Monthly Archives: July 2010

A Tribute to John Gregory Dunne

John Gregory DunneI’ve finally put aside my hesitation (and put down the other book I was reading) to dive into The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. While an extremely difficult topic – it follows Didion as she deals with her husband’s sudden death – it is beautiful in that it’s a tribute to her late husband and fellow writer John Gregory Dunne.

I haven’t gotten that far in the book yet, but one topic she’s mentioned a few times is Dunne’s obituary. Although she knew it was being written, she couldn’t read it, feeling that it made things too final.

So yesterday after I put the book down, I picked up the computer. I wanted to read this obituary. I’m woefully literally-uneducated it seems, because I really didn’t know anything about Dunne despite his being a pretty well-known author.

His obituary in The New York Times opens with:

John Gregory Dunne, the brashly insightful novelist, journalist, and screenwriter who wrote novels and successful works of nonfiction crammed with pungent dialogue, lavish brutality and vivid glimpses of the Hollywood demimonde, died on Tuesday evening in his Manhattan apartment. He was 71.

From there it goes on for three internet pages, discussing his achievements of both the personal and professional kind. It is sad, but makes me interested to learn more about him from a closer, more personal source. I’m hoping to at least find a good love story buried in this tragic book.

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Jane Austen Gets Down and Dirty

Ladies, welcome to fight club. Leave your corsets, hatpins and crying behind.

Above is a very funny parody combining Jane Austen with Fight Club (a movie I love and is probably one of my brother’s favorites). All the punching and hitting seems so much more sophisticated when paired with proper English accents, don’t you think?

I found this on the blog Jezebel, which has been giving me plenty of ideas lately. Perhaps I should spend less time reading it and more time reading books though. But then what would I have to write about? Besides the books of course…

Okay, you watch the video, I’ll finally start The Year of Magical Thinking.

My Least Favorite Posts To Write

NYT Book ReviewThis blog is a labor of love for me. Sometimes it’s more love than labor and other times more labor than love. Andrew and my friends always laugh when I complain about the posts I hate to write the most. And that’s because my least favorite are the reviews. But, they scoff, that’s the whole point of the blog!

Well, not entirely, I’d say.

The point of the blog is to read all the books my mom would have read and let people be involved with the process. But what kind of book blog would this be if I didn’t review the books?

The problem is the pressure. There is so much pressure that goes along with writing book reviews. First and foremost, I have to form a definite opinion about the book! As Andrew will tell you, making decisions is not my strong suit. See, lots of times when I read a book, it’s like I sort of like it, except maybe not completely but then again it was pretty good, you know? That kind of thinking does not a good blog post make. So instead I have to force myself to focus and determine what exactly I liked about a book and which parts didn’t work as well. And then I have to write it… semi-eloquently!

Then I worry if other people will agree with me or if I just got a completely wrong take on the situation. Things get especially dicey when the book gets rave reviews from other critics, but I just can’t seem to feel the same way. Take The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Many of the reviews from major sources were glowing. And, while I did end up enjoying parts, it was pretty difficult for me to get through. When it came to writing my own review, I didn’t want to come across sounding completely dense or too negative since it had its bright spots. On the other hand, I want to express my true feelings.

Overall, I like to think the reviews more often than not come together in the end, but there’s a lot of angst and doubts that go into it along the way. Blogging is hard.

More Bookish Accessories To Spice Up Your Wardrobe

Banned Books BraceletI’m not going to lie, I’m still drooling over those Kate Spade book clutches. If you’re like me, though, and don’t want to spend a good chunk of my rent money, you can show your bookish fashion sense in other ways. Like with this Banned Books Bracelet from the American Library Association.

It’s designed by Carolyn Forsman and features The Color Purple, Howl, Go Ask Alice, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Annie on My Mind. See, it’s not just book couture, it’s illicit book couture.

And the best part? It’s only $18… which is slightly more affordable than the $325 Kate Spade clutch.

Happy Birthday Mom

MomToday would have been my mom’s 57th birthday. Happy birthday Mom. We are all thinking of you today and every other day.

A Review of The Uses of Enchantment

The Uses of EnchantmentReading The Uses of Enchantment was a little bit of a tease. You start heading down one road only to be yanked in a different direction. Yet you keep going back for more.

The book is centered around Mary Veal, an unremarkable upper-middle-class girl from outside of Boston. When Mary is 16 she disappears from her school’s field hockey practice. A few weeks later she reappears claiming to have been abducted. She is sent to see a therapist who decides that Mary lied about the abduction and he creates a theory based on her about which he writes a book.

Author Heidi Julavits tells the story from three alternating perspectives. The first is the “What Might Have Happened.” This starts with Mary skipping out on practice to get in a car with a stranger she’s noticed watching her. From there it goes on to, well, what might have happened. In this scenario, there is an abduction but at times it seems unclear who exactly is abducting whom. The next thread of the story comes from the therapist’s notes. There is a Freudian element, plenty of sexual overtones and much manipulation. But again, it’s not always clear who is manipulating whom. The last vantage point in the book comes from 14 years later. Mary’s mother, who has never forgiven Mary for bringing shame to the family, has died and Mary and her sisters reassemble at their childhood home for the funeral. Mary seems completely removed from the girl she once was and now seeks a sense of closure.

I think the three viewpoints are essential to the book working. The writing is clever and the story is compelling, but to invest too much in any one story line is to give too much credence to that version of the truth.

This book is all about different versions of the truth. And truth, it turns out, is a slippery thing. What happened or might have happened or could have happened keeps changing and readers can’t let it get to them. Here is where I fail just a little. I like truth. I like to know what happened. I like to like the characters and know who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Maybe I’m simple like that.

None of the characters in The Uses of Enchantment are all that likable. I could look past that though, to an extent, because the story is so absorbing. The psychoanalysis and sexual politics made it an engaging look at the lives of girls in the Northeast. It was a quick read that had me hooked even if a little frustrated at times.

Next Up: The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical ThinkingSo there I was yesterday, thinking that I was almost done with The Uses of Enchantment and that I should start considering my review. Then I got distracted by my Google Reader (as I do most days at work) and an article on the blog Jezebel.

The post was about the sadness the blogger feels when finding out about a couple’s break-up after reading the memoir that chronicles their love. See Tamasin Day-Lewis’ Where Shall We Go For Dinner. While I could sympathize with the post, it was actually a comment that caught my eye. Commenter “eatsshootsleaves” writes, “In this sort of way, The Year of Magical Thinking is sort of a happy book. There is death but also true love.” They go on to say that they cried buckets, but was still very glad they had read it and that it is one of Didion’s best.

I have been cautiously eyeing The Year of Magical Thinking on my mom’s list for a while now. I keep wanting to pick it, but then I get nervous about it being too sad. But this commenter has unknowingly urged me forward.

So this post is me sucking it up and deciding to read the book. It’s also me avoiding collecting my thoughts on The Uses of Enchantment to share in a coherent post. But mostly about my choosing The Year of Magical Thinking.

The book’s description from Random House’s website:

From one of America’s iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage–and a life, in good times and bad–that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later–the night before New Year’s Eve–the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.

This powerful book is Didion’s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness . . . about marriage and children and memory . . . about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.

This is not going to be an easy book. Maybe I’m a masochist for picking it, but it had to be read eventually. It’s on the list after all. So here goes nothing…