Friday, April 04, 2014

A Life in Men by Gina Frangello: A Review

A Life in MenA Life in Men by Gina Frangello
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had the pleasure of meeting Gina Frangello last month at the Tucson Festival of Books, where we spoke on three separate panels together. We also spent a lot of time between panels chatting in the authors' green room, and so I heard a lot about this book (as well as about her process of writing the book) prior to finally sitting down to read it. Gina was an engaging speaker, as well as a fascinating person, and so I was eager to dive in.

A LIFE IN MEN, is a sweeping story of a woman named Mary Grace who, at seventeen, is diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (a life-shortening pulmonary disease typically diagnosed in early childhood). And so just as her life is about to begin, her life expectancy is suddenly abbreviated to an unfathomable six years.

The novel is not about illness, however. Nor is it about dying. It is, instead, about living. About embracing life, embracing the world, and all of the people in it.

There is an urgency to everything about this book, despite its epic scope. We travel with Mary from Greece to London, Africa to Mexico, Amsterdam to Morocco. We watch as she struggles to compress a lifetime of experience into these few precious years, to ignore her illness even as it incites this manic sort of approach to living. Book-ended by two tragedies: the Lockerbie disaster and 9/11, Mary's life becomes a sort of luminous, shimmery thing in between.

The story is told to us in a meandering omniscience, her character revealed via the various men in her life (as well as by her vibrant best friend, whose death sets the story into motion). The cumulative effect of this is the understanding that an individual's life is not a solitary thing, but something which has far-reaching trajectories. It also suggests that perception and truth are not mutually exclusive: "There is never only one Truth," Frangello writes. "There is only one truth at a time."

I really loved this book.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Coming Up for Air

Gasp. That is me, coming up for air. For a moment.

And those are first three sentences I have written in months that haven't been in response to someone else's writing. And that makes me sad. I have been teaching and editing so much in the last three months, that I am not even sure I remember how to write anymore. Two online classes, a Saturday workshop at San Diego Writer's Ink, a Tuesday evening class at Grossmont College, volunteering at The Monarch School every other week, two weekly Read and Critiques, and back to back to back editing jobs. At one point last month I was reading (and commenting on) almost a thousand pages a week. Don't get me wrong - I love my editing work, and I really, really enjoy teaching, but my own words seem to have gotten lost somewhere along the way.

By all accounts, I should be feeling great. I recently optioned the film rights for Bodies of Water to an amazing actress who is, at this very moment, turning it into a beautiful screenplay. Bodies also was just named a finalist for a Lambda award. I am doing an interview with Brad Listi for my favorite podcast, Other People, later this month. And I am headed to Tucson this weekend for the Tucson Festival of Books where I will get to see my friend, Jillian Cantor, and have dinner with Alice Hoffman (one of my literary idols). But instead of feeling awesome, I am feeling both anxious and somewhat melancholy.

I am waiting to get the edits of my next book back -- trying not to think too much about it (otherwise I go into panic mode that it's not nearly as strong as I hope it is). I finished a draft of a book during NaNoWriMo that I KNOW stinks.  I have an idea for a different book that is distracting me, luring me away from that really crappy draft of what is supposed to be the next book -- due in OCTOBER, and I can't decide if I should just follow the shiny new thing (squirrel!) or muscle up and tackle the clean-up of that steaming pile of ca-ca I made in November. I am also waiting (always waiting) for some other things to pan out. But they're not panning, and I'm getting sick of waiting.

Anyway.

And now a brief dispatch from the Mermama front:

1. I made an eel costume today. Esmee is Flotsam in "The Little Mermaid" next week.
2. We signed the girls up for a week at Camp Downer -- the sleepaway camp both my mother and I went to.
3. This means Patrick and I get a whole week alone at the pond in Vermont.
4. Had to enact some tough love when Esmee stole money from her savings to buy herself Candy-Grams for Valentine's Day.
5. Allowing Kick to go to Starbuck's with a friend after school today...sounds small but feels really big.
6. Kick's middle school jazz band kind of rocks.

And now, holding my breath, and diving back in.


Tuesday, December 03, 2013

My Favorite Books of 2013

I have read more this year than any other year of my life. However, most of what I have been reading are my editing clients' unpublished works-in-progress. While I absolutely love this work, it leaves little time for pleasure reading. I did manage to read a few books with 2013 pub dates (as well as several books from previous years). Here are my favorites from 2013 -- in no particular order:

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine

MargotEleanor & Park
Heart Like Mine Schroder

Men We Reaped: A Memoir

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward: A Review

Men We Reaped: A MemoirMen We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gorgeous, difficult, heart-breaking memoir by the author of SALVAGE THE BONES. MEN WE REAPED is the account of five tragic deaths in five year's time in Ward's life, but it reads both like an investigation and like an elegy. It took me nearly a month to read this book...it is to be read in carefully calibrated does. It is that potent.

Ward has earned a life-long reader and fan.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Home, Again

I just got back from five weeks away from home, and suddenly I find myself in utter chaos. Plus it's hot here. Really, freaking hot.

The summer was fabulous...I was able to take a break from editing and read for pleasure, for one. I read a whole bunch of books while I was on vacation, my favorite being Looking for Alaska by John Green. John Green, where were you when I was in high school? Seriously, there is so much great fiction out there for the YA crowd now. I remember a literary vacuum when I was in high school. Man. Teenaged me would have loved that book. Grown-up me certainly did. I also read The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, How to Love (another YA book I picked up at the Readerlink trade show in Chicago), The Autobiography of Us, and The Silver Star

The Camp at Newark Pond, Vermont 2013

I also did some writing...a little side project that I am excited about...but for the most part took a vacation from writing. 

Mostly though, I thought about writing. I really spent a lot of time thinking about both the book I am working on and what will come next. What I have realized over the last several years, is that summer is my time to get excited about writing, without actually doing any of the hard work. That way, when I get home and fall descends, I am ready to go. I have four ideas percolating right now...two of which came to me this summer. I am chomping at the bit.

And fall has descended. Kicky started middle school (entering into preteendom with all the requisite rage and bliss). Esmee is in fourth grade and doesn't need me anymore except when she does. I have editing jobs lined up. I am back to teaching. My dog wants to walk. Food needs to get cooked. And the other day my dishwasher broke. 

Oh! And Bodies of Water comes out 9/24. 

And so it's back to real life now -- good thing I've got some stuff to be excited about. 

Monday, July 08, 2013

A Chance to Win an Advance Copy of BODIES OF WATER

Heather Fowler, Bonnie ZoBell, and I are having a reading at the Bamboo Lounge on July 18th. And in honor of that event, we're hosting a giveaway of our books. I am offering up an advance copy of Bodies of Water.



AND, the great news is, you don't even need to attend the event to win!

Just visit this page and leave a comment to enter.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Hand Me Down by Melanie Thorne: A Review

Hand Me DownHand Me Down by Melanie Thorne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up after listening to an interview with Melanie Thorne on the Other People with Brad Listi podcast. So glad I did. This story is heart-breaking, particularly knowing it was inspired by Thorne's own life.

Elizabeth's mother is married to a convicted sex offender. Her father is a drunk. And when forced to choose between her husband and her daughters, she chooses him.

The girls are separated. Jaime goes to live with their father, leaving Elizabeth in a constant state of fear over her sister's well-being. And Liz is sent to Utah to live with her aunt who shows her a world she has never had access to before. I fell in love with her aunt Tammy. (For once, a wonderful character named Tammy!) And I ached for Liz as she struggled between the opportunity this new life offered and her sense of obligation and loyalty to her sister and mother.

Elizabeth is a fabulous narrator: precocious, smart, protective, but still a child. This book reminded me of all the wonderful books I love about broken childhoods: White Oleander, Bastard Out of Carolina, The Glass Castle.