Sometimes I’m that mom who doesn’t want you to notice what I’m reading

The world has finally turned its face toward Spring.  It seemed as though it was never coming, and now it is here in a rush, the warmth and the green and the long hours of glorious sunlight all at once.  I don’t need the clip on light for my computer again until Fall, even when I am up at dawn to write.

So I’m happy and I missed it more than I even knew.

I am wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to Mothers, in all permutations, around the world today.

Last year for Mother’s Day I posted on books about mothers.  This year I talk about being a mom while reading unusual Mom-terial.  So it’s about Moms.  Sort of.  It’s a tiny bit about me as a mom.

A few weeks ago I took my son on a Mom guilt assuaging trip to the indoor water park.  I thought bringing along a book was a flash of maternal optimism.  I didn’t think I’d really get enough time to polish off a decent part of a book.

What I learned that day was that it’s glorious to have a child who is old enough and has the inclination to play on his own after my obligatory slide runs and trips around the lazy river.  I soaked up every moment of mom reading glory, at least an hour away from every other obligation and my cell phone locked away in a rented locker.

If I had known I would get that reading time I may have chosen a different book, just in case any other parents in the throes of boredom/relaxation looked over to see what I was reading.  I forget in my avid kindle reading that paper books involve covers.  They don’t have the privacy of an electronic device.  I wrapped my book in my towel when I wasn’t reading not because I didn’t want someone to take it, I didn’t want someone to think I was weird.  I mean, it’s a Hannibal Lecter mask on a bust.  Not the shoe, martini glass or handbag that would slip me into true anonymity.

A Book of Social Science:

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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach us About Success, Kevin Dutton

Although my degree is in Psychology, I wasn’t super excited about this category.  Social science books are interchangeable in my mind with self help books.  Books on how to optimize your brain function and stop being codependent or free you from whatever vices you believe yourself to have. Books that break down the nuts and bolts and provide entire chapters on motivation to even change in the first place.  Nah.  Too basic. Too close to work.

My formally educated father in law bought this book for a plane ride and gave it to me when he arrived in my home on the other side of the country from his home.  He’s an engineer, and although I liked this book, I wondered how relateable this book is to those who are educated but not as much as I am in Psychology.  It is clearly written for those who have learned about research methods and how to be a decent consumer of research, at the very least.  I thought this was a definite plus.  I didn’t have to skip over anything too basic.   It was good at firming up my thoughts on psychopathy, especially as it was framed in terms of its adaptive qualities, which, like any quality, has to exist in an optimal range to be beneficial.  And the best creative nonfiction takes a spin on something,  or a juxtaposition, and this talks about the good aspects of something usually acknowledged as all negative.

It talks about how their emotional recognition functions when identifying their own as well as the emotions of others, the difference between if it is state or trait, if they can shut off these qualities at times when they are no longer beneficial in the situation.  It talks about how it psychopathy even stayed in the gene pool due to its benefits as well as how our cultural icons can be seen in terms of this emotional constellation.  It talks about research in a very poetic and interesting way, posing hypotheses and clearly how well the results fit them.  I would encourage anyone with an interest to pick up the book even without formal schooling on research methods.  I might think I am all fancy with my edumacashin and I might be wrong.

There was a time when I thought I was committed to nonfiction writing forever, around the time I was finishing school and entering a golden and brief period of free time in my life that I killed off four years later by having a child.  I would have liked to write something this informed and poetic and relatable.  I would have liked to do the interviews with the researchers, the psychopaths themselves, and gathered my own body of main studies to review.  I would have liked to do this project coming out of school and I would have aspired to it.  It reminded me of where my heart was about ten years ago, going through rounds of dissertation revisions and hoping I could get a job before it was done, sharing a rented house with a stranger.

So I was someone’s mom in my mom swimsuit (and it’s definitely a mom swimsuit, designed to minimize mom body flaws) reading something completely un momlike, following the professional passion that I had long before I even thought seriously about a baby.  No one asked me why I was reading about psychopaths.  I also read it at the playground and the McDonald’s playplace, and nothing.  I must not be notable when my son isn’t announcing farts and swearing in the big plastic tubes of playplace.  I must not be notable in my mom suit in the sunlight that streams through the ceiling of the water park.  When I am a Mom and my kid is behaving okay it doesn’t matter what I am reading.  I am deliciously invisible.

Noveling rolls forward.  Second draft revisions and flashes of panic that the sequence of events doesn’t hang together or make any sense.  Then coping skills, a major one being that someone will look over this for me and help.

Comments/likes/shares!

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A Haunting Short Read

And not haunting in the way I usually mean it, with the ghost stories I love and post on here so much.  A different kind of haunting. The haunting of madness.

But before I get to that, I am stretching and getting limber for the next lap of noveling.  Getting all loosed up at the start line.  Shaking off the nerves and making my best effort not to overthink everything.

This post is an excellent excuse for procrastination.  And the fact that I can confidently say we have reached Spring where I live and I have been working on the spring chores, like changing out clothes and bagging up what won’t fit my son next winter, which is, like, everything.  My husband is putting out the warm weather furniture and entertainments.

I am having trouble with reading, though because the book for today is one of the last quick books I have on BookRiot that I haven’t done.  My posthumous book, my book of true crime, my post colonial literature, my protagonist over the age of 60, my sci fi book written by a female with a female protagonist…all need more attention than I might be able to give when I am in the bowels of noveling.  I am halfway through another book to post on, my social science book, so maybe I can get through that one in time to keep the posts flowing…

I am only on 19 books this year.  For someone who can get to 100 that’s very slow, but I can read every year.  It’s not every year I have a writing teacher helping me getting my novel to its full potential.  And when I read a lot I have this nagging feeling I am not writing enough.

A one sitting book:

 

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The Vegetarian, Han Kang

This one has been hanging out on the TBR for a year, since it became highly lauded and in my face.  There are a ton of eligible books for this category, both books I already have and books that I could get at the library.  But this one, in all its haunting beauty, was what it had to be.

This is about madness, but, as madness doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it is about family too.  It is about a woman who stops eating meat in response to delusions about what is inside her body.  She is unrecognizable from the beginning to the end in this book. She is unremarkable and obedient in the beginning and breaks all those things with her symptoms, spiraling downward, shattering her family and leaving only her sister to hang on to her through the madness and trying to save her.  She starts out accepting the norms of her world and ends up being unable to live within them.

I am perusing the reviews on Goodreads and I have decided that I liked this because I understand and have met people suffering intensely from schizophrenia.  People thought it was intense and absorbing and others really felt that they didn’t ‘get’ it.  Psychotic symptoms are psychotic symptoms because they defy typical experience.  A person experiencing a world that most people don’t experience. They also can change with the cultural context.

Many reviewers wanted the book from the protagonist’s viewpoint, but I don’t know if the madness could be better explained if it was her viewpoint.  I liked the snippets that we got, the moments when she was able to describe to a character what was happening for her, the faces inside her body, the symptoms being a reaction to her intense traumatic nightmares.  She had her own logic.  She was psychotic.  And that was enough.

I oddly listened to this on a day trip for my friend’s baby’s christening.  Driving to a ceremony that is about belonging and listening to a story about a woman who is breaking away from all the belonging she has as her sister tries to anchor her to the world that she has long ago left behind.  Ironic.

I liked that this could be put down in a few hours.  It might have been too intense if it was longer, or had to get deeper into some other characters, for people to be able to hang in there to finish it.  But I enjoyed it.

Round 2 of noveling shall begin and I will wrestle down more books.  But I will stop complaining about spring leaving me hanging, as it has finally decided to show up.

Comments/Likes/shares!!

 

The Natural Choice for my Nature Read

I just had to yell at someone on the phone to do something I needed to be done via customer service.  The last thing the company wants me to do.  I had to bust it out.  I have some conscience about it because that’s not my standard operating procedure and I ended politely but man.  It’s time to write my post now to cover a much more fun item on the to do list for this day.  This day that is promising that spring is real.

My toenails are even painted.  A sure sign of warmer days to come.

I might have poured me a drink but lets press on, shall we?

I really like it when BookRiot coincides with items I have had on the TBR and already own.  This one came highly lauded from all angles, so it was inevitable, so when my library website said it counted under the nature genre, the decision was MADE.  In a matter of moments, which is impressive, because nature is something I am more likely to read if I wander into the less familiar and less loved territory of the nonfiction.  I had many contenders for this, even among my current collection of kindle and audiobooks.  Like, The Secret Life of Lobsters, which I also want to read.  And a book on reading the clues in water!

For a lot of years grad school seduced me into thinking that nonfiction would be my eventual publishing jam.  And nonfiction is a beautiful thing.  If you can pull off a good juxtaposition between two seemingly disparate things, I will sit back and marvel at your artistry.

And that is exactly what I did.

A Book About Nature:

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H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald

The only thing that isn’t excellent about this novel, other than the fact that this is a true story of MacDonald’s descent into the blackness of depression, is the title.  I understand it’s high praise.  It even manages to cling to four stars on Amazon after over 1400 reviews, which I also consider a feat because when I am looking up prizewinners some of them only bat a solid three and with not nearly so many reviews.  But H is for Hawk sounds…elementary. And while reconciling with one of nature’s beasts can be thought of as elemental, I would hardly consider it elementary.  And the title makes it sound so.

The surprise in this mesmerizing work was her ties to TH White and one of my favorite childhood stories, The Sword in the Stone.  Of course it was the Disney movie that I really loved and continue to love to this day, not necessarily the actual book that White wrote that I did find and read over a summer in high school.  I did love that too, but the realities and non disney-fied elements of medieval England aren’t quite the same.  I prefer my Disney-esque illusions and I know I am not alone in this.  Also, interesting, he wrote another edition in the fifties that left out the fight with Madam Mim, which was one of my favorite bits of the movie, and I consider that kind of editing a travesty.

But she talks about the parallels between her relationship with a hawk she buys after her father’s death for focus and carrying out a passion that had started when she was a child to his book, The Goshawk, and his repressed, unrealized life.  And how his later creative works fit into that.  I got to better know a man I had had some interest in and didn’t know that I would when I picked this book up.  So that was the fun surprise element for me.  I knew it was about her relationship with a wild hawk, I knew she struggled with a complicated grief, but I did not know that I would better know someone who wrote something that I loved as a child.  Bonus.

She weaves her narrative of grief and losing her ground with the history of England as well as her family, with how the two wars shaped the emotional landscape of the country.  Having never lived in a country at a time where people had lived through a war on our soil, I don’t always think about how it shapes a nations’ consciousness.

And it helps generate some empathy with mental illness.  Because grief is so common I feel that people are more understanding with it in general, but anything that helps not paint the suffering black is always something I can support.

It’s a heavy book but it kept me reading and listening.  My noveling slowed between drafts so I was able to download a book to ravage in the course of a week.  And I loved it. I loved being back in a book for a week.

This book is heavy but it is poetic, somehow magical without having any magic in it, and worth your time.

Plus, there’s the magic of Spring and the magic of having drafted another novel, so I know that magic is real.

Comments/likes/shares!!!

Two takes on a classic Russian tale

It is quite a coincidence that both of the books in this post involve snow that doesn’t belong.  Halfway through April we get a sheet of ice where I live, where other people not that far from me are posting warm days outside with small children.

It could be why I feel like I am hosting Sunday brunch with all the tiny birds in the neighborhood.  Even a pair of ducks. The weather just won’t cooperate to feed them.

I sometimes listen to the Myths and Legends podcast on my way home on Wednesdays when my evening commute is at its longest.  I do it to fresh up on basic available plot elements, just to help them be more available when my writing brain needs them. He did  Vasilisa the Beautiful and I was like oh!  I should write that in modern times! I could make the nefarious Baba Yaga sooo cool!

And then The Bear and the Nightingale and Vassa in the Night came to my attention, so my idea was already long taken.  What do you do in such irritation?  Buy them both, of course!  And then read your face off in a weekend to be able to review them in the same post!  Living the dream, people.

I wish I had written either one of these.  I’d be happy with that.

While they share the same fairy tale as a starting point, these are two very different books.

A book set in or about one of the five BRICs countries:

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The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden

This was almost scooped by my recent purchase of An Association of Small Bombs, but this one is YA and not quite so real life.  And it waited and pined for me longer.

While the plot line diverges from the original, I think the atmosphere reflects the intention of the original fairy tale. There is still Vasilisa, who is somewhat beautiful, a wicked stepmother, and some supernatural gifts.  A bird that cannot be caged by the lot of women in that day and time.

It evokes the cold and dark, the people living on the edge of survival in a severe climate of months of winter (sounds familiar lately!), which I think is in the spirit of the original.  And I suppose I can get over my ire with Katherine Arden because she actually lived in Russia a year before creating her own retelling of the tale, so she was better suited. But while there is the frost king, there is only a hint of mention of Baba Yaga.  The magic/spiritualism lies in a man, Konstantin, coming to their town telling them to turn away from the nature and demon worship they engage in to stay alive and keep the nefarious forces bound and at bay, in favor of the one Christian God.  This wreaks havoc, of course, and Vasilisa, who shares her ability to see the demons with her stepmother in a delicious plot element, helps to save her people from the damage caused by people turning away from their nature worship.  While her stepmother is afraid of the demons she sees, Vasilisa communicates with them and befriends them, and is simultaneously hated by her stepmother for it.  And I do like that the relationship between Vasilisa and her half sister Irina is close and loving instead of spoiled, like it was in the original.

Even though the plot diverges more from the story that I know, it was atmospheric and beautiful, and I liked that Vasilisa finds a way out of the typical entrapments available to adult women to continue on the story of her being in her power and being herself.  I love love love a witch and I love an unexpected and retold tale.  Even if I did want it to be my story, I can concede that she pulled it off. And of course there is a sequel, so this also counts for the first book in a new to you YA or middle grade series.

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Vassa in the Night, Sarah Porter

So, I loved When I Cast Your Shadow, so Vassa in the Night, although published sooner, had somewhat of a bar to reach.  A standard.  A high standard that I would need a step stool to reach myself.  I didn’t like it as much as When I Cast Your Shadow, but I don’t love Porter’s work any less than I did.

Vassa sticks more closely to the original story of Vasilisa the beautiful, but set in modern day Brooklyn. I am glad I wasn’t peeking at this one There is Baba Yaga, the wooden doll, the hateful part sister, and the journey to bring light back to her house.  The prologue is gorgeous and made me excited that I was digging into another Porter novel, when the night is trapped by Baba Yaga.

You can’t love Sarah Porter unless you are okay with things becoming completely weird and gruesome.   Unless you crave it. I don’t know how it is with her Lost Voices trilogy,  but in this one and When I Cast Your Shadow, people have bloody deaths, maybe a resurrection, and things completely spinning off their axes in the lives of the characters.  Weird creepy horror times a million.  Maybe some body parts animated past the times of their deaths.  That sort of thing.

She better develops the relationship between Vassa and her late mother and the doll.  It is really its own subplot in the middle of the main plot madness other than just Vassa’s help like it is in the original.   There was a better  reason for her stepmother to despise her, other than in that possessive of your man, fairy tale way.  Vassa is stronger in herself and her sense of family after the twisty and strange debacle, much like Arden’s Vasilisa.

Of course I love Vassa and want to write her, she doesn’t take any crap.

And I think the reason I liked her other book better was I loved how she perfectly wrote the ambivalence of family members toward someone who is using.  How you can love and hate them and those feelings can polarize whole families.  Members who are pulled in and duped and still love fiercely, those who stand back for self preservation and are painted as enemies because their refusal to enable is cast as ‘not understanding’.  Vassa had its relationship depth, but not the artfulness of how she wrote that family dynamic.

Both of these books feature beautiful writing and those statements about life you didn’t know were true until you read them and you knew they were true all along.  You love the dark, the minor demons who aren’t the real antagonists, the magical twists and how Vasilisa is magical in her own.

I feel like fairy tales lend themselves well to re-tellings because the characters are flat.  You already know what they have to do but you can color in your own motives and backstories. You can make a classic plot that already has its staying power your own.

I am at a point with my novel where I am not in the heat of drafting and I am meeting with my teacher before I spiral into the passion of the revision.  So I used that tiny bit of space to read a second book and get in one of them on audio!  (Vassa.  It didn’t have whispersync and I have used my audible credits a full month before they refresh.) The luxury.  Maybe I should have split this into two posts so when I am back into the fervent novel work I still have another post on deck to buy me time.  But I am glad I didn’t put this on hold to novel.  This is a welcome change of pace.  A break from the anxiety when I am stalled.

Comments/likes/shares!  Pls.

A River Runs Through the TBR

My post today is due to a lucky intersection of my love of the new release shelf at the library and being stuck in my novel.

My TBR could be all new fiction releases.  It really could.  And as I am tearing into today’s book while my son plays at the library I am going back and forth with myself over if it could be a social science book or a nature book for BookRiot.

And then I was like, why does it matter?  I can read and review anything I want and it doesn’t have to fit into a challenge.  It’s Oliver Sacks’ last book.  It’s been on my Amazon wish list since I learned of it.  And when it’s shining at me in its library issue apocalypse proof dust jacket from the new releases cube it becomes mine for the next four weeks with no thought.

And this is what reading can be about, too. Expanding horizons but going back to the old loves.  So I am letting myself read a book before the challenge is completed.  The joy of the book I see on the internet in front of me in all its accessible and free glory.  I can’t forget that.  I can’t forget how I used to choose books as a kid:  some my mother told me to read, but then sometimes I went to the library with the only agenda of combing the shelves to find some unknown gem that I needed to entertain me next.  I used to go to the library before a camping trip and pile up four or five of the things and get through them in a week of binge reading punctuated by being outdoors.

River of Consciousness, Oliver Sacks

The last collection of his own essays that he put together, knowing that his death was imminent. I am not counting this even as a posthumous book because this is the year I am reading The Master and Margarita for that.  And it’s his essays, not an anthology.  I am almost embarrassed at how hard I tried to fit this into a category when it was early March when I picked it up and have a ripe 10 months to go to get through a 24 book challenge with a one sitting book and another comic book I have not gotten to on the list.

Oliver Sacks lived one of the academic lives in this world I wish to have a chance to live.  I say academic because he lived through the Second World War in England as a young child and I’ll pass on that.  But in Sacks’ writing he brings back the fascination of the world of science and neurology.  I always looked at an article that would get in the New Yorker of his because I knew it would take me into territory I had not been in before.   He brings back the magic and mystery to science in a world that has imagery now and unbelievable technology.

Even after my fancy psych degree, he adds to my understanding of evolution and the social history of science, as well as explaining the hard to understand neurological concepts behind the functioning of the brain.  He talks about rare case studies, which is how I started reading him in college with An Anthropologist on Mars, but in this book he also considerably talks about the history of discoveries and their context.

It always looks to me like Sacks is playing in his writing, gathering up the existing ideas to challenge our conceptions or help us understand them.  It reminds me of the enjoyment I honestly derived from putting together college papers, learning something new via my research and my own joy of discovery.  The nerdery is real.

There is a fascinating essay in this book on how the changes in the brain can change not only someone’s speed in interacting but their conception of time and how it can be drastically different from what is measured on the clock.  He writes about ideas that were right way before their time but discarded and forgotten about because there was no knowledge base or context with which to understand them.  He writes about how creativity is fundamentally different than virtuosity and how something completely new comes from what has already been done.  He writes about hiccups in neurology that increase our understanding of the typical functions of the brain. He talks about the work of Darwin, the work of Freud pre-psychoanalysis and the times when science was looking at brain function as a collection of centers responsible for a specific task.   He talks about science when it was about classification and description and moving into explanation and theory of why something is the way it is.  And the consciousness of life forms previously thought to have less self awareness than they might in all reality have.

If you like nature, and science, and neurology and social science and the history of scientific discovery, Sacks’ written for an educated public dabbling is absolutely ideal.  I can’t read too much of his neurological accidents because I start to worry that my own brain is too delicate a network of functions that could go awry at any moment of my life leading to any number of weird debilitating conditions.  Conditions that would force me to rely on my own neuroplasticity to overcome more than the fancy medicine of today. While this fear is not entirely without ground I have too many other things to think about while I hope to not have something like that happen to me and take reasonable measures to prevent it, like driving safely and trying to eat more plant based foods than cheeseburgers.  Mmm, cheeseburgers.  And crappy Mom wine.  Sometimes Diet Dr. Pepper.  Anyway.

I am stuck trying to add a villain motivation in my novel.  The one motivation that he does have is not enough and there is a duality that exists and both sides of the duality need explanation.  Can’t just have gratuitous evil with nowhere to go.  I mean, maybe you can, but I don’t want those of my ilk saying, ‘it could have been better if this particular aspect had more use in the context of the story.’  It would be a missed opportunity, right?  Like every time something comes along in your life that you would be really proud of yourself for pulling off but to actually get there is an obstacle course of setbacks, self doubt and general suck.

Comments/Likes/Shares!  Any villains want to share some motives with me?  What about people who also have a deep love for Oliver Sacks and his prolific contributions to the understanding of the fascinating natural world?  Please let me know.

 

The YA choice for BookRiot

My hope is that when this entry is posted that it will be an unarguable Spring in the Northeast. I can’t anymore with the freezing temperatures in the morning, having to defrost my car when I get in so I can see out the windshield,  getting into the warm weather clothing stash in my closet just to see if it’s worth wearing with leggings and cardigans. The geese coming through seem to be making the best of it, although I can’t imagine dealing with this if I had gotten a break from the cold this year.  I saw them trying to expand their ice holes the other morning, kicking along the fragile sheets of ice.  I am kind of scared of geese and I think if my son ever approached one while it was eating my yard the goose would probably eat him, but I have to respect their attempts to make use of and expand the paltry amount of open water there is.

“No, geese don’t like to be petted.”

I think it’s clear to any reader of this blog that I love YA.  I will always tackle that category with relish when given the chance.   So this one required little motivation but a lot of decision making. If I was in my usual constant state of binge reading there would be fewer decisions required but when you are cherry picking books for the sliver of time you have left for them with your fervent noveling you have to be choosy.  Something you can eat alive and enjoy every moment.

The first book in a new to you YA or Middle Grade series:

 

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny Han

So the cover of this suggests something a little lighter than what this actually ended up being.  The cursive lettering, the dreamy girl writing on her bed. Not that this was a heavy read, but in a pleasant twist of events, this book really isn’t about the boys. Not at its heart.  It is about the changes when sisters grow up and their relationships change, especially when the sisters relationship is complicated by a dead mother and a smaller sister that the older two are committed to caring for in her stead.  They are sisters, they are mother and daughter, they are like coparents. There is a father but he is a physician so he is there for them when he can be. He worries about them and sometimes cooks, but he’s around enough not to make the novel’s family dysfunctional.

I am close with my sister and it was hard for me when she left to college, and she had a boyfriend who practically lived at our house at the end of her high school career, so it struck me too, although my sister didn’t try to control and parent me the way the oldest does when she goes away over the ocean (which I was completely annoyed at her for doing, given how dedicated she was to keeping her home running and how her younger sister, while capable, was hardly prepared to fill her shoes).  The twist there was though that I never had any attraction to her boyfriend and in this story the sisters are so close in age that there was some of that after she left. The boys who liked my sister were usually about four years older than I was and to a child/tween that seems eons older.  Worlds apart. Full decades, when in my thirties I married a man eleven years my senior. So that part thankfully I never had to deal with. But I liked this. It was character driven more than it was plot driven. It was about the main character Lara Jean growing up over the course of a few months and facing some of her own fears of being in a  real relationship with a boy. She kind of wants to be a kid forever, but that’s hard to do when you notice boys and they notice you.

So this is fun, I can see where it would resonate with a teenaged girl without being too fluffy or boy focused.  There are two more books that I do have some interest in reading, especially since the author leaves off with the main romance unresolved. The sister stuff has come to a resolution but you are left wondering what happens with her and the boy.  More proof to me that this book isn’t at its core about the boys. And although adults like to criticize teen girls for being ‘all about the boys’ they are usually only so when they don’t have a strong base at home and they are looking for basic emotional needs to be met instead of having fun.  Teen girls are usually still closely tied to their home. And these girls are too.

Noveling is working in its fits and starts.  I am finishing the first draft of scenes and will be getting to go back through again and revise based on the story I have found within.  Still hard, still need to be sure I make time for it this weekend, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as first draft set of scenes is concerned. Although the next draft might feel more like draft one and a half instead of a second draft because I started it ⅔ in and I am figuring out the first third of setup now.  Which wasn’t intentional, I just went with what I knew I wanted to happen and then when holes came up I backed up and added some bigger plot pieces to pull it all together. You know, brain stuff.  All of the brain stuff.

Comments/likes/shares!  Come on spring!

 

All the fun with a little less cringe

I am a little disappointed in myself for how long it actually took me to read the book I am posting about today.

My only excuse is that it was always expensive on Kindle and I have a hard time taking books seriously when they have recipes in them.  I don’t know, I always expect that it will make the book maudlin. The high recommendation combined with the recipes made me think, oh yea, this one will rot my teeth for sure.

Even though it is Latin American Magical Realism, which I should have known by now is always tempered with tragedy, loss and longing.  And this one was no different:

A Classic of Genre Fiction:

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Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel

This one is always near the top of the list for classic Magical Realism.  I would describe it as 100 Years of Solitude Lite.  All the taste and half the fat. All the same themes, time and place, and family imbroglios without the constant cringe worthy incest, which definitely raises it in my estimation.

A young woman refused permission to marry her one true love in the world, and instead he marries her sister in order to be closer to her, and then all the mess that that creates, along with an overbearing and abusive mother with her own closet full of skeletons.  Throw in some babies that she is denied, political upheaval that flirts occasionally with the plot line, some family ghosts and supernaturally charged sexual desire (that is NOT toward relatives!) along with the recipes and you have it.  The only element it doesn’t share with 100 Years of Cringes is the Biblical length lifespan of the characters.  People live around as long as they are supposed to.  Oh yeah and there isn’t treasure hidden in the yard.

And the food part with the recipes does not make it maudlin.  The protagonist’s feelings are communicated through her usually perfect cooking:  her devastation, her elation, her bitterness.  And she is full of it.  Esquivel jerks her protagonist around enough to make plenty of recipes that don’t come out just perfect.  And the ending is not satisfying to boot.  Just so you all are aware.

I have two other magical realism books on the list dealing with food, The Cake Therapist and Chocolat, and I will be interested to see if food is the same vehicle for communicating feelings as it is for this one. Also, I really need to get to Borges and his Ficciones, which predates Marquez, Allende, and Esquivel.

If you love the Magical Realism genre, specifically the South American brand, you can’t miss this.    I see some reviews up of people who just don’t have a taste for the random and intense plotting.  Maybe the ones who not only expected this to be maudlin but wanted it to be.  I didn’t want that.

So, even though it has been awhile since I have been on my magical realism bent, it’s still here and it continues to be a goal.  They are still on my TBR, whether it is Northern European magical realism or the original examples of the genre.  My instructor says the novel I am drafting is magical realism.

I intentionally am posting this on a Saturday because I hope people are enjoying Easter Sunday with their families.

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