Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Girls

I might need to add this book to my top ten list. It's so hard to commit! But after the first sentence, I was already hooked.

The Girls is a novel about the world's oldest surviving craniopagus (joined at the head) twins. When we meet them, they are 29 years old and hoping to make it to 30. Although the book is fiction, it absolutely reads like it could be true. Lori Lansens has a wonderful, poetic style that envelops the reader instantly and makes you want to believe that Rose and Ruby are real.

Rose and Ruby were born in the midst of a tornado and abandoned by their 19 year old mother. The nurse that helped deliver them, Lovey, immediately falls in love with the twins and convinces her husband Stosh to adopt them. The book's chapters toggle between the writing of Rose, whose idea it is to create her autobiography, and Ruby, who is persuaded to add her thoughts to the book as well. While Rose is the main character, she tells her tale in a dry, matter-of-fact way. Very believable. Ruby on the other hand is direct and hilarious. On a trip to Uncle Stosh's homeland of Slovakia (once adopted, the girls call their new parents "aunt" and "uncle" because they are clearly too old to be birth parents.) the family finds themselves in a rather musty, worn-out hotel room. Ruby, who has many intestinal problems, gets extremely carsick, and has an overall sensitive system, refuses to fall asleep because of how bad the room smells.

"I know, Ruby, just close your eyes."
"It really reeks."
"Don't be a baby."
"I'm not."
"Go to sleep, Ruby."
"But it smells like a person's ass."

Totally something I would say. Lines like this is what made the book so endearing and heartfelt. Each girl is indeed her own person with distinct feelings, interests and personalities. There is no happy ending to the story, but the way it's told, you wouldn't want one. It would have only taken away from the truth. This was about a hundred times better for a beach read and probably the fastest I have ever read a book!

Then We Came To The End

I really had high hopes for this book. Really. I had heard great things about it; especially how funny it was. The story, as told by Joshua Ferris, is about an ad agency in Chicago that has fallen on hard times and is experiencing layoffs and bad employee morale. I can relate. Now make it funny. Well, for me, it didn't happen. However, the web site for the book is outstanding. Check it out.

First let me admit that I didn't finish the book. I've gotten through 260 of its 385 pages and I couldn't even tough it out to the end. The main reason though is that I was reading this while on vacation at an outstanding resort in Mexico and the LAST thing I wanted to do while relaxing was read about topics that reminded me of work. The second reason I couldn't commit was that there were so many characters and so much jumping around from one to the other that I could never fully invest or care about any of them. Finally at about the halfway point I thought it was really going to start focusing on Lynn, the creative director. A whole chapter was actually devoted to her story of breast cancer. OK, here I go, I can start caring. But once that chapter was finished, it was back to its scattered, unorganized ways. The author kept using "we" as the pronoun, but I could never figure out who the person was speaking. The point of view would change as he talked about different characters, but there was always the phantom "we" I couldn't get past. I just didn't care.

I did laugh at loud at one sentence because it describes the agency I work for to a T: "The dress code of any creative department will always be casual; they may reserve the right to take our jobs away, but never our Hawaiian shirts, our jean jackets, our flip-flops."

The more I read, the more I try to not be so loyal to a book that isn't cutting it. I have so many great books on my list that I can't be tied down to one that is like homework to read. I might go back and finish the last third of Then We Came To The End, but it's not going to be in the near future.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Coast of Akron

This one has been on my list for years, primarily because Akron, Ohio is one of the main characters. Don't let the fact that it took me ages to read it take away from what a great book this really was. Sometimes silly things get in the way of what's most pleasurable.

The Coast of Akron, the first novel by Adrienne Miller, is a tale of an eccentric family's complete meltdown. Lowell Haven is a egotistical, famous artist who only paints self-portraits. His daughter, Merit, is married to an obsessive-compulsive engineer but is herself extremely promiscuous. The ways in which she justifies her trysts is quite amusing. Jenny, Lowell's ex-wife, is on the verge of a breakdown and rightly so. Which brings in Fergus, Lowell's gay lover, who is filthy rich and lives in a 65-room Tudor mansion. I had the tendency to think the author borrowed a few rooms and descriptions about the house from one of my favorite places, Stan Hywet Hall. (side note: If you've never been there, don't pass go. Go directly to the most fabulous house in northeast Ohio.)

The story alternates between Merit and Fergus' present-day perspective and entries from Jenny's diary from the 1970s. Each voice lends a terrific perspective and continually gets funnier and more absurd. The general plot follows Fergus as he plans an elaborate party with the intention of unveiling the secret that Jenny hides and also to discover why Lowell mysteriously stopped painting five years earlier.

I'd definitely consider this one a "beach read" because it was so easy to turn the pages and I was laughing and intrigued the whole time. I'm glad I finally got around to it!

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Letter Chronicles

A friend of mine had asked me to read this blog a while back because it contained a great story. "The Anonymous Guy's" entries are chapters of his novel, The Letter Chronicles, and what a clever way for undiscovered authors to get experience and hopefully recognition for their work. He even has earlier entries with other pieces of writing, though I haven't read any of the older posts.

However, this is not my favorite style of fiction. The story is of a young boy, Gordie, who is receiving letters from the future written by his dead grandfather. Each chapter tries to get the reader more scared and anxious about what is to come next, but to be honest, even though I primarily read fiction, this kind of tale is too contrived. I instantly don't believe what I know could not happen in real life and can't seem to get past that fact and just enjoy the book.

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a chance! I thought it was important to blog about The Letter Chronicles since it was something that I did read like a book, and it's quite possible that you may disagree with me. One word of warning: the book is not finished. The author stopped at chapter 11 last June and said that it could be his last entry for a while. It only takes about an hour to read though, so give it a shot if you want to experience a new way to read a novel.