Thursday, February 7, 2008

Nightstand update

A reading wrap-up for Friday Favorites this week. If this post looks long (it is), you could just read the list under Book Bag on the left.

3aab793509a0c8a282be3110_l I really enjoyed The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I admit feeling slightly resentful of the beautiful author on the backcover who writes so masterfully at such a young age. But my awe is stronger than my resentment. As a first-generation American, I felt Lahiri captured the dissonance one feels between the culture that surrounds and the culture of one's family, and illustrated it beautifully in the intimate story of one family.

It reads easily, in a way that so few literary novels do. I thought of Stephen King's essay in this year's edition of The Best American Short Stories:

Last year, I read scores of stories that felt ... not quite dead on the page, I won’t go that far, but airless, somehow, and self-referring. These stories felt show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open, and worst of all, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers.

His point applies to the modern novel as well, if you are reading more than chic-lit. Vamderbes' Easter Island and Patchett's Bel Canto exemplify this self-consciousness, where the writing becomes a distraction, even at its heights, because the story and characters have less life. I know a lot of people enjoyed those books---but, hey, this is my blog;-) To me, they were clearly the product of writing-workshop authors, missing all the personal intensity that used to be guaranteed in a first novel (and which flowed in abundance in Patchett's memoir Truth and Beauty).

I also enjoyed Steve Martin's memoir Born Standing Up this month315xxtj3wkl__aa240__3---with gratitude to our public library. Despite my previous claims about my parents lack of album-buying while raising nine children, we did own the Wild and Crazy Guy LP, and I loved reading about the evolution of that act. Martin writes about his parents with humor, respect and honesty ---a rare feat. If you enjoyed the documentary "Comedian", and find humor fascinating in terms of what works and what doesn't, you'll enjoy this. I finished wanting more...but that's a good complaint.

Also got Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food from the library, but then they demanded it back before I finished. The nerve! While I didn't notice anything exactly new, it might be worth owning. Her recipes are decidedly basic so that you can master them and then develop them further based on your taste or the season. For someone as recipe-dependent as me, that would be a big step.

Of course, much of this month's reading has consisted of rereading pregnancy books (thank you Elizabeth!). Amazing how quickly the mind forgets. Sometimes it helps just to have a book tell you, that's normal, don't sweat it (eg: the king of all charlie horses in the middle of the night).

With each pregnancy, Brian has read a book aloud to me and the baby at night, based on the idea that the baby will then know his voice well. I swear, when Aidan was born, he turned his head toward Bri every time he heard his voice. And I love being read to, so it's a great gift to me as well.

9780380728725_2  First time round, Bri read Babyhood by Paul Reiser. Perfect: short chapters, sweet and funny. Second time around we chose Bill Cosby's Parenthood. A mistake. In our state of happy anticipation, the humor came off as cynical ("when will these kids ever move out?!"). This time around we picked up a book Brian's mom gave him by Tim Russert, Wisdom of Our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons. In all honesty, I can't imagine either of us ever reading it otherwise. Now I'm so grateful we are. At least one letter makes me cry almost every night, and some make us laugh out loud ("Gilipse pees no more"), but they are all a beautiful testament to the impact a parent can have. Definitely a future favorite of 2008.

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