Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Since I liked Nick Hornby's How to be Good, I decided to read another of his novel, A Long Way Down.
On New Year's Eve, 4 strangers meet on a rooftop in London and decide not to commit suicide. Four unlikely people (one from the US and the rest from London) spend the next year supporting each other.
No, it's not all gloom and doom. There are lots of hilarious moments. JJ, the American singer without a band, says he might have to flip burgers to earn a living. Jess, a young student, thinks that JJ is saying something really insulting. Martin, the former talk show host, who last scandal was so bad that he lost his job, explains to Jess, in the US, flipping burgers just means working in a fast food place and turning over hamburgers. Oh, the English language; same words, different meanings.
The fourth member is Maureen, a mom who had intercourse once and became pregnant. As a Catholic, she feels really guilty and feels that the punishment of her sin manifested itself by the birth of a retarded child.
At first, everyone feels uncomfortable about talking about the reasons they wanted to "off" themselves, but eventually we hear the stories.
This novel concentrates on North London, a part of the city that I like being in when I visited a couple of years ago. Hornby describes the area very well.
My favorite portion is when Jess attempts to have the closest people to herself and the three others come inside a cafe for a Jess-style intervention (similar to what she saw in an American reality show, but with her own twists). First, she shoos everyone who is not invited away from the coffee shop. Then, as she tries to explain to some of her countrymen what they will do, their reactions are so hilarious!
This novel examines life in modern-day London and how hard it is to connect with people, despite being in a large metropolis.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Continuing on my Canadian reads to forget the heat here, I started and finished Urquhart's latest novel quickly.
One of the protagonists, Jerome, goes to a small island in Lake Ontario, near Kingston (not far from Rochester and Syracuse, NY) to study the landscape there during his time of a short residency. He has been highly influenced by is highly influenced by Robert Smithson's Map of Broken Glass, which will be mentioned throughout this novel.
On his way to the island, Jerome notices, "a fine mist filled the air and gave a maleable look to shapes that one month earlier would have been so frozen and emplaced that interpretation might have been impossible." Everything is going as planned, but a few days later, he finds a dead man who froze to death and floated to the island.
The novel picks up a year later, when Sylvia shows up in Jerome's studio in Toronto to speak about the dead man. Sylvia must have Asperger syndome or is a high-functioning austic woman. She hates change, has difficulty interacting with others, observes things people normally don't notice. In her youth, "she had walked into the dining room to discover the sheer curtains moving like sleeves toward her." The movement of the curtain frightened her so much, that she never opened a window again in her life.
The novel tells of Sylvia and Jerome's lives, and how the dead man (through his writings and the stories that he told Sylvia) joined them together.
Urquhart really captures the thoughts of an artist, the reactions of a socially challenged woman, and the guilt of the heir.
I will have to re-read this work, because I didn't see all the levels.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
(It's in the 80s and 90s - not the usual July heat, but bearable for me.)
Besides hosting relatives, I have been trying some new things.
- I attended my first InterPlay class with Jean. I moved and shared stories and met nice, creative people.
- I joined a meet-up group to discuss the Matrix. I learned other interpretations of the movie and got my brain moving.
- I am enjoying being the host of 9 for '09 Challenge. Many readers are now eligible for the 5 Down Prize. I love looking for gifts that readers would love.
- One Book, One New Orleans is progressing well. There will be a Barnes and Noble NATIONWIDE event to help raise funds. When I know more details, I will let you know. But, basically, you present a voucher and a percentage of your purchase helps this cause, even if you are 1000 miles or more away from New Orleans.
- I will be making more progress on my reading challenges. I've finished some stories, but haven't had a chance to blog about them yet.
- I am on installment 90 out of 260 of Moby Dick, as presented by Daily Lit. Having little chunks makes the book manageable for me. Its selections have increased, so have a look.
- I have also started Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook. I hope to finish in a couple of weeks.
- I found a new coffee shop and it's near the section of the city that has the names of the 9 Muses as street names. So, I've decided to have the 9 Muses Reading Challenge for 2010. I am still working on the categories and hope to have everything ready by November.
Let me know what interesting things you are up to.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Books - Book Review - Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria - Julia Gelardi
I picked up this work on an impulse, and I don't regret it.
This work covers the lives of 5 of Queen Victoria's granddaughers, who became queens later in life.
- Marie of Romania
- Tsarina Alexandra of Russia
- Maud of Norway
- Victoria Eugenie of Spain
- Sophie of Greece
There is a simplied family tree and brief biographies of the queens and their husbands, in order to keep everyone straight in your mind.
Not all of the queens were raised in England, but they did feel close to their Grandmother Victoria and they retained some English viewpoints.
But, if it came down to selecting sides during WWI, some sided with their siblings and others went against their siblings to support their husbands' viewpoints.
I knew the most about Alexandra, but I learned new information about her. I had no knowledge of the other queens, but learned about the early 2oth Century History in their new countries. Learning about the chaos in Greece helped me to understand what Cal's grandparents went through in my latest bookclub read, Middlesex.
This work is written for readers who want to know more about this era. It will also help in understanding the political background in novels that you read.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Last year, The Revoluntionary Road allowed us to peak into the lives of a couple that had dreams, but moved to conformist surburbia.
Chevalier offers a similar viewpoint, but from mainly from a woman's view, the educated but mentally unchallenged Kitty Coleman. Kitty had a servant and cook, so she didn't have to do drudge work, but her life didn't satisfy her. She didn't have anyone to really speak to and books were not enough for her. She found salvation in the suffrage movement of England in the early 1900s.
The entire novel is not centered on Kitty, but there are opinions on how her decisions affect those around her: her daughter, the servants, the neighbor and her daughters, her mother-in-law, and a gravedigger. The thoughts of Kitty and the neighbor's husband are also recorded, but they are rather brief.
This novel captures the time in England after Queen Victoria's death and explains the changes that happened to society.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Books - Book Review - A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Works of Joseph Cornell - Jonathan Safron Foer (editor)
Reading this book was also my July challenge for the 2009 Mini-Challenge: Read a book outside your comfort level or from a genre you don’t normally read. This book counts because more than half of it is poetry. I did follow Julia Johnson's advice about reading the poems aloud. So, the poems made more sense to me.
I also wanted to read this work, because Joseph Cornell is one of my favorite artists. I was wondering what other author and poets would write, being inspired by Cornell's assemblages.
This book is hard to find. I had to borrow it from another library system. Even the original publisher (DAP books) has sold out of the hardback edition.
The beautiful photos were of the bird series assemblages, that are now in various collections.
My favorite poem is Magic Muse'e by Martine Bellen. She writes:
Formed from heat, moisture, frost, concealment
How it drips, freezes fogs
How it forms columnar cracks, gashed with glass
My favorite short story is Barry Lopez' Emory Bear Hand's Birds. The narrator is Julio Sangremano (Bloody Hand) who is incarated for "computer services theft". His cell mate is a Native American from Montana. In order to pass the time, Emory starts telling stories about animals and nature that he heard as a boy. The Hispanic and other minority prisoners start calming down and the white supremist ones and the guards get confused. Emory is sent somewhere else, but a guard manages to smuggle a letter from him.
Emory wrote to his friends, "On June 20th, he wrote, each of us had to choose some kind of bird - a sparrow, a thrush, a crow, a warbler, and on that night, wherever he was, Emorby was going to pray each of us into those birds. We were going to become thos birds. And they were going to fly away."
I won't give away the ending but it was a mixture of magical realism and Native American mythology.
If you ever manage to find this book, I hope that you can read it. Check out the DAP link for the other writers that are included in this book.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
I am a bit behind on selecting the winner for Q2. (Sorry, it's been to hot down here in New Orleans! I can't think in such hot weather.)
I wrote down the names of all the people who posted their entries from April to June in the 9 for '09 Reading Challenge. I gave each person a number and then found a random number generator. Number 26 was the winner.
So, CONGRATULATIONS TO....REBECCA.
And this is the review that won for her: a book in the LONG Category.
Keep on Reading. You might be the next winner.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
I attended a lecture by C. J. Christ, who talked about the German Submarines that made it to the Gulf of Mexico from May to September 1942.
Years ago, an old lady told me that U-Boats were in the area when she was young. I hadn't heard about that in my history classes, so when this opportunity came up, I had to go.
The US Armed Forces were caught completely off guard by the U-Boats. Leaving their base in France, the U-Boats sank about 76 ships. Their mission was to stop any merchant ship that was taking ANY supplies to England and other Allied Forces.
Only ONE U-Boat was sunk.
The submariners quickly found out that the freshwater in the river affected the path of torpedoes, so they had to keep them in the salty Gulf Waters.They never went in the river nor landed in New Orleans, because the river was too shallow.
When the war ended, all the submarine logs were stored somewhere in the Washington D.C area. Mr. Christ was able to obtain copies when the information was declassified, before the former submariners could.
Mr. Christ collected all this information in his book, World War II in the Gulf of Mexico. It looks like an interesting read.
Friday, July 03, 2009
This novel was the June selection of the International Fiction Book Group of New Orleans.
The book club members and I felt sorry for Kate of North London. Even though she is a physician, she doesn't lead the life that she would if she lived in the US. She has no maid, no nanny, and her husband, a local newspaper columnist, doesn't value her contributions to the household expenses and does nothing to help with the child rearing and housework.
Poor Kate is frazzled. She works 10 hour days (with an assigned caseload of 2000 patients) and comes home to a messy house. She doesn't have meaningful conversations with adults, because her husband is always angry, she has no time for her friends, and her husband has alienated the friends they used to have together. Plus, one child is digustingly in favor of the dad and the other child is acting out, in order to get some attention.
So, she has a brief affair. None of us in the group are in favor of affairs, but we kind of understand why she did it.
And she hopes that this failing doesn't mark her as a bad person. She tells her husband that she doesn't want to be married to him anymore via a cell call from the parking lot where she met her lover. "If you choose to conduct yours on a mobile phone in a Leeds carpark, then you cannot really claim that it is unrepresentative, in the same way that Lee Harvey Oswald couldn't really claim that shooting presidents wasn't like him at all. Sometimes, we have to be judged by our one-offs."
Basically, she is a good person who has gotten fed up with her life and is probably close to a breakdown.
However, David is jolted and decides to change from an angry, judgemental person to a good person, but he goes too much to the other side. He gets a guru and still continues to pay little attention to Kate.
This novel led a to great discussion about the medical systems here in the US versus the ones in Europe. All of us believe that change is needed, but not the system that is in the UK right now. Kate gets mean to some of her more challenging patients, and we hope that the proposed system being advocated by the current President doesn't lead to all doctors behaving like this.
All of us also admired Hornby's gift of getting a woman's voice right. This passage struck a strong chord with me. In Chapter 12, Kate muses about her current life, "Getting married and having a family is like emigrating. I used to live in the same country as my brother. I used to share his values and his tastes and his attitudes and then I moved away. And even though I didn't mean to do, I started to speak with a different accent, and think differently, and even though I remembered my native land fondly, all traces of it had gone from me...the new world isn't all it was cracked up to be, and the people there are much saner and wiser than the people who live in my adopted nation."
I had similar feelings when I was briefly married, so I really admire Hornby's gift to articulate this ambivalence in Kate.
This novel is a great snapshot of life in London in the 21st century of a middle class family who undergoes a crisis. It's not all dreary, and it has hilarious moments in it.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
The heat has been horrid here for the past few weeks, but I determined not to let my mind go limp.
One way I am fighting lethargy is by attending the Community Arts Lecture at the NOCCA Sen. John Breaux Library.
The first meeting was about Getting Published by Julia Johnson, Associate Professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi and Vol. 13, issue 1&2 editor of the Mississippi Review and a member of the Center for Writers.
First of all, she suggested to start turning in work into journals like the Mississippi Review, enter contests like The Mississippi Review Poetry Series, and follow links like these: 39 Steps, Poet and Writers tools, (and I am mentioning my personal favorite, Mslexia - What's On .) She also said to try to attend AWP conference.
Johnson then showed us a writing technique, based on seeing a work of art. She showed us amazing works by Yves Klein (I now must find books about his works) and read OUT LOUD some of her poems inspired by Klein's paintings and poems by W.H. Auden and Charles Wright.
Since we were running out of time, she encouraged us to do the same.
The universe always works in perfection. I was finally able to borrow a copy of A Convergence of Bird - Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the works of Joseph Cornell (Jonathan Safran Foer, editor). There are many color plates in this book, so I can write about Cornell's works, before the book is due. And with the upcoming holiday, I even have time to read the poems out loud!
And when I do that, I will write to Johnson to let her know about this post and of my poems.
If you are in town, please come to these lectures:
Thursday, July 16, 7PM USING COLOR FEARLESSLY-Mary Cooper.
Thursday, August 20, 7PM VISUAL ARTS MARKETING-Gene Meneray
Thursday, September 17, 7PM PROMOTING LOUISIANA MUSIC -Scott Aiges
Please contact, Jennifer Cooper for more information: (504)940-2912 or email firstname.lastname@example.org