Monthly Archives: April 2010

A Laura Bush Memoir… Now Why Does This Sound Familiar?

This week the Internet was all atwitter over the forthcoming Laura Bush memoir “Spoken From the Heart.” The book will go on sale next week, but leaked copies made their way to some of the major news outlets so they gave us a play-by-play of what to expect.

Reading the articles, I came to wonder: If the book isn’t out yet, then why does it seem like something I’ve already read? Because it is like something I’ve already read.

In the fall, my book club chose Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, another suggestion from my mom of course. And yet another good suggestion of hers I must say. American Wife, a book I really enjoyed, is a fictionalized account of the life of a first lady who seems an awful lot like Laura Bush. I hadn’t been so interested in the Bush family since I was made to watch the documentary Journeys with George in both high school and college.

From what I’ve read about the real Laura Bush’s memoir so far there are definitely parts that correspond to her fake counterpart from Sittenfeld’s version. Much like in American Wife, Bush addresses the tragic car accident she caused as a teenager which led to the death of a classmate, she talks about her bookish ways and reveals her lonely childhood.

However, the most salacious parts of the fictional American Wife don’t exactly make an appearance in the real deal. No Laura Bush does not admit she had an abortion or even express her liberal leanings compared to her husband’s conservative ways. I guess that’s why they call it fiction. Though I really liked American Wife, and it definitely made me Wikipedia Laura Bush more than once, I think I’ll be steering clear of her memoir. Reality doesn’t sound quite as entertaining.

A Little Bit of Keats

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that each section of The House on Fortune Street has a focus on a different element of English literature integrated into the main plot. Yesterday I finished the first section and it frequently mentioned the famous poet John Keats. I will admit my knowledge of English literature is woefully underdeveloped and my knowledge of Keats poems is pretty much nonexistent.

So, in the interest of becoming a more cultured person and more in touch with the novel, I decided to look up one of Keats’ most famous poems. And because I’m a giving person, I’m sharing it with all of you:

Ode to a Nightingale

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness, –
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
And mid-May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain –
To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: – Do I wake or sleep?

Next Up: The House on Fortune Street

It’s time for a new book and that new book is Margot Livesey’s The House on Fortune Street. I really enjoy the fact that, so far, every book I’ve read has been different, with its own format or theme or perspective. I’m lucky my mom had somewhat diverse tastes. (Though of course there better be plenty of dialogue!)

This latest pick sounds like a good one:

It seems like mutual good luck for Abigail Taylor and Dara MacLeod when they meet at university and, despite their differences, become fast friends. Years later they remain inseparable: Abigail, the actress, allegedly immune to romance, and Dara, a therapist, throwing herself into relationships with frightening intensity. Now both believe they’ve found “true love.” But luck seems to run out when Dara moves into Abigail’s downstairs apartment. Suddenly both their friendship and their relationships are in peril, for tragedy is waiting to strike the house on Fortune Street.

Told through four ingeniously interlocking narratives, Margot Livesey’s The House on Fortune Street is a provocative tale of lives shaped equally by chance and choice.

Adding to the plot is an element of English literary tradition. Each narrative interweaves a famous author or poet or work into the character’s lives. I’m looking forward to seeing how all of these separate pieces work together. You can read more about it on Livesey’s website.

Plus, I’m back to my Kindle. My journey into paperbackdom was lovely, but I’m happy to be back to my e-reader… it really makes it easier to read on the subway or at the gym. And it actually gives me a reason to stay on the elliptical for a respectable amount of time. Every little ounce of motivation helps people.

A Review of The Ten Year Nap

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Meg Wolitzer’s The Ten Year Nap isn’t really aimed at me. As a twentysomething living and working in Manhattan, spending time with my friends and boyfriend, and frequenting fun bars and restaurants in the city, I’m more the “before” of this story.

The four women at the heart of this story, also in New York, were all promising young women with careers ahead of them when they decided to sacrifice that life for the role of stay-at-home mom. Now, ten years later, they are examining their choices as their kids become more independent and their lives begin to feel a little less satisfying. It’s a story of marriage, motherhood and personal fulfillment. One day I expect to face the same choices and feelings. I’m just not there yet.

In the meantime, I thought the perspectives were interesting. Not only did the story feature the main women, but it also offered vignettes of other women from earlier times. All of the women’s mother’s stories were included as well as chapters that focused on such powerful women as Margaret Thatcher and Nadia Comaneci. It really added to the book to have these additions, giving a nice layered look at womanhood.

The story itself doesn’t move all that quickly, delving more into the character’s thoughts and feelings than actual developments. In some ways, this is good in that you get full portraits of the characters. However, I would have preferred a little more advancement in the plot.

Overall, the book was well-written with insightful viewpoints. It is just perhaps something I should reread in ten or twenty years. I enjoyed it now, but I think I would get more from it then.

A Quote Worth Quoting: The Ten Year Nap

I’m not a person who underlines phrases that speak to me in books. I’m not one who even thinks that phrases speak to me in books. But during this project, I’m going to try and be that kind of person. I think it will add something to the discussions about the books and maybe even give you all a little insight into who I am.

Last night, I stayed up late to finish The Ten Year Nap. I am happy to report that I did finish it, but I was too tired to form a coherent opinion or write an insightful review for today, so stayed tune for that. In the meantime, I will offer you a quote, something I haven’t done for a little while.

This particular passage comes from the musings of Jill, one of the main characters in the book, who’s mother killed herself when Jill was in high school. Now Jill is married with an adopted daughter and has recently moved to the suburbs, a change she is not particularly happy about. When her husband brings up her lack of friends in this new neighborhood and Jill’s general unhappiness of late, the author Meg Wolitzer writes:

“It was the primary difference, Jill Hamlin thought from time to time, between someone whose mother had killed herself and someone whose mother had not. But this distinction, like so many others, had been lost. Your personal history of pain, by the time you reached the age of forty, was supposed to have been folded thoroughly into the batter of the self, so that you barely needed to acknowledge it anymore.”

(I do apologize that most of the quotes I pick vary on a similar theme. You’ll have to understand, it’s this similar theme that tends to be on the brain and the books I read seem to highlight it so well.)

Anyway, I find Jill’s thoughts interesting. When a tragedy is still so recent and fresh, it’s hard to imagine what it will be like down the road. Does it get folded thoroughly into the batter of the self? That hardly seems likely. It may no longer be recent or fresh, but I can’t imagine it ever becomes just another part of you. But I guess that’s one of those things that only time will tell.

Linked Up: Paging Through The Internet

My mom loved thinking about and talking about reading almost as much as she loved the actual act of reading.

In her absence, I’ve turned to the giant reading conversation that is the World Wide Web. Here’s what the Internet is saying about books, authors and the publishing industry this week:

Looks like someone else is pretty excited about this Babysitter’s Club Prequel too. [The Millions]

These author vs. author insults prove writers can be quite the catty bunch. [The Examiner]

Barnes and Noble has released its first commercial in more than a decade to promote the Nook. [MediaBistro’s GalleyCat]

Last week I shared an article on what authors think of the president reading their books, this week check out what books people think Obama should read. [Washington Post]

“Reading on iPad before bed can affect sleep habits.” Team Kindle! [Los Angeles Times’ Technology Blog]

Reading for Robin Authors Say What?

When the authors on The List aren’t busy writing exciting works that attracted Robin’s attention, many can be found speaking their mind on Twitter.

It’s the Iceland Volcanic Ash Edition… Check out who’s tweeting what this week:

@megwaiteclayton

16,000 flights canceled as agent heads 2 London Book Fest w/ 4 Ms. Bradwells. Lemons 2 lemonade, sure, but what does 1 make w/ volcanic ash?

@michellerichmon

Volcanic dust reflects light back into space, cooling earth’s atmosphere. Are man-made volcanoes next? http://tinyurl.com/megqef

@rebeccawalker

Okay the Swedes definitely win in the train comfort and speed department. Copenhagen has the loveliest light. #survivingtheash2010

@sfinnamore

“i’d like to fold it up five times and stick it where the moon doesn’t shine” Dick Cavett to Norman Mailer,bloviating raiser of volcanic ash