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.)
I 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.
For 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.
A 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.
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.
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).