28 February 2009

Friend of My Youth: Stories by Alice Munro

Teresa was not vulgar -- she was just foreign.

Pretty sure I picked this story collection up in Vermont over a decade ago after I took US/Canadian Literature I & II. We'd read several of Munro's short stories in class and I remember being quite taken with her writing style. But not so taken, apparently, that I ever read this collection. No, it followed me from Vermont to my parents and then on to our first home and now here -- somehow (and rather surprisingly) never managing to be culled during any of my weeding fits.

So, yes, this book was made for RYOB 2009.

What did I think of it? I thought it was pretty good -- the stories are well crafted with distinctive characters and (usually) definitive endings. Some stories I wish Munro had spun out into full-length books, but most are perfect as they are. While Munro isn't the most descriptive of writers, she does know how to move a story along.

If you're not familiar with Munro, I should warn you that these aren't "happy" stories. Many of them feature topics or themes which may make readers a little uncomfortable (anxiety, remorse, sexual repression, and adultery pop up over and over again). Perfect grey March recession reading!

RYOB Challenge 2009: Alice Munro's Friend of My Youth: Stories (Vintage, 1991)

22 February 2009

The Price of Salt by Claire Morgan (Patricia Highsmith)

"I let it boil and it's got scum on it," Carol said annoyedly. "I'm sorry."

But Therese loved it, because she knew this was exactly what Carol would always do, be thinking of something else and let the milk boil.

First off, Claire Morgan was a pseudonym of Patricia Highsmith. Everyone knows Highsmith, right? She wrote all those psychological thrillers with that creepy Ripley in them, remember? If you haven't read her novels, you're probably familiar with the film, The Talented Mr. Ripley?

Anyway, she also wrote this sapphic classic which was groundbreaking because it had a happy ending! Oh noes, happy lesbians! No-one sticking her head in an oven or slitting her wrists in the bath! No-one coming to her senses and settling down with a nice man.

So, a lesbian classic ... that has been mouldering on my bookshelves for the past four or five years. Bad, reader, bad. All I can say is that, while it was a well-intentioned present from The Husband, I took one look at the burbs on the back and thought "reading this will make me stick my head in an oven."

Well, I was wrong. The Price of Salt is a rather lovely (if bittersweet) romance centering around Therese and her lover, Carol. Therese is very young (a girl, really) who, while in a dead relationship with a young man she neither loves nor desires, falls in love with Carol. Married-but-divorcing, mother-of-Rindy Carol.

Highsmith's characters are all complex and believable -- even the boorish husband escapes caricaturing and comes across as a real (if unlikeable) person. Therese and Carol's relationship is utterly believable and the choices they make in their relationship seem appropriate (even while occasionally making me want to slap someone) for their time.

Or so I guess. Obviously, I read this novel through the filter of fifty-seven years and some of the choices the characters make or the events the plot turns on seem down-right imponderable to me. I need, I fear, a Norton Critical Edition of The Price of Salt. Something that will present the work in its context (and, maybe, explain what the title means).

RYOB Challenge 2009: Claire Morgan's The Price of Salt (Naiad Press, 1994)

17 February 2009

Read Me a Rainbow

The Rainbow Project announced the 2009 Rainbow List, a joint undertaking of the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table and Social Responsibilities Round Table. Featuring well-written and/or well-illustrated titles with authentic and significant gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered/queer/questioning (glbtq) content for youth from birth through age 18, this year’s bibliography presents 34 outstanding titles, published in the last eighteen months and representing a broad range of glbtq experience.

Guess which graphic novel made the 2009 Rainbow List as "especially deserving of recommendation?"

Skim! So well deserved! Skim's artwork is simply stunning and the story put me right back in high school -- confused, full of longing, and sure the world must be better than it seemed. It is one of my favorite graphic novels. I laughed, I cried, I squeeed ...

So, yes, I'm really chuffed to see Skim represented.

I'm also pleased to see that Meagan Brothers's Debbie Harry Sings in French (Henry Holt, 2008) made the list. This book also made me squee. I couldn't put it down and will read it again (after hunting down my Blondie CDs, of course). Brothers has handled the ambiguousness of identity in a meaningful yet humorous way -- the story is blessedly free of schmaltz and that dreaded "after school special" earnestness which has killed many a fine YA "issues" novel.

Also, it's full of Blondie references! What more could you want?

No time to waste on writing! Rainbow selections to read! Squee!

09 February 2009

Jewish Literature Challenge: Catching Up

Catching up with the Jewish Literature Challenge and calling it quits. I have met the minimum requirements of the Challenge and that will have to be enough. My list keeps getting longer as I find new books to read, but once they're on the list I stop wanting to read them. Does that make sense? No, but there it is.

So, good-bye challenge! It's been fun! Better luck next year!

To wrap up, these are the last five books I read as part of the Jewish Literature Challenge:

How This Night is Different by Elisa Albert (Free Press, 2006)
Collection of stories about normal things (bat mitzahs, circumcision, seder, etc) rendered absurd by the people in them. "How This Night is Different" (a woman worries her yeast infection makes her unkosher for Passover) was probably my favorite, although "The Living" (concentration camp teen tour -- darkly funny) was pretty darn good, too.
The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah by Nora Raleigh Baskin (Simon & Schuster, 2008)
Caroline's mom is Jewish, her dad isn't, and Caroline has never really thought of herself as anything much at all until her grannie dies. Suddenly, Caroline can't stop thinking about her gran and what it is to be a Jew. This is a humorous and touching teen girl coming-of-age-story which, thankfully, never borders on schmaltzy. My only complaint lies not with the story, but with the cover art ... Call me a nitpick, but the necklace on the cover should be gold not silver – “At first, all I could see was the gold chain, hundreds of miniature circles linked together. Then I saw it was a Star of David, a Jewish star: two elongated triangles, interlocked, one a lightly darker shade of gold than the other."

Shiksa Syndrome by Laurie Graff (Broadway, 2008)
Aimee's goyishe boyfriend breaks up with her on Christmas eve and she vows to go find a nice MOT to settle down with. Problem is, the MOT she falls for thinks Aimee is a shiksa. Afraid of loosing his interest, she pretends to be a shiksa ... And that would have been cute for a few scenes, but the deception is carried too far, involves too many other characters (she pretends not to know her own family, for pete's sake), and requires such a total subjugation of Aimee's "authentic self" that I could only read this book in fits and starts. In the end, I only finished it, because I wanted to see Aimee's shiksa-loving "perfect man" dump her deceitful ass. And he did, but she still got a nice guy and lived happily after. Gah.
Gravity by Leanne Lieberman (Orca Book Publishers, 2008)
In 1987 Toronto, fifteen-year-old Ellie Gold is a devout Orthodox Jew ... until she meets Lindsay at her grandmother's summer cottage. Can Ellie be a lesbian and a good Jew? Meanwhile, her mother and sister are experiencing spiritual conflicts of their own ... Gravity is on the 2009 Rainbow List and well worth a look -- Leiberman captures Ellie's awakening desire and spiritual conflict extremely well.
The Faith Club by Rany Idliby et al (Free Press, 2006)
Three women (a Muslim, a Jew, and a Christian) discussing their personal faith. Although I suspect some readers would find these women too "liberal" or "middle-of-the-road" in matters of faith, I found their accounts to be very moving and thought-provoking. I was also rather impressed by the "How to Start a Faith Club" and "More Faith Club Questions" sections -- could really have used those in my college bible study group.

05 February 2009

Faro's Daughter

In Faro's Daughter, Mr. Ravenscar is outraged to discover his young pup of a nephew has (the fool) declared his intention to marry a girl out of a gaming hall! He sets out to thwart this union by any means necessary, but soon finds that the girl won't be easily overthrown ...

Not that Miss Grantham has any intention of marrying the young pup -- she fully intends to chuck younger, prettier girls at him until one sticks -- but she won't suffer Ravenscar's superiority or assumptions!

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book. Perhaps it helps that, as a one who must make her way in the world, Miss Grantham no silly chit or idle miss, but a commonsensical and dashed forthright woman. (Yes, I admit her decision to have Mr. Ravenscar kidnapped was very silly, but she was so deliciously outraged when she arranged it and the outcome was so amusing I did not mind her momentary lack of sense).

Unlike most historical romances by contemporary writers, there's no sex in this book and very little kissing yet Deborah and Max's romantic future is never in doubt. Besides doing such a marvelous job creating (and maintaining) the delicious combination of desire and rivalry which motivates Deborah and Max, Heyer also does an excellent job with her secondary characters and their respective plot lines.

Heyer essentially created Regency romance as we know it today and, as I love a good Regency romance, I've often wished to read her novels -- except they looked so dated and icky. Happily, many of her novels have recently been repackaged with extremely attractive (if inaccurate) covers. Unhappily, these new editions are bleeding me dry.

So, no new Heyers until I read the one's I already own! Thank you, RYOB, for legitimizing book shopping!

RYOB Challenge 2009: Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2008)