Also read in August

I’m proud that I managed full reviews of most of what I read this month, but there are, as always, some “also reads” this month…

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver.

I picked this up as part of a reading challenge for my Goodreads book club. I was super excited because I’m a big fan of her work, and I heard from several people who said this was their favorite. Loved the beginning 1/3, liked the middle 1/3 and then tired of the last 1/3. I get her viewpoints and agree with most of them, but I hate being hit over the head with “message.” Plus, too many tidy coincidences. 3 stars for me.

“Now I’m starting to think he wasn’t supposed to be my whole life, he was just this doorway to me.”

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

Maybe I should not include this in “Also Read” because I didn’t finish reading it. I gave up, which is sad. I won this book at Book Lovers Night and was so excited, but after 100 pages of a sorry-for-himself middle-aged white man whining and wasting his time, I just had to move on to something else. Dave Eggers is such a talented writer. I wish he would concentrate his efforts on better stories with more interesting characters. 2 stars

“We’ve become a nation of indoor cats, he’d said.  A nation of doubters, worriers, overthinkers.  Thank God these weren’t the kind of Americans who settled this country.  They were a different breed!  They crossed the country in wagons with wooden wheels!  People croaked along the way, and they barely stopped.  Back then, you buried your dead and kept moving.”

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

I listened to this to and from work and liked it, but didn’t love it. I think the Greek chorus style of this book may have worked better as a paper read. I found myself tuning out of the repetitive nature of the narration. Plus, I’ve read better treatments of the Japanese immigration and internment, so I didn’t gleam anything new from this book. 3 stars

“We lost weight and grew thin. We stopped bleeding. We stopped dreaming. We stopped wanting.”

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Hello Mojo

Last week I complained (maybe I even whined a little) that I had lost my mojo. I was in an undeniable funk and I put it out there for the world to share.

What do you know? My mojo heard the call and returned to me in some pretty significant ways.

1)      I felt the blogger love. Many of you responded with kind words, funny stories and useful advice. Since so much of what we do as bloggers happens alone with just us and our computers, it’s easy to forget that we are a community. You all reminded me of that fact. I felt lifted up by friends, both those I know IRL, and those I’ve come to know virtually.

It’s much harder to remain in a funk when I know there are people waiting, watching and caring. A giant “thank you” goes out to all of you.

 

2)      A major milestone. (I know, I know, I’m supposed to be avoiding stats of any kind – but no one warned me that they show up on my Dashboard any time I add a new post.) Anyway, I realized last week that I have reached 100 followers. This won’t seem like much to those of you with hundreds of followers or comments or page views (or whatever measurement you use), but to me, these 3 digits seem monumental.

Even better, my 100th follow came from someone I knew in real life, and keep up with in virtual life. Justine is a smart, talented woman I once had the pleasure of directing. More recently, we have shared our love of books on social media. To see her name on my list of followers brought a huge smile to my face. To then find out she searched out my blog when looking for a good book to read…well, that just sent my mojo into a tizzy.

 

3)      An author encounter. I met Jonathan Tropper!!! Yes, the author of my most recent fave, This is Where I Leave You. And, the way it happened seemed fated to break my funk.

I don’t get near enough time to dwell in the world of social media. I miss twitter parties and constantly refreshing my Facebook feed, but real life has taken over. Anyway, it’s my habit to start each day with a social media check in. I just happened to see a tweet from @JTropper mentioning an appearance and Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville. How did I not know about this?

So I took a chance and asked my mom (also a fan) if she wanted to join me. You have to understand that both of us are much more likely to laze on the couch reading on any given weeknight than make a 45-minute trip to Naperville to chance a meeting with an author we may or may not like in real life.

And, miracle of miracles, we actually went. Despite considering just staying in the neighborhood and grabbing dinner together, we made the trip and ended up having a great time. (More to come on Jonathan Tropper in a future post).

 

Unlike”3 strikes and you’re out,” these signs seemed like “3 reasons to write.” I’m not fooling myself – I still don’t have enough time in the day to read or write the way I’d like to. I will still suffer funky slumps when nothing seems possible. I will still be waiting on the next seemingly insurmountable milestone.

But I will have this, this day my mojo returned.

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art

Having never read a book by Christopher Moore, I hardly knew what to expect beyond “irreverent” and “witty” – the two words that pop up consistently in Goodreads reviews of his work. When I was searching for my first adult audio book, those were just the words that appealed to me. I only have 20 minutes each way, so I needed a story that would hold my attention, something I could stop and start and nothing too heavy. Christopher Moore seemed to fit the bill and Sacre Bleu was on the shelf at the library so I went for it.

Success all around.

I am sure the other west suburban commuters thought I was loony. I was literally slapping my knee laughing out loud during portions of this book – which must have made for an odd sight at stop lights. Moore is smart-assed hilarious, definitely irreverent, and sometimes brilliant.

“The Painting is not shit,’ said Lucien.
‘I know,’ said Henri. ‘That was just part of the subterfuge. I am of royal lineage; subterfuge is one of the many talents we carry in our blood, along with guile and hemophilia.”

He reimagines art history in 19th century Paris, mixing together all the masters of the time, and travelling back far enough to throw in Michelangelo as well. The cast of characters is at once familiar (van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet) and unusual (each intimately connected to the next). The plot centers around a murder/suicide, a mysterious color man, the enchanting Juliet and a baker/painter named Lucien. Throw in some politics, magic, curious inventions, cave paintings and whores and you get a mess of book that delighted me just the same.

To be honest, I didn’t really care about the plot per se. It is far-fetched to say the least and involves ancient witchcraft, impressionist painters and more suspension of disbelief than I’m used to granting, but, in the end, none of that mattered. I was taken in by Moore’s language and satire. For all the bouts of uproarious laughter, he scratched at deeper truths and several times I wished to stop the CD and write down passages.

“They are between. Not what they used to be, and not what they have become. In those times, they are nothing. And I am invisible, and I am nothing too. That is the true demimonde, Lucien, and the secret is, it is not always desperate and dark. Sometimes it is just nothing. No burden of potential or regret. There are worse things than being nothing, my friend.”

I am officially now a fan of Christopher Moore, and audio books. Only one question remains, “What should I listen to next?”

Monday Quote – Back to School

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet. ~Aristotle

Today is back-to-school for my sons, and I swear they are only focused on the “bitter” half of this quote.

  • No more sleeping in.
  • No more wearing pajamas ALL DAY.
  • No more afternoons at the pool.
  • No more endless hours of video games.

I can see where it might seem bitter.

But I think it’s sweet.

  • No more rotating baby-sitters.
  • No more coming home to “Operation Destroy the House.”
  • No more “Mom, there’s nothing to do.”

I have convinced myself (if not them) that deep inside, they’re really looking forward to the start of school. I know I am.

A Walk Across the Sun – a new review

I have had much trouble approaching this book review. I really want to recommend it as a great book, but feel it’s only fair to warn people that the subject matter is incredibly sad.

I mean REALLY sad. As in, the tsunami that wipes out Ahlaya and Sita’s entire family and leaves them homeless orphans is not the most tragic thing that happens in this story. In fact, that happens in the first chapter. What follows is a downward spiral of kidnapping, rape, smuggling and terror as these girls are “trafficked” from person to person, country to country.

But don’t let any of that scare you away. Corban Addison has also written something beautiful and touching and honest. The inner strength present in these characters is inspiring. Plus, Addison does an admirable job of drawing the truth out without preaching.

He uses an American attorney, Thomas Clarke, to uncover the clues, chase the bad guys and provide a counterpoint to the girls’ tragedy. He starts out as a fairly self-centered guy, going to India only because he has no choice, but the plight of these victims moves him in a very real way.

“In places like this, it’s hard to imagine that the world can be so ugly,’ Thomas said.
‘This is how it was meant to be,’ Priya replied. ‘The ugliness is our own fault.”

Yes, it’s socially responsible literature, but it’s not manipulative. I mean, seriously. Who would disagree that human trafficking is 100% evil? Addison does not shy away from the graphic or gruesome details of this atrocity, but somehow he never pushes too hard or too far.

The bottom line is simple –

“Traffickers will stop when men stop buying women.”

Socially responsible fiction has its place in bringing issues to light. This book did that for me.

It’s Wednesdsay…must be time for a book-themed play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

Special thanks to Should be Reading for first introducing me to this weekly meme.

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?   I’m on the last disk of “Sacre Bleu” by Christopher Moore. The laugh-out-loud, irreverent telling of art history has made time alone in the car a real treat. Also getting into “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver, well-timed for the lovely weather we’ve been having. I have pretty high hopes for this one.

What did you recently finish reading? “A Hologram for the King” by Dave Eggers. I didn’t exactly finish this book, but I’m finished with this book. Too much complaining, self-indulgent, middle-aged white man for me. I gave up 2/3 of the way through.

What do you think you’ll read next? Picked up 5 new books at the library today, including Jonathan Tropper‘s latest and “Playing with Matches,” which has gotten lots of good buzz. Next up for the audio books, “The Buddha in the Attic” which I meant to read long ago.

Virtually absent

I’m not writing. I’m not really pinning, tweeting or commenting either. I am virtually absent.

I could say it’s because I’m working too hard, but that’s not really an excuse. Everyone is working hard. True, my day job actually fills my days and my family fills my evenings, but that hasn’t stopped me the past couple months. And I know it doesn’t stop the many accomplished bloggers whose writing I follow.

I don’t know why, but my mojo has vanished.

As if that weren’t bad enough, I’m not reading. I pick up a book, read a few pages and put it down. I’ve tried switching titles and genres to no avail. I am seriously in a funk. And, frankly, it’s a little bit scary. Being a reader is so much a part of my identity that I’m not sure who I am without a book (or two or three) at my fingertips.

So, I am the first to admit this is a lame little blog post today, but I’m simply trying to push through and get back in the groove. I beg your forgiveness and I ask that if you see my mojo anywhere, you please send it back my way.