Spill Simmer Falter Wither – Sara Baume

spill
Find it here on Goodreads

This book will tear your heart.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither is described in a lot of reviews as being about a relationship between a man and his dog.

That is not what this book is about at all.

Ray’s relationship with OneEye is only a part of the story. For a while I thought the dog may be entirely imaginary.

This book is about loneliness. It’s about abandonment. It’s about craving parental approval and coming back for more disappointment. And it does not offer redemption.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a mondegreen for spring, summer, fall, winter, and the book covers one year in Ray’s life, after the death of his father and his new relationship with OneEye. They live together in Ray’s house until an incident compels Ray to pack up his small car and take to life on the road with his only companion.

Baume’s writing is poetry. It’s subtle, terse, often sparse, but each detail is full of meaning. There is a heavy sense of place, and Ray’s place in the universe, or lack thereof, comes through in his interactions with the people he encounters and his vicarious freedom through OneEye. At first everything seems happy-go-lucky, but slowly and indirectly Ray’s sadness and rage begin to show. If you take up this book, give it the time it deserves. Don’t read this on the beach, or at the playground, or in five-minute snippets. Every word is there for a reason, and if you’re hurried, you will miss something of devastating importance.

This book is eerie and beautiful. There is a disquieting sense of foreboding that carries through the story, with a culmination that will leave you breathless.

 

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet – Reif Larsen

SelectedWorksOfTSSpivet I bought this book on a whim at a used book store last month. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, and this just jumped out at me (there’s a sparrow skeleton on the cover!). I’m so glad I picked this up. I started leafing through it and ended up just reading it for two hours. The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

The story follows T. S. (Tecumseh Sparrow) Spivet, a 12-year-old scientific savant enduring a lonely, misunderstood existence on his family’s ranch in Montana. His father (another in a long line of Tecumsehs) is a rancher, his mother, whom he calls Dr. Clair, is a reclusive scientist studying the elusive and possibly non-existent tiger moth beetle.

T. S.’s life changes with a phone call. The Smithsonian (T. S.’s Shangri-La) has phoned to let him know he’s been awarded a Baird fellowship for his scientific illustrations, and they would like for him to come to Washington to give a speech. They have no idea that T. S. is only 12-years-old.FullSizeRender (8)

Armed with four compasses, two heliotropes, a theodolite, 16 packs of cinnamon Trident gum, and some underwear, T. S. decides to make the journey to Washington hobo-style by hitching a ride on the rails across the country. Along the way, we learn about T. S.’s life: his compulsion for illustration and map-making, his older brother’s accidental death, his father’s reticence, and his mother’s family history. T. S. discovers just how he fits in, with his current family as well as those who have gone before.

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The book is cleverly illustrated with all kinds of illuminating details. These illustrations are what make this book so enjoyable. They’re witty, sometimes humorous, often revealing.

I recommend this to readers of all ages, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a “kids’ book.” It’s not. I think some mature young readers will be able to appreciate the story, but adults may enjoy it more. The ideas presented in T. S.’s story are universal. Find a copy of this, leaf through it. I promise you won’t be able to stop.

 

 

 

 

 

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things – Bryn Greenwood

26114135This is a beautiful book. Bryn Greenwood definitely has a rare skill in creating unforgettable characters. Kellen is a beefy, uneducated, motorcycle-riding mechanic and occasional meth trafficker (think Jesse Pinkman, just larger and kinder). Wavy is the daughter of the meth dealer, a neglected, taciturn, independent waif whose parents don’t care if she exists. They come together to support each other, mostly filling each others’ black hole of loneliness. Kellen, age 25, takes care of her, takes her to school, gives her a place to sleep. Wavy takes care of him: shows him he has worth and value as a person, and deserves the love she gives him.

It’s innocent at first, a younger sister / older brother kind of relationship. Until suddenly it’s not.

But Greenwood handles this development so carefully, with such grace and understanding, that as the reader I wasn’t surprised when their relationship developed past the threshold of propriety. It made sense. The Big Thing I didn’t understand, however, is that Kellen met Wavy when she was eight years old. Things take the inappropriate turn when she’s thirteen. I just can’t quite wrap my brain around that taboo acceptance, even after understanding the circumstances that brought these two together.

Ultimately, many psychological and abusive disorders get passed over in this book, and that was unsettling. Wavy obviously has many emotional problems as a result of her wretched childhood. Did no one ever think she needed a doctor? She has an eating disorder at an early age, not being able to eat in front of anyone, hardly speaks a word, communicating only with shrugs and nods, and is constantly terrified due to her savage upbringing. I just don’t see this going on and on into adulthood without some kind of intervention. Was her love for Kellen pure, or was it just a result of her psychological scarring? If she’d been allowed to get some counseling and see a doctor, would she have developed into a more functional adult and thus moved past her obsession with Kellen?

The story was interesting at first, but began to lag with repetitive incidences of Wavy’s cruel home life causing Kellen to rescue her. I did enjoy the slow build, however incongruous this may seem, but after the first half of the book I was wondering if there would be any more to the story. The pace of the second half was a whirlwind, with many exciting events and time passing much more quickly. I appreciated the ending, though I’m not sure it should have ended the way it did.

Give this a chance. It will grow on you, and the characters will stay with you for a while.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Netgalley, and Bryn Greenwood for the opportunity to read this advance copy.

Other books in this same vein that may interest you:

tiger
Find it here on Goodreads
thegirls
My review of The Girls
the kiss 2
Find it here on Goodreads

Anthropology in Fiction

IMG_8561I love literary fiction with an anthropological bent. I studied anthropology in graduate school, and I find it fascinating when authors can create an entirely new culture (here’s lookin’ at you, Tolkien), and, more importantly, include characters navigating that culture from an etic or emic perspective (observing from inside the social group or outside the social group). Here are some of my favorite anthropological novels:

 

dark eden
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In this post-apocalyptic novel, about 500 people live on Eden, a sunless planet. Eden was founded by an astronaut couple that was left behind when the three other astronauts they were travelling left them to go back to Earth to get help. This new colony on Eden, now generations away from the original ancestral couple, has a religion that is centered around this mythologized rescue ship, believing someday the astronauts will return, a common resurrection and salvation story. John Redlatern, a 15-year-old resident of Eden, speaks out at the “Anny Versry” celebration, encouraging everyone to move away from where they’ve always lived and explore the rest of the planet. He is exiled for his heresy, and he and a coterie of friends leave their home and set out to find the rescue astronauts and seek new resources. Beckett adroitly handles linguistic evolution to reveal the culture of the residents of Eden, and uses this culture to experiment with the anthropology of how religions are founded and what drives their inspiration. It’s a great book, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel. Highly recommended.

strange new things
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In Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, evangelical minister and former crackhead, Peter, is sent on assignment to the faraway planet of Oasis to be the new preacher to the natives, an alien species no one knows much about. The natives have requested a new minister to teach them about the bible. The whole story is essentially how Peter deals with being away from his wife, Bea, and how he interacts with the innocent and inquisitive Oasans. The message of this book is really one of misinterpretation and how ignoring depression and loneliness isn’t healthy. There is exquisite world-building in the Oasan settlement. Their culture, language, and interpretation of Christianity when they’ve never experienced life on Earth is fascinating.

 

euphoria
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This book. Wow. Set in 1930s New Guinea during the birth of cultural anthropology, Euphoria is loosely based on the lives of anthropologists Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson. This is the story of their love triangle, set against the backdrop of budding ethnography in a humid, primal setting. Euphoria raises the question of when you’re studying a culture, do you learn more about others, or about yourself? Euphoria is gritty and intimate, a book full of tastes, smells, and sounds. This book is full of passions: passion for inspiring work, for the euphoria of discovery, and overwhelming mania of obsession. It’s one of the best books I read in 2015.

 

 

speaker
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This is the next book in the Ender series, but you don’t need to have read Ender’s Game in order to understand Speaker for the Dead. In Speaker for the Dead, Ender is sent to a new planet, Lusitania, which was colonized and is now populated by “pequininos,” or more commonly, “piggies,” a curious, mysterious species. Scientists called “xenographers” and “xenobiologists” live on Lusitania to study the piggies to learn about them without influencing their culture or introducing them to new technology (very Boasian, right? See cultural relativism). The story really gets going when some xenographers are killed and disemboweled by piggies, and a well-respected piggie is subsequently disemboweled, on purpose, it seems. Several days later, a tree is found growing from the piggie corpse (you can ignore that link now for cultural relativism), and that’s when the xenographers realize that the piggies are more complex than they expected. Ender is summoned to Lusitania to “speak the deaths” of the dead xenographers and during his time there he studies the piggies and learns of their symbiotic relationship with the environment of Lusitania. There’s also a love story woven in. An imaginative book with an anthropological perspective.

mosquito coast
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The Mosquito Coast is one of my favorite books ever. Narrated by 14-year-old Charlie Fox, the story centers around Charlie’s father, Allie, who is disillusioned with the American Dream and believes that greed and consumerism are destroying the country. Inspired by the Honduran immigrants on the farm where he works, Allie uproots his family to the Honduran jungle, convinced they can live Swiss-Family-Robinson-style in a self-sustaining utopia. At first, Allie’s inventions and contraptions to create a livable environment in the jungle are wonderful, but soon  his delusions of resourcefulness devolve into madness. Charlie is torn between loyalty to his father and confronting the reality that their situation is quickly becoming dangerous. And please, don’t judge the book by the movie. I love Harrison Ford, but the book has so much more substance.

 

These are some of my favorite “anthropological novels”. If you’d like to recommend others, I welcome all comments!

 

Goodnight, Beautiful Women – Anna Noyes

Noyes, Goodnight Beautiful Women jacket art 9780802124845
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Goodnight, Beautiful Women is a debut collection of eleven interconnected short narratives all revolving around young girls and burgeoning women in coastal Maine. I would not call this a collection of short stories; rather, they are brief scenes that give an overall sense of the confusion of desires of young women on the verge of understanding the motives of men.

The writing in this collection is intense. Noyes’ imagery in these short narratives creates piercing anticipation. The scenes she creates are gripping from the outset, with familiar but haunting characters. I loved the fullness of the stories she wove. One of my favorites, “Drawing Blood”, was reminiscent of Sarah Waters’ historical fiction. The stories are all about relationships, between husbands and wives, or between mothers and daughters, or first loves. The stories are dark, melancholy, and without redemption, usually leaving the main character hopeless.

The thing about literary short stories, however, is that often they’re just not stories. The stories in Goodnight, Beautiful Women were scenes, or paintings, or like the beginning-middle chapters of a powerful novel. These stories present an overall mysterious feeling of depression, but they weren’t stories as I’m used to stories. I’m expecting a beginning/middle/end story arc, an enticing story with a satisfying denouement, and that is not what you get here. With each of these stories Noyes easily grabbed my heart with riveting beginnings and then left me, wilted and abandoned, wondering what happened.

Noyes definitely has the skill and literary chutzpah to pull off a great collection here, but if you’re like me and like resolution, you may be disappointed. I’m looking forward to her next work. Many thanks to Netgalley, Grove Atlantic, and Anna Noyes for the advance copy.

I wish I had time to read like you

I actually hear this all time, from a co-worker, or a friend, or someone who sees me walking down the hall with my thumb in a paperback. I get the inevitable sigh, an exaggerated pout, then the querulous excuse, “I just don’t have time anymore.”

Before I start to sound agonizingly pretentious, let me offer the disclaimer that I don’t read to impress anyone. I just read. It’s my thing. If you’re reading this blog, you’re more than likely the same way. It took me most of my formidable years not to be embarrassed to be a “reader,” not to hide books that I was reading that might be considered highbrow or literary for fear of being labeled a snob. I found one of my best friends in college because we trusted each other to confess that we both had Walden in our respective dorm rooms and it wasn’t required reading. Now I can say that I like Dostoevsky and I’m not going to be ashamed of that anymore. Book empowerment.

This “I wish I had time to read (like you do)” complaint also implies that I have no responsibilities, no obligations, nothing else at all to tend to but my books. “Gee,” I think, fingertips drumming my lips, “I have absolutely nothing else to do in my empty, carefree life. Hmmm. I know! I’ll pick up a book!” Never mind that full-time job, two kids, piles of laundry and dishes, and the fact that the new season of “Orange is the New Black” just came out.

So, with all that going on, when exactly DO I have “time” to read? Well, you see, reading is really my main hobby . . .  dare I say, one of my reasons for loving life. Reading isn’t something I have to make time for. It’s just part of who I am.

I read about reading. I surf social media reading apps (I apologize for majorly over-promoting of Litsy (Litsy – a fun, new bookish app!), but it’s book nirvana, so, sorry. I read Websites about books (my favorite is bookriot.com). I get emails from publishing houses about upcoming releases. I click on Netgalley.com, holding my breath that I’m chosen to read an Advance Reader Copy of a new release from a favorite author. I read other bloggers’ book reviews. Like I said, books are what I do.

When I read:woman-girl-remote-watching

  • waiting at the daycare to drop off my son in the morning
  • waiting for meetings to start at work
  • during my commute to work or to pick up kids (that’s audiobooks, folks. I’m not reckless.)
  • when doing the aforementioned piles of laundry or dishes (more audiobooks)
  • waiting in line anywhere, really (CVS, bank, drycleaners . . . I could go on and on)
  • when other people would choose to do other things with their time       (i. e., watch “Big Brother” or “Dancing with the Stars”)
  • Any chance I get

“Wow,” you must be thinking. “This chick is so uppity.” Nah. I do other stuff, too. I watch TV. I listen to music in the car sometimes instead of listening to a book. I went through a huge “American Idol” phase before it started to go downhill. So, I get it. There are a lot of choices out there. Most of the time, I just choose reading over anything else. Just please, all the “I wish I had time” folks out there, don’t look at me like my choice is somehow inferior.

If you really are earnest in your grating “I wish I had time to read” complaint, try the following:

  • Serial Reader app for iphone – you can read classics for free sent to your phone in easy-to-digest installments. I’m reading Jane Eyre right now on Serial Reader.
  • DailyLit.com – the same as Serial Reader, but it’s via email.serialreader
  • Kindle app for iphone. Sorry, all you Samsung people. I’m sure there must be something for you, but I just don’t know what it is.
  • Overdrive – this app can be on your phone, desktop, laptop, garlic press, whatever. Download audiobooks and e-books for free from your local library.
  • Audiobooks – I can’t emphasize enough how great audiobooks are. If you haven’t tried one, I highly recommend them. You can get them for free from your local library, either in old-school CD format or via download on Overdrive.

I carry book devices with me. I can read on my Kindle, my phone, my laptop, my desktop, or good old-fashioned paper. Whenever I have a few minutes, I almost always have one of those materials with me, so I’m always well-stocked. Reading is in the forefront of my existence. So, when I hear, “I wish IIIII had time to reeeeeeead,” all sing-song and whiny, I just want to ask, “So what do you choose to do instead?”

 

 

 

New books to discover and explore!

adventure-1081166_1920Thanks to my new favorite social media app, Litsy (Litsy – a fun, new bookish app!), I’ve discovered a cache of new books that I never would have known about otherwise. Some of these discoveries of mine have just been published, while others have been out for a while. I thought I’d pass along some of the gems that have been highly recommended by other Litsy users:

ways-to-disappear_custom-88c23648caec048990f8710406866bd614b93f7e-s400-c85
Find it here on Goodreads

Ways to Disappear – Idra Novey

This is a debut novel by a poet, so, as expected, many reviewers say the writing is phenomenal. An American translator travels to Brazil in search of her lost author who was last seen sitting in a tree and smoking a cigar. She climbed the tree and was never seen again. Several reviewers said they read it more than once in order to pick up nuances and clues they missed the first time around. Sounds intriguing!

 

 

 

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

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 Find it here on Goodreads

 

 

A book about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his son, Willie, just before the outbreak of the Civil War. Follows Lincoln in the cemetery at Willie’s grave over the course of a single night, with many inhabitants of the cemetery, those recently deceased and those long dead, playing a part in this exploration of the beauty of life and death. I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. It won’t be published until February 2017, so keep this one on your wait list.

 

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things – Bryn Greenwood

This book will be released in August, 2016, so there’s not too long to wait.

26114135
Find it here on Goodreads

The description may be off-putting to some: a forbidden “love story” between and adult man and a young girl, but from what I have heard from reviewers the story is riveting and not at all distasteful. Alternating points-of-view and first and third person, the story centers around a young girl called Wavy and her dark childhood. This powerful, shocking love story begins when she meets Kellen, a man driven more by loneliness and compassion than any sexual agenda. After reading reviews that call this book stunning and compelling, this book will definitely be on my TBR shelf as soon as possible. The topic is controversial, so I’ll just have to see which side I fall on with this one . . .

 

 

A Doubter’s Almanac – Ethan Canin

This book is about the journey from childhood to adulthood of Milo, a psychopathic math

doubters-almanac_custom-f4568bcab65f561098dd3046c2c1dfb8c175703a-s400-c85
Find it here on Goodreads

genius. Milo transitions from his rural Michigan boyhood to the academia at Berkeley. The second half of the book is narrated by Milo’s son, Hans. From what I gather from reviewers, this book focuses on the problems of genius, personality disorders, and the universal human quest for happiness.

 

I’ve tried one of Canin’s other books before, The Palace Thief, and I couldn’t get through it, so I’m kind of a hard sell for this one, but 92% of Litsy reviewers loved it and said they hated to see it end. We’ll see . . .

 

 

The Lightkeepers – Abby Geni

This one sounds gripping! Miranda, a nature photographer, travels to the Farrallon Islands

51rC+8fvkBL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_
Find it here on Goodreads

off the coast of California, to join other scientists and naturalists studying the islands. Once there, she is assaulted by a fellow inhabitant, and a few days later her assailant is found dead. Because the islands are only inhabited by scientists, there are limited characters, which makes everyone instantly untrustworthy and suspicious. Themes include discovery of the natural world commingled with the social dynamics in an isolated environment. It sounds like Lord of the Flies meets And Then There Were None. Count me in!

 

 

 

 

That’s it for now, my few loyal biblio-friends. Anything out there you’ve discovered recently that you’d like to share? I love book recommendations!