Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Unlikeable Characters

For an upcoming graduate school workshop, I had to re-read Ian McEwan's Atonement. The workshop is about unlikeable characters. I first read Atonement years and years ago when a book rep told me it was unforgettable (it wasn't even a book he repped). I read it, and indeed I found it breathtaking in both scope and imagery. But I thought I must have missed something because I didn't remember any unlikeable characters. Imperfect, yes. Fallible, sure. But I liked them all. So, I re-read it, looking hard for what I surely missed. (it is no great hardship to re-read a loved book). Huh. I still didn't find any one of them very unlikeable. Have you read Atonement? What do you think? I'll be interested to attend the workshop and see what the presenter has to say.

And then my wonderful librarian told me I HAD to read Herman Koch's The Dinner. Talk about unlikeable characters!!! Holy moly. I can't say too much but I will say that this is the first book in years to keep me awake at night. It is that disturbing. And it is for sure not for the faint of heart. But, if you want to read a book that unabashedly goes there, read this. And do it now, in the summer, when it's light out longer and things won't seem so bleak.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Reading while on vacation...

We were away for 10 days and, even though I didn't read much while we were in Florida or on a cruise ship (no, we didn't have any power outages), I did read a lot at the airport and on the plane. I started with Lorrie Moore's collection of short stories Birds of America because my MFA mentor suggested I read "Terrific Mother." I loved Moore's brutal honesty, her unflinching look at humanity, in all her stories, some of which I read before but no matter. They were wonderful. Then it was on to A Mouthful of Air by Amy Koppelman. This is a heartbreaking book about a woman who has returned home after a suicide attempt to her 1 year old son, her husband, and her very complicated life. This book is not for the faint of heart but I loved it. Koppelman writes with excruciating detail of every unfolding emotion main character Julie experiences and the result is that the reader ends up feeling as emotional frayed as Julie. After that, I needed something a little lighter (the Bible would have been lighter) and I was glad to read Ann Tyler's Earthly Possessions. Sometimes I find Tyler a little fluffy for my taste but this one I liked. Maybe I was just in the mood for something that didn't leave me devastated. Upon my return home, I picked up a copy of the New Yorker so I could read Sarah Braunstein's "Marjorie Lemke." I love short stories and ones like this that are so beautifully crafted, so delicately written--it was worth the $6.99 for the New Yorker. (who knew the New Yorker was $6.99??). Now I'm reading Faulkner and I have to say, I think I was smarter in high school when I first read The Sound and the Fury because now it seems really hard. Not that I don't appreciate the language but, honestly, I'm not 100% sure what's going on! I'll keep on, though.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Let the Great World Spin

Currently I am only reading books on my book list (primarily self-complied so I can't complain) so yes, all of them are multi-points-of-view things. I'm trying to learn how to do it. Along with trying to learn how to write, in general.

I have recently finished Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, a tale ostentatiously about a man who walks on a tightrope between the Twin Towers. It's told from multiple points of view (obviously) and it starts out not being about the tightrope walker at all. Which I kind of liked. These stories or chapters, depending on if you want to argue the point of it being a novel or not, are about Irish brothers in New York city, their messy lives, love, obligation, passion, fear. It's late in the book before we meet the tightrope walker (before that, he's been noticed, but not in a life-changing way). The chapter with the tightrope walker is breathtaking, as are many other parts of the novel. But for me, it didn't come together as a linked collection, or novel in stories, which is what I was expecting. And I'm not sure each section, on its own, is satisfying enough to be a stand-alone story. I wanted something more threading the story together, more emotional impact from one person's experience to the next. This is probably just a taste thing. And, really, I liked the book. I just didn't love it.

Before Let the Great World Spin, I read Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. I really like Anne Tyler--most of the time. She's had a few misses (Saint Maybe) but overall you can count on her for a good story. This novel is also multiple POV, told from different members of a family. It worked for me, because it was about a single, central family, and because the structure of the novel felt like a family telling a story. And, Tyler did an expert job of weaving things in, mentioning something here, again there. She doesn't over-saturate her work, and this isn't the kind of novel that's going to make your head ache from thinking, but it's a good, solid story.

I also read a craft book: The Gotham Writer's Workshop. I've read a lot of craft books. I mean, A LOT and this one I liked. It felt like there were some fresh ideas, some good exercises, and a ton of very solid, very readable information about technique. I would pick this up if you're a would-be writer.

I am currently reading Love Medicine by Louise Erdich. I know, I know. Where have I been? So far, I'm loving it!

Friday, January 25, 2013

First post of 2013--Not because I haven't been reading.

So, I did my first MFA residency earlier this month and my brain didn't explode. Although I think it came close. I also gained two pounds despite the fact that I hauled myself out of bed at 5am every day to get some exercise (must have been the peanut butter and fluff stashed in my room). I digress. The residency was fabulous--so full of precise, helpful insights into my own writing as well as the writing of others (which helps clarify my own). It was also incredible to spend evenings listening to faculty and past student readings, as well as graduating student readings during the day. My brain whirled and churned and thanked my lucky stars I was among such company. I will also admit to the healthy (or unhealthy?) amount of self doubt being among such talent caused my fragile writer-ego. In a blur of wanting to write, I wondered if I could, really.

I came home, digested, worked out harder and longer (goodbye 2lbs), and read a book. Have I ever mention how happy reading makes me? Well, it makes me downright delirious. And, reading something good puts me over the moon.

I just finished Jeffrey Eugenides The Virgin Suicides (I know, I know, where have I been?) and I loved it. It's dark, and weird, and a little gross in some places (maybe more than a little) and say what you will about the "We" narrator, I think Eugenides handled it like the pro he is. It made me feel like not just a reader, but a part of this dysfunctional community. And that made me laugh at the darkly funny parts, and mourn deeply for the Lisbon girls. 

Up next, I "have" to read Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Have I mentioned that I love graduate school?