Reviews

The Art of Memoir

Mary Karr is known for her series of memoirs about her difficult childhood. In this new book about how to write a memoir, she quotes from some of the best works in the genre including McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, and Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by a former student of hers, Cheryl Strayed.

What exactly is a memoir? The name is very descriptive. It’s a work based on memory. But it’s not the same as an autobiography for it concentrates on a specific period of life and is centered by a theme. For instance, Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit chronicles a teenager’s adoption into a strict fundamentalist family, her adopted mom’s mistreatment of her, and her eventual rebellion from this way of life. It’s a memoir about a young woman discovering her true self.

Karr has plenty of what she considers the prime ingredient for a memoir—voice. She defines voice as “not just a manner of talking, It’s an operative mindset and way of perceiving…” You could describe Karr’s voice as sassy, informal, sometimes even, badass.

I Read Banned Books

This week (Sept 27th - Oct 3rd) is Banned Books Week. A banned or challenged book is one that has come under fire for various reasons. Sometimes libraries are asked to move a book to a different section (out of a teen section for example), to place a warning sticker on books considered "inappropriate," or they might be asked to remove a book from the library completely. The American Library Association keeps track of these attempts to ban/challenge books, here is a list of the top most challenged titles from 2014. The number one most challenged book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, also just happens to be one of my favorite books.

It's the story of Junior, a talented cartoonist, leaves his local school for better opportunites at a new school. However, Junior lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation so in leaving his reservation school he's also leaving his tribe for an all white school, "where the only other Indian is the school mascot." Junior has trouble fitting in at his new school and even more trouble at home on the reservation where his friends and family view his transfer as a betrayal.

Junior's life is made more complicated by physical limitations and family obligations. His story is deeply affecting and will make readers laugh and ugly cry. Sherman Alexie's writing is completely engrossing. Seriously, you won't be able to get enough, and why should you, he has written tons of amazing books!

This week, think about the books you've read that have really meant something to you. The books that stayed with you and helped shape the person you've become. I bet at least one of them is on the banned books lists. Join me! #IStandWithTheBanned!

Some Luck

Before this century, farming was a way of life for many Americans. In the 1920s, 20% of our workforce labored on farms. Now it is less than 2%.  This novel, the first of a trilogy, covers the lives of an extended agricultural family, the Langdons, from the 1920s to the 1950s.

In 1920 Walter Langdon, a young 25-year-old walks the land of his new farm. His father thought he didn’t need to start on his own yet, but Walter disagreed. He had a wife after all--the beautiful and practical, Rosanna--and now a six-month-old son, the treasured Frank. As the first grandchild in the family, he receives tons of love and praise.

The novel covers a cycle of births, deaths, marriages, and children coming of age for two generations. The pace is slow, the characterization, deep, and you feel that you are really experiencing life as it was lived on an Iowa farm.

Prestigious Man Booker Prize Announces Short List

It's that time of year again when the Man Booker Prize whittles its choices down to a manageable six. The Man Booker Award, begun in 1969, is one of the most prestigious literary awards.

It was formerly limited to writers from the UK and Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe. In a move many British writers recented, last year it was opened to Americans for the first time. Many Brits felt that the Yankees would take over it.

This year two U.S. authors have been short-listed: Anne Tyler and Hanya Yanagihara.

Anne Tyler known for her quirky characters, humor, and emphasis on family and travel has written twenty novels and won many awards. On the other hand, this is Hanya Yanagilhara's second novel. Hanya is of Hawaiian ancestry. Her novel tells the story of four college friends through middle age.

Deep Lane

I started this morning reading poetry, and couldn’t have found a better book of contemporary American poems than Mark Doty’s Deep Lane. He writes about memory, love, and human connections. Masterfully, he encases most of these themes in strikingly beautiful nature poems.

How gifted Doty is describing things as ordinary as a deer in a backyard, when he writes ”a buck in velvet at the garden rim, / bronze lightly shagged, split thumbs / of antlers budding.”

He also celebrates humanity in everyday New York City: the three barbers he visited for ten years who suddenly disappeared, the one-armed man at the gym, his old friend, Dugan, who appears suddenly on 15th Street, “—why shouldn’t the dead / sport a little style?”

The Tusk That Did the Damage

This timely novel set in South India tells the story of contemporary ivory poaching from three perspectives a documentary filmmaker, a poacher, and from an elephant named Gravedigger.

A calf who watched his mother and other members of the elephant clan die brutally, Gravedigger grows up in captivity until he breaks his chains and slips into the forest. There he seldom shows mercy for humans.

Tania James succeeds in showing each of these beings as having complex needs. Even the poachers, two brother, named Jayan and Manu, aren’t presented as evil even though Jayan is jailed for killing 56 elephants, including a mother who waited and grieved for two days after her son died.

But this book is not all doom and gloom. The author describes the setting beautifully and captures the pressures and love shared by Jayan’s family.  His wife, Leela, an ex-prostitute is one of the strongest and most interesting characters.  After one elephant death, she asks her husband, “Why did you kill a god?”

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