Monday, January 23, 2012

The Night Circus

In THE NIGHT CIRCUS which is set in the late 1800's to the early 1900's, two children who will grow up to be magicians are bound to each other in a challenge placed upon them by a pair of elderly gentlemen. The two contestants do not meet or even know their opponent's identity until they are adults, but their entire childhoods are geared toward the inevitable meeting. The challenge plays out at a mysterious black and white circus that is only open at night, hence the title. The book is filled with colorful characters and, well, magic! And the circus, whoa. I cannot begin to do it justice. The author's imagination and attention to detail left me breathless at times.

I waited to read the reviews until I finished the book because I had my suspicious about how they would read. I was right. Readers are divided into two camps: those who loved the book's world and those who hated the book's plot. I'm in the first category. I've often heard writers cautioned aginst falling too in love with the world they create, especially in science fiction and fantsy. I must admit that Ms. Morgenstern is very much in love with the world of this book, but I don't fault her. I'm in love with it too.

This was not a book I would have normally picked up. A librarian friend suggested this book at a NaNoWriMo Write-in. The author wrote it during National Novel Writing Month and it is her first published novel. While the plot left a bit to be desired and I can see where the critics find it lacking in resolution and conflict, I loved it and did not need to know any more than was told. Besides, I was smitten by the world she'd fashioned! Also, it's a love story, really, and I'm a sucker for a love story. Read it and draw your own conclusions!!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

An Accidental Athlete

"I have released myself from a life of sedentary confinement," John Bingham explains in his easy-to-read, short-chaptered, motivational/inspirational memoir, AN ACCIDENTAL ATHLETE.

Bingham has something of a cult following among slow runners like myself. A self-proclaimed, "Penguin," a term he coined in a previous book to capture what he actually looked like when he saw himself in a store window while he was running down a city street, Bingham previously published a column in Runner's World and now is a regular contributor to Competitor. He didn't take up running until he was 43, but when he did, he fell completely in love. In this book he explains how his "adult-onset athleticism," allowed him to make up for being a poor athlete as a child and claim his place in the running world.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read, I was sad to see that he recycled some of the stories he'd told in his previous books. The incidents make excellent points, but I wanted something new. He did deliver that in other chapters, especially regarding the undeniable fact that there will come a day when you realize your best running days are behind you. And, if you really love running, you will continue to run anyway. I needed to hear that!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Summer at Tiffany

SUMMER AT TIFFANY is a sweet, easy read about the self-proclaimed "best summer" of Marjorie Hart's life. If you adore clothes, jewels and movie stars, you'll love this book. These details were mostly lost on me, but I appreciated being transported to 1945 Manhattan and the Tiffany store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street. The author's descriptions of the city and the characters that inhabited it at that time held my attention even if the story line didn't. While I enjoyed the way the author took me back to being a young woman trying to figure out her life, with World War II as the backdrop, the decisions Marjorie faced seemed less important than they might have during some other period in history. Maybe my own life has been marred by too many dark events, but I kept waiting for something bad to happen.

Marjorie, writing this memoir when she was in her 70s, captured the voice of her college self. I could feel the bubbly excitement of the two University of Iowa sorority sisters as they began their adventure and could almost taste the chocolate milk and toast on which they survived. And I identified with Marjorie's indecisiveness. Thank goodness for her friend and roommate, Marty. Marjorie wouldn't have lasted a minute without her. Once on her feet, however, Marjorie did fine, despite her knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, a skill I also possess.

The book's structure contribues to its readability. Straightforward chapters with few flashbacks and an occasional letter home made the story roll effortlessly from scene to scene. Short spurts of dialogue also move the reader along. The book opens with the girls gawking at buildings on Fifth Avenue as they ride a city bus headed for Lord & Taylor where they hope to find jobs. The sense of adventure is there from the first few paragraphs. After a few false starts and with some good connections, they land work at Tiffany & Company. After a few dates, they find midshipmen who take them drinking and dancing on a regular basis. This is their life as war rages and atomic bombs are being dropped in the Pacific. In short chapters Marjorie captures the glamour and excitement of she and Marty being Iowa girls in the big city. Several unpleasant events do happen to them and their loved ones and Marjorie is faced with an opportunity that presents her with a difficult choice, but these barley seem to dampen the girls' desire for distracting news of the latest fashions and the stars that wore them. I can't fault them. If I'd lived through these difficult times, I too might have needed these escapes.

Overall, I enjoyed the read even if I was disappointed by its lack of depth. Marjorie Hart had a beautiful summer and I'm glad she shared it with us all.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Good Behavior

For my next book in the FiftyFifty.Me challenge, I read GOOD BEHAVIOR, a memoir, by Nathan L. Henry, the story of his year in jail for armed robbery. This was an adult jail but Nate was only sixteen. He was no stranger to trouble and in this memoir, he alternates chapters among his year in jail, the year leading up to his crime, and scenes from earlier in his childhood that somewhat explain how a boy from a one stop-light town in rural Indiana finds himself in this predicament. It is gritty, graphic, and often disturbing. I found parts of it nearly impossible to read, but was drawn through it by the hope that he would find a way out. I won't spoil it, but let's just say that the jail librarian is instrumental.

What I took from this book, more than the story itself, was the way in which it was told. He maintained a primarily chronological structure in the alternating chapters so although the book jumps back and forth in time, the reader always knows where she is because he tells the different stories in a "this happened then this happened" order. Within this framework, there were a few flashbacks, but the story was carried forward by the passage of time. We knew he'd either get out of jail or be sent to prison. We knew he'd eventually be arrested and go to jail. We knew he grew to at least the age of sixteen. All of this pulls the reader along. We are also pulled along by the question of "what exactly happened?" since he teases us by referring to the day he set the school on fire and the night the police chased down he and his friend Phillip before he actually tells the events.

This book is not for the faint of heart, but it's definitely worth the read.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Leisure Seeker

In The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian, an elderly couple, Ella with cancer and her husband John with Alzheimer's, set off from Detroit in their RV, a 1978 Leisure Seeker, headed down Route 66 to the Pacific Ocean and Disneyland against the wishes of their worried adult children. It's a perilous journey with many mini-adventures along the way, but for a couple deeply in love despite all life can throw at them, what they believe to be their last trip is truly the trip of a lifetime.

The book is structured as a simple roadtrip. Each chapter bears the name of a state through which they travel. Told from Ella's point of view, the story includes few flashbacks, and except for those and the slides the couple views most nights when they stop at an RV park, the story is told in the present and has the immediacy and familiarity of one told by a friend as you sit in an armchair listening.

I fell in love with Ella and John quickly and despite having an inkling of how it all might end, I had trouble putting the book down. A friend who knows Mr. Zadoorian told me that the book was gleaned from Zadoorian's experiences with his aging parents and was written as a way to deal with those losses. The book is fiction, but if his parents were anything like Ella and John, I sure wish I could have met them.

This was book number one of the fifty books I plan to read this year as part of the fiftyfifty.me challenge in which I and a slew of other folks attempt to read fifty books and watch fifty movies during 2012. join us, will you?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Resolution #2

Toward the end of last year I looked on my dresser at the numerous pairs of earrings, many never worn. Were they actually beckoning? It seemed as much. And so, my second challenge for 2012 is to wear a pair of earrings every day. "Just what does this have to do with writing?" you might ask. Well, let's just say that my attire is not always presentable. I have been known to drive through McDonald's in my pajamas and I sometimes appear quite rumpled when I sit down to write at a coffeehouse. And sometimes, people recognize me.

Back in the day when writers were more anonymous, when they didn't need Twitter accounts or blogs for their books to sell, it didn't matter what a writer looked like on a day to day basis. On the occasion of a reading, the writer who had spent every day writing in his pajamas, could head to Lazarus (it was a now defunct department store) to pick a few new threads off the sale rack, stop by the barber shop for a trim, and no one was the wiser.

But today, it's not uncommon to be waved at in the drive-through line. Despite being the 15th largest metropolitan area in the United States, Columbus is still a small town. And so, I decided to spruce myself up a bit - at least my earlobes. If you see me in public without earrings, please do not hesitate to remind me of the challenge. And if you see me in my pajamas in the drive-through, please just move along. There's nothing to see here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Resolution #1

"Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual." - Mark Twain

I don't typically make resolutions, but I do accept challenges. This year I have accepted the challenge to read 50 books and watch 50 movies. You too can join at http://www.fiftyfifty.me/ It will be a stretch. According to goodreads.com, I read 27 books last year. According to my increasingly shoddy memory, I watched about 12 movies. Time to crank up the volume.

The folks at fiftyfifty.me encourage us to create majors and minors by choosing lists of books in different categories. I chose two groups: books for fun and books to study for writing.

In the "books for fun" category, I began New Year's Day by listening to part of The Night Circus on CD. It's steampunk full of magical realism and not my usual fare, but it was written during National Novel Writing Month a few years ago and came highly recommended by some of my best writer friends. So far I'm enjoying it. With a second-person prologue, it can't be all bad!

As the first book in the "books to study for writing" category, I chose The Leisure Seeker: A Novel which was recommended by a friend who's a former editor. Zadoorian wrote the novel as a way to harness the material provided by watching his parents age. My friend, now a literary consultant, suggested that the book might give me some insight on how to distance myself when writing about similar experiences with my parents. Only 59 pages in, I can see how Zadoorian mined what he knew to shape the characters.

What about you? Any writing-related resolutions on your agenda for 2012? As always, I'd love to hear about them.