Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Falling Man, Don DeLillo, Scribner, 2007, 246 pp

For a long time, I could not bring myself to read any novel concerning 9/11. Even though I realize that it's what writers do (write about what goes on in the world) I felt a squeamish repugnance to the idea of turning that event into fiction. I broke through this objection when I read Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, a book I truly admired.

I've never read Don DeLillo before and to his credit, he waited a full six years before publishing his 9/11 novel. According to what I gather about his earlier novels, he is a writer who was destined to write such a book. But you know what? I thought I was basically over the whole disturbing gory thing and that I had "moved on" to bemoaning our government's inept response. Well, I wasn't over it.

Falling Man put me right back there, watching those images over and over on TV and feeling the shock and awe which the terrorists clearly wanted Americans to feel. A man walks out of the first tower, covered in ash, wounded and disoriented. He keeps walking until he reaches the apartment of his wife and son, from whom he had separated some time earlier.

For the rest of the story this man, who of course was not in good shape beforehand, tries to find his way in his life. So does his wife, his son, his mother-in-law and various friends of his. None of them really do. The reactions of these people rang true to me. I realized that because I was not there in New York and in fact knew no one personally who suffered or died, I was detached. Possibly a huge percentage of Americans were also detached. As horrific as the TV news and images were, we are so inured to violence, destruction and war as delivered to us by the media, that it all seemed a bit unreal.

DeLillo has made it very real through these individual characters and their extremely personal feeling and thoughts and actions. Ultimately for these characters, a huge disconnection with their fellow man resulted. Some try to connect again, some give up and simply become more weird than they already were.

When I finished I was glad to be out of the story. It doesn't actually have a climax; it just ends. But now the story was in me and I was so thankful that I had a reading group to go to, to discuss, to get it out of my system, to process some of my emotion, to connect.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Today's word is quiddity again read in the New York Times Book Review.

It has two definitions and the second definition fits the context in which I read it.

quiddity noun 1 the essential quality of a thing
2 a trifling distinction, quibble
from Middle Latin quidditas from Latin quid what, neuter of quis who

My sentence: Your quiddity about the sauce not being truly French cuisine didn't seem to hamper your enjoyment of it.

If you wish to contribute a sentence just click the comments button at the end of this post.


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson, Alfred A Knopf, 2008, 465 pp

This financial thriller, set in Sweden, has already been a bestseller in Europe. The author spent his life fighting racial and religious intolerance, exposing neofascism in Europe. He completed a trilogy of thrillers and then died in 2004. This is the first of the three novels and is written in a refreshing new style and voice while resting firmly in the Ludlum, Grisham, Baldacci thriller tradition.

The closest I've ever been to Sweden was a horrific 5 hour layover in Amsterdam airport on the way home from Paris last year, so I was initially challenged by unfamiliar names of streets, cities, persons, magazines, newspapers and other elements of modern Swedish life. But the story is exciting and smart and ultra modern, comprising a closed-room murder mystery, a dastardly financial villain, psychopathic descendants of Nazis and the girl in the title. She is in fact an extra mystery all in herself and as good as any heroine in a Neal Stephenson novel.

I could tell that it was a first novel, though that could be partly due to the translation, but except for a few clunky sections, Larsson dept me turning the pages. There is a decidedly European take on love and sex, again refreshing compared to the American psychosis of puritanism vs porn. I suspect a bit of hype in the title because I was let down by the ending as concerns the dragon tattooed girl, but presumably there will be more about her in the sequels.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The God of Animals, Aryn Kyle, Scribner, 2007, 305 pp

This book was recommended to me by a co-worker at the bookstore, who is herself a budding writer. I loved it and will be putting it on my top favorites list for the year. It is a first novel and only strengthened my opinion that we are in a Golden Age of new novelists.

Alice Winston is 12 years old and lives a young life of quiet desperation on a run-down horse ranch in a small Colorado desert town. Her older sister, Alice's idol and and an excellent prize winning horse woman, has run off with a rodeo cowboy. The mother of the family has been bedridden with a case of postpartum depression, having rarely left her room since the day Alice was born.

As she tries to be the good daughter and right hand man to her overworked, demanding yet reticent father, Alice is looking, listening, actually lurking in life, trying to understand what the hell is going on. The author masterfully creates the environment of horse ranch and desert small town life juxtaposed with the new rich on the other irrigated side of town, who board their horses at the ranch and send their daughters for riding lessons.

I grew to love Alice and to feel her search for love and understanding like it was my own. Her tragedies, her moments of triumph and breakthroughs in figuring our what happened in her family are all revealed in a haunting prose, as spare as the desert, that is some of the most effortless reading I have done.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Today's word is eremite, read in the New York Times Book Review. It means a religious recluse; a hermit. It comes from Middle English from Old French ermite, hermite.

My sentence: After years of prayer and meditation in a remote monastery, the eremite returned to a world changed beyond recognition.

Sentence anyone?


Becoming Abigail, Chris Abani, Akashic Books, 2006, 121 pp

In this novella, Abani's follow-up to Graceland, a young African woman is brought to London by her uncle and put into the sex trade. It is a harrowing story of loss and abuse set amid the ancient sites of modern day London. Through the eyes of Abigail, you see both the clash of culture as well as the universal theme of men using women.

It is beautifully written but highly disturbing. Even when Abigail finds love, it cannot save her. I am not sure I really liked it. One of the darkest stories I have ever read.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Hope's Boy, Andrew Bridge, Hyperion, 2008, 303 pp

Andrew Bridge was taken from his mother by Social Services in Los Angeles when he was seven years old and raised in foster care until he was 18. This is his memoir. He went on to become a lawyer all on his own efforts without help from anyone and is now an advocate for children in foster care.

As usual I tore through this book in 12 hours with only a break for making and eating dinner. I still don't understand my fascination for the orphan/abandoned child story. I've had it since I was five years old.

The writing is not great but it does the job. Bridge indulges in virtually no self pity. He emphasizes how he never stopped loving or missing his mother, who ended up in a mental health facility. He seems to be in favor of families staying together unless it is utterly impossible to help the family. I am starting to agree with this position and perhaps that is the direction my novel should take.

Monday, September 08, 2008


I had a rough week in reading. I was doing OK on my 50 pages a day of The Second Sex but by Tuesday I just could not bring myself to read it. It is highly interesting though the writing style is a bit scholarly, but also highly disturbing. I found myself getting upset, angry, sad and just generally feeling sort of crazy, as I read about the history of woman in society, the patriarchal views and the myths of man toward woman. The worst part was noticing the ways I have fallen under the influence of it all. But then, that is part of my quest in writing the memoir; to discover my own journey to full self hood as a female.

Last Monday, I had an attack of book lust and went to a bookstore (not the one where I work). I bought a book about writing, a book on how to write biography and Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman, who is married to Michael Chabon. I read a good deal of the book on writing and got inspired to work on my novel again, except then I did not write a word.

I also read a memoir about growing up and reading called An Open Book by Michael Dirda, one of my favorite book reviewers. Through the second half of the week I felt somewhat ill, due to either the heat or allergies or that ****ing sex book, who knows. Finally on Saturday, I cracked open The Second Sex and got going on it again. It is still disturbing but I can tell that I will get through it and be better for it.

I also read Three Cups of Tea in full this weekend and though I was prepared to be somewhat bored, I was fascinated. It is a great story, full of hope, and I learned much about Pakistan, Afghanistan, terrorists, Muslims, just the whole scene that we have been living in for seven years. How appropriate with September 11, 2008 coming up this week.

What have you been reading? I really want to know!


Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf, Harcourt Inc, 1925, 190 pp

Mrs Dalloway is not a person I would care to know or hang out with, so despite my readiness to be impressed by Virginia Woolf's fiction, I found this book a long and sleepy go. The story covers one day in the life of Mrs Dalloway. She is giving a party in the evening in her home in London, a society affair, so we follow her through the day as she gets ready and through the party itself. A few other characters are also living through that day in London, though not all interact with Clarissa Dalloway.

One of these characters is Peter Walsh, a former flame whom Clarissa almost married 30 years earlier. You get back stories on all these characters which makes the one day a device for telling several stories at once and for taking up topics such as love, marriage, careers, society, politics and the Great War.

I was reminded most of Jane Austen in the style of writing and the subject matter, though the story is in the 20th century. According to the introduction to the edition I read (Harcourt Annotated, 2005), Woolf was part of a whole group of writers including T S Eliot, D H Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield and James Joyce, who were each attempting to modernize poetry and the novel. Due to Sigmund Freud also publishing at that time, psychology was a big subject, though Woolf, who had mental issues herself, did not care for or respect her male doctors' application of psychology to her. This aversion comes through in Mrs Dalloway.

In any case, I have now read the book; I will read the rest of her fiction one day. I consider it part of my literary education. Since My Big Fat Reading Project begins in 1940, I have missed almost half of the 20th century, so I will have to fill that in eventually. Next in this particular study is to read The Hours by Michael Cunningham and then see the movie.

Here is a quote from Woolf's essay "How Should One Read a Book?: "The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions."

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


All About Lulu, Jonathan Evison, Soft Skull Press, 2008, 338 pp

I learned about this book in the Poets and Writers Magazine feature called "Page One," where they print the first sentence of several books. All About Lulu is a first novel by a young author and is excellent.

Will Miller, Jr, is the son of a body builder who used to be a hippie. (I love all these stories about kids raised by hippies and former hippies because of me and my kids.) Will is the wuss of the family while his younger twin brothers are sturdy and follow their dad into body building. But the mom dies when Will is 8, followed by a new wife who brings into the family her daughter Lulu. Will and Lulu are the same age and become best friends who fall in love as they reach puberty.

However there is a problem and a deep dark secret concerning Will and Lulu. The reader figures this out before Will does, but in the end that does not matter. This is Will's coming-of-age tale told by him and though Lulu, her mother and Big Bill have their own stories, these are all seen through Will's eyes.

All About Lulu is a tragedy, but is filled with humor, satire and an authentic hipness. I don't know how old Jonathan Evison is but he has not forgotten the teen experience, not one whit. He has also got the college years right. When the whole truth about Lulu comes out and Will gets his closure, at first I thought that section might have been better written. It was all so well, well. Then I realized that is the way it is at that age in the 21st century.

This is a very fine first novel. I eagerly await more from Evison and feel once again optimistic about the fiction of the future. (I sent Evison an email, which he answered, and he has another novel coming out in 2009!)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


The Angel of Galilea, Laura Restrepo, Random House Inc, 1997, 193 pp

I have found a new author to love. She is Colombian, she is literary and political in life, but she has an element of the magical/spiritual in her writing.

In this novel, Mona is a frustrated journalist in Bogota, Columbia, making her living writing junk for a tabloid. When she is sent to cover sightings of an angel in the slums, she falls headlong into a whole other world, as well as headlong in love with the angel. The angel means many different things to many different people, as angels often do. Is he truly from God, a sexual deviant, a psychotic or the work of the devil?

In the process of trying to love and save this being, Mona is brought face to face with the evils and glories of life in her city and revives a certain deadness in her heart. I liked the several juxtapositions that Restrepo sets up as well as her humorous and pointed remarks about modern life in Columbia.

This is possibly her first novel (it is always hard to tell with foreign fiction) and she has at least five more which I look forward to reading.