Book Pre-Review

I have a book to review, but I'm going to take my time on that. In the meantime, I thought I'd mention that I have begun reading another book – one that is fairly well known. The narrator (one of them) is described as 'unreliable', a term I have only recently come into contact with, though the concept has been around for a while. (Think Fight Club, though it's much, much older than that.) It seems that by telling me that the narrator is unreliable, they have taken away most of the element of surprise, but I don't imagine that the people who publish books would really do that on the back cover. So, I have to think there's still more to come.

I will say, though, that as far as unreliability goes, this narrator fits the bill so far. She's a mess, spiralling out of control and I have no idea why her roommate puts up with her, or how much longer she's going to. I'm only a couple of chapters in, after all. She has spent the last two years sinking into a level of alcoholism that would generally take somebody many more years, or decades, to accomplish.

The author describes this perfectly. I don't even know the author's name; that's what a good job she's done. I am convinced that I'm reading the notes of a real person. (Clearly, they were dictated as she could not possibly put pen to paper or work a word processor.) As I read about poor life choices and struggling to remember what happened earlier this afternoon to cause the bump on her head and the bruises across her body I begin to think about my own life. I mean, I am truly wondering when I'm going to get my act together. I long, just a little, to call a local AA branch to talk to somebody about my problem. A problem which I do not have, by the way. I hardly drink. When filling out paperwork at a new doctor's office I struggle with the question of how often I drink. There is nothing between 'one drink a week' and 'never'. I fall into that gap, somewhere.

People this easily impressionable are perfect readers, as far as I can tell. I become a part of the story to a depth that is probably not entirely healthy. Also, it means that I have to read something apologetically happy every once in a while. The last time I had a true bout of depression (a few years ago) I had been reading a book of short stories by David Foster Wallace. That man can get to you. (He got to himself, it would seem.) After going through that, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was called for, or, something along those lines. When I don't have one of those firmly in my grasp I reach for Calvin & Hobbs. I'm writing a novel right now, and the story is not always pleasant. I doubt that I come out of that experience unscathed.

But, it's been a while. So, I am happily (or enjoying myself, anyway) reading a book that has had rave reviews and a few people whose negative opinion about it has only strengthened my desire to read it. I'll try to write about this novel as well, once I'm finished. In the meantime, I'm going to continue reading, I'll begin the other review I mentioned and I'm going to have a lie down to try to get my life together.

-- Earnie

A Chick Flick with a Kick


A few months ago I watched a movie that a friend leant me called Fried Green Tomatoes. I had never seen it, nor have I read the book, which is a little embarrassing because my mother is a retired librarian and I worked at a bookstore for six years. But, oh well. I watched the movie and was stunned. I was expecting a chick flick, which it is, but with an extra kick. A chick flick with a kick.

So, tossing around for a good book to read to follow up The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with, I started Ulysses (of all things!) and when I got tired of thinking so much I sat in my coffee shop shopping with my nook for another book. Nook's "Related Titles" feature has let me down on more than one occasion. I like it, but it offers a limited number of options and they're not always on the spot. Like with Guernsey Literary etc., for instance. I mean, the author's niece had to finish it up and she's listed as a coauthor, but the fact that I liked that book does not mean that I'll like the niece's books written for children. Not a good guess.

Then I decided to download the sample of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fanny Flagg. I've been meaning to read it. I download many samples that remain samples. This book, however, was downloaded in full as soon as I reached the end of the sample. I just like the way she writes. It's a good story – this I already knew. But, aside from that its' just a pleasure to read the prose. The blurbs indicate that it's humorous, and I suppose it is. (I'm still reading it, by the way; I haven't finished it.) So far the humor is the subtle way she writes. I haven't laughed out loud so far, but I have desired to keep reading in spite of being hungry and in spite of the fact that I'm sitting in a coffee shop at 4:52PM and I'm supposed to be in Elgin – 30 miles away – at 6 and I still have to shower and change.

So, I have a challenge/request. If you are a woman who is in her 40's or 50's... oh heck, even in your 30's; if you are a man married to a woman in that category; if you know a woman who is over thirty please go to your nearest book place, virtual or physical, and read this chapter. This is going to be difficult because I'm reading it on a Nook and I don't have any way of knowing the page number in a book. The chapter is called "212 Rhodes Circle" but there are several chapters with that name. On my Nook it is on page 49. The subheading is "January 5, 1986". Read this chapter.

It's interesting that I started reading Ulysses, which is often compared to Mrs. Dalloway (I've seen several comparisons, anyway) and this chapter in Fried Green Tomatoes made me think of Mrs. Dalloway. The chapter is not the intense stream of consciousness that the other two novels are, but there is a striking similarity in the emotions that this chapter evokes and those that I recall from Mrs. Dalloway. I thought of Woolf's novel as soon as I finished the chapter; I just didn't connect the dots to Ulysses until just now.

So, gentle reader, please take a moment and read this chapter from this classic from the American South and see if you don't find just a tiny little inkling of resonance with your own life. And, see if the prose doesn't lift you off of your chair and carry you away for just a moment. Then come back and tell me. I want to know.

Waiting to hear from you,


Review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book made me happy.

I was sitting around a coffee shop wishing I had a Very Good Book to read yesterday (or was it the day before, after work?) when I stumbled across this book on my Nook – not for the first time. It sounded trite and unbearable from the title, but based on the reviews I decided to read the sample. Then I had to buy the book.

Whichever day it was that I bought the book, today is Sunday and I haven't done very much this weekend. The book is not long, but I read slowly and I did have other commitments, like eating and sleeping. However, I did very little without longing to be reading this book. The further into it I got the more I wanted to do nothing but sit and read. (Granted, sitting and reading is a favorite pastime for me anyway.) So, I woke up this morning and put off all obligations and read. Then I got hungry so I went to the same coffee shop and bought a breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee and read more. I had to back up a little and re-read some parts for a few reasons: 1. I didn't want to be distracted from my reading while eating, 2. I had read at night while I was incredibly sleepy and I might have not been paying as much attention as I could have and (most importantly) 3. I was getting dangerously close to the end.

This is possibly the worst review ever written, because so far it has been about me and not about the book. But, grant me that it has been about my reaction to the book.

Now, about the book. It is lighthearted. It is simple. It's a chick-flick in book form. It is very possibly predictable. If you know this going into it then it won't surprise you. I'm not generally a fan of chick-flick books but this one was different.

First of all it had many stark details of life in Great Britain just after the war. I cannot answer for how accurate those details are, but they felt real. Second, the characters are delightful, even the jerks. They're not two-dimensional; they are real people. The tight-lipped Adelaide Addison, who tries to put Juliet off of the Literary Society, is believable. She's not just an allegorical representation of prudishness. I could feel that there was something behind the severity – lack of opportunity to marry; a strict upbringing maybe. I wasn't without sympathy for her. And, the witty language in the letters (it is an epistolary novel) grabbed me from the beginning. My favorite character is the eccentric Isola Pribby who is spoken of as a witch (she does make potions), as somebody to be tolerated and one gets the feeling that people don't taker her entirely seriously. Her own letters demonstrate that while she might be an eccentric woman and oblivious to the way others feel about her, she is not without feelings and insecurities.

Quotes I enjoyed.

Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true. (This is used to promote the book. One reviewer used it to demonstrate how poorly the book was written, but in context it comes from a letter written by a woman to a man so you have to take it for what it is. It's a pleasant turn of phrase.)

I laugh. (Written by the severe Adelaide Addison about the Literary Society. It's simple, but it expresses so much – absolute disdain wrapped up in a two-word sentence.)

I admit that Isola needs little encouragement to bang her hammer. (This is the first description of my favorite character – the beginning of her portrait.)

I deny everything! (I just want the opportunity to use this.)

Dr. Stubbins pronounced that you alone had transformed "Distraction" into an honorable word — instead of a character flaw. (I like that flaws can be honorable when given the opportunity to express themselves constructively.)

This book will not shake the world. If you want it to you will be disappointed. However, if you want something to hold your attention, make you think about what horrors people are capable of bringing upon each other, entertain you and make you cry (I admit that I was wiping tears from my eyes in the coffee shop this morning) then I do highly recommend you read this book. It was almost unfortunate that I had to go to a party this afternoon. I wanted to sit around and savor this book, to brood by myself about it. And I feel strangely compelled to write the author a letter.

Thank you for taking the time to read my rambling review. I hope you found it helpful.

e A r n i e

View all my reviews