Blue in the Sky

A lesbian wife and mother tries her hand at something new. Surely there is a hat that fits out there somewhere!

My Reading Life (Pat Conroy) Friday May 20, 2011

Filed under: Books,Daily Life,The Reader — The Professor @ 1:59 pm

Oh Pat Conroy. I do love you.

On the days in which the weather allowed for it, the boys and I have been taking walks with Pat Conroy.  Well….. I’m the only one with the earbuds, so I suppose I have been taking walks with Pat Conroy.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read him and when I found this collection of essays in audio and read by the man himself at the library, I jumped at it.  Almost before he had made his way into the second paragraph I was wondering what had taken me so long.

In high school a teacher handed me a copy of The Lords of Discipline.  I didn’t so much read that book as I, as Conroy himself might say, devoured it.  I fell in love with the passionate intensity of his language.  The way he told a story was unlike anything I had ever seen and I was hooked.  In short order I read The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides and The Water is Wide.  Reading Pat Conroy was electrifying.  His stories made me want to write a story of my own.  What I knew of his Southern childhood made me feel like I could.

Then, I went to college.  Among the English majors, citing Pat Conroy as one of your favorite writers was a bit like admitting that you sleep with a stuffed elephant.  It just wasn’t done.  It was fine to show an interest in Southern fiction, but for heaven’s sake read Flannery O’ Conner or Robert Penn Warren.  So, I let him go.  I have read neither Beach Music or South of BroadMy Reading Life reminded me that I need to get on that.  Pronto.

Reading Pat Conroy makes me happy.  Well, if you’ve read his books you know that’s something of a stretch.  His stories don’t so much make me feel any one thing as that they make me feel.  They also make me proud to call the South home.

And because I can’t resist, here are a few excerpts from the book.

I had witnessed with my own eyes that a poem could make a Colonel cry. Though it was not part of a lesson plan, it imparted a truth that left me spellbound. Great words, arranged with cunning and artistry, could change the perceived world for some readers. From the beginning, I’ve searched out those writers unafraid to stir up the emotions, who entrust me with their darkest passions, their most indestructible yearnings, and their most soul killing doubts. I trust the great novelists to teach me how to live, how to feel, how to love and hate. I trust them to show me the dangers I will encounter on the road as I stagger on my own troubled passage through a complicated life of books that try to teach me how to die.

I grew up a word haunted boy. I felt words inside me and stored them wondrous as pearls. I mouthed them and fingered them and rolled them around on my tongue. My mother filled my bedtime hour with poetry that rang like Sanctus bells as she praised the ineffable loveliness of the English language with her Georgia-scented voice. I found that hive of words beautiful beyond all conveyance. They clung to me and blistered my skin and made me happy to be alive in the land of crape myrtle, spot-tailed bass and eastern diamond backs. The precise naming of things served as my entryway into art. The whole world could be sounded out. I could arrange the whole world into a tear sheet of music composed of words as pretty as flutes or the tail feathers of peacocks.  From my earliest days, I felt compelled to form a unique relationship with the English language. I used words to fashion a world that made sense to me.

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This is Where I Leave You (Jonathan Tropper) Sunday March 13, 2011

Filed under: Daily Life,The Reader — The Professor @ 4:34 pm

This wasn’t the book I thought it was.  I thought I had picked up another book by this guy (likely a matter of similar tastes in cover art) and I was five chapters in before I realized that I was wrong.  Happily I was wrong in a good way.

I went for the Joshua Ferris/Jonathan Tropper because I was in the mood for dark and funny.  Dark and funny is exactly what I got with This is Where I Leave You.  The story is told by Judd Foxman, a man who is helping fulfill the dying wish of his father (who was by all reports an atheist) by sitting shiva with his wacky family.  The novel unfolds over the seven days of mourning and manages to get into everything from infertility and infidelity to sibling rivalry and traumatic brain injury.  The perfect balance of serious/thought-provoking and hysterical.  I was thrilled to find out that this is his fifth book.  I will definitely be reading the first four!

 

A Reliable Wife (Robert Goolrick) Wednesday February 9, 2011

Filed under: Books,The Reader — The Professor @ 8:53 am

First the summary from the publisher, Algonquin Books.

Rural Wisconsin, 1909. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt, a successful businessman, stands alone on a train platform waiting for the woman who answered his newspaper advertisement for “a reliable wife.” But when Catherine Land steps off the train from Chicago, she’s not the “simple, honest woman” that Ralph is expecting. She is both complex and devious, haunted by a terrible past and motivated by greed. Her plan is simple: she will win this man’s devotion, and then, ever so slowly, she will poison him and leave Wisconsin a wealthy widow. What she has not counted on, though, is that Truitt — a passionate man with his own dark secrets —has plans of his own for his new wife. Isolated on a remote estate and imprisoned by relentless snow, the story of Ralph and Catherine unfolds in unimaginable ways.
With echoes of Wuthering Heights and Rebecca, Robert Goolrick’s intoxicating debut novel delivers a classic tale of suspenseful seduction, set in a world that seems to have gone temporarily off its axis.

This one took me awhile.  First it came in the chapter-a-day emails I get from the library each week.  The character of Ralph Truitt dominates the early chapters and his voice was so true and compelling that I was eager to read more.  During one of my many used book selling trips  prior to the move last summer, I found a copy in excellent shape and brought it home with me.  So much for getting rid of books.

I started back in on the story sometime in July, but I couldn’t stay with it.  There was just nothing there to pull me in.  Of course the fact that my wife was due to have a baby at any moment might have contributed to my lack of attention, but now that I’ve read the book I’m sure that I was simply trying to read the book in the wrong season.  This is very much a cold weather read and if you had to pick the best month to read A Reliable Wife, it would definitely be January.

It is not only that the book is set in the middle of a brutal winter, but that the story itself is a story of the cold.  The writing is precise and spare and each of the three main characters are stark in their isolation.  However, underneath the icy surface of this story, the heat of frustrated longing is palpable.  If you are fascinated by the idea of redemption, you don’t mind more narrative than action and you have a very warm and cozy blanket, this could be the book for you.  There’s still plenty of cold days left!

 

Room (Emma Donoghue) Thursday January 6, 2011

Filed under: Books,Daily Life,The Reader — The Professor @ 9:07 pm

You should read this book, but first you should watch this video.  I found it while looking around for book cover images to use for my review.  I couldn’t describe it any better than this.

 

 

The False Friend (Myla Goldberg) Wednesday December 8, 2010

Filed under: Books,The Reader — The Professor @ 10:49 pm

I should begin this post by stating clearly that I am a huge Myla Goldberg fan.  Bee Season remains one of my favorite books of all time and in spite of the fact that I didn’t really get her next effort (Wickett’s Remedy), I was optimistic about her latest, The False Friend. Based on the descriptions I could find, I was expecting to find that she had abandoned the historical fiction angle and had returned safely home to what I thought she did best, developing artfully articulate and introspective characters.

The author reads her own books for the audio versions and since I enjoy her voice and manner of reading, I downloaded The False Friend on audio from the library.  While Bee Season is the story of a family with particular attention to middle-school girl, The False Friend is the story of a 30-something woman who returns to her hometown in order to deal with a traumatic event from her past.  My first disappointment with this book came early when it became clear that the main character, the adult Celia, was no match for the twelve year old Eliza Neumann of Bee Season.  Although the intimate awareness and understanding of the complexities of each character was evident in her first book, the characters in The False Friend, and Celia in particular, were disappointingly hollow and narrowly drawn.

While the characters left something to be desired, the most compelling part of the book was the subject matter itself.  The story explored both the exclusivity and jealousy of childhood friendships between girls and the nature of memory, especially as it operates in high-stress situations.  Celia was going back home to confront an event that had taken place almost 20 years in the past.  As a part of that process, she meets with old friends who recall the situation much differently.  While the issues tackled are interesting ones, the story lacked the emotional resonance that I had hoped for.  I guess I’ll just have to re-read Bee Season.

 

 

Then We Came to the End (Joshua Ferris) Wednesday October 27, 2010

Filed under: Books,The Reader — The Professor @ 9:45 am

This is the kind of writing that I love.  Dark, smart and clever, with a heart.  The world that Ferris creates in Then We Came to the End is alive from start to finish. I haven’t read a funny book in a while and after reading a post over at Book Snob I decided to move this one up on the list.  Katy was most certainly right about this one.

As the yellow Post-it’s on the cover indicate, this is a book about an office.  An advertising agency to be specific.  The New York Times review remarked on how the characters could have walked out of The Office in either it’s US or BBC versions.   As a fan of the show, it should be no surprise that one of the things I enjoyed most about this book was the characters.  From enigmatic Lynn Mason to wildly inappropriate Tom Mota and chatty, do-gooder Benny Shassburger, each of the characters felt familiar.  Ferris chose just the right details to reveal their inner lives.

It’s not just the characters that draw the reader into this world, it’s also the voice with which Ferris has chosen to write.   Although there are small segments of the book that don’t adhere to this, much of the story is written in first person plural.  The book opens with the lines, “We were fractious and overpaid.  Our mornings lacked promise”.  Immediately the reader is drawn into this world, actually becoming a part of it.  The language is familiar and when it’s not familiar it’s funny.  After becoming bored with all of the traditional ways to refer to getting laid off, the group adopts a new phrase.  The next one to go is suddenly “walking Spanish down the hall” and making sure that you are not the next one to be walking Spanish is all that really matters.

If you are looking for something that will make you laugh out loud, Then We Came to the End is your book.

 

The Crimson Petal and the White (Michel Faber) Thursday October 21, 2010

Filed under: Books,Daily Life,The Reader — The Professor @ 1:28 pm

You should read this book. Yes it’s long, but it’s tons of fun.  Really.  I’ve wanted to read this book for awhile, but I just couldn’t get past the fact that it is set in 19th century England.  I’m not a big fan of that kind of thing, or so I thought.  Maybe I’m changing my tune.