Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reading The Lovely Bones

Hostess: Mary 2
Book Selection: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Food: Hummus, pita, veggie tray, cheese, shrimp
Best Wine of the Night: Zinopolis, California Zinfandel, 2007 $17.99
Month: February

I am not sure what I expected from this book - I know that when it was first published and flying off the shelves, I was reluctant to read it, although everyone I knew was raving about it. It seemed like it was going to be depressing, and I wasn't in the market for sad at that time.

So when I read it for book club, I was surprised it was not as depressing and bleak as I had thought it would be. Don't get me wrong, it is still a disturbing topic, the rape and murder of a young girl. But I think Sebold wrote this novel in such a way that the reader is able to distance themselves from the horror of the act, by writing the book from the viewpoint of Susie Salmon as a heavenly narrator.

I loved the heaven aspect, the fact that Susie could watch people, and design her own heaven. And I loved that Holiday was there with her eventually. I know as a pet owner, that I hope my animals will be with me in eternity one day. So I liked that part.

The novel raised many questions in me, and in my book club companions - it was an interesting discussion. All of us felt that the book started out strong, it fizzled out near the end, and seemed to just run out of steam. But perhaps this was Sebold's intention as well, people move on, large life changing events remain large and life changing, but in time they become the past, literally and emotionally, as newer large and life changing events take place. For Susie, that was it for her; she never grew up, moved on, had other experiences, while her friends and family did move on, grow up, lead lives, never forgetting Susie, but dealing with it the best they could. Except for the mom, in my opinion. I was so angry at her! I could not believe a mother could leave her other children like that- it is so completely wrong to me. I felt she was a weak woman, who had to run away from her emotions rather than face them and raise her remaining children. I realize I have no idea of how it would feel to be in her position, and I hope if I have children, I never do. I hope though that if I would eventually be strong for my other kids, even if inside I were struggling and wanting to run away and disappear. Buckley and Lindsey lost not just a sister, but a mother too.

And Mr. Harvey! What a villain to create. I was waiting on the edge of my seat for hard core justice, which never came. I sympathized with the father, who was obsessed with finding evidence that Mr. Harvey was the evil monster that he believed he was, and his desire for Mr. Harvey to get what he deserved. All those girls, all those women, all the families in their lives lost as well. I didn't think what happened to him was enough, but Alyssa pointed out that he didn't matter anymore; the damage had already been done. And maybe that is the case, I can see that. I don't necessarily agree, but I can see the point. I compare this to Joyce Carol Oates' novel Rape: A Love Story, and what happened to the rapists in that story, and I feel that although I thought their punishment was too strong, at least there was a consequence.

Parts of the novel were a little weird, parts were a little obscure; but no matter what this novel made you feel, anger, disgust, wonder, sympathy, sadness - it definitely made you feel something. I don't think it is possible to read The Lovely Bones without leaving with some sort of feeling about it one way or another; it is impossible to be ambivalent.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Stealing Buddha's Dinner

Hostess: Jennifer
Book: Stealing Buddha's Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen
Food: Hummous, Rice Almond Salad, fantastic fancy pastries
Best Wine of Night: Pepperwood Grove Cabernet $5.99

Jennifer picked the book, Stealing Buddha's Dinner, by Bich Minh Nguyen, which on the surface is a memoir of Nguyen's childhood as a Vietnamese immigrant growing up in Grand Rapids in the 1980s, and how she fixated on American junk foods as the gateway to becoming a true American.

Maybe it was because I grew up in a small town in Michigan during the 1980s, and I remembered all the food that Nguyen coveted, but I the parts of the memoir which focused on Nguyen's grandmother, and the traditional Vietnamese food she prepared much more interesting. I found myself wishing that the author would talk more about these classic foods of her homeland, rather than red Pringles in a can, or Twinkies. I understand that was not the focus of the book though, and that Nguyen latched onto American junk food as her entree to becoming her ideal of a true American citizen, that if she ate like everyone around her, she would be one of them.

I loved the idea that school lunches were a source of status to students- maybe it is because I remember being envious of my classmates who had hostess cupcakes in their lunches too, since my mom didn't buy those for me either. I also remember the kids who brought soup in with their lunches in tupperware containers- I always wanted to do that too.

I could also relate to the authors memories of being in libraries, of the library as a sanctuary; when I was younger, I felt the library was a place of calm, somewhere quiet and cool in the summer, warm in the winter. I still am in love with libraries, maybe that is why I work in one now. But I read and loved all the books that Nguyen discusses - Little House on the Prairie was my favorite and I still reread them every year, but I also wanted to be Harriet the Spy and carry around a notebook filled with my observations about the people around me.

I felt like the memoir had good intentions, but often stalled out on the mega long descriptions of food packaging and the food itself. These were the hardest, slowest bits for me- to be honest, I often skipped over them. I did not want to read three pages dedicated to a pringles can or Kraft macaroni and cheese boxes. I wanted to know more about Nguyen's grandmother and stepmom and mother (who seemed thrust into the book like an afterthough). I hungered for a little more than I received. This aside, I really did enjoy the book. It was an interesting glimpse into a life unlike mine, a life on the other side of the lunchbox.

Check out the Penguin reading guides write up about Stealing Buddha's dinner, followed by an interview with author Bich Minh Nguyen.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Going South

Hi all! I am back in the bitterly cold mitten state after spending a few days in the comfortably mild weather of St. Augustine, Florida. I never realized what a fantastic city St. Augustine is. You never really hear much about it, so I didn't know quite what to expect. But I fell in love with this town!

For one thing, it seemed like everyone had a dog; everywhere I looked, I saw people of all ages walking dogs of all sizes. The restaurants and bars all seemed to have vegetarian options, and not just the standard veggie burger and fries, or some sort of pasta dish- nope, these dining establishments offered a multitude of vegetarian dishes, from the avocado-provolone cheese sandwich I had for lunch at a bar (they also had three tofu meals on the menu!), to the Mozzacado Sandwich at Cafe Eleven I wished I could have tried (I ran out of days!) We also ate at the amazing restaurant, The Columbia, and they had three different vegetarian dishes. So, just these two things alone are enough to make me want to pick up house and move on down. But besides this, the people are so laid back, mellow, and friendly- it seemed like just the type of community I want to be part of.

The above picture was taken at the Mi Casa Cafe on St. George Street, where dad and I had lunch. I enjoyed a glass of Pinot Grigio while singing along to the folk tunes sung by Mike Sweet, who had great shoes! I love his peace sign Converse!!

The real purpose this trip, or adventure weekend as dad and I referred to it, was to attend a writing workshop led by our favorite author Connie May Fowler! The workshop focused on writing a novel- how to begin, different trouble spots to watch out for, and what to do when you finish your novel. Dad and I spent Saturday in the Treehouse on the beach, in a living room with 18 other people, and Connie May! We were excited to just be in the same room as Connie May, much less to be learning from her.

The day was informative, inspiring, motivating, everything I hoped it would be! Connie May Fowler is the sweetest woman, just as you would imagine from reading her novels. And if you haven't read them, I insist that you do. My personal favorite is Remembering Blue. (If you do read her, I would love to hear what you think!)

Our fellow writers all lived in Florida, most of them from the very area the workshop was being held. Dad and I definitely came the furthest. It was interesting to just hear the stories of the people in the room with us, not the ones that they are writing, but to hear about their own experience, or lack of (such as with dad and I). Everyone was so gracious, and I enjoyed meeting everyone in the room. The group was so diverse, I couldn't help but think that the day could be a setting for a novel itself. There was a journalist, a writer in residence, the woman almost finished with her novel who had an upcoming deadline, the nature/hiker non-fiction writer there was the retired couple who live on the beach who had an interest in Florida history and children's books, the editor/publisher, the mother/gardener, the poet, the doctorate-therapist, the physical therapist, the memoir lady with the sweet voice,the romance writer, and us- dad and I, myself being the photographer/writer, and my father the principal with ADD. A great cast of characters to spend a rainy day on the beach with. It was a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget.