Friday, January 16, 2009

Reads and Recommendations

(post card from PostSecret, 1/11/09)

My New Year's Resolution (one I think I can actually keep) is to read one book per calendar week. This means at least one novel, memoir, or collection of short stories. I feel that as a graduate student in English I read an embarrassingly small about of contemporary literature. Or classic literature. And that I read too slowly.

Part two of that resolution is to post the titles here no matter how "fluffy" the novel or how atrocious it's genre/pop culture crimes. Because, lordylordy, if someone in graduate English studies doesn't need to read some fluff now and then, I don't know who does.

Week One, (first 3 days of January): Girl Most Likely To ..., Susan Donovan
Week Two, week of Jan. 4: The Sharing Knife: Passage, Louis McMaster Bujold
Week Three, week of Jan. 11: The Magic Circle, Donna Jo Napoli, and The Horizontal World: growing up wild in the middle of nowhere, Debra Marquart

Girl Most Likely To ... is a contemporary romance that isn't solely focused on the romance. Actually, the romance element was the only predictable element of this novel. The family drama, however, twists and turns enough that I was actually surprised -- which isn't something I normally am when reading romance novels.

The Sharing Knife: Passage is book three in the Sharing Knife series. Book one was still the best and book two still my least favorite. This one involves a trip down the river and a series of coincidences that seem to be more than coincidences. The publisher says that Bujold will be wrapping up this series in her forth book which is yet to come out. I fail to see how this fantasy series will find an end there. Bujold has created the kind of characters who don't see endings just more opportunities to change the world -- how could such characters be happy with any ending?

The Magic Circle was assigned for my folklore and fairytale literature class. It's a retelling of Hansel and Getel from the Witch's point of view. As I got further into the story I had to keep reminding myself that it is written for and marketed at children. It. Gets. Dark. In relation to the plot it had to happen; the witch must have a fall from grace that drives her to the eating of children. Besides, isn't the darkest reteting the most faithful rendering of a fair tale? The language is simple and the read is quick but it's an amazingly intriguing 100+ pages. The Christian right has probably banned it (I haven't checked) but that would seem silly as it is an extremely Christian read in its core. If taken literally it's a cautionary tale curb your vanity, not to mess with magic, devils, or witchcraft because the results are not pretty.

The Horizontal World: Growing up wild in the middle of nowhere, well ... I'm almost finished reading this one. It's a series of essays about growing up on a farm in North Dakota collected together into a memoir by WMU's writer in residence this semester. And she's a great woman to hear talk about her work. Actually I'm rather charmed. She does her best to break down the way we romanticise the farm in American culture ... and yet her prose is such that I find myself romanticising it! It's out in paperback and I recommend it if you're interested in memoir.

Other book recommendation news: There's the short story collection book club that I saw over on Margosita's blog. They are a book club focusing solely on short story collections as book clubs rarely do so -- what a novel idea! [oh dear, was that a pun?] It's billed under the phrase "save the short story!" which seems over dramatic. The short story has been "dying" for the past fifty years -- and anything that's been dying for longer than I've been alive is frankly impressive in its staying power. That aside, it is an intriguing idea because other than college fiction workshops I don't think anyone has ever made me read or even suggested that I read a short story collection by anyone.

So I'd like to suggest to everyone that they read Julie Orringer's short story collection How to Breathe Underwater. This was -- yes -- assigned my senior year of college, but it completely blew me away. She manages to walk the line between utter dispair and a space where we can live with ourselves. I've read stories/novel where the dispair overwhelmed me and I couldn't continue, where, frankly, I would have opted for dental surgery instead of finishing the novel. But Orringer brings you to that edge and holds you there without letting you fall over.

Highly Recommended