Archive for September, 2011

September 24th, 2011

Rules of Civility: A Novel by Amor Towles

by Gwen

Rules of Civility

Not too long ago, I told you that I just couldn’t appreciate literary fiction. Well, I take that back. Or at least I take it back when you mix it with historical fiction like Amor Towles did in a magical book called Rules of Civility.

If marrying a book wasn’t crazy pants and probably illegal in most states, I would marry this baby. The words floated off the page and enveloped me with visions of wonderful things. Am I blushing?

Never flowery, each word was still chosen carefully for the perfect effect and imagery.

“The driver put the cab in gear and Broadway began slipping by the windows like a string of lights being pulled off a Christmas tree.”

Can’t you just picture that? The lighted shop windows, whisking by you as you drive down the street?

“Anyone can buy a car or a night on the town. Most of us shell our days like peanuts. One in a thousand can look at the world with amazement. I don’t mean gawking at the Chrysler Building. I’m talking about the wing of a dragonfly. The tale of the shoeshine. Walking through an unsullied hour with an unsullied heart.”

Okay, so that is sort of flowery, but it hit home for me.  For example, I get the biggest kick out of the lizard that hangs out near my front door, everyone else just walks right by it.

There was so much to this story that resonated with me. It takes place in the NYC of the late thirties, when the depression is winding down and the talk of war is ramping up. Women are working in more and more fields and marrying later. The characters grew up during the roaring twenties and are left to figure out just where they fit in this brave new world that is grumbling, stumbling, and limping into the future and into war.

I just read that last paragraph again and realize how it is to explain how a story about the thirties resonated with me. Let’s try it another way…

  • The characters are rather lost. I am rather lost.
  • They are late bloomers, trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for. Me too.
  • They were raised in luxury, but the world changed and are trying to live within their now smaller means. Check.
  • They are all running from something or to something, not sure which. Double check.
  • There is a character named Wallace. I know a character named Wallace, who just happens to have liked this book.
  • They are all bright, all have a razor sharp wit, and all but one are beautiful. Just trust me on this one.

Do you feel me now? There were moments when I made myself stop reading because I didn’t want it to end so quickly. This is one of my top favs this year, if not the top. This is why I keep trying with books that some consider literary fiction, even though most are not for me. There is gold in stepping outside of your comfort zone; it just takes a lot of hope and maybe some Rules of Civility.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1 edition (July 26, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0670022691
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022694

September 20th, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

by Gwen

The Night Circus

Repeat after me, “Gwen does not appreciate literary fiction.” The word “appreciate” is such a great one to use in this case. Sounds much better than, “Gwen hates literary fiction.”

Gwen also struggled with the correct way to punctuate the above and most likely, failed.

However, I was sucked in by the beautiful cover and the crazy-good buzz that The Night Circus was garnering. Almost as quickly as I was sucked in, I was spit back out by the preponderance of superfluous words. For me, that is the definition of literary fiction. Why describe say, the color blue as baby blue, when you can do it so much better by saying that the blue was light, reminiscent of the sky just before dusk over the hills of Tuscany and reminds you of the blanket your aunt gave your baby brother that he took on the Aegean sea vacation you took with your parents when you were six and he was three.
Too many words. Yes, they are beautiful. Yes, I am sure that they took a lot of time to come up with. No, I was not on that ocean trip with you, when you were six and your brother was three, so really I have no idea what color you are describing. If you had just said baby blue, I would have been with you instead of on that three hour tour with Gilligan.

So, in the spirit of literary fiction, as paid homage to above, here are my thoughts on The Night Circus.

It took me a long time to get into it. Once I knuckled down and stopped muttering at the descriptions of everything, I enjoyed the story. Then the ending let me down. If you enjoy flowery writing and find yourself easily lost in fantastical stories, this is totally the right book for you.

Am I pissed off that I read it? Heck no, I was able to finish it, so it wasn’t even close to the top ten worst books that I have read this year. There were some very poignant and thought-provoking moments.  It was also another lesson in learning that sometimes the most buzz-worthy books aren’t for me and once again, “Gwen does not like literary fiction.”

Countless times, countless I tell you, I pick up literary fiction and think, this is the one, this one will be different. What is the definition of insanity again?

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (September 13, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0385534639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385534635
  • September 6th, 2011

    Bedbugs by Ben H. Winter

    by Gwen


    The first full length book that I ever remember choosing for myself was Pet Sematary by Stephen King. The year was 1984 and I have no idea where I got it or what my parents thought about my reading choice, but I knew one thing. The suspense of finding out just what happened the day after the father buried his kid’s beloved cat, Church, in the ancient burial ground beyond the town’s pet cemetery was agony. You just had to know what would happen, however, you were in dread at the same time.

    Reading Bedbugs brought that feeling back in a freakishly eerie way. Having moved beyond Stephen King long ago; it had been years since I had thought about those nights spent under my comforter, holding the flashlight and reading through the night.
    Just why was that Brooklyn apartment such a good deal? Did Susan really see bedbugs or was it all in her head? If a delusion, where did the few bites she had on her arm come from? What would they wake up to tomorrow?

    Bedbugs starts out slow, almost painfully slow. There is no escaping telling you that; there is about 100 pages of setting the scene, painting the characters, moments where I found myself jealous of Susan’s situation. She quits work in order to pursue her dream of being an artist while her husband pays the bills, including having a nanny for their daughter 5 hours a day. Most people would kill for that, but in between the fairy tale we start to see cracks in the surface of Susan’s castle. She sees bugs crawling through those cracks, even while no one else does.

    It hit me early, this baby would make a killer scary movie. As a book, it just isn’t all that original though. You might even say derivative. I enjoyed it immensely, not only because it was a complete departure from what I have been reading lately, but because it brought back all of those feelings from the past. It got my heart racing, made me itch, reminded me of why I started reading in the first place; to feel things that my day-to-day life just can’t match.

    So, if you want some thrills, chills, or just plain want to have the crap scared out of you by things that might, or might not, crawl in the night- read Bedbugs.

    Bedbugs by Ben H. Winter
    Paperback: 256 pages
    Publisher: Quirk Books (September 6, 2011)
    ISBN-10: 1594745234
    ISBN-13: 978-1594745232

    September 1st, 2011

    What About The Boy? by Stephen Gallup

    by Gwen

    What About the Boy

    What do you do when the “experts” have no answers or solutions for you? If the problem is something simple, like your car making a weird noise, the answer is easy. You take it to another mechanic.

    What do you do when your child isn’t developing as fast as other children and the doctors not only have no idea what is wrong with him, but also have no suggestions on how to move forward, how to help him? With courage and determination, risking everything, Stephen Gallup and his wife Judy went to astounding lengths for their son.

    Often, when reading a memoir or biography, I attempt to put myself in the subject’s shoes, pondering whether or not I would take the same steps that they did. I couldn’t even fathom what Stephen, Judy, and Joseph faced, yet was in awe that they were able to continue to sacrifice and move forward everyday into the the unknown. I mean, when you have a child, you tell yourself that you just want him or her to have ten fingers and toes, but inside you want so much more for them. What do you do when everything you dream about for them isn’t possible in the eyes of modern medicine? Do you give up? How could you?

    Stephen Gallup and his wife refused to give up, refused to accept that Joseph couldn’t be “normal”, and continued to have big dreams for their son against all odds. They showed a determination to move beyond that I am not sure that I could muster myself, yet what choice did they have?

    They took risks, with therapies, their future, their family’s approval, really with everything to not give up on Joseph and that is the beauty of this book. Nothing was more important than getting Joseph walking, talking, going to school. They refused to give up on him.

    What About the Boy? is a profile in courage that is often hard to read. I can’t even imagine what it was to live through. There are parts of it that drag a bit, just as I am sure that the events did in the Gallup’s own struggle, but in the end, there is an accepted triumph that was worth all of the sacrifices. This family fought a battle pretty much alone and they should have had to. We expect modern medicine to have just about all of the answers and they don’t. We think that if they don’t have the answers, that we should just give up and we shouldn’t.

    The Gallups never gave up on Joseph and none of us should ever just blindly accept that there are no answers.

    What About the Boy? by Stephen Gallup

    • Paperback: 376 pages
    • Publisher: Lestrygonian Books (September 1, 2011)
    • ISBN-10: 0615431534
    • ISBN-13: 978-0615431536