Sunday, April 28, 2013

Falling Off in the Middle

Apple Blossom Time
photo by Amy Brandon

“Outside was quiet.  Light clear as water created shadows of leaves curled and minuscule on the ground.  She looked at the sky as she walked, a passionate blue.  Cloudless.  In the grove by the far apple orchard the apple trees were in shadow.  The sun postured along the curvature of canyon and illuminated the walnut trees starkly….  The sun on the porous bank near where she stood was lit up, incandescent, the minerals glittering and the dull mud peculiar and particular even in its dullness.  Each pore and streak and detail was washed and brought forth as is a person’s face by the light.” From The Orchardist

 The last two books I have read I loved until half-way through.  I still liked them both at the end, but lost some of my feeling for each of them for different reasons.    The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin succeeded in evoking its time and place and in investing me in the characters and their lives.   The main complaint I have about the novel is that half-way through, the plot starts to drag out a bit.  I felt like the story could have been told a little more succinctly.  I also ended up fairly disliking the character of Della.  I wanted to like her, and naturally, I pity anyone who grows up like she did.  I just lost patience with her.   To be fair, however, I will have to say that I have no basis for understanding her kind of misery.  The older I get, the more I see, every day, evidence of how truly messed up a person’s upbringing can make him or her.  I’d say the contrast between Della and Angelene exhibits this point perfectly.  Regardless of the dragging middle part and the irritation I felt with Della, The Orchardist is definitely a book worth reading.  The descriptions of the land and the people and of how they are tied to the land, the family saga and the harshness of people’s lives, and the feeling of place and time in the novel reminded me of Steinbeck’s East of Eden, which is one of my favorite novels.
After The Orchardist, I read The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.  The first chapter of this book is almost perfect, and I loved the brilliant, quirky, highly improbable dialogue, which was very entertaining and laugh out loud funny sometimes.  There are so many themes presented worth exploring and considering:  existential angst, living your best life anyway, how small people and small infinites matter too.    The last part of the book, however, was so difficult for me to read that I don’t feel like I can say I loved the whole book.  It needs to be read, deserves to be read, but was not an easy thing for me to get through.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Too Many Books Too Little Time

Menelaus Supporting the Body of Patroclus
 Piazza della Signoria, Florence
Photo by Amy Brandon
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller and Holes by Louis Sachar.  I read Holes because I was reading it aloud where I volunteer.  I enjoyed it but not as much as some of the reviews indicated I should.  It seemed a little over-hyped to me.    
I found The Song of Achilles to be very entertaining, and as I read, I researched some of the myths I was less familiar with, so it was educational in that way.   I enjoyed the story being told from Patroclus' point of view.   The point of view and the narration type brought freshness and immediacy to a story we all already know.  It's a good quick read if you're looking for some light entertainment.
I’m still chipping away at Les Miserable and Beowulf, and I am half-way through The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin, which I am absolutely loving.  Within the first twenty pages of The Orchardist, I knew it was going to be one of those sagas that would sweep me up into its world.  I do love a novel that transports me so completely.   The OCD part of me is not happy being in the middle of so many books and not completing them, so now it’s time for some lunch reading!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Tempus Fugit

photo by Amy Brandon

"Walk without a stick into the darkest woods." Cheryl Strayed
Three of the stories Cheryl Strayed tells in Tiny Beautiful Things haunt me.  One is about her mother’s last gift to her, and it haunts me because it happened to me. Her mother’s last gift to her was a coat.  In 1993, when I was five months pregnant with my first child, I went to visit my mother in the hospital.   Her cancer was advanced enough that she begged me to pray for her death and told me she planned to wear the dress she wore to my wedding to her burial.  I was hurried, harried, overwrought, overworked, confused, and not wanting to hear anything she had to say about her death.  It was February.  I breezed into her hospital room coatless, because I’d finally reached the point where nothing I owned fit my growing belly.    Even in the midst of her death, she noticed my lack of a coat, forced cash on me, and made me go to the mall to buy a coat I could fit into.  I kept that coat, ugly and out-dated though it was, until last year. 
The second story Strayed tells that haunts me does so because nothing like it ever happened to me.  She tells of her mother’s buying a child’s dress at a yard sale years before Strayed ever thought of having a child and how her child eventually wears that dress.  This haunts me because my mother never bought either of my children anything, because she never had the opportunity.  Strayed speaks of how quotidian it is to some people to dress their kids in clothes their grandparents bought and of how shimmeringly beautiful that one dress her mom bought was because it was the only thing her mom ever bought for her child. 

The third story haunts me in a good way, because it makes me understand that I am not alone.  She advises a motherless woman’s fiancĂ© to accept the emptiness that is part of the woman he loves and to accept that it will never be ok that her mother died when she was young.  She says that when you lack a parent, it’s like walking around with empty bowls in your hands that you can never fill.  I learned a long time ago that we learn to live around the voids left in our lives by death.  The best way I can honor my mother is to live the hell out of the life she gave me and to love my children the same way she loved me, like there was never anything more beautiful in the history of the world.

How to Save a Life, One Day at a Time

photo by Amy Brandon   "Little things heal our hurts. Sounds, scents, the spoken word, and music that may mean nothing to someon...