The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer is a book about life and its endless possibilities.
When the novel begins, a group of six childhood friends are on equal footing; all of them have an artistic talent and the environment to nurture that talent. As we follow the group into adulthood we see those endless possibilities dwindle into a single reality. We see varying degrees of love, money, talent, ambition, and satisfaction and the roles they play in the lives of these six intertwined friends.
Comparing the outcomes of these six fictional lives is a small step away from comparing our own lives to our own peers. This novel, however, can show us that finding the perfect balance to happiness is not always as straightforward as we would like it to be.
The quote below summarizes this theme of the novel. The funnel however, does not stop after childhood, the funnel continues to narrow and squeeze with every choice we make.
“When you have a child,” [Ash had] recently said to Jules, it’s like right away there’s this grandiose fantasy about who he’ll become. And then time goes on and a fuel appears. And the child gets pushed through t that funnel, and shaped by it, and narrowed a little bit. So now you know he’s not going to be an athlete. and now you know he’s not going to be a painter. Now you know he’s not going to be a linguist. All these difference possibilities fall away.”
The Interestings is in the running for the best book cover. Although not particularly representative of the story, the attention it draws is undeniable.
If you are looking for pure entertainment, this book is not for you. However… if you let this novel plant seeds in your mind, and if you let your wandering thoughts water those seeds, you may find yourself emerged in something much larger and much more rewarding than a novel.
One more good quote…
“Part of the beauty of love was that you didn’t need to explain it to anyone else. You could refuse to explain. With love, apparently you didn’t necessarily feel the need to explain anything at all.”
Here is my favorite blog post of the year, a list of my favorite books read in 2015. Although the publishing dates range from 2001 to 2014, they all found their way to the top of my reading list last year and I’m very glad they did!
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
This novel is inspiring, imaginative, unique, and fulfilling. It’s a story I want so badly to be true that sometimes I ignore the label of fiction it possesses.
Journey. Expedition. Adventure. None of these words quite capture the magic felt while cruising the Pacific’s current with Pi Patel, a zoo-keeper’s son who finds himself stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of an ocean with a murderous bengal tiger.
Without cramming Life of Pi‘s theme into a single word or phrase, it is about… Humanity. Peace. Storytelling. Faith. And how we interprets these things. What we choose to believe and how we push away the improbable as impossible.
I recommend it to anyone who wants to be inspired by imagination.
Dry by Augusten Burroughs
One of the best pieces of creative nonfiction I have ever read. Burroughs’ brilliant storytelling mixes pure truth with dirty humor in this memoir about his struggle with alcoholism.
I recommend it to lovers of creative nonfiction, people who want to understand what creative nonfiction is all about; and anyone interested in getting a first-person perspective of an alcoholic.
A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan
There is an argument surrounding A Visit From the Goon Squad whether it is a novel or a collection of linked short stories. That gray area is a main reason I loved this story. It jumps in time, switches character perspective, and leaves you slightly dazed and confused.
I recommend it to readers and writers who want to think about time and those who enjoy blurred boundaries.
Redeployment by Phil Klay
This collection of short stories surrounding political, emotional, and humanity issues of the Iraq War is must-read! Klay’s writing is concise, dense, and relevant to our time. While some stories may draw you to tears, others may outrage you into action.
I recommend it to every American.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. Like Redeployment it is a story of our times, portraying an insiders view of Iraq in the years before America declared war. But don’t mistake this novel for a war story, it is a story of human nature through and through. The story is one I will not easily forget.
I recommend it to thoughtful readers who are curious about human nature and why we do the things we do.
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Set in the Minnesota summer of 1961, Ordinary Grace is an enriching story about real life and untimely death. It is filled with memorable, flawed characters; written in a clear, comforting voice; and set in a world that feels far away yet so close to the heart.
I recommend it to readers looking for an honest, realistic, heart-felt story. Also to anyone looking for an exceptional audio book!
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Devil in the White City is a story about the Chicago World Fair in 1893 and the notorious mass murderer, Dr. H. H. Holmes. While so many historical nonfiction authors are not, Erik Larson is a story teller, making the story very entertaining. The story drops teasers like a suspense novel, builds character like literary fiction, and weaves multiple story lines better than most novels in any genre.
I recommend it to fiction lovers who crave a little history.
Elegies of the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen
Through detailed looks at side characters, we get a gradual picture of the main character’s life. Elegies is a story of unique structure that will make you take a close look at the people in your life and the impact left lingering long after they disappear.
I recommend it to readers and writers who crave something other than the lovable main character in the typical obstacle-based plot.
Tobias Wolff captures his childhood in a pool of childhood adventures written in quick, smooth prose.
Wolff wastes no time with his writing. He knows exactly where he’s going and jumps directly into the scene. Wolff’s opening sentences widen your eyes and narrow your vision. He jumps time swiftly, skipping weeks, months, even years in single sentences without jarring the reader.
First sentences of chapters:
- The sheriff came to the house one night and told the Bolgers that Chuck was about to be charged with statutory rape.
- Our car boiled over again just after my mother and I crossed the Continental Divide.
- My father took off for Las Vegas with his girlfriend the day after I arrived in California.
- When I was alone in the house I went through everyone’s private things.
- I kept outgrowing my shoes, two pairs in the seventh grade alone.
A Memoir Point of View
The distant, introspective nature of memoirs always strikes me as curious. Wolff writes in the first person, but I felt disconnected to the story, as if Wolff is writing the memoir in order to discard the old memories instead of capture their timelessness. His rebellious youth, disjointed family life, and lack of respect seem like a distant life, even for the reader.
This Boy’s Life leaves a trail of breadcrumbs that seems certain to lead to destruction. If I didn’t know the main character went on to live a long life filled with writing, I would have guessed the book to end with his death or imprisonment. He was surrounded by dangerous people and cared very little for his well being. At times, I felt shivers go up my spine.
A Memorable Quote
“Like anyone else, she must have wanted different things at the same time. The human heart is a dark forest.”
Although Tobias Wolff is one of my favorite short story authors, I didn’t enjoy his memoir as much. He’s certainly a fantastic writer and his childhood was filled with smirking adventures, but the story did not capture me.
“Elegies is the literary equivalent of a hand grenade: brisk and unsparing, fueled by anger, laced with caustic wit and composed in long, cartwheeling sentences that expose the bleakest of truths.” –New York Times Book Review
Elegies of the Brokenhearted is broken into five sections, each one centering around an individual that influenced the main character, Mary Murphy, in a significant way. These characters include Mary’s favorite uncle who was the drunken failure of the family, a high school outcast, her overly-eccentric college roommate who tells fortunes, an aging musician composing a life-long composition, and her mother who is no less interesting than all the previous combined. Through these detailed looks at others, we get a gradual picture of Mary’s life.
Elegies takes a close look at how even the smallest characters in our lives can have a huge effect on us. Although that theme has certainly been beat into the ground, Christie Hodgen spins it into a unique and entertaining tale you will not quickly forget.
Point of View and Structure
Mary Murphy makes herself a side character in her own story. She narrates each elegy in the second person, focusing the bulk of the narrative on side characters and away from herself. We learn about Mary–her tendencies, her desires, her fears–as she focuses on the traits of others. Each elegy (section) is a very distinct story from the next, each section could be considered a short story in itself, but the thing that ties them all together is Mary’s narrative and the stretched timeline of her life.
The story reads like a memoir. The timeline is structured by the individual stories, freeing it from a linear structure and often revealing plot points early on that will be discussed in depth late in the novel. It might sound confusing, but its written seamlessly. Because the novel covers 20+ years of Mary’s life, there are obvious time markers (like Mary attending college) that make the timeline very easy to follow.
Mary is as passive a main character as you will find. Not only does she focus the narration away from herself and onto others but seems to live through these people. She admires their quirks, their adventures, their bravery, their confidence, but has none of these things herself. She is very content (to the point that she’s okay washing dishes at a restaurant after earning a college degree) and accepts whatever happens to her. She allows the people around her to direct her life (she chooses French as a college major simply because an adviser suggests it and she doesn’t know what else to do).
Hodgen balances her main character’s passivity and uneventful nature by surrounding her with characters that are the exact opposite, characters that have aspirations and take risks, characters that do not settle. Its a beautiful balance.
Writing Prompt: Brainstorm other ideas/plots/settings that would make a passive main character interesting.
5 stars! I loved Elegies of the Brokenhearted. It touched me emotional and intellectually and I will look forward to rereading it a few years from now when I’m sure to find even more magic within the pages.
A big little life is a story of a dog that loved, inspired, entranced and spread joy to everyone close to her. Just as Trixie, the soulful golden retriever, changed the lives of those that loved her, this book has the power to change the lives of its readers. A big little life is so much more than a story about a dog. It’s a story about life, love, and loss.
This memoir highlights not only the wonders of loving a dog, but the wonders and magic of life itself. It opens the reader’s mind to the beautiful complexities of life and how a dog can help us enjoy the simple pleasures that are always around us. Unconditionally loving a dog and receiving that unconditional love in return can soften the heart and open the mind.
When death takes someone whom you love to the very core, whether family, a friend, or a dog, the pain reflects the joy that came before it. The more you loved that soul during their life, the more painful it will be to say goodbye but never will the pain outweigh the previous bliss. Koontz’s enforces this in the book’s dedication, “…the pain was so great because the joy before it was even greater.”
Koontz’s personality shines through in this novel. Not many books make me laugh out loud (and I am quick to laugh) but this book provided me that pleasure. I fell in love with Trixie. She made me laugh, she made me cry and though I never knew her, I love her because I cherish what she left behind; a better world.
Some will say, “She was only a dog.”
Yes, she was dog, but not only a dog. I am a man, but not only a man. Sentiment is not sentimentality, common sense is not common ignorance, and intuition is not superstition. Living with a recognition of the spiritual dimension of the world not only ensures a happier life but also a more honest intellectual life than if we allow no room for wonder and refuse to acknowledge the mystery of existence.
**All photos taken from DeanKoontz.com/Trixie
Earlier this week I was walking my dog when I crossed paths with a stranger on the sidewalk. It was one of those (awkward) moments when my dog was really determined to sniff a particular parcel of grass so I was standing stiff as the man approached me head on. Here’s what happened next:
At first, I thought he was bald but as he came closer I realized his blond hair was cropped very short. His freckles creeped all the way across the top of his head. Although his clothes were clean and neat, they looked well-worn and possible picked up from the Goodwill a few blocks away.
“Shitzu?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“She is thirteen years old,” I said proudly.
“Thirteen, really?” he said. “I would have guessed five or six.”
My dog, Ginger, deciding the new human was more interesting that particular parcel of grass, approached the man.
“May I pet her?” he squatted, revealing a shabby military surplus backpack slung over his shoulders as he held out the back of his hand to my 13-year-old dog I still consider a puppy.
“Uh, of course,” I mumbled, not immediately comprehending what he had asked.
My dog has never had much interest in strangers and even less in other dogs. When we pass neighborhood dogs on our walks, their owners reeling in their leashes as the dogs bark, growl and buck on their back legs trying to get a sniff of Ginger, she gives them a quick look of curiosity and continues walking forward. So after a quick sniff of this stranger’s hand, she continues walking down the sidewalk. The man stands as I begin to follow my leash.
“Have an excellent day,” he waves an open palm at waist height.
And that was that. But what if it wasn’t? What if my dog had instantly fallen in love with this guy and stayed to let him pet her? What would he have said next? What would I? Maybe we had a mutual friend or worked in different departments of the same large company. What if we discovered we lived on the same street and he invited me to a neighborhood BBQ he was having next week? The possibilities were endless and it made my mind spin like a child’s imagination when playing with an unlimited amount of Legos.
So, here is the writing prompt:Think of an interaction you had with a stranger (or keep this in mind for the next time you do) and continue the conversation beyond the point that it ended.
So here is what could have happened, backing up before the goodbye…
“She’s beautiful,” he said.
“Do you live around here?” Ginger leaned into his hand, digging deep below her ear.
“Yes,” I said, almost saying the specific street but deciding against it, “do you?”
“Not really,” he said. “I live a couple miles away but got off the bus early to walk. The bus was stuffy.”
“Mmm, I agree its too beautiful a day to waste.”
He looked up at me from his squatting position—I couldn’t believe my dog was staying with him so long—she rarely lets me scratch her ears this long. His smile was quiet and genuine, showing no teeth. “I’m Jamison,” he said, standing up.
“Weird,” I smiled as I shook his hand, “I’m Tequila.”
After such a quiet smile, his laugh was louder than I expected. It was one of those rare laughs that you only come across a handful of times in your life, the type of laugh that makes everyone within earshot smile and everyone in on the conversation laugh along. And I did.
“In that case, I was thinking about stopping at El Loro on my way home, care to join me for a happy hour margarita, Tequila?”
I laughed again at his casual use of my made-up name.
“I actually have someone waiting for me at home.”
“Ahh, of course. You’re too beautiful and funny to be single.” Normally a comment like that from a stranger would have me running in the other direction, but the way he said it was so cool, and casual. It was not a threat, not even a flirt, but simply a compliment, and he did not pause before he continued, “And in that case, I’m having a get-together at my house on Thursday. Just a few friends and neighbors grilling in my backyard. You and your boyfriend should come, and bring this little girl as well,” he said, reaching down and giving Ginger one last scratch behind the ear. She was ready to go now, pulling on the leash I kept short.
“Oh, well, I can ask my boyfriend if he’s free that night.”
“Perfect,” Jamison said, “I’ll give you my address.” He pulled a small notebook and pen out of the cargo pocket on his shorts and scribbled down his address.
“Thanks,” I said, taking the paper he ripped from the notebook.
“Come anytime after six. I promise it will be really casual—bring drinks if you like—and a big enough crowd not to feel like an outsider. Maybe 30 people.”
“Okay.” I pocketed the paper. “Ready to go, Ginger?” and she galloped forward as I let the leash out. “Nice to meet you.”
“And you as well.”
And we both walked our separate ways, both wondering if we’d see each other on Thursday, or ever again.
The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body by Cameron Diaz is a book everyone, women especially as the book targets them, should not only read but embrace.
Before The Body Book, I had read a “self-help” book of any kind since assigned The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens in high school, but even I can tell this book is completely unique. It doesn’t lay out rules or diets or exercise plans. It informs the reader of the miraculous ways the body works, and how what we eat (as well as what we think and our activity level) affects how we feel mentally and physically. It explains the biological process of digestion in a way the average jane can easily understand.
The book is split into three sections; Nutrition, Fitness and Mental Health. Personally, I found the Nutrition section the most interesting because there is so much we don’t know about the foods we eat and the ways it affect our daily lives that I wanted to absorb every bit of it! All three sections were filled with well-researched information and intertwined with Diaz’s own healthy habits and suggestions that really make the ultimate goal seem reachable.
Going into this book with a neutral opinion about Cameron Diaz, I’ve come away with loads of respect for her. Her writing was unexpectedly smooth, informational and entertaining all at the same time. Her friendly, enthusiastic attitude is contagious throughout the entire book. It’s conversational and accepting, never making the reader feel inferior, a difficult thing to do when telling people how to improve themselves.
I read The Body Book in April of this year and I continue to think about the things it taught me on a regular basis. I have adapted some of Cameron’s healthy habits as my own and have a greater respect for my body and the miracle that it is. I am by no means the healthiest eater out there but I am much more aware of how individual foods affect my body and I strive to make healthy choice every day and there’s no doubt that I’ve improved. I have already recommended this book to a handful of friends and although the book clearly targets women, I encouraged my boyfriend to read it (but skip the part about the women’s reproduction system) and he loved it and learned a lot from it as well! Now I’m recommending it to YOU! This could be the first step in a healthier you!
I am currently reading Dean Koontz’s latest novel, The City, and am absolutely loving it. I do not want it to end. The writing, the story, the characters, the magically dangerous mood, I love it all. If you’re looking for a great read, pick up The City.
Being able to put life’s undeniable, yet simple truths into a novel in a way that does not sound like pretentious rambling is one of my ultimate goals as a writer. Here are a few quotes from The City that I feel do just that.
“After you have suffered great losses and known much pain, it is not cowardice to wish to live henceforth with minimum of suffering. And one form of heroism, about which few if any films will be made, is having the courage to live without bitterness when bitterness is justified, having the strength to persevere even when perseverance seems unlikely to be rewarded, having the resolution to find profound meaning in life when it seems the most meaningless.” pg. 134
“When you keep a secret from those closest to you, even with the best of motives, there is danger that you will create a smaller life within you main life. The first secret will spin off other secrets that also must be kept, complicated webs of evasion that grow into elaborate architectures of repressed truths and subterfuge, until you discover that you must live two narratives at once. Because deception requires both bold lies of omission, it stains the soul, muddies the conscience, blurs the vision, and puts you at risk of headlong descent into greater darkness.” pg. 141
“After all these years, I occasionally wonder how my life would have been different if in that fateful moment I had followed my first impulse and had run. But I suppose that what we call intuition is just one of the may ways that the still small voice in our souls speaks to us, if we will listen, and that inner companion wants only what is best for us. If I had run, no doubt what might have happened to me would have been far worse than what did happen, my losses even greater than they had been, my story darker than the one I’ve lived. And yet I wonder.” pg. 175
In my previous post 5 Things Every Writing Room Should Have, I promised I would share my redecorated writing room. I really wish I had taken “before” pictures so you can all see the total transformation but you’ll just have to take my word for it. Previously, the room had pale, faded yellow paint and hideous red carpet. It was outdated, claustrophobic and boring. Now it looks like this…
I painted the walls with a two-tone roller with a dark green and light green paint. The two colors mix when placed on the wall, creating a wide variety of tones. The roller also has a unique texture that when used with the greens gives quite the leafy forest feel. I was pleased to find this beautiful wood floor under the red carpet. Together, the walls and floor create the perfect nature feel that I’m crazy about!
I’m lucky enough to have room for this large bookshelf and a reading chair.
One more bookshelf because you can never have enough…
I purchased this quill sticker to place above my desk to add a little flair. (I love the entire room but this just might be my favorite part!) I’ve also started collecting books that are either really old or have unique spines/titles to place on an independent shelf next to this sticker. Although the collection is pretty minimal so far, you get the idea.
So that’s my new writing room! I feel very lucky to have such an amazing space to chase my dreams and I think I truly captured all 5 of my requirements for a great writing room:
1. A Sense of Comfort
2. An Abundance of Writing Tools
3. Lots and lots of Books!
4. Resources and…
5. Something that Reminds me Why I Write
Book Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Published in 1999 by MTV Books/Pocket Books.
I’m varying from my typical structure for this book review because every time I think about or begin to write about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, there is one central point that I cannot get away from, Charlie. Charlie is the 15-year-old narrator of the story. The book is written in the form of letters, from Charlie to an unnamed “friend.” They are very casual and journal-like. The letters balance between accounting Charlie’s day-to-day life and mining the diamond-like thoughts he unearths before us.
Charlie writes his first letter the day before his first day of high school. He is a loner, a listener, an observer, a wallflower. His only friend committed suicide the year before and his brother, whom he was very close with, left home to attend college. He reads an obsessive amount of books, enjoys walking around his neighborhood alone, and cannot seem to stop the tornado of thoughts from swirling 24/7 inside his head.
There are parts of Charlie that we all wish we could be
and parts that we all fear we are.
But through all that, I think the most important part about Charlie is this: there are parts of Charlie that we all wish we could be and parts that we all fear we are. He’s a thinker. He thinks about why he thinks things. He does not tunnel his thoughts; he lets them lead him. Because he thinks so much but rarely speaks, he uses writing to get the thoughts out of his head. That is where we, the readers, come in.
The quote on the back of the book says Charlie is “caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it” and I surrender to the fact that I could not have said it better myself. The books he obsessively read is a way for his to escape, especially from his own thoughts. Its not a mistake that Charlie doesn’t think deeply about the books because if he did, it wouldn’t be much of a mistake.
We don’t worry about Charlie being a reliable narrator
because his thoughts, his interpretations
are all we grow to care about.
This next quote from the book struck me so true, it still puts a smile on my face months after I’ve read the book. “I almost didn’t get an A in math, but then Mr. Calo told me to stop asking “why?” all the time and just follow the formulas. So, I did. I get perfect scores on all my tests. I just wish I knew what the formulas did. I honestly have no idea.” Being able to plug Charlie’s personality into something as boring and irrelative as math class proves how well Chbosky was in-tuned with his character. It’s brilliant.
I connected with Charlie (as so many people have). I felt bad for him and I felt sad with him. Written in any other point of view, this book would not be so successful. We don’t worry about Charlie being a reliable narrator because his thoughts, his interpretations are all we grow to care about.