Flashback Friday: This is Where I Leave You

This is Where I leave youWith one week (and impatiently counting) until the film release of This is Where I Leave You, I thought I would suggest, beg, demand that any of you who have not yet read Jonathan Tropper’s outstanding dark comedic novel should do so before seeing the movie.

Need more persuasion? Here’s my review from August 3, 2012.

I can’t remember the last time a book made me laugh out loud, but this one did. It also made me blush, got me a little choked up at times, and introduced me to another author whose work I will actively seek.

Forced to take part in a traditional Jewish 7-day shiva for his father, Judd Foxman ping-pongs between his hilariously dysfunctional siblings, his larger than life newly widowed mother, and the agony of his failed marriage. By using the shiva as a tactic to force intimacy (or at least proximity) on his characters, Tropper provides the perfect background for high drama.

“Childhood feels so permanent, like it’s the entire world, and then one day it’s over and you’re shoveling wet dirt onto your father’s coffin, stunned at the impermanence of everything.”

Tropper brilliantly avoids overplaying his dramatic hand. Instead he inserts some borderline slapstick comedy for Judd and his family. I wasn’t sure in the opening chapter, which contains the funniest version of marital infidelity I’ve ever read (burning testicles and all), if Tropper could maintain that level of pitch-perfect dark comedy, but he does.

He finds the humor in life’s tragic situations, without ever lessening their importance.

“…the first thing you do at the end is reflect on the beginning. Maybe it’s some form of reverse closure, or just the basic human impulse toward sentimentality, or masochism, but as you stand there shell-shocked in the charred ruins of your life, your mind will invariably go back to the time when it all started. And even if you didn’t fall in love in the eighties, in your mind it will feel like the eighties, all innocent and airbrushed, with bright colors and shoulder pads and Pat Benetar or The Cure on the soundtrack.”

As I was reading, I could picture the film version, cast with the finest 30-somethings in Hollywood, a kind of Big Chill for the 21st Century. I believe Tropper is already at work on an adaptation. I sure hope Hollywood doesn’t manage to wreck the brilliant balance of a little raunchy, a lot funny, and perfectly heartfelt that Tropper has achieved.

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June Reading Wrap Up

The month of June offered a pretty terrific mix of books to read, both in new releases and me finally settling down with some “meant to reads.” I spent time with two of my favorite authors, Jonathan Tropper and Dan Chaon, plus cemented my love for Ruth Ozeki. I found three new authors and started the beautiful Americanah, which I’ll undoubtedly review in July.

June 2014 Reads

Here’s my June reading list, best to worst.

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki — already reviewed

We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride – already reviewed

Among the Missing by Dan Chaon

I love best Chaon’s ability to tap into our innermost insecurities for examination. From the insecure widow looking for comfort from an inflatable torso in “Safety Man,” to a survivor wracked with unspeakable guilt in the title story. He doesn’t cross the line into magical realism but his stories retain an other-worldliness that appeals to me. It’s the stuff of deepest fears and imaginings, our dreams and nightmares, and even our everyday weaknesses. All of these stories somehow hinge on a seemingly random twist of fate.

“It’s not like it ruined my life, I was going to say, but then I didn’t. Because it occurred to me that maybe it had ruined my life, in a kind of quiet way–a little lie, probably not so vital, insidiously separating me from everyone I loved. ”

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez — already reviewed

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement – already reviewed

Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper (audio)

Not his best work, but any Tropper is good reading. The story felt familiar — Zach is a 30-something Jewish guy with serious father issues who faces a life-altering crisis. Drama, humor and fist-fights follow. It’s the standard Tropper mix but I’m OK with that. Sometimes I want something familiar and not too challenging. I like that Tropper’s protagonists, for all their self-pity, are smart, acerbic and disarmingly self-aware. (Scott Brick is a great narrator for Tropper’s work.)

“Somewhere there’s a therapist alone in his office staring wistfully at the door, just waiting for a patient like you.”

China Dolls by Lisa See — already reviewed

The Last Days of California by Mary Miller

It’s a great premise — a family trapped in the car together as they drive from Alabama toward California to witness the Rapture, which is scheduled for Saturday. The narrator is a 15 year-old girl, insecure in comparison to her bombshell sister and in search of life’s meaning before it all ends. Religious fervor. Coming of age. Sexual awakening. Family drama. These are all components I love, but it never quite came together.

“Why didn’t I feel things the way others felt them? It wasn’t that I didn’t care about people. It was more like I couldn’t really believe they were real.”

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James – already reviewed

Bark by Lorrie Moore

I really did not like this story collection despite the quality of the writing, which is often brilliant. Once again, I have finished reading Lorrie Moore and wondered why her work does not appeal to me at all. Instead of feeling engaged and satisfied and moved, I feel like I’ve just gotten off a roller coaster. I went for a crazy ride, zig-zagged and looped, but in the end I got nowhere and have a slight headache. I know Moore has passionate fans, some of whom are my good friends, but I saw none of the humor or tenderness or truth they find in her work.

“Rage had its medicinal purposes, but she was not wired to sustain it, and when it tumbled away, loneliness engulfed her, grief burning at the center in a cold blue heat.”

#BookADay Day 4 – Least Favorite Favorite

Continuing the #bookaday challenge posted by Borough Press. Today’s challenge to name your least favorite book by a favorite author has stirred up some Twitter and blogger controversy, and, really, what does the social media world like more?

I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. Authors, even the best ones, are only human. They make mistakes. They fail. They grow better with practice. I have go-to authors and favorites. All of them have, at some point, published a book or story that disappointed me.

Let’s keep perspective here. Authors themselves would be the first to admit all books are not equal. When I saw Jonathan Tropper in person he told the story of wanting to “un-write” his book Plan B. (He also told all of us who had not read it not to bother. I’ve chosen to take his advice.)

And so…My least favorite book by a favorite author is The Magician’s Assistant by my beloved Ann Patchett.the magician's assistant

This is a perfectly lovely book. Patchett tells an interesting story about women suffering with loss in unusual circumstances. It just doesn’t live up to the strong writing I see in Patchett’s other books.

Keep in mind that I love Patchett so much that I decided to read all of her fiction and some non-fiction in 2012. I called it my Ann Patchett Project and I had to come to terms then with my disappointment in this book. You can read all about it here.

 

bookaday

 

Best Book Quotes of the Week

Best Book Lines

A little late this week, but I want to keep the quote momentum going.

 

From the late, brilliant Maya Angelou, with whose work I spent a great deal of time this week.

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”

I was unfamiliar with this one but saw it posted by many, many women whom I admire (obviously, for good reason).

“Does my sassiness offend you?”

I listened to Dr. Angelou recite her empowering poem Still I Rise and this one line stood out as something I long to say. I often feel the need to apologize for my “big personality” — this line reminded me that the problem might lie in others, not in me.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I heard it; I said it; I read it; I hold it in my heart.

“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”

I’ve followed Angelou on social media since I started using it. This was the last of her written words that I “liked.”

 

From Michael Cunningham, The Snow Queen

“Here’s the sting of livingness. He’s back after his nightly voyage of sleep, all clarity and purpose; he’s renewed his citizenship in the world of people who strive and connect, people who mean business, people who burn and want, who remember everything, who walk lucid and unafraid.

The Snow Queen wasn’t the best book I read all week, but it certainly contained the strongest writing. I can’t get the phrase “sting of livingness” out of my mind. There is a sharp bitterness that comes when you believe the rest of the world is going about their business happily and easily which Cunningham captures precisely.

 

From Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Possibilities

“I just want to know everything,” I say. We walk toward the door.

There really is nothing else to do but know the things we want to know.”

In The Possibilities, Sarah St. John is still reeling from her son’s death in an avalanche. She wants answers to everything about his unknowable life. Without being maudlin or morose, Hemmings captures that frustration of grief that the “knowing” has come to an end.

 

From Jonathan Tropper, Everything  Changes

“People brush past us on the street in endless waves…completely oblivious to the holocaust of an entire world casually imploding in their midst.”

Melodramatic? Certainly. But I do love Tropper’s way with words. His character’s self-awareness really shows in the drama of his personal holocaust imploding. It’s part of a great scene as this novel reaches a climax.

 

I’d love to know what lines have caught your attention.

Best Book Quotes of the Week

Best Book Lines

This was a great week for book quotes…

From Sebastian Barry, The Temporary Gentleman

“Just now and then, in my effort to form some sort of narrative, to touch accidentally on something rawer than a mere wound…I have evoked the gods of truth, and they will have their way with me.”

I am often mesmerized by the lyricism of Barry’s writing. Even in paper form I can almost hear the lilt of his Irish characters. I am also drawn to the idea that “truth” is found my accident, but once we stumble upon it, we are helpless to its power.

 

From Jonathan Tropper, Everything  Changes

“Somewhere there’s a therapist alone in his office staring wistfully at the door, just waiting for a patient like you.”

I’ve felt this. I’ve had moments of thinking my problems, issues, neurosis are the stuff of therapists’ dreams and that’s Tropper’s gift. I am not a 30-something Jewish man with daddy issues, but I still relate to his protagonists. Plus, he’s just funny.

 

From Christie Watson, Tiny Sunbirds Far Away

I tried to close my imagination, but it stayed open like a book that has been read too often. ”

This quote came back to me when a fellow Goodreads member liked my review of this book. I was immediately taken back to when I read it and my amazement at Watson’s ability to balance both hope and horror, which seems to be all I read of Africa.

 

From W.G. Sebald, Vertigo

“It is thanks to my evening reading alone that I am still more or less sane.”

My favorite Daily Quote from Goodreads. Although I’ve never read the book or the author, it sums me up perfectly.

 

I’d love to know what lines have caught your attention.

Best Book Quotes of the Week

Best Book Lines

“You’re 12 years old and you don’t yet know that you don’t know shit.”

Jonathan Tropper, Everything Changes

I was looking for a good, engaging audio book. Saw the combo of Tropper (author) and Scott Brick (narrator) and felt pretty confident. Within minutes I heard the above line. My sons are 13, going on 12 tomorrow and 9. I feel like saying this on almost a daily basis.

 

“…to be an artist you had to run the risk of failing, you had to close your eyes and step into the dark.”

Mark Haddon, The Red House

I really, really disliked this book and felt completely frustrated by the confusing writing style, but when I read the above, I wondered if Haddon was trying to explain himself. To my mind, his risk with this novel didn’t pay off, but I was reminded that writers are artists. Without risk, we’d all be stuck in place.

 

“Now we can stand and decide. This is our first chance to choose our own unknown…As impossible as it sounds, we must keep walking.”

Dave Eggers, What is the What

I was so inspired by this book and Valentino’s story as I indicated in my review this week, but this is the quote that sealed the deal for me. No matter the circumstances, whatever the world throws at us, we have to “choose our own unknown.” It’s a great phrase.

 

“No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and this is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”

L. Frank Baum, The Lost Princess of Oz

This was my favorite Goodreads Daily Quote this week. It’s never bad to be reminded of what’s truly valuable and important in this life. Ageless wisdom.

I’d love to know what lines have caught your attention.

My Favorite Books – 2012

I know. I know. Everyone and their brother has a “Best of” list at this time of year, but this tradition of mine predates blogging. This is just a more convenient way to share.

Readers should keep in mind that I don’t limit myself to books released in 2012. Although I try to keep up with what’s new and hot, I’m just as likely to pick up an unread classic or finally get around to reading something I’ve had on my list for months (or years). So you’ll find a mix of old and new.

And, I just couldn’t decide which book to cut from the list, so here you have my Top 11!

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeTell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is everything I love in a book – a thoughtful, socially awkward young narrator coming of age at a particularly dramatic historical moment. June Elbus is 14 years-old in 1986 when her beloved uncle dies of AIDS.  June is caught between childish games of imagination and the harsh realities of death, fear and discrimination. Struggling with the love-hate relationship between herself and her 16 year-old talented and popular sister, feeling orphaned by her busy-at-work parents and full of teenage self-loathing, she still comes across as tender and sympathetic. Read more…

Extremely LoudExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safron Foer

Brilliant. Devastating.  Can a book be described in two words? Probably not, but 2,000 will not be enough to convey the depth and intelligence of this masterpiece. Certainly, it’s a 9/11 book. The main storyline revolves around Oskar, a 9 year-old boy on a quest for closure after his father’s death on that horrible day. But the book is more than that. Read more…

book cover from Goodreads

book cover from Goodreads

A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash did not so much ease me into the disturbing world of his novel, as grip me by the throat and pull me along. Within the first few pages I knew to be very afraid of the charismatic, snake-handling, strong-arming Carson Chambliss. I knew someone had died. I knew children were involved. And I felt the heart-wrenching isolation of the people in this Appalachian community through the eyes of Adelaide, an elderly midwife. In fact, as the novel opens, Adelaide is about to step into Chambliss’ church and meet him face to face. Read more…

cover image from Goodreads

cover image from Goodreads

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I find it difficult to review this book without giving the whole thing away. Any spoilers would ruin this brilliantly crafted novel by literary “It Girl” Gillian Flynn. So let me say instead that Flynn has forced me to completely re-examine my belief that I’m not a fan of thrillers. What starts out as a straightforward premise – woman goes missing on her 5th wedding anniversary; husband is primary suspect – twists and turns in so many directions that I was left guessing, often. Read more…

The Rules of CivilityRules of Civility by Amor Towles

I cannot possibly write a review that reflects the intelligence and sophistication of this book. Integrating art, photography and literature into his portrait of 1938 New York, Amor Towles also tells a great story about the choices made by one young woman — Kate/Katey/Katherine Kontent, and her friends. Kate is smart, funny, unpredictable and determined, all qualities that make a fine heroine. But she’s also imperfect, which makes her infinitely more interesting. Read more…

sense of an endingThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending is further proof that my favorite books are not those that are driven by plot, or even by character, but instead, are books whose language transports me. I don’t mean to imply that nothing happens or that I didn’t care about the characters, but they aren’t the critical elements in my 5 star rating for this book. What elevates Julian Barnes to 5 star status is the way he makes me think. Read more…

Cover image from Goodreads

Cover image from Goodreads

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

Raw.
To love Girlchild as much as I did, you have to be willing to understand “raw.” Several times while I was reading this book, my husband looked at my face and asked me what was wrong. (I was alternating between tears brimming over and horror leaving my mouth agape.) Rory Dawn suffers neglect, mistreatment and abuse at the hands of those trusted to care for her. Growing up in a Nevada trailer park outside Reno, Rory clings to her tattered copy of the Girl Scouts Handbook as the only set of rules that use “honor” and “obey” as positive edicts. Read more…

This is Where I leave youThis is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

I can’t remember the last time a book made me laugh out loud, but this one did. It also made me blush, got me a little choked up at times, and introduced me to another author whose work I will actively seek. Forced to take part in a traditional Jewish 7-day shiva for his father, Judd Foxman ping-pongs between his hilariously dysfunctional siblings, his larger than life newly widowed mother, and the agony of his failed marriage. Read more…

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins defies easy categorization. A little bit mystery, a little romance, a little historical fiction, even a little Hollywood. Jess Walters does a fantastic job of blending all these components into something smart, entertaining and lovely. What I really loved is the way Walters carried me away to another world, another time. He puts me squarely inside the minds of his characters so that I’m on the journey with them. The characters themselves are the beautiful ruins of this novel. Read more…

unlessUnless by Carol Shields

Although Carol Shields’ novel has a tragic background, it doesn’t focus on a traditional story. Instead, we meet Reta Winters, whose 19 year-old daughter has chosen to sit on a busy corner in Toronto wearing a sign that reads only, “Goodness.”  Reta does not take dramatic action to retrieve her daughter. She does not yell or pull her hair. Instead, she thinks and she writes. This kind of passive first-person storytelling will not work for all readers, but I loved Reta from page one. Read more…

anatomy of a disappearanceAnatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar

How does an author write about something/someone who no longer exists? In Matar’s case, with incredible beauty and delicacy. He words seem not so much written, as poured gently. Matar provides a touching story of a boy whose father disappears. We assume it’s a political kidnapping based on the few clues the author provides, but we don’t get all the answers — exactly Matar’s point. He wisely tells a story without depending on plot points. Read more…

Honorable Mentions: Sacre Bleu, Horoscopes for the Dead, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, The Fault in Our Stars, Zeitoun, Stone Arabia, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Astray, One Last Thing Before I Go