For the Love of Epistolary Novels, Part 2

We have made it to March!  Where the impact of snowstorms is not as severe and there is more light to drive in!  And Spring…it’s nigh….so nigh…

I have been to Washington DC during peak cherry blossom season.  It’s even better in person.

Setting myself up to even read two of any BookRiot category feels like a lot in some of the listed ones I haven’t ventured into (like manga.  Comics are taking the place of my dreading of the celebrity memoir), but it it easier when BookRiot posts their recommendations for these.  Four is certainly too many, but here we are.  I explained in my last post their appeal to me:  the shorter chunks of chapters, the enjoyment I have always gleaned out of remote correspondence and the memories I have had falling in love over correspondence.  And even though that love didn’t work out long term, I wouldn’t have changed it.

I also blame BookRiot a little for pointing out that these two books today also fit the category and they were already on the TBR.  So I had to do it. They made me.

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple

Now this is one of those books that I felt I saw on Amazon and Audible, like, all the time.  I don’t know if it was like, designed to catch my eye all the time or it really was always there when it first came out.   This catchy cover was also the very same one that pushed the book further down the TBR.  It does not represent the true depth of this novel, much like the horrible cover on My Brilliant Friend It’s not ugly, it just made this book look so much fluffier than it really was, like it was full of problems even my white butt would find it hard to care about.  I should have noticed the thousands of stars it got because that many stars don’t lie, and they didn’t let me down now.

Bernadette is a woman who has always been out there a little in terms of her creativity, energy and vision, and doesn’t recover from an emotional setback followed by some miscarriages.  When we meet her, we don’t know all this yet, she just looks like a funny, smart, privileged, agoraphobic stay at home Mom living in a crumbling house and eating takeout dinners nightly with her daughter and rich Microsoft programmer husband.  She plans to go to Antarctica as a reward to her gifted child and starts to unwind further as she is pushed even more past her comfort zone than her life has already done thus far.   She doesn’t spend as much of this novel physically lost as the title would suggest.  I got halfway through and she was still physically with the family.  I could tell that mentally and emotionally she was hanging out on the fringes at times but she didn’t evaporate until 60% through.  And the part I liked about that was she tried to let her daughter know where she was.  As a grownup I don’t feel nearly as accountable to other adults as I do my son.

This was compulsively readable.  I was up hours past my bedtime two nights in a row because of it.  I read it in two nights and I never touched my audio edition.  I don’t think that has ever happened in my history of audible.  It did a few things well:  I liked all the different viewpoints.  I like the depth about why she was so unhappy.  It was more than a privileged woman not getting what she wanted. I liked that her actions were reasonable when told from her perspective but also would cause alarm when her distracted, non mental health trained husband got wind of them.  The characters were believable and the reader could easily see from all of their viewpoints.  I liked the author’s knowledge of the fields discussed and the settings.  Just really well done all around.  The movie is out in a month!

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Attachments, Rainbow Rowell

I have wanted to read Rainbow Rowell for awhile.  Her books look funny, contemporary and fun.  I didn’t realize until the notes at the end that Attachments is her first novel.

A man who is paid to review computer use where he works falls in love with a coworker whose email exchanges he reads with her friend at work.  Rowell’s writing is funny, insightful and sharp. The dialogue between the friends is hilarious, believable and relatable, my having been a young woman talking with friends at work like that not so long ago.  I’m older now so I don’t talk about wanting to be engaged or a mom (check and check…luckily).

My only issue with it was that she really dragged out the main character and the love interest meeting.  I felt that the story could have been shorter and still have been satisfying.  The inevitable meet up is satisfying and dramatic.  I can empathize with how her writer’s brain puzzled it out to make the meetup unexpected and dramatic and fun, and it was all of those things.  I did laundry one day while writing a scene in fits and starts trying to decide where it was going to go to make it unexpected, and I imagine she could have done the same.

Despite this one bit, the very slow burn, I would absolutely read her other work. I have Fangirl and Eleanor & Park.  If I can be as funny and as astute as she is as writer, I’d be happy with that.

Still writing away.  Still participating in my online writing groups.  And still loving my reading!

Comments/likes/shares!

 

 

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A Classic and long-time TBR Lister

And then the snow and bitter cold trapped us all inside.

I loved the bright moon after the storm, the new snow lit up like the day, but I didn’t love scraping off the inside of my windshield as my car reluctantly warmed itself the next morning.  And the sweet little fishtail as I turned out of work across an icy patch of snow, too cold for the road salt to do anything about it.  Intractable in the cold.

So I made a mistake googling (we’ve all done it) and I read a book that I believed counted as a book by a journalist, one of BookRiot’s categories.  After I was fully committed, subsequent googling revealed that the book’s author was not, in fact, a journalist.

This mistake revealed one of the few pitfalls of book list tackling. There was a hot second in there that I was like, damn, I read this book for nothing.  For a few moments I actually thought that maybe I had wasted my time reading because I couldn’t tick off a category on a list!

All my mindfulness training (and years of an ex who complained that if I wasn’t going to marry him I was a total waste of time) rebelled here and said how dare you think that reading a book you have meant to read for like a billion years that’s on a billion other book lists is a waste of time because it does not fit one particular list.  One particular outcome in a world of infinite outcomes.

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In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

In my defense, this is a serialized true story, so it would be a logical inference that the writer could possibly be a journalist, but the late Truman Capote was a novelist, actor, short story writer, and playwright.

There are a number of things worth noting in this classic work.  One, it wasn’t just about a murder, but about America  in the late 50’s, early 60’s, a portrait of Kansas and the Midwest.  The murdered family was in many ways the All American family, especially Mr. Clutter and his youngest daughter Nancy.  Pillars of the community, wealthy by their own hard work, churchgoing, example setters, humble.  Nancy was involved with everything and loved by everyone.  Mr. Clutter was fair and hard working, sympathetic to his ill wife, supportive of his oldest daughter’s marriages.  They embodied the values of the time.

And it wasn’t just the family that provided this portrait. The murderers, both in their own family histories and in the descriptions of their cross country travels together, what it was like to be in the state prison and in the justice system at that time, all painted a vivid picture of America at that point in history.  Even the psychological reports of the men reminded me of the still strongly Freudian interpretations of the times.  Twelve year old boys were allowed to drive the family car to take girls to dances, the death penalty was on in Kansas, young troubled boys could still be sent away to reform schools and abused there at young ages (kids can get out of home placements still, but at least in NY its a very long process for only the ones who truly cannot manage in the outside world, and then they are heavily regulated).

Also noteworthy was the work that went into this.  The care and detail researched and put together a narrative that was not only a mystery but also a psychological portrait. It’s fascinating to trace the factors that lead up to behaviors that step so far out of the norm.  The men had different reasons, different vulnerabilities that led them to commit the crimes they did.  One was abused from a broken family, one was from an intact family but struggled with impulse control before a car accident, which compounded the impulsivity and judgment with a traumatic brain injury.  But the book isn’t just about them.  It is about them and their context, the country at the time.

I only had this on audio and I spent hours lost in the narration of this story, at first a mystery, and then a link to the murderers, how they were caught and then their eventual execution. It’s listed among classics, quintessential reads, books some struggled to finish.

I’ve been finding myself reading two from each of the BookRiot categories this year. I’m back to seeking out books by real journalists.  I am looking at fiction rather than true crime at this point, especially because there’s already a true crime category.  I must be googling correctly now because I’ve come up with Steig Larsson and Laura Lippman.  I have not read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yet.  Back when it came out I was reading books another different boyfriend wanted me to read (I spent too much of my youth with stupid boyfriends) and then it was a classics binge and I’m not always so great at reading the latest thing anyway.  And then The New Yorker slammed it kind of hard, which further complicates my motivation for an almost seven hundred page novel that only sounded somewhat appealing to begin with.  But it’s taunted me on and off as something I really should read if I want to consider myself fancy.

And we all want to consider ourselves fancy.

Laura Lippman is more appealing, honestly.

In noveling news, I finished another draft of my novel, reworking the ending a little better.  Which now there’s like one other part that needs revising again, but it’s small, and I will be sending it out for a critique in the next few weeks.  This is energizing news for me.   I don’t know where to direct my fiction writing now.  I have to do my prompt for this month’s short story, because I’m going into my third year of that.  I have a few ideas of stories for Wattpad but they need a little more research and, you know, to actually get written.    I might write up an idea I have had for a few years now in a short and toss it up there to get started.  See how I do.

I miss having a Snow Read.  Just a little.  An epic novel to get caught up in. But I’m doing a lot of reading for BookRiot and this two on a theme thing is fun.  I missed reading, but I still need to be writing.   I’ve already finished seven books this year and it’s only three weeks in.  Like my boss says when I am seeing too many clients, that may not be sustainable if I want to write.  I’d consider quitting my job but I’d go batty at home alone all day.

Comments/likes/shares!