Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mexico Books

While in Mexico on vacation I read the following books...

1. The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel
This was actually a reread-I read it the first time all in one sitting (403 pages) while on the flight back from London. So, I was excited to read it again and savor it a little more (this time over two days). I think my favorite story is The Harvest, which breaks form to tell the reader how the narrator changes a story when it is written down. The ending of The Uninvited is perfect. And if you don't tear up at "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried," then we might not be able to be friends anymore. I know this is not interesting unless you know these maybe you should go and read this book.

2. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
Okay, I confess this is also a reread. I just read this one like a month ago too, but as the great literary critic Erin Fletcher says, "You know, he's funny." I love reading David Sedaris because I actually laugh out loud, garnering strange looks from those around me. I love the story about looking for dingos at the zoo.

3. Unless by Carol Shields
Becca brought this one, and I really enjoyed it. Basically it's about a woman whose daughter has become homeless. The narrator is a feminist writer, which is pretty much the author. There was some great stuff about reading in there-she responds to a woman who says, "I love reading cookbooks more than anything else" by saying, "Maybe if you read novels you'd be more interesting." This, however, is my favorite quote from the book:
"She had become conscious of the lifelong dialogue that goes on in a person's head, the longest conversation any of us has. Oh hello, it's me again. And again. The most interesting conversation we'll ever know and the most circular and repetitive and insane. Please, not that woman again! Doesn't she ever shut up? (This is why I read novels: so I can escape my own unrelenting monologue.)
Oh, that is so me.

4. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Erin gave me this one for Christmas and I could never get into it, until I started over in Mexico-then I couldn't put it down. It's written as a long, rambling letter from an elderly pastor to his young son, who he knows he will not live to see grow up. I was amazed at Ms. Robinson's ability to write from the point of view of a 76 year old man in the 1950's midwest. I kept forgetting that it wasn't a real letter. The novel has a slow, rambling feel, but it's beautifully written, and has some great thoughts on religion and spirituality, etc. Two of my favorite quotes:
"Adulthood is a wonderful thing, and brief. You must be sure to enjoy it while it lasts."
How great is that? You always hear that about childhood, but our adult lives are also fleeting-value your life.
"It is one of the best traits of good people that they love where they pity. And this is truer of women than of men. So they get themselves drawn into situations that are harmful to them. I have seen this happen many, many times. I have always had trouble finding a way to caution against it. Since it is, in a word, Christlike."

5. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Okay, to be honest I'm only about halfway through this one. I brought it because I've never read it and I bought it like two years ago, hoping to cross it off the "Books Someone Should Have Made Me Read In School" list. I figured the lack of TV in Mexico might force me to read it. But, as Erin pointed out, the fact that I reread a book I just read a month ago before this one should tell you something. It's good. But it's so not my genre. And I kind of feel like I know where it's going. I think it's interesting and probably has good things to say about society. It would be good to discuss the symbolism of it in class. But, eh. I am going to try to finish it this weekend. Also, it's about a big group of thirteen year old boys left to their own devices. I can pretty much tell you how that's going to go, and I don't enjoy reading it any more than I like seeing it at work.

Thank you for indulging me, blog readers. Or skimmers, as the case may be for this one. Coming soon, my Mexico trip, with pictures!


  1. Aa a skimmer then reader of your blog, I think I will read a couple of these books that you talk about...I just love the things you say about them just as much as the info about the book...hehe..

  2. wow i love that passage from "unless" and also the one about pity from "gilead." i missed this post that's why i didn't say that sooner.

  3. Hey Jess,

    Ahhh Lord of the Flies"...that is one of the books "someone made me read in school"! Crazy book...did you ever finish it??

    It's fun reading your Blog...I'll have to come back more often! =0)