Tag Archives: Books Read in 2012

11: Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine

Vij's: Elegant and Inspired Indian CuisineVij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine by Meeru Dhalwala

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Purchased at The Book Warehouse, when I thought it was going out of business (but then it didn’t).

Books

I think Vij’s is probably the most-talked-about Vancouver restaurant. So basically I bought this because of their reputation and because I love Indian food. nomnomnom.

Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala are the husband-and-wife owners of Vij’s. The preface (written by Vij) and the introduction to the recipes (by Dhalwala) shares the background of the restaurant and their relationship.

The book is a nice large format, with lots of colorful photographs. The large macros of the food are mouthwatering and the smaller photos interspersed throughout give a good feel for the restaurant. The first section discusses ingredients (I always appreciate when cookbook authors do this), followed by “basics” such as garam masala, ghee, masala, paneer.  I happen to have some black cardamom, which is a key ingredient in their garam masala (p. 26) so guess what I’m going to be making?

The recipe section starts off with appetizers. There’s a mix of vegetarian and meat dishes. The mains are divided into meat (beef, lamb, goat, pork), poultry, fish and seafood, and vegetables (these are vegetarian mains, not side dishes). I want to try the original chicken curry (p. 92) — with homemade garam masala, of course.

There’s plenty of eggplant (the Warm Eggplant, Onion and Tomato Salad appetizer on p. 43; Eggplant, Tomato and Green Onion Curry on p. 131 — definitely will be making this; Oven-roasted Eggplant and Butternut Squash Curry on p. 136 and more!) to keep eggplant lovers like me happy.

After the mains, there’s a section of sides (including cucumber raita, various chutneys,  potatoes, rice, chapattis) and finally desserts and drinks, including the all-important chai recipe. I’m addicted to chai.

The introductions to each section and the recipe head notes are well-written and informative. Don’t be intimidated by the length of the ingredients lists—it’s mostly spices. With respect to the actual food elements, there are few obscure ingredients; it’s mostly basics like chicken, tomatoes, onions, yogurt. Overall, the recipes are inspiring and don’t look difficult to make.

One possible lie: They claim that even people who don’t like Brussels sprouts like theirs. I don’t know about that… 😉

One drawback: it’s a paperback, so if you’re referring to it while cooking, you’ll need to put something heavy on top so it won’t flip closed.

10: The Art of Dramatic Writing

The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human MotivesThe Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives by Lajos Egri

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This was recommended by Bellman. Well, actually she recommended the companion book (The Art of Creative Writing), but I couldn’t find it in the library—it was lost or stolen or something—and this book seemed to be the more famous, easier to find, one.

I actually got this from the UBC library first—an original edition—but I had it out for so long I decided to buy a copy. So this one’s a paperback from Chapters. Which is fine, yet lacking the coolness factor that the one from the 1940s did.

[digression]

It’s kind of wonderful that UBC still has 70-year-old books out on the shelves. I don’t mean by publication date–sure there are lots of reprints floating around–I mean objects that have actually physically been there for 70 years. That same book you just pulled off the shelf was taken out by drama students in the 1940s! When you think about it, library books like that are kind of amazing. It’s not like a work of art that’s mostly looked at but rarely touched. Or a book people have decided is worth preserving and placed under glass. That 70-year-old book has been taken out, stuffed in bags and backpacks, probably treated with less than the greatest care, maybe even taken on faraway journeys! and yet somehow every time it made it back to the shelf and it’s still there, still intact, mixed in with all the young whippersnapper books.  There’s an aura about books like that. You wish they could talk, tell you where they’ve been, who they’ve been with. And at the same time you can’t help wondering how much longer that experience will exist—all the books have been relegated to movable shelves in the basement.

[/digression]

Oh, wait. One more thing about the original version. It had two additional appendixes that aren’t included in the reprint: “How to Market Your Play” and “Long Runs on Broadway.” It’s obvious why these weren’t included, yet they did add a certain je ne sais quoi to the book.

Moving along! This isn’t the kind of book you just read straight through. It’s more of a chapter here and there kind of book, one that will be great to dip back into now and again, when I need help with a sticky plot problem.

Egri’s key concept is the premise. This is your story’s purpose, theme, goal, thesis, central idea, what have you. It’s a succinct statement, usually one line, that encapsulates the point you’re making. For example, the premise of Romeo and Juliet, according to Egri, is: “great love defies even death.” What Egri argues is that your story should prove your premise.

This book was  amazing because it solved My Biggest Problem. I was so excited, I immediately posted about at TC:

Posted: Fri Oct 28, 2011 10:52 am    Post subject: Re: My Biggest Problem

I debated over which thread to put this in (daily writing thread? this month’s AB thread? Art of Creative Writing thread?), but I was pretty sure I’d mentioned My Biggest Problem with Novel Writing somewhere here before, and so I searched for that and aha!

Beaver wrote:
Thought the 2nd: I have a similar problem (I think) with novels wherein I cycle through various ideas for endings, but can never settle on one b/c each choice feels too arbitrary. (am I forcing it? is this the ‘right’ ending?)

Well, thanks to Bellman, I’ve been reading The Art of Dramatic Writing and in one sentence (one! sentence!) on page 106 Lajos Egri has solved My Biggest Problem:

“The premise is a tyrant who permits you to go only one way — the way of absolute proof.”

Problem. Slayed. cough cough thud

So, now that My Biggest Problem has been solved, I need to work on my premises! Thanks, Bellman Smile

If the book offered nothing else, that would be enough. But there’s more! If you’re the kind of writer who has difficulty with plotting, this is the book for you.

9: Quiet

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Bought new (that’s new as in not-used and new as in new release) at The Book Warehouse. I wanted to read this as soon as I heard about it and then Bellman recommended it, so I was sold.

Watch The Power of Introverts video here.

Susan Cain is a former lawyer. Yes, yet another lawyer-turned-writer. They’re everywhere, I tell you. Did I ever mention my theory (developed at law school) that law students fall into three groups: the ones who are in it for the money/prestige, the ones who are in it because they want to change the world, and the ones who really want to be writers. Because it seemed like every time I turned around someone was whispering, “well, actually, I write. I’m working on a screenplay/romance novel/fill-in-the-blank.”

What was so good about this book was not that I had a sudden epiphany that I’m an introvert while reading it. Obviously I know I’m an introvert. What was so good was the argument that it is just as good to be an introvert as it is to be an extrovert, that introversion is not something that needs to be fixed.

Realizing that that’s how I’ve always been made to feel: like I’m broken. Realizing that the reason everything is so hard, why some things never get any easier regardless of how many times I do them, is because those situations force me to be fake extroverted. Realizing that not everyone is exhausted by being “on.”

It explains why I had such an aversion to Dale Carnegie and that How to Win Friends and Influence People book. He epitomizes the ‘extrovert ideal.’ (That thing where a person you’ve just met uses your name in every sentence? Ahhhhh! That is the worst. Never do this to me. I will insta-hate you.)

She unpacks the difference between introversion (preference for environments that are not overstimulating) and shyness (fear of social disapproval). You can be introverted and shy, but you can also be introverted and not-shy (ditto with extroversion).

The framing of introversion as a preference for lower stimulation environments (rather than a dislike of being around people) is helpful. It’s not the people per se, it’s that too much is going on when there are a lot of people around. It explains why I prefer to run without music, for example, when most people (going by what I’ve read on running forums anyway) claim they’d die of boredom without music.

A lot of hay is made about the difficulty introverts have with public speaking. I’ve never had a real problem with public speaking where said speech is something pre-planned (I wanted to be an actor when I was a teenager). What makes me an introvert is how I feel afterward (exhausted, need to recharge). This explains, I think, why I was fine with doing the mandatory public speaking we had to do in English class, but was never interested in pursuing it further.

What makes me super-stressed are situations where I’m expected to speak without having a chance to think about it. Talking on the phone. Q+A sessions. Interviews. Making an off-the-cuff speech. There’s a example that deals with someone like that (Esther in chapter 5). It goes back to being overstimulated (overwhelmed), which interferes with attention and memory (a-ha!).

Quiet helped me to make connections between various traits I hadn’t thought of as being connected to introversion. Like a dislike of multitasking and a desire to avoid conflict. I kept having these “oh, so that’s why I like/dislike that” or “oh, so that’s why X is easy and Y is hard” moments. Better late than never. I feel like more attention should be paid to this when people are choosing careers. Because, sure an introvert can act extroverted, but who wants to be exhausted and depleted all the time? Seriously: I wonder how many people are unhappy for the basic reason that they’re an introvert doing an extrovert job or vice versa?

8: A Little Stranger

A Little StrangerA Little Stranger by Kate Pullinger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This one’s from The Book Shop in Penticton, July 2010.

Books from The Book Shop

I discovered Kate Pullinger when I was researching a paper. She has this digital novel, Inanimate Alice, which is super-cool and when you have some time, you should check it out (especially if you’re a teacher—it’s turned into a teaching resource for digital literacy/humanities). It’s in episodes, so you don’t need to “read” it all at once. There are four episodes complete now, but eventually there will be 10.

It turns out that Kate Pullinger also writes traditional novels. And, though she’s lived in the UK since her 20s, she’s actually from BC. Which brings me to A Little Stranger.

Fran and Nick live in London. Fran is Canadian; she met Nick at school when her family moved to England temporarily and when the rest of the family went back to Canada, she stayed. The stranger of the title is Louis, Fran and Nick’s baby son. After Louis is born, “they” (mostly Nick) decide Fran can’t work because they can’t afford childcare. Eventually she can’t take being stuck at home with the baby anymore and she snaps. She gets on a plane and flies to Las Vegas.

In Vegas, she meets Leslie, a real estate agent from Vancouver. Leslie is a high-roller who spends her vacations in Vegas gambling to numb her own pain. Leslie lets Fran, who has no money on her, stay in her room, which yes, is an unlikely real-life scenario, but this is fiction. Roll with it. When Leslie goes home, Fran goes with her. Vancouver is—or was—Fran’s home, too. It’s where her family is. Her sister, her dad, and her mom (Ireni). Each of them living in their own world, Ireni especially.

An important part of the story is Ireni’s backstory, her childhood growing up Doukhobor in the Kootenays. This is the area where Pullinger grew up, so she brings her familiarity with the region to the story. Once you learn more about Ireni, Fran’s conflictedness about motherhood becomes understandable. And I promise you Leslie’s story fits into the overall narrative as well.

I loved this book. I expect it might be a bit controversial because of the subject matter—“bad” mothers—but that’s what fiction is for, right? to explore the ‘what if’s, the things we think about, but don’t actually do.

7: The King of Torts

The King of TortsThe King of Torts by John Grisham

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

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Library book sale find, April 2012. It was 75 cents. I overpaid.

VPL Spring Book Sale

This book was outrageously terrible. That is all.

Oh, you want more?

Well, if you enjoy reading one-star reviews you’ll probably see comments to the effect that it was a bait-and-switch. The first three chapters or so were heading in one direction and then whoosh into the terribleness that was the rest of the book.

Basically it turns into a treatise on (mass) tort law. First, if you can’t make torts interesting, you fail! I mean, torts! That’s all the weird, wacky stuff. So, JG: #tortlawfail. Specifically, this “story” is about mass torts, you know, the kind of cases you see advertised on late night TV: “Did you take XYZ Drug?! You could be eligible for compensation! Call ABC Law Firm NOW!”

Our hero starts out as a public defender, with a gf who’s going to dump him, because he’s poor. Then he meets a Mysterious Stranger who gives him a tip and he heads out on his own, taking half his co-workers with him, and sets up shop as, well, Call ABC Law Firm NOW! So they pull in all these “clients” (i.e. the people who call their 800 number) get them a crappy settlement, take their cut and whoosh insta-riches!

In the beginning, our intrepid hero scoffs at the other mass tort lawyers’ excesses — jets, yachts, women, you know, the usual, blargh — but, of course, (blink and you’ll miss the transition), he’s soon indulging in his own excesses, despite the fact that his whole deal is based on this MYSTERIOUS STRANGER who gave him this ethically questionable tip. HELLO.

He goes blithely along as if that’s never going to come back to haunt him (right) until you know, it does. Obvs. Like duh. And all comes crashing down and he’s poor again. His friends/co-workers are all ok, because they were smart and cashed out asap. But he did not. Because our intrepid hero, he does not know how to read the writing on the wall.

Oh my god this book is so dumb.

Do not read.

The End.

6: Haters

HatersHaters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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An actual remainder table book. I picked it up because I remember her from the Evil Empire’s writing class back in the day (she was alisavr). I’m not sure why exactly I remember her (and her username!) when most of those people have vanished from my memory; she wasn’t involved in the foofaraw (aside: that isn’t spelled at all like I guessed it was). I think she was a just a presence in the chats.  And well, there was that resignation letter. I think that stuck in my mind. Anyhoo.

Since 2003, Valdes (since she published this she’s dropped the Rodriguez) has published seven novels, with an eighth forthcoming next year. Haters, published in 2006, was her fourth.

Haters is a young adult novel. Valdes’s  writing is fine, if a little heavy on the brand-name dropping, and there are lots of good elements here, but the story didn’t completely come together for me.

The core plot is your standard fish-out-of-water scenario: the story opens with 16-year-old Paski and her dad moving from New Mexico to California for his work. Paski’s main interest is bike riding (refreshingly uncliched).

One of the problems I had was with where the story started. There were a few chapters at the beginning with Paski in New Mexico before the move. I guess this was meant to show her “before” life, but there was a lot of detail about her grandma and her bffs and the boy she liked—enough that I kept waiting for this info to come back into play later in the story, but it mostly didn’t. So basically the opening felt like a warm-up to the story and I think a good editor would have lopped it off, said ‘your story starts here’ (on the road, arriving at the new home), and anything from the opening that was essential could be added in flashbacks.

The “omg my dad is so embarrassing” routine that was a constant thread throughout the book felt strained/forced. A little of this is fine—of course, all teenagers find their parents embarrassing—but there are degrees of embarrassing and Paski’s dad is not a schlumpy dork who wears polyester floods and a pocket protector and hasn’t updated his music collection in twenty years. He’s a comic book artist whose series has been optioned for a movie—hence the move to LA. He’s also 38 years old. And again, I realize 38 seems ‘old’ to a 16-year-old, but there’s kinda-sorta-old and there’s old-old, and yes! teenagers can tell the difference. My parents were a year or two older than that when I was that age and I distinctly remember friends commenting on my ‘young’ parents. And they weren’t the originators of a popular comic book series. I feel like it would have worked better to roll with her dad being geeky-cool (which he clearly is) rather than handling it like he’s an accountant or something.

My overall impression was that Valdes was trying to cram too many tropes into one story. It’s a mean girls story (the ‘haters’ of the title) and it’s also a paranormal. Oh, didn’t I mention? Yes, Paski’s psychic. She has premonitions. Was this necessary? Or was it just done to capitalize on the fact that everything’s paranormal these days? So, there’s a psychic sub-plot with the next-door neighbors, as well as the requisite one at school. There’s also the conflict with her dad over moving (and him being soooo embarrassing). There’s also a motocross racing plot. And, of course, the hottest boy in school who just happens to be dating the meanest girl in school plot. Because no one ever falls in lust with the second-hottest boy in school. 🙄

5: Ayiti

AyitiAyiti by Roxane Gay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

maybe even 4.5?

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I ordered this one from Amazon:

New Books

I’ve been a Roxane (with one N!) Gay fan ever since I discovered her. She goes to see All the Movies and writes the most amazing posts about them. Ayiti is her first book.

“Ayiti” is the pronunciation of Haiti in Haitian Creole. So these are stories of and about Haiti, Haitians, and the Haitian diaspora. Roxane’s parents immigrated from Haiti (to the US) and they still spend part of their time there.

Ayiti is a collection of short fiction and nonfiction. Some of the stories are flash length, some longer. At just over 100 pages, it isn’t a long book, but it is a powerful one. Her writing style is at once matter-of-fact and layered with sensory detail. It has a deceptively simple look, I think. There’s so much buried in it once you start digging.

My mother always told me: back away slowly from crazy people; they are everywhere.

“Voodoo Child” (21)

Ha!

The story I thought was the standout of the collection was “Things I Know About Fairy Tales,” about a woman who is kidnapped for ransom. I think this was the favorite of a lot of readers and is the one she’s expanding into a novel. Rather than telling you how strong this story is, I will show you:

What you cannot possibly know about kidnapping until it happens to you is the sheer boredom of being kept mostly alone, in a small, stifling room. You start to welcome the occasional interruption that comes with a meal or a bottle of water or a drunken captor climbing atop you to transact some pleasure against your will. You hate yourself for it, but you crave the stranger’s unwanted touch because the fight left in you is a reminder that you haven’t been broken. You haven’t been broken.

“Things I Know About Fairy Tales” (38)

I could keep picking out bits that I liked, but let’s just say: it’s all good. This is an intense book. Perhaps it’s good that it’s short because you can only hold your breath for so long.

For accompanying musical atmosphere, check out Roxane’s Book Notes at Largehearted Boy.

*

P.S. In “All Things Being Relative” she compares Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with Haiti. Which reminded me, one of the reasons I first noticed her, even before I’d read much of her writing, was that she went to Michigan Tech. Back whenever that was, she was still a doctoral student there. Michigan Tech is my dad’s alma mater. When I was a kid, he’d get these alumni  mailouts, advertising their youth summer programs. One of them was a writing camp. Oh, how I wanted to go to that. I was always way too chicken to ask, though I honestly don’t know what answer I was more afraid of: yes or no. Both, maybe. Anyway, whenever she mentions the Upper Peninsula, it always reminds me that if different roads had been taken, that’s where I might have ended up.

4: High Fidelity

High FidelityHigh Fidelity by Nick Hornby

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I bought this at The Book Warehouse, when I thought it was going out of business. (But then it got saved!) Book Warehouse is mainly an overstock/remainder store. This was in the remainder bins at the front, and it had kind of a cool re-issue cover. I’d never read it, and I thought, hey, I really should read that, having seen the movie umpteen times.

Books

I took it with me to Calgary and read it on the plane / while waiting at the airport.

And… well, it was pretty good. I gave it a solid 3 stars at Goodreads. But it felt a little, I don’t know, been there, done that? Top 5 lists! Obsessions with pop culture minutiae. Mixtapes! That’s the internet! (Well, playlists now. Not quite the investment of love a mixtape was, but still.)

I know, I know, the book came first. It was published in 1995. But I didn’t read it first. So even though I knew the book was the trendsetter, not the imitator, it was hard to shake that tired feeling. And yes, I know I’m being unreasonable.

Also, I couldn’t not picture Rob as John Cusack, and Barry as Jack Black. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

And then there’s The Weird Thing. In the book, Rob is Rob Fleming. In the movie, Rob is Rob Gordon. Why? Why would the movie producers change his name from one ubiquitous Irish/Scottish name to another? Specifically, why would they change it from Fleming to Gordon? Bizarre. If anyone knows the answer to this, I really want to know. I found this NYT review from 2000 and all it says is:

IN the transition from novel to film, Rob, the hero of ”High Fidelity” — Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel, Stephen Frears’s new film — undergoes some minor transformations: he ceases being British and becomes American, relocates from London to Chicago and sees his last name change from Fleming to Gordon. The first two changes were no doubt to accommodate the casting of the Chicago native John Cusack; the last you can speculate about on your own.

Yes, please. Speculate away.

In any case, in a movie vs. book death match, book wins because obviously!

So anyway, the book starts with Rob depressed because his girlfriend Laura has dumped him (she’s been hooking up with their former upstairs neighbor Ian aka Ray) and that I could roll with, but…

[spoiler after the jump] Continue reading

2: The Beauty of Different

The Beauty of DifferentThe Beauty of Different by Karen Walrond

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I’ve been reading Karen Walrond’s blog, Chookooloonks, for a long time. If I remember correctly, I found it via BlogHer when she was writing for them and I was researching blogs. I searched my archives and this was the earliest post I found that mentions her. (It’s a long post; the quote’s at the very bottom.) And, aha! that quote is from BlogHer, not Chookooloonks, so there you go.

Anyway, no remainder table this time around. I found myself with an Amazon gift certificate so I decided to use it to pick up a few of the books by writers whose blogs I read and whose books I haven’t been able to find locally. (I wrote about this topic a couple years ago.)

New Books

So, The Beauty of Different. It’s a coffee table book, so let’s talk about the format first. It’s a squarish hardcover with a dust jacket. The size is nice—big enough to show off the photographs, but small enough to hold in your lap. And the quality is good–thick pages, with a shiny-matte finish. Hmm, that sounds like an oxymoron, but nope. Not glossy (that would show fingerprints) and not rough-matte (textured). Shiny-matte. The photographs are clear and bright and the typeface is easy to read. There’s more than the usual amount of text for this type of book, so that’s important.

Onto the content. Like I said, I’ve been reading Chookooloonks for a long time, so I knew what to expect. If you want negativity, you’ve come to the wrong place. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. No, really. Karen has addressed this issue, noting that while her life isn’t perfect, on her blog (etc.) she chooses to focus on good things. I understand this. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’ve come to realize that when I’m feeling sad/angry/[insert negative emotion here], doing something nice for someone or being grateful for something makes me feel hella better than stomping around ranting about whatever’s pissed me off. Anger is overrated. (Which is not to say you should bottle it up but, you know, let it out, then move on.)

/digression

Chookooloonks showcases a wide range of photographs: nature (flowers and leaves and rocks and things), places/travel, still-lifes (shots at home, at cafes, etc.), people (in action), portraits (self and otherwise). One of her ongoing projects is to photograph 1000 faces. These are very up-close (face only) portrait shots. Many of the photographs in the book are this type of photograph. In the book format, many of the faces are larger than life-size.

I enjoy the variety of the photography on her blog and would’ve liked to see that reflected more in the book. The up-close portraits are not my favorite. This is not a comment on the quality; they’re lovely photographs. But– well, there are a couple things. With so many portraits, it’s a bit like looking at someone else’s photo album—if people kept albums of 8×10 head shots. I do understand that the portraits fit with the book’s theme, but I prefer the shots that are pulled back a bit, that show a bit more of the person and their surroundings and aren’t just FACE! While I think the just-face shots are probably very meaningful for readers who know the individuals, pulling back a bit lets those of us who don’t in.

For example, one of the extended profiles is of Patrick (on page 54ff.). His portrait shot is pulled back a bit further than most, showing his neck and shoulders and some trees and sky in the background. I think this was probably done to show his collar (he’s a priest), but this photograph seems more approachable to me than some of the others because his face doesn’t take up the entire shot. But even better are the additional shots that accompany his profile: an action shot of him boxing, a close-up of his hands in boxing gloves, and a shot of the items on his desk (I assume). There is more of a story in these photographs than the just-face shots and I think that’s why I like them better. They give me more reason to linger.

Despite the format and number of photographs, I think the focus of The Beauty of Different is really the text. The book is divided into eight chapters, each focusing on a different quality (individuality, spirituality, imperfection, anxiety, heartbreak, language, adventure, agelessness). Each chapter includes an introductory personal essay, several portraits of different people (each with a quote starting “I’m different because…”), and an extended profile of one person that takes the form of an interview/conversation. There are also a few briefer ruminations at the end of each chapter.

On p. 118, there’s a list (Eight Things I’m Afraid of, but Other People Probably Aren’t). Number 2 is clowns—because they’re horrifying. Indeed. Number 7 is geese. Because one tried to attack her car. I can best that: I was actually attacked by geese and had to beat them off with a magazine. I managed to escape to the car, but not before one bit me. So yeah. Geese = evil. I also liked the bartender-generated list of things to do on a Really Bad Day (p. 150), because it sounds like a list I’d make. The book is like that. It’s like… an affirmation rather than a revelation.

3: Silver Sparrow

Silver SparrowSilver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This was one of the books I ordered from Amazon:

New Books

(You’ll see I also bought Leaving Atlanta, her first novel. I’ve been saving that one.)

I was eager to read this (too eager to wait for it show up in my usual haunts) because I followed its entire progress from tentative first drafts to book tour on Tayari’s blog. I poked through her archives to see if I could find where she first mentions it. I think this is it:

Today, I sat down to work on my new novel after three weeks on the road. This novel feel alive within me. I think about it when I lie down at night. I have to force myself to sleep and the only way I can do that is to remind myself that I have to sleep to do any decent writing in the morning. So, this is good. I don’t quite know what to do with myself when I am not working on a project.

That was May 29, 2005. Silver Sparrow was published May 24, 2011.

Six years.

Let’s just pause for a moment and let that sink in.

Do you find it disheartening? I don’t. Everyone’s so impatient these days sometimes I think we’ve forgotten how long it can take to do good work.

Silver Sparrow was originally called The Bigamist’s Daughters. Later it was called The Silver Girl. I can’t remember why the first change was made, but the second one was a last-minute change because another book called Silver Girl was due to launch around the same time. So it was a marketing decision by her publisher. Initially, she was unhappy about this (who wouldn’t be?) but she ended up being happier with the final title. So you never know! It’s good to be flexible.

The premise is that one man marries two different women. He doesn’t do it for any sort of nefarious reason; it’s more like he feels it’s the right thing to do (vs. the usual alternatives). He has one daughter with each wife, and the girls are basically the same age—born a few months apart. His first wife and daughter (Chaurisse) know nothing about his second family. His second wife and daughter (Dana Lynn) do know about his first family. In the beginning, the sisters don’t know each other, but that changes as the story progresses.

Aside: I kept going Day-na? Dan-ah? throughout, but in this conversation she has with Judy Blume, I believe she says Day-na.

The first part of the book is told from Dana’s pov; the second part from Chaurisse’s pov. This switch really shakes you out of your comfort zone and is very effective in this particular story. Just when you’re really comfortable with Dana and her perspective on the situation, you’re asked to identify instead with Chaurisse, and think about how she feels about it.

The main thing about this book is that everyone is shown with empathy. Everyone is flawed, but no one is demonized, portrayed as the “bad guy.” It’s more about how people get caught up in circumstances and how they deal with it. I liked that she didn’t try to tie everything up neatly or make everything right at the end. She’s a real storyteller, I think.

On a more trivial note, I really love that the Dana/Chaurisse parts of the book are set in the eighties. It’s fun seeing what parts of that eighties high school experience were universal. I’ve been scooped on the appearance of electric blue liquid eyeliner (I had a friend I literally never saw without hers from 7th grade—when I first met her—until the morning after our grad party. I almost didn’t recognize her.) and feathered roach clips (but did they get them from the carnies at the fall fair?). Still going to use that detail, though. In my high school, the store chicks always wore them clipped to their store-chick purses. Classic.

I used to quote from Tayari’s blog all the time. She hasn’t been blogging as much recently, which I understand, she’s only doing like a million different things and something has to give, but I miss it. On the bright side, I still have Leaving Atlanta to read.

By the way, the book she was on the road publicizing when she started Silver Sparrow was The Untelling, which I wrote about here.