“You get a little moody sometimes but I think that’s because you like to read. People that like to read are always a little fucked up.” — Pat Conroy

I know that I’m officially a slacker for not getting through the entire twenty reviews of the last twenty books, but like a long road-trip, sometimes you must stop in the middle and enjoy the people who are loitering at the gas station/rest stop where you are pumping regular.  So, here I am in the middle, unable to decide which half of the books was better than the last.  I can say, in the last half of April and this beginning section of May was when I read all of these last ten books.  I’m actually still reading the last one right now and hoping to get through it in time to write the little blurb on it.  I will, don’t worry.  I read when I sit on the toilet, and at stop lights if I need to get through a book (yes, I’m frequently honked at.  I’m probably the person who gets flicked the bird most often on North Carolina suburban roads as well.  These are the prices you pay for a good book though).

So, without further adeiu, I present to you the next ten books:

11. Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safron Foer 

I am a Foer minion, so it’s unfair of me to even continue putting him on the list.  You know my review is going to be stellar (although this did become a movie and I’m just not sure how the HELL they would ever make a movie out of this peculiar tale, especially one starring Elijah Wood.  He was a hobbit for God’s sakes).

This book, is epically confusing and epically gratifying at the same time.  It’s a fragmented story told in two different times between two, well more than two, many generations.  It’s small village, meets young American and young, spleened tour guide and his grandfather and dog, the bitch, who embark on a journey to discover their missing ancestry.  It’s freakin’ hilarious, upsetting, tearful.  And then the word choice, it’s like eating a dessert made of everything good in the world and completely not tested on animals and not fed hormones and dipped in a hard layer of chocolate (of if you’re allergic whatever it is you love) and being able to eat it one bite at a time for three or four days, however much you want.  Okay, I know, I know, worst metaphor ever.  Let me just say, I don’t think I have a notebook big enough to fit the amount of quotes I highlighted throughout this novel.  It’s like twisted fairytale meets post-World War II kid trying to find his ancestors who happen to be in this wicked and foreboding Grimm Fairytale.  I’m starting to not make sense…and neither will you after reading this book.  Foer is a gift from the universe into the tiny hands of each and every person.

Quotes:

  • “Do you think I’m wonderful? she asked him one day as they leaned against the trunk of a petrified maple. No, he said. Why? Because so many girls are wonderful. I imagine hundreds of men have called their loves wonderful today, and it’s only noon. You couldn’t be something that hundreds of others are.”
  • “She was a genius of sadness, immersing herself in it, separating its numerous strands, appreciating its subtle nuances. She was a prism through which sadness could be divided into its infinite spectrum.”
  • “Everything is the way it is because everything was the way it was. Sometimes I feel ensnared in this, as if no matter what I do, what will come has already been fixed.”
And most of those aren’t even the best, they’re just the more condensible   quotes.  Bah, you won’t regret reading this.  And it is one of those books that will completely change your world.
————————————————————————————
12. Looking for Alaska – John Green 
*
And the most frustrating book of this selection goes to John Green.  I tend, in the library, to gravitate towards young adult novels.  However, in large bookstores, I gravitate toward book covers in the adult section.  John Green came into my fat-knuckle-cracked hands because I saw a quote on the internet (tumblr) that was from this book and I thought, “wow, I’ve been seeing that quote a lot, I should probably read that book.”  And so I waited patiently in my position of seventh on the requests list at the library and got to work on the novel the day it was ready to be picked up.  The title is a complete lie, there is never any looking for the State of Alaska or the girl who happens to be named Alaska.  And the whole entire time I’m just waiting for this great love story of our time, like Romeo and Juliet or something, to unfold under my bed sheets and make me go to bed and dream about rose petals and swan couples shaping their necks together to make a heart, but instead Green crushed my heart and soul.
*
I can’t even spoil it for you.  You just have to read this book to witness the heartbreak.
*
And my question is, why is it that Young Adult novels always pack these heavy-metal-biker-dude punches?  I mean did all the authors get together and say, we’re going to ruin their lives, and make them throw kitchen ware at their loved ones today with the endings of our books?  It’s like they heaved a collective sigh, got dressed in their Bitter Buffalo suits, and went into their Grumpy Gill bubbles and came out with a novel that is …semi-good writing, but kills every inkling of hope in the reader.
*
This book ruined me for at least three days.  And yet, here I am recommending it to you good folks at home.
*
*EDIT* In a comment on this blog, about this book, by a nice, fellow Plinky writer, I was told I missed the point of this book because it’s not supposed to be just a “romance” novel.  If I gave you that impression, I didn’t too.  When I say this book packs a punch, it’s not only because of the heartbreak of a romantic relationship, but the heartbreak in discovering how big life is and how complicated it is, how frustrating.  I think a lot of coming-of-age (how many times can I type that in this one blog) stories really like to reflect on the moments when a person becomes an adult.  I think the main character in Looking for Alaska, becomes an adult by dissecting a loved ones death with his group of friends.  I think that is the heart of the novel.  So, where Jessica so poignantly said, “it’s about self-reflection,” yes that is true.  It is also about that one moment where you go from child, to adult.  It happens in some of us in an instant and in others, a lifetime.
***
13. The Adults – Alison Espach 
*
Every season (I think) B&N puts out a Discover New Writers list and I usually try and read most, if not all of the books on the list because I have never been let down by a book on the list (except maybe The Help which I just couldn’t get into.  Everyone else could, I’m just one of those special readers that isn’t interested in THE BEST SELLERS).  Alison Espach’s book The Adults was not an exception.   This book was thrilling from cover to cover and not only was it a … quietly violent coming-of-age tale, but I think it gave a true account of life in today’s teenage girl.  I mean, maybe not every teenage girl is seduced by someone older, and more powerful than herself, but it definitely got the emotions and the desperate effect of being a teenage girl in America.  I’ve been reading countless coming-of-age tales recently, maybe it’s because my conscious has decided that this is what I will write for my first Young Adult novel, or for some other peculiar reason, but this novel by Espach will always stand out to me.  It took me a long time to get off the waiting list at the library for it, and it was worth every second of reading something not-so-good to get my hands on this little jewel.
*
I think what I like best about this novel is that moments of destruction can become moments of beauty and hope as they unfold for the reader.  Vidol (Emily, the main character) grows, of course, as she discovers life’s hardships; adultery, suicide, bullying, divorce and anything else that makes children become adults.  And yet, even when she becomes adult, she still can’t quite make sense of the adults that were so important in her childhood and I think that’s a lesson we all learn eventually.
*
Quotes:
  • “And then once in the music storage room. It was cold. The room was small with thin gray carpet and I cried after in my bed thinking of how sad the violins looked alone in the corner. It was embarrassing to have sex in front of the wrong things, especially a violin, which was so dignified at every angle”
***
14. Red House – Sarah Messer 
*
I read this book for all the wrong reasons (maybe the right reasons, really, but for me, all the wrong ones).  I’m hoping to apply for graduate school for the fall of 2012, I’m still not really sure yet and so I went on this library bananza where I listed every book by every professor at every program I may be interested in and started digging in so that I could see if I would want to write with and for these people.  Sarah Messer just happened to be the first writer/professor that I picked up because Wilmington is quite high on my list.  I really like Messer’s poetry, let me begin there.
*
But this book, was boring.  And I’m a picky reader so maybe it’s just me, but she didn’t give me any juicy details about the house.  If you think they’re are ghosts in your house (the longest continuously lived in house in New England) then I want to hear some damn good ghost encounters or stories.  If you have the history of the people who lived there before you, I want you to try and give me detailed accounts on their personalities and their character.
*
I won’t say this book dragged on because it wasn’t too hard of a read and I could get through it if I just focused, but there were full chapters on house restoration, probably as many chapters on that, as about the people who had continuously inhabited the house.  What I wanted out of this book was the people’s lives that were there.  Who were they?  Why did they keep this house in the family so long?  What did they struggle with daily, pray for?  Who did they argue with and what about?  What did they love and who?  I just don’t feel like Messer ever went deeper than the surface in this book and no reader wants a three-hundred page book that only scratches the surface of feelings.
*
Like I said, I love Messer’s poetry and I would really love to study under her, both non-fiction and poetry, but this book just didn’t do it for me.
***
15. Something Borrowed – Emily Giffin
***
This is chick-lit at its’ finest and juiciest all the way down to the ending.  I saw the preview for this movie and knew that I had to read the book before I went to the theaters and ruined the book by seeing the movie.  I love some Kate Hudson so it was a must-see for me and a must-borrow from my cousin’s girlfriend.
*
Of course, Kate Hudson plays Darcy who I absolutely loathe throughout the entire book and by the end I’m ready to let her drop off the face of the earth (just like Rachel).  Kate Hudson will be good at the best friend you’ve always secretly hated.  That must be why they invented the word frenemie in recent times.  It’s pretty much the story of good girl vs. bad girl, except good girl finally gets her good girl revenge by letting a teaspoon of bad girl out of her system.  I mean Rachel definitely isn’t ready to join the club, and go on the Oxygen show, but she does do some naughty little deeds in this book that you wouldn’t expect from her loyal personality.
*
Always read the book before you see the movie (except in the case of Atonement where you can have no contact with either and be perfectly content).  I liked this book because it wasn’t an educational reading, it was just there and I could swallow it whole and come out of it feeling happy, just like after watching a good chick-flick (unless you’re a girl who has a shitty boyfriend and then chick-flicks just make you feel like a drowning mermaid).
*
Quotes:
  • “Songs and smells will bring you back to a moment in time more than anything else. It’s amazing how much can be conjured with a few notes of a song or a solitary whiff of a room. A song you didn’t even pay attention to at the time, a place that you didn’t even know had a particular smell. I wonder what will someday bring back Dex and our few months together. Maybe the sound of Dido’s voice. Maybe the scent of the Aveda shampoo I’ve been using all summer.”
  • “It’s like when someone dies, the initial stages of grief seem to be the worst. But in some ways, it’s sadder as time goes by and you consider how much they’ve missed in your life. In the world.”
***
16.  Durable Goods – Elizabeth Berg 
*
I didn’t realize while reading this book that it has two other books that follow it kind of like a trilogy of coming-of-age.  We learned the word for it in British Lit, Bildungsroman, but that word makes me think of sophisticated poop so I tend to not use it.  Anywho, this story is enough I guess.  That’s the only way I can talk about it.  It’s got a main character who’s father is abusive and her mother is dead, and yet the character still loves her father and she loves her neighborhood (army base) and she looks up to her older-in-age-not-in-nature friend.  It has all the typical coming-of-age tale nonsense like the first kiss in spin the bottle, and learning about sex and sneaking out from an older sister.  The end breaks your heart and repairs it in just about a chapter so I think it ends well for the story.
*
I’m totally losing my train of thought after having a complete cuddle & rub session with my brother’s huge German Shepherd.  She’s the sweetest, most terrifying looking dog with her big head and aggressive bark.  The mailman won’t come on the porch to deliver their mail sometimes, but little does he know that she just wants to lick his big chompers.
*
I’m going to read the next book in Berg’s character trilogy because I like Katie and somehow I like the abusive father.  I feel like a horrible person, but sometimes the villain is also the victim.
***
17. Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth – Adrienne Rich 1/2
*
To be fair, this is the first book of poetry I’ve read by Adrienne Rich and so my opinion definitely doesn’t cover her (I’m sure) wide and wonderful range of talents.  This book probably isn’t her best work so I’m not going to go on the record saying the woman can’t write poetry because ever so often a line of glory peeked at me from under a pile of words.  Plus, her poetry is in the local library and the local libraries carry hardly any poetry so that’s saying something.  She’s definitely loved.
*
 I can’t say also that I didn’t learn anything from Rich’s spacing and how she lined a poem.  I really struggle with stanzas and where a line becomes a next stanza or where a line even ends and Rich is like a powerful devil at this kind of thing so in that sense this book really helped my writing.  I love it when you read a book and you learn something about yourself while learning something about the author, and then you somehow have this common ground and you can have secret conversations over the candlelight of your brain nerves.  BAH!
*
I think the quotes will do her justice in this section and you’ll really feel the power of a few of her lines even without the full poems.
*
Quotes:
  • “secret codes of skin and hair/go dim/left from the light too long”
  • “This is the room/where truth scrubs around the pedastal of the toilet/flings her rag into the bucket/straightens up pits in the mirror”  – This is Not the Room
  • “Been wanting to get out/see the sights/but the exits are slick with people going somewhere fast/every one/with a shared past and a mot juste/And me so out of step with my late-night staircase inspiration/my Utopian slant.” – Archaic
  • “the body is light when/taken for what it is./Formed of walls and/windows./Ready to burn/with little flags/fluttering in the center.” (2004)
***
18. Girl with the Pearl Earring – Tracy Chevelier 
*
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  My mom brought it home for me and I was like “Oh God, it’s set in another time which means the language is going to be archaic (the reason I really can’t stand Pride and Prejudice) and the sexual tension is going to amount to nothing (the other reason I really can’t stand Pride and Prejudice) and all the women are going to constantly be talking about marriage rights, and money, and other things that they have to do in corners and not around the men who are so much better at everything than them (sarcasm).”
*
I know a lot of you have stopped reading this because P&P is a classic and you’re horrified that someone could just despise the book.  Keep in mind, I’ve never tried to read this book outside of a classroom and that could also lead to my personal loathing.  But, that all being said, Girl with the Pearl Earring is immaculate.  Yes, it is set back in the day where you bought all your meats at butcher markets, and there were factories for tiles and artists were paid handsome sums be men with feathers coming out of their hats.  BUT, the language was of today. And that made all the difference.  I loved the main character, Griet, who not only has an awesome name, but is also cunning without being overpowering, and for the most part in control of herself (except when around her master when she only gains control by the end…sort of.  It’s a complicated process).
*
Quotes:
  • “He saw things in a way that others did not, so that a city I had lived in all my life seemed a different place, so that a woman became beautiful with the light on her face.”
***
19. Goldengrove– Francine Prose 
*
I read this book because 1. It was a Harper Collins book and they’re my favorite publisher, I’ve never read a bad book from Harper Collins.  And 2. Because Francine Prose wrote a book called, How to Read like a Writer, and I wanted to read that.  In order to read that I needed to actually know if her writing was good so that I could know if her advice on writing is adequate.  Well, she didn’t let me down.  In fact, my twenty-first book is also by her and it is sitting in my car waiting for me to go grab it after this post.  YAY! Prose’s book is quite complicated.
*
There ARE pieces missing, like we never actually meet her mom’s best friend who is a fellow, pill-popper and she’s quite a big part of the mom’s storyline, and the dad has no balls  in talking the mother out of her habit, he just dives into writing his book all day, everyday.  And you know what… maybe that’s what grief does to people, it makes you put horse blinders on and do task management and stop worrying about the affect of grief on other’s around you.
*
Maybe Prose is onto something.  Actually, she probably definitely meant to do that because the parents completely lose watch over their second daughter who spins (not wildly out of control) but is misguided and lonely.  I’m not going to lie, I quite hated her character and loved the character of the dead sister.  Even after she’s dead, she keeps radiating through the story somehow, it’s really stunning.
*
Plus, I love books that begin based on a poem the author read.  One day, in my humble little writing shack, I will use this same idea for a novel.
*
Quotes:
  • “People see everything through the lens of their obsessions.”
***
20. Who Will Run Frog Hospital? – Lorrie Moore 
*
I love Lorrie Moore.  I’m reading A Gate at the Stairs really slowly right now because it’s packed full of ridiculous word choice, and I can’t stop thinking about it when I don’t read it for a few days.  But, Who will Run Frog Hospital is not A Gate at the Stairs.  I think Lorrie Moore, while creating this stunning language and these metaphors that come out from another universe through ray-guns that no one has even invented yet, has completely and utterly lost control of any plot.  The story is two stories really; the woman who desperately needs a divorce, but refuses to leave and the young girl who treats her best friend like a lover (both the same person, just grown). Neither of these women, I don’t think, have found themselves, or discovered any piece of themselves that isn’t in the person they are obsessed with.
*
I give up plot for language, ALL THE TIME, so not having a plot in this book didn’t really bother me all that much, but it took me a while longer to finish than expected.  Plot is what keeps a story moving, while language is what keeps it a piece of art.  I think Lorrie Moore has far surpassed this book in every thing else she’s written (especially short stories, so this book doesn’t reflect on her plot-skills at all, but it does show you what a beautiful masterpiece she can create with words).
*
I mean seriously, she probably got a perfect score on the verbal part of her GRE, and knows the entire dictionary.  I want to award her with Queen of Vocabulary.
*
*EDIT*: Okay, here’s where I admit I kind of suck and that I wrote this review 20 pages before finishing this book.  The end of this book, with the baptism and church camp and the revisiting of childhood friends through a high school reunion – makes it come full circle.  It still doesn’t have much a plot, and it never after page ninetyish really revisits the current life that the main character is in (kind of in the last two pages), it has a remarkable ending.  I think I almost recommend this book just for the ending.  This baptism that goes wrong because of her childhood ideas that she should back dive, rather than fall back and she (well maybe just the reader) sees this as her ultimate doom.  I mean, here is a character that can’t even get her baptism right.  I just, feel like I needed to see this so everyone got the real deal review.  
***
Quotes:
  • “I looked in vain for LaRoue, my cruelty toward her now in me like a splinter, where it would sit for years in my helpless memory, the skin growing around; what else can memory do? It can do nothing; It pretends to eat the shrapnel of your acts, yet it cannot swallow or chew.”
And that’s it folks, time to walk the dog!

5 thoughts on ““You get a little moody sometimes but I think that’s because you like to read. People that like to read are always a little fucked up.” — Pat Conroy

  1. Jessica Rae Fitzgerald says:

    I’ve got to disagree with you. I think you’ve missed the point to Looking for Alaska, it’s self-reflection. Not about love, but about living and learning from those around you. I personally loved this book. And I think you can get more out of it than a flighty romance novel.

    • cassiemannes says:

      I’m not sure I ever said “flighty romance novel.” I think it IS typical young adult novel. I think the book has impact, it just sets the reader up for disaster…which a lot of books do. I could see where you think it’s about self-reflection, after a character falls for a girl, and loses her almost seconds later after getting a taste of her, and simultaneously tries to find the cause with his awkward group of friends and he semi-discovers himself, semi-just reflects on the situation of her death. I’m not saying it isn’t that, I just don’t think it’s the strongest novel I’ve seen that covers this sort of coming-of-age through disaster type thing. If I stated that it didn’t have more than romance, then that’s definitely my bad. THIS NOVEL IS MORE THEN A DESTRUCTIVE ROMANTIC INTEREST NOVEL, PEOPLE!

      Thanks for your opinion though. I liked the book. There was no missing of points, it just wasn’t my kind of writing or “reflecting.”

    • cassiemannes says:

      PS. I edited it the entry. You’re right, I did make it seem like a flaky teen romance. I didn’t mean for it to come off that way – thanks for pointing it out! :)

  2. bea mannes says:

    As always, I love reading your reviews. They are better than some of the books I have read! You keep the review going with fun and flight, and it makes me want to run to a book store.

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