Monday, August 25, 2008

Catching Up

It's been so long since my last blog that when I typed "g" into my browser, it didn't even remember that I had ever been to this website! I would offer a longer apology and explanation, except there's so many other things that I need to get down to.

First and foremost, the books. While I have not been blogging, I have been reading quite a bit. A quick rundown of the books I've been devouring, in no particular order because I can't even remember the order anymore:

(1) The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee is one of my favorite books I've read this summer. Lee starts out by exploring the history of the fortune cookie and ends up delving into Chinese culture in America and how Chinese food plays such a big part of it. My favorite thing about the book is that it sheds a huge amount of light into a culture that is all around us. Definitely, definitely pick this book up.

(2) I got my hands on an advanced reader's copy of What Rhymes with Bastard, a memoir by Linda Robertson. Rarely would I say this, but I wish I had never touched the thing. It comes out later this week, and I have a feeling that it will be one of those books hanging out at the front of your local Barnes and Noble. But really, folks, don't waste your time, unless you're just dying to read another book desperately trying to make a ridiculously bad situation into something clever. I don't know why there's this huge trend in memoirs toward drug abuse, bad relationships, joblessness looked at through a lens of humor and confusion. I found the main character wholly unrelatable, and though I tried to stick with the book, I finally through it across the room at page 144, when she bumps into her estranged husband and starts the same cycle of verbal abuse and hatred all over again. Reading this book is the equivalent of spending a night watching A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, Denise Richards: It's Complicated, and Living Lohan. I didn't pick it up again after throwing it across the room.

(2) A memoir that I enjoyed much more was The Cactus Eaters by Dan White. The book recounts White's decision to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail with his girlfriend. Part journal, part history lesson, and part adventure story, the book is a surprisingly quick read considering it comes in at exactly 400 pages. You find yourself rooting for him, even as he makes some ridiculous mistakes. He also doesn't take himself too seriously, and makes the trail, it's history, and his relationship with others on and after the trail very real.

(3) Taft by Ann Patchett. Let me start by saying, I love Ann Patchett. Her novel Bel Canto is on my list of all-time favorites (I've read it twice,) and I have always found that she is a master at making her characters live and breathe off the page. What she does with Taft is pretty incredible, telling a story of race, marriage, drug abuse, and parenthood without ever making you feel like she's set out with a theme. I love her characters, and I loved the decisions her characters make.

(4) So I'm almost embarrassed to admit I read Marley and Me by John Grogan. It's one of those books I would snobbishly avoid, like The DaVinci Code or anything by Nicholas Sparks. But, as a dogowner and doglover, this book has been recommended to me many times. I picked it up just to waste ten minutes while waiting for someone at the bookstore, and after reading just ten pages, decided to buy it. While there are many cheesy scenes, the book still managed to strike a chord with me. I will admit that in the end, I was laying in my bed with my dog, and crying over Marley. And I'm refusing to be embarrassed about it.

(6) Another one you must pick up is St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell. This is by far and away the best collection of short stories I've read in years. There's a hint of the fantastical in every story, and many of them are nothing short of brilliant. This is definitely a contender for favorite book of the year, though there are still four months left to try to find something that surpasses Russell's work.

(7) One of my favorite authors is Tobias Wolff. His novel Old School is a somewhat romantic view of a boarding school, filled with students who love to learn and are passionate about their work. For booklovers, this is a fun one because it's set in the early 1960s and the students at this particular boarding school are given the opportunity to compete in contests with the rewards of meeting great authors of the time. The main character is writing, trying to win the opportunity to meet with Robert Frost, then Ayn Rand, then Hemingway. While the story is framed within the contexts of these individual contests, the setting is brilliantly drawn.

Beyond these books, I've devoured issues of the New Yorker, Paris Review, Granta, and One Story. So little time, so much I want to read.

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