Review: Starting Over

Starting Over
Starting Over by Tony Parsons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I could explain my feelings for Tony Parsons in a way that would do him true justice. Whenever I read his books I feel a sort of heartbreaking hope. I know why, but not well enough to be able to express it accurately. The way Tony writes makes you feel relieved that someone is paying attention to life in such a way that they really do just get it. I think with this book especially, the way George loves Lara makes me feel hopeful. After all that time he still loved her, and not in a daft star-crossed lovers kind of way, but in a real way. It feels a relief to know that someone wrote that, because it kind of means that he feels that way, and feeling that way in itself is kind of lovely. Tony Parsons is someone that I wish everyone would read. I often wonder while I am reading his books if other people see themselves in the characters he creates. And if they do, do they learn about themselves in the process? Do they learn a little something about relationships? Are they inspired? Or does it take too much radical honesty to be able to look at yourself in this way? Maybe that kind of honesty is too rare for it to make an impact. It’s strange, I guess. Tony Parsons’ work seems so relevant to me, and yet I cannot help but think that relevance might be lost on most. Which is a real pity.

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Review: The Tin Can Tree

The Tin Can Tree
The Tin Can Tree by Anne Tyler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a weird relationship with Anne Tyler. I met her when I was nineteen. I was camping in Tennessee and she kept me company, and as she did so I began to discover that I really wanted to write. I have loved her since then, always, and am quick to mention that The Accidental Tourist is one of my favourite books. She is strange though. Possibly in a way that I can’t quite express. While reading her other books (I have not gotten through all of them yet – not even all of hers that I own) I find myself wondering “why did you write this?” I cannot help but be curious about her motivations. What happened? What tiny little occurrence set you running off to tell this story? With the Tin Can Tree, you slip into the aftermath of the death of a child. It is a story filled with awkward conversations. It is strange, and yet readable. Relatable even if you cannot possibly relate. Anne Tyler baffles me. I can only imagine that she might have the true powers of an empath. She seems to understand things that she could not possibly have experienced – at least not all of them, though I imagine perhaps some. Her books seem to be just this though: a series of conversations that are so real you cannot stop yourself from hearing every word that she says. You get to the end and you think, “well not much happened in that story, everyone just sat around talking….” and then you go on to wonder how on earth her method works. Because it does work. And yet you can’t imagine ever pulling it off yourself.

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Review: The Good Neighbour

The Good Neighbour
The Good Neighbour by William Kowalski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well….that was kind of…odd… I’m kind of a Kowalkski fan, in that when I was 20 I read Eddie’s Bastard and it kind of happened while I was starting to realise that I wanted to write and it played into the becoming a writer thing really well. The follow up, Somewhere South of Here, played the game well too – in fact even better because I particularly adored that book (I should maybe read it again). And somewhere along the line I found Flash Jackson pretty fascinating. So I was really excited to read this book. From the beginning I hated it though. The main characters are pretty cliche and exceptionally loathsome. The husband is a classic douche. You read about him and immediately you feel like “hey, I know that guy”…and then you go “why the hell did this idiot of a woman marry him?” and then you just hate her because clearly she is an idiot. I don’t know. I think on the whole the writing was fine. I enjoyed the parts that covered the history of the house. Kowalski uses a few cliches, but nothing unforgivable. I just….I just didn’t buy any of it. I don’t know. For one I had no reason to believe that Francie was intelligent or wonderful, other than being told that she was. But creepiest of all. I guess I have to admit to myself that it is entirely possible that hating these two so much is simply a denial of my own recognition of the toxic dynamic between them. Oh…and just in case Mr. Kowalski himself ever reads this review: Dude, it’s rooibos….not roiboos. I promise. I am 100% correct about that. I even googled it to check to see if maybe roiboos wasn’t something that I just didn’t know about. If it is, please let me know because google doesn’t know either. But otherwise: rooibos.

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Review: Funny Girl

Funny Girl
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know how there’s that cliche question of “If you could have dinner with anyone at all, dead or alive, who would you choose?” and then your answer is supposed to establish a whole bunch of things about who you are or your compatibility with someone or something? Well, my fantasy dinner guest has been Nick Hornby for as long as I can remember. Of course, if we’re allowed to choose fictional people for this question then I might have to choose The Doctor, but it might be best not to go there… As for Mr. Hornby, I think he would be a fantastic person to just hang out with. I know t his because there is no doubt in my mind that I kind of know him. Sorry Sir, but your writing is exceptionally revealing. Or it is to me at least.

How do I even start this review? “How to Be Good” has been my soul book for such a long time. It still is, of course, because I will be psychologically attached to it for the rest of my life. I do, however, have to admit that Funny Girl might be just the tiniest bit better. I’m not sure how or why, but I think Nick Hornby has outdone himself with this latest gift to the masses. Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of British comedy, or just British television in general, or maybe it’s simply that I really can’t help but understand everything this man says. Whatever it is, I once again find myself at the end of a Hornby novel feeling exceptionally happy for his existence. This book is filled with the exceptionally 3 dimensional characters that we have all come to expect from Hornby and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have started the new year with these people.

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Books that make me feel like I could possibly be a writer…

Photo on 2014-11-28 at 2.17 PM #3Nick Hornby wrote a new book which is about as wonderful as wonderful gets. Even more wonderful is that a book reviewer friend of mine sent me his new book when I gushed about what a fan I was to her (some people are just so damn cool!) and so I have the latest one in my possession. Of course it is also currently on my nightstand. There is something about this man that inspires me entirely, and while reading this latest novel I couldn’t help but marvel at how there are some books that make you feel like you have no business writing (Irving, King, Atwood, Tartt) and then there are some that are bright, brilliant, and beyond reproach, and yet they somehow still make you feel sort of yes I can do this. Hornby makes me feel that way. Sarah Addison Allen does too. Ali Shaw. Mark Haddon. William Kowalski. Tony Parsons. My conclusion is of course this: I should read these guys this month. What better way to start the new year than surrounded by people who inspire you?

Hogwarts on my mind

So I saw this video about a month ago and it’s been bugging me ever since. Of course, after spending the whole of New Year’s Eve as well as New Year’s Day having a massive Harry Potter movie marathon with the husband and kids, it has been on my mind even more. Now, I adore Laci Green. Really I do. I find her refreshing and vibrant and intelligent. She is without a doubt someone to look up to.  This bugs me though! I can’t figure out why any of this matters! I don’t really think it’s fair to tell anyone “you should have done this or that differently” when it comes to their work. No. You should have done it exactly the way you did it because that’s the way you wanted to do it. I don’t think there is anything puritanical or conforming to societal taboos about leaving sex out of any narrative – especially this one! You know – if you go ahead and use your own imagination, there were probably a ton of teens having sex at Hogwarts…just like any other school But when you were at school, did you see your friends having sex? Of course not! And if you did, it was most likely by accident. Without meaning to sound like a prude, sex is a private subject. There is nothing wrong with exploring sexuality,or writing about it, but for heaven’s sake expecting it to be part of the storyline because it’s “more realistic” strikes me as a little silly. It is not shameful to keep sex behind closed doors – that it where it belongs. And when it comes to stories, if all the sex being had at Hogwarts (gosh!) had anything to do with the narrative then it would have been included. As for Dumbledore being gay – it didn’t matter. So it wasn’t mentioned. Joe Rowling has every right to know things about her characters that she does not share in her books. And it is not her “job” to teach anyone about sexuality or sexual orientation. She has already taught so many children (and adults!) out there a thousand things about all sorts of important stuff like empathy and friendship and bravery and loyalty and love and compassion and and and…. To fault her for not also teaching everyone that “having sex is ok” is a little bit insulting. I just can’t get over how weird this observation is…. But then again, maybe I’m just a prude. I’m grateful that sex wasn’t part of my own personal high school experience because I wasn’t ready for it then. But that was MY choice. A choice that I made because it was my choice, and not because I was ever under the impression that it had to be a certain way. And come on: if it was ok for Joey and Pacey to be having sex, then really, the “sex is ok” message has been out there for a long time.  A lot of TV and novels are already preaching the “sex is ok narrative” – they have been for years. The taboos of sex are placed on us because of our own issues and because of the issues of our parents, ministers, friends, school teachers etc. We cannot turn around and start demanding that our artists fix what we ourselves have broken. Sex/sexuality is not an issue – that is what the more progressive of us would like to see in the people around us. JK never made it an issue. This video, however, kind of does make it an issue. Choosing to not have sex should be no more of an issue than choosing to have sex is. Turning around and berating someone for not sharing anything sexual is the exact same thing as berating them for being too sexy. At least, that’s the way I see it…