Monday, May 19, 2014

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

Spoiler-free summary:
This is a collection of Ann Patchett's nonfiction essays. For many years, Ann worked as a freelance writer to supplement her income from fiction and teaching. The pieces contained in this volume offer sound career advice, Ann's musings on pets, a few provocative convocation talks she gave at colleges, her down-to-earth ideas on love, and her priceless thoughts on writing. This collection is a must-read for any Ann Patchett fan or aspiring writer.

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I feel kind of bad because I've never read Ann Patchett's fiction. After having read this collection, I fully intend to, but I probably don't have the same interest in or connection to Patchett as many readers of this book did, so forgive me for my lack of zealousness. I liked this collection, but I'm sure it would have meant more to me if I was already a fan.

This collection surprised me. Patchett is direct and confident. She's unapologetic. I had no idea what kind of lady she was before picking up this book, but now I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on her personality. I don't think we'd get along, but I like her anyhow. For some reason I thought she'd be sappier? Maybe it's the title of the book that made me think this, but I was continually shocked by her callousness - refusing to marry the man she loved, cheating on her ex-husband, taking a puppy from a blind girl - the list goes on. But I'm so incredibly glad she included all of this and that she did not philosophize for pages about all of her misdoings because it made her real. I can relate to her in that I, too, do horrible things - we just go about it differently. Ann Patchett is "real" and takes pride in being "real." I can get behind this.

A few favorites included the story on her application to the LAPD, the piece detailing the moment she realized she could leave her ex-husband, and all of the little tales about her dog.

Buy This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage in hardcover, paperback, audiobook, and eBook format from Parnassus Books today.
(I usually route people to Amazon, but Parnassus Books is the independent bookstore Patchett helps run. There's a story about its unlikely inception in this collection).

Photo: Harper

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Spoiler-free summary:
Bernadette Fox is an ex-award-winning architect. She once astounded the creative world with her ability to make beautiful and sustainable structures out of unexpected supplies. Now, she's just bitter. She lives with her quirky genius daughter, Bee, and her career-minded software developer husband, Elgin, in a decrepit building once used as a school for girls. She stays in, hating people and outsourcing their life to a woman in India, while her husband and Bee rattle around the world, trying to fit in. After Bernadette runs over a lady's foot at her daughter's school, she goes missing and it is up to Bee to piece together her emails and letters to find out what happened and who her mother really is.
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I knew I had to read this book when I learned that the author had worked on Arrested Development. AD is one of my favorite shows -  the writing makes me sick with envy. This book makes me envious, too.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is snarky and hilarious, but it's also touching and thought-provoking. I could see this being adapted into the next Wes Anderson film. It's very Royal Tenenbaums, with the genius child, the eccentric family, the immoral, but deeply feeling characters.

I was so excited when I learned that Bernadette's husband worked at Microsoft. His job is inflated, his "admin" is in love with him, he's a rock star of technology and it's horrible. I, too, work at a software company and welcome any attempt to satirize this crap, because it needs to be satirized. Please.

By the end of this book, I had a huge crush on Bernadette. I identified with her need to create, her inability to create, and the resulting cynicism.

I felt like I should like Bee better by the end of this novel, but I didn't. Even though the book is, when not told by letters and emails, from Bee's point of view, I never really felt like I knew her. I was much more interested in her friend Kennedy, who really, really cracked me up. I thought Bee was at her best when she was thinking of impressing Kennedy, which involved collecting the most horrible and ridiculous things from her travels.

The format of emails and letters make this a quick read. Read it to remind yourself why you hate everyone, and then read it again to remind yourself that there are still nice things (like this book) in the world.

Buy Where'd You Go, Bernadette in hardcover, paperbook, audio, and ebook format from Amazon today.

Photo: Back Bay Books

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 by Thomas Ott

Spoiler-free summary:
While cleaning up after the execution of an inmate, a prison guard finds a scrap of paper with a long, strange sequence of numbers on it. He pockets the paper and soon finds that the numbers have a wonderful and horrifying significance. The prison guard's story is told without words - only with pictures, and, of course, the numbers.

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I saw this book at the library and was instantly drawn to the weird title and interesting black and white artwork. I'm so, so glad I picked it up.

I was initially thinking that the numbers would represent something akin to the "numbers" in the TV series Lost, but the numbers in this graphic novel manage to be way, way more ominous. Perhaps it is because they are there for the prison guard, always, no matter what. He's not interacting with them in the way the character's in Lost are, they're just happening to him, over and over. I also think that, despite the lack of words, Thomas Ott does a nice job of letting the magic of the numbers just be, which is something I think Lost kind of screwed up...

I was nervous at first because there are no words in this book and I am notoriously bad at not looking at the pictures in graphic novels, but the drawings couldn't be ignored. They are bold, creepy, and do a wonderful job of conveying action and emotion.

It's a very quick read, but I get the feeling that this one will stay with me for a long time.

I can't wait to read Thomas Ott's other works.

Buy The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 from Amazon in hardcover or paperback today.

Pictures: Fantagraphics Books