"Because It Isn't There"

"Why do writers write? Because it isn't there."
 ~Thomas Berger

Cold Tangerines

Cross Posted From Blogger Arrow:

My friend Ellen recommended a book to me called Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. I didn't admit to her (until now) that I cringe a little at book recommendations. There's a certain amount of pressure that comes with reading a book that someone else really likes. Maybe the book spoke to them in a way that it just won't talk to you; perhaps something in a person's life resonates with the book and they only imagine that you share that sonorous quality. Whenever someone recommends a book I find myself reflecting on the quote that, "In literature, as in love, we are often astonished at what is chosen by others."

However, Ellen is someone that I trust and admire so her recommendation didn't dare go into the "perhaps, maybe before I die" pile of books on my mental shelf. Instead, Cold Tangerines showed up on my library hold queue and jumped quickly to the top. I started it this week, and (as of my train ride home today) I have just a few chapters remaining. It's the kind of book that speaks to a reader - I suppose I mean female readers - and I almost wish I could Xerox off different chapters and press them into the hands of family and friends and say "You need to read this!" or "This is SO what you are going through!"

And, of course, with a book that relevant to my loved ones, there were to be found several passages that seemed to be written directly at me. In a chapter called "Prayer and Yoga" she laments that both are decidedly good for her yet she doesn't stick to either as often as she should. (Sound like anyone you know??) I also really liked her thoughts on writing. As I contemplate another looming November with NaNoWriMo, I find myself pondering if I want to embrace - unleash - my identity as a writer once again. I've wavered and flip-flopped about taking on the chaotic novel-in-a-month challenge this year and then, this afternoon, I read this:

"Sometimes when I'm writing, if I try really hard, I can move more slowly, like a dancer or a mime, and taste things more vividly, and see not just the trees and the grass, but the individual leaves and blades. Things are richer and brighter than I thought, now that I have slowed down enough to see them."
~Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines p. 137

I don't think NaNoWriMo is quite the atmosphere for slowed down perception that Niequist is speaking of, but I understand her need for the reflective introspection that comes from times of writing. It's where I spent a lot of time in the days when I was a prolific journaler - heck, even when I was a more prolific blogger. I look with some shame on my sparse posting of this year. I see it not as sad because I missed sharing inane thoughts with friends and family but rather, sad that I was living my life without reflection.

There's a famous quote that says "We must live life forward and define it backward," but I think most of us fall into the trap of too much forward motion on that one. Not that it would be good to over-define life to the point of not spending one's time living it. When we can find the place between rushing out to live each day and poignantly reflecting on our journey as a whole, that's where a well paced life will be. Neither hurried nor bored, that will be a balanced life indeed.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Cross Posted From Blogger Arrow:

Yesterday I finished a book I've been wanting to read since I first heard about it: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Here's the review I wrote:

There's no denying that zombies are trendy right now. With video games like the Resident Evil series and movies such as Dawn of the Dead, animated corpses feasting on the brains and flesh of the living have some sort of unexplainable mass appeal. Like many other readers though, the last place I expected the undead to appear was in a literary classic. But that didn't stop Seth Grahame-Smith (either a genius or seriously deranged writer) from rewriting Jane Austen's masterpiece Pride and Prejudice as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, declaring it "The classic regency romance--now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem".
If the title alone doesn't bring a wry smile to your face or elicit a slight giggle, don't bother picking up this book. Many readers will declare the work ridiculous and scoff at the apparent destruction of one of the most beloved romance stories of all time. However, I was on the right side of the fence to appreciate Grahame-Smith's bizarre humor and although I wouldn't by any means declare the work an improvement on the original, it was certainly a fun book.

Much of the text and plot are preserved from Austen's writing - with the obvious addition of zombies. Instead of country ladies, Grahame-Smith's Bennet sisters are warriors trained in the arts of combat, sworn to defend the crown from the hordes of "unmentionables" that plague England's roads and countrysides. The reader still finds Elizabeth fighting her prejudices (and zombies) to fall in love with the proud (zombie-fighter) Mr. Darcy but amusement is added (along with ninjas) by altering some of the well-known plot points such as the classic encounter between Lady Catherine and the sharp-tongued Lizzy.

Already assured to be a cult-classic, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a great book for those that love the original but are willing not to take their literature too seriously. It could also succeed in bringing fans of the horror genre to an appreciation of classic literature, but the book is likely more enjoyable for those familiar with the primary text as long as they are ready to laugh at it.

Now it's just a matter of waiting for the September release of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters!

What is the What

Cross Posted From Blogger Arrow:

I have a book review to share. It's actually a book that I finished two weeks ago but it's one that I can't stop thinking about. (For those more familiar with my literary habits that's saying a lot since I've already finished four and started my fifth book since completing this one.) The book is What is the What by Dave Eggers.

My first surprise on opening the cover of Dave Eggers novel What is the What was the subtitle The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng. As my mind struggled to reconcile finding the word "autobiography" on a book plucked from the fiction shelves, I proceeded on to the book's content - a first person memoir of the life of a refugee. Eggers' voice disappeared as the pages turned and the story became solely that of Deng one of Sudan's "Lost Boys" struggling to make a life for himself in America while haunted by the memories of the existence he left behind.

As the story unfolds in the present, Valentino takes his encounters with strangers in America and uses them to mentally reflect on his experiences in Africa. By silently telling others his story (which translates as a complete narration to the reader) he seeks their understanding, their sympathy and their grace and as a reader I couldn't help being captivated by his turbulent journey. There is joy in his childhood in a remote village where a bicycle is a prized and wondrous possession. There is fear in his flight across the wilds of Sudan narrowly avoiding lions and slower killers like disease and starvation. There is desperation in his life at the refugee camp dreaming of something better for himself and wondering if his family has survived as well. There is awkwardness to his arrival in America and the culture clash of living as an outsider in a new homeland.

What is the What is a highly emotional and moving book. Eggers has expertly blurred the lines between fact and fiction to create a fully realized and seamless narration of hardship and endurance in the life of a refugee. With an overarching theme of compassion for others in the face of evil, Valentino Achak Deng's story is immensely powerful. This is a book that will stay with you, will keep you thinking and and reflecting on it, long after the back cover is closed.

At the risk of providing something of a spoiler, the title comes from a Sudanese story in which God first gave cattle to men. Given the importance of livestock in Africa's harsh climate, the cow was the ultimate gift. According to the legend, God gave man the choice that he could either keep the cow or have "The What". This option prompted the man to ask, "What is the what?" to which God responded that man was unable to have the answer and must decide between the known gift and an unknown "what". I won't ruin the story by explaining this any further but the question, and thus the title, has a recurring appearance in the book and the ultimate answer to the question becomes a thought provoking point that I still find myself reflecting upon. Overall, this was a really amazing book that I'd highly recommend to anyone looking for a biography of a refugee's experience or anyone seeking an excellent narration of life in Sudan.

Honeymoon in Tehran

Cross Posted From Blogger Arrow:

Last month I got another pre-realease book through Library Thing's Early Reviewers program. There's something ultimately fun about reading a book before it's even hit the bookstores and I figure since the whole purpose of publishers giving out these delicious freebies is to drum up publicity for their product I might as well at least mention the really good ones here as well as on LT. The book I just finished is a nonfiction work called Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran. Here's my review:

Honeymoon in Tehran is a memoir by Iranian-American journalist Azadeh Moaveni chronicling two years of her life living in Tehran and dealing with the complications of a government that restricts the freedoms of women and journalists (and especially women journalists). The book is a resource of world politics as Moaveni presents an insider's view of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rise to power. The story is even more compelling as Moaveni tells her own tale of falling in love. As she navigates Iranian wedding customs and the issues of pregnancy before marriage, the story becomes a personal one and her balance between factual and emotional writing is exceptional.

In many ways Moaveni's story is a wake-up call to be aware of things that Americans and other citizens of Western countries can take for granted - choice of dress, public playgrounds, sattelite TV, choice of children's names, uncensored internet access, freedom to associate with members of the opposite gender - and yet she paints a fair picture of Iranians in Tehran and refrains from playing the victim despite dire circumstances for her family and career. As a book that both educates and entertains, Honeymoon in Tehran is an excellent book club choice or a great read for anyone seeking a literary trip to Iran.

I got to thinking about this book a lot this week with the monumental inauguration on Tuesday. I won't deny that I'm an Obama supporter. Since meeting him in 2005, I've gained the impression that as a senator - an hopefully now as president - he sees himself as a public servant and I feel that is a role that comes across as more of a rarity in Washington these days. With that said though, I'm not one of the many celebrating January 19th as "Bush's last day in office". I don't think Bush was the villain that many have painted him as. I won't defend his decisions, but I won't criticize them either. Going back to the subject of Honeymoon in Tehran, I'm really grateful to be an American citizen. As I mentioned in my review there are so many freedoms we have in this country that people take for granted. Even those who hated Bush knew that they would have to deal with him for a maximum of eight years - and throughout those years they were able to enjoy the freedom of speaking their mind about him openly, loudly, vehemently with no penalties. Yes, I'm glad to see President Obama in office but I have a healthy salute to former President Bush for his service to our States. Republican or Democrat, Inauguration is bigger than the man in Oval Office - whether you support the current administration or not - this country is one that I'm exceptionally thankful to be part of.