Tuesday, November 23, 2010


by Emma Donoghue

After reading "Room" I wanted to read more of Emma Donoghue's novels; "Slammerkin" looked like the most interesting.

Donoghue is a truly noteworthy story teller. Her writing style is immediately appealing and alluring. It is both accessible and vivid. Donoghue puts her readers in the center of Mary's world. Of course, it helps that when I studied abroad in London, I lived down the street from the Charring Cross underground station and went to the Cheshire Cheese a time or two. But regardless of my own knowledge of London (which is vastly different from that of Victorian London), Mary's haunts are clear and have distinct character. Donoghue turns the grime of 18th century London into poetry. Even when Mary moves on from London, the sense of place is clear and the town on Monmouth comes alive.

Mary is an incredible character. I didn't know until reading the notes in the back of the book that she is loosely based on a real person. But that's not what makes her great. To go through her world and grow up with her makes this story riveting. This is a really twisted kind of bildungsroman, which is excellent.

I really enjoyed this book because it was something different. It is set in a historical time, with references to real people and places, and Donoghue is more than skilled enough as s writer to make the whole thing believable, for the sake of the novel. This book is propelled by its characters and circumstances (Doll is a truly fantastic character, I think she may be my favorite in the book). There is a real conflict of whether to be compassionate towards Mary or not; that's for the reader to decide.

Definitely read this book. There is a lot of sex in it, but that's not what the whole story is about. Read it. It's some really excellent escapism.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Haggard & Halloo

This isn't a book. Haggard & Halloo is a creative writing magazine, both online and in print.

When I was at UConn and working on the Long River Review, as part of the course everyone had to team up and research another creative writing magazine. I have to credit my partner Joe for finding Haggard & Halloo. As part of the assignment I sent an email to the magazine editor Travis Catsull, not actually expecting much of a response. Catsull turned out to be very nice and accommodating and answered all of my questions. Our presentation turned out really well (I do believe we got an A). The website has changed since we first stumbled upon it, but it is still great and publishes some stimulating poetry, as well as short stories and reviews. A little avant-garde, certainly current, and definitely worth checking out.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

It's a Book

by Lane Smith

I could not resist about writing about this book. It just came into our library today.

"It's a Book" is wonderful! This book is for everyone of any age who loves books and is occasionally disgruntled with or four-square against technology. "It's a Book" is the book-lover's antidote to the digital age. It is simple, concise, and perfect, not to mention hilarious. There are not enough to words to praise this book. Read it, without a doubt. It will only take a few moments of your time and is well worth it; it will have you smiling all day.

It's a book, Jackass.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Flowers for Algernon

by Daniel Keyes

I liked this book better when I read it in Middle School, because it was something new. Now I don't care for it. Maybe that's because this is my second reading of it, or because now I'm a better judge of literature.

"Flowers for Algernon" makes me think of "Frankenstein," a Michael Crichton novel, and "Girls of Tender Age" -- the bits about Tyler. There are definitely echoes of the Byronic hero in this novel: both Charlie and Prof. Nemur. Though Nemur is also a little bit like Macbeth, but the little story Burt tells about Nemur's pushy wife is really just a throw-away poor excuse for his behavior.

This book feels painfully inauthentic to me. It is clearly someone trying too hard to write a novel about a mentally-challenged/ coming-of-age young man. It comes across as stereotypical. The personal accounts and insights don't go deep enough. His progress is too fast to appreciate. The author continually draws attention to this in a way that feels like an apology and cover-up of flawed story telling and structure. And none of the stories ring true. That is partially a result of the way Charlie recounts his past, as if he is watching someone else, rather than reliving and experiencing his past, making him a bit of a schizophrenic suffering from a personality disorder. But, again, this are observations upon second reading.

That being said, this book does make one think about the way they treat or have treated other people in the past. It is a good book worth reading.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas

by Lewis Black

I love Lewis Black. I have such respect for him as a comedian. Not only is he hilarious, but he is educated. His humor is on a different level than the Blue Collar comedy guys, or George Lopez or Jeff Dunham; he makes his audience think.

I've read Black's other two books, and I have to say, this is not my favorite. "Me of Little Faith" was his best book. Part of the reason I don't love this book as much is because I really do love the Christmas season and still get that warm-fuzzy feeling when we turn the corner in December. I'm all about cooking and cocoa and wrapping presents (and getting up ungodly early Christmas morning to go cantor the 3 morning masses...but I love it, don't get me wrong...). So some of Black's ranting seems a little overly harsh. But I get it. And "I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas" is still funny. It is also surprisingly sentimental. That was unexpected, but nice in the midst of his ranting and extreme self-deprecation.

This book makes me think of a roommate I had in college who is Jewish and absolutely hates Christmas. I understand where she's coming from, but she wouldn't even let me hang nondenominational white lights around the dorm room. Still makes me sad.

Black is a great comedian and he knows how to write. He isn't like so many other comedians or celebrities who think, I can talk so I must be able to write a book. No. But Black gets it and his books are well worth reading. It may not be earth-shattering and it probably won't change your life, but it is a nice change of pace (especially if you're in the midst of studying for the GRE subject test...).

Monday, November 1, 2010


by Emma Donoghue

This book is like nothing I have ever read. It's suspenseful, intriguing, and completely addicting. This is the kind of book you want to call out sick from work so you can stay home and read it all day.

Seeing life through Jack's eyes was especially interesting, it made the story more emotional. On one level, reading Jack's words was like connecting with all my first experiences. You forget how scary the world must have been when you had to experience everything for the first time. Every step of the way I felt everything Jack felt: scared of Old Nick, scared when Ma was Gone and completely attached to Room, who becomes a character itself. When an 11ft x 11ft Room is all you know, how else could he react? But I was also terribly sad and pitied Jack because he knew nothing about Outside. No matter how Ma tries to tell him about the world she used to live in, he refuses to believe; and I felt for Ma. Jack's stubbornness would have made me crazy and made me feel even more hopeless.

There were parts of the book I found hard to believe, like Old Nick's driving away and leaving Jack, although Old Nick was a coward, so perhaps it does fit with his character. On the whole though, I was willing to go with it and experience it all right along with Jack. However I was somewhat dissatisfied with the ending. The last seen is wonderfully poignant, but I'm still worried for Jack's overall well-being.

This book is remarkable. It's an incredible and vivid story. Donoghue really makes you feel like you are living Jack's life, every step of his sometimes traumatizing ordeal. The book is truly beautiful and excellently written. I can understand why it's on the bestsellers list. Definitely pick this one up.