Saturday, August 22, 2009

Time to Read!

One of my luxuries during this last cruise was indulging myself by reading whatever caught my eye. When your next destination is 5-10 hours away, and your auto pilot is safely set, you have lots of time to enjoy the scenery, take your turn behind the helm - or read.

Here's the log....

Snuff, by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club. The jacket says, "... masterful job of putting all our excesses, phobias and neuroses on full display." Also, a behind-the-scenes look at shooting a porn film. Here is a quick plot synopsis: An aging adult film star, Cassie intends to cap her career by breaking the world record for serial fornication by having sex with 600 men on camera - one of whom may want to kill her. It's a fast read. I finished it. Not sure if I can say this one broadened my horizons, but I can say with confidence I'm likely not the target demographic.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. I can see why this won the Pulitzer... what an amazing work of art. In each story of the collection, Olive K. makes an appearance, sometimes as a central character, sometimes only on the periphery. I started dog-earing the pages that had moving passages and noticed I was turning the novel into a piece of origami. Many of the stories moved me to tears, they were so beautifully rendered. Her descriptions of the landscape are deft; the characters' flaws are drawn with love and understanding; the way she weaves the stories together is almost transcendent.

Strout has more than met her goal:

I hope my readers feel a sense of awe at the quality of human
endurance, at the endurance of love in the face of a variety of difficulties;
that the quotidian life is not always easy, and is something worthy of
respect. I would also hope that readers receive a larger understanding, or
a different understanding, of what it means to be human, than they might have had before. We suffer from being quick to judge, quick to make excuses for ourselves and others, and I would like the reader to feel that we are all, more or less, in a similar state as we love and disappoint one another, and that we try, most of us, as best we can, and that to fail and succeed is what we do.

Art and Architecture of the Louvre helped pass the time on a day when I'd had my fill of text. The book walks through the collections wing by wing and has tons of photos of the many galleries. Snippets of text provide interesting backstory - for example, in his memoir The Moveable Feast, Hemmingway recounts how he took F. Scott Fitzgerald to the Louvre exhibitions of antiquities because his friend was feeling insecure about the size of his manhood. Apparently Fitzgerald didn't leave the exhibition feeling self-assured.

Too Close to the Falls (Catherine Gildiner). This memoir is a collection of short stories, told through the eyes of a young girl growing up between the ages of 4-15. No 'light weight' themes here - sex, family dynamics, religion, double-standards, racism, and fame are all explored with the wonder of someone discovering them for the first time. An extremely precocious child, she doesn't quite seem to neatly 'fit in' and doesn't seem to want to, either. There is some humour in the child's heroic struggles with ego, as she wrestles with trying to find her place in the small town and the larger world. The title story was my favourite, with a young Jesuit priest trying to seduce a girl that has not quite come of age.

I., (Stephen Dixon). This is also autobiographical in nature and absolutely unflinching. This collection includes stream-of-consciousness accounts of what it is like to be the main care-giver for a spouse with a horribly degenerative disease. Of cleaning up shit on the floor, maneuvering during sex, and uncontrollable bouts of anger. The stories are almost snapshots of the monkey mind in a life meditation.

Warmed by Love (poetry by Leonard Nimoy) Some of these poems were incredibly bad and some were surprising good. I had entirely forgotten the derision he received when this book was first published but it all came back when I picked up the hardcover at the marina. I was going to bring it with me but left it behind - too bad, now I can't locate the excerpt I'm after which was howlingly bad. His editor didn't do him any favours. Nimoy is also a film director (Three Men and a Baby, 2 Star Trek movies) and a photographer.

She May Not Leave (Fay Weldon). I've always liked her novels, some favourites include The Cloning of Joanna May and The Life and Loves of a She Devil. Weldon's voice is witty and acerbic, her stories satirical. She definitely writes for a female audience but I'm not sure I would categorize her as "chic lit", because she is a tad too subversive. In a Weldon novel men may be the catalysts in women's lives but they are often only temporary distractions on the way to self-fulfillment. Summed up like that she sounds a bit anti-male, but not really... She just shifts the fulcrum of power. The narrator in this particular tale is an engaging 70 year-old woman who is justifiably concerned about the lengths her niece will go to retain the au pair.

Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn (Kris Radish). Great opening scene - the narrator walks in on her husband of twenty-seven years making love to another woman. In her bed. All she can do is watch. Quietly, secretly, watch. The shock is the beginning of a journey of self-discovery that includes a trip to the jungle in the Yucatan (one of my favourite places!). Parts of this book are transparently, cringingly chick-lit - but the author's voice makes it engaging. Kris Radish has a way of capturing the essence of a character with a single phrase, like, "She is right down the middle on the right brain - left brain scale and when she pauses like this this I know it is because she cannot decide if she should follow her heart or go work up a pie chart to see what to do next."

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