Beautiful Words #7

Some beautiful words for your week . . .

A mandarin fell in love with a courtesan. “I shall be yours,” she told him, “when you have spent a hundred nights waiting for me, sitting on a stool, in my garden, beneath my window.” But on the ninety-ninth night, the mandarin stood up, put his stool under his arm, and went away. (Roland Barthes; A Lover’s Discourse, Fragments)

“Death Barged In

In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.

He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.

Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed between us.

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me.” (Slamming Open the Door, Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno)

“Until there arrives a great master of the art of writing who will choose to invest the facts of Indian history with the glamour of literature, and make the truth more attractive than even history itself.” (Bloomsbury: A House of Lions by Leon Edel, quoting Lytton Strachey)

Fictional Book Club: The Mermaid’s Daughter

Scene: a beautiful, old Chicago apartment. The white walls glow softly in the candlelight. There are two women on a worn, navy couch, another in a paisley armchair, and a fourth pouring white wine. A greyhound is lurking, waiting to make a run for the cheese and crackers on the coffee table.

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Lucy finished pouring the wine. “Ok, girls, the book this week is ‘The Mermaid’s Daughter’ by Ann Claycomb. Who wants to start?”

Silence. Naomi finally piped up, “I thought this was more of a let’s drink and hang out book club and less of a, let’s actually read the book, book club.”

Joanna rolled her eyes. “I called it. She’s the one who wouldn’t be prepared.” Claire and Lucy chuckled. “Okay, Naomi, here’s the quick and dirty version: The Little Mermaid–the creepy traditional one, not the Disney princess–passed a curse on to her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter, etc., all the way to a modern day soprano studying to be an opera singer. She and her girlfriend and her father have to figure out how to stop it.”

Naomi interrupted. “I only know the Disney version–what curse?”

Claire picked up the thread. “So, she traded her voice for human legs, just like in the Disney movie. But it hurts her to walk — like walking on glass or something — and to get her voice, the sea witches actually cut out her tongue. So her daughter has a tongue, but it hurts like her tongue is missing and her feet still hurt. But the mermaid’s sisters feel bad for her so they trade their hair for a knife that can change the mermaid back if she uses it to kill the prince. So then, for the next however many generations, the mermaid’s descendant is given the knife by the witches and told the pain would stop if they killed their lover.”

“Did the sea witches bother anyone else?” Lucy asked. “Like, I know they’re an unreliable narrator but the more I think about it, the less I trust anything they said. Why in the world would the daughter have to kill her lover and not the prince’s descendant? The prince was super terrible and the reason she asked for legs in the first place, so I get why he needs to die but like, what did Harry do?”

“And how do you distinguish between like, your lifelong lover, and, hey this is college and I like you but who knows what we’ll happen when we graduate?” Joanna asked, pouring herself another drink. “God, there are some ex-boyfriends from college I would stab with the knife regardless of any curse!” She laughed, but Naomi–the only one who went to college with her–frowned. She knew exactly who Joanna was talking about and a knife would be too good for them.

“And how do they all have one daughter and that’s it?” Lucy laughed, smearing brie on her cracker. “Nobody had a son, or multiple kids or no kids? Ever?”

“Okay, critics,” Claire interrupted. “Yes, the book about a mermaid and witches isn’t scientific. But c’mon–it’s beautiful. I couldn’t put it down.” She slipped the dog, now begging at her feet, a piece of cheddar.

“Me either,” Lucy admitted, “But don’t feed Parker cheese, it makes him gassy.” Claire gave him an apology kiss on his furry head. “I was surprised, I think, to read a book that could so easily be a dramatic, romantic tragedy that is still pretty grounded – like, listen to this part:

“I know what I can do to try to tell Robin and Harry that I’m going to be okay, that I’ve gotten over myself. I’ll ask if we can go out to dinner. Someplace ridiculous, with a big list of flavored margaritas and food that’s terrible for you, like breaded zucchini and coconut fried shrimp. There’s nothing tragic about going out to dinner at a restaurant like that, and you can’t give up on life and eat something called a zucchini zircle all in the same night.”

Naomi laughed. “Here’s my contribution,” she said, typing on her phone. “I’m finding a recipe for zucchini zircle and that’s what we’ll eat next time. Now, can we talk about the Bachelor?”

Beautiful Words #3

Some beautiful words for the week:

“Why are you so surprised that the heavens complain? . . . Didn’t we know the world would be turned upside down by what just happened? . . . Indeed, isn’t this the way it should be? . . . Isn’t it right that the sky is torn to tatters and the sea put in a frenzy? Would we prefer it if the world did not care?” (Abarat, Clive Barker)

“I am afraid. Not of life, or death, or nothingness, but of wasting it as if I had never been.” (Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes)

“There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and crate,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.” (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot)

“As I paddle along, I slowly become aware that it’s been fear keeping me out of this pool for so many years. I never came here before because I was afraid I’d make a fool of myself by not having the endurance to complete a lap. The swimming wasn’t what scared me; failure was. My fear locked me in a state of arrested development for so many years. Fear kept me from tackling my weight, which I understand has simply been symptomatic of my greater fear, growing up. I glide down the lane on my back and reflect on how good I feel right now. It’s not because I’ve lost more than thirty pounds. I feel incredible because I’ve stopped being afraid.” (Such A Pretty Fat: One Narcissist’s Quest to Discover If Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big, Or Why Pie Is Not The Answer, Jen Lancaster)

Severance

Title: Severance
Author: Chris Bucholz
Publisher: Apex Publications, LLC

I am not one for urine jokes (or any bodily function jokes)–but persevere past the protagonists’ prank on the “Markers,” a particular gross clique, in the first chapter of this book and you will be rewarded. I first read Chris Bucholz’s work on Cracked.com, where he churns out underrated and hilarious articles. His best series, by far, are his advice guy articles and his apology letters. They are whimsically and darkly weird and very much elicit either a love or hate reaction. (Obviously, I love.)

This book, however, is not that. Unlike his articles, which strain the bounds of reality on purpose and as part of the joke, you can tell Chris really thought through Severance’s world. It still has enough weird that you know it’s him, and to delight all of the wacky sci-fi fans out there, but it’s tempered with a tightly structured plot and real relationships that make you feel real emotions. And books that can make me feel real emotions are my favorite. (My husband is a little less enthused about walking in on me crying over fictional characters).

I also appreciate that romance is not the primary relationship. Instead, it’s Stein and Bruce’s friendship and, more so, their wavering relationship with the community in which they live and its leaders. There is an old married couple that pretend to be blasé but end up joining the adventure and have an amazing romance, but not in the way you’re expecting. They’re the kind of couple that grew into each other after a long and beautiful life together, and then when push came to shove, they leaned into each and fought against the world with all they had. And they didn’t even really have to talk about it – they just knew. For my Burn Notice people out there, it’s very Michael and Fi. (Basically the highest compliment I can give).

The other thing I think this book gets really right is that nobody is safe. I hate when the good guys are seemingly immortal–there’s no tension if there’s no risk. It’s hard to care about conflict when you know what the outcome will be. Even if the rescue comes at the very end — Star Trek, I’m looking at you — it somehow cheapens the whole adventure. Bucholz, while no George R.R. Martin, does not guard his darlings like that. And the result is a very engaging, enchanting book.

If I had to pick a moral for this story, I would say that it is: people are terrible and dumb but they’re still OK. And they deserve a chance–and you do too. It’s realistic, but reassuring.

Let me know what you think! Happy reading!

Help for the Haunted

Title: Help for the Haunted
Author: John Searles
Publisher: William Morrow (imprint of HarperCollins Publishers)

This book is not for the faint of heart. Rarely does a book actually creep me out – yet this one did. It follows the life of Sylvie, a young girl whose parents were recently murdered, as she tries to figure out what happened to them, learn how to live with her temperamental older sister Rose, and come to terms with her parents’ unusual and controversial careers.

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My favorite thing about this book was its subtlety – a lot of authors cannot include religious themes without coming across as judgmental and condemning regardless of whether they are pro or con. This book had a more subtle, nuanced approach which made it feel like a part of the story and not just a lecture the author felt morally compelled to include. It was also subtle with the paranormal — in my experience, books that try to flirt with the boundary of fantasy and reality often end up disappointing readers who expect a “Scooby-Doo” ending – aka, for all of the “magic” to be explained — by leaning too fantastical or disappointing readers who like to be surprised or out-witted by the author by leaning too realistic. Here, the ending was satisfying (although, again – CREEPY route to get there).

I am also frequently skeptical when authors use first-person with protagonists substantially different than themselves – here, a male author writing from the perspective of a female child. But Searles does a fantastic job. It felt realistic without being patronizing – there was nothing that felt out-of-character or “jarred” you out of the book’s reality. It’s easy to sympathize and fall in love with Sylvie, to understand her frustration at therapy, her reluctance to really rebel against her sister, and her waves of emotions about her parents. Without spoiling the story, there are two scenes that really hit home for me in capturing Sylvie: when she brings a homemade good-bye gift to Mr. Boshoff, her therapist, that shows how much she has been listening to what he has and hasn’t said about his own life, and when she offers candy to malicious trick-or-treaters who had only showed up to tease her about her (dead) parents.

If you want a happy story about sisterhood conquering all, this is not the book for you. But if you want an intriguing coming-of-age story, light some candles and dive right in! Happy reading!

 

Welcome

Hi! I’m Alaina, a Midwestern who would love to be in a book club except she’s too busy and she doesn’t actually like hanging out with people. But she still has opinions the world needs and a voracious appetite for the written world, so here we are: if you like book reviews, book discussions, beautiful words, fictional characters, and a little sass, please keep reading.

My favorite books are the ones that break your heart — that pull you so inextricably into the world they create and make you feel for their characters, whatever those emotions may be. I think fiction books are best when they teach you something about the human experience.

My second favorite books are the ones that let you escape; when they open a side door and say, “Hey, come play in this world, the one where politics aren’t so terrible, or cancer doesn’t exist, or an average person can turn out to be really special and really change the world for good.” I’m always up for a trip down the rabbit holes.

My least favorite books are math books.

If there’s a book you’d like me to review, let me know! I love recommendations. And if you disagree with my review, let me know that too! You’re probably wrong, but I’d love to talk about it 🙂 (Just kidding — I’m sure you’re accomplished and handsome and smart. Who else would be reading this blog?)