Monday, May 24, 2010

Book Review: The Wife and Other Stories, by Anton Chekhov

I've been wanting to read Chekhov' short stories for quite some time. I was finally prompted to start when Francine Prose, in her excellent book Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them wrote that Chekhov's short stories were her favorite and that all aspiring writers should read them. Prose wrote a lot about Chekhov's stories, especially about their well-crafted language, character descriptions, and how they broke common rules.

Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was a tad disappointed with The Wife, and Other Stories. I do admire Chekhov's character description and his description of nature, particularly the Russian landscape. For me, though, a lot of his plots fell short. Some of the stories in The Wife, and Other Stories had no real beginning and no real ending. Rather they were inter-connected parts of other stories that were included in the volume, and read like a novel told in serials, with one short story picking up where another left off. It was interesting to read about the day in the life of a 19th-century Russian official, and to read his philosophical meanderings related to peasantry and education and the like, but some of the stories consisted of only that, and after awhile parts of them became rather redundant and boring. To me Tolstoi's Anna Karenina, which I have been reading off and on for some time (way too long!) now, contains everything that most of these short stories did, and more, because it sticks with the same engaging characters and has a moving plot, even if some of it gets bogged down with the same philosophical meanderings. Perhaps if I hadn't read Tolstoi or Dostoevsky I would have really loved Chekhov, I'm not sure. At this point in time, though, although I liked him, I didn't like him as much as those two authors.

I liked the stories contained in the beginning of The Wife, and Other Stories more than the stories at the end; perhaps it was due to the redundancy factor. My favorite was "The Grasshopper," which was about a young woman who was married to a rather boring, older doctor, but her heart was with the theater and with the dramatic and famous people she hung out with. Eventually she has an affair and leaves her husband, and in many way this is a timeless story about relationships, that could have been told yesterday as much as it could have been told in Chekhov's time. The story seemed so realistic that I did some research into Chekhov's life and found that he married an actress named Olga (which is the name of the wife in the story) and that there were many other similarities between his life with her and the life of the couple in the story.

I will read more short stories by Chekhov and thus far my conclusion is that I really enjoy some of them and I don't really enjoy others. So it may be one of those experiences where I read everything to find the gems. I did enjoy The Wife, and Other Stories although I didn't love it as much as I was expecting to. I give it 3.5 stars.

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Friday, April 30, 2010

Book Review: The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

Wanting to Belong: A Book Review of The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers

This is such a strange little book. I loved some parts and didn’t love other parts. It revolves around Frankie Addams, who is twelve and a half years old. For me this was a really significant age, and I think the book does a great job of encapsulating the feelings and experiences associated with that age: Frankie’s no longer a child, yet she’s not yet a woman. She feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere, and she’s trying to figure out who she is and who she wants to be. So the first thing I loved about The Member of the Wedding was its theme, although I think some would criticize it for not having much of a traditional plot.

The second thing I loved about The Member of the Wedding was its setting. Frankie lives in a small town in Georgia during World War II. Loneliness surrounds her. Her mother died during childbirth with her, so she has never had a mother or siblings. Her father works a lot and when he is home, he is in his own world of books and newspapers, and really doesn’t pay her much attention. Her only good girl friend moved away, and she’s not a member of the “club” of popular girls at her school. She used to be part of it at one time, but as she got a bit older it’s clear that she’s different from those girls. Sexual identity is explored in the book: Frankie wants to be a pretty, grown woman, but, with her dirty elbows, her crew cut, and her hyper (some would say obnoxious) personality, in many ways she looks and acts more like a boy.

The Member of the Wedding takes place during the summer, so Frankie’s not in school and she spends her days hanging out at home—mostly in the kitchen—with her black housekeeper Berenice and her seven-year-old cousin John Henry. The constant kitchen setting causes the book to lag and feel like it’s dragging on; I think I would have liked it even better if it was a long short story or an even shorter novel. At the same time, the drawn-out kitchen scenes show Frankie’s daily life and how it’s filled with boredom yet comfort. (“They sat together in the kitchen, and the kitchen was a sad and ugly room. John Henry had covered the walls with queer, child drawings, as far up as his arm would reach. This gave the kitchen a crazy look, like that of a room in the crazy-house. And now the old kitchen made Frankie sick. The name for what had happened to her Frankie did not know, but she could feel her squeezed heart beating against the table edge.”)

Frankie longs for change and adventure, and at the same time she longs to fit in with someone somewhere. (“The spring of that year had been a long queer season. Things began to change and Frankie did not understand this change. After the plain gray winter the March winds banged on the windowpanes, and clouds were shirred and white on the blue sky. April that year came sudden and still, the green of the trees was a wild bright green. The pale wistarias bloomed all over town, and silently the blossoms shattered. There was something about the green trees and the flowers of April that made Frankie sad. She did not know why she was sad, but because of this peculiar sadness, she began to realize she ought to leave the town. She read the war news and thought about the world and packed her suitcase to go away; but she did not know where she should go.”)

All of this leads up to Frankie’s recent obsession: running away with her brother and his fiance after they get married. She has been invited to be in their wedding, and she is so happy to “belong” to something that she really gets very carried away in a fantasy of living a new life in a new place with the newlyweds. She changes to her name to “F. Jasmine,” she finds a pretty pink dress that her father buys her for the wedding, and she goes around town telling everyone her plan to move away with her brother and soon-to-be-sister-in-law. All dressed up for the wedding and on the verge of womanhood, she looks much older, and is invited out on a date with a soldier, which she accepts with a mixture of hesitation and excitement.

What I didn’t love about The Member of the Wedding is that there’s a lot of slow build-up without too much action or delivery. Most of the book takes place over just a couple days, but they feel like years. (I guess that’s how it feels for a twelve-and-a-half year old, too!) I enjoyed the scenes featuring Frankie, Berenice and John Henry in the kitchen, savoring delicious-sounding Southern food and talking about everything from love to race relations to what they would change about the world if they were God. (“Now hopping-john was F. Jasmine’s very favorite food. She had always warned them to wave a plate of rice and peas before her nose when she was in her coffin, to make certain there was no mistake; for if a breath of life was left in her, she would sit up and eat, but if she smelled the hopping-john, and did not stir, then they could just nail down the coffin and be certain she was truly dead. Now Berenice had chose for her death-test a piece of fried fresh-water trout, and for John Henry it was divinity fudge.”)

After awhile, though, I was anxious to have Frankie get out there and experience the real world. I suppose that that was the point of writing the book like that, so the reader could feel what life was like for Frankie. Although it may appear to an outsider—even the reader—that not much is going on, to Frankie, a lot is happening. She is bored and excited, fearless and fearful, lonely and comfortable with the familiar, happy and sad and up and down. That’s all because she’s at the crazy in-between age of twelve and a half. I loved that about Frankie but at other times she seemed very contradicting and hard to figure out. At one moment she would seem so thoughtful and mature, and the next moment she would be stomping her feet and saying cruel things to the people she loved, and seeming very immature and annoying. I guess, again, that’s because of her age and her transitioning. At times Frankie–or F. Jasmine–is confused about her own expressions and mannerisms. At one point she is upset with Berenice for not telling her about a grown-up matter, but happy with Berenice for ironing the little pleats around the collar of her pink wedding dress. “She would have liked for her expression to be split into two parts, so that one eye stared at Berenice in an accusing way, and the other eye thanked her with a grateful look. But the human face does not divide like this, and the two expressions canceled out each other.”

What I absolutely loved about The Member of the Wedding was its language. McCullers has a way of describing the small, even mundane, things in life in a completely lovely and relatable way, and then of course she describes the big, mind-blowing things in life the same way. (“The twilight was white, and it lasted for a long while. Time in August could be divided into four parts: morning, afternoon, twilight, and dark. At twilight the sky became a curious blue-green which soon faded to white. The air was soft gray, and the arbor and tress were slowly darkening. It was the hour when sparrows gathered and whirled above the rooftops of the town, and when in the darkened elms along the street there was the August sound of the cicadas. Noises at twilight had a blurred sound, and they lingered: the slam of a screen door down the street, voices of children, the whir of a lawnmower from a yard somewhere.”)

For me this book is best read all at once if possible. When I put it down and picked it back up it seemed rather boring, like not much was happening, but when I read whole parts straight through, I became so wrapped up in the language and tone that it felt magical. I would like to read this book again when I have time to read it all in one day or weekend. Although I really liked it the first time around, I was trying to cram it in, in between selling my fiance’s house, renting out my house, moving into a new house, planning a wedding, traveling to Vegas, etc. It seems to me to be one of those books that gets better with re-reading.

The tone and strangeness of The Member of the Wedding reminded me in some ways of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, while the age and oddity of the narrator reminded me of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Jonathan Safron Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. This book is certainly unique, though, and stands out as something entirely of McCullers’s creation. It’s the first book I’ve read by her and I look forward to reading The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Headed to Vegas for the weekend

I'm going to Vegas tomorrow for the weekend, for one of my best friend's bachelorette parties. My fiance's parents and his sister also happen to be in Vegas, so I will be seeing Jersey Boys with them on Sunday night, after the bachelorette party ends.

Things have been crazy busy for me, as you can probably tell from my lack of posts. We are under contract to sell my fiance's current house and buy a new house (our closing/ moving date is Tuesday, right after I get back from Vegas!) I also just rented out my townhouse to new tenants. Plus, we're planning our wedding. And working!

With all of that going on, I haven't had too much time to read or write, which always makes me feel bummed. I recently re-wrote a flash fiction piece so I could enter it into the Our Stories writing contest. It still needs some work but I'm happy to be making some process. I'm currently reading three different books whenever I have the time to fit any part of any one in, which I'll review here as soon as I finish them! I'm excited to be having a mini-vacation even though it's in the midst of the chaos.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book Review: The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

Unfortunately, a Let-Down: A Book Review of The Wednesday Sisters, by Meg Waite Clayton

I had high hopes for this book. (Maybe I had such high hopes that I had raised the bar too high?) I had read somewhere that Ms. Clayton used to be a corporate transaction attorney at a large law firm. After she ceased practicing law, she wrote this book. As a lawyer and aspiring writer, I was drawn to it from that angle. Then there was the fact that the book is about a group of aspiring writers, who form a writing group and try to publish. That sounds like me, so I thought I could relate. Finally, the book takes place in San Francisco starting in the 1960's. The interview I'd read with Ms. Clayton said she'd scoured old newspapers and magazines for historical tidbits to include in the book. How exciting! I thought.

Well... I have to say that the beginning of The Wednesday Sisters: A Novel really didn't meet my expectations at all. I found the first third of it quite dull. The characters all seemed stereotypical and flat to me. And it seemed like the story was dragging and almost nothing was happening! I pushed on, thinking a big part of it was that I just couldn't relate to these women. They admitted that they had put their dreams on hold, or permanently curtailed them, to marry their husbands, and their lives revolved around their children. It's not that I didn't want to read a book about housewives, but I think that many housewives, in real life and in books, are awesome. Many have confidence, charisma, interests and hobbies. But these women were so self-defacing that it was annoying. The main character, Frankie, tells the entire story, and she's always saying things like, "I can't imagine that I could actually write a book... I'd like to, but I'm no good, and what would these other women think?" We're not talking about writing a masterpiece novel here, or publishing, just writing in general. I wanted to scream at her, it's not that hard, just get a little self-esteem and try it! I really didn't understand the big deal.

Knowing the author's background, and that she was both a lawyer and a mother, I started thinking that maybe the problem was that she was writing what she didn't know, and it didn't seem real. But even the historical parts weren't that interesting in the first third of the book. The characters were on the outskirts of society, seemingly purposefully left out from everything exciting that was going on. They would see feminist protests on the news, but not attend. (Then Frankie would couch the events by saying something like, "We didn't know what to think of these crazy women on TV... we are just little stay at home moms who don't know anything about the world." Honestly, if I were a housewife I would be offended at the way that women in my profession/position were portrayed by the characters in the book!) Then there would be tidbits of history dropped in all too conveniently, like, "we read in the news that this happened..."(couched by Frankie in terms of "not that we understand what it all means, of course"), which to me isn't all that exciting. It's like too much historical data was given without the main characters really being a part of the context.

I kept reading The Wednesday Sisters since I had had such high hopes. Towards the middle, the book started to get better. And then the last third turned into a pretty good read. I think it's because the characters were actually doing something, making decisions instead of letting life just happen to them. For the first time, some of them seemed like separate characters, instead of all being lumped into one stereotypical housewife. (Some of them still fell flat to me even during the exciting parts). And they also went out into the real world and took part in some of the historical goings-ons, which made the historical parts a lot more interesting.

In the end, I think that the best parts of The Wednesday Sisters make for kind of a stereotypical chick-lit-for-mature-chicks read. Like, ladies that belong to knit clubs and church socials would probably like some of this book. But I bet even they'd be bored with a lot of it. It just doesn't go anywhere, or do anything, until near the end, and I don't know if a lot of people would hang on that long! I hate to give negative reviews, so I'll throw in something positive and say that this book has a lot of interesting parts about writing and the writing process, and it includes some good quotes and tips from famous writers. But even that part is annoying, because one of the women, Bret, will say things like, "Well, you know, Mark Twain always said..." at the beginning of their writing groups, causing Frankie to must out loud "How does Bret have such a good memory and always remember what all these great writers said?" Still, The Wednesday Sisters has some appeal for writers, so I recommend it, with reservations, to other writers. For this reason I give it two stars.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Book Review: My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Disclaimer: I neither read nor enjoy much bestselling contemporary fiction. There are exceptions (I like Elizabeth Berg, John Grisham, and some Stephen King) but in general, these books are not my cup of tea because I feel that they sacrifice good writing for popular plot twists and edge-of-the-seat drama. I especially steer away from "chick lit" and even more some from family-based drama that is about a mother and her children, because I usually find that it's overly cutesy and I just can't relate to it.

But. My mom had been telling me I need to read My Sister's Keeper, and she sent it to me. Even my sister, who hates to read, read and enjoyed the book. Then, a movie was coming out about it with a concept that looked new and interesting: one sister was created so that her other sister could live. I thought, I'd better read the book.

Well. What can I say? I guess My Sister's Keeper was everything I had expected to be. It had an interesting theme and some dramatic plot twists, but lacked good writing (for the most part) and character depth.

The main character is Anna, who is supposed to give up a kidney to save her sister from dying from cancer, or at least to prolong her life a bit longer. Anna has been doing similar things since she was born and her umbilical cord was used for a transplant for her sister. Her parents had purposefully created her to save or prolong her sister' life. At the beginning of the book, Anna has decided to fight back and has hired a lawyer to file a lawsuit for rights over her medical decisions (the legal aspects of the book are pretty murky).

The story is told in different first-person points of view, with each chapter being told by a different character, whose name is plastered on top, and, get this, the font type and style even changes with each chapter so you know it's being told by someone else. Gag.

I felt that Anna's voice was interesting and pretty convincing for a young teenage character. This made it feel like a young adult novel, but hey, I like young adult novels so I wish the entire book were told by Anna; I might have liked it a lot better. I hated the parts that were told by the mother because I was mad at her for having a baby for her own selfish purposes-although some may not think that keeping another child alive is a selfish purposes). Try as I might to grasp it by reading her sentimental and overly-protective dribble, I wasn't convinced that a mother, let alone this mother who was telling the story, could really do such a thing, and feel no shame or doubts about it. My own mother could relate to the mother of the book more than I could, so maybe it's a mother thing. Still, the mother came across as a self-righteous know-it-all to me. I didn't believe that she had had a successful law practice before beoming a mother, and I didn't feel any real love between her and her husband.

Speaking of the husband, the chapters that were told by him and his son, Anna's brother, read horribly for me. I just wanted to skip them. He's a fire-fighter, which I thought was conveniently contrived and also very unrealistic (who is paying for this family's luxury when the father is a fire-fighter and the mother is a stay-at-home mom who only practiced law briefly before having kids and is therefore probably in a lot of student loan debt?). He seems more ambivalent about the family's decision to have one child to save another child, but he comes across like a spineless wimp who's afraid of expressing his opinion to his wife, or, worse, like he doesn't care enough to do so. And the brother, Jesse, is a juvenile delinquent, which also feels very contrived, who is out roaming the streets and starting fires that his father has to put out without knowing that his son started them (see the irony? har har). His character does the best job of capturing the anger and angst that I'm sure Anna was feeling and that most of the readers would be feeling. Still, he comes across as superficial and stereotypical. The voices all blend together and do not sound like individual characters, a pet peeve I have when an author tries to do different points of view. Anna's came across as the strongest but the rest of the narrators--including the guardian ad liten and Anna's lawyer, both of whom get a turn--all jumbled together into one indistinguisable or trying-too-hard voice.

The legal sub-plots of the book didn't seem realistic, although I did enjoy the character of Anna's lawyer and his German Shepherd dog named Judge. He (the lawyer, but also his dog) seemed to be the only rationale character while the rest of them were floating around in no-man's-land.

I did enjoy the plot of the book and it was a very easy read. I read it during a rainy camping trip where I had the luxury of laying in a tent all day. I wanted to find out what happened, and at times there was a piece of beautiful writing included. Most of the time, however, the writing was gimmicky and overly sentimental and I felt like I was just pushing through to see what happens, like in a movie, not a well-written book. And then when I got to the end I was so annoyed that I seriously wanted to throw the book out into the mud. I won't include any spoilers but it was the worst ending I think I have ever read, and such an easy way out that I htink Picoult should be ashamed of herself. I hadn't planned to read any more of her books because I was more interested in the concept of this one than the writing, but, having gotten to the end only to be let down as a reader in such a huge way, I am 100% sure that I will never read anything else by her. Yes, I was that mad at how she wrote the ending! Grrr.

So, I give My Sister's Keeper two stars because there were parts of it that I enjoyed, but the rest of it was downright awful. I cannot in good conscience recommend it, but I think it's one of those books that people read because everyone else is reading it and talking about it (which is never a bad thing, people talking about books), and because there's a movie, all of which were reasons I read it, so, read it and see whether you agree with my many critiques or if you find something redeeming in it. By the way I later watched the movie and enjoyed it. The ending was much better than in the book although they did leave some things out from the book's plot that I missed. I would recommend the movie over the book, which I rarely do, but, there you have it. I guess in the end my foray into popular family-drama chick lit proved to be what I thought it would be: mostly empty, with a few splashes of interest and annoyance.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Quotes from "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult

Coming soon, my review of this book. For now, here are quotes from it that I flagged:

"In my family, we seem to have a tortured history of not saying what we outght to and not meaning what we do."

"[My sister] and I are Siamese twins; you just can't see the spot where we're connected. Which makes separation that much more difficult."

"True love is felonious. You take someone's breath away. You rob them of the ability to utter a single word. You steal a heart. It's not a misdeamnor... once you're in, it's for life." (paraphrased)

"The human capacity for burden is like bamboo-- far more flexible than you'd ever believe at first glance."

"Summertime is a collective unconscious. We all remember the notes that made up the song of the ice cream man; we all know what it feels like to brand our thighs on a playground slide that's heated up like a knife ina fire; we all have lain on our backs with our eyes closed and our hearts beting across the surface of our lids, hoping that this day will stretch just a little longer than the last one, when in fact it's all going in the other direction."

"When you are a kid you have your own language, and unlike French or Spanish or whatever you start learning in fourth grade, this one you're born with, and eventually lose. Everyone under the age of seven is fluent in Ifspeak; go hang aroudn with someone under three feet tall and you'll see. What if a giant funnelweb spider crawled out of that hole over your head and bit you on the neck? What if the only antidote for venom was locked up in a vault on the top of a mountain/ What if you lived through the bit, but could only move your eyelids and blink out an alphabet? It doesn't really matter how far you go; the point is that it's a world of possibility. Kdis think with their brains cracked wide open; becoming an adult, I've decided, is only a slow sewing shut."

"It's impossible to believe that the laundry I once folded for her was doll-sized; as if I can still stee her dancing in lazy piroutees along the lip of the sandbox. Wasn't it yesterday that her hand was only as big as the sand dollar she found on the beach? That same hand, the one that's holding a boy's; wasn't it just holding mine, tugging so that I might stop and see the spiderweb, the milkweed pod, any of a thousand moments she wanted me to freeze? Time is an optical illusion-- never quite as solid or strong as we think it is."

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Review: The Wife by Meg Wolitzer

The beginning of this book really grabbed me. The voice was moving and the early plot was interesting: a woman is on an airplane with the husband she had been with for a long time, and has decided at that very moment to leave him.

Of course, such a decision is never made at that very moment. A lot has gone into such a decision. And so the narrator takes us back with her through the history of the relationship between her and her husband. We find out that it began in the 1950's, when she was his creative writing student at Smith College and he was married. That's rather cliche, and so are a lot of things about their relationship. I thought that Wolitzer did a convincing job of showing me that this is what it could be like for a couple who began in such a way, as cliche as it may have been.

There were other cliched parts of The Wife, though, that I didn't think she portrayed so well. Essentially this is supposed to be a story about a wife who sacrifices everything for her husband. The first part of the book is the strongest in my opinion, because the reader can easily see how she sacrifices the approval and support of her parents and her college education for this selfish, haphazard, impulsive man who doesn't truly love anyone, including himself. The reader can see how he is so caught up in his ambitions of writing that he is incapable of being much else. (The "selfish writer" is a theme I always find interesting, in Andre Dubus's short stories and in biographies of Raymond Carver, etc., because it does seem that being a successful writer requires a narrowly-focused, internal, solitary drive, to the exclusion of most everything else in life.)

What wasn't convincing in The Wife, however, was that the narrator was supposed to be giving up her own writing ambitions or her "career" for her husband. The problem was, she never really had any writing ambitions until her professor-turned-husband encouraged her, for the sake of starting an affair with her of course, and she never reveals that she has any desires to have a career outside of the home. In the flashback scenes to her early and mid-married life, she either seems content to be a housewife or she is bitter about the fact that her husband is cheating on her.

Perhaps it's that times have changed or perhaps it's that I can't relate to a character that I can't see myself being, but I just didn't understand why she put up with it. She seems to be resentful of the fact that her husband thinks he is some God when it comes to writing, yet she obviously encourages such thoughts by placating to him, encouraging his writing career and staying with him even though he doesn't treat her right. If this was supposed to be a book that showed why a woman sacrifices her own dreams (or never fully forms any in the first place) in order to stay with a rotten, no-good husband, it failed. But maybe it wasn't supposed to show me that; maybe it was supposed to just be about this character. Still, for whatever reasons I found those parts very unconvincing and it made me dislike the narrator when she seemed to get whiny and become a "poor-me" victim. The following is a passage that I feel sums up the theme of the book:

"Everyone knows how women soldier on, how women dream up blueprints, recipes, ideas for a better world, and then sometimes lose them on the way to the crib in the middle of the night, on the way to the Stop & Shop, or the bath. They lose them on the way to greasing the path on which their husband and children will ride serenely through life.

But it's their choice... they make a choice to be that kind of wife, that kind of mother. Nobody forces them anymore; that's all over now. We had a women's movement in America, we had Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem... we're in a whole new world now. Women are powerful.

Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend; they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites pricking up the slightest scrape of dissatisfaciton. Wives bring broth, we bring paper clips, we bring ourselves and our pliant, warm bodies. We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves or anyone else.

'Listen,' we say. 'Everything will be okay.'

And then, as if our lives depend on it, we make sure it is."

(Click here for more quotes from The Wife)

The ending of The Wife contains a twist which wasn't incredibly surprising but was nevertheless interesting. I don't want to include any spoilers, so suffice it to say that it adds another layer to the entire analysis about why a woman would do such things for a man.

I did think that The Wife was written well and that the first-person narrator voice, when not overly bitter or victim-y, was intriguing. Although there wasn't much to the plot--basically a history of the life of an unhappily married couple--it seemed realistic and it kept me interested, as I read the book straight through in a couple of days. I would like to read more of Meg Wolitzer's work, especially a book that has a completely different theme, plot and characters. So overall I give The Wife three and a half stars and I would recommend it with some reservations.

Click here to purchase this book:

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Quotes from The Wife

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Parts of this book reminded me of Women Like Us by Erica Abeel, which is a book about a group of girlfriends who graduated in 1959 from Sarah Lawrence College. Most of them curtailed their dreams and ambitions for the men in their lives. Click here for my review of Women Like Us.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Quotes from "The Wife," by Meg Wolitzer

I finished this book in December; a review of it is coming soon. In the meantime, here are quotes from it.

"As a rule, the men who own the world are hyperactively sexual, though not necessarily with their wives."

"'Ah, a Sarah Lawrence girl,' he said with pleasure, deciding at that moment she was a highly creative type, her hands damp with both acrylic paint from art class and ambrosia from some middle-of-the-night winter-solstice ritual."

"All first wives are crazy- violently and eye-rollingly so."

"New York City was a spectacular place in which to take a walk in the middle of the night if you were a young, ambitious, confident man."

"Of course she ached to be a writer. Like so many women, she burned for it, all she wanted to do was to publish, and her whole life was leading toward the moment when she found an agent and a publisher and her first book appeared."

"Everyone knows how women soldier on, how women dream up blueprints, recipes, ideas for a better world, and then sometimes lose them on the way to the crib in the middle of the night, on the way to the Stop & Shop, or the bath. They lose them on the way to greasing the path on which their husband and children will ride serenely through life.

But it's their choice... they make a choice to be that kind of wife, that kind of mother. Nobody forces them anymore; that's all over now. We had a women's movement in America, we had Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem... we're in a whole new world now. Women are powerful.

Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend; they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites pricking up the slightest scrape of dissatisfaciton. Wives bring broth, we bring paper clips, we bring ourselves and our pliant, warm bodies. We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves or anyone else.

'Listen,' we say. 'Everything will be okay.'

And then, as if our lives depend on it, we make sure it is."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Writers' Rules for Writing Fiction

I just found the coolest article online, called Ten Rules for Writing Fiction. Really there are a lot more than ten rules, because each writer gives ten rules (except for the ones who choose to give less... some writers don't have that many rules, I guess. And what about the ones who have more?!)

Here are some of my favorites.

Margaret Atwood:

You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.

Geoff Dyer:

Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct.

Esther Freud:

Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don't let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won't matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.

Don't wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.

Neil Gaiman:

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

PD James:

Read widely and with discrimination. Bad writing is contagious.

Don't just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.

Open your mind to new experiences, particularly to the study of other ­people. Nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is ever wasted.

AL Kennedy:

Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.

Read. As much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and ­irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won't need to take notes.

Rose Tremain:

In the planning stage of a book, don't plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.

Jeanette Winterson:

Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.

Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.

And, this one makes the most sense to me!

Philip Pullman:

My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

A Chilling Winter Read: A Book Review of Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome is set in Starkfield, Massachusettes, where everything is very stark indeed. Much of the story also takes place in the winter, when the New England town is covered in snow and bitter cold. At the heart of the story is, of course, Ethan Frome: a farmer living in the early 1900's who has been dealt a bad lot in life. He had been living away from Starkfield, at college, studying to become an engineer, when his father died and he had to return home to the family farm to care for his ailing mother, Zenobia. He ends up marrying Zeena, the nurse who took care of his mother, more out of duty and gratefulness than love or passion. Before long Zeena becomes a hypochondriac, inventing illnesses and perpetually seeking possible cures for them.

Into this depressing scene steps Mattie, who is quite the breath of fresh air for Ethan. A distant relative—-she was the daughter of Zenobia’s cousin-—Mattie's father had squandered all of the family’s money, a fact which was only revealed after his death. Mattie’s mother apparently dies of the shock and shame, leaving Mattie a penniless orphan. Zeena’s doctor suggests that Zeena find someone to help with the household chores, so Mattie comes to Starkfield to do just that, and also ends up winning Ethan’s heart.

The story is so depressingly tragic that at times I wanted to stop reading it. But it was like watching a scary movie or sitting down on a roller-coaster: you want to stop, kind of, but you also want to keep going. The story starts out by revealing that Ethan was in a freak accident, and then goes back in time, so you know things don’t end up well. The entire feel of the book is incredibly ominous and its pace marches you right on from the sweet tale of a simple and down-on-his-luck farmer who falls in love with a young, care-free girl, to the bad ending you know is coming. The language is simple and no-nonsense, yet it alternatively scares you like Stephen King and pulls on your heart strings like Jane Austen.

There’s a scene near the beginning in which Ethan has gone to pick Mattie up from a barn dance that puts you right there in the middle of their budding relationship, which is technically illicit and wrong, but feels so right that you find yourself rooting for them, even though you know it will end horribly. Ethan watches Mattie dancing, yearning for both Mattie herself and the simple innocence and hopefulness of youth, which is long-lost for him. When the dance ends, a young boy flirts with Mattie and offers her a ride home, and Ethan thinks that soon Mattie will get married and leave him. Yet, she is so surprised and happy that he is there to pick her up, and she reassures him that she’s not going anywhere. The tone of the relationship between Ethan and Mattie is light-hearted, casual and happy, in the middle of this otherwise entirely depressing book.

Despite its tragic subject matter, Ethan Frome is a gem of a book I plan to re-read again and again. I also want to read more of Wharton’s work. This is the first book I’ve read by her and I know that most of the rest of her works deal with the upper class New York society from which she came. I don’t know how she can write so well about a poor New England farmer, so I can only imagine what she writes about those characters that comprise her own element. I give Ethan Frome four and a half stars and highly recommend it to anyone.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Writing and Working: a Career as a Writing Professor

In an interview in the Fall 2003 issue of Glimmer Train Stories, writer Carol Roh-Spaulding discusses her writing/ teaching life. She is, or at least was as of the time of the interview, an associate professor of English at Drake University, where she teaches creative writing and literature. She says:

"I started teaching in a writing lab as an undergraduate, so I've been teaching as long as I've been writing seriously. They've always been together. And the truth is I've always resented in some way the time I've had to spend teaching because it took away from my writing. Now if you saw me with my students, teaching, you probably wouldn't believe that, but there is a part of me that is so jealous of the time that I get to write that it is very easy for me to see my teaching as--and I'm not proud of this--a distraction. However, I have managed to create a life where I move back and forth between those modalities. And summer is when I can sink deeply into that writing mode. I teach at an institution that expects very high quality teaching, so you can't sink into your writing life every day when you're teaching. I try to earn periods of time when I can do that, devote myself to writing. I think I've fashioned a life where I can pretty much do both fairly well. I'd like to do less teaching. I think most writers would. I also think, though, that having young, eager, talented students really keeps my writing alive and creates part of the excitement that keeps me going, too. Having that community of writers."

Often, I wish I could just write. I suppose most writers probably feel that way. The problem is that it generally doesn't pay well; it's usually no way to make a good living!

I practice law because I like it and it provides me with a comfortable living, and I save a bunch of money so that eventually I will have the option to just write, if I really want to. The law, like many careers, is very demanding and it often sucks up almost all of my time and energy. It seems like what little is left goes to my fiance, lifestyle habits I try to keep up, such as eating well and exercising, family, friends, pets, social and work events, and the occasional relaxing bubble bath or TV show or movie. There is little time to read and write, although I carve out as much time as I can, and aim for an hour and a half a day of consistent writing, editing, or submitting.

Sometimes I think about how much writing (and reading!) I could get done if I didn't have my full-time "day job" of practicing the law. Then I realize I would be broke, and I'd have to have some kind of job to bring in some money. I think, what else would I want to do? Teaching often comes to mind, especially teaching literature, because I think it would be fun to immerse myself in it constantly. Yet here is a writer who gets to teach literature and writing, and she resents her "day job" too. Like me, she would rather be just writing. In a way, it's comforting, to know that other writers feel this way and it's not as if I made a bad career choice; it's just that there is no other career I would like to do other than writing, which isn't feasible right now. And I agree with what Ms. Roh-Spaulding says about the creative stimulation that comes with having a "day job," especially one like hers where you get to interact with other writers and readers. I often think, if I just sat at home writing, how would I get ideas of what to write about? I get them in the real world, although not incredibly often from work, and I'm sure I'd still find them where I already do: by eavesdropping on (or accidentally over-hearing, as I'm changing!) conversations at the gym, by observing people's behavior in the grocery store, by being struck with inspiration by something I hear on the radio, by talking about books and writing with the other members of my writing group. Still, the real-life inspiration is another reason to smile about going to the office every day. It just helps to realize that no matter what I did for a career, I'd rather be writing or reading, but I also have to do something that happens to make a living.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Quotes About Hard Work and Discipline, for Writers and Others

I've read and heard over and over again from published writers that the only true tip they can give aspiring writers is to write, write, write (and read, of course!) Sometimes life gets so busy or we get caught up in other things that we forget to make writing a priority. These quotes remind us that nothing good comes easily-- even genius and inspiration are nothing if we don't consistently work on our craft-- and that dedication, discipline and hard work are the surest paths to success.

"Inspiration comes of working every day."
~ Charles Pierre Baudelaire, French Poet, 1821-1867

"If people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all."
~ Michelangelo Buonarrati, Italian artist, 1475-1564

“Success flourishes only in perseverance–-ceaseless, restless perseverance.”
~ Baron Manfred von Richthofen

"Get up very early and get going at once, in fact, work first and wash afterwards.”
~ W.H. Auden

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
~ Thomas Edison

"Inspiration is wonderful when it happens; but, the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time... The wait is simply too long."
~ Leonard Bernstein

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."
~ George Orwell

"Live simply and deliberately."
~ Thoreau

"Be regular and orderly in your life, like a good bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work."
~ Gustave Flaubert

"Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstancles vanish into air."
~ John Quincy Adams

Monday, February 15, 2010

Virtual LitSpot: Duotrope's Digest - Where Writers Can Find and Track Markets for Submissions

I've been very impressed with Duotrope's Digest, a site that features fiction and poetry markets and allows you to track your submissions online. From what I've been able to tell with some experimenting, the site includes every fiction and poetry market that's listed in 2010 Writer's Market Deluxe (Writer's Market Online), plus more markets. It includes both paying and non-paying markets. Its online submission tracker is very helpful and reduces the amount of time I have to spend making spreadsheets to track where I've sent what. I can easily find out how often a market publishes, how long they take to respond, how much they pay, etc. The site makes it easy to keep track of deadlines and closed versus open submissions periods, and it reminds you when it's time to follow-up with a market because their usual response time has passed.

The only criticism I have of the site is that it doesn't include non-fiction markets (I guess that would get very cumbersome with all the how-to websites and magazines that run cooking articles, etc.-- but I'd think it could at least include markets that accept creative non-fiction/ essays, for those of us who write in these creative genres). It also doesn't include contests, I guess because there's usually a submission fee and it doesn't include markets that you have to pay a reading fee to submit to. So, for instance, if you look for Glimmer Train Stories on Duotrope right now, it will show it as "Temporarily Closed" although it is open for its fiction contest.

Overall I think Duotrope is tremendous resource to help writers submit and publish their work, and I can't believe it's free! I plan to donate to it soon since I use it so much and I find it to be such a valuable service. I haven't bought the 2010 edition of 2010 Writer's Market Deluxe (Writer's Market Online) yet because I haven't needed it (except that I'll probably need it for creative nonfiction markets) -- so maybe I'll donate the $40 that Duotrope saved me on that book!

Click here to go to Duotrope's Digest

Or, buy Writer's Market 2010:

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Persistance Pays Off: One Story Sent to Twenty-Five Markets!

In the Fall 2003 issue of Glimmer Train Stories, writer Carol Roh-Spaulding is interviewed. She had this to say about her first published story:

"I sent the first story I wrote to the Beloit Fiction Journal. I actually sent it out to twenty-five different places... I knew there was no way more than one place would want the story. And they took it--that was my first publication and it felt wonderful."

Wow. I'm proud of myself when I send a piece out to five literary journals at once. Now I'm going to start aiming high like Carol Roh-Spaulding. It's inspiring that her first piece was published, and I know it wasn't beginner's luck, but good writing and persistence.

Boloit Fiction Journal doesn't even pay. I think I'll stop limiting my first-round of submissions to journals that pay. Most of them don't pay much anyway, and I think that seeing something I've written in print is satisfaction enough.

Book Review: Glimmer Train Stories, Fall 2003, Issue 48

It's hard to "review" an issue of a literary journal because all the stories are so different. So this "review" more constitutes my notes and impressions on this particular issue. I'm a big fan of Glimmer Train in general and have been since I was in high school.

I'm obviously way behind on my Glimmer Train issues. I devoured this one from cover to cover. Still, I found many of the stories lacking. I think it may be because I rather recently read Best New American Voices 2006 and I've decided I usually like more of an experimental, shocking, grab-me-by-my-throat-and-surprise-me style more than a traditional realist style, which most of these stories were. If a story is pure realism, then I at least want something to happen. Many of these stories seemed more like glimpses or scenes than actual stories.

For example, J. Patrice Whetsell's "The Coconut Lady" is about a girl going off to college and remembering how her mother taught her how to cook. It is mostly full of memories of her mother's cooking and what her mother would talk about when it came to food. There is a very small hint of a story--in which it is revealed that the mother's marriage did not work out--that peeps its head out, but then it's back to shaking coconuts, or whatever. I just don't understand the point of a "story" all about food, with no real plot.

I enjoyed "Mother Knows" by Diane Chang, although the plot could have been thicker for me. It's about a woman who finds out that her son, a medical school student, is in the hospital with a concussion after a Frisbee accident that happened during his school's orientation. She reminisces about leaving him in China when she and her husband first came to the U.S. On the way home from visiting her son in the hospital, she gets her very first speeding ticket, ever. Her husband is basically useless, but she still loves him. It was pretty good writing and it kept me interested, and I do understand that stories can show a slice of life instead of needing to have a pat conflict/ climax/ resolution, but, again, if it's overly realistic and nothing much happens and not much of a conclusion is reached, then I feel like I've wasted my time reading it, unless it's very well written or there's something particularly unique about it. Otherwise I feel like I could have just talked to a friend about an event like this; it doesn't stir me the way I think an excellent story should.

Many of these stories were about families, and death, and loss. After awhile they collectively started to seem a bit depressing and repetitive. Barry Lyga's "Trading Worlds" had quite a different format, involving a bunch of different dream sequences, but I didn't really like it. It was about the after-math of 9/11 and how one man was dealing with it in his personal life. I thought it was a rather over-the-top attempt to show that one really can't wrap one's head around something so huge and devastating. Bilal Dardai's "The Empty Bowl" had a very experimental format, to the point that I didn't even understand what it was trying to do.

One of my favorite stories in this issue was Virgil Saurez's "Lalo's Skin," which was about a man remembering a friend his father had had throughout the man's childhood, who was a liar and a thief, but whom his dad nonetheless continued to help. I also enjoyed Doreen Baingana's "Lost in Los Angeles," about a woman who comes to L.A. from East Africa. Both of these stories, as well as Jonathan Wei's "Mr. Lee's Study"--about an old professor close to retiring, which I rather liked as well--could be categorized as realistic slice-of-life vignettes, but the writing in all of them was very good and the "plots"-- or as much of a plot as each one had-- were interesting. I also enjoyed the interview of Carol Roh-Spaulding, although I haven't read anything she's written.

Karen Kovacik's "Madrigals for a Bauhaus Baby"--about a childless woman whose co-worker miscarried-- and Elizabeth Gallu's "At the Garden"--kind of a "day in the life" of a woman and her husband in Germany--were okay, in my opinion. Nancy Zafris's "Prix Fixe"--about a washed-up cook who used to be a chef in Paris--was okay but it felt much longer than it needed to be. I could not get into Christopher Bundy's "Morning Prayers" at all; I was confused about what was happening and where the characters were, and it just felt rather boring to me, so I stopped reading it. Quang Huynh's "Dust Falling in Daylight"--about a bomb that explodes and kills someone--was unremarkable, in my opinion. Jennifer Oh's "January," about a South Korean woman who loses her daughter during their flight from North Korea's attacks, was interesting and I liked it.

It's strange because although I felt disappointed with many of the stories in this issue, and very few made me feel deeply moved, overall I enjoyed reading the issue and I couldn't put it down. Reading Glimmer Train always inspires me to write and to think, and this issue was no exception. So I give it three stars. Of course I would give certain stories more stars than others, but overall it averages out to three.

Click here to purchase this issue from

Go to the Glimmer Train Stories website to subcribe to the journal.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Quotes on Reading and Literature

These are quotes about reading, literature and books that I've found and liked.

"Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress."
~Anton Chekhov

"I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library."
~Jorge Luis Borges

“At home, I merely used to read. Reading stirred, delighted, and tormented me.”
~Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground (CLICK FOR BOOK REVIEW)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Virtual LitSpot: Literary Rejections on Display

Feeling down about a recent rejection letter? Visit Literary Rejections on Display, where misery loves company. This blog features real-life rejections from both famous and aspiring writers and features everyone from Kathryn Stockett, whose best-selling novel The Help was rejected by almost 60 agents, to the blogger himself. If this site doesn't lift your spirits when you're feeling like you'll always be met with rejection and never the ever-elusive acceptance, then, sorry but I don't know what will!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Back on the Submission Circuit

I've heard back from three of the five literary journals where I sent my creative non-fiction piece "Coach K" in September. All three were rejection slips. My fiance suggested changing the name of the piece because apparently there's a well-known college football coach or something named Coach K and it might be confusing. I also thought I could shorten it some (from about 5,000 to 4,000 words) and that that might improve its chances. A few days ago I sent out the latest version of the piece, called "Cadence," to three more literary journals. I'm crossing my fingers.

I also finished a short story called "The Olympia Fiasco," about the wedding industry, and entered it into a fiction contest and submitted it to one other literary journal. Soon I plan to send it to many more places.

I was reading an author interview in Glimmer Train Stories with Carol Roh-Spaulding (it was an old issue -- Fall 2003) who said that her first short story was published, but she thinks it's because she sent it to twenty-five different markets!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Author/ Attorney Louis Auchincloss Dies

The New York Times reports that Louis Auchincloss died on Tuesday night at the age of 92, due to complications from a stroke. His life was dedicated to literary pursuits despite a time-consuming "day job." Auchincloss had two careers: he was a full-time lawyer and a prolific writer. In his legal career, he specialized in trusts and estates for wealthy clients. In his writing career, he chronociled the lives of wealthy elitists living in mid-twentieth century Manhattan. Both careers reflect his life: he himself was a man of money and power who lived his entire life in New York City.

The NYT article discusses how Auchincloss managed to publish "more than 60 books of fiction, biography and literary criticism" despite being a full-time attorney for most of his life. "I think my secret is to use bits and fractions of time," Auchincloss is quoted as saying in an interview. "I trained myself to do that. Anybody can do it. I could write sitting in surrogate’s court answering calendar call."

Auchincloss' father was an attorney, but when used to visist his law offices, he said he was filled with gloom by "those dark narrow streets and those tall, sooty towers." He went to college at Yale, where he published stories in the literary journal, of which he later became President. He "yearned for a literary life." His first book was rejected by Scrivners and he decided to become a lawyer like his father, thinking that "a man born to the responsibilities of a brownstone bourgeois world could only be an artist or writer if he were a genius." He went to the University of Virginia Law School and then joined the Wall Street law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell.

He joined the Navy during World War II, which is when he wrote his first novel that was to be published. The Indifferent Children was published by Prentice-Hall in 1947, at which time Auchincloss was practicing again with Sullivan & Cromwell. He published this book under a pen name, Andrew Lee, because his mother thought it was "vulgur" and would destroy his legal career. It met with success, however, so he kept writing and publishing. It seems that Auchincloss' pursuit of writing was in some way tied to external rejection or acceptance, because he was dissuaded early on with the rejection of his firt novel, but enthused by the success of his first published novel, which spurred on many other short stories, essays, and novels.

He took three years off from practicing law to dedicate himself to writing, and then went to work for another Wall Street firm, Hawkins, Delafield & Wood. He wrote that at some point he stopped thinking of himself as a lawyer or a writer, and was "simply doing what I was doing when I did it." His novel The Education of Oscar Fairfax, published in 1995, is partly autobiographical and is a story about a "well-born Social Register type who abandons his dream of a literary career to join his father’s law firm."

I have been making it a habit to write for at least an hour (I aim for an hour and a half) every day, before or after work. If Auchincloss could write all of this while also being a lawyer, a husband, and serve on several committees for the city of New York, I can certainly keep writing. Next time I want to complain about being both a lawyer and a writer, I'll look to Louis Auchincloss for inspiration!

A Biography of Louis Archincloss:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Book Review: Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I read this book a couple of years ago, and I'm reviewing it now because I'm giving it away on, now that I have it on my Kindle. Even thinking about this book and browsing through portions of it that I enjoyed makes me want to read it again. It was an addicting book.

The first half of it is mainly the ramblings of a former civil servant who lives in an underground basement-type dwelling in St. Petersburg. We quickly find that this unnamed narrator is cynical and detached. He thinks that he is superior to everyone else, but he is also very insecure. He is one of those people who never fit in with everyone else, and who feels angry and isolated because of it. He both hates that fact that he feels different from everyone else, and loves it, at the same time.

Certain parts of the first half of this book were boring and confusing to me. But the overall tone was fascinating, and the language just gribbed me. There are such beautiful and true passages in here! I'm glad I stuck with it because the entire second half of the book is told in a more traditional "story-telling" format. We see the narrator's beef with a former supervisor, we see him at a dinner party with his "friends", and, in my favorite parts of the book, we see him with a prostitute named Liza. At the same time he confides in Liza and uses her selfishly, he also lectures her about why she shouldn't be a prostitute, and how lovely her life could be if she were to leave that lifestyle. The ironic thing is that the narrator's life is empty and unhappy, and he wouldn't even have Liza if she were to take his advice. It's so strange to read because his advice seems so helpful and on point, yet, he clearly doesn't take it himself.

Here I'll post some quotes I liked from the book because the best part of it is its language. It is excellently translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. (I always wonder how translators can capture the original tone and language from Russian, which is so different from English!) There are long passages on marriage and family which I'm thinking of using for a reading at my upcoming wedding in October. I loved this book and want to re-read it and read more by Dostoevsky.

Quotes from Notes from Underground:

“At home, I merely used to read. Reading stirred, delighted, and tormented me.”

“It is impossible for an intelligent man seriously to become anything, and only fools become something.”

“To be overly conscious is a sickness, a real, thorough sickness.“

“But anyhow: what can a decent man speak about with the most pleasure?
Answer: Himself.
So then I, too, will speak about myself.”

“I’ve always considered myself more intelligent than everyone around me, and, would you believe, have even felt slightly ashamed of it. At least I’ve somehow averted my eyes all my life, and never could look people straight in the face.”

“Curses on that school, on those terrible years of penal servitude! In short, I parted ways with my fellows as soon as I was set free.”

“With love one can live even without happiness. Life is good even in sorrow, it’s good to live in the world, no matter how.”

“Man only likes counting his grief, he doesn’t count his happiness. But if he were to count properly, he’d see that there’s enough of both lots for him."

“What if everything goes right in the family, God blesses it, your husband turns out to be a good man, who loves you, pampers you, never leaves your side! It’s good in this family! Oftentimes even half mixed with grief it’s still good, and where there is no grief? Perhaps, once you get married, you’ll find out for yourself. But take just the beginning, after you’ve married someone you love: There’s such happiness at times, so much happiness! I mean, day in and day out. In the beginning, even quarrels with a h sband end well. Some women, the more they love, the more they pick quarrels with their husbands...."

“And how good to make peace after a quarrel, to own up to him, or to forgive! And how good, how good they both suddenly feel-as if they were meeting anew, getting married anew, beginning to love anew. And no one, no one ought to know what goes on between a husband and wife if they love each other. And whatever quarrel they may have—they shouldn’t call even their mother to be their judge or hear them tell about each other. They are their own judges. Love—is God’s mystery, and should be hidden from all other eyes, whatever happens. It’s holier that way, and better. They respect each other more, and so much is founded on respect. And if there was love once, if they were married out of love, shy should love pass? Can’t it be sustained? It rarely happens that it can’t be. Well, and if the husband proves to be a kind and honest man, how can love pass? The first married love will pass, true, but then an even better love will come. Then their souls will grow close; they’ll decide all their doings together; they’ll have no secrets from each other. And when children arrive, then all of it, even the hardest times, will come like happiness; one need only love and have courage. Now even work brings joy, now even if you must occasionally deny yourself bread for the children’s sake, still there is joy. For they will love you for it later; so you’re laying aside for yourself.
Isn’t this the whole of happiness, when they’re all three together, husband, wife and child? A lot can be forgiven for those moments.”

“I might not just dangle after you, but simply fall in love with you, and be glad if you merely glanced at me, let alone spoke. I’d watch for you by the gate, I’d stay forever on my knees before you; I’d look upon you as my fiancée, and regard it as an honor. I wouldn’t dare even think anything impure about you. Love! – but this is everything, it’s a diamond, a maiden’s treasure, this love! To deserve this love a man would be ready to lay down his soul, to face death.”

“For a woman it is in love that all resurrection, all salvation from ruin of whatever sort, and all regeneration consists, nor can it reveal itself in anything else but this.”

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Holiday Book-Giving Wrap-Up

I gave a few books this year for the holidays. One of them was John Grisham's latest book of short stories, Ford County: Stories, which I gave to my fiance's father. He already had it! So I am going to keep it for myself and get him something else.

I got my sister-in-law a book called Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher's First Year, Expanded Edition, which is the journal of a first-year teacher in an inner-city school. My sister-in-law is a middle school math teacher whose class includes a lot of under-privileged kids, so I thought she might like the book, as well as the "25 tips for teachers" that was included in the updated version. I also got her the Cup of Comfort Devotional for Women: A daily reminder of faith for Christian women by Christian Women book.

I got my dad a lot of running books he wanted on Amazon. My favorite book-related gift I gave was the present I bought my little sister, who is 9 years old. I gave her Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass (Barnes & Noble Classics), along with the Alice in Wonderland [TV 1985] movie based on the book that I used to love to watch when I was little. I was hoping we could read the book together and then watch the movie, but of course we didn't get time! I hope she enjoys reading and watching it on her own.

As for books I received, I asked my family for a Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, U.S. Wireless), and I got it! At first I was hesitant to go electronic because I love the look and feel of real books, I love collecting them and having them near and looking at them. But I don't like toting them around on vacation, and I honestly have way too many of them; they are piled all over our small house. It's to the point where I really can't physically bring in any more books to the house! I also don't like holding onto a bulky book with both hands and pausing in my reading to turn the pages, etc. I decided to give the Kindle a try and became really excited about being able to have a bunch of different books on one small device, which is easy to take with me and easy to hold and read. So far I absolutely love it, and I'll give a more in depth review when I've had it a bit longer.

That took up the bulk of my presents and I didn't really want any more books because I'm trying to cut down and go light. My mom gave me Jodi Picoult's Vanishing Acts: A Novel.