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Archive for December 2010

Quite Early One Morning, by Dylan Thomas

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I don’t think that Quite Early One Morning is a book I would normally choose for myself, but I was craving more short stories and Dylan Thomas is one of my boyfriend’s favorite authors, so that made me curious about him. I don’t know that I’d call the pieces in this book “short stories”, exactly; they are like short stories, memories, essays, and poetry all at once. Most of the pieces included in the book were well known in Thomas’ time, the 40’s and early 50’s, because they were read and broadcast over the radio in both the UK and the US. And they are beautiful.

The book is comprised of two distinct sections: the first is made up of autobiographical meanderings through Thomas’s childhood in Wales. The docks, the towns, the people–all described just perfectly and magically, with rumbling, spitting language– that I really felt I had a sense of the place. Thomas’s writing is strongly imbued with its own rhythm, and I was tempted to read aloud to feel the physicality and movement of his words. I didn’t at the time because I read most of it on an airplane and didn’t want to cause any disturbance, but I might go back at some point and try it.

The second part contains some of Thomas’s thoughts about older Welsh poets and their literary contributions. Though I wasn’t quite as interested in this part as I was in the first, Dylan Thomas’ writing kept me happy and engaged.

I would love to track down some recordings of his radio broadcasts so that I could hear these pieces read in his own voice. Though it certainly shines through the written word, I imagine there’s no real substitute for hearing it aloud.

If you’d like, you can read the title story (incidentally, my favorite in this collection) here, to give you an idea of his work. Enjoy!

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Written by Emily Jane

December 26, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Wilderness Tips, by Margaret Atwood

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Reading Wilderness Tips pretty much confirmed what I’d suspected about Margaret Atwood for a while now, which is that the lady can do no wrong. At least in her writing. I just seem to love it no matter what, even if some of the stories themselves don’t appeal so much to me plot-wise (title story, I’m lookin’ at you). Does this set me up for unfulfilled expectations the farther I delve into her repertoire? Perhaps, but I haven’t been let down yet.

The stories in Wilderness Tips all share a certain longing, regret, and despair at the passing of time and opportunities missed. I guess they’re all kind of downers, but I never felt too completely trammeled by the pain of them. I also sensed in these stories as well as some of her other books, especially Cat’s Eye, that many of Atwood’s characters have a really interesting and complex relationship with feminism and the women’s movement of the ’60’s and ’70’s, which interests me. I’m tempted to attribute this tension to the feelings of Atwood herself, though I know that’s not quite fair and could be completely inaccurate. In any case, lots of her women protagonists encounter the the women’s movement at some point in their lives and seem supportive to some extent, but though they don’t feel at home in “a man’s world” they never seem to feel quite at home amongst other women, either. It’s become a dream of mine to be able to sit down and have a conversation with Atwood about this some day!  

Anyway, the highlight of the book for me was definitely the story Hairball. Oh, how i love it. It is so disturbing, so sickeningly sweet. It’s about a 30-something woman, Kat, who’s in the fashion business but losing her edge. She has been having an affair with a co-worker who she has shaped in her own image. She has made him stylish, successful, and now he is poised to usurp her power. At the same time, she has a benign growth removed from her body, and develops a real fascination with it. It sits in a jar upon her mantelpiece, and as Kat begins to lose control, she comes to depend upon this separate part of herself–this “hairball”–as a sort of emotional leverage, and when she decides to enact revenge upon her backstabber, she knows just how to use Hairball to her advantage.

Sound gross? IT IS. IT IS SO GROSS. So so gross. But also really satisfying, and so perfect, in the end. Upon finishing, I wanted to laugh, cry, and do it all again immediately. I brought this book home with me for the holidays so that I can share this story with family and friends (it’s okay, they expect this sort of sadism from me ;)). I would love to film their reactions as they read, as I have no doubt their facial expressions will be priceless. Anyway, read this story, if you dare. But not on a weak stomach 🙂

Written by Emily Jane

December 21, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Boychiks in the Hood: Travels in the Hasidic Underground, by Robert Eisenberg

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This is another in a string of books which I’ve found disappointing lately! I will say, though, before I talk about this one, that I am really enjoying my two current reads. So don’t worry, more positive reviews to come soon. 🙂

The book is by Robert Eisenberg, a non-religious Jew from somewhere in the U.S., who travels to various Hasidic communities around the world after becoming curious about his own family’s history. I was interested enough in the premise to give this one a try despite the hokey title which was an immediate turn-off. It’s so silly and bad, right? I mean, I like puns and wordplay  and what have you as much as the next reader, but…*shivers*. It’s tasteless! Or something. Anyway.

What I liked: The book is a survey of sorts which highlights the diversity of Hasidim, which is generally treated as a monolithic set of beliefs/community of people. To be completely honest, I didn’t know that Hasidim wasn’t a monolithic entity before reading this, so that new knowledge made this a worthwhile read to me.

Because it is a sort of survey, though, there wasn’t much room to go into any depth about any of the Hasidic communities Eisenberg visited and this was really annoying to me while reading. I don’t blame Eisenberg entirely for this as the depth I craved would have required a different kind of book from the one he set out to write…

…but I can and do blame him for wayyyy overusing pop culture references. There’s, like, at least one on every page. Some of which don’t even make sense (the band Nirvana as neo-hippies? Um, no). Really, it’s too much. Also, his language does not always reflect the respect he assures the reader he feels for the people he’s writing about: he refers to them more than once as “other-worldy”, with the result of exoticizing them completely, and at one point refers to an individual Hasidic man as a “gnome-like creature”. Yikes. There is also description of a woman in terms of the food he thinks she resembles, remarking that she would make a wonderful subject for some real-life artist famous for depicting women in terms of food, which I thought was kind of creepy and gross (it certainly wasn’t flattering). Unfortunately I can’t reference with page numbers because sadly, I’ve lost my reading notes and am too lazy to search through the book for them, but I promise…this stuff was in there. And it left a bad taste in my mouth.

I guess in the end I can see Eisenberg writing an interesting journalistic magazine article on the subject, but the book felt like just such an article that had been stretched out to achieve book-length without adding any real content, and his style got on my nerves to a severe degree. So I can’t say I recommend this one. I’m glad to be moving on!

Written by Emily Jane

December 16, 2010 at 6:01 am

After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, by Evie Wyld

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Okay everyone, it is that time of year and I’m going to say just one word that everyone’s probably tired of seeing on blogs, even (probably especially) if you yourself are not in school, but that explains the relative blog-neglect: FINALS. They’re happening. But before they started happening, about a week ago, I did manage to finish After the Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld, and only now have a little breather in which to post about it. Whew!

So, this book was all over the blogosphere a few months ago, and I recall many rave reviews. I was expecting to agree with them but, I’m sorry to say, I don’t.

The book follows Frank and Leon, two Australian men of different generations, fighting wars both literal and metaphorical. It’s a book about violence and the ways in which it shapes our families and relationships, its repercussions and disturbingly persistent influence.

I had a weird experience reading this book that I don’t remember having before. I went back and forth between liking it and disliking it over and over again, whereas usually I know very early on how I feel about a book and that feeling only intensifies the more I read. I think it was because I was expecting to like this book and wanted to, but the characters and story in general were really boring to me. It was all very flat, I thought, though every once in a while one of Wyld’s descriptions would catch me and reel me back in. I guess I see potential here, but for me, this one didn’t live up to the hype. If I hadn’t been stuck waiting in the emergency room to see a doctor with no other reading material, I don’t think I would have finished it*. The “revelation” at the end was obvious at least half way through the book, and the subplot about the missing girls made me really anxious and kind of sick-feeling.

On a barely related end-note, Evie Wyld has such an awesome rock-star sounding name. It’s like straight out of the movie Velvet Goldmine. I love it. I hope that her subsequent work is more interesting to me, if for no other reason than I’ll have reason to continue speaking her name.

*Don’t worry, nothing serious. I woke up with a mysterious puffy eye (like, REALLY puffy), and the hypochondriac in me insisted I make sure it wasn’t a food allergy or something. Apparently, it’s possible to sneeze or blow your nose too hard, so that the force of the blow puts pressure on the cavity between your nose and eye and the extra air inflates the tissue around your eye causing it to swell to epic porportions. Like a balloon. Yes, really. Nerdiest medical issue everrrr.

Written by Emily Jane

December 13, 2010 at 1:38 am

A Novel Gift Campaign

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I stumbled across this update the other day and thought I’d pass it along–Readergirlz and First Book are working together to get books to low-income teens. They say:

Let’s get organizations serving these teens registered with First Book so they can be matched with inventory during the holidays.

Here’s what we need you to do:

Post to Facebook and tweet your beak off about these books using the hashtag #novelgift.

Here’s a tinyurl link to their registration page: http://tinyurl.com/2a5mwpj.

Or you can link to this blog post: http://readergirlz.blogspot.com/2010/11/novel-gift-over-125000-free-books-to.html

Then, get in touch with every group you can think of that works with young adults–schools, after-school programs, church youth groups, community centers, etc.—and let them know that these books are available now.

The five-minute online registration these groups can use is here:
http://booksforkids.firstbook.org/register/.

First Book is also eager to answer questions, either by email to help@firstbook.org, or by phone at 866-READ-NOW or 866-732-3669.

If you participate, drop us a note at readergirlz@gmail.com to be included in our blog roll of thanks to run December 31.

A worthy, giving project in the spirit of the holiday season. As readers, I’m sure we can all appreciate the positive impact that a new book of our own can have on us. Everyone deserves that warmth every once in a while 🙂

Written by Emily Jane

December 3, 2010 at 1:44 am