Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Books! Winter Reading Edition


Oh man, I've been slacking on my book reviews for you guys! I've read some great ones lately and I'm dying to talk about them. Y'all know how much I love reading and discussing literature and I haven't done it in ages, so I miss it.

Last month I wrote a post for elephantjournal.com about 20 Amazing Books To Read This Winter, which you can check out if you're interested. I'm currently working on a new article for them about my all time favorite love stories so look for that at the beginning of February. I'll post it on my Facebook and Twitter when it's published.

So in the meantime, I have read some incredible books lately, beginning with the much-awaited, new novel from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the famous Eat, Pray, Love. The memoir was fine. I mean, I had my personal issues with it in parts, but I just think that Elizabeth Gilbert is a stronger novelist. I mean for real. She is a master. Her fiction is truly, astonishingly flawless and her new novel The Signature of All Things: A Novel , was absolutely magical. I didn't want it to end because I was so caught up in the world of the characters, which was so exquisitely, fully imagined and drawn for the reader. Reading this book made me happy. The hardest thing to do though, is to explain the plot without making it sound dull. The plot makes it sound like the book is an awful slog: A plain, spinster, daughter of the wealthiest man in colonial Philadelphia, studies plants, moss in particular, for a good 80 or so years. But I swear, it's so much more than that. There's adventure, lots of it, sailing expeditions all over the world. There are themes about slavery and abolition, feminism, wealth and education and social class. The book is steamy and sexy and raw. It's heartbreaking and bittersweet. There is magic and intrigue and oh my God, just read it, please. I LOVED THIS BOOK. But that wasn't obvious was it?

After that I read a couple of things that I wasn't all that into and which were rather disappointing so let's not think about them, and then I decided I wanted some very light reading so I found this gentle little memoir called, Mud Season: How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another by Ellen Stimson, about a family who very idealistically picks up and moves to the Vermont countryside, a place very near and dear to my own heart. I liked this book because I can so imagine myself doing the exact same thing with the exact, disastrous results. It was a funny, endearing read - the sort of book you can quickly pick up to put yourself in a better mood. Made me think of my fond memories of my own times in Vermont and reignited my Baby Boom fantasies of moving there and making applesauce.

Now for ages, I've had a fascination with the Amish, having grown up around a lot of them. Where I'm from in Delaware you can't go a day without seeing a buggy going down the highway and you'll see the Amish in the grocery store all the time. I read Ira Wagler's Growing Up Amish about his life in an Old Order Amish community. I found it fascinating and I learned a tremendous amount about the Amish from this book. Wagler eventually left the Amish life and after reading about the religion I can kind of see why. I think a lot of us "English" folk maybe idealize the Amish or think that they have some special, old world knowledge about how to live, but you know what? They don't. They're just as big of assholes as the rest of us. Clueless, petty, floundering in their own human nature just like everyone else.

Right now I'm waist-deep in the new Oprah pick by Sue Monk Kidd and holy moly, it's good. The Invention of Wings: With Notes (Oprah's Book Club 2.0) is based on the true story of Sarah Grimke and the slave Hetty, or Handful. Grimke was "given" Handful as a gift on her eleventh birthday and initially refused and tried to free her slave. Her angry parents wouldn't have it, of course and the two were reluctantly bound thereafter. The novel switches perspectives back and forth between Handful and Sarah and their voices are distinct and very believable. I am currently, passionately engrossed in this story and loving it as much as the Elizabeth Gilbert book. I'm not sure how much of it is historically accurate, but from what I've looked up, a lot of it is pretty darn close to truth. In any case, the novel is beautifully, beautifully rendered from actual historic events. The story is gripping, the characters are very complicated and wonderfully human and honestly, I simply love the language and "flow" of this novel. What can I say? Oprah and I have the same taste and I am all about the stories of southern women. I'll be sad when I finish this one.

Next up?  Nancy Horan's novel Under the Wide and Starry Sky: A Novel , also historical fiction based on real people and a real life love affair. I heard about the book on NPR and was intrigued by the story, which sounds fascinating and romantic and the perfect read for the upcoming Valentine's Day. I'm feeling like a good love story here lately and this seems passionate yet unconventional enough of one to hook me. The Amazon description makes me want to read it.

"At the age of thirty-five, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne has left her philandering husband in San Francisco to set sail for Belgium—with her three children and nanny in tow—to study art. It is a chance for this adventurous woman to start over, to make a better life for all of them, and to pursue her own desires.  Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her children repair to a quiet artists’ colony in France where she can recuperate. Emerging from a deep sorrow, she meets a lively Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who falls instantly in love with the earthy, independent, and opinionated “belle Americaine.”

What do you all think? What's everyone been reading lately and what can you recommend?

2 comments:

Scat said...

Goldfinch - Couldnt put it down. Then I read her other book a seret history liked it very much but the third one I'm reading by Donna tartt 'A Little Friend' is just not going anywhere its a slow go.
I must read the books your suggested. Thank you so much. My daughter read your book and she loved it! At first I thought she bought it at BnN but she ended up buying it on line I think..anyway she loved the name chocolate thunder pussy ha!
Chris

E said...

You are a peach! Glad Mud made you laugh. The new one --Good Grief --comes out in October. It has a dead guy in place of the country store and if you liked Mud you just might like it too.
Thanks so much for the sweet review!
E

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