Thursday, August 25, 2011

Decatur Book Festival

Hey Everybody! For those of you who live in the south, I thought you might want to know about the Decatur Book Festival, which will be Sept 2-4 this year in Decatur, Georgia.  There will be authors from all genres there, but the festival will include mostly children's and YA literature. I'll be going so you can expect a full report afterwards, but if you think you might be interested, here's the link to their events site.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dearest Dorothy...

I was going to write a post in honor of Dorothy Parker's birthday today, but flavorwire beat me to it!  Here is their birthday tribute to Ms. Parker.  It's ironic to be celebrating the birthday of someone who attempted suicide several times, but I'm sure she would find this hilarious if she were alive today.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Happy Birthday, Jackie dahling!

   Jacqueline Susann wrote several novels, but she is probably best known for her cult classic, Valley of the Dolls, a novel that chronicles the lives of 3 women as they attempt to climb the social ladder into stardom.  The women are connected through their involvement in a  Broadway play, but the pressure of the glitz and glamor of Broadway and Hollywood are too much, and they fall prey to pill addiction (a.k.a. "dolls").  I read Valley of the Dolls in high school, and I loved it.  It's kind of a long, epic story, but the characters' descent into depression and addiction is one of those disasters you can't look away from.

   If Valley of the Dolls is too heavy for you, one of her other books that I enjoyed very much is called Every Night, Josephine!, Susann's biographical work about life with her very spoiled poodle.  I understand that dog narratives have been very popular recently, but I'm guessing that this book was one of the firsts to conquer the subject of pampered pets with big personalities.  Even if you're not a dog person, Every Night, Josephine! is a good read.  It's a quick, funny little memoir that touches on companionship, marriage, compromises, and (of course) spoiled little poodles.

   Jacqueline Susann died of cancer in 1973, but her legacy as a writer, and a controversial social presence remains.  In her lifetime, Valley of the Dolls was often criticized for being obscene and trashy.  In turn, rumors persisted that Susann herself was of low moral standards and possibly even a lesbian.  Either way, I think we will continue to see this book on bedside tables, in subways and airplanes for a long time.  The fact is, Jacqueline Susann knew that there is something that attracts us to social disasters and the fall of celebrities.  Based on the amount of celebrity gossip that dominates newsstands and tv shows today, I'd say she was right on the mark with Valley of the Dolls in assuming that the book's subject matter would always have an audience.

Happy Birthday, Jackie Doll!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Model Home by Eric Puchner

   Set in the mid 1980s, Model Home tells the story of a family unraveling in the midst of an economic crisis.  Warren Ziller works as a housing developer, selling poorly constructed homes to unsuspecting families.  The Zillers have lived very privileged lives until Warren's real estate bubble bursts and he is forced to move his crumbling family into the desert - into the very same neighborhood he has been trying to sell.

   But even before Warren is struck down by karma, his family was already slipping away from him.  Camille, his wife, believes he has been having an affair so she gives up on their relationship altogether.  Warren's two teenagers, Dustin and Lyle are involved in a strangely magnetic push and pull social scene, and the youngest, Jonas, is usually ignored due to his morbid eccentricities.  When a tragic accident forces them to move into the run-down house in the middle of nowhere, each family member's downward spiral is chronicled, and their individual and collective stories are painful reminders of how close they came to happiness.

   I was particularly heartbroken by Jonas's story.  At 11 years old, he is introverted and quirky, which is why his family finds him so easy to ignore.  When the tragedy that befalls the Ziller family is wrongly blamed on Jonas, he must descend the ranks of his family even further.  Believing that Jonas is the cause of their misfortunes, the Zillers are cruel to him - they ignore him mostly, but when he tries to make peace with them by bringing gifts and other subtle offerings, he is mocked and chastised.  Jonas becomes the family's scapegoat in every sense of the word, yet their problems remain.

   Model Home represents the other side of the American coin, confronting the question "What happens if we cannot achieve the American Dream?"  Well, nothing really.  You live in mediocrity.  In reality.  The living situation is not ideal, but you are still living.  The problem with the Zillers is that they blame all of their problems on one single event and live their lives in mourning over the loss of wealth, success, and happiness.  But in reality, they weren't that happy in the first place.  But more importantly, Puchner's novel is about our painstaking efforts to communicate with each other.  Despite tragedy, poverty, disappointment, and shattered expectations, we cannot stop our impulses to maintain human connection.  Even when relationships are toxic, there is something magnetic in our desires to stay connected to each other, and therefore, loneliness is one of the greatest tragedies that can befall a human being.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A tribute to Jonthan Franzen, on his birthday.

   Y'all know I love to celebrate authors' birthdays, and today we celebrate Jonathan Franzen's 52nd birthday.  While I enjoyed his newest novel, Freedom, my favorite of his novels is definitely The Corrections.  Many people remember this book from the Oprah scandal that surrounded its release.  Basically, The Corrections was chosen to be a part of Oprah's Book Club, and Jonathan Franzen was hesitant about how that might affect potential readers, especially males.  Of course, it was blown waaayy out of proportion in the media and Mr. Franzen was portrayed as an ungrateful snob.  Oprah fans were pissed.  But I definitely understand his concern.  While I love the fact that Oprah's Book Club gets people reading who might not normally pick up a book, it also attaches a certain stigma to whichever book is chosen.

   Anyway, for those who have not had the opportunity to read The Corrections, I encourage you to do so.  This book contains some of the most well-developed, multidimensional characters that I have ever encountered.  The novel is about the Lambert family - a group of cynical, dysfunctional, and detached people (at least when it comes to each other).  But due to their father's declining health, the scattered Lambert children are asked to re-converge for one last family Christmas together, where they must face each others' flaws and confront their own imperfections both individually, and collectively as a family.  I know my description can in no way accurately describe how amazing this book really is, but you'll just have to take my word.  It's definitely more character-driven than plot-driven, but the Lamberts are so familiarly dysfunctional that it is hard not to sympathize on many different levels and become involved in their histories.  I read this book 5 years ago, but it has really stuck with me, and I will never stop recommending it to others.

 Happy Birthday, Jonathan Franzen.  Please write forever!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bukowski's Big Day

   If you've ever read anything by Charles Bukowski, then you know he had some serious problems.  He mostly wrote about drugs, alcohol, sex, and work - well, how much he hated to work.  Despite Bukowski's depression and addictions, he managed to become a highly respected poet and novelist.  For me, his work would probably fall into the "naturalist" category (even though the timeline doesn't quite match up. I know), writing about the down and out members of a hopeless society - those hardworking men and women of the lower class who enjoy few pleasures in life other than drink and sex. least according to Charles Bukowski.  His world was a dismal one, yet the raw, crude honesty of his writing is what will continue to keep him relevant.

   On this day in 1920, Mr. Bukowski was born in Germany, but his family moved to America when he was only 2 years old, so I guess that's how we can claim him as an American.  Anyway, in Bukowski's more autobiographical works he reveals a tumultuous childhood riddled with poverty, and emotional and physical abuse from his father.  It's no wonder why he developed such severe depression, and if you want to read more about his childhood, you can pick up a copy of Ham on Rye, his book that documents this time period in great detail.

   A few years ago, I read Post Office, which is Bukowski's semi-autobiographical tale of Henry Chinaski, a bored, self-destructive, yet funny and sarcastic postal worker. who does that remind us of?  Post Office is not for the faint of heart or those who are easily offended.  The book is full of profanity, violence, and sexually explicit content.  Needless to say, Charles Bukowski was often (and still is) criticized for being a bad influence on readers.  But he seemed to believe that humans are the most corruptible beings ever to exist and that, as creatures of discontent, we deserve to be a little devious from time to time - to suck a little fun out of life before life sucks all the fun out of us.

   Whatever your personal sentiments toward him may be, there is no denying Bukowski's tremendous influence on American culture and literature.  He died in 1994, but today would be his 91st birthday if he were still alive.  So wherever you are, Mr. Bukowski, know that world raises its dirty shot glass to you and toasts your memory today.  Happy Birthday.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma

   Alice and her father, Jim, both share an intense love and appreciation for books.  Jim is a school librarian and Alice is a nine year-old with a big imagination when they complete their first reading streak.  The challenge was that Jim had to read aloud to Alice for at least ten minutes a day for 100 consecutive days.  When "the streak" is completed, both decide that 100 days of reading was hardly a challenge at all , so why not try for 1000 days?  Neither Alice nor her father had any idea that this tradition would continue for almost 9 years - until Alice would leave home for college.

   This is a really sweet story.  This book is about much more than a family tradition - it chronicles her relationship with her father and how they managed to stay connected through their commitment to reading together.  They even read together when they were in an argument and otherwise not on speaking terms, which is pretty remarkable for a teenage girl.  Considering that Jim is an elementary school librarian, Alice was probably predestined to become a reader (and writer).  Much of The Reading Promise is about Jim's career as a librarian, which I found to be particularly interesting since I am currently in Library Science school.  Jim is adamant that young children need to be read to, as it improves their development and skills, and makes them more likely to read on their own.  In a world where it seems like reading is being phased out of schools, or at least less emphasized, The Reading Promise serves as a wonderful reminder of what a difference books make in our level of education.

   What I did not like about this book was Alice's over-exaggerated and often cheesy description of her father.  I get that she admires him and appreciates what he did for her, but she was sometimes a bit overzealous in referring to him as a superhero, and emphasizing that he is the most unique man in the world and the best father ever. Sometimes I felt like the book was her way of buttering him up before asking for a new car or something.

   Overall, though, I enjoyed this book.  We see so many stories about young girls and their relationships with their mothers, but Alice's story is about her father who raised her as a single dad and remained dedicated to his children - dedicated enough to read to his daughter every single day for 3218 days.  While my dad didn't read to me every night for 9 years, as a child, I remember bringing stacks of picture books to him, and he would read to me until my little heart was content.  I am grateful for that, because I do believe that played  a big role in the development of my love for literature.  So I did feel quite nostalgic while reading this memoir, and it made me feel like giving my dad a hug.

   The Reading Promise is a great reminder of why we need books in our lives (especially children), and that you're never too old to be read to.  Just ask my husband.  He still loves for me to read to him.  And look at the popularity of audio books.  It just proves that storytelling is still one of the most important aspects of language and communication that we have, and whether you're a small child or an adult, everybody likes to hear a good story.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Edinburgh Book Festival

Flavorwire reviews the Edinburgh National book festival, complete with the festival's list of book recommendations

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mr Slim!

   If Robert Beck (AKA Iceberg Slim) were alive today, he would be 93 years old.  Even though he died in 1992, Iceberg Slim is still known as one of the world's most famous pimps!  I's kind of a strange claim to fame, but Iceberg Slim documented his life as a pimp through his literature, which gave an experienced voice to the sex-trade industry in the 1960s during a time when prostitution and sexuality were not exactly discussed openly.

   His first book, Pimp, is an autobiographical (but somewhat fictionalized) account of life on the streets.  I read this book a few years ago, and the reality of the violence, poverty, and misogyny involved in the prostitution business is heartbreaking.  I mean, I wasn't expecting it to be a super sweet, heartwarming tale or anything, it's just a little more jarring when you know that Iceberg Slim's accounts are based in the reality of his experience as a pimp for over 20 years.  After several imprisonments, Iceberg Slim changed his name to Robert Beck, got married and left the pimping business behind.  The book was written years after Slim left the business, and in retrospect, he seems incredibly regretful about many of the decision he made that led to his life of crime.  Some of the book even feels like an apology to his wife and the women he employed.  Iceberg Slim went on to write several more books, some of the more famous titles being Mama Black Widow, and Trick Baby.
    The book includes a glossary of lesser known pimping terms to aide readers unfamiliar with the business, which I had to refer to many many times...similar to the Clockwork Orange reading experience.  But be warned, this book contains graphically violent and sexual content.  Still, Pimp is an incredibly valuable piece of literature as it gave a voice to a different facet of the black community and continues to be influential to writers, filmmakers, and artists all over the world.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize wining novel reads like a mixed tape of characters so there's something for everyone.  And seriously...this book should come with a soundtrack.