Category Archives: Audiobooks

Book Review: Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon

Await Your ReplyAwait Your Reply, by Dan Chaon 
Ballentine Books 
2009 
324 pages 

Narrated by Kirby Hayborne
10 hours, 31 minutes 
2009

Finalist, National Book Award

Dan Chaon is one of those authors who I’ve been meaning to read. In general, I’ve heard very good things about his writing and I own several of his books, yet I hadn’t read his work at all – until I picked up the audio of Await Your Reply at the library.

And holy hell … this guy is good.

Really good. Dan Chaon is probably one of the most talented authors you’ve never heard of.

That being said, if you were a victim of the Target credit card breach, you might want to pick a different Dan Chaon book. Await Your Reply includes several shady credit card con artists and computer hackers caught up in a very complicated, interconnected-with-other-characters-in-the-book scheme. It sounds like a techno-mystery-thriller; it has that aspect, but the human element, the emotion behind this is so deep.

From the Amazon.com book description:

Longing to get on with his life, Miles Cheshire nevertheless can’t stop searching for his troubled twin brother, Hayden, who has been missing for ten years. Hayden has covered his tracks skillfully, moving stealthily from place to place, managing along the way to hold down various jobs and seem, to the people he meets, entirely normal. But some version of the truth is always concealed.

A few days after graduating from high school, Lucy Lattimore sneaks away from the small town of Pompey, Ohio, with her charismatic former history teacher. They arrive in Nebraska, in the middle of nowhere, at a long-deserted motel next to a dried-up reservoir, to figure out the next move on their path to a new life. But soon Lucy begins to feel quietly uneasy.

My whole life is a lie, thinks Ryan Schuyler, who has recently learned some shocking news. In response, he walks off the Northwestern University campus, hops on a bus, and breaks loose from his existence, which suddenly seems abstract and tenuous. Presumed dead, Ryan decides to remake himself–through unconventional and precarious means.

All of these characters are connected, and Dan Chaon does a masterful job of keeping his reader guessing until the very end as to exactly how their stories fit together. (I thought I had it figured out … not so much.)

This is one of those reviews that is best told in the multiple quotes that I loved from the book. Everything means something more than what it seems.

“Growing up, he and Hayden had friends who were both appreciably poorer and appreciably richer than they, and their father told them that they should pay attention to the homes and families of their peers. ‘Learn what it is like in another life,’ he said. ‘Think hard about it, boys. People choose their lives; that’s what I want you to remember. And what life will you choose for yourselves?'” (pg. 79)

(I read this during the time of the Target credit card breach – not knowing, of course, that this was going on. That makes the following passage even more chilling.)

“An invader arrives in your computer and begins to glean the little diatoms of your identity.

Your name, your address, and so on: the various websites you visit as you wander the Internet, your user names and passwords, your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, favorite color, the blogs and news sites you read, the items you shop for, the credit card numbers you enter into the databases —

Which isn’t necessarily you, of course. You are still an individual human being with a soul and a history, friends and relatives and coworkers who care about you, who can vouch for you; they recognize your face and your voice and your personality, and you are aware of your life as a continuous thread, a dependable unfolding story of yourself that you are telling to yourself, you wake up and feel fairly happy – happy in that bland, daily way that doesn’t even recognize itself as happiness, moving into the empty hours that probably won’t be anything more than a series of rote actions: showering and pouring coffee into a cup and dressing and turning a key in the ignition and driving down streets that are so familiar you don’t even recall making certain turns and stops – though, yes, you are still present, your mind must have consciously carried out the procedure of braking at the corner and rolling the steering wheel beneath your palms and making a left onto the highway even though there is no memory at all of these actions. Perhaps if you were hypnotized such mundane moments could be retrieved, they are written on some file and stored, unused and useless in some neurological clerk’s back room. Does it matter? You are still you, after all, through all of these hours and days; you are still whole —

But imagine yourself in pieces.

Imagine all the people who have known you for only a year or a month or a single encounter, imagine those people in a room together trying to assemble a portrait of you, the way an archaeologist puts together the fragments of a ruined facade, or the bones of a caveman. Do you remember the fable of the seven blind men and the elephant?

It’s not that easy, after all, to know what you’re made up of.”  (pg. 88-89)

Dan Chaon begins his chapters with quotes.  This is one:

“Whatever his secret was, I have learnt one secret too, and namely: that the soul is but a manner of being – not a constant state – that any soul may be yours, if you find and follow its undulations. The hereafter may be the full ability of consciously living in any chosen soul, in any number of souls, all of them conscious of their interchangeable burden.” – Vladimar Nabokov, “The Real Life of Sebastian Knight”  (pg. 93)

In each character in the book, Chaon returns to the theme of people not being who we think they are. The foreshadowing is abundant, yet the reader doesn’t realize it until the end. I love that.

“And it was natural that a person would turn out to be a little different when you really got to know them. No one was exactly what you thought they would be.” – Lucy (pg. 103)

“‘Regrets are idle.” he said at last. ‘”Yet history is one long regret. Everything might have turned out so differently.’

He gave his reflection a small, wistful smile.

‘It’s a good quote, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘Charles Dudley Warner, a very quotable old buzzard. Friend of Mark Twain. Totally forgotten these days.'” (pg. 110)

“The life she had been traveling toward – imagining herself into – the ideas and expectations that had been so solid only a few weeks ago – this life had been erased, and the numb feeling crept up from her hand to her arm to her shoulder and the sound of the barking next door seemed to solidify in the air.

Her future was like a city she had never visited. A city on the other side of the country, and she was driving down the road, with all her possessions packed up in the backseat of the car, and the route was clearly marked on her map, and then she stopped at a rest area and saw that the place she was headed to wasn’t there any longer. The town she was driving to had vanished – perhaps had never been there – and if she stopped to ask the way, the gas station attendant would look at her blankly. He  wouldn’t even know what she was talking about.

‘I’m sorry, miss,’ he’d say gently. ‘I think you must be mistaken. I never heard of that place.’

A sense of sundering.

In one life, there was a city you were on your way to. In another, it was just a place you invented.” (pg. 119-120)

“I’m thirty-two years old, Lucy. You might not realize that yet, but you pass through a lot of different stages in that amount of time. I’ve been a lot of different people since then.’

‘A lot of different people,’ she said.

‘Dozens.’

‘Oh, really?’ she said. And she was aware of that wavering shadow passing over her once again, all the different people she herself had wanted to become, all the sadness and anxiety that she had been trying not to think about now shifting to her like an iceberg. Were they merely bantering again? Or were they in the midst of a serious conversation?

‘So–‘ she said. “So — who are you right now?’

‘I’m not sure exactly,’ George Orson said, and he looked at her for a long time, those green eyes moving in mirrow darts, scoping her face. But I think that’s OK.'” (pg. 126-127)

Await Your Reply was one of my favorite books I read in 2013, and I would highly recommend the audio version. There are some very gruesome scenes, ones that had me cringing behind the wheel as I drove to work. And, you do not want to start this one on a full stomach. Trust me on this.

 

 

 

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The Sunday Salon: Sex, Food, and Death

The Sunday Salon

Sex, food, and death.

There’s your summary of my reading week, baby, right there.

(What can I say? I read about only the important stuff in life.)

Mating CallsI started the week with the very fun and highly entertaining Mating Calls by Jessica Anya Blau, consisting of two short stories: “The Problem with Lexie” and “No. 7.”  Mating Calls is one of the first offerings from Shebooks, the new e-publisher of short stories, essays, short memoirs, fiction, and long-form journalism written by women and for women.

(I’ll have much more to say about Shebooks in a separate post with my full review this week about Mating Calls, but suffice it to say that I am a fan.)

I adored both of these stories, which I read while waiting for my daughter at gymnastics practice on Monday. In “The Problem with Lexie,” this chick – that would be Lexie – is one hell of hot mess. She’s a high school guidance counselor who is having an affair with the father of one of her students. Her life is a bit out of control, to say the least.

Flashbacks to high school resurface in the second story, “No. 7,” when now-grown up Zandra runs into someone she once knew intimately. The reasons why are sad, and how she handles the situation is brilliant.

Pandora's LunchboxFor my audiobook this week, I’ve been listening to Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal by Melanie Warner. This jaw-dropping book, about all the crap (chemicals, additives, preservatives) in our food and how and why they got there, is the modern-day equivalent of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I’m not kidding. This is making me want to eat … well, nothing. That’s kind of the point. Nothing is safe. This is packed full of information and it is unbelievable.

CNF41_coverA much more palatable read on the food front has been Issue 41, Spring 2011 of Creative Nonfiction, which I’m still working my way through. I mentioned in last week’s Sunday Salon that I’m reading back issues from the library, and this one has essays all related to the topic of food. Heather A. McDonald’s piece “How to Fix Anything” is a highlight of this issue. I’m really getting hooked on this quality literary, top-notch magazine, which has an international reach and is published right here in Pittsburgh.

The Viewing Room

Finally, there was a DNF this week. I really wanted to like the short story collection The Viewing Room more than I did. Jacquelin Gorman won The Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction for this, which is certainly impressive, but I found The Viewing Room difficult to get through – and I say this as someone who usually can handle books with heavy topics. I made it through “The Law of Looking Out for One Another” about baptizing an infant who died from shaken baby syndrome and “Ghost Dance,” about a spiritual woman with an array of medical complications, including gangrene.

However, “Having Words” – which references a 10 year old girl’s suicide – did me in after just a few sentences. We all have things we can’t handle and that crosses my personal tolerance threshold, right there.

All of these characters have one thing in common: they all wind up in the viewing room of the hospital where Henrietta is the on-call chaplain. This is as much Henrietta’s story as those who are dead. She’s new on the job and unsure of herself (at least in the first 30 pages) and we get the sense she isn’t quite living her life as much as she should be. There’s a holding back, of sorts.

It’s a good concept (it reminded me of “St. Elsewhere,” still my all-time favorite show to this very day) and the writing is okay, but this one just wasn’t for me.

Bloggiesta-MiniW14

In other news, today is the second and last day of the Mini Bloggiesta. Aside from getting two posts written (including this one) and 135 blog posts in Feedly read, I’ve been a sluggish participant this time around. We’ll see how much of my to-do list I get through today, although other chores around the house are beckoning, too.

Enjoy your Sunday (and if you’re snowbound like we are, you have my sympathies).

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The Sunday Salon: Unplanned Reading

The Sunday Salon

As a reading year, 2014 is off to a different than anticipated start. Like many book bloggers, I tend to give much thought to the beginning and end of year insofar as books are concerned. I like the idea of my first book of the year being a significant one – a book that propels you toward a goal or one that provides inspiration to break a habit or start a new one.

I mulled and contemplated what my first book of 2014 was going to be. Maybe a writing book. Maybe a memoir. Maybe, as has been my tradition for the last few years, some poetry.

And then … I was stuck. Maybe it was the result of too many choices. I told myself to stop overthinking and just read a book already. Any book. Seriously, several days – almost a week into 2014 and there I was – still bookless because I was holding out for the perfect book when I had piles on my nightstand, more than 1,100 on my Kindle, and hundreds in my house. How ridiculous. And what if the first book wasn’t the perfect book to begin 2014 or one I had been planning to read? Who cares?  

I needed a new audiobook for my work commute, and as it turned out, that became the first book I read in 2014.

Next to LoveNext to Love by Ellen Feldman is a historical fiction novel set during World War II and the decades afterwards. It follows the lives of Babe and Claude, Millie and Pete, and Grace and Charlie – all close friends living in Massachusetts. When the men are sent overseas, leaving the women behind, all of their lives are changed. It sounds predictable, like any other wartime novel, but this is very well done. I enjoyed Ms. Feldman’s writing – she laser-focuses her words on the women and the societal and cultural changes of the times. As an audiobook, Abby Craden’s narration is excellent.

(I previously read and loved Ellen Feldman’s 2004 historical novel Lucy, about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s affair with Lucy Mercer, which is why Next to Love was of interest.)

Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted

This week I listened to Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds That Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. When “MTM” premiered in 1970, I was not quite 2 years old – not exactly the target audience. Rather, I watched it during its resurgence on Nick at Nite in 1992, when I could appreciate it much better.

It helps to have some knowledge of and appreciation of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” when reading this book, but this isn’t your usual television/celebrity retrospective. Sure, there’s a decent amount about the actors, which was interesting. But this is mostly about the women who wrote for the show and why that was so groundbreaking and how that shaped the issues portrayed on the show – as well as those on future shows produced by MTM Enterprises. (Some reviews suggest that this should be called “Jim and Treva and Allan and Susan.”)

This was entertaining, and the audio proved to be a good choice. I enjoyed this for the inside stories and especially the focus and perspective on the writers.

I’ve also been catching up on some back issues of The New Yorker and Creative Nonfiction, both of which we get at the library. This week I read the November 4 issue of The New Yorker, and the Winter 2013 issue of CNF.

Hope your Sunday – and your 2014 – are going well!

 

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The Sunday Salon: Randomness N’at

 

The Sunday SalonWeatherwise, this is a perfect rainy day for sitting on the couch and doing next to nothing. And that’s exactly how the day has gone. I’ve putzed around on Facebook, read the first section of the newspaper, gotten a shower, reheated pizza for lunch, and written this post. That’s it.

I am the epitome of lazy today.

I am listening to: the Eagles-Redskins game on The Husband’s iPhone. Actually, the Husband is listening to it – I just happen to be in the same room.

We are watching: the Steelers-Lions game on TV (or, should we say, the Killer Bees vs. the Lions. Those throwback uniforms of our Steelers! OMG, they are atrocious.)

I am reading: a few books at once. Sorta.

Andrew CarnegieAlas, I haven’t made much more progess with David Nasaw’s Andrew Carnegie since my last Salon post. The audiobook was due back to the library before I finished it and I’ve had a hard time picking up the book itself. At almost 900 pages, it’s not exactly one you curl up in bed with or toss in your purse. I’m on hold for the e-book and the audio again at the library, so perhaps I just may need to wait until one of those comes in before resuming this again.

The Reason I JumpI keep getting distracted by new books. (I work in a library.) The latest, which I picked up on Friday and started reading during my lunch hour, is The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida. This is relatively short, only 135 pages.

The Devil in the White CityMy current audiobook is: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson. This has been sitting on my TBR shelves forever. So far, at page 113, my verdict is that it’s one of those books that I thought I would like better than I actually am. I mean, I do like it (the foreshadowing is great) but the narrative has a lot more details about the architecture and the planning of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago than I expected. It does seem that this is necessary for the reader to understand the actual murder plot (that’s not a spoiler).

And, oh –  the fact that H.H. Holmes has Philadelphia ties! He worked at what is now Norristown State! A fun little tidbit.

My new favorite song: It’s a tie between “New” by Paul McCartney and “The Perfect Life,” by Moby (featuring Pittsburgh native Wayne Coyne). 

On the Blog: Obviously, not much lately. I’m averaging a post a week at this point, which … I gotta be honest, feels weird. I don’t like it. This working full-time again thing is still a bit of an adjustment in some ways, and I’ve accepted that fewer posts are probably going to be one of them, at least for awhile. Still, I’d be happier if that was more like 3 times a week or maybe 4. Strangely, my hits and blog traffic is off the freakin’ charts, which I cannot figure out AT ALL.

Around the Book Blogosphere: I have absolutely no idea what’s going on with anyone. Hoping to catch up a bit today. I did see today that Thankfully Reading Weekend is scheduled again for next weekend, so I’ll be participating in that. I have to work Black Friday, but that’s fine.

I Am Thinking: about one of The Husband’s bosses who passed away 9 years ago today. Our lives would be so very different if it wasn’t for this man. Since he passed, there have been a lot of ways – some very uncanny and eerie – that our paths have become even more similar. I know that he would have continued to be a mentor and support system to The Husband. He’s missed … so very much.

I am grateful for: mentors like The Husband’s former boss. And many of mine. And for second chances.

Around the house: We had some major electrical work done on Friday. There was some almost-drama. (Everything and everyone is fine.) That may be a blog post in and of itself.

High of the Week: Having dinner as a family last night at Eat’n Park.

Low of the Week: Two inches of snow on Tuesday. Really, I could have done without that crap.

Family Matters: My in-laws are coming out for Thanksgiving. Yesterday I ordered our entire meal from Whole Foods because there’s no way I’m spending the one day I have off cooking (see: Thankfully Reading Weekend). I truly believe if I factored out the time spent planning, shopping, preparing/cooking, and cleaning up, multiplied by the various food sensitivity/preference factors of six people, that would more than exceed the cost of ordering the dinner. All I will need to do is heat everything up.

The coming week: The kids turn 12 on Friday, so that’s causing much excitement in the house.

I’m keeping an eye on the weather to our west. We’re in an isolated tornado watch because of the storms in Indiana and elsewhere, so if you’re in the path of the storm too, stay safe.

 

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The Sunday Salon: Catching Up

The Sunday Salon

Contrary to how things may seem around here lately, I’m still here. Still reading. Still blogging.

(Assuming that writing blog posts in one’s head counts as blogging.)

I hear you laughing and snickering under your breath. I know what you’re thinking, that it takes some nerve to state this in a Sunday Salon post, of all things. My last appearance here in the Salon was nearly two months ago, back on September 1.

All this is because my new job is keeping me very busy – which is a very good thing. There’s a lot to learn and it’s an adjustment getting used to so many new things – everything from a new commute (as compared to a commute to the downstairs home office) to a new work culture.

That leaves little time and energy for blogging and – sadly – reading – but I’m hoping this will be temporary. It’s also more than a bit ironic as my job puts me within mere steps of more than five million books and other materials just waiting to be checked out and read. Talk about enabling. I go to a meeting and I come back with three books. It’s an occupational hazard. But from where I sit, it’s all good.

So I thought I’d use this week’s Sunday Salon to catch up on what I’ve been reading and listening to (audiobooks have once again become my BFFs) over the past month:

Maybe it’s the influence of the R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge (which I haven’t even officially signed up for yet, so … well, consider this my official sign up announcement!) or the very autumn/winter-like weather here in Pittsburgh this past week, or kids that have been talking about Halloween since the Fourth of July, but I seem to be gravitating to books that stray toward the spookier side of life. This is somewhat uncharacteristic of me. Books that go bump in the night are not my usual fare, but that’s what I’ve been immersed in.

Await Your Reply

On audio, I’m listening to Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply (2010). I’ve heard a lot of good things about Mr. Chaon’s writing from other bloggers, but up until now, I’ve never read him. I chose this one from the library knowing nothing about this novel – which is actually three interconnecting stories. (I actually thought I had this on my TBR shelves, and thought that listening to it would help knock off at least one book from my ever-growing pile.) The opening story contains what may be the most gruesome scene I’ve ever read – or, in this case, listened to.

This is creepy. A bit unsettling, to say the least. Each of Mr. Chaon’s characters are struggling to come to terms with who they are, making this a suspenseful novel about identity.

Andrew Carnegie

When Await Your Reply becomes a bit too intense, I turn my attentions to Andrew Carnegie (2007). Actually, Carnegie has been my primary audiobook lately and the one I’ve been spending most of my time with. Some of you know why this would be of particular interest to me right now and, as I expected, this hasn’t disappointed. David Nasaw has written a fantastic historical account of one of business and philanthropy’s most intriguing figures. I’ll admit that some of the business deals are a bit over my head and that the personal aspects are more interesting.

A bonus to reading this: when I finish with Andrew Carnegie, this will mark a milestone for The Husband and me. We will have read the same book! (To fully understand what I’m talking about, read my February 2011 guest post for my friend Florinda’s blog, “Melissa’s Marriage of Readers: To Have and To Hold …The Same Book?“)  I honestly never thought I’d see the day.

The Impossible Lives of Greta WellsLast night I started The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells (2013) by Andrew Sean Greer, who has landed among my automatic must-read authors. I loved The Story of a Marriage and The Confessions of Max Tivoli and have been looking forward to this for awhile. I didn’t realize there was an AIDS storyline to this one. I seem to be drawn to this theme (yes, I see you, my beloved unfinished novel of mine) whether I like it or not.

Today’s a low-key day, which is just what I needed. Yesterday was a bunch of errands – Halloween costume shopping, grocery shopping, taking the daughter to a gymnastics event that lasted until 10 p.m – so I skipped church today in favor of sleeping in. We’re just hanging out doing our thing and watching football. I’m hoping to write/schedule some blog posts in advance and also make some dinners for the week ahead.

Hope you’re having a good weekend!

 

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Book Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 
by Muriel Spark 
1961
Audiobook narrated by Nadia May 
3 hours, 58 minutes

We’ve all had a teacher like Jean Brodie.

You know the type: the kind of teacher who you remember more for his or her personality and style (usually unconventional) rather than the academic lessons that were actually taught in the classroom.

The sort of teacher whose love life is gossip fodder.

The one who is considered a bit of a troublemaker by the administration.

That’s Miss Brodie, who is fond of frequently reminding her “set” (a group of six students at the prestigious Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland) that she is “in her prime” and that they are the “creme de la creme.”

She also has a penchant for informing Mary, Rose, Eunice, Jenny, Monica, and Sandy

“on a lot of subjects irrelevant to the authorised curriculum, as the headmistress said, and useless to the school as a school. These girls were discovered to have heard of the Buchmanites and Mussolini, the Italian Renaissance painters, the advantages to the skin of cleansing cream and witch-hazel over honest soap and water, and the word ‘menarche’; the interior decoration of the London house of the author of Winnie the Pooh had been described to them, as had the love lives of Charlotte Bronte and of Miss Jean Brodie herself. They were aware of the existence of Einstein and the arguments of those who considered the Bible to be untrue. They knew the rudiments of astrology but not the date of the Battle of Flodden or the capital of Finland. All of the Brodie set, save one, counted on its fingers, as had Miss Brodie, with accurate results, more or less.

“By the time they were sixteen, and had reached the fourth form, and loitered beyond the gates after school, and had adapted themselves to the orthodox regime, they remained unmistakably Brodie, and were all famous in the school, which is to say they were held in suspicion and not much liking. They had no team spirit and very little in common with each other outside their continuing friendship with Jean Brodie. She still taught in the Junior department. She was held in great suspicion.” (pg. 1-2)

 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is set in 1930, but has quick flashbacks in time – sometimes within the same paragraph. (I listened to this in audio, which made these flashbacks extra confusing, but having a print copy as reference definitely helped.) In one sentence, we’re reading about one of the adult girls visiting Miss Brodie in the retirement home or taking flowers to her grave – and in the next, we’re right back in the classroom where Miss Brodie is reminding her students on what subject they’re supposed to be studying if “an intruder” (i.e., the headmistress – not the type of intruder that we so tragically equate with schools these days) comes into the room.

“Hold up your books,” said Miss Brodie quite often that autumn, “prop them up in your hands, in case of intruders. If there are any intruders, we are doing our history lesson…our poetry… English grammar.”

The small girls held up their books with their eyes not on them, but on Miss Brodie.

“Meantime I will tell you about my last summer holiday in Egypt…I will tell you about care of the skin, and of the hands…about the Frenchman I met in the train to Biarritz…and I must tell you about the Italian paintings I saw. Who is the greatest Italian painter?” (pg. 7)

Yeah, you can see why Miss Brodie would be a memorable teacher – and also why she would hold the belief “[g]ive me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.” (pg. 6)

Published in 1961, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is considered a classic. I can see why. For starters, Jean Brodie is a fascinating, complex, and narcissistic character – but also a sad, lonely, and paranoid one. She’s obsessed with youth – hence the constant emphasis on being in “her prime.” (We don’t get an exact age that this is supposed to represent. We do know that her prime ended a year before she turned sixty.)

“I have frequently told you, and the holidays just past have convinced me, that my prime has truly begun. One’s prime is elusive. You little girls, when you grow up, must be on the alert to recognise your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur. You must then live it to the full.” (pg. 8)

Miss Brodie is also obsessed with sex – particularly in regard to her students. She speculates on whether they’ve had intercourse and congratulates them on such, whether or not the deed has been done. (Mind you, they are only tweens and teens throughout the years that the novella takes place.) One of the students, Rose, is repeatedly characterized as “famous for sex” and Miss Brodie even refers to her as such.

Miss Brodie would have been all over Facebook (and most likely, the front page news).

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is an intriguing – if not daring and shocking for its day – back-to-school read that looks at several societal issues, both in the context of the 1930s, the 1960s and now. It leaves the reader with many questions, the least of which is wondering just how fast Miss Brodie would be fired today.

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Book Review: Ford County, Stories by John Grisham

Ford County
Stories by John Grisham 
Doubleday
2009
308 pages 


Oh, I hear you.  I know what you’re thinking.  John Grisham?!  What the hell, Melissa, did you fall into a time capsule from 1991?

Yes, this would be the same John Grisham of bestselling The Firm and The Pelican Brief fame.  And the Ford County of this short story collection’s title is the same Ford County in which Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill, is set.

It’s been quite some time (since the early 90s, in fact) since I’ve picked up a John Grisham book, and I suspect that might be the case for you too. But as any of the Southern lawyers within these (and any other of his) pages would do, my job here as a reviewer is to convince you that these stories are just as good as we remember Grisham to be from back in the day.

They really, really are.

I admit, I was a bit skeptical too.  I mean, how many more stories of crooked lawyers and backwoods bumpkins and get-rich-quick schemes could Grisham have left?  As it turns out, at least 7 of them – the ones contained within Ford County.  And these 7 are pretty damn good.

The Flannery O’Connor-esque characters are what you’ll remember most from these stories: wheelchair-bound Inez, who takes a road trip with two of her sons to visit another son on Death Row; everyday ho-hum Sidney, who unleashes a latent gambling prowess to get revenge on his ex-wife (and rich at the same time);  alcoholics who are road trippin’ it to Memphis to donate blood for a friend, but who can’t seem to avoid stopping at every bar along the way; a whistleblower at a retirement home whose motives aren’t the least bit ethical or moral; the night of vengence enacted on a lawyer at the hands of a family that hasn’t forgotten their losing case; and Adrian, who comes home to Ford County to die of AIDS and finally finds peace.

As much as I liked these stories, I’ll admit that Ford County might not have been one that I would have picked up on my own.  It was a Christmas present from my mother in 2009, and it has been sitting on the TBR shelf ever since.  But I happened to spot the audiobook in the library and I listened to the first two stories – and really, really liked them. When I went through three DNFs during one week, I thought I could get some sense of accomplishment by knocking off a TBR book, and I also wanted some semblance of a comfort read.  When I spotted this on the shelf, I realized that I only had five stories left in this one, so … there you go.

(I liked the two stories that I listened to on audio, and would recommend that, particularly for a road trip since there are a few road trips featured within this collection. Grisham’s narration is okay, but the stories are suspenseful enough to keep your attention.)

I’m not saying this is an absolute, OMG-you-gotta-read-this-immediately type of book. Rather, this is one that is worth taking a second look at if you are thinking (as I was) that you’re beyond the likes of Grisham and not interested in his brand anymore.  These stories are ones that are surprising, perhaps especially so in how much you just might be surprised to find yourself enjoying them.

 

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