Saturday, August 30, 2008

Straight Up and Fabulous...

Straight Up & Dirty, Stephanie Klein

Girl crush, right here, my friends. I want to buy this woman a drink and maybe kiss her goodnight.

Klein's candid and almost uncomfortably honest account of getting through and over her divorce is one of the best reads I've had in a long time. When dating a bevy of men ("a pair and a spare") proves unsuccessful, Klein undergoes an at times painful journey of self-discovery that hit close to home in a way I've never encountered through the written word.

I'm finding that memoir is becoming far more riveting to me than fiction--had this book been fashioned about a character, invented inside the mind of a writer, it would have been good, probably great. But the fact that, as I'm reading it, I am constantly aware of the fact that this is a real, flesh and blood woman, sharing her real flesh and blood experience, it makes the act of reading the words a form of communication one just doesn't get with a novel. She could have easily created a character and written a "semi-autobiographical" account of a woman struggling to find herself, "loosely" based on her own life. But the rawness of memoir, especially this one, makes the story that much more alive. This is not a character, but a real woman, one who you might walk by on the side walk, or sit next to at a bar. And she lived this.

Not that it's an extraordinary or unusual experience she's gone through. When I was the age she is in this memoir, I went through a similar sort of experience, although it wasn't as messy as divorce. I went through a similar journey to find a sense of satisfaction, contentment and peace in my life. I knew other women had to have gone through it, too; I knew I was not unique in my grief and in the transformation I went through. But I've never read it before. Never seen it put out there so eloquently and beautifully.

Reading Straight Up & Dirty took me back to that time in my own life, to both the pain of loss and the elation of self-discovery and self-reliance. Tonight as I absorb the last bits of the book into my consciousness, I am so grateful to have picked up the book and to have not only read Stephanie's story, but to have reminded myself of my own journey to the woman I am today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Back on track...

Burning Bright, Tracy Chevalier

Oh. So. Good.

I loved The Girl with the Pearl Earring, so I assumed this book would also capture my attention. Add to that my abject adoration of all stories based in 18-th century London (the more down-trodden or plague-y the better, my friends), and my love of poetry and there was really no other reasonable expectation to have other than that I would fall madly in love with the characters, the setting, the story, the whole nine yards.

And I did. But only after having completed it and having contemplated it for a bit did I really get it. The story is that of the Jem Kellaway, a country boy from Dorset whose family moves to London after a family tragedy. He and his younger sister, Maisie, befriend rough and tumble Maggie Butterfield, the typical, hardened street urchin-y smart mouth who is savvy in the ways of London's seedy underbelly. Together Jem and Maggie befriend the poet William Blake, who lives next door to the Kellaway's, and who seems to see Jem and Maggie as more than simply two kids running through the streets of London looking for mischief.

The tension between opposites, and more importantly, what lies between the poles, is the main motif here. Jem, the country boy to Maggie's city girl. One seemingly representing innocence, the other experience. But as the story unwinds we realize that isn't always the case and that people are, at once, a mixture of these two ideas, depending upon the circumstances in which they find themselves. The loss of innocence, and the multitude of forms that loss can take, plays out over and over again in the pages of the story, each time painfully reminding the reader that pure innocence is fleeting and impossible to replace.

However, this loss of innocence doesn't bring with it only dispair--there are glimmers of hope and happiness sprinkled amidst warehouse fires, mob scene riots and exhausting treks across the country-side.

Initially I was disappointed with the ending of the story--it seemed, well, anticlimactic to me. There was no screamingly big finish--no great tragedy or overwhelming joy. There is the sense, simply, that life will go on for these people. My first impulse was to feel let down. But after a time I realized that this is precisely the intention of the novel--life is not lived in the extreme, in the realm of opposites--it's lived within the space in between those poles, balancing between innocence and experience.

I'm going to miss these characters, but given the conclusion Chevalier created for them, I will probably spend some idle time imaging with the future could possibly have held for them. And I've always thought that's the mark of a good piece of literature.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What? I read.

I just don't seem to be able to remember to write about what I read. But seriously, I do read. Not as voraciously as I'd like to, but I sneak it in there. Soooo, what have I read lately?

Driving Sideways, Jess Riley

I really enjoyed this; I read it while undertaking a huge cross-country move of my own and appreciated the "gigantic new adventure"ness of it all.

After years of basically waiting to die, main character Leigh is faced with the fact that she just might end up living after all. She receives a new kidney and is given the "okay" to embark upon the coming-of-age adventure that so many of us take for granted, and at an earlier age, even--driving cross country.

She has some pretty serious expectations built up about what this trip will entail--everything from learning more about from where her donated kidney comes, to confronting the mother who left her and her overbearing, begrudgingly over-protective brother years earlier.

It's safe to say that NOTHING is as Leigh expects it to be as she journeys towards a clearer sense of herself and the grown-up she's been given the opportunity to become.

Yummy Mummy, Polly Williams

Well, I love me some British chick lit, so I was a sucker for this. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the premise being that of a once svelte and fashionable career woman having morphed into a frumpy, insecure milk-bar of a mother with zero self-esteem and a brooding sense of doom in her relationship. Who could relate to that (well, minus the doomy relationship part)?

I loved this book--it was not, overall, a *deep read* by any means. But I loved watching Amy peel back the layers of her experience as a mother to find the core of her being again. Since having my own child over two years ago, the identity shift a woman experiences when becoming a mother is of particular interest to me. And I found her moment of clarity--a walk in a London park that just happens to be my "happy place" (ah, Regents Park, how I pine for you and my view of the pond from my dorm room)--to be tear-worthy and motherhood/womanhood-affirming. And sometimes, even if it's just a little treacly (which I didn't think it was, but I've read that others did), we need that.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Friend
Christopher Moore

Seriously? So funny. Not being Christian, I'm not sure just how high it would rate on the "irreverent scale". Well, actually, since Jesus was a Jew and most of the knocks are at Judaism, and since I'm a Jew, I guess I didn't find it very irreverent--just freaking hysterical.

Premise? Biff, brought back to life in modern times, is tasked with telling the story of Jesus (um, Joshua) that no one knows. See, Biff was with him during those lost years, the ones when, according to Biff, he and Joshua traveled the East in search of the Magi who visited the manger the night Joshua was born.

This journey forms the basis of Joshua's later teachings and Moore is able to weave Eastern thought and religion into Jesus' message in a way that is effortless and, as absurd as the story can be, makes perfect sense.

Biff is hysterical--apparently he invented sarcasm and is very particular about who uses it and is really pissed off when they mangle it. One doesn't normally picture Jesus roaming the world with an over-sexed (seriously, he's got a thing for Mary. The Virgin Mary) ready-to-fly-off-the-handle sidekick. But in almost every way, it was absolutely perfect.

I was a little disappointed with the ending, but you know, it is what it is. Not like Biff could change all of that dying on the cross thing (although he did try). Interestingly, this book humanized the story of Jesus for me in a way that eleven years of Catholic school couldn't do. I think a bunch of nuns would probably clutch their rosaries in horror at that, but again, I kinda like that.