"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Duped Again: The Next Ten Books of 2013

I love getting lost in a good book.  But sometimes I get a little too lost.  More than once I have read an entire book only to find out after the fact that I was wrong about something big.  I don’t mean like who the killer was or how to pronounce Hermione.  I mean something BIG.  Like whether it was fiction or nonfiction.  And each time it happens I feel so betrayed.

The books I’ve read so far in 2013 have been particularly sneaky.  Jan Reid, the author of Let the People In: The Life and Time of Ann Richards, confused me because I thought he was a woman, so I read most of the book via a female voice in my head.  (Luckily, I figured out my mistake before I met him at my book club meeting, though I do think I would have been able to stop myself from saying, “Dude, I totally thought you were a woman.”)  Pat Barker, author of Regeneration, did the same thing to me.  Pat is a she.  However, I listened to the audio version of the novel, and it was read by a man, so it was not until I finished the book and looked up her other work when I realized my mistake.  Put your photo on your book jackets, people!

Regeneration duped me twice though, because it also falls into the category of books I have read whose characters are based off of real people.  Real people who I (sadly) knew nothing about.  Other books in that category include The Chaperone (about Louise Brooks) and Homer and Langley (about the real Homer and Langley, two men in New York City famous for their crazy eccentricity).  In Regeneration, I knew that Sassoon was a real person (though I knew nothing about him) but did not realize until after the fact that Graves and Rivers and Owen and others were also historical figures.

However, none of these book betrayals can compare to the humiliation I felt after reading Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning back in 2007.  The book is about eleven American tourists who mysteriously disappear in Burma after sailing off on a cruise, and it is told from the first person perspective of the tour leader who dies at the beginning of the book but continues to watch over the eleven tourists in spirit form, and I thought it was true.

Let me back up. 

I did not believe the story was actually written by a ghost.  I didn’t believe that the story itself was true.  After all (spoiler alert here) the tourists never make it back.  So how are we to know their story?  But I believed that the event—the disappearance of these American tourists in Burma—was real.  I believed Amy Tan had taken a nonfiction event and spun a fictional story about what might have happened to them. 

After I finished the book (which I loved) I started Googling, hoping to find out more about the real-life people and what happened to them.  And, strangely enough, every website that popped up linked me right back to this book.  This novel by Amy Tan.

I gotta tell you, it took me a long time to get over that one.

Despite the fact that books continue to deceive me, I continue to read them, and love them, and let myself be deceived.  So with that in mind, here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

What I’ve Been Reading:  Books #31-40 of 2013

(Books are rated using the Goodreads method, out of 5 stars.)


31. You Are Here: A Memoir of Arrival, by Wesley Gibson – * *

This is a strange book.  I didn’t love it, but I couldn’t put it down.  There were beautiful and powerful passages, but overall, much of it seemed directionless.  For my full review on Goodreads, click here

32. The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White - * * *

I don’t know if I’m alone here or not, but I thought this classic book about grammar and writing style was hilarious.  It was helpful at times and extremely unhelpful at others, but it made me grin all the way through.  Whether you agree with the strict rules of Strunk and White or not, you’ve got to admire them for their passion.  To read my full review of this book, click here

Entry from Elements of Style.  

33. And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini -  * *

I have already posted my review of this book.  It was not a favorite.  I thought my opinions about it might soften over time, but so far they have not.  Here’s a link to the full review, but beware—it gives away the ending. 

34. Call and Response: New Poems, by Margie McCreless Roe - * * * 

My review of this book is of a personal nature, and I want to share the whole thing here:

I met Margie McCreless Roe at BookPeople in Austin, Texas, in December of 2008. We were both there to read our poems from the 2009 Texas Poetry Calendar. My poem, an eight-line rhyme called "Harvest Moon", was my first published poem ever, and I was a bundle of nerves and excitement the entire evening. About twenty poets read that night, and though I tried to take it all in and remember everything, that proved impossible. In the end, a few people stood out, and one of them one Ms. Roe.

One of the reasons her poem "South Texas, Fall" caught my attention was because it shared the same page with my little poem, an honor for me. But I am certain that this poet would have remained in my memory even without that coincidence. I loved hearing her read her work aloud, and when she read her poem "God Eats Cafe" about a diner with an unfortunate misspelling on its sign, I knew I wanted to read more of her work. My parents gave me her book, Call and Response for Christmas a couple of weeks later.

You may wonder why it took me four and a half years to read it.

This is what I do with poetry books. I buy them (or receive them as gifts-- there is no better gift than poetry) and flip through them, reading a poem here and there, too excited about the volume as a whole to sit down and be still and read it properly. Then it sits on my bookshelf for a while (sometimes a long while) and I admire its spine and pull it out now and then to read another random poem. And then, one day, out of the blue, I decide it's time. I pick it up, I start on page one, and I read the whole thing through. This can still take quite a bit of time, even for a short collection. Poetry cannot be digested in large bites; it has to be nibbled on.

I have finally nibbled all the way through Call and Response, and it was a pleasure. Ms. Roe's poems combine the simple everyday of life with the infinite. They dip in and out of nature and religion and childhood and old age, like a bird swooping for insects. Not all of these poems were my taste, but I wouldn't expect them all to be. I rarely find a poetry collection that satisfies completely, and I doubt that one exists that could quench every appetite. But there were many in this book that made me pause or smile or blink back a tear. After reading it, I am more honored than ever that my first published poem shared a page with this poet.

I will leave you with my favorite poem from Call and Response by Margie McCreless Roe.

The Box

I have found a box for you.
A big one.
It will hold a good number of things
from the drawer in your room.

In the night after you were born
I dreamed of a small box
where I could put you
to keep you warm and safe.

A brave thing I do today--
handing you a perfect, empty box
and my blessing.

35. Anything But Typical, by Nora Raleigh Baskin - * * * *

I really enjoyed this young adult book told from the perspective of a boy with autism.  I recommend it for parents and children alike.  Here is my full review

36. Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards, by Jan Reid - *** 

This book (which is written by a man) is about a  very interesting and very influential Texas woman, former Governor Ann Richards.  I rarely read biographies, especially those of a political nature, so this book took me out of my comfort zone, but I learned a lot about Texas politics and the people who shaped the great city of Austin, and ended up really enjoying the lesson.  It was also a pleasure meeting the author, who spoke to my book club about writing this book about a woman who he knew personally. 

37. My Own True Name: New and Selected Poems for Young Adults, by Pat Mora - * * *

 A lovely book of poems.  Pat Mora captures the diversity of her background in her work and succeeds in showing us both the struggles and the beauty that come from belonging to two worlds.  To see my full review of her book, click here

38. The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton - * * * *

One point for Carie!  I figured out the twist to this story early on, allowing me to experience a rare and much-appreciated victory over these books that are always trying to trick me.  To see my review of The Secret Keeper, click here.


39. Regeneration, by Pat Barker - * * * *

The back cover of my copy of Regeneration says, “It is a war saga in which not a shot is fired.”  I think that’s what I enjoyed about this book.  It is a beautifully-written account of the horrors of WWI, but it plants those horrors in the readers’ hearts while still keeping them, for the most part, out of the trenches.  The book mostly takes place in the Craiglockhart War Hospital, where Sassoon (a famous poet and war hero) is sent for being “mentally unsound” after he publicly protests the war.

I also want to point out that this is the first book I have ever read via audio book.  I listened to it for eight hours in the car to and from Dallas, and it passed the time quite well.  It was interesting to note, while discussing the novel at book club, how the inflection given to certain passages can change the mood between characters dramatically.  There were certain parts of the book that seemed defensive and defiant to other readers, but which came off to me (via the voice of Peter Firth in my car speakers) as passive and nonchalant.

40. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott - * * *

I liked Bird by Bird, but even giving it three stars seems blasphemous, because I was told by so many people that I would love it.  While there was a lot of good writing advice within its pages and some inspirational passages, I did not feel as motivated or as eager to get back to the keyboard as I did when I read Stephen King’s On Writing or Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing.  To see my full review of Bird By Bird, click here

Counting Down…

Eighty-one days left in 2013 and ten more books to finish to reach my goal.  I think I can do it.  I’ll see you again in December for my final book blog of the year, but I’ll be posting reviews along the way.  Happy reading!

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