Reviews

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

Wonderful ThingsWayvonna Quinn was born in the back of a stranger’s car while her parents hitchhiked across Texas. Eight years later, her circumstances have improved. Barely.

Now living in a dilapidated farmhouse, Wavy’s trying to parent her infant brother. Her father runs a meth lab on the property and her mother barely functions. To say her life is difficult is an understatement. She is poor, abused, and afraid.

Then she meets Kellen. Kellen changes her life, they take care of each other—and care for each other, in a world that doesn’t want them. Aside from Wavy’s brother, Kellen is the only wonderful thing in her life. But when tragedy upends and exposes Wavy’s family, her life looks ugly to the outside.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things (I received my review copy from the publisher) is an unexpectedly touching novel. Filled with tragedy and told effortlessly from multiple narrators, Bryn Greenwood’s novel is one that will stick with me for a long time. It’s a story that challenges the way you view the world. How and when is love appropriate? Are certain lines, if crossed, a forgivable offense? Can a 14 year old, who is an adult in nearly every way possible, be capable of adult feelings?

As Wavy falls in love with Kellen, a man who is much too old for her, the novel needs to be read with empathy and understanding. Greenwood does not romanticize the relationship; she is not sentimental about Wavy and Kellen. Instead she presents their brutal, hard-won existence with an honest, straightforward appeal that is, well, very appealing. I sincerely hope readers give this one a chance. It’s not an easy book to read, but it is worth it.

PS: Lolita it is not. Thankfully.

Miscellanea

Year of Wonders // Six Degrees of Separation

I’ll begin this post with an odd confession. The word ‘degrees’ always looks misspelled to me. So the entire time I compose this post, my eyes are drawn back to the title, looking at that right-but-doesn’t-look-it word. Silly distractions aside, the idea behind this exercise is to connect books in any way that’s meaningful to you, from the profound to the inane. Although Kevin Bacon is typically behind the six degrees game, books are just a bit more fun.
Six Degrees Year of Wonders

This month we’re beginning with Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. It’s a historical fiction novel that I have not read, and while I may read it, it’s certainly not in my upcoming stack. For my first link, I am going with a simple, superficial connection: title.

Wonder Boys is a wonderful (I can’t help myself) book by Michael Chabon and it’s quite a bit of fun (ranks up among my favorite college/campus novels). It was made into a so-so movie with a stellar soundtrack. On the campus novel note, Straight Man by Richard Russo is another favorite of mine. There’s a particularly memorable part involving possible seduction with peach pits.

Another food used for seduction? Sandwiches. In Patricia Park’s Re Jane, Jane falls for Ed over illicitly consumed late night…sandwiches. It’s a good retelling of the classic novel, as is Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. Jane Steele features a determined, strong, if slightly unhinged heroine. It’s great fun to read, as is Tom Perrotta’s Election (though not of the same caliber as Jane Steele). Election’s Tracy Flick, over-achiever with a dark side and an over the top determination to succeed, is the link between these.

The last link is a personal one, and it’s hard to describe. I wanted to like Election, but I just didn’t love it in the much the same way I wanted to like Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story, but did not. Both books evoked the same sort mild regret, yet oddly satisfied feeling when I read them. A tenuous, intangible link, but it exists nonetheless.

This month’s six degrees went from the plague in 17th century England to the world inside of an odd, modern marriage. Considering joining in? Visit booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

Lists, Personal

The List // August

to-do-list

It’s been a rough summer, not terrible, by any means, but…long? I don’t know. Let’s start with what I can’t control. It’s hot. I don’t have air conditioning. I’m carrying 10 pounds too many and I feel like I’m constantly overheating. When I left work today it was 97 degrees.

My face just made an involuntary cringe.

Next up… We refinanced our home in June in the hope of getting quite a few house projects done. First up? Finishing the basement (to escape some of the heat). We painted. We cleaned. We bought carpet. We had it installed Friday afternoon. Sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning, a pipe broke in our basement (behind the drywall), flooding a large portion of our new carpet. It’s fixed now.

So the things I’ve been working on lately have not fallen into the “fun” category, but they certainly have to be completed. And I’m on a bit of a deadline to get my tasks done. The point of this post is to remind myself of what I want (and need) to do. If I publish it, it means I’ll be obligated to complete it, right? RIGHT.

(Side note: Did anyone else ever follow Young House Love in their heyday? I did, and I was always liked their Listy McListerson posts.)

  1. . I’m starting with an easy one (and a sanity savor). It’s cool and floating is one of the few ways I feel comfortable these days (and I have at least 12 weeks to go).
  2. Organize two closets. My closet is organized, actually, so this only applies to the closets of my kids. I need to pull clothes that don’t fit them and figure out the clothing situation for the new baby (I donated almost all of the infant clothes I had, because no more babies…(eyeroll)).
  3. Paint. I don’t even know where to start, but there are plenty of rooms that need it. So…make a plan and then execute.
  4. Monitor Craigslist like a stalker. I need to replace my dining room table, but I’m cheap.
  5. Read four books this month. One a week seems like an accomplishable task.
  6. Hem the curtains I bought a year ago. This one is just embarrassing.
  7. Exercise (beyond a brisk walk) twice a week.
  8. Create one literary mixtape. I’m building in blog writing to the list, because it might be the only way I fit it in.
  9. Finish watching Stranger Things. There aren’t even that many episodes. Does anyone else find it difficult to watch television (but enjoy it when you do)? I don’t sit still easily, so this is actually a tough one for me.
  10. Print some of my Instagram pictures (and create our family travel book). I like to make books that show where we’ve been. I need to catch up on our trips to the Outer Banks, Big Bend National Park, Lake Tahoe, Big Sur, Devils Tower, and Crater Lake. Someday my children will appreciate everywhere I make them go (and that I’ve documented it), right?
  11. Finish building my fauxdenza. I’m working on one like this one (from Yellow Brick Home).

So my August goals are totally doable, right? I think so. Feel free to point out what I don’t finish (I imagine I will post an update).

Also, to close out the post on a positive note and to make you feel old, 30 years ago today Kristy’s Great Idea was published (and The Babysitter’s Club was launched).

What’s on your to-do list?

(Image found here)

Lists

Books Made Me Do It

rope-swing-pacific-northwest_

I do not often read the types of books that inspire me to do what the characters do. Does anyone really want to be living in a Stephen King novel? While I’d like to think I’d survive the superflu and kick anyone’s ass that got in my way, I probably wouldn’t. The odds would not be in my favor. Do I want to be stranded on Mars? No. Do I ever want to step foot on a space ship? Absolutely not (shrinks back in terror). But I do love reading about it.

Today’s list is things books inspired us to learn/do/be. My list will be a bit of a mixed bag and I do think it’s interesting how we can take inspiration from a fictional story. Not many of my ambitions come from a book, but I will do my best. I’m incredibly goal-oriented, type a, anxious, etc. I don’t really relax. It’s not my finest personality point, but I am your go to person for your next hiking challenge.

Own a lake house. This one is from Bag of Bones by Stephen King. I loved that lake house, even if it was haunted.

Be a good mother. Like Marmee in Little Women, I want to raise compassionate, aware children with excellent imaginations.

Find an epic rope swing (on a lake). Not inspired by any particular book, but this would be great and it really is one of my goals.

Be financially secure. Again, not inspired by a book, unless you consider the abject poverty featured in all those southern gothic novels a stark warning…  Meaning I don’t want to be out hunting squirrels as my source of protein. I don’t necessarily want to be wealthy, though I wouldn’t object (but I’m a librarian, so…nope), but I do really, really enjoy safety and security.

Hike the PCT (or at least a portion of it). Thanks to Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I can’t say I want my trip to be just like hers though…

Take an amazing road trip. Too many books to name, but John Green makes it seem fun. In the recent years, we’ve tried the road trip thing. Last year we drove out to Lake Tahoe, this year we drove to Texas. I think I’m too much of a planner for this type of thing, but an amazing, random road trip would be interesting.

Visit Scotland. Ahem, Outlander.

Be a Librarian. Thanks to a summer spent reading Insomnia by Stephen King, I discovered the existence of graduate school in library and information science.

More than anything else, I’m probably influenced in my food interests. If a book talks about cupcakes, I want a cupcake. If a book talks about curry, I want curry – same with pizza, gin, etc. You get the idea.

How do books influence you? For more inspiration, check here.

Photo found here.

Reviews

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

DevilDespite only having two published books, Donald Ray Pollock is one of my favorite authors. For over a year (about two seconds after I heard he was publishing one), I’ve been looking forward to the release of his new novel, The Heavenly Table (with thanks to Doubleday Books for my copy). I was not disappointed, though I can’t quite say that his sophomore novel is better than his debut (The Devil All the Time is in a league of its own). Following the Jewett brothers – Cane, Cob, and Chimney – The Heavenly Table takes place in 1917 southern Ohio. Living in poverty and on the verge of starvation, the sudden death of their father releases the Jewett brothers from their misery and sets them on a course they’d only ever imagined. They become outlaws in the tradition of (the fictional) Bloody Bill Bucket. Before they know it, they are a legendary gang of thieves, rapists, and murderers with a huge bounty on their heads – though the legends are far more preposterous than their true crimes.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are Eula and Ellsworth Fiddler, a naïve farming couple barely scarping by. An assortment of other characters fill the novel, from outhouse inspector and manhood wrangler Jasper Cone to the Roman military enthusiast Lieutenant Bovard.  Both perverse and violent, this novel is not without humor and heart. It’s absolutely filled to the brim with southern gothic goodness (just don’t expect any good). If there is a weakness, it’s in the sheer number of characters, but I enjoyed it all the same. In Pollock’s distinctive prose, the reader is taken for a wild, gritty ride that cannot be easily forgotten.

As for the average reader, this book presents an inscrutable dilemma. It’s a good book, but it’s dark, dismal, and full of black humor. I think the average reader could appreciate Pollock’s brilliant writing and dialogue, even if the subject causes one to cringe now and again. He has a wondrous sense of place and character, but, quite honestly, there are just certain things you can’t unread. They percolate in your mind and one day you find yourself thinking “so a ham and a whore are essentially the same thing…?” Would I recommend it? Yes, just know your audience (and read The Devil All the Time first).

In closing…

A couple of hours later, as they made their way through a thorny brake in single file, Cob turned in his saddle and looked back at Chimney. “Can I ask ye something?” he said.

“What’s that?”

“If’n one of them whores you talk about is worth two or three dollars, how much ye figure a good ham cost?”

“Oh, probably about the same, I reckon. They wouldn’t be much difference between a whore and a ham.”

“Well, then,” Cob said, “how many of them could we buy with the money we got?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe a hundred.”

“Whew,”Cob exclaimed. “That sounds like a lot.”

“Yeah, it’d take a day or two to fuck that many.”

“No, I mean, that’s a lot of hams, ain’t it?”

Chimney laughed. “You’re goddamn right it is. Why, if ye was to eat that many hams, ye’d probably turn into a pig yourself.”

“Oh, that’d be fine with me,” Cob said. “All they do is lay around in the mud all day while somebody feeds ’em horseweeds and slop. Shoot, what more could a feller want out of life than that?”

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