Conception

Decided to start reading Conception by Kalisha Buckhanon last night.  Sometimes you read a first paragraph that absolutely takes your breath away.  Conception has one of those paragraphs:

From the inside looking out, life doesn’t appear rose-colored when you know most people – including yourself – may one day die just like a rose: dried out by trouble and time, fragile and shriveled, scent faded to odor, color bled away, shrunken parts vulnerable to each and every touch, head bowed and apologetic in demise.  Now I know better than to mourn when my life ends before it begins.  How much more graceful to be cut from a bush and turned upside down immediately after bloom, preserved for a near eternity before a crumbling explosion of blossoms too ashlike to ever be put back together again.  I’m content to remain like a flower seed, tumbling in and around and throughout the earth, languishing in the possibility and potential because birth always brings consequences of confusion, sadness, disappointment, then death.  (2)

What is utterly fascinating about this paragraph?  The narrator is an unborn child.  What a daring move on the part of Buckhanon.  I can’t wait to get into this book more.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

On the surface, On Chesil Beach is the story of one wedding night.  Once you close the last page, however, you realize that this is truly the story of an entire lifetime and how one night can shift our lives into being.

I have been a fan of McEwan’s for a long time.  I loved Atonement, but I thought Enduring Love was just okay.  Saturday is the novel that really shocked me, because when I read it I thought it was good, but not great.  Five or six years after reading it, however, I still think about it and certain parts of the novel, especially the main character’s daughter.  Something about that book has stayed with me, unlike other books I have read.  Just talking about it now has reminded me that I need to go back and reread it.  Needless to say, I was excited about reading another McEwan, but I was curious about where this would fall.  Is this a novel I’m going to be thinking about in 5 years?  Is this a novel like Atonement, that I really loved and enjoyed reading, but probably wouldn’t read again?  Or would it be like Enduring Love, where I don’t regret reading it, don’t think it’s a bad book, but I hardly remember anything about it.

For now, I will say that it lies somewhere between Atonement and Saturday for me.  On Chesil Beach is such an intimate look at one couple, married during the early 60s.  I was continually impressed by McEwan’s insights and how perfectly developed these two characters were.  Florence and Edward are thrilled to begin their married life together, to be no longer seen as young and incomplete members of society.  Florence, however, has a paralyzing anxiety about physical contact with her husband, something she has kept from him, dreading the moment that would consummate their marriage.

I loved the combined narratives in this novel.  We are given glimpses into not only the wedding night, but also their courtship and their futures.  The narration shifts focus from Florence to Edward so we are given both sides to the story.  I really thought that this book was heartbreaking and honest, beautiful and quiet.  I think I just want to stop talking about this novel and share some quotes with you:

The term “teenager” had not long been invented, and it never occurred to him that the separateness he felt, which was both painful and delicious, could be shared by anyone else. (93)

A shift or a strenghtening of the wind brought them the sound of waves breaking, like a distant shattering of glass.  The mist was lifting to reveal in part the contours of the low hills, curving away above the shoreline to the east.  They could see a luminous gray smoothness that may have been the silky surface of the sea itself, or the lagoon, or the sky – it was difficult to tell.  The altered breeze carried through the parted French windows an enticement, a salty scent of oxygen and open space that seemed at odds with the starched table linen, the cornflour-stiffened gravy, and the heavy polished silver they were taking in their hands.  The wedding lunch had been huge and prolonged.  They were not hungry.  It was in theory open to them to abandon their plates, seize the wine bottle by the neck and run down to the shore and kick their shoes off and exult in their liberty.  There was no one in the hotel who would have wanted to stop them.  They were adults at last, on holiday, free to do as they chose.  In just a few years’ time, that would be the kind of thing quite ordinary young people would do.  But for now, the times held them.  Even when Edward and Florence were alone, a thousand unacknowledged rules still applied.  It was precisely because they were adults that they did not do childish things like walk away from a meal that others had taken pains to prepare.  It was dinnertime, after all.  And being childlike as not yet honorable, or in fashion.  (23)

If I had one complaint, it is that the last chapter of the novel that explores life after that wedding night is almost exclusively about Edward.  When the rest of the book had been so balanced, I was disappointed with the lack of information about Florence we received.   Overall, I’m impressed with McEwan’s attention to detail, especially the sensitivity he employed when portraying Florence.   I’m so glad I finally picked this one up.  It might be one of my favorite reads of 2010 and one that I see myself rereading again soon.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Also reviewed by: Reading & Reviewing, Dolce Belleza, Caribousmom, Small World Reads, Bart’s Bookshelf, Everyday Reads, The Bluestocking Society, Bookie Mee, Care’s Online Book Club, A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook.

TSS – 22 August 2010

Isn’t it always just perfect when two books you are reading speak to one another?  This week I’ve been reading On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (which I adored – review to come tomorrow) and Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture 1875-1945.  One of the things that I know I have taken for granted over my lifetime is that the concept of youth and being a teenager is something that it is a relatively new contribution of Western society.  How fitting that the two books I randomly chose to read this week dealt with this concept.  I love the combination of a non-fiction history book and a novel about the same topic.

In On Chesil Beach, there are several quotes that so perfectly address this state of in-between that had yet to be named.  Here are a few examples:

Almost strangers, they stood, strangely together, on a new pinnacle of existence, gleeful that their new status promised to promote them out of their endless youth – Edward and Florence, free at last!

The term “teenager” had not long been invented, and it never occurred to him that the separateness he felt, which was both painful and delicious, could be shared by anyone else.

It was in theory open to them to abandon their plates, seize the wine bottle by the neck and run down to the shore and kick their shoes off and exult in their liberty.  There was no one in the hotel who would have wanted to stop them.  They were adults at last, on holiday, free to do as they chose.  In just a few years’ time, that would be the kind of thing quite ordinary young people would do.  But for now, the times held them.  Even when Edward and Florence were alone, a thousand unacknowledged rules still applied.  It was precisely because they were adults that they did not do childish things like walk away from a meal that others had taken pains to prepare.  It was dinnertime, after all.  And being childlike as not yet honorable, or in fashion.

As someone who grew up when being young is known as the best time of your life, this idea is wholly alien to me, but not entirely repellent.  Now that I’m leaving being a teenager behind, I find that my friends are dreading what comes next, that each year brings us closer to something resembling responsibility and adulthood.  I wish there was something in between that both exalted our youth, relished in middle age, and respected old age.  In any case, I’m excited to continue reading Teenage, a book that discusses this transformation of youth from something you grew out of into something desirable.

As Savage claims in his introduction:

This book, therefore, tells the history of the quest, pursued over two different continents and over half a century, to conceptualize, define and control adolescence.  Apart from the dialogue between American, Britain, France and Germany, it contains several different elements that encapsulate the tension between the fantasy and the reality of adolescence, and between the many varied attempts to exalt or to capture this fugitive and transitory state. (xviii)

Teenage is already adding books to my TBR, like the diaries of Marie Bashkirtseff.  I might have to keep On Chesil Beach out from the library just a little bit longer to see if I can understand the lives of Florence and Edward even more after finishing Teenage.

Any happy book connections in your reading lately?

This week in review.

Reviews posted, fabulous links & more!

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This week I posted about two books I really loved: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi and A Year By The Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman by Joan Anderson.  They are very different from each other, but both came at just the right time.  Ship Breaker is suspenseful and well-crafted, while A Year By the Sea is certainly imperfect, but a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one woman.

Next week, you can look forward to reviews of On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and Born Round by Frank Bruni.  I loved both of them.  In fact, I’m loving all these positive reviews I’ve been writing lately!  Let’s keep it up with the good books!

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Photo credit: Flickr user psychbird

At the Bridges is my personal blog and this week I posted about what it is like to finally reach a fitness goal.  For me, this one was kind of abstract, but people always talk about what it is like to be “above” the exercise, to not be constantly thinking about how painful it is to run or how difficult it is to breathe.  I finally reached that goal and you can read about it here.  

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I’ve found some really interesting blogs and posts this week:

One of my old friends has a fitness blog where she talks about her road to getting healthy.  It’s called An Epic Change and she’s so inspirational!  I highly recommend checking her blog out.

In addition to An Epic Change, I somehow found the blog Living! with ZenLizzie.  I love the look and feel of this blog and to top it all off, Lizzie seems really inspirational and fun.

Also, have you checked out this fabulous blog?  Called Reading and Reviewing- Books reviews by Karen Elizabeth, it was originally brought to my attention by Eva.   I absolutely love the idea and think the blog itself is just gorgeous.

Guys!  LOOK AT THIS GORGEOUS BLANKET!  I want to make one so bad and I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of all my yarn when I moved.  (Yarn is the most difficult thing to store ever.  Especially when your room is the size of a closet.  A very large closet, but a closet nonetheless.)  I might have to invest….  Oh Alea, why do you do this to me with your darling crafts?!

I’m not vegan or vegetarian, nor would I probably ever want to be, (stop glaring at me Eating Animals), but this chili looks so delicious it might convert me.

Have a good Saturday!

A Year By The Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman by Joan Anderson

Ever since I finished Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier, I’ve found myself craving nonfiction because I really wanted Remarkable Creatures to be nonfiction instead of historical fiction.  It put me in a mood to read a memoir or two, so when I went to the library last, I looked around the biography section for something to catch my eye.  I’m not sure what it was exactly about A Year By the Sea that drew me to the cover, except I’m being drawn to these light blue covers prominently featuring a beach.  I didn’t know who Joan Anderson is or why I should care about her year by the sea, but by the end, I became very emotionally invested in Anderson’s story.

The thing is, the description of this book would normally make me put it down and keep looking.  I often find it hard to understand or sympathize with books about older women who leave their husbands who haven’t cheated on them or really done anything wrong; they are just tired of their life so they pick up and move on instead of trying to work on it and understand why they feel the way they do.  Often I feel that the women (and men) portrayed in novels and nonfiction who do that come across as selfish.  I think a lot of this prejudice comes from reading Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, a book I despised.  Fortunately, Joan Anderson’s A Year By the Sea was not a nonfiction version of Fear of Flying, it was nothing like it.  It was incredibly honest and eye-opening about the life of an older woman who has given her entire life to her family, only to find that she needs to spend some time learning about herself.

When her husband receives a job offer across the country, Joan simply says she does not want to move with him.  She is surprised at how easy it is to say and how easy it is to sell her house with her husband and move into their Cape Cod cottage by herself in September, when most people are leaving for the winter.  Joan spends a year by the sea, just as the title suggests, mostly thinking and rediscovering herself.  Most of the time she is completely alone, left to figure everything out, though she does meet some interesting people along the way.

What I was expecting was not necessarily what I got.  I saw a lot of myself in Joan and she made me think a lot about the way I see myself.  I’m not sure I can articulate what usually bothers me about stories where one person leaves a marriage, but I think it is incredibly difficult for a young person to stand on the other side of making the commitment of marriage with someone to understand what that would be like.  What an entire life with someone is like.  I think it’s also terrifying to sit and think, they were once like me, in love and eager to begin life together, and now they have ended up like this.  Is that my fate, too?  I like to think it isn’t, so I don’t necessarily like to read novels and nonfiction that tell me otherwise.

But A Year By the Sea was different.  Joan explained her situation and reflected on her life in such a way that it was all very clear.  Joan, for all the self-discovering she did throughout the book, seems to understand herself better than most.  At some point she meets a woman in her 90s also named Joan who eventually becomes a sort of mentor to the author.  I felt much the same way about the Joan who wrote this book.  She was talking directly to me, explaining that sometimes you need to spend some time to figure yourself out and the only mistake you can really make is thinking you’re always a complete, finished person.  You’re not; we are constantly shifting to understand ourselves better and to make ourselves better people.

This is a book that I can see myself buying and rereading when I need a little reminder to take life slowly and as it comes, to focus on myself once in a while and to not lose sight that I am a constantly changing person and that is okay.  When I looked this book up, I learned that there are three follow up books, something I was very excited to see.  One chronicles the next year, when Joan and her husband move back in together to work on their marriage. The second turns A Year By the Sea into a self-help kind of book, that I’m not exactly sure I’m interested in reading.  But, I’m especially interested in A Walk By the Sea, a book that focuses completely on Joan Erikson, the older woman Joan met on one of her walks through Cape Cod.

Maybe I’m not exactly the target audience for this book, but something about it spoke to me completely.  Were there times when Joan was frustrating and even a little selfish?  Yes.  Were there moments when I didn’t understand her motivations and I sympathized with her husband?  Absolutely.  But Joan puts everything out there.  She is unsure of everything she is doing, but she is prepared to find out if it’s the right thing.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

I used to feel sad on New Year’s Eve, clinging to the old year, never wanting it to be over.  I avoided good-byes for the same reason, clinging to what was, simply because it was known, whereas the future was unknown and therefore to be worried over.  How much fear has controlled my life.  No longer!

My cheeks sting, and my fingers prickle.  I duck into a nearby watering hole and order hot cider, comfortable this day sitting among strangers.  I pat my firm thighs and promise to banish further negative thinking.  Smug about my New Year’s resolutions, I raise my glass to being big, beautiful, feminine, and forever changing, promising to work with my bones and flesh.  After all, bones make new bones if they are exercised, skin sheds itself to make room for fresh flesh, muscles untangle and restore their strength.  I truly have rejoined the human race.  (91)

I’m learning that what’s important is not so much what I do to make a living as who I become in the process.  Simple labor is smoothing my edges, teaching me to crave work not just because it might make me special or wealthy but because the job pleases my spirit, makes me a more pleasant person, and meets my immediate financial needs.  (133)

“I shall miss having secrets,” I told Joan recently.

“Ah, but you must always retain some part of yourself which is nobody’s business.  The minute you let others in on your secrets, you’ve given away some of your strength.”

Here, where much more is hidden than apparent, I am reminded that a companion to mystery is peace; that knowing less and wondering more offers expectancy.  It has become my way to dispense with incessant seeking in favor of stumbling upon answers.  In the words of Picasso, “I find, I do not seek.” No longer desperate to know every outcome, these days I tend to wait and see, a far more satisfying way of being that lacks specificity and instead favors experience over analysis. (164)

I am utterly content, tranquil in my aloneness, serene.  Joan once told me that the root word in Greek for “alone” means “all one.”  That is precisely what I am experiencing, a sense of that sort of wholeness.  (169)

I picked this book up at just the right time.   I’m looking forward to Joan’s other books.

So go read this!: When you need it.  This is another one that I can’t tell you when to read it, maybe you need to just discover it on the shelves for yourself.

Other reviews: Book Girl’s Nightstand, Puss Reboots.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

The thing I really love about dystopian and post apocalyptic fiction is the way the world is revealed.  I love it when the differences and similarities between our world and the future world of the novel are unveiled slowly and seamlessly.  Ship Breaker did that perfectly.  There is that delightful confusion at the beginning, followed by complete understanding of a complex world.  What I loved even more about Ship Breaker was that you were still discovering things about the world by the last page.  There was always more to learn, nothing was told, everything was shown slowly and perfectly.

Paolo Bacigalupi’s dystopian novel is about Nailer, he himself is what is known as a ship breaker, or a worker who goes through the ducts of old oil tankers, now immobile and deteriorating on the beach of the US gulf coast, looking for useful metals to scavenge.  Ship breaker crews live in hope of finding a Lucky Strike, or a hidden collection of oil that can be sold on the black market.  A Lucky Strike could bring in enough money that a ship breaker can buy his or her freedom and be secure for the rest of their life.   When Nailer does get his Lucky Strike, it’s in a way that he doesn’t expect.

I loved pretty much everything about Ship Breaker.  It is original, the characters are believable and sympathetic, the villain is very villainous.  One thing that made me particularly happy was that we never quite learn everything about this world.  There are still more things to discover, explore and understand.  It’s not necessarily that Bacigalupi left things out intentionally for a sequel, it’s just that this world is so rich that there will always be more to flesh out.

This book is made even more poignant by what is happening in the Gulf Coast right now.  To top it all of it is all action, a never ending tour-de-force, without sacrificing emotion.  I can’t wait to read The Wind-Up Girl and whatever else Paolo Bacigalupi writes.

Favorite quotes:

“You think they even know we’re here?” Moon Girl asked.

Pima spat in the sand.  “We’re just flies on garbage to people like that.”

The lights kept moving.  Nailer tried to imagine what it would be like to stand on deck, hurtling across the waves, blasting through spray.  He’d spent evenings staring at images of clippers under sail, pictures that he had stolen from magazines that Bapi kept in a drawer in his supervisor’s shack, but that was as close as he’d ever gotten.  He had spent hours pouring over those sleek predatory lines, studying the sails and hydrofoils, the smooth engineered surfaces so different from the rusting wrecks he worked every day.  Staring at the beautiful people who smiled and drank on the decks.

The ships whispered promises of speed and salt air and open horizons.  Sometimes Nailer wished he could simply step through the pages and escape onto the prow of a clipper.  Sailing away in his imagination from the daily mangle of ship-breaking life.  Other times, he tore the pictures up and threw them away, hating that they made him hungry for things he hadn’t known he’d wanted until he’d seen the sails.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR pile

Also reviewed by: Reading Rants!, Presenting Lenore, Fantasy Book Critic, Kids Lit, Becky’s Book Reviews, Wordbird, The YA YA YAs, Charlotte’s Library, Killin’ Time Reading, Sarah’s Random Musings, Bart’s Bookshelf, books i done read, Dreams and Speculation.

TSS – A big disappointment

I’ve mentioned a couple of times the Color Trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa and usually along with a mention of how much I was enjoying it.  Unfortunately, since I’ve finished the third one in the series I’ve become completely disillusioned with the coming of age story about a young girl,  Ehwa, a hundred years ago or so.  What’s interesting is that I only started feeling this way after I found out that the author is a man.

Forgive me for my uncertainty – Kim is a name that, at least in the US, can be female or male, and the author photograph is a little ambiguous.  So while there were some things about the manwha (Korean comic) that bothered me, the fact that they were coming from the perspective of a woman and it took place in a time where focusing on your marriage prospects was really what you had to look forward to, let me give The Color of Earth a favorable review.  I still don’t necessarily fault the trilogy for the focus on marriage – that probably was the focus of young girls during this time period.  However, now that I know the author is a man, I’m much more uncertain about the way he portrayed the female characters in the Color Trilogy and disagree completely that he writes beautifully from the perspective of a woman.

Eventually,  the little things that bothered me in the first book got worse and worse.  What seemed charming in The Color of Earth, like the overly poetic language, seemed overdone and unrealistic.  But most of all, there were parts that were downright offensive, that no amount of historical setting could correct.  If I sat down with Kim Dong Hwa and told him my concerns, if he defended himself with the setting and difference in time period and culture, I would remind him that even if your setting isn’t modern, your readers are.   There are certain things that are inappropriate, and honestly were probably inappropriate by any standard, not just modern ones.  Also, there should be consistency.  I don’t understand how Ehwa and her mother could be so forward thinking in many ways and yet so backwards in others.  Ehwa seems to understand sex and certainly how her body works, but then is mysteriously naive at other times.

Was this comic realistic?  No, I don’t think so.  It seemed like the author was confused about whether he wanted to be faithful to the time period or if he wanted the setting simply for aesthetic purposes.  And let’s take a break to talk about aesthetics: the Color Trilogy is beautiful and well drawn.

What really intrigues me about this whole experience is the fact that I wasn’t upset by these aspects when I thought they came from a woman.  Why?  Should I have been?  Was there less offensive language and situations in The Color of Earth, so maybe I only noticed it more after I realized the gender of the author?  If the author was a woman, would that make any of what was so disappointing about the Color Trilogy less disappointing? I don’t know.  It’s impossible to say, but I know that I won’t be recommending these books anymore.  There’s just a lot here that I wouldn’t want younger girls reading.  I know that there are a lot of people out there who enjoyed these books, so give them a try and form your own opinion, but I’m going to be returning these to the library without looking back.