Sunday, February 28, 2016

It's Monday! And I'm Back!

So what in the world happened to me?

I don’t really have an answer for you. I just suddenly Two weeks went by, and I didn’t look at a single book. It wasn’t really a slump – it was a stop.

Today I picked up, once again, The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. This is the book that I have been carrying around all this time and not reading. And guess what? I blew through several hundred pages this afternoon, and I feel almost like I have reading momentum again. The novel features a talking squirrel and lots of relationship drama. How could I resist?

So my goal for this week is simply to keep reading – because let me tell you, I don’t really know who I am if I don’t have a book in my hand.

( It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Review of The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak

I don’t usually spend much time reviewing books that I do not enjoy.

So, with that in mind, I will not linger over the fact that this book is populated with really terrible characters (and those of you with trigger issues about violence against women or children – you might want to steer clear of this one). And I will not linger over the fact that those characters feel only about an inch deep.

What I will linger over is the issue that sits underneath this portrait of a very elite Connecticut community: the idea of “outsiders.” The two narrators – 40-something Cheryl and her stepson, Teddy – are both outsiders to the golf-playing, country-club-attending society they inhabit. But beyond those two characters, there is a movement afoot to put a fence around the community, blocking anyone (particularly the working class fishermen who also frequent the area) from accessing the beach.

There’s a political dimension of this uber-rich community’s effort to exclude outsiders that could possibly bring this slight portrait of a bunch of unpleasant people to a larger conversation. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t quite get there. The sheer awfulness of everyone stands in the way of allowing the reader to slide into what, to me, seems like a very real problem for many communities. What are the ways that all of us put up fences? What are the consequences of building those fences?

It turns out that tv network executives might have liked this novel more than I did. It’s going to be turned into a “dark, humorous soap” for ABC.

Monday, February 8, 2016

It's Monday, And I'm Looking For Love!

This doesn’t exactly feel like a blogger’s slump, but it sure looks like one on paper (or, er, digital paper?  What is the internet? Gah.). I’m totally blaming Jane Smiley. I just finished the second in her Last Hundred Years Trilogy, and it took me eight days of pretty aggressive reading to get through it (review forthcoming). All I posted last week was my review of Weightless by Sarah Bannan, so I clearly did not have a very weighty blogging week.

In an effort to regain some momentum, I just picked up Karolina Waclawiak’s The Invaders, which is described as a novel about “the suburban abyss.” In addition to having the potential to scratch my ongoing suburban reading itch, this book has fewer than 250 pages! Compared with the Smiley tome, this is a fun sized candy bar.

In honor of the approach of Valentine’s Day, I’m looking for a good love story. Do you have a favorite?

And speaking of love, here are my  favorite bookish Valentines for this year, courtesy of the interwebs:

From Sea + Lake Paper Co.

(See last year’s choices here)

(It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Review of Weightless by Sarah Bannan

We read Weightless by Sarah Bannan for my book club this month. Though it has literary authors’ blurbs on the cover (Colum McCann!), this struck me as YA. I do wonder, however, if teen readers would find this too much like an after school special (Message: Bullying is BAD!) to really enjoy it.

Here’s the premise: a gorgeous, mysterious new girl shows up at a high school in an insular town. At first, she is admired, but soon her peers begin to turn on her in terrible ways. The torment is relentless, and it escalates. The girl also has a troubled back story, so it is up to the reader to figure out whether bullying is causing or contributing to the character’s struggle.

Speaking of the reader, this book’s narrator is a “we.” The reader learns that the “we” is comprised is a specific group of girls who are bystanders and witnesses to the bullying. The plural narrator allows the reader to be a part of a group that does not step in to help, the kind of group that participates by being and staying silent. However, this strategy pulled me away from the story. I like to slip into the lives of characters, and the “we” gave me too much distance. I stayed separate from what should have been a very emotional experience.

One of our book club members pointed us to Sticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon, which is a nonfiction exploration of bullying. I didn’t read this whole thing, but I did read the part that featured the real case that inspired Weightless (but don't click the link to the real case if you don't want spoilers for Weightless). Bazelon’s narration of that story focused on the idea of culpability – can bullying be considered the cause of a victim’s behavior (say, if s/he commits an act of violence)? Part of the mystery of bullying is that it’s hard to pin down – what’s the difference between teasing and bullying (bullying is sustained intimidation – but who decides what intimidation is)? And there’s a growing literature about girl bullying (I liked this one), which tends to be less physical than most cases of boy bullying, but also less definable. If you snub someone repeatedly, is that bullying? Is exclusion bullying?

The biggest problem I had with Weightless is that the story was so deeply and obviously a case of teens being cruel and adults turning away from what was happening. Everything was so awful and so blatant and so terrible that there wasn’t really anything to wrestle with or consider. Was everyone responsible for what happened? Yes. Case closed. I would have been more likely to connect with a book that presented a less flashy case with more dimension.

One book club member raised the issue of the existence of grown-up bullies, and that got me thinking about whether and how Mean Adults are portrayed in literature. Do you have any good examples of books about Mean Women or Mean Men?

( This one doesn’t count).