger, this isn’t the time to lie.  I’m no white man.  Tell me the truth!” (139).  And “The only ones I even pretend to please are the big white folk, and even those I control more than they control me.  This is a power set-up, son, and I’m at the controls.....I’ve made my place in it and I’ll have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs by morning if it means staying where I am” (142-143).

He realizes how gullible he has been - putty in the hands of other men he mistakenly trusted.   
“What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?  What a waste, what a senseless waste!...I had accepted the accepted attitudes and it had made life seem simple...”(266-267)

Realizes that one person can be many.  People are complicated. They are not what they seem.  Do not take things at face value. 
“Rine the runner and Rine the gambler and Rine the briber and Rine the lover and Rinehart the Reverend? ....All boundaries down, freedom was not only the recognition of necessity, it was the recognition of possibility.  And sitting there trembling, I caought a brief glimpse of the possibilities posed by Rinehardt’s multiple personalities and turned away.  It was too vast and confusing to contemplate” (498-499).

 “I am an invisible man.  No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms.  I am invisible, understand, simply beacuse people refuse to see me.”

 “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?” (581).

"Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov

Published: 1958 in US
Read: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Setting: US late 40's - 60's
Rating: Subject (1); Writing (5)
List: 1,001 books, Francine Prose, Thomas Foster
Review: Goodreads

While I hated the subject matter - very creepy, abhorrent, criminally and morally wrong, the writing is beautiful.  It is a study of a person with an obsession.  He knows it is ungodly but can’t help himself.  Could this be how anyone with an obsession feel (drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex).  Applied in a broader context?   The struggle, fight, deceit, challenge to feed the desire without destroying self?  The writing is beautiful, tortured, descriptive.  Enables the reader to walk in HH’s shoes and feel, unbelievably, sympathetic to him.  Although felt “dirty” reading so read quickly.

Story Synopsis

Humbert Humbert has a thing for young girls.  He watches them, fantasizes about them all the while knowing it is wrong.  It cannot be helped.  He falls hopelessly in love with Delores Haze, the 12 year old nymphet daughter of his landlady.  He marries her to stay close to his Lo, Lola or Lolita.  She finds his diary and realizes where his true affections lay.  She runs out of the house in horror and ends up getting hit by a car and killed.  HH was actually thinking of doing the dastardly deed himself (drowning) but didn’t have the guts to do it.

He is now able to take Lolita around the country - trying to keep her adolescent brain engaged going to various places, while acting out his most vivid fantasies with her in whatever motel/hotel room they are in. He does not tire of her physically.  He notes that she cries every night.  But his obsession is uncaring of her feelings, her desires, her interests.

Other Books by Author
Ada (1969)
Pale Fire (1962)
Pnin (1957)
Speak, Memory (1967)

"The Diary of Anais Nin: Vol. 1 (1931 - 1934)

Published: 1969
Read: 2011
Genre: Memoir
Setting: France
Rating: 4
Reviews: Goodreads


"My diary is my notebook.  Everything goes into it that I may use for novels." (Feb '32)

"I have been trying to be honest, day by day, in the diary." (Feb. '32)

"But it is also true that when I write afterwards, I see much more, I understand better, I develop and enrich....I have such a need of Truth!  It must be that need of immediate recording which incites me to write almost while I am living, before it is altered, changed by distance or time."  (April '32)

"It takes character to write a long, lifelong diary."  (April '32)

"Writers do not live one life, they live two.  There is the living and then there is teh writing.  There is the second tasting, the delayed reaction." (April '32)

"It is what I do with the journal, carrying it everywhere, writing on cafe tables while waiting for a friend, on the train, on the bus, in waiting rooms at the station, while my hair is washed, at the Sorbonne when the lectures get tedious, on journeys, trips, almost while people are talking." (Nov. '32)

"The diary began as a diary of a journal, to record everything for my father.  It was also an island, in which I could take refuge in an alien land, write French, think my thoughts, hold onto my soul, to myself." (March '33)

"I love the idea of anonymity for the journal. It fits my earlier desire to remain unknown.  It is wonderful - the secrecy again and always." (March '33)

"I only regret that everybody wants to deprive me of the journal, which is the only steadfast friend I have, the only one which makes my life bearable because my happiness with human beings is so precarious,my confiding moods rare, and the least sign of non-interest is enough to silence me.  In the journal I am at ease." (June '33)

"My dear Diary, it is Anais who is speaking to you, and not someone who thinks as everybody should think.  Dear Diary, pity me, but listen to me." (June '33)

"Whenever I feel sadness about my father, I write.  When I yearn for him, I write.  When I feel regrets, I write." (April 1934).

August 1934 - very graphic and moving description of birthing a 6 month stillborn child.

My thoughts on these quotes and what my journal means to me 

The honest truth is that I don't really have anyone that I tell everything to.  My stuff is too convoluted and ever evolving - as soon as I explain my position today, or random thoughts today, they could be different tomorrow.  It doesn't make sense to me half the time - how would someone else take it?

So the blank pages of my journal - this is where I can be real.  Let it all hang out.  Get my crazy thoughts out.  Think through things, ponder, write out, sort out.  I love the blank pages, rather than lines, as sometimes my thoughts need a diagram or boxes with arrows pointing the way.  I love my fountain pens as they write so smoothly.

These pages do not judge, do not seek to "fix" me.  They understand completely; I do not need to elaborate or re-explain.  The are a place of safety, freedom - encouraging me to be open, truthful, honest, uninhibited, uncensored, free association - anything goes.

All this leads me to a greater understanding, clarity, focus, comprehension and awareness of myself, what I've been through, of Josh's suicide, of my relationships, of my heart, my soul, my mind, my psyche.

"Sea Change" by Jeremy Page

Published: 2010
Read: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Setting: North Sea
Rating: 3
Review: Goodreads

Found via a Washington Post Book Review.  Downloaded onto my Nook and was halfway through in the first night.  It is a short book, only 200 pages and sad.  I would not be interested in this "pre-Josh".  Paid $12.99 for the ebook.  Hard copy would've cost twice as much.  I really don't like the highlight/note feature in the Nook, would much prefer dog-earring and writing notes in the margin.   How much will I really be an e-book reader?  Jury is still out.


Father named Guy has lost his daughter in a tragic accident.  Was divorced a few months later.  He goes to the open sea and writes religiously in his diary.  He writes about how his life would be if Freya were still alive and he was still married to Judy.  He puts himself in this imagined world and it feel real because:

On writing in his diary:

"you make it as real as you can.  It's not like moving chess pieces over a board, you have to use everything you knew about your family, all those moods and moments of stupid laughter and the times when you're all strangers to each other, and you bring in all the random things that can happen too, you give each other colds in the winter, you lose your keys, you forget to buy things at the market, the boiler breaks down.  I wasn't very good at it in the early days.  It just seemed made up.  But I've gotten better.  It's as if I'm no longer writing at all."

"I know it's all made up.  I'm under no illusions about that, but it helps, really.  It helps to have those things alive, whenever you want them."

On finding more about people after they are dead which is exactly how I felt about Josh:

"He learned more about her (his mother) after she died, than he ever did when she'd been alive."

I love how this is written:

"The ebbs and flows of the sea have given his life its rhythm - its salt is in his bones and its presence, so enormous and malign, has been a natural filling of the empty spaces his father left, his wife left, his daughter left."

On the death of a child:

"You just don't have the facility to cope, there just isn't an answer, there is no right or wrong way, there is just the unassailable truth that life has stopped but time has not."

Suicidal references:

The book flows between his world now, flashbacks and his written world.  While not outright suicidal, he flirts with death via 1) swimming dangerously far from this boat, 2) putting this boat in a shipping lane and 3) purposely sailing during a huge storm.

He meets and befriends a recently made widow, Marta and her beautiful, artistic daughter, Rhona.  He happens to see Rhona pitch herself over their boat; he saves her from what appears to be a suicidal act.

Guy and Judy's double suicide plan, one month after Freya's death: "After a month they reached the same conclusion.  that they would put their own end to it.  At their friend's home.  With sleeping pills.  But didn't go through with it.  In the end, both wanted to live."

Freya's ghost

At different times, he sees and speaks with Freya.  During the dangerous times - like when he was swimming or during the storm.

A bit abrupt, open-ended and unresolved.  He goes missing, presumed dead.  Judy finds a new story with his life with Marta.  A bit strange.

I can understand why he is writing a fictional world in which his daughter is still alive. It is a way to keep her alive.  Marta, as an outsider looking in, when she understands what he is doing, is concerned.  It is a healthy way to deal with grief?  To be imagining your dead child alive?  No, probably not.

"The Red Tent" by Anita Dimant

Published: 1997
Read: 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Based on Dinah in Genesis
Rating: 4
Reviews: Old English Rose Reads

Suggested by my sister-in-law.  Very quick read - in two nights. Sucked into the story immediately. Drawn to Dinah and her life.  Really liked the extrapolation and interpretation of her story - believable. Not only her story but of Jacob and his family.

Story Synopsis

Historical fiction published in 1997 about Dinah, daughter of Leah, first wife of Jacob. 

Expands on the bible story where Jacob deceived this brother Esau, out of his birthright and has to flee for his life. At his mother, Rebecca’s urging, he travels to her brother, Laban to find a wife. He falls in love with Rachel, the beautiful one but is “tricked” into marrying her older sister, Leah.

He has children via Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah.  These are all mother figures to Dinah.  She falls in love with a prince from Shechem. In order for his son to marry Dinah, the king agrees that all men will be circumcised. While recovering, Jacob’s sons murder all the men. Dinah, heartbroken, breaks ties with her family and goes to Egypt once her mother-in-law realizes that she carries a child. She give birth to a son who becomes her mother-in-law’s son. She becomes a renowned midwife and ends up delivering a child of her estranged brother, Joseph. Through him, she goes back to where Jacob’s tribe is.

Memorable Quotes:

The importance of remembering
“I wish I had more to tell of my grandmothers.  It is terrible how much has been forgotten, which is why, I suppose, remembering seems a holy thing.” (3).

Remembering Josh is a holy activity - I believe it - can put this on his blog.

"The Reader" by Bernard Schlink

Published in US: 1997
Read: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Setting: West Germany 1958 - 1984
Rating: 3
Awards: 1999 Boeke Prize (South Africa’s version of Britain’s Man Booker prize)
Review: A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

Has been on my list of books to read for a while. Bought for 50 cents at Vienna library sale. Very quick read (one night). Hannah was a mystery to Michael and since this is written in the first person, she is a mystery to the reader. I would have liked the author to write every other chapter in the first person - from Michael and Hannah’s POV.  Seems “thin” to me. This might be a situation where the movie would have more substance than the book, but since I don’t like seeing Holocaust images, I probably will not see it.

Story Synopsis

A historical fiction, coming-of-age, romance novel published in 1995 with the English translation published in 1997, it is set in post WWII Germany. 

Michael Berg is fifteen years old when he meets, falls in love with and has a love affair with Hannah Schmitz, a mysterious older woman.  She leaves abruptly and the next time he sees her, it is as a law student.  She is on trial along with several other women for war crimes during the Holocaust. She is sentenced to jail - for 18 years.  The last ten, Michael, who has since gotten married, fathered a daughter and got divorced, send tapes to her - of him reading books. This is what they did in the past: he read to her, they showered, and had sex.  The ending surprised me - the day before Michael was to pick her up she hung herself.  Very sad.

Memorable Quotes: Both quotes are in the 12/3/2010 post

 “Sometimes the memory of happiness cannot stay true because it ended unhappily”....”Is this what sadness is all about? Is it what comes over us when beautiful memories shatter in hindsight because the remembered happiness fed not just on actual circumstances but on a promise that as not kept?” (37-39).

True definition of impulsiveness? 
“Often enough in my life I have done things I had not decided to do. I don’t mean to say that thinking and reaching decisions have no influence on behavior. But behavior does not merely enact whatever has already been thought through and decided. It has its own sources, and is my behavior, quite independently, just as my thoughts are my thoughts, and my decisions are my decisions.” (20).   Josh killed himself.  Is this something he decided to do?  Or what it just his behavior - independent of thought or decision?  Is this the true definition of impulsiveness?

"The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss

Published: 2005
Read: 2010
Genre: Fiction
Setting: Modern day NYC
Rating: 4
Review: Sarah Reads Too Much
Nicole Krauss' web site

Recommended by my daughter and sister-in-law.  Not what I expected (anthology of love, or history of love between two people).  Pulled in from the start: who is this old Jewish man, Leo?  Why is he alone?  What is his story?  Interesting how the author uses various POV and ends with POV between Leo and Alma as their thoughts are chronicled in the time before they finally meet.  Unanswered questions: who is Jacob Marcus?  Yes, I guess he is Issac but I would’ve like that connection to be stronger.  Why didn’t Leo connect with Isaac after he was a grown man?  Isaac was a writer, as was Leo.  They would’ve had a love of books and words in common.  What was up with Bird?  Why so weird?  Not as neatly tied as I wanted, but maybe this was the point.  Makes one think.

Story Synopsis
This novel has another novel, The History of Love, as one of it’s characters.  It is the one thing that binds the other characters together, Alma Singer and her family, Charlotte, David and “the Bird”, Leo Gurskey, Bruno, Issac Moritz and his mother, the love of Leo’s life, Alma, Zvi Litvinoff, the plagerist and his wife, Rosa, the accomplice.  The book becomes the center of a mystery - who is the Alma that Alma Singer is named after?  Who is Jacob Marcus, the man who wants Alma’s mother to translate the book into English?  The are three threads:  Leo Gurskey, Alma Singer and the book, plagerized by Leo’s friend Zvi, who was jealous of his writing and thought he was dead.  The book ties them all together.

Memorable Quotes:

Grief of a wife for her soul mate
“She kept her love for him as alive as the summer they first met.  In order to do this, she’s turned life away.  Sometimes she subsists for days on water and air. She chose my father and to hold on to a certain feeling, she sacrificed the world.” (45-46).

“None of us would be able to win over the memories she had of Dad, memories that soothed her even while they made her sad, because she’d built a world out of them she knew how to survive in, even if no one else could” (181).

Grief for a father for his son
“Only now that my son was gone did I realize how much I’d been living for him.  When I woke up in the morning it was because he existed and when I ordered food it was because he existed, and when I wrote my book it was becuase he existed to read it” (80).

On passing the chance for love
“The moment had passed, the door between the lives we could have led and the lives we led had shut in our faces.  Or better to say, in my face” (86).

On sadness:  
There are two types of people in the world: those who prefer to be sad among others, and those who prefer to be sad alone” (155).

First love
“Her kiss was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering” (62).

On hoarding
“Perhaps that’s why I hoarded the world: with the hope that when I died, the sum total of my things would suggest a life larger than the one I lived” (165).

Other books
  • Man Walks Into A Room (2002)
  • Great House (2010)
Husband is an author as well: Jonathan Safran Foer

"The Once and Future King" and "The Book of Merlyn" by T.H. White

Published: 1958 and 1971
Read: 2010
Genre: Fantasy
Setting: England; Boy Arthur to King to death
Rating: 5
List: 1,001 books
Review: Good Reads

Referenced in Writing Fiction for Dummies book.  I’ve always wanted to read stories about King Arthur, Merlin, Gwenever, Camelot, Lancelot, etc and bought the book.  Also one of the 1,001 books.  Absolutely loved it and want to read more.  Agree with the publisher on B&N site:

“The whole world knows and loves this book. It is the magical epic of King Arthur and his shining Camelot; of Merlin and Owl and Guinevere; of beasts who talk and men who fly, of wizardry and war. It is the book of all things lost and wonderful and sad. It is the fantasy masterpiece by which all others are judged.”

Five stories

Sword in the Stone - we see the boy Wart in Sir Ector’s castle who is tutored by Merlyn in unconventional ways (turning Wart into various animals to learn from them).  We see that Wart is a good, kind-hearted boy who thinks of others first, as opposed to Sir Ector’s natural son, Kay - a self-centered, arrogant, spoiled boy.  Wart pulls the sword out of the stone and becomes King Arthur of Britain.

Queen of Air and Darkness - we are introduced to Lot, his wife and A’s half sister (unbeknownst to him), Morgause, the mother of four boys who become knights (Gawaine, Agravaine, Gaheris and Gareth).  She also gives birth to Mordred, A’s bastard son.  Mess business.  In this book, we also witness A”s idea of the Knights of the Round Table, as a way to steer “Might into Right.”

The Ill-Made Knight - we are privy to Sir Lancelot story; the one who becomes one of the most  favored and successful knights and who falls in love with Queen Guenever.  The feeling is mutual and they become lovers.  Arthur is fond of both and deliberately turns a blind eye.  The knights are involved in quests of chivalry but due to the nature of man, become competitive with one another, fraying the whole concept of the Round Table.  Arthur then comes up with ultimate quest that is spiritual in nature - the Quest for the Holy Grail. This distracts the knights for a period of time, but the nature of man, once again shines through.  I

The Candle In the Wind - Mordred, Arthur’s bastard son bides his time and along the enemy of Lancelot,  Agravaine.  They plot against Guenever and Lancelot, using Arthur’s desire for law to settle problems:  if people are guilty of crimes, they must be punished (hanging, burning, etc).
At the end of this story, Arthur is away from England and has left Mordred as Protector.  He seizes power, intending to make himself King and marry Guenever.  When A hears of this, he is broken, tired, disillusioned, weak and feels like “what was the point?  Nothing has worked out as he thought.”

The Book of Meryn - the 5th story and a separate book, Merlyn shows up on the eve of battle and wisks Arthur away to palaver with his old friends, the animals.  They discuss the merits/demerits of man, the reason for war and how to avoid war.  And out of all the species of animals on earth, only man will make deliberate war on each other, a disgusting and abhorrent thought to other animals.

Memorable quotes

Josh’s dream job - 10/18/2010 blog post

“In Sir Ector’s kennel there was a special boy, call the Dog Boy, who lived with the hounds day and night.  He was a sort of head hound, and it was his business to take them out every day for walks, to pull thorns our of their feet, keep cankers out of their ears, bind the smaller bones that got dislocated, dose them for worms, isolate and nurse them in distemper, arbitrate in their quarrels and to sleep curled up among them at night” (43).

Story about a Elijah and the Rabbi.

 “In regard to the poor man who received us so hospitably, it was decreed that his wife was to die that night, but in regard for his goodness, God took the cow instead of his wife  I repaired the wall of the rich miser because a chest of gold was concealed near the place, and if the miser had repaired the wall himself he would have discovered the treasure.  Say not therefore to the Lord; What doest thou?  But say in they heart: Must nor the Lord of all the earth do right? (89).

God moves in mysterious ways - Merlyn’s story to Wart

“The best thing for being sad is to learn something.  That is the only thing that never fails....There is only thing for it then - to learn.  Learn why the world wags and what wags it.  That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.  Learning is the thing for you” (183).

King Arthur’s idea for the Knights of the Round Table:

“My idea is that if we can win this battle in front of us, and get a firm hold of the country, then I will institute a sort of order or chivalry.  We shall have to make it a great honour, you see, and make it fashionable and all that.  Everybody must want to be in.  And then I shall make the oath of the order that Might is only to be used for Right.  The nights in my order will ride all over the world, still dressed in steel and whacking away with their swords - that will give an outlet for wanting to whack you understand, an outlet for what Merlyn calls the foxhunting spirit - but they will be bound to strike only on behalf of what is good, and to restore what has been done wrong in the past and to help the oppressed and so forth.  It will be using the Might instead of fighting against it, and turning a bad thing into a good” (248).

 Lancelot’s deep insecurity - did Josh feel any of this? 10/18/2010 blog post

“The boy thought that there was something wrong with him.  All through his life - even when he was a great man with the world at his feet - he was to feel this gap: something at the bottom of his heart of which he was aware, and ashamed, but which he did not understand” (315). “Finally there was the impediment of his nature.  In the secret parts of his peculiar brain, those unhappy and inextricable tangles which he felt at the roots, the boy was disabled by something we cannot explain.  He could not have explained it either.  He loved Arthur and he loved Guenever and he hated himself.  the best knight in the world: everybody envied the esteem which surely musht be his.  But Lancelot never believed he was good nor nice.  Under the grotesque, magnificent shell with a face like Quasimodo’ s there was shame and self-loathing which had been planted there when he was tiny, by something which is now too late to trace. It is so fatally easy to make young children believe that they are horrible” (368).

“He felt in his heart cruelty and cowardice, the things which made him brave and kind” (361).

Candle in the wind - idea given to a 13 year old boy by and old King Arthur:

“Thomas, my idea of those knights was a sort of candle.  I have carried it for many years with a hand to shield it from the wind.  It has flickered often.  I am giving you the candle now - you won’t let it out? (637).

Read other Arthurian legend books

  • Merlyn Trilogy by Mary Stewart
  • Taliesin Series by Stephen Lawhead
  • The Mists of Avalon Series by Marion Bradley
  • Lost Years Merlin Series by T.A. Barrow
  • Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory

"Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro

Published: 2005
Read: 2011
Genre: Fiction
Setting: England, late 1990's
Rating: 3
Awards: Shortlisted for 2005 Booker Prize
Lists: 1,001 books
Review: A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

Began this as an audiobook from the library, then finished reading due to a faulty disk three.  I gave this a rating of 3 although it would probably be higher if I had listened to the entire book.  Because I only listened while in the car, the tension and mystery built up over time.  Each snippet, while going to the gym, or running errands, disclosed a bit more.  Listening to a book takes a lot more time than reading so the drama is extended.  And I enjoyed listening to a British actor.

Words and definitions specific to this story:
Recovery Center

Next time, get the audio book and regular book from the library.  Do I really get a lot more out of book by listening vs. reading?

"The Things They Carried" By Tim O'Brien

Published: 1990
Read: 2011
Genre: non-fiction novel
Setting: Vietnam War
Rating: 5
Awards: Pulitzer Prize finalist
List: 1,001 book
Review: Sarah Reads Too Much

A new genre - "non-fiction novel" or "non-fiction fiction" 

In the author's own words: happening truth into story truth.

"Here is the happening-truth.  I was once a soldier.  There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and afraid to look.  And now, twenty years later, I'm left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief.

Here is the story-truth.  He was a slim, dead, almost dainty man of about twenty.  He lay in the center of a red clay trail near the village of My Khe.  His jaw was in this throat. His one eye was shut, the other eye was a star-shaped hole.  I killed him."

The blur between reality and fiction is blurred.  O'Brien uses stories that may not be "happening-truth", complete with facts and figures, but the essence is 100% true.

Can only be told by someone who has lived it.

On writing these stories

"The war was over, after all.  And the thing to do was to go on.  So I took pride in sliding gracefully from Vietnam to graduate school, from Chu Lai to Harvard, from one world to another.  In ordinary conversation I never spoke much about the way, certainly not in detail and yet ever since my return I had been talking about it virtually nonstop through my writing.  Telling stories seemed a natural, inevitable process, like clearing the throat. Partly catharsis, partly communication, it was a way of grabbing people by the shirt and explaining exactly what had happened to me, how I'd allowed myself to get dragged into a wrong war, all the mistakes I'd made, all the terrible things I had seen and done.

I did not look at my work as therapy, and still don't. Yet when I received Norman Bowker's letter, it occurred to me that the act of writing had led me through a swirl of memories that might otherwise have ended in paralysis or worse.  By telling stories, you objectify your own experience.  You separate it from yourself.  You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain."

On writing specifically about the shit field

"Norman is back in the story, where he belongs, and I don't think he would mind that his real name appears.  The central incident - our long night in the shit field along the Song Tra Bong - has been restored to the piece.  It was hard stuff to write.  Kiowa, after all, had been a close friend, and for many years I've avoided thinking about his death and my own complicity in it.  Even here it's not easy."

Other Quotes

"Though it's odd, you're never more alive than when you're almost dead.  You recognize what's valuable.  Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what's best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost."

"War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love.  War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery.  War makes you a man; war makes you dead."

"I was a coward.  I went to war."

6 day internal struggle after receiving his draft card
Fellow soldier blown by a land mine and subsequent torture of a baby water buffalo
Night in the shit field, losing Kiowa and visit with his daughter, many years later
Getting shot, almost dying and payback to the inept medic

Someday, would I be able to write about Josh and the impact of his death in this fashion?
Read his other books:

  • "If I Die in a Combat Zone" - a memoir
  • "Going After Cacciato" - 1979 National Book Award
  • "In the Lake of the Woods"
  • "Tomcat in Love"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work" Ed by Marie Arana

Published: 2003
Read: 2011
Genre: Non-fiction: writing_authors
Rating: 4
Review: Goodreads

A collection of essays written by various authors for the Washington Post Book World.  Each essay is preceded by a brief profile of his or her career by Arana.  I found this book to be interesting and a quick read.  Gave me a boatload of books to add to my "wish list".

Favorite Quotes

From the editor:
"Writers learn their craft, above all, from the work of other writers.  From reading.  They learn it from immersing themselves in books.  They do not learn it from classrooms or workshops or manuals - the cannot be programmed to perform.  It is, in essence, lonely work: isolation is what they must learn to savor..... Come what may, they must go to their desks alone."

Anthony Trollope
"My task is to chronicle those little daily lacerations upon the spirit."

Susan Minot
"I began to write on my own - prose poetry, journal writing.  It was the first time I had a room of m own, and I found that writing was a way both of being alone and of finding out what was going on inside myself.....I wrote pages of stream of consciousness long into the night....I began to rely so much on writing that I was living a double life - one the world and one on the page.  The one on the page was more intense, more satisfying and for a long time much more real."

Nadine Gordimer
"The only school for a writer is the library - reading, reading...Ours is the most solitary of occupations....For me, writing has been and is the exploration of life.  That is why my novels and stories are what I call open-ended..."

Erica Jong
"The act of writing always made me feel centered and whole....It is my meditation, my medicine, my prayer, my solace.  If you are relentlessly honest about what you feel and fear, you can be a mouthpiece for something more than your own feelings.  People are remarkably similar at the heart level - where it counts.  Writers are born to voice what we all feel.  That is the gift.  And we keep it alive by giving it away."

"The utter trust that exists between reader and author is like the trust between lovers."

"Generosity is the soul of writing.  You write to give something.  To yourself.  To your reader.  To God.

Craig Nova
"When a writer is successful in using a story taken from experience, it is not told exactly the way it happened, but in the way that reveals, through all one's beliefs, hopes and fears, how the event should have happened."

Jayne Anne Phillips
"Writers begin as readers, and words become a means of survival."

E.L. Doctorow
"But wherever books begin....the work itself is hard and slow, and the writer's illumination becomes a taskmaster, a ruling discipline, jealously guarding the mind from all other, and necessarily errant, private excitements until the book is done."

"You can't write the book until you find the voice for it."

Richard Selzer
"A good deal of what I do is in the form of a diary."

"Writing, for me, is what purring is for a cat.  It represents pure pleasure, and there is no purer pleasure than chasing after the nature of a bodily thing and nailing it to a page."

"There's a good deal of waiting around in writing."

E.O. Wilson
"The central role of literature is the transmission of the details of human experience by artifice that intensifies aesthetic and emotional response."

Frances Fitzgerald
"To a writer, a book is much more than a job.  It's a companion - albeit a temperamental one you would sometimes like to strangle.  It's a virtual world you can call any time - a world with its own landscapes, its own cast of characters, its problems and its epiphanies.  Finishing it means that this world must disappear, this companion must go, and it will be a long time before you can find a replacement."

"Then too starting a book is almost as bad as finishing one.  There are just too man blank spaces, too many possibilities.  A book becomes fun only when it fills out a bit and begins making its own demands."

Michael Chabon
"Literature, like magic, has always been about the handling of secrets, about the pain, the destruction and the marvelous liberation that can result when they are revealed.  Telling the truth, when the truth matters most, is almost always a frightening prospect....if a writer submits his work to an internal censor long before anyone else can get their hands on it, the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth."

"I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou

Published: 1969
Read: 2011
Genre: Memoir
Setting: Stamps, Arkansas, St. Louis, California in 30's - 40's
Rating: 4
Lists: 1,001 books
Review: English Major's Junk Food
Maya Angelou's web site

Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928.

Began reading this book while reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  This is the first of 6 autobiographical books.  There are a number of quotes that I really liked.

Favorite Quotes

"She had given me her secret word which called for the a djinn who was to serve me all my life: books."

Her mother:
"Sympathy is next to shit in the dictionary and I can't even read."

Reference to suicide:
"What would I do?  Did I have the nerve to commit suicide?  Don't kill yourself, you can always do that if things get bad enough."

Best coming-of-age sentence:
"Without willing it, I had gone from being ignorant of being ignorant to being aware of being aware."

Quote in Josh's blog

Strong Negro female - beautifully said:
"The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.  The fact that the adult Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence.  It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance."

Negro male - awareness and struggle with racism.  I love these sentences - so strong, so clear, so direct.
"He was away in a mystery, locked in the enigma that young Southern Black boys start to unravel, start to try to unravel, from seven years old to death.  The humorless puzzle of inequality and hate.  His experience raised the question of worth and values, of aggressive inferiority and aggressive arrogance."

  • Marguerite or Rita or Maya
  • Bailey - her brother
  • Momma - her paternal grandmother
  • Uncle Willie
  • Mother - Vivian Johnson
  • Guy - her baby
  • Rape by her mother's boyfriend who was subsequently murdered
  • 8th grade graduation in 1940 when she was 12 years old
  • Trip to Mexico with her father
  • Living in the auto junkyard for a month
  • Sex with a boy to prove she wasn't a lesbian, then pregnant!  Hid her pregnancy well into the 8th month. 
  • Read her Collected Autobiography

"The Help" By Kathryn Stockett

Published: 2009, debut novel
Read as audiobook: 2011
Genre: historical fiction
Setting: Jackson, Mississippi in early 1960's, Civil Rights
Rating: 5
Review: Prairie Library complete with pictures taken with the author!  Sarah Reads Too Much

Went to the library to get a couple of audiobooks for the trip to the Cape/Vermont over Xmas. Picked this up as it was highly recommended by my sister-in-law. My daughter and I began listening to it while driving from the Cape to Vermont. We smiled, chuckled and laughed out loud as the miles flew by. Once home, I continued to listen on an old CD walkman while working on my cross stitch project. Went through quite a few batteries but thoroughly enjoyed. The actors were brilliant.

Thoughts while listening:
  • written in three distinct POV - Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. Different races, backgrounds, temperaments, ages. How did the author do it? She had to "hear" each character very clearly in order to be as distinct as they were.
  • wow - such racism/prejudice only 50 short years ago. At that time, it was probably unimaginable to think that a black man could be POTUS, and here we are. The next barrier is having a woman as President.
  • There is one scene, the Benefit, that was told in the third person. This struck me as odd. I was conditioned to listen for either A, M or S's voice to continue the story. So really stood out when a third person began narrating.
  • Historical references: JFK's assassination and MLK's "I Have A Dream" speech.
  • Mysteries throughout the story that pull the reader in. What happened to Constantine? What's up with Miss Celia? What is wrong with Skeeter's mother? What will happen to Skeeter and Stuart? Will anyone find out about "the stories?" And if they do, what will happen?
I began reading Maya Angelou's memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings at the same time. Her account of being a black girl in the South (Stamp, Arkansas), St. Louis and California during the 30's and 40's - so a few decades before time depicted in The Help. But similar enough.

Several days after finishing the book, I wrote about the characters in my journal. This is very unusual as typically, I cannot remember much after I am done. Why is this? Maybe it is because I spent 15 hours hearing actors make the characters come alive. Maybe "hearing" the words as opposed to "seeing" them enabled them to "stick" to my consciousness. Maybe there is a deeper penetration when listening vs. hearing. Maybe it is because I am listening to every single word as opposed to when I am reading and skipping words, sentences and even paragraphs. Maybe because when I am listening, I am totally engrossed in the story. Undistracted. I cannot hear anything else. And when I read, it is more like I am floating on top of the story - reading, skimming or skipping words. Interesting .

Character Study
All protagonists were likable and the villain was not.

Aibileen - gentle, kind. Loves kids. Sad from losing her own son. She is educated - a writer. Writes her prayers out. Know as a "prayer warrior". Sees people for who they are. Courageous in being the first to share her story. Selfless - wanted Skeeter to take the job in NYC.

Minny - loud, brash, brutally honest. Unbridled tongue - sassy. She tries to exert self-control but it is hard. Unsuccessful which has cost her jobs. A loyal friend. Strong in all areas except with her husband. An enabler. Allows Leroy to abuse her. What she did to Miss Hilly (pie) - gumption!

Skeeter - intelligent. A college grad. A writer. Unconventional Southern young woman. Courageous. Love and concern for the maids who are helping her. Color-blind.

Hilly - epitome of "Christian white woman" who is thoroughly prejudiced and extremely racist - in the name of Christianity. Justifies her actions. Vindictive. Amoral. Completely blinded by her prejudice which drives her agenda. Manipulative and cruel. Has no thought about sending a maids to jail on trumped up charges. Lies to get her way. I found absolutely nothing to like about her.

Miss Celia - "powhitetrash". Not much higher than blacks on the social ladder. Risks her life to save Minny. Trying desperately to be something she is not: good cook, housekeeper, Junior League member, genteel Southern wife. She cannot get pregnant. Gruesome miscarriage scene. Unforgettable Benefit scene. Terribly unhappy because of how others look and treat her. But she does not have the prejudices of Hilly. She is a kind (but dumb) person. She and Skeeter could've been friends - a bit awkwardly but could have. I was waiting for her to maybe have a bigger role in the book, but that never happened.

Elizabeth - kowtows to Hilly. Has H on a pedestal. Insecure. A horrible mother - uncaring and unsympathetic to her daughter. But this is how her mother treated her, so the apple did not fall far from the tree. Dumb - read the book but didn't get that one of the women was herself. Blinded. No self-reflection. Very shallow and superficial.

Skeeter's mother - terribly hard and critical of Skeeter. Her hair, her clothes, the non-dating life, her job, etc. etc. Typical Southern wife and mother with prejudice and racism running deep. She does the unimaginable - drives Constantine away by demanding that her long-lost daughter, who is so light she can pass for being white, leaves the area. This girl embarrassed her terribly at a DAR meeting and years later, as she is recounting the story to Skeeter, she is still indignant.

Long ago, there was a TV series called Twilight Zone. One episode was about a deeply racist white man going to sleep. When he woke up, he was black. I wish this could happen to Hilly.

  • Years ago, I used to write out my prayers. Since reading this book, I've written one prayer. Maybe I should try and do this more.
  • When reading, I should slow myself down and consciously read each word. Or read aloud. Think about being engrossed in the words and the story, letting them settle and penetrate instead of reading quickly and superficially.
  • Read Maya Angelou's Collected Autobiography.