Wednesday, May 28, 2008

46. "A Passage to India" - E.M. Forster

Set in 1920s India (a British colony), this novel demonstrates all of the racial and political tensions before the Indian Independence Movement (yes, I did have to look up the official name).

Adela, a British teacher, accuses Dr. Aziz, a Muslim Indian, of rape. The rest of the story revolves around the resulting trial and all of its prejudices.

From the start, it is an intriguing balance between these snobby British with a superiority complex and the important Indians who are hurt by these snubs.

A quick read and well worth it.

4.0 out of 5.0 East India Cocktails, Dry.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

45. "Fieldwork" - Mischa Berlinski

An engaging, mythical look at the work of missionaries, an anthropologist, and an author regarding a unique pre-literature tribe in Thailand.

OK, that's my quotable for this finalist for the 2007 National Book Award. Now, the real story.

It is mesmerizing, especially within the first few pages when you say, "But isn't that the same name as the auth- hey? What's going on?" Part mystery, part biography, part autobiography, part love story.

And that is the only place where this book fails. It plants a love story to explain the mystery. I will say no more until more of you read it.

Go read it, with my blessing of a vodka shot. But, so you know, this tribe never existed outside the mind of Mischa Berlinski, and that was the biggest disappointment of all.

4.2 out of 5.0 Mai-Tai Jello Shots.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

44. "The Golden Notebook" - Doris Lessing

"[...] if we were to view it solely as an aesthetic experience, we may lose some of its force" (Frederick Karl).

"There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag -- and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are 20 or 30 will open doors for you when you are 40 or 50 -- and vice versa." - Doris Lessing, in her introduction to The Golden Notebook.

So, I shall try this again, as I tried it five years ago. My brain isn't ready to slog through it yet, though I did make it to page 105, 90 more pages than last time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

43. "On the Road" - Jack Kerouac

Kerouac created the verbiage for the "Beat Generation," the disenfranchised poets and writers and musicians whose use of drugs is only surpassed by the flower children of the next generation. In On the Road, Kerouac uses a version of stream of consciousness to tell the story of Sal Paradise and his trips across the country.

Each character is based on someone from real life, though I am young enough to have to look this up. At the time, I bet this was part of the allure, like how the New York Post has "hidden items" about celebrities.

There is a lot of "wow," a lot of "man!" There are several instances of being blown away by women's eyes, long stretches of road, jazz. Sal Paradise made three of four trips with his friend, Dean Moriarty, whose personal problems make him an unfortunate pal to rely upon.

If the beginning had more so-and-so "begat" so-and-so, I'd think it was a religious reference, but instead it just sets out the list of characters, names that will pop up throughout the book. Slowly, these names drop away, partly because of Paradise (Kerouac) and partly because everyone is taking responsibility for their lives except Dean Moriarty.

It's a great historical lesson... we've all heard of the beatniks and the beat generation, but this novel brings it to life. In my edition, there was even a thesis about the authors who searched for transcendence throughout this time, which made me add more novels to my read list. I can see how hundreds of thousands read this book and found that it changed their lives, as well as how it planted the bug to just road trip across the U.S. As long as you are just enjoying the ride without expectations, you will enjoy yourself.

3.75 out of 5.0 Road Runners.

Monday, May 19, 2008

42. "The News from Paraguay" - Lily Tuck

This isn't a "Novel 100" or 200, for that matter, but a historical novel that I kept on my list of to-reads because it won the National Book Award. NBA = high expectations = major letdown.

Ella Lynch, recent divorcee, meets Franco, son of the president of Paraguay. She chooses to give up her French life and build one with Franco, though as his mistress. I still don't understand the reasoning, especially since this is based in the early 1800s.

Anyway, Ella writes letters to her friends in France and in her diary, giving a first-person view of the wars between Paraguay and surrounding countries.

I'm not the only one who was disappointed. A glance at Amazon's website shows an average of two stars for this novel. While I like the historical aspect, there were a couple things that threw me.

First, the Spanish that was scattered throughout the pages. I am not a perfect linguist, but even I know simple rules like "of me" rather than "my." Mistakes with Spanish language... bad.

Second, what is so special about Franco that Ella gave up this wonderful, free life? He is furious and edgy all of the time. I would have been on the first boat back to civilization.

I did like the interesting tidbits, like animal life and herbal concoctions, but this wasn't enough to carry the book.

2.0 out of 5.0 Southern Blues.

41. "Call It Sleep" - Henry Roth

Practically ignored after its 1935 debut, Call It Sleep didn't gain popularity until the 60s.

David is growing up in the Jewish slums of NYC under the manipulative, angry thumb of his witchy, job-losing father and fantasy princess spell of his perfect mother.

The novel touches on the day-to-day living, each experience a canker on David's sensitive soul. At one point I wanted to smack poor David and say, "Stand up for yourself. Stop being the victim." But the father's character is so frightening that it's easy to imagine that hope for silence.

Roth writes conversation like non-English speakers did, which adds more to the feel of the story, similar to Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Something had to happen - there was no way that David was going to continue to put up with his father's malice. But that "something" didn't work for me. Religious overtones? Too metaphorical for a booming culture? I'll let you all decide, then tell me.

2.8 out of 5.0 Shoot the Roots.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.” – Emily Dickinson

One of my favorite memories of my maternal grandmother is sliding into the velvety backseat of her car as she cranked the engine. "Your door is ajar," a disembodied female voice said.

"My door is not a jar, it's a door," my grandma always muttered.

This quote about the soul standing ajar reminded me of how I close mine. I turned to books and writing to cover up the pain and heartache of failed friendships. Forgive, I told myself. Little did I realize that I needed to forgive myself more than anyone else.

I'm part of an amazing group of women who are talented writers, as well as fireproof friends. Without them, I would have given up writing, as well as my faith in true, honest, no-holds love. When my friend, Becky, and I part, we always say, "I love you." We both have learned from our life experiences that there is not enough time, not enough reassurance or passion or heartfelt connection to let those moments pass.

It has been three years. It is time to forgive myself.

What prompted such a random post? Fun from my email bag:

While I admire your attempts at reading all of the books in the world, I think that you may be better off finishing your own work like one of your friends posted. We'd miss your sarcasm, but I'd rather read you on the page instead of on the screen.

Wow, thank you. I am working hard every day, whether it's fifteen minutes or a few hours... I get my butt in the chair and write. It will get done, and it will be fantastic.

Change your photo.

OK. Fine. You win. It's time for a change, yes?

You have another blog, but you can't access it. Can I read it?

I'll be honest... I haven't written in that blog for years. It is the Witness Protection Program at the Effin' Ranch (trademark sign), little thoughts that feed into my memoir. Instead, I write in my notebooks. It seems to work better that way. Here's what you're missing... a photo of my favorite part of our hobby farm:

This is a photo of it three years ago. Last year, straight-line winds picked off the entire limb supporting the left branches on the tree. We're going to honor the oak spirits by creating something cool out of it in the new house on the other end of the property. I won't take photos of it broken... I'd rather remember it this way.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

40. "The Woman in White" - Wilkie Collins

A mysterious woman in white... is she a ghost? A spectral predicting the future? A blood and bones warning?

Bah. I lost interest by the third "act."

The plot was compelling and chilling, and I can imagine the goosebumps of parlor guests as someone read this aloud 140+ years ago. The story of two sisters, one ill-fated to marry a gold-digging man though in love with her art teacher, is intriguing in the theory behind the mystery. And I love mysteries. However, I do not like plodding through five pages of repetitive clue dropping and useless dialogue to get to the point. If those five pages were beautifully written, then we'd have a different discussion.

So, I tried reading every fourth or fifth page. It worked. I understood the mystery and zipped through this 500-page monster.

If I had heard it read aloud while darning socks or embroidering handkerchiefs next to oil lamps or candles, I would have adored it. But in this time...

2.5 out of 5.0 White Ladies.

Friday, May 09, 2008

39. "The Good Earth" - Pearl S. Buck

Again, I'm damned with an Oprah book. I never would have guessed it if I hadn't been shell-shocked by the fist-sized sticker on the cover.

Unfortunately, I have to give the woman credit. Each of the Oprah books that I've read I have enjoyed. And I wish I could put "until now" after that sentence.

Published in 1931, I can't imagine the craze over this novel about pre-revolutionary China. The story follows the life of Wang Lung, a poor farmer who creates his own fortune. The sensual language, the sexual references - all perfect for an American society who was still a bit uptight.

The story is intriguing enough - the farmer owes all to the good land that he buys and loves -but it is the language of the writing that is lovely. This is from the point where the family is starving:

"Only a few of these beans did Wang Lung hide in his own hand and these he put into his own mouth and he chewed them to a soft pulp and then putting his lips to the lips of his daughter he pushed into her mouth the food, and watching her lips move, he felt himself fed."

No wonder she won the Pulitzer for this book. Why it didn't make the "Novel 100" is a mystery to me.

4.75 out of 5.0 Sunny Vs.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

XX. "Don Quixote" - Cervantes

Boo. Hiss. Wuss!

Yeah, I know. I should have stuck it out. It's not as if the book lacks humor. In fact I was surprised by the (long-winded) unique scenarios Cervantes placed this hero of the nobodies.

But I made a promise to myself. No more suffering. So this book goes to the top of the "to read" pile, the one that is specifically for literary education.

Friday, May 02, 2008

38. "Persuasion" - Jane Austen

Bollocks! I've written for ten minutes and all I have to show for it is this lousy t-shirt. OK, not even that.

3.75 out of 5.0 Pangalactic Gargle Blaster.