Reviews, of books, of course!

Not reviewing doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. Rather, I don’t feel the need to share everything. Some things I don’t finish (because life’s too short to read something I don’t l0ve), some things I don’t feel like sharing, and of course there are lots of times when I just plain forget. That last one is probably truest when it comes to the lack of reviews in the near-recent past. To make up for it, here’s three seemingly unrelated reviews….

Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg

  • Crime fiction
  • Library hardcover
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  None

First a disclaimer: I am not normally a reader of crime fiction; I read this book because of Tod Goldberg. I’m a huge fan of Literary Disco, a podcast about books, sort of, and Tod is one of the three co-hosts (the others are Julia Pistell and Rider Strong). I am late to the scene of Literary Discoland, and started at the beginning. I’ve been listening to at least two episodes a week for months and some days I feel like the hosts have taken up residence in my head. I dream about them, I hear their voices in my head when I read. Of course, none of that has a thing to do with Gangsterland…

I was blown away by this book. It’s funny, but not the kind of laugh out loud and have to explain yourself to random people around you funny. I’d say it’s more clever-funny. Just the idea of hiding a hitman from a Chicago crime family in Las Vegas by having him pretend to be a rabbi is cleverly funny. I loved the little details, like that Sal (our main character and hitman), thinks of himself as David as he gets more and more into his new role, but when he makes a call to do some business, he’s Sal again. I liked how he gradually learned that the words he had read to prep to be David had sort of dug themselves into him, and he has started believing them. I loved the in-your-face attitudes of the other family members, the gay informer, the blinged-out funeral director. I loved this book.

I know it seems like I’m all over the place when it comes to reading, and will pretty much recommend books in any genre, but usually I think of books as if you liked this, you’ll like that sort of thing. I have read very little that fits in with Gangsterland so I have no clue how to compare it. But if you like a well-written, clever, sad, funny book that talks about love and finding yourself and losing yourself, you should read this book. And if you want to experience as I did, you should listen to a couple episodes of Literary Disco first so the narrator in your head will be Tod Goldberg. It made the experience that much better for me.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

  • Self-Help
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category:  A book that made you cry

I’m not sure I agree with the genre on this one, either. There should be a single word that describes writing that is lyrical with being music, poetic but not poetry, heart-wrenching, life-affirming, gorgeous, beautiful, fulfilling, and brutally honest. I’m sure it can’t be its own genre, though, because only this book would fit into it.

This book is a collection of advice columns written by Cheryl Strayed under the pseudonym Sugar for The Rumpus. On a totally unrelated side note, The Rumpus is blocked at work. Considering the guys who determine what’s blocked and what isn’t, I have to assume they think “rumpus” = “rump,” a conclusion that would annoy my grandmother who actually had a rumpus room that had absolutely nothing to do with read ends. Anyway! Cheryl Strayed, in a nutshell, writes like I only wish I could. She’s got some sort of magical thrall-like control over words and no matter how negative the subject she’s talking about (rape, incest, alcoholism, etc) her words are still achingly beautiful.

I’m planning to produce a top ten this year, and this book is definitely on it. Considering how many really good books I’m reading, that’s a big old compliment from one lowly reader, especially one who prefers fiction. I feel like Cheryl Strayed gave me a gift of my own, personal, tiny beautiful things: all those tears she made me cry.

A Slipping-Down Life by Anne Tyler

  • Modern Literature/Coming of Age
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: A book that came out the year you were born

This is a book I could put into two categories: it’s Anne Tyler’s first book and it was published in 1969 (and now you know how old I am!). I’m sticking with the second one.

I accidentally skimmed a couple Goodreads reviews before I read this book, something I try not to do. I would rather go into a book fresh and not spoiled by other people’s opinions. It seemed like people didn’t love this as much as Anne Tyler’s other books. I do not agree.

The story is a little odd, or maybe the main character is, I’m not really sure which. Evie Decker is a junior in high school in the late 60’s. She lives with her father (her mother died in childbirth) in an aging neighborhood in Baltimore. Her father is a teacher in the school that she attends. She has one friend who is described as hugely fat (although later in the book we discover her actual weight, and it’s not all that bad). She develops this weird sort of star-struck crush on Drumstrings Casey, who plays his guitar music at a local bar. And then things go straight to hell.

Anne Tyler paints an interesting picture of a case of mild crazy that can result from living as a very sheltered and very shy girl. She also describes everything so well that I could very well imagine myself in Evie’s dusty house, sitting at a crowded table in the roadhouse, in the tar-papered shack outside of town. I felt for Evie, maybe even understood her just a bit, although I promise I would never do the things she did. But at the end, the causes behind her actions didn’t matter. I simply wanted her to succeed. And I was pretty pleased the Anne Tyler did not wrap the ending all up in a pretty little package and hand it to us. She left us hanging, and gave me some space to think about how it could go.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s on the heavier side, definitely not a beach read, but it is totally worth reading. It’s not a love story, it’s more of a life story. A slipping-down life story. 🙂

If you’re still with me…

I said these three books are seemingly unrelated, but there’s actually a common thread for me. All of them were read because I learned about them on a podcast. The very lovely Tracie and Barb of 2KnitLitChicks did an episode on Anne Tyler that led me to start reading her books, and as a relatively new Marylander I am a bit ashamed that some Cali chicks had to point me to the magic that is Ms. Tyler. Cheryl Strayed is an oft-cited author on Literary Disco – she’s one of their go-to authors when they’re trying to explain the right way to do non-fiction. And, of course, Tod Goldberg is a very obvious podcast tie-in. Podcasts = awesome, mkay?

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