The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (part the second), Jonas Jonasson

I finished this book last week just before heading out for the holiday weekend, and I have been wracking my brain for something brilliant to add to my post from the 1st. Usually, when I finish a book, I feel differently about it than I did partway through, or I’ve had some revelation either for or against it. I’ve waited eagerly for five days, and nothing has come to me.

The only thing I know for certain that I didn’t a week ago is that I’m going to give this book to my brother when I see him at the end of the month. I think he’ll enjoy both Jonasson’s subtle humor and the fact that more than half the book is political historical fiction. I’m guessing he already knows more about the actual events related in the novel than I did (for example! I learned how North and South Korea were created! Ditto on East and West Germany! Also, how President Roosevelt died!). He’s always been the kind of political junkie who bothers to find out how current events are connected in the past (wow – just typing that made me simultaneously yawn and feel guilty for my own ignorance).

Also, the protagonist, 100-year-old Allan Karlsson, reminds me of my father’s father. Even though he lived until I was twenty, I never felt like I understood him very well. He was quiet and patient and diligent (three words that have only ever been applied to my person by those who don’t know me well). He’s in the background of so many memories from my childhood – meticulously tending his lawn, making sure the badminton net was set up when we came to visit, caring for the dog – and in all those years, I can’t think of a single time when he was unpleasant. He never raised his voice; instead, when he was annoyed, he would throw us a wink and with a secret smile, simply disappear for the next few hours.

My brother adored him. I suspect he loved that there was one person in our family he could spend time with who wouldn’t demand conversation. When the two of them were together, they could work in silence with perfect contentment. After reading The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, I can actually comprehend the benefit of that. I also better understand the value of being the type of person who relaxes in the face antagonism, who shrugs off the decrees of others and goes right on doing what needs to be done anyway.

Of course, that will never be me. I will forever take after my stubborn, loud-mouthed, arrives everywhere 30 minutes early grandfather. I’m much more like the people who come into Karlsson’s life and are constantly teased for their brash idiocy. Fortunately, the world needs all sorts of people in order to tell its stories…

Now, on a somewhat unrelated note, I had already decided I wanted to share the (rather long) passage below, and I’m still going to even though it doesn’t have anything to do with what I’ve ended up discussing. It’s a lovely example of Jonasson’s work and a better indicator than I am for whether you’ll enjoy his novel as much as I have.

To provide a bit of context, this story is told, not by Allan, but by a new acquaintance of his over dinner with friends. Bosse is sharing the history behind his possession of several pallets worth of “damaged” Bibles, and how he had ended up reading one of the copies from cover to cover in order to find a single misprint:

Then one evening he reached the last chapter, and then the last page, the last verse.
And there it was! That unforgivable and unfathomable misprint that had caused the owner of the books to order them to be pulped.

Now Bosse handed a copy to each of them sitting round the table, and they thumbed through to the very last verse, and one by one burst out laughing.

Bosse was happy enough to find the misprint. He had no interest in finding out how it got there. He had satisfied his curiosity, and in the process had read his first book since his schooldays, and even got a bit religious while he was at it. Not that Bosse allowed God to have any opinion about Bellringer Farm’s business enterprise, nor did he allow the Lord to be present when he filed his tax return, but – in other respects – Bosse now placed his life in the hands of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And surely none of them would worry about the fact that he set up his stall at markets on Saturdays and sold bibles with a tiny misprint in them? (‘Only ninety-nine crowns each! Jesus! What a bargain!’) 

But if Bosse had cared, and if, against all odds, he had managed to get to the bottom of it, then after what he had told his friends, he would have continued:

A typesetter in a Rotterdam suburb had been through a personal crisis. Several years earlier, he had been recruited by Jehovah’s Witnesses but they had thrown him out when he discovered, and questioned rather too loudly, the fact that the congregation had predicted the return of Jesus on no less than fourteen occasions between 1799 and 1980 – and sensationally managed to get it wrong all fourteen times.

Upon which, the typesetter had joined the Pentecostal Church; he liked their teachings about the Last Judgment, he could embrace the idea of God’s final victory over evil, the return of Jesus (without their actually naming a date) and how most of the people from the typesetter’s childhood, including his own father, would burn in hell.

But this new congregation sent him packing too. A whole month’s collections had gone astray while in the care of the typesetter. He had sworn by all that was holy that the disappearance had nothing to do with him. Besides, shouldn’t Christians forgive? And what choice did he have when his car broke down and he needed a new one to keep his job? 

As bitter as bile, the typesetter started the layout for that day’s jobs, which ironically happened to consist of printing two thousand bibles! And besides, it was an order from Sweden where as far as the typesetter knew, his father still lived after having abandoned his family when the typesetter was six years old.

With tears in his eyes, the typesetter set the text of chapter upon chapter. When he came to the very last chapter – the Book of Revelation – he just lost it. How could Jesus ever want to come back to Earth? Here where Evil had once and for all conquered Good, so what was the point of anything? And the Bible… It was just a joke! 

So it came about that the typesetter with the shattered nerves made a little addition to the very last verse in the very last chapter in the Swedish bible that was just about to be printed. The typesetter didn’t remember much of his father’s tongue, but he could at least recall a nursery rhyme that was well suited in the context. Thus the bible’s last two verses, plus the typesetter’s extra verse, were printed as: 

20. He who testifies to these things says, Surely I am coming quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! 21. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. 22. And they all lived happily ever after. (p 198)

 

For more about Jonas Jonasson, his site is here.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (part the first), Jonas Jonasson

I started reading this book last week during my mother’s visit, and I was probably thirty-five pages in when I stopped and asked her if she read a lot of Swedish authors. She told me she hadn’t (and claimed it wasn’t at all because she was Norwegian); she wondered why I had asked such a question, and I said I was having a little trouble getting into Jonasson’s book. I felt, I told her, the same way I did when I tried to read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – everyone told me it was great, but I couldn’t get further than the first sixty pages. The style was just so…reserved.

I was struggling with the same issue when it came to this book. I liked the protagonist well enough that I was going to plow onward, but it made me wonder if these two books were a reflection of a larger element of modern Swedish literature. Was it common to feel removed from both the action and the characters in an almost clinical way?  My mother considered  this for a moment and then said, “Do you remember the joke your grandmother used to tell? ‘How can you tell an extroverted Swede? When he shakes your hand, he’s looking at your shoes rather than his own.'” I remembered. “Well,” she waved her hand, “there you go then.”

I had to think about that. We happened to be at a red light at the time, and my mother had plenty more to say about my question, including the pearls of wisdom, “maybe you should do some research,” but let’s be honest – no. It’s 150 thousand degrees here. I’m still wearing sleep shorts at eleven o’clock every morning. There will be no research. It’s too hot for me to spend an afternoon trying to decide how legitimate articles I find on the internet might be.

I did go to the trouble of asking three friends from Sweden whether they thought this was a trend or just a coincidence, but apparently, none of them read. Well, they read, but they mostly read fiction in Swedish, which sparked another topic of interest – is it possible that the translation to English could have so altered the style of the original text? Is it particularly difficult to translate certain idioms or cultural norms from one language to another? I’ve read plenty of books translated from French, Spanish, and Portuguese, and they seem emotionally compatible with what I expect from many American writers (although writers from other English-speaking countries don’t always resonate in quite the same way for me).

When I’ve read Russian writers, I’ve also been told there is some flattening of what the original text says. In college, I took a course on Russian fiction, and the star of the class was an exceptionally annoying – and insightful – student from Moscow who took over each and every class to lecture us about the problems with the translations we were reading. I sort of enjoyed the text myself, but I could understand where she was coming from – we were reading things into the stories that were not there (and missing things that were) because of the translation. By the end of semester, I felt like I was beginning to recognize some of the subtleties found in the best translations, but many of the writers still sounded oddly similar.

I imagine this is what happens when English books are translated around the world as well. The nuance of the language and the author’s intent are obscured by cultural concepts we can’t even find the words for. Possibly, translators who are intimately familiar with more than one language and culture eventually stop noticing the massive gulf  between them, and we end up with books translated accurately, and even beautifully, but without an eye to the exquisite detail – that essence connecting the human experience.

Despite that, I’m glad I’ve held on with this book because 150 pages in, I don’t mind its unfamiliar grasp. The story is absolutely compelling (enough so that I ignored Game Night to keep reading), and Jonasson’s sense of humor appeals to my Scandinavian sensibilities (“as opposed to,” my mother says, “your Italian melodrama roots?” Yes. As opposed to them.) Now if I could just fill the bathtub with ice, I’d have the perfect place to finish this unintentional foray into linguistics…

 

For more about Jonas Jonasson, go here.

Lost in Clover, Travis Richardson

I don’t often review books by people I know personally. It might be because I’m one of those writers who doesn’t have a lot of friends who are writers, or it might be because it’s challenging to review the book of someone whose wedding I’m going to in a few weeks. If I were a famous writer with a gaggle of famous writer friends, this probably wouldn’t be an issue, but, like me, most of my friends who are writers are struggling to break into the field and make a name for themselves. We don’t read each other’s work all that much, and when we do, it’s with a healthy dose of ego interfering.

This is not an issue limited to the field of writing either. I struggle when eating other people’s cakes, or lifting at the gym, or playing Bananagrams. It’s a streak of competitiveness that spikes in direct relation to how talented I consider myself to be at a given task. I’m not even going to give you the opportunity to pretend this doesn’t happen to you. It does. In some area of your life, you feel superior to others, and it can make it more difficult to accept that the talents of other do not necessarily impact you.

Of course, sometimes they do. There can be only one valedictorian in a class, and there are only a handful of spots on any given team. Publishers only take a tiny percentage of the manuscripts written every year, and call backs cull hundreds of hopefuls in the process of looking for the right person to fill a single part. Competition is part of life every single day, in just about every single job, and it has been this way since the beginning of life on this planet. Animals and plants compete in order to survive, and unfortunately, in some places in the world, the competition for food, clean water, and access to things like basic health care and an education is still fierce. And trust me, when I start to think about it like that, it seems silly to worry whether the book written and published by a friend kept me from success in the same field.

For the record, it didn’t. Travis and I actually have remarkably similar styles, and the manner in which Lost in Clover got published (he originally submitted the piece as a short story for an anthology; it was rejected for the intended project; then the editor contacted him and asked if he would be willing to turn it into a novella instead) is not completely unfamiliar to me. Honestly, he should be My Nemesis, but he isn’t. Instead, I’m just happy that someone read his short story and was smart enough to tell him to keep working on it because I can’t imagine this book as less than what it is.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy to take a piece that he had completely imagined as one thing – a single compact moment in time – and turn it into another that covers eight years of a young man’s life. I’ve tried to convert my own flash fiction into longer stories before, with varying degrees of success, but I’ve never attempted what Travis has in this book. He manages to take one horrific day in this boy’s life and then, instead of pumping the story full of unbelievable action, he explores the path that unfolds when a character’s decision to do nothing becomes the choice that defines the rest of his life.

I was moved by this story because it taps into how most of us live. Maybe we can think back on a few opportunities in life when we weighed the pros and cons, made a decision, then acted on it. Most of the time though, it takes a lot less energy to choose not to choose, doesn’t it? It’s so much easier to keep our mouths shut and our heads down, and if we miss something great by doing that, well hey! At least we didn’t open ourselves up to failure, right?

There are times when it makes sense to just keep on keeping on, but we use an awful lot of excuses to protect ourselves from the uncertainty of choice. The problem with that, as Jeremy Rogers discovers in this book, is that doing or saying nothing is still something. There is no “nothing. ” There are only somethings that we either choose to control…or not.

 

For more about Travis Richardson, head over here.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon

It’s unusual for me to talk about a book that I haven’t read in recent years, but I had the pleasure of seeing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Apollo Theatre on Tuesday (World Autism Awareness Day, as it happens), and it reminded me of how much I loved and appreciated the novel. If I’d had my copy with me here, I certainly would have sat down and reread it before writing this, but I didn’t, so you’ll have to take my word that it’s a wonderful book that deserves to be read not only because its young hero has Asperger’s/autism (Haddon has been particular in interviews over the years about the his intention not to label the character specifically, so I’ll refrain from doing so as much as possible, out of respect for his choice), but because this is a mystery story and an odyssey.

One of the topics discussed (with good reason) by the LGBT community is that it’s rare to find successful mainstream books, movies, and television about LGBT people without the focus being on their sexuality or gender identity, as opposed to stories about paleontologists or astronauts or gymnasts who are, incidentally, gay, transgendered, etc. The same is true for people with disabilities. Haddon has been vocal about how his book is not about a boy with a disability – it’s about a fifteen year old who loves math and who has, in his words, some unusual behavior problems. Now, I personally have a problem with the phrase “behavioral problems,” because in my mind, this is and always has been a book whose protagonist has Asperger’s (regardless of the author’s opinion). In my training as an early childhood educator, and as a teacher who particularly loved to work with children on the autistic spectrum, I would never label a child’s behavior as “problematic,” and it rubs me the wrong way to hear anyone else do it. That being said, I still wholeheartedly support that Haddon has written this book without an agenda beyond great storytelling.

The play, aside from being brilliantly acted, was also staged wonderfully, the black-backed graph paper walls and floor creating the orderly perception of Christopher Boone’s mind, while the use of flashing lights, loud sounds, and even some chaotic ballet brought to life an extremely compelling story. It was adapted by Simon Stephens without direct collaboration from Haddon, but apparently, he was quoted as saying the play helped him to fall in love with his own book again.

In the Q and A afterward (which I was not expecting and was thrilled to attend), two moments in particular caught my attention in relation to how this book and play are perceived. The first was from a man who asked how the occasional moments of humor – the tension breaks, as they were – happened about in the play, since he hadn’t read any such thing in the text. The second was an answer in reference to how the autistic community was responding to this adaptation. In answer to the latter question, the cast talked about a “relaxed” performance they had done a few months before that had been open specifically to people with autism (schools, families, etc) who wanted to come see the play in an environment where audience activity (the need to leave or speak or move at any time) would be completely acceptable; the volume and lighting were adjusted to be less startling as well. Every member of the cast said, in his or her own way, that it was the best performance they had done, and that the audience had been riveted, enthusiastic, and had, indeed, found great humor in the show. One of the actors said he was astounded by the sense of empathy he felt from that audience, from the brothers and sisters and parents and teachers connected with those who have autism – that they responded with great joy to the sense of community and understanding found in that place.

I went away from that show deeply touched and reminded of the many parents I worked with while I was teaching. Because I taught very young children (three months to five years), the push was huge to identify children who were struggling, for whatever reason, and to open a dialogue with the family about how best we might serve the child both at school and at home. Since I was had not trained extensively in special education, I relied heavily on more experienced teachers, support staff, and parents who had gone through the system already for advice on the bureaucratic side of things. What I rarely needed assistance with was the children themselves, and I think in large part, that stems from an overabundance of empathy on my part.

It is very hard for me not to apologize for describing myself as an empathetic person, but recently, I’ve been practicing acknowledging strengths, so I will say it again: I am an extremely, uncomfortably empathetic person. It’s difficult, sometimes, for me to be around people because I have trouble blocking out intense energy and emotion from others, but it also has made me a responsive teacher. It has made me the kind of teacher who recognizes, as Haddon has, that every child, regardless of a diagnosis, is an individual human being with very particular needs and rhythms. If that is taken into account, it becomes obvious that every child is in need of support. Every child, autistic or not, responds to stimuli differently. Some children crave routine, or solitude, or extremely active play, but regardless, children thrive on being understood as individuals, rather than as notes on a page.

Parents, likewise, require a gentle touch, and this proved much more difficult for me. As adults, we have certain expectations of children, especially our own, and it can be incredibly difficult to accept that a child will have a different kind of life than that expectation. My job required me to become sensitive to the grieving process involved in letting those ideas go. When I first started teaching, I saw this grief as willful ignorance, as a stumbling block in the path of productive discussion, and it made me angry. I have to say, I still treasure those early parents, those who were willing to be patient with me as they processed the fear for what the world might do to demean their children. I can imagine the sensation of relief those families would feel coming together in a theatre, of all places! Of course they would laugh! Of course they would find encouragement from such an empowering, honest story! Of course – because for once, they could feel safe from judgement.

Both the book and the play embrace Christopher’s unique perspective of the world while recognizing the challenges he faces while performing tasks that may seem simple to others. The gift of both the book and the play, however, is that this character is approached with automatic respect from the very first moment. His disability, whatever it may be, does not keep him from living his life. Christopher is relatable because he triumphs and suffers as anyone would, and if his parents cry at night because of the way he behaves – well, every parent does. There are no easy children, just as there are no perfect adults. We choose our adventures based on the skills we are born with, as well as those we develop as we grow. Christopher is the same, choosing to create a meaningful life out of what he’s received and what he’s worked for.

Stories like this, I believe, are ones worth hearing.

 

To learn more about Mark Haddon, head over here. For information about the play, go here.

The History of Love: A Novel (post the second), Nicole Krauss

I didn’t think I would have time to finish this book over the weekend. We’re packing for a six-week work trip to Europe, and of the many, many things I do not have time for, reading is very near the top of the list. And yet.

History-of-Love-jacketA feeling of sadness came over him. All these years Litvinoff had imagined he was so much like his friend. He’d prided himself on what he considered their similarities. But the truth was that he was no more like the man fighting a fever in the bed ten feet away than he was like the cat that had just slunk off: they were different species. It was obvious, Litvinoff thought. All you had to do was look at how each had approached the same subject. Where he saw a page of words, his friend saw the field of hesitations, black holes, and possibilities between the words. Where his friend saw dappled light, the felicity of flight, the sadness of gravity, he saw the solid form of a common sparrow. Litvinoff’s life was defined by a delight in the weight of the real; his friend’s by a rejection of reality, with its army of flat-footed facts. Looking at his reflection in the dark window, Litvinoff believed something had been peeled away and a truth revealed to him: He was an average man. A man willing to accept things as they were, and, because of this, he lacked the potential to be in any way original. And though he was wrong in every way about this, after that night nothing could dissuade him. (p 116)

This book was hard impossible to put down. I should have been doing laundry, cleaning out the refrigerator, finding our travel documents, but instead, I sat in the car with the sun beating down on me pouring over this novel until my husband came to find me. I told him it wasn’t my fault; I was just desperate for the mystery to finish unfolding, or for the unbearable weight of human sadness to be lifted, for even a moment.

I climbed the stairs to Bruno’s floor. I was about to knock when I saw the note on the door. It said: DO NOT DISTURB. GIFT UNDER YOUR PILLOW.

It had been a long time since anyone had given me a gift. A feeling of happiness nudged my heart. That I can wake up each morning and warm my hands on a hot cup of tea. That I can watch the pigeons fly. That at the end of my life, Bruno has not forgotten me. (p 92)

And eventually, it was lifted, in its way. This book was a celebration of survival in the face of terrible grief, but as Krauss so beautifully captures, survival does not necessarily mean happiness. Rather, it means allowing for surprise, for curiosity, for the opportunity for change – even if the change that comes only brings with it more questions.

It’s a story about the opportunities that seem almost magical in the face of despair, and about unraveling how it is they come to each of Krauss’ characters in turn. It takes patience to understand the timelines she interweaves, to watch for the threads that slowly pull the parallel lines closer together. The story refuses to be rushed until the last few chapters when the entire lush, guilty world tumbles together; it feels as if the weight of the narrators combine then to force the words out faster. The momentum she builds is so subtle, I hadn’t even notice we had shifted into the downward trajectory until we were halfway there and flying already.

The History of Love exists on the border between the fantastical and the painfully real. Half of the time I spent reading it, I couldn’t believe anything in it was true, and the other half – the greater half – I felt like I was being pummeled by those big, special, secret truths we all hold dear.

It hurt, and it was grand.  

The History of Love: A Novel (post the first), Nicole Krauss

I wish I could remember how this book ended up on my kindle. If it was a paperback, I could imagine the little bookstore I might have picked it up in, but as it is, I have no idea where it came from. I certainly don’t remember purchasing it. I just know that when I went searching for something to read before bed Monday night, this was what I found. I think I started crying about a ten pages in.

History-of-Love-jacketIt was a good kind of crying though. It’s that kind of crying where it almost feels as if you’ve read this particular story before because you can viscerally recall the exact kind of sadness you’re feeling, and in its familiarity, it’s cozy. I wrapped myself up in it immediately. Here was sadness that I could get comfortable with. It helped that it was raining that night, and I had pushed open the window to hear it. Some books just read better with that particular of soundtrack, you know.

I didn’t even bother to try to finish it for today either. It wasn’t going to happen. I need to live in this strange, broken, beautiful world for more than a day or two. I have to soak in it. I have to steal pages in the morning before I brush my teeth or at lunch while I’m waiting for the car at the mechanic’s. I have to be patient with my sadness because epic and human sorrow deserves that much from me.

My brother and I used to play a game. I’d point to a chair. “THIS IS NOT A CHAIR,” I’d say. Bird would point to the table. “THIS IS NOT A TABLE.” “THIS IS NOT A WALL,” I’d say. “THAT IS NOT A CEILING.” We’d go on like that. “IT IS NOT RAINING OUT.” “MY SHOE IS NOT UNTIED!” Bird would yell. I’d point to my elbow. “THIS IS NOT A SCRAPE.” Bird would lift his knee. “THIS IS ALSO NOT A SCRAPE!” “THAT IS NOT A KETTLE!” “NOT A CUP!” “NOT A SPOON!” “NOT DIRTY DISHES!” We denied whole rooms, years, weathers. Once, at the peak of our shouting, Bird took a deep breath. At the top of his lungs, he shrieked: “I! HAVE NOT! BEEN! UNHAPPY! MY WHOLE! LIFE!” (loc 517)

 

I need to get back to reading, so go check Nicole Krauss out, and I’ll see you back here Monday. With tissues.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, developed by Hank Green and Bernie Su

So, I may have missed the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice by a week(ish), and for that, I apologize. I’m especially sorry because I love Jane Austen, and I really love Pride and Prejudice, and well, I’m fastidious about celebrating significant anniversaries.

I can still remember laying on my bed in the sun when I was in the seventh or eighth grade, happily paging through my mother’s old copies of Austen. This was the same way I discovered Louisa May Alcott, the Brontë sisters, and Dickens, in fact, and to this day, when I visit my parents and spend time in my old bedroom (now an office), if the sun is coming in at just the right angle, I feel this twitch deep in my bones for a few hours with those old (old) friends.

That being said, I’m also a sucker for a good reinterpretation, and my current Austen favorite (not quite edging out the 2005 film, but in a very solid second) has appeared in the form of a series of brief webisodes available on YouTube. I discovered The Lizzie Bennet Diaries about two months ago and watched sixty of these 2-5 minute episodes in one go. You may rightly assume productivity that day was at an all-time low. I was undeniably hooked, and although I know you come to me for recommendations on literature rather than…well, whatever category videos on the internet fall into…you’re just going to have to branch out with me this once.

The biggest reason I’m advocating for these videos (putting aside my obvious obsession) is that I love to see people get excited by stories. Sure, I often reach for a book above all else, and I’m thrilled to be able to offer you with the opportunity to read Pride and Prejudice for free here or on your kindle (also free) over here. Please go read it. Pass it along to a friend or child or student to read. It’s a wonderful book, and I get swept away by it every time I pull it off the shelf. That being said, literature, to me, survives and thrives when we allow it some space to breath. Maybe these videos won’t inspire anyone to read the book; maybe they’re meant for people like me who are already fans, but I like to believe otherwise.

I enjoy imagining that the creativity that led to this project will inspire others to try something new as well. It thrills me to see young people getting excited by a book that’s two hundred years old, and if their first exposure to it has to come in a palatable, modern format, that’s okay with me. It’s the end result I’m looking for – the passion, the excitement for storytelling, the belief that a text that seems complicated or distant can be made accessible!

As you may have guessed, I’m not exactly the hipster queen of reading. There’s no wrong way to love stories, nor is there a less worthy route to becoming a person who loves to read or interpret books. It shames us, as lovers of reading, when we forget how fortunate we are, by birth or education or luck, that we have countless worlds and words at our disposal; the only remedy I’ve found is in embracing all the facets of storytelling. It’s impossible to know what experience might speak to a person, or offer encouragement to explore the written word for those who always felt that stories were meant for someone else.

I unabashedly love this videos. It’s been amazing to share them with my family, and with the youth that I mentor, and now, with you. This is a classic taken a thoughtful, modern twist, and I hope, even if this isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll check it out at least to see what’s possible with a storyteller’s enthusiasm.

 

Here’s the link to Episode 1. If you’re anything like me, I’ll see you in three to six hours. Oh, and Lizzie’s sister Lydia? She has spectacular videos too; I highly recommend watching them interlaced with the LB Diaries for a more complete story. For a complete picture of the project, head here.

Oh, and remember, if you just aren’t into videos, you can read the original book for free online at either of the links above..

Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick

Last night, I was lying in bed trying to sleep – it has been very difficult since Friday – I realized that this post, a post I wrote last Thursday night, might be upsetting to some readers this morning. When I picked this book, and when I wrote what I did, mental health was not a hot topic of debate. It was not tied to a very recent tragedy, a tragedy that I know many of us grieve intensely for, even without knowing a single person from Newtown. 

I tossed and turned for a long time wondering if I should pull the post and save it for the new year. I thought about all the things I’ve been worrying about since Friday morning, and I considered whether I should say any of them here. In the end, I’ve decided to go forward with the review since it still reflects accurately my feelings about the book, and I’ve also decided not to say most of what I’ve been thinking about what happened. 

If I changed this post in response to what happened, to the (perhaps unnatural) level of stress I’m feeling in the aftermath, I would be lying to you. Because even after all of this – even after everything I have written to my friends and family in the last 48 hours (and there has been a lot), I do still believe in radical empathy. I believe we need it now, more than ever. 

That being said, today I will issue a TRIGGER WARNING for the post below. Any person has the right to be angry, sad, frustrated – even disbelieving – about the role mental illness plays in our lives, and I want it to be your choice to read my perspective about it.

My prayers are with all those affected by Friday’s terrible events, as well as with those who, like me, are filled with a desire to overcome these hopeless, fragile feelings with compassion and positive action. 

 

I rarely do this, but I have to admit that I saw the movie before I read this book. To be fair, when my friend suggested going to see “Silver Linings Playbook” on the weekend after Thanksgiving, I didn’t even know it was based on a book. I mostly agreed to it because I love Jennifer Lawrence, and I was willing to risk watching a movie with the potential for an unhappy ending in order to see her during the indeterminable wait until the next Hunger Games movie.

The_Silver_Linings_Playbook_CoverI’ll refrain from telling you whether or not the film and book have an unhappy ending, and I’ll even keep my mouth shut for now on the topic of my personal feelings about unhappy endings in entertainment because I want you to be able to enjoy the book, film or both, if you so desire. I obviously enjoyed the movie enough that when my friend told me about the book, I immediately bought a copy and even got around to reading it a lot sooner than I expected to.

I have the “due date is upon me manuscript insomnia” to thank for that, actually. I was laying awake last week – my brain in overdrive and my anxiety-induced heartburn stubbornly refusing to respond to antacids – when I decided to grab my kindle and read for a while. I was in the middle of two exciting urban fantasies novels, but I didn’t want to get sucked in and end up reading until dawn (not a good choice for exceptionally busy weeks), so I started “Silver Linings” instead. I already knew (roughly) what happened, so I figured I was safe on that front. Turns out, Quick is no slouch at creating an engaging, fast-paced novel that I kept coming back to long after I should have turned out the light.

What I really loved about both the movie and the book (and they’re certainly different, although not obnoxiously so) is how the issues of mental illness are dealt with. The number of people who struggle with some type of mental illness (and this may encompass any number of diagnoses, in terms of both severity and how deeply it affects day-to-day living) – well, let’s just say that if you know five people, chances are, at least one of them has or is dealing with mental illness in some dimension. I won’t belabor this point because I believe most people know and accept that this is true, but it’s a matter of real importance to me, and seeing it represented well, and compassionately, is a gift.

Cliff says Sylvia Plath’s work is very depressing to read, and that his own daughter had recently suffered through The Bell Jar because she is taking an American literature course at Eastern High School.

“And you didn’t complain to administration?” I asked.

“About what?”

“About your daughter being forced to read such depressing stories.”

“No. Of course not. Why would I?”

“Because the novel teaches kids to be pessimistic. No hope at the end, no silver lining. Teenagers should be taught that—”

“Life is hard, Pat, and children have to be told how hard life can be.”

“Why?”

“So they will be sympathetic to others. So they will understand that some people have it harder than they do and that a trip through this world can be a wildly different experience, depending on what chemicals are raging through one’s mind.” (p 128)

When I read “Dear Sugar” last week, the phrase the captured me in the introduction was “radical empathy.” I didn’t intentionally pick this book next because it followed the same theme, but in fact it does. And it’s Christmastime, and I want more radical empathy in my life – not just for me, but by me.

For the last year, I’ve been trying to live by the line, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” but it’s tough. I’m a judgmental person. I like sarcasm. Making fun of things is funny. Right? Right! Well, sort of. But making fun of things that other people have worked hard on, or making fun of things that mean more to others than they do to me, or making fun of things when someone might just be having a bad day or year or decade? Not so funny.

When I was teaching preschool, I found myself drawn to children with developmental delays that prevented them from understanding certain kinds of jokes, or, for lack of a better word, sneakiness. These children struggled so hard with typical daily interactions that there was no room in their brains to develop the intentional deceptiveness that most of us have perfected by about seven years old. These kids were truthful to the point of painful awkwardness on at least a weekly basis, but I grew to love it. That raw honestly never came out of a place of cruelty, but out of a desire to make the world more clear, more manageable – less cruel, in fact.

This is the world that Pat Peoples lives in. This is the world his parents and brother and friends have to accept in order to understand him and love him the way he deserves. It’s not easy. Anyone who has been in a similar situation will tell you – it is not easy. But if you need a book that really lays it all out for you in the title, might I suggest “Silver Linings Playbook” this holiday season?

Find out more about Matthew Quick here.

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

Just a reminder that during November, I’ll be reviewing short stories instead of novels. This adjustment will hopefully allow me to complete both the manuscript due December 1st and 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month. 

 

Invisible Cities is not exactly a collection of short stories, but it reads very differently than a traditional novel. I read it for the first time during my semester abroad; I was taking a class about travel writing, and it was one of the books assigned. I loved it. I used it as the basis for a paper I wrote for the class in which I created my own cities. In the book, each “chapter” has a name such as Thin Cities or Cities and Signs, and although I can no longer find the paper itself, I remember that my cities were called Cities and Love. I was nineteen then, and obsessed with travel and love and poetry. This book was food for my soul.

Holding it now, I can still remember where I was the first time I read it cover to cover. My college’s semester abroad program was a bit unusual; the school sent eighty students to a castle in the Netherlands for a term, where four days a week, we would be taught by English-speaking Europeans or American ex-pats; the other three days, we had rail passes that allowed us to travel wherever we liked or could afford to go. I arranged my class schedule so that I had classes only three days a week, leaving one day when all my friends were busy and I could do my reading and writing. I needed that time because during that semester, I loved my classes. I never felt like I was doing busy work, but instead, felt as though my professors were offering me a look into a world I had been imagining existed for years, and I didn’t want to disappoint them or myself by being unworthy of that opportunity. I worked very hard and cared deeply what they thought about my ideas. The evening that I finished this book, I was in my bedroom overlooking the moat. The sun was setting and I could hear people heading out to the pub from where I was sitting with the window open. I felt completely disconnected from the world, and at the same time, completely in love with it.

I’ve read this book now four or five times, and every time I do, I remember what it felt to be young and naive and stupid and excited about the unknown. I recall that glimpse of independence – of that feeling of being in on a secret with the rest of a more sophisticated world. Every time I read it, I feel a little further away from that girl. I’m reminded of all that was good then, and all that is good now, and inevitably I also remember all of the things that aren’t or weren’t good too, and I am forced to embrace the whole world of change again. It’s hard, but some part of me must love it because no matter where I go, I keep this battered copy of Calvino on my shelf.

As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth, Lynne Rae Perkins

In a few weeks, I’m going to become one of the counselors for the high school youth group at my church. I’m not at all sure I’m qualified for this position because I swear indiscriminately, consider candy and wine to be the foundation of the food pyramid, and transform into a curmudgeonly old man when asked about cell phones, Facebook, and Justin Bieber. I often feel exhausted when it comes to finding common ground with this age group, which is strange because one of my passions is finding books I think these no longer children/not yet adults will get excited about.

I think part of the problem is that I don’t really know any teenagers anymore, and in a large anonymous group, they can’t help but be irritating (to be fair, I feel the same way about hipsters, hippies, yuppies, dog-lovers, cyclists etc etc when faced with an unknown hoard…). I’m far enough from my own adolescence that I find it both nostalgic and also stupefying that I made the choices I did, and even the youngest siblings of my friends have graduated from college now. My friends with children have, at the very remotest end, tweens, but more commonly, infants and toddlers.

Now there’s an age group I can get behind. Their behaviors might be extreme, but young children are pretty transparent to me, and I love them for all their stickiness and difficulties.  Teenagers, though, I’m baffled by completely. How do I talk to them? Why do they think I’m so old when I could swear a second ago I was their age? Who let them have smart phones? What could I possibly have to offer? All I can do is keep reminding myself, don’t panic. If they smell your fear, it’s over.

I needed a book that would  remind me of why I loved being a teenager as much as I did. As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth was the perfect choice. Perkins’ young protagonist, Ry, seems ordinary, but as his story unfolds, what makes him special is gently brought to light. This is an adventure story that takes place firmly in reality. There are no high-speed chases, no flying cars, no vampires. He’s just a kid experiencing his first taste of independence; the fortunate part is that we get to see a wonderful new part of him appear in the process.

I kept thinking to myself as I read it, I know this guy. He’s a little forgetful, and sometimes he makes choices that, while not wild and crazy, are just dumb enough to get the story going. He’s sweet and trusting, and the people he chooses to have faith in (strangers!) are good people – flawed adults, but helpful and well-intentioned. I can’t help but love this book because it lives in the world, the one that was especially familiar to me when I was young. Perkins manages to make it completely plausible that Ry would end up without his cell phone in the middle of nowhere after missing a train while his parents are on vacation and his grandfather isn’t answering the phone at home. He has no choice but to make his own way home, and to grow up, and to see that the world is a bigger place than he had ever experienced before. That’s what being a teenager is all about, after all.

Thinking of his mother’s voice made him think of his mother. He thought of how she looked when he said something she thought was funny. At first her face stayed the same, except for her eyes. They would twinkle. Then the shape of her mouth and cheeks would shift almost imperceptibly into her secretly amused expression. It was weird not to know where she was. She didn’t know where he was, either. Both of them sort of thought they did, but in a useless, non-specific way. Like, oh yeah, my needle is right over there. In that haystack.” (p73)

To learn more about Lynne Rae Perkins, go here.

The Good Braider, Terry Farish

One of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me ‘Superman’ did not exist…she thought I was crying because it’s like Santa Claus is not real. I was crying because no one was coming with enough power to save us.   Geoffrey Canada, Waiting for Superman

I don’t love documentaries across the board. Maybe I should (I know my father, husband, and more sophisticated friends think so) but I don’t. I’m generally drawn to those about children and teenagers; this is true when it comes to books and films alike. I’m sure that after Monday’s post on Bringing Up Bébé, this doesn’t come as a much of a revelation. I watched Mad Hot Ballroom back to back with Waiting for Superman last year for the fun of it (as it turns out, the fun of it involved a lot of crying).

At Christmas two years back, my father gave me a PBS documentary called Children Will Listen about a production of my favorite musical Into the Woods, put on at the Kennedy Center in New York by group of underprivileged students and a dedicated group of teachers and arts professionals. It reignited the dream I had when I went to college as a Theatre Education major; I wanted to open an after-school arts program for children whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to expensive classes. I have no idea how I would have funded such a program or who I would have found with the business savvy to balance out my flightiness when it comes to spreadsheets, but it was born out of an unwavering belief that all children deserve more than the bare minimum.

A month ago, we happened upon a new documentary called Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey. I watched it even though I hate muppets (and had always hated Elmo in particular). Kevin Clash, Elmo’s creator and a master puppeteer, started making puppets when he was in elementary school. He was sewing and building his own puppets and putting on shows in his neighborhood by his early teens. The film followed his whole career, but the part that drew me in was the old film taken by his family during his childhood – he was so focused, so passionate – he believed he had the ability to create magic.

When I find stories like these about children rising to meet the high expectations of themselves or of dedicated adults in their lives, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude. How fortunate that people exist who care so much about improving the lives of children and families – it makes me happier just knowing such people are out there.

With a book like The Good Braider, that same feeling explodes out of my chest and just covers the rest of my life. Terry Farish has written a novel in verse that combines the stories she has heard for years directing the literacy program at the New Hampshire Humanities Council (serving immigrant and refugee populations) into a stunning novel about a young woman struggling to survive, first in war-torn South Sudan, then later in culture-exploding Portland, Maine.

Whenever I read a book, I fold pages down, I underline favorite passages, I make notes to myself to share with others later. This book is full – I want to share so many sections of it just to help you understand what a deft hand Farish has, how aptly she renders both the atrocities of war and the simple joys that defy it. When I looked back through all the pages, however, the piece I finally decided on was the very first poem of the book.

Fire
I run breathless into my house.
What will I tell her?
I will tell her, Andrew has my book.
The teacher assigned us to work together.
But my mother does not turn to me.
She wears her after-work clothes,
her African dress that hangs
loose from her shoulders.
Maybe she has not seen me with Andrew –
my friend – seen me leap from his truck.
I watch the bend of her shoulders.
She holds herself rigid and does not
look at me. I’ll leave here again when the families
from Juba come to eat and watch news of the war.
I turn and look toward the door.
As if she can read my mind, she commands,
“You will stay in this house!”
She knows.
She knows I have been away from our people.
I have slipped out of Africa for a breath of time.
Do my hair and skin smell different?
I pause at the kitchen doorway.
She turns, and her eyes are ferocious.
I watch the water bubble up.
In Juba, the pot would need huge flames
to build the water to this boil.
I step toward my mother and the boiling water.
I mean to take the spoon and stir while the aseeda
thickens in the boiling water, this dense white food
that to our Sudanese people is life.
Instead I say, “Sometimes I do not want to know
how many people have died in the war.”
I say this
as the aseeda bubbles loudly
over the red electric coils.
Maybe it is those words
that cause what happens next.
She grabs my arm. She holds it hard
by my wrist and my elbow.
She twists my hand over the steam.

Yumis! Mother! You are hurting me!”

Now the war comes back to me.

Again, there is only the war. (pg 10)

This is the first book I’ve been sent to review before publication (it came out May 1st, but I’ve been hanging onto it for a while). Terry Farish is a friend and colleague of my mother, and she asked me, after reading J’adore, if I would be willing to look at a copy of the uncorrected proof. We’ve never met, and I probably never would have seen this book if she hadn’t sent it to me. That’s the cruel way of the world – so many life-changing books exist just outside our daily experiences. I think it might be the universe’s way of apologizing for all the terrible things we have to witness and endure when the right book does manage to find its way into our hands.

This is that right book. It’s the right book if you’re socially conscious, if you’re family centric, if you feel displaced, if you love to teach, if you want to learn, if you read about children and weep for the injustices they encounter, if you read about adults and feel shame for things you cannot change, if you read about mothers and marvel at their strength, if you read about fathers and wonder at their absence, if you read about war while hating the bombs that fall on your doorstep, if you read about peace and appreciate what little you have – this is the book for you. This story might not have the power to save us like Superman, but it inspires that breast-beating hope that ordinary people can make changes with their own two hands.

Terry Farish has her own site here, and she also has a fascinating site about The Good Braider here.

The Shadow of the Wind (a follow up), Carlos Ruiz Zafón

I couldn’t decide on Monday whether or not I would have more to say about this book when I finished it. Part of me felt certain I would just toss it aside, ready to check another book off of my ever-growing “To Read” list, but essentially unmoved by the strangeness  of the story.

I was wrong. Don’t worry, I’m used to it. I often joke with my husband that I was lucky to have met him because he is always graciously right while I’m often enthusiastically mistaken, and together, we quite happily wind our way to the truth of things over time. I find I am most happy to be proven wrong when it comes to books, and with this book, I was definitely most joyfully mistaken.

This was a novel I took on out of a sense of obligation to the unread collection on my shelf (I know I’m not the only one to have a shelf like this, heavy with the best of intentions, but mostly abandoned for more familiar, comfortable pages), and in the beginning, although I found it fascinating, and the writer unbelievably talented, I wasn’t moved by it as I sometimes can be.

I crave those books that shift something in my soul though, that lay limply in my lap for long minutes after I’ve finished them. They’re usually not the books that make me laugh, or even those that I reread a dozen times; they may not even be my favorites, but they have this power to change a part of me forever. Most often the books that have the most profound effect on me are the most melancholy. They lay bare the parts of life that I don’t like to dwell on. Those stories produce characters that chill me while impressing upon me the importance of the choices I make every day. They remind me of the very worst parts of myself, and of the experiences I’ve had, but they also, crucially, remind me of the two things required to survive such circumstances – grit and compassion.

The grit, I believe, is what comes easiest for most people. The desire to survive is so strongly embedded in us that we can endure a great deal before we collapse or surrender. We are able to withstand devastation far beyond what we might think we’re capable of; in fact, we often find that our strength has been hiding in the darkness all along, and what we needed was for something beyond our control to allow us to venture out and find it. Once found, that strength is, not undefeatable, of course, but always within our reach. Having found the source, it becomes easier over time to draw from the well and fight the battles we must.

It’s much harder to maintain a sense of compassion when faced with those same tests. We might find ourselves able to survive, but parts of ourselves start to get broken off, destroyed by the choices we make in the process. One of the things I find so wonderful about this book is that even in the depths of tragedy (and by the end, they surely have plumbed those depths thoroughly) most of the characters, broken though they may be by the circumstances they find themselves in, have salvaged much of the kindness Fate has tried to rob from them.

I admit, I don’t like hard stories where the only survivors live in worlds constructed of their own guilt or malice or loneliness. Reality is eager enough to push those awful words into me every day on the news or in history books, and I’m just too much of a sponge to take it; if I spend a lot of time immersed in sadness or horror, it seeps through me and I start to feel helpless against the tide of all the things I can’t change. I don’t like feeling that way. I would rather believe that even small good things I do might influence the wider community. I like imagine other people doing the same, carrying on the fight against the darkness one kind word or gesture at a time.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón gets it. His book is filled with ordinary people trying to stem the tide of degradation and hatred through small, compassionate acts. Yes, the overarching story is a sad one, but it’s buoyed by a lightness that just cannot be denied.

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafón

I think spring has finally sprung here. I’ve taken my whole operation out to the balcony to enjoy the sunny weather. This is a desperate attempt on my part to get some work done because, and you’ll have to forgive me for this, my brain is not on books today. It’s on the epic marathon taking place in my hometown 3000 miles away. It’s on the run I had today, a run where I went two miles further than usual because running felt like the absolute best thing to be doing. It’s on the tree outside our bedroom that has decided it’s time to bloom the bright green shield that provides us our summer privacy from the neighbors across the way. It’s on the fact that somehow, even though it’s Monday and Mondays can be the worst (the worst of the worst), today is different. It makes me happy.

It’s funny too, because this book, The Shadow of the Wind, is sort of like that. It’s completely different from any book I can remember reading, and it’s strange, like having a good Monday is strange, but it makes me happy.

I don’t really know what I expected when I bought this book. It has a quote on the front by Stephen King. I’ve never read any Stephen King in my life. It’s described on the back  as a gothic read and a thrilling, erotic  tragedy. Maybe those words make you rush right out to the nearest book store, but I usually like my literature as far from the erotically tragic as possible.

The cover of the book reminds me a little of some of the scenes in The NeverEnding Story (or at least my twisted childhood perception of the movie), and consequently, I expected it would be an adventure story, something along the lines of Inkheart, maybe, but with more…erotic tragedy. I expected alternate realities, at the very least. Of course, it’s a New York Times Bestseller, so chances were good that science fiction would be kept to a minimum.

This book  reminds me of the Winchester Mystery House. My favorite line from all of their promotional material is “What was Mrs. Winchester thinking when she had a staircase built that descends seven steps and then rises eleven?” That just about sums up the novel for me thus far (no, I haven’t finished. Did you know this was the last weekend to do your taxes?!).  The plot winds through the life of a young man in Barcelona; he’s a bibliophile desperate to save the works of his favorite author, a man shrouded in miserable mystery and heartbreak, from a terrifying stranger who wants to burn every last copy. (Okay, it’s actually really difficult to describe this book without sounding like fainting women and villains twirling marvelous mustaches appear on every page, but I promise, it’s much better than that…although as far as I can tell, most of the erotic tragedy encountered seems to be of the variety experienced by the vast majority of sixteen year old boys.)

“So what is it you’re going to show me?”
  “A number of things. In fact, what I’m going to show you is part of a story. Didn’t you tell me the other day that what you like to do is read?”
  Bea nodded, arching her eyebrows.
  “Well, this is a story about books.”
  “About books?”
  “About accursed books, about the man who wrote them, about a character who broke out of the pages of a novel so that he could burn it, about a betrayal and a lost friendship. It’s a story of love, of hatred, and of all the dreams that live in the shadow of the wind.”
  “You talk like the jacket blurb of a Victorian novel, Daniel.”
  “That’s probably because I work in a bookshop and I’ve seen too many. But this is a true story. As real as the fact that this bread they served us is three days old. And like all true stories, it begins and ends in a cemetery, although not the sort of cemetery  you imagine.”
  She smiled the way children smile when they’ve been promised a riddle or a conjuror’s trick. “I’m all ears.” (pg 178)

I admit I also initially put off reading this book because of the style in which its written – it’s an unusual blend of modern and old-fashioned sensibilities that takes some getting to used to – but now that I’ve gotten into it, the choice is integral to the magic of the story. It lends an air of richness – of falling into Barcelona in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War – as he pulls the story together one strand at a time. I keep thinking I must be coming to the big reveal, then the author braids in another piece, and I can see how I still have 200 pages to go.

  “I told Bea how, until that moment, I had not understood that this was a story about lonely people, about absence and loss, and that that was why I had taken refuge in it until it became confused with my own life, like someone who has escaped into the pages of a novel because those whom he needs to love seem nothing more than ghosts inhabiting the mind of a stranger.” (p 183)

 

For more information on Carlos Ruiz Zafón, check out his site (although be forewarned: The Shadow of the Wind is apparently the first in a trilogy and there appear to be some spoilers on his homepage).

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender

I have had this book on my “to-read” shelf since the summer. I know this because I bought it one night during one of those stroll around the city since it’s still light at 10pm kind of dates (and can I just say, thank goodness it’s almost March, which means the one good thing Bush Jr did in eight years  – adding four weeks to DST – is about to be upon us again).

I’m pretty sure the cover of this book sold it to me (look at the piece of cake and tell me you don’t want to throw down your resolve and grab a fork). The way I buy books when I’m in a physical bookstore (not at all online, oddly enough), is that I browse around, and when a cover catches my eye, I read the first few pages or even the whole first chapter, depending on how intrigued I am; I decide from those two factors whether there is any chance I’ll ever want to read the book in full, then buy it or return it to the shelf accordingly.It’s not a scientific system, and it has its flaws (mainly, that I buy a bunch of books that seem promising but then mock me from the bookshelf for months or even years afterward), but I keep doing it.

And sometimes it pays off. In the case of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, it paid off in spades. It’s fiction. That also has a…I don’t supernatural? Science fiction? Hyper-vivid imagination? element to it that took me completely by surprise. It’s one of those books that I really don’t want to go into much detail about because one of the things I enjoyed most was how deftly Bender takes her concept and continuously massages new facets out of it for 300 pages.

I thought I knew exactly what to expect – the back cover shares the premise of the book after all – that a nine-year old girl develops the ability to taste the emotion cooked into food – but the story balloons into so much more while remaining intimate, painful, and even a smidge redemptive.

Maybe it’s the fact that I spent twenty or so years of my life with undiagnosed lactose intolerance that I found this book so easy to sink into. This is a dance between girl and food and things incomprehensible, and there is no escape because everyone has to eat. For some people, food is a constant pleasure, an easy, understandable three meals a day; for others, it’s a base necessity lacking mystery beyond existing or not; but for some of us unfortunate folk, it is work, constant work for the body and the mind to come to an agreement about nourishing the physical existence and the soul.

My own stomach refuses to digest so many things that I’ve had to work hard to love food, and I’ve often resented the people who get along with it so easily. The pleasure for me is in discovering a book where the protagonist struggles in her own unique relationship with food, one that is complex, and tinged with her desire to be easy-going and “normal.”

You can find out more about Aimee Bender at her beautiful site http://www.flammableskirt.com/