Friday, January 28, 2011

Quilting Q-tees

Friendships among adult women can be tricky.  It's rare to find a group of women with whom one likes to spend time that is unified by something other than having kids who are about the same age.  As I was reading The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas, I kept thinking about how lucky I am to have three distinct groups of women friends; my bunco group, my book group and my potluck group.  How small town-middle age-middle class does that sound?  Very.  Did I mention that I live 5 miles from Detroit, that the groups are populated by women who could be called "MILFs", that reading is optional for the book group and that the potluck group meets at restaurants?  OK, I know, still small town-middle age-middle class.  Deal with it.

The Persian Pickle Club is the story of a group of women in a small town in Kansas who are united by quilting.  Truth be told, the group is a clique, with some outsiders jealously wishing that they could join.  The Persian Pickles range in age through generations, but are bound together through their shared history and a love of stitching.  The youngest member, Queenie, misses her friend who moved away and is thrilled to meet Rita, who she hopes will fill the position of "best friend" which is currently vacant.  Rita is a city girl who is not so sure that quilting is her thing, and is looking for work as a newspaper reporter.

TPPC is just a nice, quick, entertaining read.  I probably would never have picked it, but I enjoyed reading it.  And I learned something about quilters too.  Those ladies are wild.  What happens at quilting, stays at quilting. 

Next up:  Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Still Listening to:  The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Sunnyside of World War I

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold is the story of the magician, Carter the Great, and obscure but important things that were going on in the US at the time that he was performing.  While the book was well received by critics, it had the misfortune of being released in September 2001.  That was a horrible month for the US in general, but to make matters worse for GDG, it was also the month in which The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen was released.  As a result, Carter was so overshadowed that it didn't receive the attention that it was due.

In 2009, Glen David Gold released his second book, Sunnyside, to even less fanfare.  In fact, unless you were a fan of GDG, you probably missed it.  I actually didn't hear about Sunnyside until the paperback was released a year later.  I put off reading it because I hadn't read any great reviews, but eventually, I was curious enough about what GDG had been up to since writing Carter that I decided to give it a read.

Sunnyside  is the story of several unrelated characters during the period of America's involvement in World War I.  The primary story lines involve Charlie Chaplin, a soldier from Detroit named Hugo Black, and a man named Leland Wheeler who hoped to make it big in show business.  Other characters include a girl scout/jewel thief, a man obsessed with a movie star, and a family of Russian royalty.  The most successful plots involved Chaplin and Wheeler.  The other stories really didn't resolve themselves, and seemed almost unnecessary.

Chaplin's story concerned his conflicts in trying to make great comedies in a time of war.  To further complicate matters, Chaplin was struggling to find a plot for his movie, Sunnyside, while the movie industry itself was undergoing major changes.

Wheeler's story follows him from a lighthouse to a stage, a war, and a jail.  His character learns to train dogs in a way that reminded me of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski.  In fact, I found myself fantasizing that Wheeler was Edgar's dad, and that Wheeler's story was how the Sawtelles really started raising their dogs.  Since Wheeler was an only child, this would also eliminate the problem of Edgar's horrible uncle who caused him so much misery.

Although I liked Sunnyside,  it is not as good as Carter.  I'm not sure why so many characters were introduced, and given detailed plots, only to drift away in the end.  It may be that GDG just wanted to add characters and twists to keep the reader guessing about which character would find a happy ending.

Next up:  The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas

NOT listening to:  The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant.  I normally give books 100 pages before I give up on them, and I have now decided that three discs is enough time to give a CD.  This just wasn't the story for me.  Although I think that it will be the story behind a famous painting, at three discs in, the story was still focused only on the girl who I assume will become the model, and the artist's name has not yet been spoken.  That's enough for me.

Next up on CD:  The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Book Group Report - 6

Do you have any idea how many book groups call themselves "The Eclectic Book Group"?  Lots and lots of them.  As such, I need to start calling my book group something else.  We don't call ourselves anything, other than "book group".  I will try to come up with something clever, but in the meantime, I think it will just have to be "my book group" that I talk about.

Any how, my book group met tonight to discuss The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.  As you know, I really liked this book, and I have tried not to give away any plot twists while blogging about it.  We had 10 people here tonight, and all but one had read at least part of the book.  Two people were about half way through, and seven of us finished it.

The consensus was that The Little Stranger was a great book.  A few people found it too frightening to read at night, but others read the whole book through wondering when the scary part was going to come.  A primary point that we discussed was why the strange events started occurring.  Did Dr. Faraday's appearance trigger them?  Was it bringing Betty in?  We couldn't decide, but felt that it was one or the other.  The cause of the final tragedy in the story (which I don't want to give away) was also a hot topic.  We were equally divided between whether its cause was human or of another world.  We also discussed the ages of the characters, as the setting and their mannerisms aged them much beyond their years, in a way that was clearly intentional.  We are all in our forties, and reading the descriptions of Mrs. Ayers as a decrepit old woman, even though she was not yet fifty, caused some reflection on how (we hope) we seem a lot younger than her. 

Most of us really liked the descriptions of the house, and I have to say that my fellow book clubbers also heart crumbling estates.  My copy of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield went home with one member, and my guess is that others will borrow it later.

Next up:  The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas.  This book came out in 1996, and I have a vague sense that I read it around that time.  I guess I'll find out how familiar it is as I read it next month.

Still reading:  Sunnyside by Glen David Gold

Still listening to:  Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

Monday, January 17, 2011

O.K. By Me in America

While I was listening to Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey, I read a review of the book that went something like this:  "Parrot and Olivier in America is the story of an aristocrat and a servant who travel to America together and become friends."  To summarize Parrot  in that way is to compare it to Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel.  It is true that Olivier is a French aristocrat, Parrot is his British born servant, and they do, in fact, travel to America together, but the story is so much more and so much better than that.

The tale starts with Parrot in England, and Olivier in France, as children.  Both are invested in the outcome of the French Revolution. Olivier cares most obviously because of his noble lineage, and his desire to continue his way of life.  Parrot could not care less about the Bourbons, but does care about how he and his father will eat.  They find work with a printer in England, who has a hand in the Revolution himself.  Fast forward 20 years, to Olivier still a Royalist but questioning the cause, and Parrot working for his master, Monsieur Tilbot.  Tilbot orders Parrot to escort Olivier to America, where Olivier's mother thinks that he will be safer. 

Although neither of them knew it, even while they were in Paris both Parrot and Olivier were living in the past.  Olivier felt that as an aristocrat, he was entitled to certain privileges, and had certain duties which others had forgotten.  Although the Revolution should have altered Parrot's opportunities, he chose to live as a servant.  It is only when they get to America that they are forced to live the lives that the French Revolution was supposed to have brought to them in France.  Both are shocked at the informality and the opportunities for the common person, but both cling to their roles as master and servant fervently.  Grudgingly, each recognizes that the other has become his friend, and that America does have some good qualities.

While listening to this book, I felt a dorky sense of patriotism.  Don't get me wrong, patriotism isn't always dorky, but I was feeling a strange pride in the surprises that greeted Parrot and Olivier.  Carey made it easy to see that the object of the French Revolution was obtained in America years before it was realized in France.  Additionally, the characters were the first to admit that things that were just not possible in Europe were every day occurrences in America. 

A few months ago, I questioned whether Sarah Hall should have bragged on the cover of The Electric Michelangelo that it was "Short Listed for the Man Booker Prize." Like The Electric Michelangelo, Parrot was also short listed. I realize now, that being short listed for that prize is in fact quite a big deal, as there actually is a published short list, and if you are interested, a long list as well.

Next up:  The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

Still reading:  Sunnyside by Glen David Gold.  Around page 350 of this 650+ page book, I was questioning my commitment to it.  Specifically, while the kids were in bed, and my husband was playing wii, I had over an hour of uninterrupted time, and instead of reading Sunnyside, I chose to watch three back to back reruns of That 70s Show.  How great can a book be if I prefer watching reruns to reading it?  However, by the time I got to page 400 I was having a hard time putting the book down again.  Now I'm somewhere around page 525, and am really looking forward to reading more.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Enemies of the People

The strange thing about the book, Enemies of the People by Kati Marton is that there was a story to write at all.  Enemies is the story of Marton's parents, Endre and Ilona, and their role in reporting news from Hungary during the Cold War.  That sounds like the basis of a good story, but that story had already been written.  Both of Marton's parents wrote memoirs (Endre's was published and Ilona's was not) prior to their deaths.  So what more could their daughter say?

It seems that in telling their stories, Endre and Ilona were still not able to trust their audience, and were self-censoring by leaving out the parts that they thought may have raised concerns about them in their new country, the United States, or caused problems for the people who they left behind in Hungary.  Kati Marton's story is more complete, as she was granted access to the files on her parents kept by Hungary's former secret police, and to some extent, to the files that the FBI maintained on them as well.  What she learned was how hard her parents struggled to protect their children, their friends, their dignity, and the professional standards of journalism, all while facing daily monitoring and for part of their lives, detention.

While reading this book, I had crazy, vivid dreams that had to have been triggered by the story.  For instance, in one dream I killed a woman who was an agent of a government occupying the US by stomping on her throat.  Really.  I've never had a violent dream before this.  While Enemies is an interesting story, I had no idea the impression that it was making on my subconscious mind.

Next Up:  Sunnyside by Glen David Gold

Still Listening to Parrot and Olivier in America  by Peter Carey.  This is a great story so far.  3 discs in, it is set partially in France during the French Revolution, and partially in England during the same period.  The characters are fantastic, especially Olivier.  The person reading the story to me does a voice for Olivier that at first sounded like a young Pepe le Pew, but which already seems to fit Olivier perfectly.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...