Saturday, February 20, 2010

Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, by Kerry Cohen

If you were the teenage girl who didn't get much attention from boys, this book will finally make you feel better about that. Otherwise, I wonder if there are any readers who won't recognize the painful yearning and stabbing self-doubt in this portrait of a girl trying to come to terms with her sexuality. Kerry Cohen describes these emotions in such a beautifully succinct manner - you don't have to be a loose girl yourself to recognize her motivation, although if you were/are you will be thrilled to finally find your experience described with such accuracy and understanding.

Where I heard about this book
: Goodreads - someone else had it marked as to-read and it sounded great.

What I thought of this book
: Fabulous. 5 stars.

What this book is about
: The memoir of a girl who turns to promiscuity to get the attention she craves.

I love that this book is just over 200 pages, but satisfyingly spans an entire adolescence and young adulthood. I really like that the author avoided telling every excruciating detail of her life - the downfall of many an autobiography. One of my few complaints is that as Kerry grew up I kind of lost track of how old she was - did she meet her husband in her early twenties, or much later?

At first I was slightly annoyed at what I saw as glossing over the whole recovery issue; it seemed as though she just sort of got over it, which is rare with addictive/compulsive behavior. Upon further reflection, however, I realize that recovery is really boring to read about, and is in fact where many memoirs tend to bog down. So never mind.

I really haven't felt so personally touched by a memoir in years. Kerry Cohen also writes YA lit, which I'll bet is great. I like her website - see it here. And she lives in Portland! I'm very disappointed that I can't see her at Powell's this week.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

We Are All Welcome Here, by Elizabeth Berg

I am quite sure that I've read several books by Elizabeth Berg, but I can't for the life of me remember them! I looked at the author's own synopses, and found that only one really rang a bell. This does not in any way discount the pleasure of reading her novels; in fact I'm pleased that I get to read them for the first time all over again. This is more comfort reading for me - although the stories are often rife with illness, abuse and heartbreak, they are also somehow uplifting and give me a feeling of comfort.

We Are All Welcome Here is told from the perspective of a somewhat bratty 13 year old who lives with her disabled mother and their prickly caretaker. I loved that all of the characters are sort of cranky and annoying, particularly Diana, the daughter, and Peacie, the housekeeper/nurse/nanny. They seemed very real to me. The novel encompasses all kinds of issues, dwelling mainly on bigotry of various kinds and motherhood in all its complexity. I enjoyed it thoroughly and completely forgive the few improbable events.

Where I heard about this book
: I found it when seeking comfort literature at the library.

What I thought of this book
: Very satisfying. 4 stars.

What this book is about
: A thirteen year old girl who lives with her quadriplegic mother, their relationship with each other and with their caretaker. Set in the sixties, it contains racism, civil rights strife, sexism, romantic yearning, classism, improbable romance... it's actually downright brimming with issues!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

This is the second book this month that I've read quite a bit of, liked a lot, and then put down. In this case, I just couldn't face the whole Jewish child during WWII thing. It is so well conceived and written that I expect to return to it at some point - maybe on a Mexican beach when I am far from my own . Not a good pick for a particularly busy and illness-filled February.

Homer and Langley, by E.L. Doctorow

It is hard for me to talk about this book without overusing the word 'amazing'. I absolutely loved it. I'd been looking forward to it for months, which can of course lead to 'it's not as good as it sounded' disappointment (see Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), but I was charmed and my hope validated. I love to be reminded that there is a reason that really famous authors are so, well, famous. This is a story told by a master of the art.

Where I heard about this book
: It was all over the literary news by the time it appeared on booksellers' shelves.

What I thought of this book
: Perfect.

What this book is about
: This is a fictionalized account of the lives of Homer and Langley Collyer. They were New York brothers famous for practically barricading themselves for decades in their Fifth Avenue mansion as it disintegrated around them. They were hoarders; after their deaths in 1947 over 130 tons of debris was removed from the house, which had to be demolished. Recluses and hoarders! Ripe fodder for fiction. The incredible thing about this novel is that it is written with such delicacy and grace. The story is told by Langley, the younger brother, who is blind. He interprets his situation without being able to see it, year after year. The eccentricities of his brother and the accumulation of objects in the house both seem somehow reasonable as told from his perspective. As I imagine is the case for any recluses and hoarders. It's the insider view that makes this story so compelling.

I am sometimes nervous about reading fictionalized accounts of history - I am afraid that I will come to believe that it is truth, and forget that a lot of it is made up. This account of the Collyer brothers may bear little resemblance to the actual men. It is, however, an accurate picture of a family. Not a normal one, but a family fueled by love and in which the quirks and oddities just play out to a more exaggerated end than for most. We should all be so lucky as to have our lives re-imagined for us by E. L. Doctorow!

Here is the Wikipedia entry for the Collyer brothers. You can see why E. L. Doctorow was inspired by their story, which is one he grew up with. I was originally captivated by the idea of recluse/hoarders, but I was unprepared for how un-sensationalist the book is. Hooray for great novels!

Have you been dying to know? The E in E.L. stands for Edgar. Using initials instead of names puts both Doctorow and Salinger firmly into my pantheon of sexy authors.