the signature of all things – elizabeth gilbert

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I did not finish this book. I hate it when that happens because it feels like I’ve failed at the one thing that has always been easy to me: reading and getting lost in a story. To be fair I came pretty darn close to finishing which – perhaps – makes it all the more troubling that I couldn’t force my way through the final few pages.

I liked Eat, Pray, Love but I didn’t love it. By the end of the novel it felt self-congratulatory and, frankly, if I had met the protagonist in the street I would not have wanted to make conversation with her. So maybe I was doomed to fail with this book but I thought – hey! I’ll give it a try.

My biggest issue is with our main character Alma Whitaker. After a riotously fun first few chapters, detailing the globe-sailing and rambunctious youth of Alma’s born-into-poverty-but-fated-to-swim-in-money father she is just…boring by comparison. I mean, REALLY boring. This girl studies moss for her life’s work for god’s sake. I had hoped that my love of flowers would help me to connect with the story’s main botanic themes but, alas, it was not meant to be. All the fascinating characters are either killed off, married off, or simply disappear. Every time I got my hopes up for anything even mildly exciting, Ms. Gilbert whisked them off to Tahiti in the mid-1800s, never to be heard from again.

All this to say that when the excitement and adventure for Alma finally comes to fruition (in the last 15% of the book) I’m already tired of her and have lost interest. And Alma is already 50 years old, quite an advanced age for that time period, and I can’t imagine that this is when she gets interesting. I’ll call this a case of too little, too late, and move on with my life.

Bottom line: a bit of a snoozer. Lovely descriptions of the familial estate in Pennsylvania, mentions of a dormant passion within our sterile protagonist and the introduction of some ridiculous ancillary characters are certainly worthwhile but cannot save the story as a whole.

all the light we cannot see – anthony doerr

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I stayed up late last night to finish this book – and that’s a big deal, considering my typical self-imposed senior citizen bedtime (ask anyone). *No judgement allowed vis-a-vis the large print format: it was WAY easier to get ahold of the book from the library in this version versus the regular print size (a secret library trick, don’t tell anyone)

I’m heading to Paris in May for 10 days with my fella, and we’ll be taking two days to head out to Normandy to see the D-Day beaches. With that in mind this book seems particularly fitting for this time of my life, considering it is primarily situated in the spectacular coastal town of St Malo, with a main character hailing from Paris. Marie-Laure, our newly blind pre-pubescent female protagonist, lives in Paris with her father who is the Master of Locks at the Museum of Natural History. When WWII breaks out they flee to St Malo in the hopes of finding refuge with his great uncle Etienne – a reclusive, WWI-scarred gentleman who goes from shy and quiet to outspoken and rebellious by the end of the tome. Secrets hidden in miniature city replicas, ancient curses from goddesses, a hidden radio and Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea all play major roles throughout the story and serve to connect Marie-Laure with a young German, Werner, who is also experiencing the war albeit in a more pronounced way. Werner, an orphan from a mining town, discovers a hidden talent for radio engineering at a young age which catches the notice of several prominent townspeople. They, in turn, nominate him to attend a ‘schulpforta’, or a National Political Institute of Education; a Nazi-run boarding school created to “teach” the next generation of Aryan Germans to become the face of Nazi Germany and its army. He leaves as a radio specialist charged with a singular goal by the this brutal regime: locate resistance via radio transmissions and crush it. His time with the army leads him, ultimately, to Saint Malo, and it is here where he hears Marie-Laure broadcasting from her secret radio. It comes full circle but doesn’t feel assumed; doesn’t feel like the author connects our two protagonists for convenience. It makes sense and flows, and I get it, and for that I am grateful.

“I have been feeling very clearheaded lately and what I want to write about today is the sea. It contains so many colors. Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue in the evening. Sometimes it looks almost red. Or it will turn the color of old coins. Right now the shadows of clouds are dragging across it, and patches of sunlight are touching down everywhere. White strings of gulls drag over it like beads.

It is my favorite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself staring at it and forget my duties. It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.”

Bottom Line: This book is incredibly powerful and moving. Full of metaphors, Jules Verne-isms, family love and bond, and set against one of the most impactful and deadly wars in history. Must read. Go. Now. I’m serious.

a commitment.

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WordPress emailed me this morning to tell me that it has been 2 months since I last published a post. It feels like every time I write a blog entry I’m apologizing for not posting more frequently so I’m just not going to do it anymore. The apologizing part, not the writing part. I’m going to make a concerted effort to appreciate any thoughts I find the time to down on e-paper and online and leave it at that. I hope that’s OK with anyone who reads my blog. Does anyone? Is anyone out there? *le sigh*

I started writing and posting at a time when my professional life was not fulfilling me, nor my personal one (vis a vis BOYS. My girlfriends are, have been and will always be top notch) and I needed an outlet. Something to put on the schedule and achieve, if only a few times a week. Things have changed a lot over the past year and a half and I’ve finally gotten to a place of peace. And I think that I’ve fully immersed myself in the quiet and contentment, which has been lovely. But no more! I’m a lover of words and script, and know that in writing and sharing my heart grows 2 sizes too big. So here I am, and I’m back with a bang. Or I will be soon.

To that end I’m reading 2 books for maximum blog fodder. One for the j-o-b and one for the h-e-a-r-t: Uncontainable: How Passion, Commitment, and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives by Kip Tindell (CEO of the Container Store) and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I hope you can tell which is which without needing me to identify them…

book bonanza 2016

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To make up for my unfortunate new-year-no-post streak, I’ve read TWO books in ONE month – and I’m pleased as punch about it. I also got them both back to the library on time; no small feat, I promise you that.

First on the docket? Finish A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, an assignment from our December meeting of book club. As a reminder, we each chose a “classic” novel that we had never been asked to read in school, and considering that my choice turned out to be about the joy and impact of reading…well. Pretty pleased about that too. Theme of 2016: PLEASED.

Francie, a Romney girl, local to Williamsburg but native to Ireland, is our main character and we meet her at 11 years old. She admires the resilient tree that persists outside her building without water, sunshine or hope to live (dramatic, eh?) and has recently discovered the joy of reading. I’ve decided that instead of forcing you to read even more of my opinionated drivel, I’ll share some quotes from the books that I read that I found evocative of the book as a whole. Without further ado:

“...the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world.

Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that da when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.

Bottom Line: a classic that is worth visiting, or re-visiting depending on how thorough your high school English Lit reading list was. This book runs the gamet of life events: death, birth, poverty, wealth, obstacle-shatterings, obstacle-facings, love and heartbreak. It’s easy to read and flows right into your eyeballs.

As for After You by Jojo Moyes – well, my appreciation for Ms. Moyes’ literary works is well documented in previous posts, so this choice shouldn’t be a surprise. What did surprise me, however, was how dissatisfied I was after finishing the book. Something feels artificial and soap opera like about the story, and every time I thought that Lou (our main gal) and her story were headed to a new, non-stereotypical life path I was disappointed. A few examples: apply to a job in NYC – they offer it – you say no – you email weeks later expressing you made a mistake – the person they hired instead of you doesn’t work out, and you’re re-offered the job. Next: you meet a man (a very studly one) that you meet thinking that he has some baggage (which you don’t mind) – you hit it off – you discover that  he’s a bit of a scumbag so leave him in the dust – you then discover you were mistaken about said scumbaggery so give him another shot – you discover that, in fact, he has minimal baggage, is not in fact a scumbag at all, and in actual fact, discover that he is pretty much perfect. Also he builds his own house, owns chickens, and is a life-saving paramedic. OOOOKKKKKKKK. Maybe I’m a cynic but things felt a bit too wrapped up in a bow for me this time around, and I think I’ll stick to preferring Me Before You, from here on out.

Only one quote for this one, and only because I have a British aunt that I think would find it hilarious:

“We laughed awkwardly, in the way British people do when they are experiencing great emotion.”

Bottom Line: it’s always nice to catch up with a character you enjoyed and to see where her life has gone since the end of the previous book. But this might have too perfect of an ending for my skeptical world view. Read for light perusing, and if only to hear more about how loony Lou’s grandad slash whole family is.

delayed new year, new post.

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As per always, my post for the new year is sadly 7 days behind the actual new year. No matter! Better late than never, right?

I’m happy to report that I’ve made great strides on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – only 50 pages to go, then an epic writeup is coming this way. Spoiler alert: this may be an addition to the favorites list. Beatrix Potter really hit the nail on the head though; it’s bittersweet to come to the end of an enjoyable read. Just as, you could say, it is bittersweet to come to the end of an excellent read. I guess all we can do is look ahead, determined to choose a book – and create a year – that will meet and exceed the last one in all respects. Cheers to 2016!

Sidenote: new on the docket for this month’s book club is After You, by Jojo Moyes. Needless to say I’m already convinced it will be a winner and I haven’t even cracked it open yet.

 

 

the japanese lover – isabel allende

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I just read about Isabel Allende’s newly published novel, and I’m THRILLED. Like, pee my pants thrilled. TMI, I know. I love her so much that I took a class in college that dedicated an entire semester to reading and studying her work (if that’s not love I don’t know what is).

At any rate, I’ve put a hold on the book at my local library…and am behind 200 other people. Perhaps this is a rare occasion to purchase, rather than rent? Feeling stingy so jury’s still out.

In other news, I’m still trying to get a move on with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Holiday reading in front of the fire, amiright?

thankful

In light of the holiday season, and a long weekend well-spent with my man friend and family (albeit minus-two key members; you know who you are! xo), I thought it only timely to list a few of the books that I discovered as a child, and that have inspired me to be thankful every day for literature and the perennial delight I find in wordsmithing.

Perhaps you’ll be inspired to turn off the TV and nab a tome from your personal library/nightstand/floor where it is collecting dust. Or you’ll get a good laugh out of the selections below, and their respective explanations. I’d be happy with either result, so please enjoy…

  1. Corduroy by Don Freeman: A favorite from childhood, the fluffy guy may look imperfect at first glance, but his new owner proves that everyone deserves a friend, regardless of who they are or how they look.
  2. The Giver by Lois Lowry: To this day, this is my favorite book. Reading those sections where Jonas is introduced to memories of the color, passion and life that make up our everyday existence, and that were stripped from him and his community, still gives me goosebumps. I’ve just discovered that there are three subsequent novels in print by Lowry that, together with The Giver, comprise the Giver Quartet. So please excuse me while I toddle off to the Library website to find them and devour them whole.  *True life: the movie was mega disappointing.
  3. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret? by Judy Blue: Any girl who grew up on Judy Blume and claims that she cannot quote the infamous “I must! I must! I must increase my bust!” line is lying to you. No shame in this game ladies; take thee to a bathroom and give it a try if you don’t believe me.
  4. Harry Potter x7 by J.K. Rowling: Considering that only last year I listened to the first and second books of the series on a long road trip, you should know by now that I’m a big ol’ fan. *True life: these movies were also, IMO, disappointing, although perhaps not in the ‘mega’ category.
  5. Little House on the Prairie x9 by Laura Ingalls Wilder: Apparently I have always been obsessed with series (the Anne of Green Gables are also a wild favorite), but these books in particular led to a few things. First, I thought maybe I should be calling my parents ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’, instead of ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ (unfortunately I found out quickly that the short answer is…no Shucks). Second, I thought alot about molasses. What were they? Could I have some? What would they taste like? Finally, why – WHY – were we not building our own log cabins and frolicking outside 100% of the time? This question still stands today. Off I go to chop down some wood.

A very happy (belated) turkey day to all, and to all a smorgasbord-induced coma/goodnight!

P.S. I have decided to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith for this month’s book club (please see last post for explanation). Recap coming soon!

american classics

Growing up abroad, my required reading lists did not include many of the most famous, and most admired American literary classics. Not to say that my education was not exceptional (because it really, really was), if only missing some of the things that my American counterparts grew up learning. Prime example: no, I cannot recite all of the American presidents in order so please stop asking. Regardless, I do always want to be expanding the breadth of my literary exploits, and at last night’s book club I got my chance.

Before we meet again next month, we have decided that each of us will select a different classic tome – whether authored by an American, a Brit, a Frenchman, or whomever suits our fancy –  in order to give our monthly meeting a new twist. My current contenders are The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and East of Eden. Penchant for John Steinbeck much?

As always, I’m more than open to suggestions as alternatives to the options previously listed. Holler at your girl!