Sunday, June 28, 2009

New Moon

What can I say about Stephenie Meyer's "New Moon"? It's wonderful. The "Twilight" series is about pure escapism, and it delivers. It is so easy to lose yourself in the story, it's magic. I found myself crying when Edward and all the Cullen family left Bella. Pathetic, I'm sure, but cry I did. 

My one criticism is that Bella is beginning to get on my nerves. She's the ultimate emo kid and it's frustrating. Bella spends too much of her life sulking and being miserable. Granted, her true love left her, but even when he comes back, she insists on finding ways to be miserable. Lighten up some Bella, you're a bit of a buzz kill.

But still, I can't get enough of the "Twilight" series. I can't wait to get my hands on "Eclipse."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Music Teacher

Typically I say it's easier to write about a book I hate than a book I like. I am now revoking that statement.

Yesterday I started reading "The Music Teacher" by Barbara Hall. I'm about halfway through it now, and I am in love with this book. It's like my literary soul mate. But it's going by too fast. It's one of those books that I just don't want to end.

The novel is about a shoulda, coulda, woulda musician, Pearl Swain, a violinist. She's been reduced to a music teacher, out of necessity, mostly. Which happens to so many musicians and which makes a bad music teacher, to be honest. Not a bad private teacher necessarily, but a bad music teacher in the school system, definitely. Students can tell when their teacher is a frustrated musician who had bigger ambitions than to be the high school band teacher, or the private violin teacher. And that, my friends, is why I do not want to be a teacher. In my eyes, to be a teacher is to give up on my own ambitions. And I'm not nearly ready to do that. But, somewhere in the back of my mind, I know that, down the road, I am probably destined to become a teacher. I have yet to decide if that's good or bad. But that's besides the point.

Pearl is a fantastic woman. She's really one of the boys at McCoy's music shop in LA. She is rough around the edges and unapologetic. She's sarcastic, on the verge of bitter, with a wonderfully dry, almost sadistic, honest sense of humor, that those who have been there (or somewhere close) can understand, and even commiserate. 

Some gems so far:
"'Music is the closest you will ever get to God. Some people need to have God explained to them through scripture and ritual. Others just go right to the source.'
That's why I cut down on drinking,"
But that is just exactly how I feel about music! It sounds so cheezy and inadequate and it's embarassing to say, because you know people who don't know can't possibly hope to know that feeling, but that's how it feels. And then, when you're not the critically-acclaimed musician you've dreamed and hoped to be, you apologize for and down play that sentiment. You write it off by explaining, I only say things like that when I've had too much to drink.

"A musician is used to that -- caring to an outrageous degree about something everyone else ignores."
It's so true. I can easily lose myself in thought or conversation about music, or literature, and quickly find that no one is listening or gives a shit anymore. They've stopped trying to even feign interest. Hilarious to see in print.

"The way I see it, the world is divided into two parts. People who do stuff, and people who mock the people who do stuff. I'd rather be a doer."
Sadly, I think I'm more the mocker type. That's probably why I want to be a critic. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't find success in what they have a passion for, criticize.

"'People like sitars,' Patrick tells me.
'But they're like guns,' I say. 'Nobody should get near one unless they know how to use it.'"
I adore this humor.

The brief exchange between Pearl and Franklin about women and men in LA being nothing more than girls and "girls in disguise," is wonderfully funny.

The descriptions of Pearl's passion for music are dead-on. Hall captures the inescapable passion and "moral obligations" of having talent and having a dream.

Barbara Hall's writing is nothing short of brilliant. She understands, beautifully, the "tragic infatuation" that is music for the musician. I simply cannot get enough of this book.

The Reading Group

I finished "The Reading Group" by Elizabeth Noble. My summer reading group (which refers to itself as a "book discussion" because it's more formal and run through the library I work at over the summer) chose that as the book for July, which is mildly ironic and kind of funny. I'm still processing how I feel about it. What I do know, is that the characters frustrated me.

The women are too bloody British! I often times think of the "make a cup of tea" cure-all as a stereotype and not typically true, but, since the author is British herself, I guess it is more truthful than I thought. 

What I was craving from this book was some emotional blow-outs. Susan and her estranged sister Margaret came close to emotional fisticuffs, even raised their voices to each other in public (at their mother's funeral, no less), but then it was all "stiff upper lip." They make tea and talk it out. There's no real resolution, just resignation. I suppose that's life, but I would rather live vicariously through some emotionally vocal woman.

And then there's Nicole. I so wanted Gavin to get what he deserved! Nicole wasn't about to let him have it. To be honest, I think she was stupid. Have a baby in hopes to make your sleezy husband stop sleeping around? Please. But, back to the break-up. She was painfully calm when she finally caught Gavin in the act (on vacation, which I find to be extra unfortunate). Part of me liked how she swallowed all her violent emotion so she could compartmentalize and do what she had to do. But what I wanted, was someone to haul off and slap Gavin across the face. Nicole is a bit weak though (as her history with Gavin has already proved), and she wouldn't be able to do it. I wanted her backbone Harriet to do it for her. Since Nicole married Gavin she's been itching to give it to him, and after Nicole finally got to the breaking point in her relationship with him, Harriet should have taken her opportunity.

But none of that. It's all very calm and dignified and tea-filled.

The book is a good read. Nothing Earth-shattering or life changing, but enjoyable enough. I like the book and recommend it if you're looking for a nice book to read.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

One of the Many

Well, it's official: I've been sucked into the Twilight phenomenon. I was sick yesterday and found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. I considered reading Mrs. Dalloway - I really love Virginia Wolf - or A Light in August - I equally love William Faulkner - but I was sick and tired and wasn't in the mood for either of them. On the floor next to my bed was the paperback copy of Twilight my sister-in-law had lent me a while a go. For months I refused to be one of the many reading the Stephenie Meyer series. I mean, vampires? How could a book about vampires, let alone teenage vampires, be any good? Besides, I am a college English major who reads Wolf and Faulkner and Cather; I don't read contemporary fad lit.

But I was sorely mistaken. I have fallen under the spell that is Edward Cullen. Twilight is a great book. Especially for the summer when I should give my brain a rest. It's a fast read and completely enthralling. The only problem with it's being a fast read is that I'm already halfway through the book; it's going by too fast. I am loving the book. I'm almost ashamed to admit it. But I shouldn't be, it's a good book. Millions of readers can't be wrong. And at this point in my life, I am more than willing to get lost in the world of teenage vampires. Edward Cullen is just too easy to fall in love with. Or I am just too willing to fall in love with him. Either way, I'm liking this relationship. I can pick him up when I get the urge to have him in my life, but I can also set him aside for hours when I've got other things to do. Convenient. 

I may make it my goal to read the whole series this summer. Doesn't sound like to tall a task. 

I can't believe how much I am enjoying this book. I feel like such a teeny-bopper.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Whatever Doesn't Kill Me...

I spent the last week or so fighting my way through the rest of Wally Lamb's latest book "The Hour I First Believed." It wasn't worth the fight.

First of all, the book is too long, it spans too long and detailed a period of time. I didn't need to read the entire dissertation about Lizzy Popper. It was completely unnecessary. But I'm the type of person who won't skip over anything because I'm afraid I'll miss something. I wouldn't have missed anything. Shortly following each excerpt of the dissertation was a spark-note version, through conversation or thought, of t
he passage which precedes it. I would like to know who said, "Yeah, Wally. That's a great idea. Include the entire dissertation of this woman's life. It's enthralling!"

The plot is so tightly wound together with extensive character connections, it makes my head hurt. And each "plot twist", once into the first 400 pages or so, you can see coming. So much so that it makes me nauseous. Long ago Caelum was told a story about how an African tribe believes the praying mantis is God. Then Caelum finds one on his front stoop. Maureen gets imprisoned in Caelum's family established jail
. The brother of the boy Maureen accidentally killed goes to work for one of Caelum's tenants on the same property his mother is fighting to win in the civil suit.  And these are only the big connections, there are too many other too irritating to mention. It's too much.

These elaborate connections make me feel like I'm being hit in the head, repeatedly, with the unnecessarily large novel. And it's Wally Lamb bashing the enormous book into my face yelling, "THIS IS IRONY! THIS IS IRONY!''

And is it necessary to include as many crises in
 the country's recent history as possible? Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Iraq War (and I know I've missed more than a few). Why? Just to tug some heartstrings? Make the novel more appealing somehow? It boarders on bathos.

Having Maureen die from an undetected and unexpected brain aneurysm, was a cop-out. Lamb took the easy way out. Maureen's character had served its purpose and run its course, and he probably didn't care to extend the story through the entire 5 years of her imprisonment, so, hey! I know! Conveniently kill her off! Perfect! And on to the speedy resolution!

I will say, the ending is beautiful. It didn't resolve anything, but it was beautiful. The final chapter was short, elegantly written, short, and concise. I wish I could say that much of the rest of the novel.

Maybe my expectations were too high for this novel, and so it couldn't help but fall short. Regardless, "The Hour I First Believed" is not worth the struggle.