Magical Thinking and the Vortex

October 16, 2013 at 5:00 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

magical thinkingTitle:The Year of Magical Thinking

Author: Joan Didion

Publisher: Knopf

Genre: Memoir

Length: 227 pages

‘I want to go to Malibu.  I would have especially loved to be there in 1976… but alas, I am not a time traveler,” I think as I look at the black and white photograph of Joan Didion with her family on the jacket of The Year of Magical Thinking.

I’m holding a first edition, twelfth printing from December 2005.  It’s a hardback and does not yet feature the gold emblem in the upper right hand corner you see there. I’m assuming where it announces that Didion won the National Book Award for her memoir about grief.

Didion describes ordinary moments when lives change with such detail and such sadness. All I can think is that I find people who go out of this world in ordinary moments sort of blessed.

I know too many who have departed at the height of some drama or another… a gun to the head, horrible bodily functions that caused them to drown in their spit, people who spent their last moments screaming in horrible pain of the body or the mind.

These other people who depart happy… well, let’s just say I hope I go out that way.

Reading this book brings back the nausea of my own grief.  Every description she offers sounds familiar in some way.  No, I haven’t lost a husband, or a child, but I’ve lost.  And I anticipate their loss every day.

Grief comes to you in a number of ways.  One of which is the way you find yourself trying to fill in the hole that missing person left behind.  And doing it badly.  Leaving not a filled in hole, but nauseatingly burning questions you can never get answered.  Song lyrics you can’t un-hear.

When someone dies you are to be there for the family.  You are in no way to interfere with their grief.  You provide.  You silently help.  You be there. You do not intrude.  I was taught this.  I was taught not to draw the attention away from the people in real pain – just as Didion describes.

But reading this, I weep.

What about the people who have no rights? No claim?  The person sitting there who viewed the deceased like family but clearly meant less than the real family?

What do you do when one of the best people you have ever known is dead and you have no claim?

You stay silent.  Or have inappropriate anger toward the deceased.

You find yourself trying to make new friends to fill their place, only to realize the relationship was entirely unique and can never be replaced. Because they were unique.

Didion speaks of the Vortex – of memories – in a way I know so well.  Her vortex are stories of her daughter – her husband – snippets from their lives.

Mine is my own private cage.  That world of private thoughts that I don’t have.  Mine come in deja vus and too much whiskey.  Mine come in always hearing the right thing at the wrong time and the wrong thing at the right time.  Mine come in conversations that remind me of silences, and silences that echo long gone conversations.

My Vortex is the panic attack that starts in my pinkie and the moment in which I forget something I used to remember… or suddenly remember something I forgot.

The Year of Magical Thinking is a bit of a Vortex too… best kept under wraps in a comfy chair, with my journal nearby for the uncontrollable vomit of thought and tears that will arise as I turn the page to the next chapter.

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An Exact Replica…

December 23, 2012 at 5:01 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

exact140Title:An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

Author: Elizabeth McCracken

Publisher: Jonathan Cape

Genre: Memoir/Autobiography

Length: 184 pages

I have never felt so awful as a human being as when I sat reading An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination knowing I’d be ‘reviewing’ it for a blog shortly after I finished.  How do you justify that in your mind? ‘Reviewing’ something so personal, so devastating, so beautiful, so intense.  As an avid reader, a constant reviewer, and one those people who presume to call themselves a writer though I’ve yet to have anything published, I felt like an inconsiderate intruder reading such an intimate account of a loss so great.  It’s rare to read something so personal.

As a mother, on the other hand, I wept.  I wept, and wept, and wept, for little Pudding.  I wept for Elizabeth.  I wept for a friend who lost a baby not long after I had my own.  I wept for all the things I may have said wrong, all the things I may have not said, and I wept for the selfish joy that my own sweet, precious child was snuggled next to me as I read.  I wept for Pudding, I wept for another friend who died, I wept for his mother because even though she had 29 years with him he was still her child, and I wept for the baby cemetery that I pass every time I visit his grave.

I’ve had a writer’s crush on Elizabeth McCracken for sometime.  I have an extremely vivid memory of reading A Giant’s House while having lunch with the same friend whose grave I now visit.  We devoured deli food, iced tea, and discussed the oddity of a romance between a librarian and child giant.  I remember telling him what a strange tale it was, but if I could ever manage to write anything half so interesting I would pee myself with happiness.  He promised to read it too, though I’m quite certain he never did because he was in the habit of reading the first thirty or so pages of something and then proclaiming himself an expert on a topic, starting novels and not finishing them, and making half-hearted promises… little things that I tend to hate in people, but for whatever reason found endearing in him.  I loved him dearly, and for that reason, I’ve never been quite certain whether my Elizabeth McCracken crush was because Elizabeth McCracken was all that amazing, or if it was because thinking of her always reminds me of him.  I cannot think of one without thinking of the other.

Reading An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, I’m now quite certain that Elizabeth McCracken is that amazing, and deserves adoration outside the realm of  Matty memories.  She’s a wonderful writer, a fascinating person, has a rockin’ last name, and by sharing this book with the world has proved to me (without ever having met her) that she has a very giving soul.

Elizabeth McCracken, thank you for sharing Pudding’s story.  And from the bottom of my heart: I am sorry for your loss.

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The House at Riverton – A Review

March 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

ImageTitle: The House at Riverton

Author: Kate Morton

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Genre: Fiction

Length: 468 pages

Buy The House at Riverton

I fell in love with Kate Morton’s writing when I first read The Forgotten Garden, Morton’s ode to her love for Frances Hodgson Burnett.  How appropriate then that I fall in love with her work all over again while reading The House at Riverton, Morton’s ode to all things F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ian McEwan’s Atonement – appropriate because I recently wept and swooned over Tanya Egan Gibson’s own ode to her love of The Great Gatsby (How To Buy a Love of Reading) and felt compelled to re-read the work myself.  Apparently it is to be a year of the jazz age.  I’m even on a mission to read the entire Agatha Christie Crime Collection.  In honor of it all, I may be a flapper again for Halloween this year, but what I really want is that green dress Keira Knightly wears in Atonement and for my husband to take me to a play while I wear it.  Of course, I no longer have the boyish figure of the jazz age, emaciated with Kate Hudson sized breasts, I haven’t had that since college.  Now I have the soft roundness of motherhood.

But of course, I’m not talking about me, I’m supposed to be writing a review.  That’s the thing about Kate Morton though, her work is beautiful and intricate and secretive and it feels so real.  Although I get completely engrossed in her story (because she is an amazing story teller), by the end all I can think about is my own story, my own secrets.  Obviously, nothing so dark and grand as love-babies out of wedlock and murder and suicide, but still she makes you think about all the things in your life left unsaid that will remain unsaid even after you die.

Morton wrote the elderly Grace beautifully.  I imagine that is exactly how it must feel to be old.  I loved her so much, and she reminded me so well of people I have met in nursing homes when I used to sing there.  She left so many little hints of other pieces of Grace’s life outside of Riverton, I was left longing for more of Grace even after Hannah and Emmeline’s story was over.  I wanted to dive into a spin off story of Grace on her archeological adventures and reconnection to Alfred.  I know it wouldn’t be a best seller, wouldn’t hold the same magic with Grace’s deep dark secret already revealed and the last thoughts at her death already documented, but I wanted to have a little more of Grace nonetheless.  That’s what makes Morton’s writing so great though, you don’t get tired of the story.  She wraps everything up so nicely for you, but still leaves an inkling of longing in your heart for what is now done.

One thing that I must say to the masses about this book… if you are one of those that reads the last page first – DON’T.  You will ruin the charm and the magic.  I can’t imagine reading the last page first without the whole book losing its adventure.

Check out this blog to read a more detailed and descriptive review:

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How to Buy a Love of Reading… Just buy Gibson’s book

January 2, 2012 at 3:27 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: How to Buy a Love of Reading

Author: Tanya Egan Gibson

Publisher: Dutton, a member of Penguin group

Genre: Fiction

Length: 389 pages


I cannot begin to count, honestly, the number of times I was brought to tears by this book.  Something that was supposed to be light and fun proved to be something beautiful and amazing, something that moved me more than words can express.

I cannot begin to count, honestly, the number I times I fell in love with Hunter.  Over and over again, reminding me of boys I fell in love with in real life.  Stranger still, reminding me of myself.

I found Carly amazing, and brave, and beautiful, a character who reminded me of people I both love and hate.

I found Gibson reminding me why I fell in love with Fitzgerald in high school and how I cherish every blessed word of Gatsby and every word written about it.

I found myself wanting to share this jewel with a dear friend who has already left this world and lonely because of all the disappointment in his missing it.

I sit here writing the most incoherent review in the immediate moment of completion because I’m blown away, dazed, and I don’t want it to end, even though the ending is so perfectly final.

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Have You Read Goodell’s Zenith Rising?

November 30, 2009 at 6:30 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

As most people know, I am a addict.  It makes sense, as shelfari is a book site for book people and I am quite certainly a book person.  In my shelfari hunting and pecking for great reads and cool recommendations, I ran across an author named Michael Goodell who has since been a fun shelfari friend to engage in the banter of book talk.  One day, a group of us decided to read his book Zenith Rising (available for purchase on amazon) and discovered quite a treat.

I found Zenith Rising to be an interesting read and great first novel for Goodell.  It was slightly reminiscent of an old classic with a mix of John Grisham’s The Rainmaker, but unique and very much an original piece full of life and art and the raw thoughts of humanity.  I also believe that its a good shelf companion to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

Goodell has said about his work,

[…] one message I want people to walk away with after reading Zenith Rising, it would be the transformative effect that the pride of accomplishment and the sense of ownership can have on people who have never accomplished anything, (nor been told that they could or should), and never owned anything that wasn’t given to them. On that last point, when I was working with a nonprofit housing group, I was struck by the similarities between the lives of trust fund babies, and those of welfare babies. They both are born into lives with no demands and no expectations, and both engage in self-destructive behaviors, often culminating in wasted lives. I tried to point out that connection through some of the characters and their antics.

I think Goodell has succeeded in his goal, as most people I have talked to about the book feel a twinge of nostalgia towards the work as a whole.  I cried like a baby through chapter nine, the way I cried in Wall-E.  People should read this book before finishing school, high school or college, I don’t think it really matters which, just before they go out into the world. Inspire them to not let money go to their head, and not let their cities become pieces of crap. We’re always taught about the problems in other countries. Growing up, I always heard the glories of mission trips. Did we ever do activities in our own cities that were helpful? Not really. The closest we came was a yearly trip to Dallas four hours away. We got a lot done and it was amazing, but anything that can be done in Dallas could have certainly been done in Houston.

I truly believe that Goodell’s book has a bit of simple brilliance about it and cannot wait to read his second book which will also be set in the city of Zenith.

An excerpt from the book (pg.82-83):

One of the men stood with back to the viewer, in the lower center of the painting, where the mountain sloped down to a ridge, gazing out across a valley or vast plain stretching to the horizon. Often painted at dusk, with mist rising from the ground, or the sunset colors reflecting in the myriad streams snaking their way across the valley floor, the paintings gave the attorney an aching desire to step into that long lost world. He stood beside the adventurer at the edge of a precipice. The world unfolded at his feet, waiting for a man courageous enough to carve a life from its untamed wilds.

Information from the Zenith Rising Website:

From its stunning opening scene of a police raid gone tragically awry, to its heart-breaking conclusion, “Zenith Rising” tells the story of a dying city. Yet once that city was a world leader in manufacturing and technological innovation.

Once Zenith’s future was limited only by the size of its dreams.

Though the years stripped away its promise, the people of Zenith didn’t share equally in its decline. For some, the wealth garnered during the glory years insulated them from the city’s struggles. Others sought to suck the last bit of life, and profit, from the dying city, while a few, a lonely few, saw things as they were and vowed to change them.

Michael Goodell has given us a compelling tale ripped from today’s headlines. By means of a riveting plot and vivid characters, he presents a challenge every American must confront.

You can learn more about itat
The list price is $24.95.

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