Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The most famous exit in Indiana . . .

The Book Beat is back! I have a few titles to mention that may be of interest. As always, I offer my apologies to the authors of these books that I don't have/take the time to write the kind of really thoughtful reviews their books deserve.

The Aqua Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town by Jennifer Niven

I loved the title of this memoir (even though I loathe Aqua-Net -- Vavoom forever!) and was intrigued once I discovered that the memoir covers Niven's high school years in Richmond, IN. I've actually never been to Richmond, IN, but growing up, I heard about it almost every time our television was on because, you see, Richmond's is "the most famous exit in Indiana, I-70 exit, 149A" and the home of Tom Raper RV and "where the roses grow." The Raper RV commercial jingle was ubiquitous in the Tri-State (IN, OH, KY) area during my childhood. Maybe it still is? Anyone? I'm digressing from Niven's memoir though. I enjoyed reading about a mid-eighties, Midwestern high school experience. My favorite aspect of Niven's story was her friendship with her best friend, a guy, and the way you could see how the high school girl she described would grow into the woman and writer she seems to have become. The high school students she depicts are familiar in that each high school has its own unique characters, most of whom are less unique than we think at the time. I think what I admire most is just that Niven had the courage and patience to reflect upon and retell her high school story. Honestly, I liked high school, maybe even loved it, but the thought of living it over (even for the purposes of writing) is totally unattractive to me. It's such an emotional time, even if your experience was not tortuous, that I would prefer not to think too long or hard about who and how I was then. Even though I don't want to relive my own high school days, I enjoyed thinking about them through Niven's memoir of her own. You might too.

Three Little Words: A Memoir by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

When I was a ninth grade teacher, I managed to avoid reading a single book by David Pelzer (of A Child Called It fame) even though many a student swore to the power and awesomeness of these books. Books about horrible things that happen to children just aren't my cup of tea. However, I bought this memoir in an audible.com sale and decided to give it a try. Three Little Words traces Ashley Rhodes-Courter's many years in the Florida foster care system and her eventual adoption as a tween. Her story is powerful and taught me a lot about the foster care system, most of which I wish were not true. To read about some of her foster placements will break your heart and leave you completely incensed as you ponder indifferent bureaucrats, money-grubbing foster parents, human cruelty, and a pervasive reluctance to really think about what is best for the children in the system. Interestingly, the people who make the most powerful, positive impact on Rhodes-Courter's life are volunteer, non-government employees -- a point that she makes quite effectively. I've never envisioned myself as a foster parent and it's certainly not a job I could take on any time in the near future, but this memoir makes you see what a positive difference that a kind, generous, compassionate person could make.

Tales of the City and More Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

Maupin's serial tales of life in San Francisco in the 1970s are completely addictive. I'd be reading Further Tales of the City right this minute had my library had it on the shelf this morning. I love the way all the characters end up connecting and overlapping. Each edition of the serial tale is long enough to establish something interesting but short enough that you think, "I'll just read one more" until you have finished the book, practically inhaled it. Some crazy shit happens in these tales--sex, pot, drugs, death, adultery--and crazier things I would mention except that I don't want to be a spoiler. I can't believe I had never read Maupin before and am so excited to read the rest of the city series (six books in all, I think).

Half-Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls

I haven't read Walls' memoir The Glass Castle, though every one I know who has highly recommends it. In Half-Broke Horses, Walls tells the story of her grandmother (mother of Walls' mother, a main character in The Glass Castle) whose life is full of trials and adventures. I listened to the audiobook of Half-Broke Horses while I was doing things like magic erasing my kitchen cabinets, decluttering my linen closet, and dusting the blades of my ceiling fans. I was thinking that my life was pretty tough, but reading about Walls' grandmother was inspiring, in a "Buck up and get it done, woman" sort of way . . . she was a memorable woman who will leave you thinking that if she can handle everything she handled, you could probably rise to most challenges as well and can, at the very least, get your house cleaned without feeling sorry for yourself. It was the perfect book for the moment in my life when I read it.

So, tell me please: What are you reading these days?


Stacia said...

Glass Castle was quite a read. I'm pleased to hear she has a new one out. That's what I'll be reading next.

Also, I was always more of an LA Looks girl, myself. =>

Actchy said...

You have me with Tales of the City. Next for me.

Currently reading "A Gate at the Stairs" by Lorrie Moore. It's a gift from my brother, who reports that Moore has another fantastic book, but I don't really know her. I'm only about 3 chapters in, and it has me.

E... said...

Saw Jeannette Walls at that Cinci book thing I told you about. She was just as amazing to listen to as she is to read. Real. Haven't gotten to Half Broke Horses yet.
Oh, why did you have to remind me of all those Child Called It projects?
I spent several weeks in Richmond IN in college doing a student teaching clinical. Don't have many fond memories, just vague recollections of vocabulary quizzes and a clear image of the teacher I was working with drinking out of his thermos. I really thought he probably had more than coffee in there.
I'm reading the Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and am just charmed as all get out by her. She's a bit of a naturalist geek, which of course you know I love.

CaraBee said...

I haven't read, or even heard of, any of these books, but I will definitely be adding some to my list.

Interesting that you do a post with Indiana in the title on the eve of a BT Indiana tour. :)

Steph said...

Oh, I'm so happy to read your latest book reviews! :-)

msh said...

glad to have a new book beat--i need some new blood!
i just finished "julie and julia" and i must admit, i actually like the movie better. and i almost feel bad for saying that. maybe my expectations were too high? not sure, but a bit let down. and i am about to start "juliet, naked" by nick hornby and i am very very excited, as i have missed him. happy reading.

Quack and Quill said...

I have absolutely no idea how I ended up here, but what a fun blog! I read Glass Castle and loved it ... it was stark and magical at the same time. I will look for Half Broke Horses ... I'm currently reading Anne Tyler's Noah and it is good!


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