This week we have some Pigs in a Pagoda, a Corn Maiden and some blood, some more blood along with some bones and butter, magical tales, terrifying women, jaw dropping, a Brat Pack sighting and some missing orphans.
Also please note that there is some passionate insistence going on. And not by me.
Let us begin!
And what is this week’s shocker? Barbara M. is not in Paris this week! “I’m reading Home is a Roof Over a Pig: An American Family's Journey in China by Aminta Arrington. It’s about the author’s move to a somewhat remote area in China to teach English and learn more about the Chinese people, culture and language. Adapting to a new and very different culture is difficult and each family member seems to approach and accept it in different ways. I’m especially interested in her observations on how the written language reflects the traditional culture. For example, the written character for home depicts a pig with a roof over its head because pigs were an important part of rural life and had free rein to wander in and out of the house. The writing is not very literary but the content is thought-provoking and I hope the rest of the book gives even more insight into the Chinese mindset.”
Miss Kiera is being very secretive this week and asks us to keep an open mind! “I am reading The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates. I'm getting into the Halloween spirit early this year! Oates does a fantastic job capturing different perspectives in these thrilling short stories. They are perfect reading for train commutes or a quick scare before bed! I'm also reading some guilty pleasure genre fiction: the 4th book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris (popularized by the TV series True Blood.) It's not the kind of book I want to be caught reading on the subway, so I'm doing the eBook on my iPad.... and I'm loving every minute of it! Don't judge.” Kiera, we love you too much to judge. We shall just look askance instead and scratch our heads.
Abby is looking at a meal time companion and finding her a bit hard to swallow.” Being a regular reader of chef memoirs I had meant to read Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton when it was released. Other books intervened but I have finally read it. It is a memoir written with great honesty and raw emotion. Gabrielle's upbringing in rural Pennsylvania was very challenging; she was essentially left to raise herself from the age of 11. Prior to her French gourmet mother leaving, she had developed an impressive passion for and knowledge of food. Hitting the Big Apple at age 16 during the early 80's, she was exposed to the drugs, sex, and rock & roll that was the standard of the time. Following legal troubles, it was food that gave her focus and allowed her to turn her life around. Now chef/owner of Prune she is at the top of her game, but has not lost her survivors edge. She is admittedly not an easy person to deal with and does involve herself in complicated, unsympathetic relationships. Despite her devastating family life, I was not able to muster much empathy for her. While I would like to eat in her restaurant, I don't believe I'd want to join her for a meal.”
Ann is reading In the Shadow of the Banyan Tree by Vaddey Ratnir and as always is finding the bright spot in a dark place. Please remember this is just how she is. She can’t help it. “This is a novel based on the author's life as a young child surviving the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the years between 1975 and 1979. Seven year old Raami has a wonderful life as the daughter of a prince. She lives with her parents, younger sister and grandmother the queen in a beautiful grand home. She is very close with her father who always spins magical tales for her which will help her survive these difficult years. Raami and her family's lives change radically when the regime kicks them out of their family compound, then relocates them a number of times to worse and worse conditions and into forced labor. There is much sadness and brutality in this book but it is also the story of a family's love and what that love can conquer.”
Frankly, John, aka The Warlock of Minecraft, has me very worried. He is spending some quality time with some quality kind of crazy. “I seem to have inadvertently found myself reading the second of two novels about women you should be very afraid of. Last week it was Gone Girl; this week it's Serena by Ron Rash. While the women in both novels are terrifying Serena, I think, is singular in her narcissism and cruelty. The husbands in both novels are not terribly sympathetic characters either. Serena takes place during the Great Depression at a logging community in the mountains just outside Asheville. As she and her husband "Pemberton", a Boston lumber baron, raze the forest to the ground, they leave quite a body count. This Lady MacBeth-meets-Appalachia thriller will definitely hold your attention.” Please remind me to introduce John to some nice girls who while they know their way around knives they tend to use them only for the making of a salad.
Stephanie is working on NW by Zadie Smith.” I grabbed it the day it came out because I can't resist a new book by Zadie. In this one, the intertwined stories of the childhoods and then adulthoods of four Londoners, her writing is as jaw-dropping as ever, with sentences that just stopped my reading eyes in their tracks. Though the story was not as compelling as those of other books she's written, the characterization is spot-on. She's a master at drifting between serious thoughtfulness and then a moment of pique or whimsy. Here's one of my favorite passages, in which she gives voice to a fear many of we lifelong readers have harbored: ‘She wanted to read things—could not resist wanting to read things—and reading was easily done, and relatively inexpensive. On the other hand, that she should receive any praise for such reflexive habits baffled the girl, for she knew herself to be fantastically stupid about many things. Wasn’t it possible that what others mistook for intelligence might in fact be only a sort of mutation of the will?’”
Jeanne is feeling, well, rather meh about this week’s read but in the end declares it worthy. “I read When it Happens to You: A Novel in Stories by Molly Ringwald. Yes that Molly Ringwald: the one from The Breakfast Club Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink! And I liked the novel, a lot. It reads very correctly (no typos, good sentences) like it was the result of a very good writing class. It is written in eight short stories with three characters that appear prominently or secondarily in all the stories. Greta and Phillip have a troubled marriage. The stories relate how they and their young daughter, Charlotte are coping with this. Other people in the stories are peripheral to the central issue, but have issues of their own. The characters are not very deep; the plot is not very thick, but stuff happens. The book has heart.”
I want it noted that this week it is I who is being made to read something. One of my favorite patrons, Sandy D. (her real name and yes we do have favorites and yes our love can be bought with chocolate) has been pushing The OrphanMaster by Jean Zimmerman into my hands every time she sees me. Well finely I had to succumb to her will. I loved Zimmerman’s Love Fiercely, so I am giving her fiction a shot. This historical thriller is set on the Island of Manhattan back when it was known as New Amsterdam. It would seem that the orphans of the island are going missing at an alarming rate. Is there a murderer afoot? So far I am really enjoying this look into 1663 New York.