Quick & Dirty Reviews: Get out, Get breakfast.

It’s about time I did another quickie review blog.  A lot of times I bypass book reviews for several reasons:

  1. My review will be despicable to an author out there who worked until their fingers blistered with pencil scars and bubbles.
  2. I just didn’t want to write a book review at the time, I wanted to eat a sandwich.
  3. Some books need to be shared, and mulled over, and some books just need to be read for the personal journey the reader undertakes.  We’re all Odysseus while we read.
  4. Some books just don’t touch me enough to use my words to share them.  (Sad, but true).
  5. Some books I loathe and I just know my review would be like summer heat blurring and rising from North Carolina asphalt.
  6. Sometimes I finish a book and have no energy at all.  I feel completely depleted.

Without further adieu, here are some honorable mentions (and winners):

1. Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward 

Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward

Don’t get me wrong, I loved this book.  I think that this book is an important read for anyone who wants to become a writer.  One of the most crucial elements of a book is sadness; a dark side, an element of mystery and madness, tension in your muscles, goosebumps rising along the ridges of your arms.  I remember a girl in my advanced fiction class finally unleashed the fury on my professor (Jill McCorkle) because she no longer wanted to write in the dark, she wanted to just write about happiness.  (Not gonna happen).

If you ever want to learn how to build tension, this is the first book I would point you to.  Throughout, I was expecting Hurricane Katrina to hit like a siren and she doesn’t come until the final chapters, that “blood dazzler.”  However, the entire book is tension leading to that storm, to those floods that ripped families and floorboards apart.  It’s amazing how Ward captures the tension of landscape and weather with only mentioning the coming eye in brief sentences strung like laundry from clothespins.

“My baby is solid as a squash, because there is this baby inside me, small as Manny’s eyelash in mid-sex on my cheek.  And this baby will grow to a fingertip on my hip, a hand on the bowl of my back, an arm over my shoulder, if it survives” (57).

In my journals while reading this book I wrote: “How weird is it when you read  passage to decide if you want to buy a book and then you read that passage again within the context of the story and it means something totally different, totally unexpected and you’re not sure how to feel after that moment.  It’s like dating someone thinking their historically European and really they’re Native American and whole worlds suddenly open up for the two of you, dream catch.”

2. Authobiography of Red – Anne Carson 

Autobiography of Red – Anne Carson

This book burned a whole through my idea of poetry.  Anne Carson took a restaurant matchbook and lit the small page of poetry in my mind.  And to think she did it all with a main character that’s a little red monster with wings.  I never knew poetry could look like this, could tell a story this wide and still tell a history of people.  This book was kind of an awakening for me.   I had believed poetry was like a Peace March and everyone is there for some different reason but you all want to find a collective rhythm to your voices, want to huddle in some sort of crowd.  Anne Carson beat the crowds away and wrote on her own terms.  What more do people need than someone who writes who they are on the page in a story that has little to do with them at all.  I’m floored by this, in fact, I’ve sunken through the floor and I’m in the basement against the cold slab of concrete listening to the silence of the pour.

“It was the year he began to wonder about the noise that colors make.  Roses came roaring across the garden at him – of those he interviewed for the science project had to admit they not hear the cries of roses being burned alive in the noonday sun.” I have no page number, I just drew a stick-figure sun here.

Eucalyptus – Murray Bail

3. Eucalyptus – Murray Bail 

If you like trees, Australian countryside, and love stories that are hardly told, then this might just be the book for you.  It took me a while to get into this book, but I was allured by the tree language of Eucalyptus – how they were all named, how they were founded and grew, where they grew, who collected them and who could name them.  Plus, at the heart of this story is a traditional fairytale.  A father sets out to find a worthy suitor for his daughter by having men from across rivers and territories name the Eucalyptus plants he has collected for over twenty years.  What girl doesn’t fall for the fairytale?

Tattoos on the Heart – Gregory Boyle

4. Tattoos on the Heart – Gregory “G” Boyle 

I didn’t review this book because my social justice rant would have loomed large and so would my Catholic understanding.  No really, I would have sounded like Nancy Pelosi at the pulpit.  Sometimes I can get a little over the top on my world views and so I kept quiet on this.  I did try to write this blog several times and still have a draft post lost in my dashboard.  I read this book shortly after coming home from Philadelphia and after working over a year at the teen center.  This book and Homeboy Industries cracke open the world for me when I was trying desperately to glue it shut.  Can’t let light in without a few cracks though. For this, I can’t say it better than G, so here are quotes from the book:

  • “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it” (67).
  • “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.  It’s a covenant between equals” (77).
  • “He says, straight out, ‘you are the light.’  It is the truth of who you are, waiting only for you to discover it.  So, for God’s sake, don’t move.  No need to contort yourself to be anything other than who you are.  Jason was who he was.  He made a lot of mistakes, he was not perfect, and his rage called the shots for a good chunk of his life.  And he was the light of world.  He fit the description” (108).
  • “Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just ‘forgotten that we belong to each other” (187).

Briar Rose – Jane Yolen

5. Briar Rose – Jane Yolen 

This year my number one book trend has been WWII literature.  I think there’s something immeasurable about WWII that makes us all connect in some way to the length of terror that happened.  I’m fascinated by WWII because I don’t know my grandfather, but I know he was overseas at that time and came back with PTSD so bad he was calling his own children derogative terms and holding his shaking fingers together like he curled them around a soft neck.  I’m fascinated by the way Hitler used language to round up a civilization.  The first step in mass-murder, and mass-genocide is the power of language, of propaganda.  Whenever someone tells you that infamous nursery school rhyme, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” it’s beyond untrue.  (I’m sure I will tell my future kids that though).

Jane Yolan’s Briar Rose is the second retold fairytale into WWII literature that I’ve read this year.  The first was The True Story of Hansel and Gretel which left me weeping whenever I was in silence (usually in the car) for about a week.  My expectations for Briar Rose were high and I can’t say it didn’t meet expectations, but it was a young adult novel that wasn’t as outrageous as The True Story of Hansel and Gretel.  The thing I love about this book is that it’s competent YA literature.  Jane Yolen didn’t dumb down the story, she didn’t make sure nothing gruesome was told in less detail – she put it out there and let it fester.  I think this is a pitch-perfect YA book and the fact that she retold Briar Rose using it as a scar story rather than a triumph made it all the better.  For kids like me who desperately yearn for knowledge of their grandparents and great-grandparents, it’s a fantastic read.

6. Life on Mars: Poems – Tracy K. Smith 

This book has lines of beauty and poems that make you feel like a speck of pepper on someones sandwich.  Was it the best book of poetry I’ve ever read? No.  Did it win a Pulitzer? Yes.  Sometimes books that win prizes have agendas far more complicated than just the fact that they’re wonderful books.  This year the NASA program had to go through a funding cut, this year Tracy K. Smith wrote Life on Mars mostly about space and its many mysteries but also about her father who worked for a number of years at NASA.  This is just a correlation, not a cause and effect of Smith winning the prize.  This book of poetry has moments of subtle tenderness, but I can’t say that it’s a complete collection of poetry.

Sometimes, I wasn’t sure if Smith was actually on Mars when she wrote these poems and other times I was right there with her, huddled in the vowel and reading aloud as fast as I could just to feel my body melt into the words and sigh with my “Oh my God, that’s beautiful.”  The poems where I was lost or made little sense were altogether frustrating because I could see that she was getting at the heart, her heart, but she never broke through.   I hate when poets say they wanted that poem or that line to be ambiguous.  While sometimes that can mean “showing not telling” usually it means pure confusion.  I hate poems where I feel like she’s so close to saying something meaningful and yet she gets to the crust and backs off.  FACK. Don’t back off, cut your feet on the cliffs and jump.

  • “We have gone looking for it everywhere:/in Bibles and bandwith, blooming/like a wound from the ocean floor.” – It & Co.
  • “When our laughter skids across the floor/like beads yanked from some girl’s throat,/what waits where the laughter gathers?”
  • “Tina say what if dark matter is like the space between people when what holds them together isn’t exactly love, and I think that sounds right” (37).

Read “Interrogative” Here.

I happened on this wordpress review/conversation and it matches my sentiment exactly.  Thank you, Nancy.

My Instagram of Embroideries.

7. Embroideries – Maryjane Satrapi 

Reading this book was like going to a tupperware party with your grandmother and her Bunko group.  Believe me, you’ll never guess what embroideries stands for and you’ll probably never want to experience that meaning without pain medication.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

8. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

Jinger, I’m sorry I have to do this to my dear penpal.  I HATED THIS BOOK.   THIS IS A SPOILER SENTENCE: You want me to spend a whole book with a mute who loses his odd other half, helps a bunch of people experience a journey that moves them almost nowhere, but through a life that none of them really want, and then kills himself at the end.  You have to be kidding me.  Was there anything to like about this book ever? …Maybe I liked the way Mick was described as the neighborhood tomboy in her rolled up jean shorts and her secret cigarette purchases. MAYBE.

That’s it. I never want to see this book ever again.

35 thoughts on “Quick & Dirty Reviews: Get out, Get breakfast.

  1. alenaslife says:

    Cassie you can review the hell out of books in a few short sentences. Thanks for the roundup. And I get the just didn’t want to write a review for whatever reason. I’m going a different route, but glad to know other bookies feel the same.

      • alenaslife says:

        So far I’ve written one post for each book, but I do have some titles that just don’t move me to that kind of commitment so I’m goign to star an “Also Read” round-up. No regular schedule, but I’ll hold on to those. Of course I’m also posting on Goodreads.

      • Cassie says:

        That’s a great idea for books you don’t really want to jump to action for. I look forward to reading those. : )

        I always read your goodreads reviews. They help a ton.

  2. Geoff W says:

    You might want to mention there are spoilers in a couple of these. I’d forgotten about something and there it was and it would’ve been great to re-read the novel having not remembered it. (It’s on a to-be-read list right now). But other than that – that’s a LOT of reviews!

    • Cassie says:

      When I read through I didn’t see any spoilers that didn’t happen in the beginning of the book so I wish I knew which one you meant. I think you’re talking Salvage the Bones, but the reader knows in the beginning about the main character’s state…I’m not sure which book you mean.

    • Cassie says:

      I did spoil The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, haha. But that’s because I don’t recommend anyone read that book. : ) You’re right. Maybe people won’t read through.

      • Geoff W says:

        Sorry should’ve mentioned that – it was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. (I got distracted mid comment.) I love McCullers – but that’s because I studied her in undergrad.

      • Cassie says:

        Did you take a Southern Lit class? I would love to study her because I think that would give a lot more meaning to the book other than me just pushing through the melancholy. She would definitely be an interesting study and I can see why you would like her!

      • Geoff W says:

        It was actually a Cold War culture class in the History Department and I focused on Tennessee Williams and Carson McCullers and their clearly displayed sexuality and their characters non-normative-sexuality and complete lack of mention/care by the media/critics/public.

      • Cassie says:

        I would have loved that class I think and with that loved the book. I never really took any “era” classes in literature just cultural categories. I’m hoping if I go to grad school to expand into classes with clear historical perspectives.

  3. Brianna Soloski says:

    I like this idea. I’m like you in that I don’t want to review every single book I read. I get tired of analyzing every word, every character. Sometimes, I want to just read a book, return it to the library, and be done.

    Sidenote: I’m reading a good one right now: In the Bag by Kate Klise. I’m going to review it because I need to fill a date on my blog, but I hardly ever do that. I also have Why We Broke Up waiting in the wings.

    • Cassie says:

      I will look at In the Bag on goodreads right now – I look forward to checking it out. And Why We Broke Up is such a wonderful YA book – you’re going to love it and want to review it, especially with the ending. : )

      You’re so right, sometimes you just want to be done with it without all the fa-la-la.

      • Brianna Soloski says:

        I haven’t had much time to read this week with summer camp and evening work comittments two nights in a row. I am exhausted and ready for the weekend. I am so, so thankful that tomorrow is Friday, even though I have a ton of work to do for my freelance gigs this weekend.

  4. zettew says:

    Cassie,

    I love that you wrote out reasons that you don’t review every book – I don’t like to review every book I read either, and mainly because of reasons #2 and #4. I guess I should do some “quick & dirty” reviews on the books I don’t love enough to write a whole post about .

    Also, I’m worried about your fish – every time I feed them, there is one that swims around like mad, but doesn’t get any food – I think it’s Leonard – and I’m worried maybe his depth perception is off – or maybe he’s losing his balance? Do fish get inner ear infections?

    Muzette

    • Cassie says:

      Muzette,

      I love that your mother instincts are coming out over Leonard. Normally, Dill is the fish that needs special attention, he’s a bit like Dopey the dwarf.

      Leonard is in the water all the time and I did get tubes as a child due to multiple ear infections so maybe I gave him bad genes. It’s a pity that vets don’t really inspect fish and just stick to those animals with hair. I’ll have to bring him to a specialist. Thank you for your concern.

      As for the books, I just couldn’t possibly write passionately about every book. Sometimes books just need to be read and enjoyed, or not enjoyed and then returned to the library or their place on the shelf. Plus, it adds more meaning to a book when you review it, right?

      • zettew says:

        I’m glad to know Leonard will be getting extra attention – maybe he’s just having an off week.
        I agree – when I take the time to write a review it’s because I have to or because I really really like the book – and I’m trying to get out of writing book reviews because I have too! I’m all about taking those disappointing books back to the library (or shelves)! There are so many books to read that I don’t want to waste reading time books I’m not thrilled with!

      • Cassie says:

        Well don’t, lady! Don’t review books you don’t really like. It’s your blog and you have TOTAL control – YES YES YES haha so you can do whatever you want. I just can’t see myself reviewing every book. I would lose my mind and be posting blogs everyday and they wouldn’t be all that wonderful because I would be tired. It would just be a mess.

        PS. My mom loved your comments about the fish. She said whenever she feeds them, one of them swims the wrong way and doesn’t get any so she has to go feed that one. Haha.

      • zettew says:

        Your mom sounds like a lovely, caring woman. :) I’m still worried about Leonard – is he better?

        You’re right, it is my blog! By golly! :) Thanks for the reminder!

      • Cassie says:

        Haha, she is a bit of a worry wart – but lovely.

        And yes – you’re blog – go wild! Can’t wait to see everything you’ve been up to in your next letter.

  5. Bea says:

    I immediately had to check on Leonard, and yes I did notice one of the fish swimming away from the food. There may be an issue there.
    I just love the quick and dirty reviews because you get right to the point, no mamby pamby or long winded descriptions. Thanks for the reviews, now let me check on Leonard one last time.

    • Cassie says:

      Thank you! Yes, read the book or don’t read the book. I really loathed it so I can’t really tell you either way if you should or not. It’s definitely a work that fits into Southern Lit and Southern culture. There’s a lot of strange characters – much like Flannery O’Connor

    • Cassie says:

      Well, I hope you climb that mountain with ferocity! And good luck with it, I can’t wait to see what you think of your mountain. And thank you!

    • Cassie says:

      Haha I had to FINALLY read it as well. It sat there for a long, long time. But, I don’t want to stop you with my bad recommendation. It was terrible in my opinion, just reading it as a summer read. But in a different setting, or with a different background it may be great.

  6. jingersnaps says:

    Awww Cassie, I’m sorry you didn’t like it! I first read it (the first of several times) when I was 13 years old, and I remember never having had a reading experience quite like it. I was completely captivated and haunted by all of these poor people (many of whom I have met their dopplegangers in my subsequent life, being from the South as I am), searching for things that they will never attain, never quite fitting in, and being completely confounded by the loneliness that they experience, even when surrounded by others.

    I also loved A Member of the Wedding, and that one’s a little less heavy, so it might be more to your liking. Carson McCullers is definitely worth a little more exploration, even if your first experience wasn’t what you thought it would be.

    • Cassie says:

      I was just talking to someone about this. How you come to a book really matters how much you like it. You obviously came to this book at just the right time and then read it when you wanted to again and again. I really wanted to read something sad, but maybe not so dense at the time I picked this book up. I think if I would have been studying the book and the power of McCullers it would have been much better.

      And it’s totally okay, I will have to try again with it I think. I’ll still DEFINITELY take your recommendations : )

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