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"So it goes."

Ella Mc's book blog. Brand new 2018 - Only books read after 1st January 2018

Currently reading

The Witches of Eastwick
John Updike
Progress: 100/307 pages

at 100 pages, hmmmm

The Witches of Eastwick - John Updike

I thought I'd try something by Mr. Updike that wasn't Rabbit Angstrom-y.


This is the single worst writing from women's point of view that I've ever encountered. These women are the least believable I've ever encountered, and I've read some really bad books. I understand these witches are fantasy, but I can't believe witches would be so ridiculous. Nor can I imagine grown women who complain about getting their periods for a full five (5) days! Or women who think the way these "women" do about their bodies. Men, apparently, believe women are nothing but our bodies and our relationships to men. He gives them interesting professions, then he reduces them to insipid caricatures. 


Dear Male Writers - Woman Have Breasts and Vaginas. I'm going to write a book where the man's balls are all I talk about if I run into this again. Shockingly, our bodies and fear of aging are not the only thing we ever think about.


Argh. I'm very tempted to stop reading this. It's making me irritable. 


However, now the man has entered the picture, so I may try to continue, since I'm almost a third of a way through. But not tonight. I need some female comedy -- on to Netflix!

Reading The Second Sex in English

Ladies and Gents, 


We have a problem. I bought my anniversary copy of Le deuxième sexe volumes 1&2 in French. (Well I should say I purchased a French edition, though I did so in English.)


When I suggested reading it as a group, I figured there had to have been improvements in the translations since the unabridged disaster of 2010 and the ONLY previous (abridged, but in my readings way back when, better than the 2010 version.) English translation by Parshley. I was wrong.


I thought I'd remembered Penguin no longer printed the 2010 edition because it was so universally panned by philosophers and feminists alike. I tried looking on the Penguin site, but I can't be sure. In any event I know a few women's studies teachers who decided to stick with the Parshley rather than teach from the new edition. Most of them have read it in the original French. I have not. I planned to do so, which is why I purchased my new-to-me French copy.


Long story short: it seems we have a choice of two rather unsatisfactory English editions. 


I'm tempted to say screw it all to hell until someone buys the rights and redoes it, but we could wait another 50 years for that. Most worrisome is the lack of philosophical or feminist scholarship invested in the newer translation and the glaring omissions (and previous errors) in the earlier one. I don't know which is the better one. Many feminists hate the old translation. (It sounds strident, to say the least. She can be strident in French too, but not in the ways the translation makes it sound.) 


I'm taking my French copy to the library to compare the two translations next week.(They have to order one of the editions for me before I can do this little project. Next week seems to be the earliest.) Sadly, I'm no expert in anything at all, so thoughts?


24in48 readathon is coming again next weekend

I don't know how much I will actively take part in the official readathon, but I plan on doing a weekend of purely reading next weekend -- nothing else, completely inspired by doing this in January with the official 24in48 (found here: https://24in48.com/ )


I'm stocking up w/ food, a book list...actually, I'm deciding between one HUGE book and many slim ones, and I'll probably combine the two ideas.


This particular/July 24in48 is dedicated to diversity in reading (a problem if I go w/ my one huge book idea.) 


Anyway, I'm planning to sit around in my PJs next weekend and read - anyone else able to throw a weekend into books? If you want to do it officially, here's the sign-up




They give prizes both in the US and internationally! 


But I found the constant pressure to take pictures of books and post on social media both annoying and time consuming. However, it is a good way to make sure I read. So this time I'll do less of the social media, but I do plan on following them if only to stay true to my plan. 


Would anyone here on BL like to do this with me? We could simply use a tag or a post to keep in touch, this post, for instance. Let me know, and if you see "24-in-48" this is what I mean.



Your Turn FOR Care - very specialized, read for work

Your Turn for Care: Surviving the Aging and Death of the Adults Who Harmed You - Laura S. Brown

This is a book about relating to elders, caregiving, and death for people whose personal childhood story was a horror movie, not a Hallmark card.


For those adults who are pursuing relationships with and/or becoming caregivers to elders who were reasonably loving, decent, and honorable in their relationships with you, those complications are difficult in and of themselves...


There is a group of adults whose dilemmas in dealing with the aging, illness, and death of elders are complex beyond the norm. This book is for those folks—for adults raised in families that were frightening, confusing, dangerous, sometimes criminal in their treatment of their children. The elders in these families are...people who...behaved in vicious, venal, abusive, and/or neglectful ways to those children. You are those children, grown into adults confronted with cultural and social demands to relate to those elders, and sometimes to step into the caregiver role.


This is an almost one-of-a-kind resource, since nobody seems to have put together two clear facts: a huge number of children are abused in childhood, and [in the US] a full 60% of elderly people are being cared for solely by family. That number increases to 95% if we include family taking any role in caregiving for a family member. So it is clear that many people who were abused in childhood are now caring for that abusive parent/primary caregiver in their elderly years. 


Surprisingly, there was nothing in the self-help literature (and there seems to be little or no scholarly research finished or even in process) for those adult children who are now either feeling pressured to care for their former abusive caregiver or who are already doing so. 


Obviously this can be problematic on a number of levels.


I'm only writing this review so others will know of this resource. Written in a very open and non-prescriptive style, readers can take what they need and ignore the rest. For those who want much clearer "do this" and "don't do that" guidance, this may feel somewhat nebulous. The bottom line comes down to "you do not have to care for this person who harmed you when you were the vulnerable one." 


There is tremendous personal and societal pressure to take on the role of caregiver to an elderly person, but that may be a very bad idea for a number of reasons -- both to the adult child and to the formerly abusive older person. (And not every abusive person becomes lovely and kind in old age. They may continue some abusive patterns throughout life.)


Unfortunately, the US medical system doesn't much care if this person terrorized you, they will assume you either should or must take on this new project. Armed at least with one resource, hopefully we can avoid everyone feeling like they must be the primary caregiver to the person who failed so horribly in this role years before.

The Real Cost of Amazon - food for thought

Everyone who knows me knows how much I hate Amazon, yet I find myself still sometimes purchasing from them because I'm not independently wealthy and sometimes I cannot get my hands on the book without using them. Recently I learned that my local used bookshop was using Amazon Marketplace to fill orders I'd purposely placed through them to cut Amazon out of the picture. (This clearly didn't work.) 


After reading this post: http://moonlightreader.booklikes.com/post/1772259/a-rant from The Quilty Reader (AKA Moonlight Reader), I happened to literally trip over the following reports, which are well worth a read.


This is the best writing I've seen on Amazon -- ie, it's not just your experience in book stores that's being screwed up.

“Amazon has massively—and I’m trying not to use this particular word, but I can’t not use it here—disrupted the business model in publishing,” she told me. “Publishers used to be able to take risks with heavier books that might not be as popular, and they used to be able to subsidize them with best sellers.” But Amazon’s demand for discounts has made it harder to cross-subsidize this way, leading to consolidation among book publishers and reduced diversity.





We've seen how they affect book sales and best seller lists (remember when they decided to take on publishers and started a little war w/ Hachette? People like Stephen Colbert probably came out fine in the long run, because he had a nightly TV SHOW to moan about it, but what about every new author and book that wasn't seen because Amazon wanted to force Hachette to sell KINDLE ebooks only at a certain, much-reduced price (forcing most traffic to Amazon, rather than anywhere else.) I never actually thought about all the other types of businesses they're also affecting.


https://www.indiebound.org/spotlightamazon -- The True Cost of Amazon Revealed

I'm lucky. I live in a state where Amazon has paid their local and state taxes, where they have a distribution center (so they actually create some jobs here, but we still have a net loss of over 7000 jobs in this last, but not overly recent, report.) In other words, I've not been hurt as much as many people by Amazon, and most of us have no idea how much we're both being pointed to Amazon (where they fix prices to beat everyone, including the publisher themselves) and pointed to certain products by Amazon. They're taking over more than just books, and nobody seems able to actually fight them.


http://www.civiceconomics.com/empty-storefronts.html -- Amazon and Empty Storefronts


And they aren't just harming your local booksellers, they're taking away tax money even from places they pay taxes, as well as killing off all sorts of other things like paint sales, hardware, etc (here's a .PDF from the North American Retail Hardware Assn that shows the most basic of things are affectted by Amazon's takeover of...everything. https://www.independentwestand.org/wp-content/uploads/Home-Sweet-Home-Amazon_.pdf )



Food for thought.


Lies by TM Logan -- no more netgalley for me

Lies: The Gripping Psychological Thriller That Will Take Your Breath Away - T.M. Logan

Thank you to St. Martin's Press and T.M. Logan for the chance to read LIES in exchange for this honest review.

Note to married people: if your spouse can't listen to you for the length of a meal without scrolling around and posting on Facebook/Goodreads/Twitter/etc constantly, you need a marriage counselor. If you don't heed this warning, you may find life increasingly unpleasant. 

Such is the life of our pal Joe Lynch, who stumbles his way through this book like a lost puppy, all snarls and grins, deciding to protect people who haven't asked for his protection, then getting angry when things don't go as he has decided life should go.

Unfortunately, I figured out by location 202 (4% into the book) who one of the culprits was and at 24%, I'd seen the entire plot without wanting or meaning to do so. The writing drops hefty clues that are actually spoilers. By the end I was irritated with our narrator and had the uncharitable thought that he deserved to be preyed on because he constantly did exactly the opposite of what any reasonable adult would do (and the opposite of what every authority figure -- his lawyer, police, random strangers...) tell him to do.

The second irritation (shown by constant notes that got less detailed as the book grinded on repetitively) were plot holes. I felt like the ending had been predetermined and the rest of the book was shunted in to make that ending fit, no matter how far from realistic we had to go to get there.

The payoff or "lesson" in all of this are gems like:

Trusting people is hard.


...it's not the photographing and sharing and broadcasting that makes something what it is. it's the doing. The being. The experience of it.

Needless to say, I found very little mystery and far fewer thrills. The mystery for me started to revolve around how long it would take for this fool to stumble into the guaranteed safe landing he was headed for -- because that's the kind of book this is. I wouldn't have finished it if I'd payed for a copy, and I would have probably returned it to the library none the poorer for having missed this one. 

Not my cuppa.

Ella's A-Z Women of Color Author Challenge

I got my act together and figured this out. My goal this year was to read more authors of color, so my challenge is Authors of Color and I purposely used women's names first rather than the men's because female authors, especially many of these newer ones with first books, need as much championing as possible. Once I finished my female books, I realized this is doable without any men (though maybe next year I'll try to focus more on Men of Color b/c they are the smallest percentage of my reading, it seems.) I'd like to switch out Morgan Parker's poetry book for a novel, so I'll be looking for novels by women of color with last names starting with D, P, Q, R, V and X in the next few months. 

Some letters I could list many authors for, so in the interest of fairness, I've simply gone by date. If I read someone/a book earlier, I've used that author and book. 


**EDIT** Fixed the links - they all should point ONLY to Booklikes pages now. 

Ella's 2018 A-Z Female Authors of Color (By LAST name only.)

✔️ A) Stay with Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
✔️ B) The Mothers by Brit Bennett
✔️ C) Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras To Be Released July 31! Look for it!
✔️ E) Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
✔️ F) The Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Foroutan
✔️ G) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
✔️ H) Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
✔️ I) We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby  
✔️ J) An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

✔️ K) The Leavers by Lisa Ko
✔️ L) Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee
✔️ M) Tar Baby by Toni Morrison
✔️ N) Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
✔️ O) The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
✔️ P) There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker (poetry)
✔️ S) Feel Free by Zadie Smith
✔️ T) Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
✔️ U) Everybody's Son by Thrity Umrigar
✔️ W) Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
✔️ Y) Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
✔️ Z) American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Still need D, Q, R, V & X to have a full house of alphabetical authors of color who identify as female. 


Any suggestions of good books for those slots are most welcome! 



Purple Hibiscus (round two for book club)

Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I've read this before, but a book club picked it for July, so I read it again. It's still the same book I read in 2005 (says my kindle - who knows if that's correct?) One thing I adore: Adichie does a great thing in all of her books -- refuse to define terms others may not know, or may have to even look up. I find it wonderful that this is true even in a first novel. Imagine the strength it took to get this published in the US without some idiot editor forcing her to define words all over the place or worse - Americanize the novel! I've seen a lot of true voices come unhinged from reality by explaining what their own words mean - not so this novel or any of Adichie's other work that I've read. (And I do hope to be reading her fiction for years to come.) 

While this coming of age tale of a tyrannical zealot self-hating father (with lines like "He did things the right way, the way the white people did, not what our people do now!") and a terrified frozen family walking constantly on eggshells treads somewhat familiar lines, it's a very strong first novel, despite what feels like an abrupt ending after a beautifully woven storyline and very strong characters. 

Clearly Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born to write, to communicate and never to apologize. An excellent first novel and still a worthwhile read, though if you're only going to read one of her novels, I'd recommend one of the later ones. This, however, is probably well suited for a book club read. So for this month, I'm knocking out my book club books as fast as I can in order to read some new ones I want to read by myself.


A Clockwork Orange -- wow.

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

I'm now going to allow myself to see this film, now that I've read the entire book, including the redemption/change final chapter that was so gallingly removed from the US versions for so long. I've never seen Kubrick's film because I knew I wanted to read the book first. This is marked as "dystopia" and I'm having a bit of trouble differentiating it from regular old life.. Not sure what that says about me.


For some reason the entire time I read this - from the very first scene, I kept thinking "what if these were girls?," "What if Alex was an Alexa?" (or just a female Alex, actually.) Every section I saw both the way Burgess wrote it and then I'd sit back and wonder how it would be perceived if the narrator was female. Would this be a classic novel if Alex was a 17/18-year-old girl? And what would we think of the Ludovico technique if it was used on a girl? I mean, we do use this technique - not exactly, but some very similar techniques, for various reasons still (as troublesome as that is.) I'll let you all play that little gender game on your own, but I couldn't stop doing it (which is sort of maddening, actually.) 


I've only read two other books by Anthony Burgess (Earthly Powers and A Dead Man in Deptford.) From what I've read, he could probably easily have written this with a female narrator - he was versatile. His introduction to this corrected American edition is pretty awesome all by itself, and he shares that this is not one of his favorite works.


I'm actually just sort of gobsmacked by this novel. I have no idea how much I liked or disliked it. I don't know that I felt like or dislike, but I'm really really glad to have read this story because it's just amazingly original -- despite having read many rip-offs, and the ethical questions are overwhelming. I'll be puzzling through them for quite some time, actually. 


I'm glad the final chapter was included in the version I bought (I'd been trying to buy it for a while and kept ending up w/ old copies that lacked the final metanoia.) I've had a period of life-change come from pure exhaustion myself. I wasn't murdering people, but I was not doing good things either. There is a point when the trouble to make trouble (for oneself or others) actually can just be too much. 


Oh, I have so many thoughts on this & I'm too beat to write more tonight. I wanted a place-holder b/c I finished another book too, and this needs to come before it in my blog.  I'll try to rent the film by next week, & maybe I'll amend this with a book/film review.


Every Love Story is a Ghost Story - DT Max on David Foster Wallace

Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace - D.T. Max

I liked this well enough, but there's a reason I've not read it until now. Something to do with never get too close to your (literary or otherwise) heros...



The interesting parts are about the inner workings of his writing. I'd have rated it much higher if it was just that. I do wish a psychiatrist or other professional would've been included in this book. It's one thing to look at the literary part of DFW's life, but this crossed so far into mental illness, because it had to, that I would've appreciated little things like not using the word "manic" in a colloquial way for a person who is clinically depressed. More than that, I'd have appreciated seeing everything discussed through a good professionally-adept lens.


I was sold on the literary theory b/c I don't know much about literary theory. I was not sold much at all on the psychological guesswork included as fact.


Despite that, this is a carefully and exhaustively researched book though, and I did appreciate the lack of judgment and straight reporting on facts, or as he notes in the afterward, the closest he could get to the facts as he understood them.

Far from the Tree

Far from the Tree - Robin Benway

This is a lovely story about what the word family can mean -- how it can be way bigger than most of us usually understand, and how love is not a finite resource. Perhaps just a touch too pat at the end, but it never gives the feeling that these kids or families have every problem solved - more like they're just finally talking about them.

The City & The City - Why is Miéville ignored by some literary circles?

The City & the City - China Miéville

This book... oh dear. It's quite good and it's very hard to explain. What starts off seeming like a noir-ish crime novel or police procedural opens up and allows the reader to sort of play with what's happening in the reality of the story. Two city-states, somewhere in Europe, live within each other. Citizens from one are not allowed to "see" the citizens from the other - even if they're on the same street! It's not like Berlin used to be. There's no wall, just a map and laws and a history of strife between the two cities.


So is it fantasy, or is it a meditation on our current cities, where we go around "unseeing" all sorts of things? Miéville leaves this question wide open for the reader. I started to think about all of the ways we divide ourselves in our cities and how the entire novel could be a metaphor for things like race, class, religion, politics, you name it. Everywhere in real life, there are places some people go and places other people don't. There are things we see - even celebrate - and other things we pretend not to see, and put out of mind almost automatically. We're very good at dividing ourselves up in so many ways. Citizens in one city know not to tread on "the other city." 


The book takes us into a mystery about the cities themselves, all while continuing along the crime narrative. It's sort of brilliant, and very different from any other book I've read before. It's fantastical, but it could be quite realistic. I have to wonder, once again, why some authors (Miéville, Neil Gaiman, even Stephen King) are not even considered in these lists of "important" books. King appears sometimes, but far too often I think these writers tend  to be shunted off into "genre writing" and hence considered simply not worthy of being noted by certain publications and literary circles. I'd love someone to tell me why this book is somehow less inventive/important than Thomas Hardy's 8th or 10th book? (Not just Hardy - I'm thinking now of those lists of books that have changed or disrupted the novel's form or literary prizes that always seem to go to the same people or if they go to a newcomer, we're told it's because the book is somehow inventive. I've read the most recent Pulitzer. I liked it, but it wasn't more inventive than this one.) When I read a book like this one, all I see is invention and imagination and certainly breaking the usual laws of novels.


I've tried to read The City & The City before and was distracted by work and life. I'm thrilled I finally found the right time for me and this book because it is fantastic - in every sense of the word.

Thank You for Your Service - required reading

Thank You For Your Service - David Finkel

Probably more important than any in-action memoir could be. Indeed I think this book is more important to understand than Finkel's first book about these same soldiers when they were deployed in Iraq. Here we see the real cost of war, very few holds barred. We also see war widows and the wives and families of those who come home forever changed. If I came away with one clear idea, it is that war is never-ending and continues trying to kill you from the day you step foot back "home" until...forever, I suppose.


This book, or a book much like it, should be required reading for every American who hasn't served in one of our wars. 

It's not the book, it's me

The Parking Lot Attendant: A Novel - Nafkote Tamirat

I've tried repeatedly to get myself into this book. I could give a brief sketch of what's happening, but I can't seem to get more than an arm's length in terms of caring or even feeling what's going on. Perhaps it's partly due to the structure of this novel (we know where the MC will end up before the story actually begins) but I think it's more just about me at this moment. I'm going to abandon it for now and try again another time. It sounds interesting and like it would be up my lane, but I'm a bit fuzzy these days, and easier reads seem to be where my brain wants to be.


I was going to read A Clockwork Orange next, but I'm now not so sure...

Boy Erased - not really a Memoir by Garrard Conley

Boy Erased: A Memoir - Garrard Conley

This memoir should have started at least ten years later and told us how the young man who once signed himself up for "ex-gay therapy" (which we all know is pure bullshit) turned into a person who at least calls himself a gay man. His epilogue and bits of the memoir proper hint at the real story, but sadly it's just a sketch. I understand being so traumatized that you can't hold memories or be sure what is your memory and what is your intellect saying "this must be the way it happened," but I'm not entirely sure that's why this memoir is sketchy.


Ten years after an 8-day outpatient visit to Love In Action, the author hears his one-time group leader on a book/apology tour admitting that the therapy was nonsense. This, understandably, raises real anger. How can this guy with his vanity press book be on NPR and so cavalier about the lives he played havoc with? And this brings an aspiring novelist to write a "memoir" about those eight outpatient days. One gets the slight feeling, after reading the book, that part of the anger was that this guy was able to hawk his book on NPR while Conley was still struggling in various ways with no book or tour, but that's not the whole story, just a thought.


As someone who has done many outpatient stays (and several inpatient, locked ward ones too,) honestly, I doubt I could write a book about any of those visits. Now, my stays were overall more of a plus than a minus, and only rarely were they more traumatic than what brought me in. They also weren't trying to erase my person or self. Could any of us write a memoir about eight days? Maybe. There's just very little to recommend this book because nothing much happens and the author does very little to help us understand what exactly, beyond the horrific idea of conversion therapy -- which we already get -- what exactly traumatized him.


He makes a point in the epilogue that liberal America may not understand what would push someone to deny their sexuality just to "fit in." (He doesn't say that, but that's the truth I think he was pushing toward.) Many liberal lgbtq people have just as much trouble coming out. They don't typically seek this particular type of therapy, but many a liberal kid has gone into therapy at least to work through the fear and other emotions involved in coming out. Many kids are dead today rather than face up to our cultural disdain of anything less than toxic masculinity. You don't have to be an Evangelical to understand this is a tough time for many people, and only in recent years has coming out become slightly less than terrifying and often traumatizing.


As trite as this sounds to me: change is tough. When we finally allow our "outsides" to match our inner selves, to become more authentic, that can be excruciating even while it's healthy and holds the promise of a much better life - eventually. And that's true for anyone. It inevitably involves losing people and places that were comfortable and often affirming in other ways, not to mention our homes. Very often it involves estrangement of sorts with at least some, if not all, family members. I wanted to hear about the growth, or if not that, at least understand what created a traumatic reaction so bad that he's blocked it out. What I read was a family based in love. If they didn't express it fine, but they were there -- before, during and after (the final sentence in the epilogue is wonderful in showing this purely,) for this young man. When he finally left mid-eighth day, his mother didn't question him, she simply drove the two of them away. (She'd been staying with him in a hotel during the outpatient assessment.) That's a serious blessing, having your family stick by you, especially when their religion, culture, job (his father is a pastor) and upbringing tell them to do something very different.


My impression was that a lot of the trauma involved expectations -- both perceived and real -- that he'd internalized and struggled coming to terms with. That anger was displaced onto the therapy he sought out and willingly subjected himself to. He wanted to be someone other than who he was/is. THAT is the trauma. And that would make a much better memoir than incredibly florid, rambling prose and unstructured random memories (not about the therapy) ostensibly about an 8-day outpatient assessment. Also a serious thanks to his God that he was strong enough to see through the bullshit and walk out before someone compelled other drastic and inhumane measures we've now learned happened in many of these places.


One final thought, Love In Action and its parent corporation is, thankfully, now gone and very few similar programs exist in the US, but worryingly, they've taken their circus on the road to other countries (notably Uganda, complete with laws and real danger for lgbtq people)  - something the author mentions in one sentence and doesn't seem to see as a problem. "At least it's not me anymore" is not a pleasant trait in anyone, no matter their story.


I believe Garrard Conley has a real story to tell, about how he started hating himself, how he couldn't see a way for his authentic self to fit with his family and community, the fear and existential dread that must have accompanied many days, how fundamental Christian beliefs offer no room for difference or questions of any kind, how the fear of ruining his "eternal soul" has haunted him long past his heroic walk out of the treatment center's doors, how his family managed to overcome pressure from their church and community and whole lives to come to a place where this book could be written with his parents' blessing, how he functions as a gay man in the world when he was a kid from a very restrictive and fundamentalist background, etc etc: both the logistics and the emotional sides are interesting and important -- these are the types of stories that save lives. While I think the promise of a horror-show called "ex-gay therapy" is probably what gave this book the juice to get published, the real story still hasn't been told. 


I really wish this man well. I know he's lived through some very tough things, but I don't know any of that from reading this book, and there's the rub. We shouldn't require people to morph bad moments into freak shows for them to tell their stories. He will write another book. I'm betting my life on that one. I'm sure he's writing as I type. He's wanted to be a writer and has an MFA in creative writing. I just want him to write from a more fearless place next time. 



A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving

A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving

A tidbit I learned whilst reading was that much like the narrator, John Wheelwright, John Irving's mother never revealed the identity of his father to him. Apparently this book contains a lot of Irving's biography (well mixed with fiction) which may interest someone, but not really me.


The thought experiment: what would it take to make me a Christian? is interesting. And it plays out here in the form of one Owen Meany -- annoying prophetic child who knows, without any doubt, that he's an instrument of God. People who have zero doubt are often very irritating, as Owen can be. Owen hasn't arrived at his doubtless state without interrogating his faith or life, though. He's not full of faith because he refuses to see reality, in fact it's almost the opposite. He seems to have questioned and still believes his fate and purpose. I grew up in the Catholic church and never met a person like this until I was already quite the doubting Thomas. However, I can attest to how discombobulating strong faith can be in the face of endless questioning, and this is what Irving sets up so beautifully, comically and tragically for John and Owen.


Along the way we witness a friendship between two boys and young men that is so charming and graceful and appealing that it's hard not to be moved. The comic scenes are pure gold. (I both read and listened to the Christmas pageant scene many times. I bookmarked my audio copy there, and it made me laugh so hard tears rolled down my face, even when I already knew what was going to be said. It's a perfect scene.)


This novel is dense, full of little details, flies off on what seem like tangents, and more than once I wondered if there was an editor. Then in one fell swoop every single detail that seemed extraneous, silly or irritating falls into place. Details become symbols. Tangents find their meaning. The topsy-turvy struggle between faith and doubt gets an answer -- at least for John. But Owen's "gift" of faith to John is not without cost. John Wheelwright is bitter and confused and doesn't seem to know his own place in the world, though he's clear on Owen's. So even with an easy answer on the question of God, this novel shows how painful a life of faith can still be.


Please read this book if you haven't. I'll evangelize for John Irving's story of friendship, home and faith. Hang in through the unholy capitalization and irritation, your belief in the story will be rewarded.