Books Read in October

“Elegies for the Brokenhearted” a novel by Christine Hodgen

Every family had one and you were ours: the chump, the slouch, the drunk, the bum, the forever-newly-employed (garbageman, fry cook, orderly, delivery truck driver) and the forever-newly-unemployed (I didn’t need that shit, you’d say), the chain-smoking fuckup with the muscle car, an acorn-brown 442 Cutlass Supreme named Michelle, the love of your life (Let’s see what this baby can do, you’d say, all six of us cousins piled in the back, and how we screamed when you rolled down the windows and put Michelle’s pedal to the medal on Route 20, how we flew past those strip joints, those 24-hour diners, those squalid motels and scrap metal yards, behind which, a sunken valley, our neighborhood of two-bedroom cinderblock houses sulked and cowered), the bachelor uncle with the bloodshot eyes and five-day beard came late to holiday dinners, rumpled shirt and jeans, breath like gasoline– Michael Timothy Beaudry, for a time you were ours.

That packed first sentence begins the first of five stories that make up this novel. Each story is an elegy to a person who touched Mary’s life in some way and through each elegy her life is revealed. It’s an amazing format that tells a funny and bittersweet story. I got it from the library after my sister recommended it (thanks, sis!) but I think I may have to buy my own copy as there were many lines I wanted to highlight along the way.

“Thirteen Reasons Why” a YA novel by Jay Asher

“Sir?” she repeats. “How soon do you want it to get there?”

Like “Elegies” (above) the structure of this novel is unique and it does not detract from the story at all. In fact, it enhances it. It takes place over the course of a day during which Clay listens to cassettes (in an age of digital music) he recieved mysteriously in the mail. He is stunned to hear the voice of Hannah, a classmate who had committed suicide. The tapes are sent to 13 people, kids who may have somehow contributed to Hannah’s decision to take her own life. It was a fast, intense read.

“The Creative Life- True Tales of Inspiration” by Julia Cameron

Where to begin?

Julia Cameron begins where she is, describing the moment, the weather, the food in front of her.  We are gently led through the days that make up her creative life. The thing that struck me was the group of people she has allied herself with. A creative tribe to share in the ups and downs of the creative process; to enjoy music, theatre together; to rejoice in the success and support in the face of rejection or setbacks. The artist need not be lonely or isolated. In fact, she should seek to surround herself with her own tribe of creatives.

“Freedom” a novel by Jonathan Franzen

The news about Walter Berglund wasn’t picked up locally– he and Patty had moved to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now– but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times.

I approached this mammoth novel with some trepidation, requesting the book from my local library before Oprah chose it for her book club. There was a lot of hype out there from the President receiving an advance copy while on vacation to the Time magazine cover declaring Franzen the Great American Novelist which prompted a backlash from women writers and bothered me as well. But I read it. It’s a good story. It is. He wove together several political, cultural, generational threads as told through the story of the Berglunds. The bulk of the story is about the relationships between husband and wife, parents and children, friends, lovers, siblings and neighbors which is what many women write about and often it is dismissed as women’s fiction so I don’t understand why a novel such as “Freedom” written by a man is so exalted as a prism that reflects our times. So maybe I went into this with a kind of chip on my shoulder. A kind of prove-it-to-me attitude. While I can always appreciate a well-told, well-written, well-paced story, which this certainly was, I tend to gush over stories where the sentences are almost musical or that contain metaphors that take my breath away and make me pick up my pen to highlight them, which this wasn’t.

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