Girl with thoughts, beware.

Think. Write. Repeat.

Archive for the tag “Book Review”

Judy Blume Revisited! Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret

Judy Blume wisdom…

[I]t’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.

It’s “revisit my childhood” month in July. For the entire month I am reading the classics- Judy Blume’s that is- and finishing with her latest release for adults, In the Unlikely Event.

I’m rereading her books in no particular order and will review them all here. So let’s start with my thoughts on her most “seminal” tale of a girl’s road to womanhood!

Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret

My rating as a kid: 5 stars (excellent)

My rating as an adult: 2-3 stars (so-so to good)

First of all, this book floored me as a kid. I think you have to be about 12 or 13 for the story to really hit home. Every single girl I knew, including myself, was obsessed with three things: boys, boobs, and getting your first period. Judy Blume covers them all.

I probably read this book at least 10 times as an adolescent. And it seemed like such a saga! She’s starting a new school in a new city, she likes a boy who doesn’t like her, she has no boobs to speak of, and all her friends are getting their periods and she’s not. To top it all off she talks to God, even though she’s of no religion. The real stinker is she doesn’t even get to go on the special trip with her Grandma Simon because of her other pesky and hyper-relig maternal grandparents! These are all the things that can consume a kid- and boy, did I relate to her.

I even did a special project inspired by Margaret’s when I was in high school. My family was also of no religious persuasion, and I was curious to find out what religion meant to other people. I had to write a paper on different cultures, but I turned it into my own religious project. I went to a Jehovah’s Witness meeting, a Church sermon, and talked to a person I worked with at the local pizza joint who was Muslim. Just like Margaret, I didn’t find all the answers I was looking for but I was awakened to a new sense of spirituality and what it means to simply ask a higher power for guidance.

As an adult, however, the book doesn’t quite hold the same resonance. I was surprised to discover that Margaret is, pardon my French, kind of a bitch! Must be due to being a hormonal, pre-menstrual kid but I’m still shocked at how almost unlikeable she is. I kept having to put myself in the shoes of a pre-teen girl. Remember when you thought your best friend was a horrible person? Remember when you made of that girl or that boy? Remember what it felt like to be an outcast, or misunderstood, or left out? My having to remind myself that no girl at age 11 or 12 is very likable, and it took me out of the story.

Also, however dated the book is (Pads with belts? Velvet hats? Plaid bedskirt, your mom says “gads”- yuck to all!), this is STILL a revolutionary book for its time and now. Is there another book that really makes it ok to talk about your period with fervor and excitement? Judy Blume is so skilled at capturing that unique age right between childhood and adolescence and all of the things that girls SHOULD be talking about, and questioning. Judy never subscribes her books to the “Young Adult” genre and I agree. It’s like saying this book is only good for a certain age range and not others, but who decides that anyway? Moms should talk to their girls about periods, boobs, and boys at a younger age than we think. Because, as Judy subtly points out, us girls are already talking about it by age 11, which isn’t considered to be under the Young Adult age range.

The God piece in the book felt out of place for me as an adult, but again, I had to remind myself that being a kid is all about figuring things out. A kid’s deep thoughts might seem trite and silly to us grownups, but how else will we learn about ourselves? I used to talk to God too. And I asked him to make my butt smaller. I think I was about 8 or 9.

As Judy says: “I had a very personal relationship with God. I talked to him about all my worries, concerns, and feelings, the way Margaret does. My readers are always asking how I know all their secrets. After reading this book you’ll know some of mine!”

Stray Observations:

  • MAVIS was apparently a sensational name circa 1970.
  • Even though not grading a year-long project is slightly lame and pointless, how cool was that to be trusted with a year long project at age 11?! Are we just less mature now?
  • I wanted to live and play in Nancy’s room: organdy skirted vanity, perfume bottles, and make-up.
  • Every time I eat a pickle, I think of Grandma Simon and say to myself “Mmm, nothing like the real thing!”
  • The size of pads back then were like bricks!

Book Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

17465453

 

(SPOILERS AHEAD. Be forewarned…)

Had Jane Austen lived to a ripe old age, I’d like to imagine that she wrote this type of book. It’s a naughtier, wiser, more daring version of, say, Mansfield Park coupled with Sense and Sensibility with maybe a soupçon of Pride and Prejudice thrown in. Not that I’m insisting that Elizabeth Gilbert is the next Jane Austen, mind you, but she comes very close.

This is an exquisitely crafted book. The amount of research and diligence Gilbert devoted to the story is astounding. My experience with Elizabeth Gilbert has been dark and twisty at best. I detested Committed, her follow up to Eat, Pray, Love, and while I did find some redeeming factors in EPL I wasn’t overly fond of its author. Until I listened to a very articulate and funny interview of her with the podcast “Dinner Party Download” talking about her new novel, The Signature of All Things. I love historical fiction, especially those championing women, and the added sinful sex sprinkled into it couldn’t hurt. All in all, it sounded just like my taste in books. To add to my recent “in like” status with Elizabeth Gilbert, I started following her on Twitter and find her delightful.

I’m happy to say that this novel is so dramatically different from her memoirs, and in a good way. Once she gets on the topic of herself she loses me, but as soon as she focuses on another woman’s struggles and desires she absolutely soars. It is, however, easy to see that there is a lot of Gilbert in her main character, Alma Whittaker. Alma is a meticulous researcher; check mark for Gilbert. Alma is a seeker of knowledge, on an eternal quest to know more; another check mark for Gilbert. Alma questions everything. If you’ve read Committed before then you can easily see the author within the pages of her novel. Alma can be frustratingly stubborn, overbearing, generous and selfish all at the same time. I think we might find a little bit of Elizabeth Gilbert in these traits as well. In short, she’s a HUMAN.

But Alma is indeed a flawed human as well, and this is why she works as a protagonist. One of the major complaints I’ve read in other reviews about this book is that the other characters are far more interesting. True, Alma is not the most exciting character in the book, but she is the most believable. Retta, Alma’s childhood friend, is a ridiculous character, who was never fully flushed out enough to stand as a realistic person. I would have loved for Gilbert to explore the sister relationship between Prudence and Alma further and not wrap up their mutual uneasiness with each other through a series of letters. I didn’t particularly care for the love triangle between Retta, Alma, and Prudence with the fellow scientist George Hawks. To me, having all three young women in love with the same man was a literary cop out (and echoes of Elinor in Sense and Sensibility come to mind). Also, I frankly didn’t think he was that worthy of a person especially since he only married Retta, an obviously troubled and mentally ill person, because he couldn’t have Prudence and wasn’t interested in Alma, and then he just leaves her at a sanitarium and probably never saw her again.

The story is slow, but it’s meant to be. Alma is a self-trained botanist who studies mosses and nature and has her own theories on the ebb and flow of time- natural, divine, and human. The pace of the novel mirrors her lifelong journey to understand nature and her place within it. My only irk, my one main complaint with the entire book is the dialogue. While Gilbert is gifted with her use of language and writing about complex subjects in such a beautiful and poignant way, she is terrible at writing dialogue. It hurts me to say this because I did think the bulk of the novel is terrific. But every time there is a scene between two characters and large amounts of dialogue are required, the pacing in the story slows down to a crawl. Examples include scenes between Ambrose Pike and Alma, along with Alma and the Reverend Wells. Each character speaks WAY too much on a subject, and then over explains it nearly every other sentence, just to make sure the reader got the point. We got it. Meanwhile, in the middle of the other character’s soliloquy, Alma has about a page and a half of internal dialogue. Zzzzzzz….

Not only is the dialogue slightly painful to get through at times, much of the conflict that arises between these characters could have been easily solved if only Alma just asked the one damn question she couldn’t bring herself to ask. In this way, the novel reads like an episode of “Three’s Company” set in the Victorian Age. It’s unbelievably frustrating but, I will grudgingly admit, probably realistic for the time Alma was living in. It must have been so incredibly exhausting to be polite and proper all of the time! Cue Jane Austen in her later years: I’m sure she would have LOVED to yank off the white gloves and let loose.

I realize that this novel is not going to appeal to everyone, but I really enjoyed it. I respect the time and thoughtfulness that Gilbert took to create it. In fact, Gilbert could have created 5 separate novellas with nearly all the characters if she wanted to. Not an easy breezy read, but a worthwhile one in the end.

Book Review: “Great Tales From English History” by Robert Lacey

Great Tales From English History by Robert Lacey

 

DownloadedFile

Delightful! A cornucopia of interesting and surprising tales from English history in its early viking days to the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth II. What is so fantastic about this book is that is not merely a collection of facts and retelling of events. Each chapter discloses a particular period in British history and reads like a small short story. The author should also be credited for his storytelling style: he writes each piece with whimsy, humor, and simplicity. I can’t say that I was ever lost or confused while reading this book. And I must emphasize that these tales are SHORT: every chapter is only a couple of pages and never feels either too brief or too heavy, and in the end the pages and stories just fly by. I was only ever bogged down by a handful of stories and ended up skimming through- Robert Lacey does tend to get hung up on politics and wars- but because the book more or less follows British history in chronological order, you do need to at least skim each of the chapters before moving onto the next, otherwise the next tale might not make a whole lot of sense.

As Lacey describes in his opening pages, so much of history is just a retelling and reshaping of true events. The tough part is to get as close to the first hand sources as you possibly can in order to get the most truth. Many events and tales in English history- King Arthur and Robin Hood, for example- started off as myths that eventually got accepted as historical fact, and Lacey sets out to debunk a few of these myths by going back to original sources. And his list of sources in the back of the book is awe inspiring! Many of the documents are actually available to the public and online, so you can read more about each tale to your heart’s content.

Lacey also concludes that history is imperfect and ever changing: “There may be such a thing as pure, true history- what actually, really, definitely happened in the past- but it is unknowable. We can only hope to get somewhere close. The history that we have to make do with is the story that historians choose to tell us, pieced together and filtered through every handler’s value system” and he is certainly right on about this when you look at recent events and discoveries. In fact, in the case of Richard III, Lacey will have to adhere to his own statement and republish with updated information. In the book, he claims that the physical appearance of King Richard III as a hunchback was largely made up to portray him as a villain to the public. He even cites modern researchers who found that Richard’s “hump” was added to his portraits years after his death and that his body was thrown in the river and never buried under the Greyfriars Church. However, since the discovery of Richard III’s remains in the last couple years, we now know for a fact that he did have a curved spine and he was indeed buried where early historians had originally claimed.

History buffs, especially those interested in British history, will find this book a great companion to what they already knew- or didn’t know- about how England came to be. I also loved Lacey’s descriptions of how the English language has developed and changed over time due to the social, political, and economic strife the country has experienced for the last 1000 years or so. It’s not necessarily a book of facts, but you will learn the origins of common vocabulary we use everyday, which I find fascinating. I’m sure it was tough for Lacey to choose which tales to include in this book since he was covering such an enormous time period and this might be the reason why such well-known and beloved British heros and heroines only get passing mention- or no mention at all- in the book: sadly, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Mungo Park, and Charles Dickens didn’t make the cut to garner much attention in this volume. But that small nitpicky complaint aside, this is a fantastic book and I highly recommend for any lover of history.

Book Review: “The Partly Cloudy Patriot” by Sarah Vowell

A word about my reviews (if you’ve read this before, skip to the review!):

My reviews are intended for those specifically who have read the novel and are looking for a place to read another’s take on the book and to also share their own thoughts. I don’t particularly like to read a recap of the story’s premise and who is who, etc, in reviews (I can easily find out a synopsis on Amazon or Goodreads) so you won’t find anything like that here. Unless I must explain a bit of premise detail in my review to give context to a thought or idea, I keep recaps to a bare minimum, if at all.

My thoughts on the books I read are by no means meant to be objective. I try to give an accurate portrait of what I experienced from reading this novel, what themes came to surface, in addition to what I liked and disliked about the book.

If you are curious about the book without having read it and would like to read my review- by all means! But please be forewarned that my reviews may contain spoilers.

“The Partly Cloudy Patriot”, Sarah Vowell

Well, I have to admit I was partly cloudy as to what essentially this book was supposed to be about. Is it an exploration of a history nerd’s civic pride? Her dabbles in Americana? Memoir? Random thoughts about cultural what-not? Social commentary on the state of government and politics in this country? Yes to all of the above! And this is why I remain fuzzy with regards to whether or not I truly enjoyed reading this book.

Sarah Vowell’s novel of essays gets off to a great start with a piece about America’s most beloved president Abe Lincoln that was truly compelling. Her thoughtful and insightful writing actually made me question my own civic pride. Or more specifically: where did my civic pride go? I was once like Vowell- a history geek with a penchant for all things civics. I was on the Constitutional Civics debate team in high school, and like Vowell, also couldn’t wait to turn 18 so I could vote. She rekindled my curiosity about turning points in our country. Have I even read the Gettysburg Address? Do I really know the details behind The Civil War? Can I quote Thomas Paine? Do I even remember who Thomas Paine is? The answer is mostly likely “Probably Not” to all. But her writing got me interested in actually making the pilgrimage to see the Nixon Library, of which, prior to reading the book, I wasn’t even aware was open to the public. That Vowell manages to be educational, whimsical, charming, and thought provoking all at the same time is a feat for any writer and even though I am familiar with her work from NPR’s “This American Life”, I was still surprised just the same.

However, for every essay that makes me analyze our government and our duty as a patriot, she tempers it with a non sequitur essay about Tom Cruise, or working at a map store, or an ode to a deceased football coach, among others. Her shift from topic to topic actually made it hard for me to fully engage in the book. Again, it became a question of what is this book really about? I guess you could make the argument that all of these essays really have something to say about America in general: our obsession with the good ol’ American boy next-door Tom Cruise, for example, or America’s favorite violent past time, football. But that is not what these essays were about, at least that is not the point of view I got from Vowell. What I sensed was that these essays were filler for a novel that is supposed to be about her adventures in America as a hard core patriot and she lacked enough material to make her case.

Even David Sedaris’s books of essays- another “This American Life” alum and probably the most celebrated- work the best when there is a through-line. Without a central theme, Vowell’s novel feels like a cast off collection of certain essays she couldn’t get published elsewhere. I mean, I’m all for variation and not every essay has to be similar in tone as the previous one. However, following up a particularly intriguing piece about Gore’s presidential campaign and sensational journalism with an essay about her love of pop-a-shot basketball, I found myself scratching my head. It’s ok to bring in comic relief, but even comic relief should have something to say and this essay about basketball. as well as a few others on similar fluffy topics, really didn’t say much. Its placement in the book easily diminished some of the power behind her points of view.

Furthermore, not only do David Sedaris and Sarah Vowel have unique writing styles, they also have have unique speaking voices and many of their pieces are often better understood and appreciated when heard read aloud by the writer. Anyone familiar with Vowell from the radio or interviews will know that she has a strong lisp and a higher pitched voice than most. And I don’t mean to be sexist, but you are almost completely taken aback that such brilliant and hysterical commentary can come from such a voice. Several of the pieces in “Partly Cloudy Patriot” I think I would have enjoyed better had I actually heard her speaking them aloud. Her writing tends to lend itself to aural storytelling and in the case of “Underground Lunchroom” and “The Strenuous Life” (essays from the book), some of the charm is lost because they don’t have her quirky voice to go with them.

What I do love about Sarah Vowell and reading her books or listening to her on the radio is that she is a fantastic observationist. She sees the world from a true citizen’s point of view- caught in the eternal conflict of loving her country and being dissatisfied with her place in it as a citizen. I absolutely adore the following quotes that best reveal who she is, her world view, and what makes her writing so compelling when she’s right on track:

“I’m a sucker for Puritan New England and the Civil War. Because those two subjects feature the central tension of American life, the conflict between freedom and community, between individual will and the public good…I’m two parts loner and one part joiner, so I feel at home delving into the epic struggles for togetherness”.

“The most remarkable thing about the Mounties was their mandate: one law. One law for everyone, Indian or white. The United States makes a big to-do about all men being created equal, but we’re still working out the kinks of turning that idea into actual policy”.

“Walking in New York is a battle of the wills, a balance of aggression and kindness. I’m not saying it’s always easy. The occasional ‘Watch where you’re going, bitch’ can, I admit, put a crimp in one’s day. But I believe all the choreography has made me a better person. The other day, in the subway at 5:30, I was crammed into my sweaty, crabby fellow citizens, and I kept whispering under my breath ‘we the people, we the people’…reminding myself that we’re all in this together and they had as much right- exactly as much right- as I to be in the muggy underground on their way to wherever…”

But aside from the sections of the book about civics and history, which I loved, other essays and portions of the book just felt unfocused and didn’t work for me. When I finished the book and then proceeded to read the copyright information (as I always do for some reason when I am done with a book), I discovered that 11 out of 19 essays had been previously published elsewhere. Considering that I already had a problem following the logic of the book based on its mish-mashed theme, I feel this is almost lazy book selling at its best. Also taking into consideration it’s not a long novel anyway, 11 essays means over a third of the book is not new material. This absolutely irked me, especially since almost half of these 11 previously published essays, including pieces about New German cinema, shooting hoops, Thanksgiving with her family, Tom Cruise, and dead football coach Tom Landry, really had no business being in the book anyway.

Last week or so I saw an interview with Sarah Vowell on The Daily Show, talking about the posthumous release of deceased essayist David Rakoff’s latest novel. She was absolutely whip-smart, funny, and her jabs and zingers even threw well-seasoned comedian John Oliver for a complete loop. I wish the same energy, vibe, and humor had been applied to this book. Granted, “Partly Cloudy Patriot” is over 10 years old, so she has probably had plenty of time to refine her humor, and I hope, write much more focused books.

Book Review: “On Writing” by Stephen King

A word about my reviews (if you’ve read this before, skip to the review!):

My reviews are intended for those specifically who have read the novel and are looking for a place to read another’s take on the book and to also share their own thoughts. I don’t particularly like to read a recap of the story’s premise and who is who, etc, in reviews (I can easily find out a synopsis on Amazon or Goodreads) so you won’t find anything like that here. Unless I must explain a bit of premise detail in my review to give context to a thought or idea, I keep recaps to a bare minimum, if at all.

My thoughts on the books I read are by no means meant to be objective. I try to give an accurate portrait of what I experienced from reading this novel, what themes came to surface, in addition to what I liked and disliked about the book.

If you are curious about the book without having read it and would like to read my review- by all means! But please be forewarned that my reviews may contain spoilers.

CHEERS!

“On Writing” by Stephen King

Prologue: I read this book a few weeks ago and since I’ve been trying out a new career transition recently, I haven’t been able to post as much as I would like. For shame, I know. However, reading “On Writing” prompted me to revisit King’s novels, as I was a huge fan of his circa the late 90’s early 2000’s. In fact, I’m now reading one of his most recent epics,”11/22/63″, all because of this memoir. What follows is the long version of my review, but the summed up version is that I absolutely loved “On Writing”.

A wonderful novel for writers and aspiring writers, or even just for those who enjoy Stephen King’s books. I learned three things from reading this “memoir on the craft” (a perfect sub caption of the title of this book, by the way, because it’s not really a memoir nor solely a book on writing):

1. I have actually read (and/or seen the movie adaptation) more Stephen King novels than I realized.
2. Stephen King is a great writer, not to mention incredibly prolific. I honestly didn’t pay attention to that fact prior to reading this book.
3. The biggest lesson on writing: read a lot, write a lot, and never forget that your childhood and life experiences are gold.

By far the greatest take away from King’s book is the permission to go and write. Yes, there are rules to writing but most likely you already know them. In any case, don’t worry about the rules- just write. Per King, rewrites will fix the mistakes anyway and then he gives a few pointers on what to watch out for. What I liked most was his comment that the story is the most important thing and as long as you write with the story in mind, all the supporting details will usually take care of themselves. I, myself, can get too caught up in the plot, character details, research, etc, so this advice (which I suspected all along but needed to hear) was music to my ears.

King writes about his childhood, early marriage, and beginning writing career with a tenderness and care that is truly inspiring. He struggled for many years with addiction and later through a painful recovery from a car accident that nearly killed him, which in turn became the catalyst to prompt him to finish this very book. Through it all, writing-along with his family-remained his saving grace. King is mostly known for his gory horror and fantasy fiction, but “On Writing” shows a completely new thoughtful and intuitive side to the man who wrote such disturbing novels as “Carrie”, “Christine”, and “The Shining”.

Even if you are not a huge Stephen King fan (I was in high school, but its been years since I’ve read his fiction) I still urge you to read this book, especially if you are a big reader. I’ve come to appreciate the books I’ve enjoyed for many years so much more because I now better understand the process it takes to create these gems.

Book Review: “Bright Lights, Big City” by Jay McInerney

A word about my reviews (if you’ve read this before, skip to the review!):

My reviews are intended for those specifically who have read the novel and are looking for a place to read another’s take on the book and to also share their own thoughts. I don’t particularly like to read a recap of the story’s premise and who is who, etc, in reviews (I can easily find out a synopsis on Amazon or Goodreads) so you won’t find anything like that here. Unless I must explain a bit of premise detail in my review to give context to a thought or idea, I keep recaps to a bare minimum, if at all.

My thoughts on the books I read are by no means meant to be objective. I try to give an accurate portrait of what I experienced from reading this novel, what themes came to surface, in addition to what I liked and disliked about the book.

If you are curious about the book without having read it and would like to read my review- by all means! But please be forewarned that my reviews may contain spoilers.

CHEERS!

“Bright Lights, Big City”- Jay McInerney

I know I’ve mentioned it before in a few of my reviews on Goodreads, but I am a big fan of books set in the 80’s. “Bright Lights, Big City” belongs up there with Bret Easton Ellis and Tom Wolfe if you are also of the same mind-set and love exploring the sterile and cold, drug infused heady days that were the 1980’s.

This is a novel designed to make you uncomfortable. Just the author’s use of the second person narrative (making you, the reader, as much of a junkie on a lonely and confusing journey as the main character) is jarring enough. It’s a witty, sad, vacant, poignant- and at times, infuriating-read. You don’t know if you should sympathize with the unnamed main character or hate him. In my case, I did all of the above and then ended up pitying him with a soupçon of hope that he gets his life together. This novel is awfully similar to the themes and tone explored in several of Bret Easton Ellis’s novels, which makes me fairly certain that much of what we’ve heard about the 80s- the coke, the greed, the onset of technology, the loneliness, the violence, the absurdity, the overabundance, the fear- is very true.

The characters in the novel are on the cusp of something, they just aren’t sure what. Things are changing fast and it requires enormous effort and stamina (and lots of cocaine) to keep up. Reading the book for the first time nearly 30 years later after it was published, I recognize that the “cusp” is technology. The main character works for the Fact Department at a prestigious magazine and is looking up details and facts via encyclopedias or calling to verify information over the phone. Now that we have the internet as our main tool, these former research channels are virtually unheard of. I just saw an episode of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” with Tom Brokaw as the guest where he very astutely points out that with the advent of fast internet and technology we demand everything at the touch of a button and often cannot even keep up with what pops up on our screens within seconds, leaving most of us feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. In the novel, the main character faces a similar situation in which he and another customer cannot get an ATM (newly installed by the bank) to work, driving him to cry out and threaten to punch the screen. Too much information, not enough time, and no real sense of what is fact or fiction. As much as the book feels “old school”, it also resonates with everything we experience today.

McInerney subtly reminds us that in the present day of the novel the rules of yesteryear no longer apply. It’s a new age. Even though the main character is all of 24 (a detail that took me some time to grapple with, until I remembered my own quarter life crisis), he in some ways yearns for the simplicity he had come to expect out of life. You get married are happy. You get a great job and you move up the ladder. You move to NYC and you experience a sense of belonging. You cruise through your childhood, learn French, get a great education and the world is your oyster. None of this proves true, however, and the end result is a downward spiral into ANYTHING that remotely resembles happiness, usually via the normal vehicles of self-medication: drugs,alcohol, and meaningless sex.

Is this a unique story? Absolutely not. It is a satire, a little biased (both McInerney and Ellis appear to have grown up with affluent backgrounds), and possibly not representational at all of the collected experience? I would say yes to all. Is it a cautionary tale? Perhaps. The problems and sufferings that plague our hero have been torturing young souls probably since the dawn of time. It is just another shared experience, but it is probably one we need to have over and over. One day, soon I hope, we all catch up and catch on.

For more 80’s love, check out National Geographic’s mini-series “The 80’s: The Decade that Made Us”. Absolutely fabulous! I believe you can rent or buy on iTunes.

Book Review: “Started Early, Took my Dog” by Kate Atkinson

A word about my reviews (if you’ve read this before, skip to the review!):

My reviews are intended for those specifically who have read the novel and are looking for a place to read another’s take on the book and to also share their own thoughts. I don’t particularly like to read a recap of the story’s premise and who is who, etc, in reviews (I can easily find out a synopsis on Amazon or Goodreads) so you won’t find anything like that here. Unless I must explain a bit of premise detail in my review to give context to a thought or idea, I keep recaps to a bare minimum, if at all.

My thoughts on the books I read are by no means meant to be objective. I try to give an accurate portrait of what I experienced from reading this novel, what themes came to surface, in addition to what I liked and disliked about the book.

If you are curious about the book without having read it and would like to read my review- by all means! But please be forewarned that my reviews may contain spoilers.

CHEERS!

“Started Early, Took my Dog” by Kate Atkinson

First off, I must say that I absolutely adore Kate Atkinson and consider her one of my favorite authors. I read “Case Histories”, her first mystery featuring Jackson Brodie, about 7 years ago and was completely blown away. What is unique about Atkinson is that she started out writing literature and then segued into the mystery genre while the opposite is usually true for most authors. This is perhaps why I am so fond of her books: she never fully follows the formulaic rules of the mystery genre. Her mysteries still have a literary feel to them; they are not quite mysteries, not quite straight fiction.

Her novels do require patience, however, as these are not linear narratives. Kate Atkinson, in almost all of her books, starts off with more than a few seemingly unrelated events and characters and slowly but surely weaves them into a cohesive and compelling story throughout the course of the book and patience really does pay off. This technique, along with her dark humor, is what makes her great and why I greatly admire her work.

“Started Early, Took My Dog”, requires a bit more patience than usual, and the pay off is not as strong as with her previous novels featuring “hero” Jackson Brodie. I have to say I was fairly close to giving up on this book very early on. Until about page 40, after which things finally started to come together, I was introduced to about 4 different characters and 3 separate events, and honestly it felt like a large jigsaw puzzle was just dumped in front me and no one sorted any of the end pieces. None of the initial story lines grabbed me at all. And though I am also a huge fan of British fiction and am obviously familiar with Atkinson’s previous novels, the British slang and references to TV and celebrities I didn’t know completely threw me for a loop.

Interestingly, it was the introduction of the kidnapped kid Courteney that almost caused me to close the book for good, but she also became one of the characters (besides Tracy) that made me keep reading. As soon as the kid was announced, a kidnapped and probably abused kid no less, I felt an “ugh” coming on. A potentially whiny, grimy, troubled kid to deal with? No thank you. But Courteney is written as a four year old side-kick- and a silent one to boot- to a seasoned policewoman. Not much fazes her, her past is a complete mystery, but she’s not too bothered by it, and she became a delightful and original character to discover. This is, in fact, a KID book: every single character deals with missing, finding, losing, and loving children at some point.

One of the reasons I love Atkinson’s mysteries so much is that she doesn’t always stick to the tried and true formula surrounding the mystery genre. This book is the fourth in a series featuring lovable curmudgeon Jackson Brodie, now doing some soul searching and going through a slight existential crisis. Brodie is shaped by each experience and case he encounters and this carries him from book to book. Likewise, characters from the previous novels pop up at random throughout the books (Julia, a favorite from “Case Histories” is a constant presence in this book). Most mysteries have their hero leave the previous cases permanently behind. They approach the next one as if it’s a completely fresh start. But Jackson is literally haunted by each event he encounters in each book and it affects how he operates in the next one. The result is a feeling as though the reader is on the same journey as Jackson.

It works and doesn’t work. We are in the fourth book already, and I’m getting tired of Jackson’s sullen and brooding attempts to find his place in the world. If Jackson feels adrift, the reader certainly does as well. And themes from Jackson’s past, such as his constant remorse for his long dead sister and his failed marriages, make a reappearance in the novel but this is nothing new. I think we also dealt with his feelings towards his failed marriages in the last book, and he is seemingly always haunted by his sister. Jackson, this novel aside, pretty much racks up a failed relationship in each book. We are not without hope, however, that things are looking up at the end of the book (Atkinson literally ends the book with a poem about hope), and even though there are rumors swirling that this is the last novel to feature Jackson Brodie, I hope us fans of the series are in for some brighter pastures in the future.

Despite the grim plot and Jackson’s gloominess, Atkinson never fails to make me laugh. Her humor is dark, whip-smart, and so needed to break up the dire atmosphere surrounding the events in the book. Tracy is a likely match for Jackson in terms of humor, and I hope (there’s that word again!) that we see more of her in the future. Most of Atkinson’s language is a delightful mix of witty prose and beautifully constructed character studies that can wreck your heart.

My main disappointment with the book was the ending. The main “murderer” is a character barely introduced in the book, and I didn’t even feel a connection to him to care one way or another so the ending was quite anti-climatic. If the murderer was Barry, I think the ending would have caused more of a stir, especially for Tracy. As for her story, I like and dislike that it wasn’t wrapped up in a pretty bow. We still do not know who Courteney really is or how things will end up for Tracy and the kid she bought off a wayward crackhead. Atkinson hints we might see these two again, or there may be more to the story, but if she doesn’t continue with it in the next book then this ending is even more frustrating. Also, Tilly’s thread just felt out of place. Yes, she had some connection to the main characters, but out of all the story line threads, hers was the most “out there” and implausible.

I’m always grateful to come across the latest Kate Atkinson, and while this novel isn’t my favorite, she is truly a literary wizard with a mighty pen. I wish I could write half as well as she does!

Book Review: Girl Walks into a Bar, Rachel Dratch

A word about my reviews (if you’ve read this before, skip to the review!):

My reviews are intended for those specifically who have read the novel and are looking for a place to read another’s take on the book and to also share their own thoughts. I don’t particularly like to read a recap of the story’s premise and who is who, etc, in reviews so you won’t find anything like that here. Unless I must explain a bit of premise detail in my review to give context to a thought or idea, I keep recaps to a bare minimum, if at all.

My thoughts on the books I read are by no means meant to be objective. I try to give an accurate portrait of what I experienced from reading this novel, what themes came to surface, in addition to what I liked and disliked about the book.

If you are curious about the book without having read it and would like to read my review- by all means! But please be forewarned that my reviews may contain spoilers.

CHEERS!

“Girl Walks into a Bar” by Rachel Dratch

What I’ve enjoyed about reading this type of memoir, as well as “Bossypants” by Tina Fey (and I hope Amy Poehler and other SNL ladies will write their memoirs too), is that these are female comediennes who get it. They worked hard to get where they are, they’ve sacrificed personal lives, and they did it all because they needed to be in show business. This wasn’t luck of the draw per se, no, this was absolute blood, sweat, and tears WORK, and there is absolute appreciation for where they are in life. Not to mention, but I will because they deserve it, both ladies are EXTREMELY gifted at what they do. And for all their success, both Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch recognize that well-earned and deserved success for females in the show biz is never easy and there is still a wide discrepancy between male and female comedians in terms of respect, pay, and star power. The women still have to work hard and prove themselves, no matter that they’ve already “made it”.

The success in show biz aspect of Rachel’s life, or how one should define success, is what takes up the first third of the novel. And I have to say success in one form or another is really at the heart of this novel and it’s what makes it a delightful, if not necessarily riveting, memoir. A casting director once said during a workshop that an actor should ask him or herself every morning “What is success for you?” and go about his or her day with this in mind. I think what he meant was that we actors should not face our careers everyday with “I’m going to get cast on a TV show today and win an Emmy!” Sure, that could be a longtime goal, but what about taking care of yourself as an actor on a daily basis? What can you do each day that equals a success? It’s easy to look at other people who have successful careers and think of yourself as unsuccessful, but that isn’t necessarily true.

Rachel Dratch faces this very dilemma when her career after SNL is at a standstill. And the next 2/3 of the novel is dealt with her unsuccessful attempts with dating and how she came to redefine success- as a woman, actress, and finally mother- in her life.

“I had to face the facts – I’d had the good fortune of working almost fifteen years straight with a steady gig, but now, for whatever reason, my career was at a standstill. I was no longer Rachel the successful television actor, Rachel the cast member of SNL…I was just me, and how did I feel about being pared down like that? I had to see all the other facets of myself and not hold my identity in acting or comedy…So to fill the day, I began doing all the stuff I’d always wanted to do but never had the time…I was going to find Love. So for starters, I took on the biggest challenge of my life. I tried dating in New York”.

I’ve noticed on other reviews of this book some disappointment over the fact that Dratch only devotes a chapter or two to her actual time on SNL. There were similar complaints about “Bossypants” as well. All I can say is, unless the title of the novel says “[insert actor name here]: My life on Saturday Night Live” (and I think we should hold out for Lorne Michaels to finish SNL and release his memoirs because I’ll bet it’ll be a doozy), it is safe to assume that the book will be dealing with other matters. I will say that “Girl Walks into a Bar” tells more of a linear story than “Bossypants” does, and while “Bossypants” for all intended purposes is probably the more funny and cleverly written book, “Girl Walks into a Bar” is earnest, poignant, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny.

If it appears that I mention “Bossypants” quite a bit, especially since this is a review about a different book, it’s not by accident. Both novels are VERY similar in tone and structure:  both Fey and Dratch talk about their forays into comedy as children, stints at Second City, late-in-life motherhood, and even have similar views on their love of Improv and the theory behind “Yes, And…” for improvisational comedy. What strikes me most about these two women – and what I find inspiring- is that they have points of view on “shaky” topics about women in showbiz that never come off as self-righteous or pitying, but come across as honest and intelligent laments on not only being a woman in Hollywood and trying to succeed, but also being the not so conventionally beautiful woman in Hollywood and trying to succeed.

I love this quote by Dratch after she learns of the rumored reason she might have been let go from “30 Rock” because it’s similar to what almost every actress fears in her career:

“I was starting to feel like the ten years of training and performing and sweating it out pre-SNL, plus the seven years at SNL, all went out the window because I didn’t have a symmetrical face…I grew up watching perfectly lovely female performers whom I don’t think you would call ‘hotties’: Gilda Radner Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett. Those were my comedy idols…I had always been pretty sure that comedy was about producing a laugh and not a boner. Now I had to produce laughs AND boners? When did the rules change?”.

Where “Bossypants” and “Girl Walks into a Bar” differ and where the latter novel becomes my favorite over the former, is that Dratch really has a story to tell about finding love and motherhood very late in life, even if in certain points of the novel she says A LOT without really saying anything at all. Her thoughts on becoming a mother and how it happened so unexpectedly are refreshing. I wish more women would talk about this stuff openly. Women tend to be in a Catch-22 when it comes to being a mother: you’re damned if you don’t want to be one, you’re damned if you want to be one but can’t, you’re damned if you do become one but are working, and you are also damned if you try to do it alone. The perfect scenario is to be married, stay-at-home, and have your baby early on in life. Rachel Dratch did none of these things, and her commentary of what it’s like to find yourself an unmarried pregnant person at 44 with a dwindling career after you have given up all hope and are in a relationship with someone you barely know who lives across the country, is  heartwarming, telling, and very real. Dratch excels at finding the comedy to match the heart in her story, and you find yourself absolutely rooting for her at the end of the book.

As I mentioned before, although it’s an inspiring novel and a funny read, it’s not very riveting. Dratch gets carried away with some of her rather long anecdotes that seem only to provide support to an argument, but are otherwise not very pertinent to the overall story. For example, I don’t think her side-bar on how she got crabs without having sex, how she babysat a dog to determine if she could be a mother, and a few of her dating disaster stories needed to be as long or drawn out as they were. This is where the novel really plods along. After she gets into the story of her meeting baby-daddy John and finding out she’s pregnant, the pace picks up dramatically, and I was actually sad when the novel ended because I wanted to find out more about her life as a new mom.

She does, however, end the novel on the perfect note. “Ol’ two-time Dratch” as she used to call herself in the early days of her comedy career, got the second chance she needed to redefine herself as the successful person she always longed to be in a way she never expected. She realizes she may not ever have the same level of success she once had, but what she learned is that there are always new opportunities and beginnings at any age. As the Rolling Stones song says, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need”.

Book Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

A word about my reviews (if you’ve read this before, skip to the review!):

My reviews are intended for those specifically who have read the novel and are looking for a place to read another’s take on the book and to also share their own thoughts. I don’t particularly like to read a recap of the story’s premise and who is who, etc, in reviews so you won’t find anything like that here. Unless I must explain a bit of premise detail in my review to give context to a thought or idea, I keep recaps to a bare minimum, if at all.

My thoughts on the books I read are by no means meant to be objective. I try to give an accurate portrait of what I experienced from reading this novel, what themes came to surface, in addition to what I liked and disliked about the book.

If you are curious about the book without having read it and would like to read my review- by all means! But please be forewarned that my reviews may contain spoilers.

CHEERS!

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

If you are looking for a campy and effortless read with a clever premise, then stick with this book. If you are looking for a captivating and thrilling read, you may want to look elsewhere.

This title kept popping up in my “recommendations for you” feed on my Goodreads homepage and I finally couldn’t resist adding it my list, if only out of sheer curiosity for something a little bit different. It’s not the type of fiction I normally go for- I’m not a huge sci-fi/fantasy/vampire or zombie fiction person, though I have read a few books in the genre. I remember when “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was all the rage a few years back, but I was never tempted until now to delve into this “alt-history” genre specifically because I ADORE historical fiction and I have a hard time enjoying a book that strays too far from the actual truth, even if it’s meant to be a fun romp.

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is a romp, and at times, a fun one. It’s always entertaining, but it’s never truly gripping, though I think it was meant to be, and that’s the main reason why I wouldn’t really recommend this book to anyone else, unless you are in serious need of a quick and easy fluffy book. If you have read my review of “In the Woods” by Tana French, I would call this type of book “an inbetweener”. I have to admit, I did find the introduction chapter the most thrilling of the entire novel, and I wish wish WISH the author had stuck with writing the book from his first hand account discovering more about Lincoln’s vampire hunting by doing research and hunting down the facts à la “The Da Vinci Code”, rather than simply recreating and retelling the facts via Lincoln’s “Vampire journals”.

Seth Grahame-Smith doesn’t seem terribly troubled to bother explaining Vampire history or how other people become Vampires (Abe was bit in the shoulder by a Vampire at some point in the book, but isn’t affected by it for some reason. Is it only a bite in the neck?), or even what would happen if the world found out the true existence of Vampires, as if he assumes we already know about Vampires and the myth doesn’t need to be repeated (he does go into a little detail about it, but not much). Yes, I am aware of the Vampire myth, but what always drives me crazy in Vampire stories, such as “Dracula” and the “Twilight” series, is how easily people accept that Vampires just ARE. Abe is appropriately shocked at first to learn they exist, and then goes off to hunt them down without really understanding how they came to be. I think this would be my first question, wouldn’t you agree? This is where the book takes a detour from creating what could be an interesting and compelling story and instead appears to be merely a retelling of Abe’s life with some Vampires thrown in whenever there is a gap in the Lincoln timeline. What was he doing between 1835-36? Oh, he was hunting Vampires.

This is not to say that portraying Lincoln as a Vampire hunter isn’t a clever or funny premise. It is. Whatever threads of comprehension and detail the author chooses to omit regarding Vampires, he does make up for it with his research on Lincoln. The Vampire hunting ties nicely with Lincoln’s hatred of slavery and is part of the reason behind the cause of the Civil War. The sudden and seemingly mysterious deaths of his children are explained as having been caused by Vampires. Grahame-Smith portends that much of the history of Lincoln as we know it can easily be explained by the existence of Vampires. And just as the film Zoolander claimed that Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth was really a male model, the author makes the claim that he was indeed a Vampire.

All of the author’s claims are backed up with sufficient “evidence” in the form of actual Civil War letters, historical facts and historical photos. I can’t speak for the letters, but the photos are obviously photoshopped and doctored, which is hysterical and also annoying. Annoying, I say, because the other reason this book fails on a certain level is in the tone. It’s campy, sure, but is it meant to be taken somewhat seriously? Are we meant to really believe any of this is true, as in a bizarre conspiracy theory, or is it expected to be a joke? The intro chapter, as I mentioned, has a level of tension and suspense that is never quite reached again the rest of the book. If you’ve read “World War Z” by Max Brooks, then you may know what I’m talking about. Obviously, Zombies can be a funny topic, but WWZ is not meant to be funny. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” has a lot of humor amid some not funny stuff, and there isn’t really a clear line between camp, horror and black comedy.

Since I haven’t read any other “alt-history” works, I can’t really comment on how this book compares to others in the genre. Maybe these books are only meant to be taken seriously on the lightest level. It could have been a truly spectacular and refreshing read, but it doesn’t quite get there. I noticed other reviews found the book incredibly cheesy and lazy. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would say that if you go for this book don’t expect to be blown away. The ending is great, however, but this level of surprise and suspense is also needed for about 3/4 of the book. A good and quick read for plane rides when you’ve got the uninterrupted time.

“Let the Great World Spin”- Book Review

Hello there! I’m posting my very first book review here on my Girl with Thoughts, Beware blog! As always, you can friend me on Goodreads and read more of my reviews on the that site too.

A word about my reviews:

My reviews are intended for those specifically who have read the novel and are looking for a place to read another’s take on the book and to also share their own thoughts. I don’t particularly like to read a recap of the story’s premise and who is who, etc, in reviews so you won’t find anything like that here. Unless I must explain a bit of premise detail in my review to give context to a thought or idea, I keep recaps to a bare minimum, if at all.

My thoughts on the books I read are by no means meant to be objective. I try to give an accurate portrait of what I experienced from reading this novel, what themes came to surface, in addition to what I liked and disliked about the book.

If you are curious about the book without having read it and would like to read my review- by all means! But please be forewarned that my reviews may contain spoilers.

“Let the Great World Spin”, Colum McCann

This is a novel that is quite hard to define in adjectives. In fact, I find it a hard book to define, period. On one hand there is so much happening between the characters, seemingly unconnected, and yet in many sections of the book nothing actually does happen. It’s dizzying, disorienting, and a little chaotic. And it is because of this constant tilt from motion to stillness that the novel manages to capture the dance of the very person who inspired the story: tightrope artist Philippe Petit who, in August of 1974, completed more than a dozen turns in less than an hour on a wire stretched between the not-yet-finished World Trade Center Towers in New York City.

Two passages- one from the novel itself and another from a reviewer of the novel on the back cover- capture the true essence of the book for me:

“Sometimes you’ve got to go up to a very high floor to see what the past has done to the present” (Let the Great World Spin, Gloria).

“A masterly chorus of voices…With Phillippe Petit’s breathless 1974 tightrope walk between the uncompleted World Trade Center towers at its axis, Colum McCann offers us a lyrical cycloramic high-low portrait of New York City in its days of burning” Richard Price.

Indeed, the author’s construction and use of the High/Low concept is really what makes the novel move amidst a spectacular event that caused most of the city to stand still. Of course you have Petit, who is the highest of all the characters, sitting on his wire while the rest of the city stumbles on below, but the idea extends to all of the characters. Corrigan, an earthy priest of some religious order and originally from Ireland, is committed to serving the lowest dregs of society- in this case, prostitutes and the handicapped elderly whose family has abandoned them- in the tenement slums of the Bronx. Corrigan and his God signify the “high” working in the “lowest” part of the city. You’ve also got the tenement high rises working opposite the streets, where the prostitutes- Tilly and daughter Jazzlyn- work the stroll. Corrigan meets Analita, a beautiful Columbian nurse who helps out at the elderly home, and is conflicted over his attraction to her. They share a brief tryst in her ground floor apartment, while Corrigan assumes his God is judging him from above.

In the other end of the city, on the Upper (get it?) West Side, we have Claire, high above the masses (or so she is perceived) in her penthouse suite, still mourning the death of her son who was killed in Vietnam two years prior. Her husband, a judge, sits high on his chair in the courtroom and rules in the cases of Tilly, considered by him as a “lowly” prostitute, and eventually Petit after his arrest, who manages to dazzle the taciturn judge with his star power. Claire is joined by African-American Gloria along with a group of women who have also lost sons that meet once a month in each other’s apartments to collectively grieve and share stories. Gloria, from the lower end of the Bronx, provides the bridge between the high/low for Claire, and ultimately for almost all of the characters stories, and at the end of the novel there is finally a balance, an equilibrium of sorts, symbolized by a reunion between Claire and Tilly’s granddaughter Jaslyn.

There are several more examples of this concept, and though I may have simplified the idea in my review, it is by no means as obvious as you read the novel. McCann did a remarkable job of presenting these characters from all different walks of life and creating a believable link between each one. As I moved along from story to story, the common thread of course being the wire walk that has gripped the city, I was entranced by McCann’s vision of NYC during the 70s. It’s a dirty, polluted, sweaty- not to mention corrupt- place. With the Vietnam War still a burning ember and not quite pushed to the back of everyone’s mind, the city mirrored the events of the day. The author casually offers his opinion in barely a whisper: has anything really changed? There is a steady thrum, a buzz that quietly hums in the background. I can really feel the language of these characters, their lives spiraling and spinning along what should be a normal day in the city. And the pulse of the not-quite-forgotten war keeps a steady beat. Both Claire and another woman from the group reference their lost boys in the scope of the tightrope walker. Only Claire is more direct: how dare this man challenge and play with death so willingly when her son is no longer alive?

In some instances, however, the concept of tilting back and forth between New York City denizens as they are influenced and affected by Petit’s walk is not as strong. While most of the characters in each chapter get their own separate backstory from the narrative and resurface in different points of the novel, two chapters in particular feature characters that are introduced briefly and then never reoccur. This works in the case of the computer hackers living on the west coast, who randomly call a pay phone outside of the twin towers to find out any information about Petit and what is going on. It is a brilliant reminder of the times and the fact that a 24 hour news cycle was non-existent in 1974: you literally had to catch the news at 6pm and 10pm the same day or wait for the story to appear in the next day’s newspapers. Less effective, though, is the chapter featuring a young photographer who, on the day of Petit’s walk, is busy chronicling taggers and their spray paint art beneath the NYC subway system (another high/low moment). The fictional character is credited as taking the pivotal and most famous photo of Petit mid-walk across the wire, though in truth, the credit actually belongs to real-life photographer. This manipulation seems contrived, as the character’s backstory was obviously added to give depth to the overall theme of the novel, but it didn’t happen to fit with the true photographers own story. I didn’t particularly NEED this story in the book; it neither enhanced nor enriched the subtext from an already rich and complex story.

The big white “elephant”(s) in the story, if you will, are the actual World Trade Center Towers themselves. I’ve read in other reviews that “Let the Great World Spin” was written as the author’s tribute to 9/11. I must point out that not once does the author make mention of this fact in his novel, despite the fact that the latter half of the story takes place in 2006, only 5 years removed from the catastrophic event, and it is curious that Jaslyn, the character featured in the last part of the book, does not remark on the Towers disappearance from the city, even though she does reference a picture of Petit’s walk across the Towers. At first I was bothered by it, the absence of the two gigantic buildings that served as catalyst for the overriding story line, but the more I came to terms with the idea, the more it made sense from the author’s point of view. As we live in a post-9/11 world, we are both affected AND removed from the event itself. It has become part of our landscape in many ways. And if McCann saw NYC of the seventies and beyond as dirty and corrupt, then the city after 2001 can be viewed as a level playing ground- literally and figuratively. We can no longer think in terms of High/Low as members of society. As Gloria says, “you have to get to a high floor to see what the past has done to the present”.

A fellow book clubber mentioned during our discussion of this novel an interview she read with McCann, who noted that this book was not only a tribute to the WTC, but also a cathartic answer to a nagging question. How do we come together as people during and after an extraordinary event? Like Petit’s walk, which enthralled (and in some cases, angered) a city and later the nation, so is the case of the actual day of the WTC Towers collapse: you knew exactly where you were, what you were doing, and most importantly, whether you were on the west coast or abroad, you were six degrees separated from someone else who was an eye-witness to the event. We are not all separate beings, existing on an individual plane- our actions and experiences, unbeknownst to us, are all indirectly and in many cases, directly, connected. The end of the novel highlights this idea. Claire is directly connected to an otherwise implausible connection: she is the godmother to Jazzlyn’s- one of Corrigan’s prostitutes from the Bronx- daughter Jaslyn. They meet for one last time as Claire lays dying, except this time there is no distinction, no boundary between the two, no high/low.

It is a subtle and yet profound novel, and not one to be taken lightly. The characters never leave you, and it is hard to leave them at the end of each chapter. You almost need to take a break before proceeding to the next one. If the book had been written as a more thinly veiled version of a “9/11” tribute novel, I don’t think it would have succeeded. 9/11 is a wound that will only slowly heal over time and must be approached with care. “Let the Great World Spin” is a creative and colorful use of narrative to pay tribute to these buildings (considered hideous monstrosities in the early 70s, by the way) by in fact paying tribute to a simple tightrope artist who saw a kind of beauty in the Towers in their infancy before anyone else could. The world will continue to spin, despite whatever horrors we inflict on each other, but the Towers will forever be etched in our minds as a testament to one of humans greatest achievements, which in turn inspired the greatest achievement of one man in particular, who dared the impossible.

(PS, as a side note, if you have never seen the “Man on Wire” documentary about Philippe Petit’s walk, I highly recommend it if you intend to read this book. The film makes a wonderful companion to the novel).

Post Navigation