Thursday, September 13, 2012

Reboboth Reading

I’m back! I was away for a little vacation in Rehoboth Beach and Vermont. While in Rehoboth I purchased a book that has lots of promise (for me) called Culinary Intelligence by Peter Kaminsky. I love to read books about good food and smart eating. God knows I need that kind of input! I haven’t started that book yet. First, I had to finish Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed. 

As the title suggests, Ms. Strayed was in a bad state when she began her journey on the Pacific Coast Trail. She was broken in many ways. She had lost her mother to cancer and was reeling from her loss. Her marriage had just ended in divorce, and she was trying to figure out who she was and where she was going. 

Wild was an important book for me in many ways. My stepchildren lost their mother suddenly almost three years ago. While I had empathy and sympathy, I couldn’t really understand fully what they were experiencing. Of course I knew that it was profoundly sad, but not having experienced anything like that myself, I couldn’t fully comprehend the depth of their loss. Ms. Strayed was so articulate about her feelings, her grief and her loss that she helped me relate to my stepchildren better. I appreciate her for that. 

I have always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail and was planning to do so this past March. I read books, watched videos, made plans, and dreamed about it. A section of my basement is filled with some of the gear that I would need. Like Ms. Strayed, I am not an experienced hiker or camper. I’ve been a city person my entire adult life, but I had complete faith in my ability to hike for seven to eight months. Then I had a health issue come up, and now I can’t figure out how to make it work. So, reading Wild was a vicarious pleasure for me. 

I recommend this book to you. Oprah also recommended this book, and I’ve heard that there are “Oprah” editions out there that are driving people nuts. Oprah highlighted sections that she thought were relevant. I suggest finding a non-Oprah version to read, if you are anything like me - although I love to talk about them, I like my books to be between me and the author. 

I did finish that book that I mentioned in my last blog, I’m Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. While I enjoyed his story, it’s kind of edgy and may not appeal to everyone. The reason I like memoirs and biographies is that they provide insight into people who are different from me. I love stories about people who are braver, smarter, more creative and bigger than me in every way. Kilmer-Purcell fit that bill as does Saima Wahab who wrote In My Father’s Country: An Afghan Woman Defies Her Fate, which I’ll tell you about next week. Have a great week!

I’d love to hear from other book lovers! Feel free to comment on this blog, recommend books, or take issue with any of my opinions.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Whoa!  I just finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I had so much fun reading it. The book is about a marriage that goes really, really bad.  It was darkly suspenseful. Gone Girl is the only book by Ms. Flynn that I’ve read, so I can’t speak for all of her work, but she brings to mind Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, among others).

I thought the book was well written, and it certainly held my interest. I did have difficulty in the beginning, though, with the way the chapters are set up.  Each chapter alternates between the husband’s story and the wife’s story. They are each written in the first person, which is challenging at first. It must be difficult to write in the first person from the opposite gender. You have to get the tone, voice, thoughts and other gender qualities just right.  I think good examples of effective gender bending writing are Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and As Easy as A-B-C by Laura Lippman.  Sometimes when you know that it’s a woman writing as a man or vice versa, your brain won’t let you suspend that thought.  That’s what I think happened to me in the beginning of Gone Girl.  I’m so happy that I stuck with it. I highly recommend this book. It was fun, nerve-wracking and crazy all at the same time.  Read it before they make the movie!

I also read a sweet, sweet “unconventional memoir” last week called The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentlemen Farmers by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. Josh and his partner, Brent Ridge, bought a mansion/farm in upstate New York, basically on impulse, and the book describes their process of turning it into a commercially successful goat farm.  You might know them from television, a reality show called “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” which followed Josh and Brent as they tried to make a go of it with the farm. The book describes their dreams and struggles in alternatingly funny, poignant, sad and painful ways.  Mr. Kilmer-Purcell delves into the difficulties that they had in every area, including keeping their love relationship afloat. Not to give away the ending, but they were so much more successful at it than the couple in Gone Girl!  I liked their story so much that I was sad when the book ended. I discovered that Mr. Kilmer-Purcell has written other books, so I got I am Not Myself These Days, another memoir which he wrote in 2006 about his nights as a drag queen. I’ll let you know how that is next week. It’s sure to be different, if nothing else!

Have a good week and let me know what you’re reading.

Hi!  I'm Cathy Stodel and I live in the Federal Hill South Neighborhood of Baltmore.  Some might say that I'm a woman who might have a little too much time on her hands.  I read a lot of books and I want to write about them and discuss them with others.  I've asked Andrew Stonebarger, the owner of The Book Escape about using his shop's website to publish a blog about books and he said yes!   I am so happy to have this opportunity.

This summer I read Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi;  Crow Lake by Mary Lawson; and Annie Dunne, A Long Long Way, The Secret Scripture, and On Canaan's Side, all by Sebastian Barry.  Sebastian Barry is an Irish author and since I seemed to be on a bit of an Irish kick, I sought out The City of Bohane by Kevin Barry (no relation that I'm aware of).  I read The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and The Soujourn by Andrew Krivak, which took place in Austria-Hungary.   On the non-fiction end of things, I read Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War by Madeleine Albright.  It was a nice experience reading The Sojourn and then Prague Winter - fiction and non fiction about the same part of the world and effects of wars and politics on the people who lived in that area.    To me, it was the intellectual equivalent of selecting the perfect wine for my dinner.

I read Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal by Jeannette Winterson and liked it so much that I read her other book Oranges are not the Only Fruit, The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat by Thomas McNamee, and Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives by Robert Draper.   Last week I read The Letter Q edited by Sarah Moon and Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison.  I liked them all and would recommend each of them.

If I were to recommend one of these books in particular or select one that I'd like to sit down and have a discussion about, it would be Madeleine Albright's book.  Prague Winter:  A Personal Story of Remembrance and War is as fascinating as Ms. Albrightis.  I went with my friend to the Pratt Library to see her discuss her book with Stanford Ungar, the president of Goucher College.  They knew each other back in the day, which was a nice connection to Baltimore.    She is a great writer and storyteller.  She made me feel proud that she's a woman and that she's an American.  I know, I know, those facts do not reflect on me, but I love knowing that such an intelligent and articulate woman represented our country and my gender so well for eight years and her whole life respectively.    Maybe I could feel proud that I voted for Bill Clinton twice?  Anyway, Prague Winter is a long and dense book with lots of historical and current figures, anecdotes and wisdom.   When I started the book I got a little nervous thinking that I needed to remember this large cast of characters in detail.  But once I relaxed and just focused on her voice, I had a great time with this smart book.

I belong to a book group tht meets monthly.  We used to read only classics with an exception to that rule only every once in awhile.  Now we aren't that rigid, although I do miss the classics sometimes.  I say that I miss them, but now we're supposed to read Middlemarch for September and when I think of it, my shoulders cave in a little.  In body language I guess that would indicate fear or sadness.  I'll let you know how that reading goes.

When I stopped off at The Book Escape this morning, I picked up Gillian Flynn's new book Gone Girl.  I'll let you know what I think about it in next week's blog.  It's a thriller.  I haven't read a whodunit in a very long time and am looking forward to it.  Maybe you can read it too and make some comments?  

Thanks and I'll talk to you next week.