Thursday, October 9, 2008

RSVP/Book Beat: Small World, Small (?) Books

Today's guest post comes from E . . . who is one of my dearest friends. E . . . and I taught high school English in the same hallway for four years. A wonderful writer, poet, and reader, E . . . is the person whose taste in books and authors I most trust and with whom I love to discuss the literary world. E . . . is also a mentor of mine in motherhood and is doing a beautiful job raising her children O. and N. In addition to reading, writing, and mothering, E . . . enjoys improvisational cooking, surfing the internet, and watching many of the same television programs I enjoy. Visit her blog It's A Small World After All!

As you may or may not know (regular readers of mine may already be sick of hearing) we were recently without power for a week. While my television addiction was not cured by this cold turkey interruption, my reading habit got a chance to flourish.

Reading by candlelight sounds a lot more romantic than it really is. By the end of a day "camping" I was already exhausted. The prospect of another dark night interrupted by frightened and discombobulated children, followed by a morning without decent coffee made the eye strain seem not quite worth it.

I did, however, read several short books, and parts of a longer collection. Each has something to recommend it, but collectively, they are good choices if you're feeling bored or tired, or simply need something you can fit in around your tv habit. I'm not proud. Maybe when I don't get awoken at three a.m. more nights than not I can attempt Tolstoy. Until then, here are some short possibilities:

Good Dog. Stay. by Anna Quindlen
This one is supremely short. Not only is it under 100 pages, there are also pictures of dogs on every other page. Seems a bit like a publisher's money making pitch, but really, I would probably read Quindlen's grocery list if she published it. This is in the vein of other heart tugging, living-with-a-dog stories. I liked Dog Years by Mark Doty a lot better, but this one conveys the same ideas. Dogs change us, we're better for them, they connect us to our best selves. Good stuff.


What Now? by Ann Patchett
Another sort of "I wrote this thing, do you think it could be a book" book, one destined to be on the little table of gift ideas for graduation at Barnes and Noble. I really liked it anyway, the kind of book I was looking for ten years or so ago when I knew my life needed a change, but had no idea how to go about it. I don't think Patchett knows either, but she does make a case for recognizing the gifts of the stage of life you are currently in, whether it's where you envisioned yourself or not. She also plugs for finding your passion, but ultimately recognizes that it is the people, more than the experiences, that matter.


Black Water by Joyce Carol Oates
I don't think I can actually recommend this one, as I ended up with a sort of sick feeling from reading this one. But it's the kind you might want to read through if you're interested in being in touch with political history and its reinventions. If you haven't heard of it, it's the story of an unnamed senator and a car accident involving a young admirer who drowns. Sound familiar? I guess it's supposed to. Sound in poor taste? Seemed so to me. But mostly, I just didn't like the circular nature of it, covering the same ground over and over. The character insight into the female protagonist was interesting, but it felt better suited to a short story to me than this novella.

I Was Told There Would Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
If you've read David Sedaris and haven't really found anyone else to meet your humor needs in between his books, I'll propose this one for your consideration. Crosley is very funny, and if you grew up anytime in the 80's or 90's you'll get her references. She's brutal at times in her honesty, as in the essay about being a bridesmaid in the wedding of a friend she has not really seen since junior high. Her observations are spot on and hilarious, such as her description of constructing the bride's rehearsal hat out of ribbons at the bridal shower, and an elderly toothless aunt at the same shower gumming a white chocolate bride on a stick. I also enjoyed essays devoted to her embarassment about her unintentional collection of plastic ponies and to a move across town that required use of same locksmith twice in one day.

The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart edited by Robert Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade
While this does not really qualify as a "small" book, it is one that can be dipped into at your leisure, and I feel an obligation to make a plug for poetry whenever I can. It was originally published under the subtitle "poetry for men" but I'm glad that was dropped, because there is much to recommend here for both sexes. It would be a great introductory volume of poetry, with many of my favorite poems old and new together in one book. I've also made new discoveries along the way as I've sampled the sections. Follow the link to one I particularly enjoyed: Galway Kinnel's "After Making Love, We Hear Footsteps." Or to this old favorite: Ezra Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter” http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15425
Both have a bit of romance to them, enough to, dare I say, read by candlelight.
By the way, thank you to MEP for giving me this one as a birthday gift. What a treasure to have to mark my thirty-fifth year.

Thanks to E . . . for this post! As always, I ask: What are you reading (even if not by candlelight)?

4 comments:

LAP said...

This is a good list for me. While I enjoy a good book, reading has never been my passion the way it has been for you or MEP. Therefore, as my life's gotten busier, I haven't made it a priority. Knowing that there are some good, SHORT books out there makes me feel like perhaps I can dive into one of them and not worry that it's something I will never really get to finish.

I was told there would be cake is a frontrunner for me, as anything that makes me think of Milton from Office Space has to be a good book.

MEP said...

I suspect that I too would read Anna Quindlen's grocery list.

I will put What Now? on my list. I am an Ann Patchett fan, and once my dissertation is behind me, I will have some questions to answer.

I have a plug for a small book I recently read: Last Night at the Lobster by Stuart O'Nan. It's very short but very beautiful -- the story of the last day of work at a Red Lobster that is closing. As a former Olive Garden employee (the OG and the Lobster are in the same restaurant family), I felt O'Nan really captured the personalities and dynamics perfectly (or, "spot on," as a Top Chef judge might say). Last Night at the Lobster isn't a sarcastic or humorous book, just a very human one.

Actchy said...

Am I the only one who didn't care for I was Told There Would Be Cake? I wonder if when I read the book, I was frustrated by the fact that it seemed to sort of thing I could put together if I ever put my mind to it. (I'm a little embarrassed to say that, for really, who am i to think that I could actually sit down an put something like that together, but if I'm being truthful with myself, I think that's the rub.) I love Sedaris, but I do not think Crosley compares.

Or maybe I just don't care for Crosley? She admits to being the sort of woman who has a hard time maintaining female friendships, something I find truly frustrating (and backwards, progress-wise).

Eh.

Anyway, I'm struggling through "Three Cups of Tea." The book seems to be interesting, and I tend to love stories about Middle Eastern culture, but for whatever reason, I can't seem to make progress in this one.

CaraBee said...

I've read I Was Told There Would Be Cake and enjoyed it, although I did not really identify with her.

The same could be said of the book I'm just finishing: Moose, A Memoir of Fat Camp. It is an interesting insight into the lives of overweight children. But as someone who was painfully skinny as a kid (sadly, I no longer have this affliction), I just couldn't empathize. No one teased me for being skinny and I never agonized about my weight. Not 100% I would recommend it, but I wouldn't say not to either.

Most nights I read by the light of my little booklight, so I don't keep my husband up. I suspect it is only marginally better than candlelight (if at all) so I totally feel you.

 
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