Landline by Rainbow Rowell & a Giveaway…

image

I read and enjoyed Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Attachments and LOVED Eleanor and Park, so I was pretty excited to read Landline. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy for review from the folks at St. Martin’s Press.

Landline is essentially a story about reconnection … Georgie McCool needs to reconnect to herself and her husband, Neal. Not to mention her literally reconnecting to the past via plugging an old yellow rotary phone into the wall. Growing up I lived with my Grandma. The only phone in the house was a yellow rotary on the kitchen wall. It was complete with an extremely stretched out cord from trying to seek a bit of privacy in the livingroom. Rainbow Rowell is a master at using pop culture references (the phone itself for example), no matter the decade, to evoke nostalgia in her readers. Parts of Landline take us back to the college culture of the late 90s which I loved because I attended college from 1993 – 1997.

Georgie loves Neal. Neal loves Georgie. Love has never really been the issue, but the question is: Is love enough? I know I have wondered this in my own marriage at times. Haven’t we all? We can become so caught up in the tasks of living. We are stressed and tired at the end of the day. When do we take time to really connect to our partners? How do we become so intricately entangled yet perhaps so lost from each other? “You don’t know when you’re twenty-three. You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten…in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.” Is love or compatability more important?

Although Landline didn’t give me the exact swoons that Eleanor and Park did, it is now my second favorite Rowell novel. What I wouldn’t give to have the opportunity to call the past. If you had a “magic” yellow phone, a portal to the past, who would you call and why? Comment with your answer below and you could win a copy of Landline for yourself!

Shut Up and Read.

I love the book community I have discovered over the last few years via blogging and Twitter. These are my people. But, sometimes I wonder: Do we spend too much time debating bookish “hot topics” instead of actually reading?

You prefer to read ebooks? Ok. You still prefer paper? Ok. You have access to an Indie book store? Great. You live in East Jesus with no book store access and order from Amazon? Great. Who cares! You use your local library? Great. You chose to review ARCs? Wonderful. You don’t? Ok too. You read YA as an adult? Cool. You read works written by women? Awesome. You seek diversity in your reading? Wonderful. You read old dead white guys? Cool. Comics? Awesome. Russian history? Ok.

My point is none of it really matters as long as you are reading. And you are reading. People are reading all the time. The novel isn’t dead. (And really how could it be since it was never a living thing to begin with.) Reading isn’t dead. It never will be … as long as we all remember to sometimes just shut up and read! ;)

Shirley: A Novel by Susan Scarf Merrell

Shirley A NovelBack in January, I read my first Shirley Jackson novel: We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Since then, I have been really interested in reading more of her work and finding out about the author herself. Recently, the folks at Blue Rider Press were kind enough to send me one of my very first review copies … Shirley: A Novel by Susan Scarf Merrell. This book is a fictional account of one couple’s time spent living with Shirley Jackson and her husband, Stanley Hyman, in 1964 (the year before Jackson’s death). Fred Nemser accepts a position at Bennington College, where Hyman is a professor, and he and his young, pregnant wife Rose become boarders at the Hyman-Jackson home. Rose quickly forms an odd, turbulent friendship with Shirley. Sometimes it seems as if Rose is looking for a mother figure in Jackson, while other times it almost seems like she wishes she could BE Jackson.

Much like Merricat in We Have Always Lived in the Castle Rose isn’t necessarily a reliable narrator and is the kind of girl who spends entirely too much time deep inside her own mind. This may account for the influence the house itself seems to be having over Rose. At points, I was reminded of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper: “I floated somewhere between relaxation and sleep, and felt the pulsing of the house’s life begin to throb inside me as if we shared a single heart. Not that the walls spoke, nothing so insane, but I could feel the history of footsteps treading its floors.” Except later in their stay, Rose admits the walls, the house does tell her things. I do wish I had read Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House prior to this book as I feel I may have been missing some subtle references. The house is really almost a character in itself.

The Hyman-Jackson marriage also garners attention in the novel. Their interactions, especially in front of the Nemsers and other company made me quite uncomfortable at times and reminded me a great deal of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Jackson herself is not really painted in the most flattering light through out the novel and I wonder if this is an actual reflection of Merrell’s feelings about Shirley. Ultimately, this novel speaks a great deal about love: the love between couples, the love between friends, the love between an artist and their work … specifically the messiness, unpredictability, and blurred lines of love: “But I know I’m right: that was Jackson’s gift, to understand the absurd unloveliness of love.”

The novel builds a lot of tension, but it did not provide the climax I was anticipating. Perhaps this was to be expected as the book is really more of a character/psychological study rather than plot driven. I think the highest compliment these fictional stories written within the historical context of a writer’s life can be paid is: Did the novel make you want to know more about the writer’s life and works? And in the case of Merrell’s Shirley: A Novel the answer is a resounding yes!

A Give Away: Shirley Jackson: A Novel by Susan Scarf Merrell

image

*Update*
And the randomly drawn winner is Jennifer! Thanks to all for commenting and playing!

The lovely folks at Blue Rider Press sent me an extra copy of Shirley: A Novel which is a fictional account of one couple’s adventure living with the author Shirley Jackson and her family in 1964. I am reading this psychological thriller right now and a review will be up shortly. In the mean time, if you are interested in winning a copy for yourself just comment below and tell me if you’ve read any Jackson and what your favorite is. I will draw a random winner Sunday June 8th.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle…Shirley Jackson

WHALITC3*This post may contain spoilers.*

“The last time I glanced at the library books on the kitchen shelf they were more than five months overdue, and I wondered whether I would have chosen differently if I had known that these were the last books, the ones which would stand forever on our kitchen shelf.”

Mary Katherine Blackwood. The ultimate in unreliable narrators … making the other main characters, like her older sister Constance and uncle Julian, seem just as crazy as she is. Of course, maybe they are … maybe mental health issues just run in the family. In the beginning she didn’t seem crazy exactly, just sort of eccentric … especially for an 18-year-old girl. Perhaps losing most of one’s family in a freak poisoning, having one’s sister accused and acquitted of said crime, and becoming the town’s lepers might make anyone a touch eccentric and unstable. It has to be damaging to hear the town’s children singing: “Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea? Oh no said Merricat, you’ll poison me.” Perhaps my favorite scene is when Helen Clarke brings Mrs. Wright to tea and uncle Julian recreates that infamous dinner for her upon request: “‘The dining room…?’ Mrs. Wright said timidly. ‘Just a glance?’” There is some delightful humor in uncle Julian’s character and he ends up being my favorite.

But then cousin Charles arrives (granted to swindle their money) and “Merricat” quickly spirals beyond eccentric. The real issue for Mary Katherine goes beyond the intrusion of Charles; it is the thought that Constance is slowly making her way back to the real world after a terrible ordeal … as if she is awaking after a long sleep.  She can’t have a “normal” Constance taking charge because Merricat simply doesn’t do normal well.

“I thought that he had to be asked politely just once; perhaps the idea of going away had just not come into his mind yet and it was necessary to put it there. I decided that asking Charles to go away was the next thing to do, before he was everywhere in the house and could never be eradicated.” Unfortunately, just asking is not enough to make Charles leave and what transpires at the hands of Mary Katherine seems tragic to the reader, but living in complete isolation with Constance is a dream come true for Merricat. “‘We are on the moon at last,’ I told her, and she smiled. ‘I thought I dreamed it all’, she said.” The fact that Constance retreats so easily  back into the world Mary Katherine has created for them speaks volumes about her own sanity.

At 146 pages, this is one powerful little book. We Have Always Lived in the Castle was published in 1962, three years before Shirley Jackson’s death in 1965. It was her last novel. Although it is not necessarily as famous as The Haunting of Hill House and her short story The Lottery, some consider We Have Always Lived in the Castle to be her real masterpiece. Outside of The Lottery in high school, this was my first time reading Jackson. Her writing is beautifully descriptive, complex and yet concise. There is just something about her style that really appealed to me. This book is calling out to me to be re-read to catch some of the more subtle aspects of Jackson’s writing now that I have a clear understanding of the plot.

Favorite Quote: “You will be wearing the skins of Uncle Julian; I prefer my tablecloth.” – Mary Katherine to Constance

Start 2014 Write

2014startwritebuttonThe Estella Society has rolled out a letter writing exchange for 2014. I love to read collections of famous letters/correspondence and often feel sad that our generation will most likely not be leaving this type of treasure behind for future readers. It seems that letter writing is a dying art form in our current days of social media and texting. In third grade, everyone in our NY classroom received a pen pal from a classroom in Wyoming. I continued to correspond with my pen pal until we graduated from high school. So, naturally I think this letter exchange is a really cool idea. You have until January 20th to sign up and then the entire month of February to write your letters … letters should be mailed by February 28. You may send letters to one or three or five participants and can expect that number of letters in return. Participation is open to international folks which I think is all the more exciting and fun! I encourage you to sign up for this event and to pick up a collection of letters to read for inspiration. I enjoyed As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto by Joan Reardon, Anne Sexton: A Self Portrait in Letters and I recently purchased Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home as well as Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald.

A Glance at 2013…

I managed to read 22 books this year … over 7,700 pages. This might not seem like a very respectable number to some of you, but considering I am in the midst of raising toddler twins and a teenager, I consider it a win. I didn’t accomplish much as far as my “classics” and related projects are concerned, but I feel like I stepped outside of my box as a reader and that was just as valuable an experience. Some highlights:

1. I discovered that although I love to make reading plans and lists, I cannot stick to them because I am too often drawn to a book not on my list. And so, I only read 5 of the 12 books on my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge List (hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader). I seem to be more suited for the random read along rather than the more structured challenges.

2. I read and enjoyed my first graphic novel … The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

3. I read some great YA titles like Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Perks was so good I actually read it twice this year!

4. I dipped into the “Jazz Age” with books like Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night along with Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. I discovered I am fascinated by Zelda Fitzgerald. Tender is the Night comes in as my least favorite book of 2013, but The Great Gatsby was a different story. Although I wasn’t necessarily blown away at first, I still find myself thinking about that novel … it sort of haunts me. It becomes greater and greater in my mind as time goes on and I will probably re-read it at some point.

5. I re-read A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. And this, my friends, is of course my favorite book of 2013. If you haven’t read it, you must. It can be slow in places, but it is so, so worth it in the end. There is no other character in literature like OWEN MEANY! He will get into your head. He will make you feel things that you weren’t expecting. He will stay with you for weeks and months to come.

6. I started Rowling’s Harry Potter series for the first time. I understand I may be the only book nerd left on earth who has not read this series, but I had some sort of unexplainable aversion to these books for as long as I can remember. And then, after all these years, they called to me for some reason and I am really enjoying it so far. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban will be seeing me into the new year.

Cheers to 2014!