My first online publication is up at Every Day Fiction.
Go read it! Many good Valentine vibes to the flashy people at EDF for giving it a nice home.
Another list of 100 to read has been unleashed on the world, this time from Amazon.
Think all book lists are the same? Think again. This one’s got Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
This is a dude’s booklist. Nearly three-quarters of the material here is written by male authors. Lots of male protagonists, too. And a lot of the stuff chosen is the DUDE-est but not necessarily best of the authors’ works.
By DUDE-est I mean sportiest/dirtiest/sexist(or sex-riddled)/most infuriatingly-casual-protagonist-est/fightingest/drunkest… You get the idea. I bet a lot more men than women will be impressed.
Here’s the lifetime: Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar give baby boys a solid footing.
Bigger boys slay their dragons with Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, ogle some graphic novels, then figure out who they are with Jeffrey Eugenides and John Green.
Ready for cigarettes and booze? Get angsty On The Road.
Go through your dirty old man phase with Portnoy’s Complaint.
To be fair, I’ve read and liked a lot of the books on this list. And I’m decidedly female. I’ve also tried to read quite a few of them and could not finish. Too manly for me, I guess. And I should point out that Pride and Prejudice is here, sticking out like an accidental flash of petticoat. But a nice choice, I suppose, for the dude who wants to impress the ladies. Overall, a nice random (or MANdom) list is great for reading recommendations for my own dude troupe and a bit of pot-stirring.
Back in my heady work-three-jobs-to-pay-for-school days, I carried a similarly hodge-podge list in my bookbag. Whenever there were a few minutes to spare, I’d pop into the library and pick up something new to read, no browsing required.
These days I lavish hours on library visits. But I still have a list:
If the testosterone levels get too high for you at Amazon, check it out.
My Notorious Life
by Kate Manning
Confession: I picked this book up three or four times before finally bringing it home. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a first person narrative. But the cover! The words surrounding that silhouette on the jacket –
It brought to mind one of my favorite novels, The Alienist, by Caleb Carr. I couldn’t stand it. First person or not, I had to read it. And I’m really glad I did. Lately a lot of books have been thrown against the wall around here for not staying true to their time and place. Kate Manning takes you to Victorian era New York and keeps you there. This is great historical fiction.
Axie Muldoon is an impoverished orphan train rider who learns early and is reminded often to trust no man who says, “Trust me”; who longs to reunite with her lost brother and sister as she promised her dying Mam she would; who eventually takes on the role of a midwife; who reinvents herself as the notorious Madame DeBeausacq (Madame X), performing certain unmentionable procedures for her patients in a time when women had few rights and little respect.
Confession #2: I wasn’t sure I could handle a story about an abortionist. I was afraid it would be overwhelmingly sad. (It wasn’t— it was more about women and 19th century society’s treatment of them— and Manning’s style was tasteful.)
The thing is, I’m pro-life. I’ve seen my own child, a tiny human swimming in and out of view on the ultrasound screen, so lively, so alive – only four weeks past conception. Axie, “confronting the fruits of [her] mercy,” saw something different, a “sprout… not alive yet, no more than a seed is alive, never quick at all.”
What came to mind then was that Bible Mrs. Evans read, the words something like better the miscarriage, for it never sees the sun, nor knows anything, and better is the one who has never existed for it knows not the evil that is. And I reasoned that to deliver it now was only to prevent a death or a doomed orphan, to save my friend, and my friend’s son. Still I shuddered, for the tracing of bone I seen was the outline of what might have been and now wasn’t, because of me, and I know myself after that to have the soul of a midwife, who could live with the complexities.
On the outside, it looks easy for someone like me to be pro-life. I have all the privileges: a home, money, food, a husband, support of extended family and a network of friends.
Inside, I faced the complexities.
When expecting my second child, a doctor advised us to terminate the pregnancy. At four months along, I was thoroughly malnourished. I couldn’t walk. My teeth were breaking apart. My health was so poor, the baby and I both were in danger of dying. I was put on such high doses of drugs known to cause birth defects, we were assured that our child would not be normal.
I chose to keep him.
Then I worried and prayed and “wrestled with the complexities” every single day until his premature cesarean delivery. He was so tiny, so quiet, and I remember crying, frantically, “Is he okay? Is he okay?” over and over again to doctors and assistants who were too busy to answer.
When I finally held him in my arms, I knew. In spite of the complexities, I had chosen what was right for me. For him. He is okay. And he is not normal. He is exceptional.
Why tell all of this in a book review? Because had I been a poor unwed mother 135 years ago, with death for us both a certainty rather than a possibility, I might have chosen differently. I might have sacrificed my unborn to save myself and my firstborn.
Such a powerful idea, suggesting that these decisions are rarely clear cut, that none of us can know or determine what is best for another, and it is never an easy choice, no matter what we decide.
Manning tells a gripping story with many truly beautiful sentences, but more importantly, she puts you in the shoes of another and makes you think.
Highly recommended, no matter which side of the issue you think you’re on.
If you like:
The minutes are hauling themselves by like a shot Hollywood gangster crawling down a corridor.
Many minds redirect memories along revised maps.
I wish I could go into their room and sit down with them. I’d give them my Rolex for that. I wish they would smile, and pour me a cup of jasmine tea. I wish the world was like that.
The communists had organized all the farms in the Valley into communes. … Nobody owned the land, so nobody made sure it was respected.
Grudges are demons that gnaw away your bone marrow. Time was already doing a good enough job of that.
Lord Buddha has often told me that forgiveness is vital to life. I agree. Not for the well-being of the forgiven, though, but for the well-being of the forgiver.
Frothing tapeworms of blood were wriggling free from my lover’s eyes and nostrils.
The English are a devious race. A nation of homosexuals, vegetarians, and third-rate spies.
I’ve never saved anyone’s life before. It felt as ordinary as collecting photographs from Boots the Chemist. Slightly exciting beforehand, but basically a let-down.
Nothing often poses in men as wisdom.
Once a shit shoveler, always a shit shoveler.
…you might like Ghostwritten by David Mitchell.
And then it comes to me. What I don’t hear is the sound of music. What I don’t hear is the faraway sound of my mother’s sweet, sad violin, the solid sound of my father playing out a melody on the piano over and over, and the sudden silence when I know he is writing it down. All that music that comes out of the night.
I close my eyes.
It is kind of nice to miss something of my mother and father.
I quickly open my eyes, surprised.
I wonder if this is a small truth.
A small truth about me.
—The Truth of Me
This quiet little story is aimed at upper elementary age kids, but I loved it. I loved Robert, his dog Ellie, his grandma Maddy, the “truths” he discovers about himself and those he loves.
Robert is a regular kid. He even hates being called Robert. And just like all regular kids, there is far more understanding and wisdom beneath the surface than we realize. More reading between the lines than we think they’re capable of. There is also far more grace and forgiveness than we screwed up adults often offer each other.
It’s kind of sad. Robert wants to love his parents. He just doesn’t have a lot to go on. It got me wondering about how my kids view me. Do they ever even see my pain, or fear, let alone wonder where it comes from? Do they notice when I’m on the verge of tears? If they do, is it respect or embarrassment, or something else entirely, telling them to turn away and pretend they don’t see? Something tells me they are more aware of my emotions than I give them credit for. They might just understand me better than I do them.
Yesterday I opened a box of Christmas decorations. My favorite ornament is a paper chain my firstborn made me a couple of years ago. On each link in the chain he wrote something he loved or was thankful for about me. There are the usual things you’d expect: “that you make food for us” and “for giving us things that are nice for Christmas.” But how about this one?
“That whether you’re sick, sad, sleepy, or just plain angry, you still love us.”
Those tears I try to hide come spilling out every time I read it. He’s a little boy, and he notices. He sees the sick, the sad, the sleepy, even the angry. Thankfully, he sees the love, too.
Back to the book. The one sentence non-spoiler plot summary: Robert’s mother has always been distant, and in the middle of a somewhat mystical experience with Maddy, he learns why.
Robert’s tenderhearted response in the last two pages had me in tears. I know; there’s a lot of that in this post. I guess another “small truth about me” is that I’m a sucker for sweet little boys. I think I’ll go hug mine now.