Monthly Archives: March 2013

Book Talk

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I look forward to our big getaway every year, because we go to a place in Mexico where there are no phones, no iPads, no WiFi. It’s almost like I now NEED this in order to be able to read a book. Which is both disturbing and bizarre.

Here are the two books which made the biggest impact on me.

The Girls From Ames, by Jeffrey Zaslow

A few people including Kathy have compared “Faces of ALI” to Jeffrey Zaslow’s narrative non-fiction approach, and now that I have read him, I am seriously humbled. If I could even approach the peerless way he tells stories that matter, that describe the human condition, I would be thrilled.

The Girls From Ames describes the lifelong friendships of 11 women from Ames, Iowa over 40 + years. The premise of the book is how important female friendships are to the health and emotional well-being of women, but the sprawling narrative covers so much more than just that. We meet these women as children and watch them and their friends grow up, experiencing dating, college, marriage, careers, loss, miscarriage, infertility, parenting, cancer, joy, celebrations and divorce. In essence, The Girls From Ames is a book about life as we both know it and don’t know it.

Unfortunately, Jeffrey Zaslow passed away in a car accident in 2012. I have a feeling he planned to revisit the “girls” regularly and update their stories, and unfortunately, we won’t read the continuation of their journeys.

Zaslow writes in the introduction: “…I know there’s great power in honest stories about real people.”

Wise words.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

SPOILERS!!! SKIP IF YOU PLAN TO READ THIS BOOK!

Almost everyone I know (and many people on the plane and at the beach) is reading Gone Girl, a rare literary sensation in 2012 that was seriously considered for the big prizes but also had great popular appeal.

Gone Girl is many things: a biting indictment on everything from the death of print journalism, the economic decay of the US, the rise of avenging crime reporters like Nancy Grace to the “con” of marriage. It’s a thriller, a crime novel and a sick romantic comedy of sorts gone horribly, terribly wrong.

Set first in New York in the midst of the dying world of magazine writers, then the decaying town of Carthage, Missouri, the plot concerns the disappearance of a wife (the typical beautiful blond of the mystery stories that entrance Americans), who vanishes in the midst of the death throes of her marriage to a handsome bartender (and former journalist).

There is clever writing (the former journalist compares print journalism as an industry to “buggy whip manufacturing”), and I liked how the book talks about the pressure on women while dating to hide their true selves and instead pretend to be the “cool girl.” You know, the Cameron Diaz type: the one who’s fun and eats endless amounts of junk food while simultaneously remaining rail-thin and never brings a guy down with complaints and nagging. It’s been a while since I was single, but I remember those pressures pretty well, especially while dating my college ex. The plot is gripping and I didn’t really want to put it down.

BUT I HATED THE CHARACTERS!!!!! They were so unlikeable!!!!! Yes, I need to use that exact amount of exclamation points because they really were that disgusting.

I read the whole book in pretty much one day and I needed a palate cleanser afterward because I hated the end and hated the characters. Their oily, slimy tricks unfortunately gave me bad dreams.

So then I read a VI Warshawski novel (Body Work) and felt much better after tackling that straightforward tale of murder and mayhem.

Are you able to read books where the main characters are awful people? What did you think of Gone Girl if you read it?

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Gone Fishin’

Please excuse this horrid post: I am typing it while on my phone at a airport hotel with shaky wi-fi.

Here’s the latest:

I am working really hard on something really exciting. I hate to be vague and lame, but finally I realized I dropped off the face of the cyber earth and in case anyone was wondering, it’s not a permanent move.

I’m sorry I haven’t been commenting more and I’m really sorry for the flakiness. Consistency, Jessica. Try it more! Yikes.

Mea culpa.

I will be back (with a vengeance?) next week after returning from a trip. I miss you all and hope you are very, very well.

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Top 10 Things I Learned From Laura Ingalls Wilder

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We’re wrapping up the “Little House” series. The good news is my daughter is now fascinated with all things Prairie — she says she wants to go back in time and live as a pioneer. I much prefer Wilder’s narrative, where one strives for self-sufficiency, than the passive princess storyline she previously used in her imaginative tales. Which apparently she picked up via osmosis from friends, since we don’t allow “waiting for my prince” books in the house? It’s such a battle to try to combat the Cinderella complex…Peggy Orenstein was right. Sigh.

It’s been informative to go back and read the “Little House” stories as an adult. For example, I didn’t remember how important it was to Ma for her daughters to wear the latest fashions. They were on the Prairie! Who cares? Yet back then, families clung to clothes and books and furnishings as a way to feel “civilized” in an unsettled and wild place. Laura is a strangely modern and relatable girl/woman much of the time too: most notably, she pursues a career to help pay for her sister’s college.

(Aside: can we talk about “Blind Mary,” as I began referring to her in my head, because seriously? To Laura, there’s not much more to Mary other than her visual impairment. Example: “Her beautiful unseeing eyes looked at nothing.” If I were Mary and I read the books, I would be pissed.)

Laura teaches school by herself in strange towns, she wants to get in snowball fights even though it wasn’t “ladylike” and she achieves the best grades in her class. (One notable exception to her modernity: she claims she’s not like Almanzo’s sister, who wants the right to vote.) Overall, I found I liked her just as much as an adult as I did when I was a kid.

So here are my Top 10 Lessons I Learned from Laura Ingalls Wilder, because I like lists.

1. All the latest fashions come from Iowa.
2. Always, ALWAYS look in the Northwest for a cloud. You never know when a blizzard might spring up and freeze you to death before you can climb into a haystack. (Getting into a haystack may help you survive a blizzard, BTW.)
3. Don’t play a snowball game with your students if you expect them to respect you as a teacher.
4. Almanzo was HOT. He and Mr. Darcy remain at the top of my literary crushes list.
5. Laura may have liked Almanzo’s horses and sweet buggy more than she liked him. In the beginning, at least. I guess a beautiful team of horses and a pretty buggy were the equivalent of a cool car back then?
6. The best food in the world is oyster soup, especially if you enjoy said soup with some tasty oyster crackers.
7. Pa learned the same hard lesson we all do at some point: your crops (or home or bonus or promotion) is not the same thing as money in the bank until you actually SELL said crops, get the money and put it in the bank.
8. Grasshoppers are EVIL!
9. The most important essentials for surviving a long winter? Wheat, hay and a coffee grinder. And a positive attitude.
10. “All’s Well That Ends Well!” Ma was always saying this after they nearly drowned in their covered wagon crossing a river, or Pa almost got eaten by a panther or an ox fell through their roof. And, it’s good advice for us all, really.

My son wants me to read the Harry Potter series next. The twins are five: is this appropriate? Is the first one OK? If you read me regularly, you probably know I am a HUGE fan of those books, but I am still scarred by the Happy Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It gave me the sads. ADVICE WELCOME!!

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