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Joyful Girl

Andrea Blythe's blog about writing, reading, and everything else


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Books Read in January
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1. Howards End, by E.M. Forster
2. Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse (poetry), by David Perez
3. The Yo-Yo Prophet, by Karen Krossing
4. Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day, Ben Loory
5. Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma
6. I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive (audio book), by Steve Earle


REVIEWS:

1. Howards End, by E.M. Forster
Howards End is a tale that expresses the circularity of life, how things thought lost come around again in unexpected ways. It begins with one Schlegel sister falling rapidly in love and then out of love with the youngest Wilcox son while visiting at Howards End. This scandal in minuscule goes away, but manages to tie a knot between these two families, so that their lives become interconnected in unexpected ways as time goes on.

I didn't love this novel quite as much as I loved A Room with a View, but it was still a lovely story about how some people deliberately misunderstand each other, while others make similar efforts at understanding (which becomes in and of a conflict), how people make mistakes and are forgiven, and how life can come around to happiness if only you have a good home to take root in.


2. Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse (poetry), by David Perez
Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse is a collection of poems that approaches the ways things fall apart and how we hold ourselves together, about how intimate connections get screwed up and how people connecting to people is the way we salvage hope with each everyday apocalypse.

His poems drift through a science fiction wonderland, while being anchored in a reality that is as haunting and brutal as any fantastic story that would appear in a movie. He writes of his love affair with Sarah Connor (of The Terminator movies series), and it reveals what loving has the potential to be when everything else is falling apart. "The Time I Caught My Parents Doing the Viennese Oyster" is a funny and eerie rendering of a child accidentally stumbling upon his parents having sex. Meanwhile, "Tickle Me Elmo on Black Friday," written from the point of view of Elmo, is one of the most disturbing things I've read, the images lingering with me even now as I continue to think about it.

I loved the collection, and I'm thrilled that I own it, so that I can continue to return to it whenever the mood strikes me.


3. The Yo-Yo Prophet, by Karen Krossing
Yo-Yoing is a much needed balm and relaxing hobby in Calvin's life. Abandoned by his father after his mom died, he lives with his grandmother, who is growing ill and a little senile. On top of that he is puny and the target for Rozelle and her tough girl gang. But it's yo-yoing where Calvin finds peace, or at least it was until he tests out street performing and finds himself caught up by Rozelle, who insists on being his manager.

This was a light, engaging read, which had a clean weave of subplots. Calvin is an interesting character, a genuine nice guy and average high school kid with a variety of frustrations that he has to face. There's no big revelations here, no mad, high tension adventures, no overwrought romance, merely a kid dealing with real problems and overcoming them.


4. Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day, Ben Loory
Ben Loory presents a strange and wonderful assortment of short stories. Each one offers simple and clean prose reads like a classic fable or fairy tale, many of them merely a few pages long. There are almost no names in the entire collection, it's always the man, the woman, a girl, a boy, so that it could by any woman or any boy. It could be you; it could be me. A man who meets his shadow, a octopus who lives in an apartment in New York, strange malevolent creatures live at the bottom of swimming pools, a fish magically appears in a teapot, and a TV reveals all the possible lives a man could have lived. I read through this collection quickly and eagerly, joyfully engaging in the odd worlds Loory created.


5. Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma
Reading Imaginary Girls is like walking through the halls of a haunted house. Everything on the outside is normal, but strange things happen from time to time and you can't be sure whether the ghosts are real or if its just your imagination. Events in the book are subtly strange in this way, and the surreal tone of the tale is entirely appropriate, because hauntings abound. The lost town Olive haunts the bottom of the reservoir, Chloe is haunted by the memory of the dead girl, Ruby is haunted by the secrets she tries to hide.

The title is also wonderfully appropriate, as the uncertainty of what is imagined and what isn't unfolds throughout the story. Not to mention, what makes a girl imaginary? Is Chloe imaginary because she isn't entirely her own, because she's possessed by Ruby, and willingly so, as she offers her devotion wholeheartedly to her sister? Is Ruby imaginary, because how can that kind of girl, the kind of girl that gets everything and anything she wants really exist? Or is the imaginary part of Ruby based on how Chloe sees her, how Chloe idolizes her and in a way shapes her with that idolatry that no person can live up to? And London? Oh, there are many, many ways that London could be imaginary, if she exists at all.

Imaginary Girls is a book that is multidimensional and achingly beautiful, one that leaves questions to sit with on rainy Sunday while outside the water swirls. It's a book I want to hold in the hollows of my heart and never, ever let go.

Also, read how I would adapt the book into movie, if I could.


6. I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive (audio book), by Steve Earle
Doc is a screw up, a heroine addict haunted by the crooning, grumbling ghost of Hank Williams. He's resigned to his existence as a peddler of cut-rate health care and illegal abortions in the back room of an old boarding house. Until he meets Graciela, a young Mexican woman, abandoned by her lover in Doc's hospital room. After incurring a cut on her wrist that won't stop bleeding, miracles begin to happen. Doc begins to find peace in his life and Ol' Hank ain't happy it.

A gritty tale set in 1963 underworld of San Antonio, Texas, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive is lyrical in its descriptions of dope hustlers and prostitutes living down on their luck, just trying to get by. People are people in this book, and allowed to be both good and evil all in the same day. Doc is a straightforward, no nonsense kind of guy, who believes he's going to hell and has decided to not be too much worried by it. He's a man swallowed up by the lonesome of living in the world, which is in part why Hank haunts him, as they share that in common.

I think I'm rather in love with this book, and even more so for listing to Steve Earle read his own story. He has that kind of gravely, down home, singing lonesome voice that makes your heart ache, which is no surprise, as Earle is also a Grammy award-winning folk singer.
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