I’d never heard of Anne Beattie when I picked this one up off of the bargain rack for $3. To be honest, I thought the picture on the front cover was kind of hot, and I was attracted to the pretension in the description on the back cover. I still really haven’t googled Beattie– though I did look up the Amazon reviews for this title. I only read the bad and mediocre reviews, but it seems like most of them are from readers who are otherwise big fans of her work. How happy I am to have started fresh!
This was a slick little snapshot (112 pages)– a detached but romantic (to a person who had yet to be born in the era she’s writing about) series of events in one of those relationships that takes over everything. The last third gets a little weird, but it’s ok because you’re not really attached to Jane, the protagonist. I got the feeling that I was reading a disguised memoir piece, but didn’t really get around to looking into it. on another hand, I also got the feeling that I was missing something big– like something symbolic or something that I really had to be there (NY in 1980) for.
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I will always be a supporter of FLB. From my first library copy of Weetzie Bat when I was a kid maybe 20 years ago, I’ve been a loyal reader, buying almost everything of hers that comes out. She’s a master of place, she always constructs a character that I could/(want to) slip myself into. Her writing is simple-yet-intoxicating; the everyday seems magic, even in her books that don’t involve some kind of magical realism in the plot.
I enjoyed a lot of this book; the place was totally awesome, the attention to a gruesome American obsession was solid. I liked the characters, well enough (though I wanted a little more development). I totally hated the ending though– I wish something different had happened. I don’t know if this is petty of me (you know, not liking unpleasant endings). I also felt like everything wrapped up a little too quickly and conveniently. But maybe that’s the kind of book this was. And despite my crabbiness about the end, I still liked the rest of the journey– it took me somewhere that I don’ usually go with my reading choices (though I guess one could say that about the ending as well).
get a copy here!
I have been reading so much but not posting as often! I blame job, travel, summer, and illness.
I’m still kinda sick (immense ear pressure– ouch!)– and on my way out the door to work, so I’ve quickly grouped together two of the recent “best seller” types that I’ve read.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
This is one of the more stylish book covers I’ve seen in a while. It was in my bag one day and it matched a bunch of the other things in there (zipper pouch, glasses case…). And as a reader, you really get a lot of “value” from this single volume. Basically, the story starts back in the 1970’s at arty summer camp, and follows a select few of the campers (who have all kept in touch) into adulthood in the present day. I don’t think I felt the passion that the author wanted me to feel, but I still enjoyed reading about most of the interesting things that happened, and getting hyper-personalized peeks into characters’ lives. I felt like some of the plot devices were kind of trite and draggy, but again, all the different little parts were compelling and well-written enough that I will still be recommending this book to people as something nice to read on the plane/beach/park/lunch break.
get a copy here
All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
I’m usually silly-obsessed with Jennifer Weiner’s books. They’re full of little pops of brilliance and allusions to contemporary pop culture and they have a delightful really personal feel that makes you really, really love the protagonist. All Fall Down has some of that. But it’s about painkiller addition, which is a kind of ugly subject that nobody’s really talking about. It’s the story that nobody really wants to read: privileged white woman has a lot going on, gets hooked on pills, hits a pretty ugly bottom, goes to rehab, and starts to get a little better.
But it’s a solid story, and a culturally relevant one. And I think that it takes someone with the mainstream clout of Jennifer Weiner to get a book like this out to the world on a mainstream publisher.
I don’t mean to say that it’s a drag to read– I read it in about a day; I put off doing other “important” and “fun” things because I wanted to find out what happened next. It’s a good book. Just different from her other stuff. Find a copy here.
I’m really glad that I found Dana Johnson! I forget how I found out about her as an author– Maybe Library Journal reviews, maybe Amazon recommendations, maybe an old photocopied book list. I wrote a bit about her short story collection, Break Any Woman Down, about a week ago. My write-up was really disjointed because I got all distracted in between reading and writing– but I was interested enough to read more by her.
Break Any Woman Down has two stories about a character named Avery– one as a child, and one when she’s older. Elsewhere, California is a more fleshed out meditation on Avery’s life, flip-flopping between the present and the past to illustrate that your personal history never entirely leaves you. Avery did most of her growing up as an African American female in the suburbs of LA, often in a sea of white kids. As a grownup she’s an artist and a stay-at-home girlfriend to a wealthy Italian immigrant who’s white. The publisher and cataloging descriptions of the book that I’ve found aren’t really the greatest– they tend to be kind of essentialist, I think in hopes to “package” the book nicely for specific “sets” of readers. Basically a lot of stuff that is often rather poignant happens. These happenings involve gender, class, art, and most prominently the state of race and racism in America. These details aren’t really spelled out– it’s more like they’re positioned in a ways that the reader will hopefully notice.
The book is well-written, engaging, and doesn’t take too long to read. The structure of flipping between the past and the present is not problematic, and I found that I was disappointed when it was over.
Find a copy here.
Looking for short stories that read easy but actually make you think? Dana Johnson’s collection, Break Any Woman Down will do the job. I read this a couple weeks ago and a lot of stuff happened since then, so I don’t remember the details perfectly. BUT the stories in the collection are super diverse, with lots of different types of characters, and take place in multiple eras. They all showcase the Black female experience in the US, and touch on stuff like family, relationships, racism, school, work, abuse, AIDS, dating, love, etc. It won a Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and according to the internet, seems to have been pretty popular when it was published a bit over a decade ago. Check it out!
I picked this book up for $1 at a Friends of the Library book sale because I was in need of something mainstream-ish and satisfying. It worked! The Ten Year Nap is quite engaging– it looks at a snapshot in time for a group of women (in their late 30’s) who live in New York. The theme of it is that most of them had big dreams, went to college, had some success in the world– and then had kids. The book examines their complicated feelings about their circumstances while maintaining a bit of a narrative to keep it interesting.
It’s not perfect– for example, the women are all supposed to be friends, but I didn’t feel their chemistry. And parts of it were a bit weird about Asian racial stereotypes. And the ending was too clean. But, it was relatively complex, served its purpose of general amusement, and fit nicely into my current mental state of wondering if I’m making good choices in my life as I get a little older.
Find a copy at your library!
I scoffed at this book when I learned about its existence. After all, clearly the rich facebook lady was just trying to make another million.
Luckily, I have a taste for irony. Or, perhaps, a strong interest in books and media that I think will go against my queer-feminist-reallyreallyleftist-worikingclass/poor values system. I got in line for the book with like 300 other people in my library system, got it after a couple of months, and read in in a couple days. I have to admit, the fact that millions of people are reading Lean In means something really good for America. Yep, I said it. And I’m gonna take things even further: It might even be kind of like a Second Sex for the 2013-plastic-pop-internet age.
Sure, the information and inspiration in the book is best suited for college educated white ladies. And sure, it kind of creeps me out that lots of the argument and discussion is poised within a capitalist framework. But that’s how america thinks– that’s what’s on teevee.
Sandberg and her co-writer cite all kinds of sexist injustices both in the “spheres” of work and home, they point out double standards, wage differences, messed up gendered socialization, and way more that leans to inequality in the workplace and beyond. If you’ve taken womens studies 101 you know this stuff– but most people haven’t taken womens studies 101. She even pulls out the “F Word,” and actually identifies herself as a feminist in the penultimate chapter, and has lots of paragraphs explaining why. What other “inspirational bestseller nonfiction” is doing that these days?
Sure, the book has some problems (e.g., I felt like the 2nd half of the book had lots of paragraphs that focused too much on relationships and not enough on the revolution), but it really exceeded my expectations with its good research and straightforward feminism (in a mainstream arena– eek!) that will maybe help people start finally identifying as feminists and standing up for themselves…
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Third Girl From the Left – By Martha Southgate
This book was pretty great! In the 24-hour span that I read it, I found myself continually shunning actual responsibilities in favor of settling in with the book.
It is realistic fiction and tells the story of three generations of African-American women in Tulsa, LA, and New York. Though each of the women are quite different, they are tied together by a love of/connection to film (it’s really not as cheesy as I just made it sound, in any way). Through the course of the novel we read about relationships, playboy bunnies, the Tulsa race riots, film school, affairs, the early Blaxploitation film era, and more. It’s super engaging and well written!
My one critique (structurally speaking) is that one of the women’s stories had much more put into it than the others’, but this actually worked for me because I liked that character the best.
Find a copy here