Saturday, May 22, 2010

In Praise of Older Women

"Let’s hear it for older women who read. Without their wisdom, curiosity, and lust for life, their humour, loyalty and pride of place, we would be nowhere."  O.K.  so this is Canadian...but it doesn't make it any less true.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Literary Monster Mashups

According to Shelf Awareness, they're in your town, they're on your street, and they're headed for your bookshelves.  Literary monster mash-ups cannot be stopped.  Entertainment Weekly's Shelf Life blog reported on a discussion held last week with Alcott scholar and Pulitzer Prize-winner John Matteson; Porter Grand, author of Little Women and Werewolves; and Lynn Messina, author of Little Vampire Women.  

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Unless you've been under a rock lately, you've probably heard about this book.  It has garnered rave reviews from a variety of sources.  It was on the Today Show's list of the ten must read books for Spring, People Magazine gave it 3.5 out of 4 stars (saying "you'll catch yourself cheering out loud"), and Entertainment Weekly said "graceful and real, a compulsively readable story."  It is even soon to be a major motion picture from Dreamworks.

So, what's it about? It's set in the rural south of the 1960s era, in Stockett's native Jackson, Mississippi.  It was a time when black women raised white babies, but couldn't use the same bathroom as their employers.  Skeeter, who is 22 years old, has just returned home from Ole Miss with her degree.  She is a naive young woman with a domineering mother who's primary goal is to make sure she gets a ring on her finger.  Skeeter is an aspiring writer who wants to create a book of interviews with local black maids and publish it anonymously.  The risk of a book like that is great for all involved, but she manages to talk two local maids into participating:  Aibileen and Minny.  These three very memorable women are the backbone of the book.  Aibileen is a wise, regal woman, raising her 17th white child.  Minny is a wonderful cook, but has a bad habit of sassing back her employers, so has a hard time holding on to a job.  And Minny is so hilarious.  She just can't help but say what she thinks, with absolutely no governor on her mouth.

If you don't know much about the Jim Crow laws of the south, you'll be an expert in them by the time you finish this book.  The historical background and setting is well drawn.  You can't help but feel anger and outrage as these characters try to navigate within the constraints of their time.  But some boundaries are just made to be broken.

This is an amazing first novel.  It's a beautiful story that will break your heart and have you laughing all at the same time.  The relationships between the women (mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends) rings authentic.  It will pull you in from the first page, and you'll heave a sigh of sorrow when it's over.  This book is a must read.  I can't recommend it highly enough.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Runaway Runway

Recycled Fashion

This is just too cool.  And lest you wonder what this has to do with books or libraries, just look for the dress made from cards from the card catalog.  And I just love the shushing she does to the audience before she takes her hair down out of the bun and struts her stuff!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The First Time by Cher

This book was released in 1998, the same year Sonny Bono died in a tragic skiing accident in Lake Tahoe.  The last seven pages of the book, titled simply "Son", deal with his passing and the enormous hole it left in her life.

The book is written pretty much stream of consciousness, with Cher jumping around in her life recounting memories with not too much rhyme or reason.  The only theme tying it all together is the cue from the title--they were first moments.  There are pictures sprinkled liberally throughout, both black and white and color, and Cher's distinctive personality shines through on every page.

She covers her early life firsts, her first marriage to Sonny, first divorce (from Sonny), first child ("The first angel that called her Mom", Chastity), her first bad boy (Gregg Allman), etc.

These are the events that shaped Cher's life, a life lived entirely in the spotlight from the age of 16, when she first met Sonny Bono.  It is a completely honest book about a sometimes outrageous lady.  A fun read.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Imperfect Birds

I love Anne Lamott's books.  She is a strong writer with the heart of a poet, so I always find them enjoyable.
I noticed the comment by David Sheff (author of Beautiful Boy) on the back cover of this one:  "Heartbreaking and delightful, moving and hopeful...reminds us how our children are connected to and independent of us, and that no matter how difficult our struggle is with them, love underlies it all and saves us."  That kind of spoke to me.  I happen to be the mother of a 19 year old who is trying to find his way in the world, and kind of doing a sloppy and imperfect job of it, so I thought this might be a good read for me at this moment in time.
Rosie Ferguson is in her senior year of high school.  Outwardly she seems perfect.  But she is an addict.  The book is primarily about the relationship between Rosie and Elizabeth, her stay-at-home-Mom, who is a recovering alchoholic.  There are some delightful secondary characters that add to the charm of the story; Rosie's stepfather James, his best friend Lank, and Lank's wife Rae (who is also Elizabeth's best friend).  James is a little harder for Rosie to fool, and Lank works with kids and is a realist, saying at one point "I work with them every day, and even the good kids break your heart.  They can be so wonderful, then just diabolical.  They'll all lie, even when the truth would work."  And Rae, well  she's the resident "Earth Mother", who thinks love is the solution to everything.  
Lamott really captures the experience of parents who fear for their children with great insight and humor.  Her character Elizabeth says at one point in the book "life with most teenagers was like having a low-grade bladder infection. It's hard but you just have to tough it out."  I found myself jotting page numbers down as I read the book, because there were passages that were stated so beautifully, they just had to be read another time or two. 
It is a tough yet tender book that will break your heart, and yet mend it too.  The slow and painful process the parents go through in peeling away the lies and deception involved in addictive behavior is beautifully rendered.  And without giving away what happens to Rosie at the end, Lamott manages to use these imperfect characters to show us what it means to be a family, to bring home some lovely life lessons, and Rosie learns that there is a wilderness inside of her, yes, but there is a banquet too. 
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