Monthly Archives: March 2010

Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

1995. 224 pages. Paperback.

From: The public library

In a nutshell:

Krik? Krak! is a collection of stories centered around Haitian women in the past and present, on the island and in the United States.  The title refers to the how Haitian storytellers begin.  The storyteller says Krik?  The listeners respond with Krak!  And the story begins.

Review:

This is the first book I’ve read by Edwidge Danticat.  I had heard her name before, but never read anything by her.  The recent events in Haiti and the subsequent media focus spurred me to finally check out a book by her.

In the epilogue of this short story collection, Danticat talks in lyrical prose about how writing was considered suspect in Haiti.  And a woman who wrote?  This was not done.  But there still were stories needing to be told.

Kitchen poets, they call them.  They slip phrases into their stew and wrap meaning around their pork before frying it.  They make narrative dumplings and stuff their daughter’s mouths so they say nothing more.

My favorite stories were the first and the last.  “Children of the Sea” is a back-and-forth narrative between a young activist who is escaping on a raft filled with more doom than hope and the fierce girl who loved him, who remains in Haiti with her parents.  The narrator of “Caroline’s Wedding” has just become a U.S. citizen, and the following story describes her close relationship with her sister Caroline, her stubborn mother, and with her deceased father who she and Caroline see in their dreams.

Both stories reference song lyrics about Haiti that go like this: “Beloved Haiti, there is no place like you.  I had to leave you before I could understand you.”

I definitely plan on reading more Danticat in the future.  Does anyone have any recommendations?

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The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

1958. 255 pages. Paperback.

From: Public Library (Interlibrary loan!)

For the challenge: What’s In A Name

Recommendation from: Novel Insights

In a nutshell:

Sally Jay Gorce has wanted to see and experience the world since she was twelve.  After graduating college, and as a gift from a rich relative, she takes off for Paris ready to take on the world.  The book follows her in her adventures which include among other things: a lost passport, a film about a bullfighter, and a number of men.

Review:

I adored the spirited, fresh voice of this book.  Sally Jay Gorce is a fascinating character.  She is nothing like me but I can identify with her because Elaine Dundy knows how to convey the undercurrent of universality in her protagonist’s story.  For instance, there will be a moment where Sally is in the grip of high emotion over something, and then the next day or so, that feeling will have dissipated thanks to time’s effect on perspective.  Or also, Sally will be naive or self-centered and then have a breakthrough or flash of insight that endears her to the reader.

As I said, the voice in this book is incredible.  One would hardly know that it was written in the 1950’s (and maybe even barely know that it was set in the 1950’s except that they’re sending telegrams instead of emails to each other.)  The writing is sharp and funny, especially in its observations of people and situations.  Almost every page could be a showcase of this writing, it’s so consistently good.  Here’s one observation I particularly enjoyed about a party that Sally has been dragged to:

We walked into the drawing room, where everyone was sitting around like a bunch of stuffed owls.  Gradually they came to life.  About seven of them began exchanging glances with each other, very slowly at first and then with increasing vivacity, until exchanged glances were ricocheting around the room like bullets.

There is a plot among all this great writing, a story arc that follows Sally’s reconnection with an American acquaintance named Larry.  She feels like she’s in love with him, though he’s kind of a jerk.  He casts her in a small play he’s directing in Paris and later invites her to join him and a small party of friends down by Biarritz, by the ocean.

I was a little surprised by some of the revelations and events near the end – I didn’t really see it coming, but it didn’t seem out of place.  When I finished The Dud Avocado, I gave that little contented sigh that you do after a good meal or good book.

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Library Loot: March 10th

Library Loot!  Hosted by Eva and Marg.

So this is a couple trips’ worth of library books.  I can see that a flurry of renewals and re-renewals are ahead of me, but I’m excited about the loot all the same.

Four of the books were through Maryland’s state-wide interlibrary loan system (yay Marina!).

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy – I can’t believe this book was written in the 1950’s.  The writing voice is so fresh.  It’s about a young American woman living it up in Paris, or at least trying to.  I’m about halfway through this book now.  The writing is brilliant and contains such sharp observations about people.

Stasiland: True Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder

This book is about people who lived in a “surveillance state.”  Funder talks both with people who resisted and to former Stasi men.  I don’t think I’ve read much about life behind the Iron Curtain – I know about it, but not many details.

I’m on the lookout for a new urban fantasy series to latch onto (though a new Mercy Thompson book is coming out this month – yay!).  Here are two books that are the first in their series:

Storm Born by Richelle Mead – From the back cover: “Eugenie Markham is a powerful shaman who does a brisk trade banishing spirits and fey who cross into the mortal world. . . Hired to find a teenager who has been taken to the Otherworld, Eugenie comes face to face with a startling prophecy–one that uncovers dark secrets about her past and claims that Eugenie’s first-born will threaten the future of the world as she knows it.”

Skinwalker by Faith Hunter – The protagonist of this one sounds similar to Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson character: shapeshifter, last of her kind, of Native American descent.  Mercy can only shift into a coyote while this character – Jane Yellowrock – can change into any creature she wants.  So we’ll see how she measures up.

Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica by Sara Wheeler – I love me some travelogues and I’ve heard good things about this one.

The next two books were strangely picked up as a result of finishing Robin McKinley’s Sunshine that morning.  The main character envisions her new powers like a growing tree inside of her and somehow that really stuck with me.  I wanted to read about trees and nature. So:

Swampwalker’s Journal: A Wetlands Year by David M. Carroll

A Year in the Maine Woods by Bernd Heinrich

I’m originally from Maine so the fact that the first book is written by a New Hampshire resident and the second is (obviously) about my home state makes me excited.

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Teaser Tuesday: The Dud Avocado

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Basically, open the book you’re currently reading and share a couple of sentences from that page on your blog.   Avoid spoilers of course.

Judy was so different from me that it was really ludicrous.  Whereas I was hell-bent for living, she was content, at least for the time being, to leave all that to others.  Just as long as she could hear all about it.  She was really funny about this.  Folded every which way on the floor, looking like Bambi – all eyes and legs and no chin – she would listen for ages and ages with rapt attention to absolutely any drivel that you happened to be talking.  It was unbelievable.

from The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy, p. 30

*This variation of Tease Tuesday button courtesy of Kathy from Inside a Dog

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Dirt Poor Robins

This is primarily a book blog but I cannot resist sharing about this awesome new band I stumbled upon several weeks ago.  Dirt Poor Robins consists of the talented husband and wife team, Neil and Kate Robins.  They are self-described on one of their album covers as “cinematic rock.”

I first came across them when I heard their cover of “Eleanor Rigby” on Pandora.  I thought, I’ve got to find out more about this band.  So I went to their myspace page (which is all that myspace seems good for nowadays) and listened to the songs they had there.  Well, “Human Nature” just blew me away.  (My roommate heard it from another room and thought it sounded like something from Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog, I guess because of its theatricality.)  That song was from their new album, Last Days of Leviathan, which didn’t release until March 3rd on iTunes.  When the day came, I did not delay and found that the rest of the album is wonderful as well.  Along with “Human Nature,” I particularly fell in love with “Nightingale” and “Tah Dah.”

Well, I poked around the internet for more information on Dirt Poor Robins and kept reading good things about their first album, called The Cage.  The problem is that album isn’t fully available in mp3 form.

Then I read this review on a livejournal blog that convinced me that the only correct form to purchase this album was as a CD.  For not only are all the songs included in the CD, but it comes with liner notes that structure the lyrics as script dialogue among an array of carnival characters.  The review I linked to above does a good job of explaining the appeal, so I defer to that writer if you want to hear more.

The only place I could quickly find online to buy the CD was directly from the band’s label Astonish.  It just arrived today and oh, it is worth every penny.  This is an album.  There is an overarching story and the order matters.  There is an ask and answer.  It’s lovely.

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The Best American Travel Writing 2006

Edited by Tim Cahill.

2006. 318 pages. Paperback.

From: the public library

Review:

Last year, I read and reviewed The Best American Travel Writing 2009.  I enjoyed it so much that I’d like to read all of this specific series.  I love the variety in location, style and tone.  Some essays delve into the wonder of travel, others the disorientation.  Some writers muse, others are amused.  Nature, history, culture, politics, food and the absurd can all be covered under this category of “travel writing.”

Here is a rundown of the essays in the 2006 compilation that stand out in my mind:

“After the Fall” by Tom Bissell and Morgan Meis

In this essay, the authors visit Vietnam, a week in advance of the 30th anniversary of South Vietnam’s surrender.  Things go wrong for the journalists when they visit a few too many dissidents.  The end of the article finds one of them stumbling around Saigon while the celebrations commence, his companions having been forced to leave the country.

“The Discreet Charm of the Zurich Bourgeoisie” by Alain de Botton

Attractive girls born outside Switzerland are particularly against going to Zurich.  Such girls (and modern science has proved this) prefer Los Angeles or Sydney.  Even if they are looking for something Protestant and homey, they choose Antwerp or Copenhagen instead. (p. 71-72)

“Ain’t It Just Grand?” by Kevin Fedarko

This was a lovely essay where Fedarko travels on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon – a three week journey.  Their lead guide is a conservation legend: Martin Litton, who fought plans to dam the Colorado River, helped champion the cause of the redwood forests, and also set up this unique whitewater company in the Grand Canyon, which uses wooden dories instead of inflated rafts.  The essay describes the journey and also profiles Litton.

“The Price of Paradise” by Caitlin Flanagan

This was a hilarious New Yorker piece about the author’s fascination with Hawaiian vacations, despite being vaguely disappointed each time.  The essay particularly focuses on a recent stay at the Grand Wailea, where the battle for deckchairs is fierce.

“Where They Love Americans . . . for a Living” by Sean Flynn

This is one of my favorite essays.  Flynn starts out deceptively nonchalant in describing the prostitution scene in Costa Rica, the American men trolling the bars.  Then Flynn suddenly spins the narrative around and shows some teeth, shredding into the male fantasies that have branded Costa Rica as a ‘sex haven.’

“Out of Ohio” by Ian Frazier

The essay is an wonderfully written ode to the author’s hometown of Hudson, Ohio.  When he describes the days spent there after his college graduation, he captures the feel of summer and transition.  He also describes hitchhiking to Chicago, Florida and New York.

“A Short Walk in the Wakhan Corridor” by Mark Jenkins

One of the adventurer tales in the compilation, Jenkins’ essay describes his travels in the Wakhan Corridor, a northern valley in Afghanistan.  It used to be part of the famous Silk Road.  Greg Mortenson (author of Three Cups of Tea) is a friend of Mark Jenkins and is present for some of the journey.

“XXXXL” by Michael Paterniti

In rural Ukraine, there lives a giant – a man who is over eight feet tall thanks to a botched surgery in his childhood.  Fascinated by a news story about this man, Leonid Stadnik, the author decides to travel to Ukraine to interview him.  The travel narrative within the travel narrative is the story of Leonid’s only trip outside of Ukraine – a short visit to Germany.  It is a gentle, haunting story and I was left with the image of the giant in his apple orchard “because only the apples and the beets don’t care what size you are.”

“The New Mecca” by George Saunders

The setting is Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  I love how Saunders does not settle for the easy story here.  He is in awe of the excessive luxury of the place but also aware of the immigrant labor that runs the city.  It’s a kaleidoscopic piece – each segment is a newly shaken perspective.

“Airborne” by Sally Shivnan

Anyone who likes looking out the window in flight will love this essay.  Shivnan muses on how the aerial view of the United States affects how she views the country.

… even Manhattan, viewed from the right altitude, is defined not by its population density but by the chunk of rock between two rivers that it stands on; it is an island with a city on it, not a city on an island. (p. 273)

“A Peaceful Angle” by Patrick Symmes

Symmes wrote my favorite essay from the 2009 compilation.  This essay is not as brilliant, but is still quite good, and is more personal.  Symmes describes a fishing trip in the Mongolian wild.  The sought-after prize in their catch-and-release fishing is the elusive, large taimen, from the salmon family.  Jim Nachtwey, a veteran war photographer is one of Symmes’ fellow anglers and the essay is also a little bit about him.

There were other good essays in the compilation (including one written by David Sedaris) but I hope these snippets give you a taste for the wonderful stories and writing that this compilation contained.  I look forward to reading another from this series later this year.

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I am so looking forward to this.

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Teaser Tuesday – Ain’t It Just Grand?

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Basically, open the book you’re currently reading and share a couple of sentences from that page on your blog.   Avoid spoilers of course.

I’m currently reading The Best American Travel Writing 2006 anthology, edited by Tim Cahill, so my teaser will come from one of the essays in the book.

“Absolutely terrifying” is Litton’s favorite expression, a phrase he invokes several times an hour to describe everything from shifting weather patterns to the possibility that the six liters of Sheep Dip Scotch stowed in his hatch might run dry before the conclusion of this 280-mile odyssey through the rapids of the Grand Canyon.

from Kevin Fedarko’s essay, “Ain’t It Just Grand?” (pgs 77-78)

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New Look

So, I’m trying a new template because I wanted to have a pretty custom header like other bloggers.  There’s some aspects of this template that I don’t like as much as the old one.  For instance, I realized that there isn’t a link to an ‘edit post’ function with each published post.  But I do like the look overall.  Let me know what you think!

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