So, I guess I can't not talk about the Mason loss on Saturday. Everyone says just be happy they were invited to the dance, be happy they did as well as they did—Final Freakin' Four!—and call it a day. And while yes, I am happy they made the final four, I can't help agreeing with my eight-year old son, who said, " I had a lot of a lot of hope." That about sums it up: A lot of a lot.
I am busy here finishing up an Earth Day story for the Washington Post. Also finished is an entire passel of articles written for a lovely glossy magazine actually available at the local supermarket. Each article in the package covers a different facet of literary life in Washington, DC and hits the stands later this month.
For now, I am waaay behind in my reading notes. Here are February's titles—nothing like listing February at the beginning of April! You can expect the March list to appear later this month, as soon as the LBC selections are officially announced — we don't want to spoil the surprise! Books in brief for February:
February was month of memoirs. Why? I have no idea. Could it have something to do with it being the shortest month? Maybe. I do know it wasn't planned, it just sort of happened that way.
It all started innocuously, a copy of Haven Kimmel's A Girl Called Zippy left in a friend's car. I started flipping through, read the first section, which was riveting, and decided to bring it home. Told in short vignettes, Kimmel takes the reader through a homespun coming of age story in small town—300 person small—Indiana. This is a white-washed version of the '60's, clean and neat, presented in easily digested vignettes. Unfortunately, most of the interesting elements, the darker side of small town life, are only hinted at and reside firmly at the margins. In an age of over disclosing, tell-all books, perhaps the allure for some readers lies in what this book doesn't say. That was not the case for me. I wanted more, a few sharp and observant peeks at the dark undercurrents running below the surface and some introspection. Nope. The first and last vignette were fantastic, the rest is the opposite of "zippy," a slow and sleepy ride down the quiet curves of memory lane.
From small town life to New York City, Anne Roiphe's 1185 Park Avenue followed close on Zippy's heels. These two books are night and day, and Zippy didn't fair well by comparison—though to be honest, I am not sure that what book would, as Roiphe's poignant memoir of growing up in NYC in the 40's is a tough act to follow. I taught this book for Nextbook, as part of their book series event, and found Roiphe's story of her wealthy loveless family wrenching, a complicated portrait of a difficult childhood, filled with keen literary observations and grit. I actually regret not reading this book sooner, when it was first released (1999).
From there to The Middle of Everything: Memoirs of Motherhood by Michelle Herman. Two people I admire and respect told me to read Herman. I promptly put this book on my ever-growing TBR pile where it languished for quite some time. My mistake. This book is now on the gift list for several friends who are sure to find Herman's stone cold look at motherhood without the rose-colored specs a welcome relief, even while the poignancy of the story—Herman own childhood, her daughter's breakdown—disturbs and enlightens.
Not to step on Caroline's toes here, as she does a bang up job for the nonfiction faction, but we did manage to squeeze in one more nonfiction title in February: Why I'm Like This, by Cynthia Kaplan. Why is Kaplan like this? I can't answer that, but I can say she's funny and witty and has a lot of true and disturbing things to stay about childhood, therapy, fertility issues and pregnancy—yes, I know, not everybody's interest, so forgive my bias. There is some fine writing here and truly funny moments, though I suspect there was also an eager editor or agent in the mix somewhere saying: "make it longer, we need more page count." Really, we didn't. We needed a better editor, to even out the rough patches and make the book more cohesive. That said, this is a book that plays to my themes (see above) and the well-written essays—on parents, girlfriends, grandparents, and parenting—will likely find their way into the hands of my students in the future.
At long last we get to some contemporary fiction with Jeffrey Ford's novel, The Girl in the Glass. I was recovering from the flu, sick of memoir, with a teetering pile of books to choose from. Luckily, I selected Ford. Literary, smart and the master of the oddball, Ford made me laugh and kept me turning pages. Exactly what I was looking for, a genial and escapist romp, littered with conmen and flimflam artists, snake oil salesmen and even a snake charmer. A quirky story set in Gatsby territory—wealthy Long Island opulence set against a depression-era backdrop—with intrigue, suspense, a few plot twists, a hint of the supernatural and some very real world evil. People are always asking me to recommend a good book club book, one that will appeal to different types of readers. This is absolutely that book.