Friday, June 27, 2014

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

After several months of slow reading, I finally finished this book...several weeks ago. And I also wrote about it several weeks ago. (I'm kind of the worst. I have all these reviews waiting in the wings that I have failed to share with you yet.) So finally, I'm sharing my thoughts.

A spoiler-free summary...written by me:

Alma Whittaker, born right at the beginning of the 19th century, is the daughter of Henry Whittaker, a stubborn self-made man who finally settled down in Pennsylvania after years of botanical exploring around the world. Alma grows up in the finest house for miles around, honing her genius under her parents' tutelage and applying her brilliance to a study of naturalism. 

That makes it sound incredibly boring, but I'm not sure how much further I can go without revealing too much. (Personally, if it's not revealed within the first 50 pages of the book, I consider it a spoiler. So I even left out some of the stuff that was on the jacket. But I promise there is much more to the book than what I've written.)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir by Beth Kephart

This is a very specific book that probably won't appeal to a lot of people, so I'll keep this brief.

When I initially picked up Handling the Truth, I was actually expecting a memoir about writing memoir--maybe the author struggling with the difficulties of memoir or something. Instead, the book is more of a how-to guide on writing memoir (although it certainly isn't as technical about it as all that). It was actually a very pleasant surprise, since I'm interested in writing memoir.

Kephart gave lots of wonderful examples of great memoir, zeroing in on the difficulties of memoir and how to deal with them. I even used some of the exercises she gave (and I might go back to some of the others). I wish I owned this book so I could go back to it when I'm seriously writing a memoir.

My only complaint--which isn't much of a complaint, really--is that sometimes her writing got a little pretentious. At times it was like she was trying to write poetry or something, not trying to talk honestly about writing memoir. I feel like that happens to a lot of writers these days; they forget the actual point of what they're trying to say and start waxing poetic, turning adjectives into verbs, using nonsensical metaphors just because they sound pretty, and generally ceasing to sound like a real person. I'm fine with that in poetry, but I'm not sure it belongs in a book like this. (In the interest of honesty, though, I'll be the first to admit that I, too, get caught in this trap more often than I would like--but I'm a beginning writer, not a veteran who's written five memoirs like Kephart.)

Anyway, I promised to keep this short, so I'll leave it there. Despite my overly long paragraph criticizing minute details of the writing style, I actually really enjoyed this book! I would recommend it to anyone considering writing memoir.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I hesitated actually writing this review since I wasn't sure what I would even say. Little House in the Big Woods was everything I remembered it being, since I last read it, as a child. I have a hard time thinking of it any other way.

As a kid, I loved imagining being in any time, place, or world other than the one I was in. (Not that I didn't have a happy childhood.) My sister and I often pretended we lived on a farm, grinding "wheat" (wheat-ish looking weeds) with a stone and making "bread" (nicely-shaped rocks). Naturally, the Little House books were right up my alley. If only I lived in Laura Ingalls Wilder's time, and we could bake bread every week, make our own maple sugar, and be overjoyed to receive oranges and a rag doll for Christmas.

This time around, I was still thinking of the story the way my little-girl brain did. However, I was a little more uneasy about how romanticized the story was. The family laughs over their near-deadly experiences with bears. When Laura's cousin gets stung all over his body with bees and has to be bandaged from head to toe, the parents merely say, "well, he deserved it." Really? That sort of incident would merit a trip to the emergency room these days! Who cares how annoying the kid was?

And I was able to appreciate a little more how much more luxurious the American lifestyle is now. There are things from the book that I irrationally still wish I could have; I guess as people like to say, "It was a simpler time" (but honestly, I find it hard to believe that any time in human history was ever "simple"). But overall, the book reminded me to be grateful that I live in America today, and not back then.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Summer Reading Plans

Everyone in the book blogging world is posting about their summer reading plans. I love reading all your lists and seeing your ambitious goals!

I've been thinking a lot about my own reading plans for this summer. This is the first summer in quite a while that I've actually had a lot of time to read. I don't have any required readings for classes, so I can actually read whatever I want for once without anyone breathing down my neck.

I feel obligated to use this time to tackle some big, chunky, difficult classics. I rarely read them for school because they don't fit well on a single-semester syllabus--teachers don't like having to devote an entire semester to a single book--and I finally have time to slowly work through them. I could read War and Peace! Or Moby Dick! (With Adam's readalong going on, I was really tempted.) Or Ulysses! (Okay...barf.) I could do that readalong of Les Miserables I've been wanting to do forever!

As fun as it would be to finally be able to say I've read some tough chunksters (or, hey, even some shorter classics), the honest truth is that I don't have much enthusiasm for them this summer. After 3 1/2 years of studying literature in college, I can finally read for fun. Reading difficult classics, as wonderful as they are, would just drain the fun right out of it.