You know how you look forward to a new novel like that piece of chocolate cake you’ve been saving for yourself? Well, that’s how I felt about the book I’m currently reading. I ordered it from the library, waited for it to arrive, sat down to enjoy it on Saturday, and . . . what the heck?
The book is Motherhood by Sheila Heti. It’s advertised as a novel, but I wouldn’t call it a novel. It’s a meandering meditation in which the narrator—who might or might not be a fictional character—is trying to decide whether or not to have a baby. So far, 150 pages in, nothing has happened. There’s this weird dialogue with the i ching or her inner muse or herself where she asks questions and the other entity responds yes or no. There are some dreams, some psychic readings, and some dialogues with friends who may or may not be real people. There are some interesting ideas, but there is no story. I wanted a story. I wanted to lose myself in someone else’s life. I wanted the chocolate cake. But it’s not chocolate, and somebody put coconut in it. Rats! I hate coconut. Maybe you like coconut, but be forewarned.
I’m committed to finishing it and doing a proper review for my Childless by Marriage blog, but ugh.
The nonfiction book I was looking forward to, The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, is also different from what I expected. I wanted a memoir. I got a study. It’s well done, excellent in fact, but I feel like I’m doing homework. It’s broccoli instead of fried chicken.
I count on books to keep me sane. I’ve got them stacked all over my house. The ones waiting to be read include lots of literary magazines, which those of us trying to be published in them are supposed to read. They’re good, but they’re granola. Sometimes I just want the equivalent of a Big Mac.
Of course lots of people love coconut and granola. Some even eat them together.
Let me share a couple books that were much more pleasing to my taste buds.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows kept me reading so long my eyes hurt. This is a beautiful novel told in letters and telegrams. World War II has just ended. Juliet, a London writer, has just published a book of lighthearted war columns to great acclaim and is looking for a new project. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from a fan who lives on Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between England and France. The letter leads her into a world of quirky new friends and a great story of how the island survived the German occupation. In addition to a delightful story with a pleasing ending, we get a clear picture of what the war was like in that part of the world—bloody awful. I’m appalled at how little I learned in school and glad Shaffer and Barrows used their story-telling skill to educate us. Highly recommended. A little carrot cakeish, but with lots of cream cheese frosting.
The day I finished reading Guernsey Literary, I handed it to my best friend, thinking she’d enjoy it. She paged through. “It’s all letters. I hate that.” She handed it back. But then again, she doesn’t like chocolate.
I also enjoyed The Tenth Island by Diana Marcum. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from California, Marcum visited the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal to explore the California-Azores connection. Although not Azorean herself, she felt a special connection on her first visit and took a year-long leave of absence from her job at the Los Angeles Times to spend more time in the Azores, mostly on the island of Terceira. She lived in houses rented or loaned to her and spent her days exploring. She made friends, took off with near-strangers on hikes and car trips, and became part of the community, all without speaking more than a few words of Portuguese. It’s Eat Pray Love or A Year in Provence Portuguese style. My ancestors are Azorean, and I have been to the islands, so I loved this book. When she describes the street bullfights or the lava pools, I’m right back there. Would you like it if you don’t like beans and linguica? I don’t know.
Sloane Crosley, author of I was Told There’d Be Cake, has often been compared to David Sedaris. This collection of essays is definitely up to his standards. The stories are outrageous and funny, but each with a nugget of real-life drama. The last essay, for example, centers on a serious disease with which she was temporarily diagnosed. In “The Ursula Cookie,” we read about a horrendous boss. In “Christmas in July,” we consider what it’s like being Jewish in a home where there’s a Christmas tree every year. The longest piece, “You on a Stick,” is a funny yet bittersweet tale of being asked to be maid of honor for a grade school friend whom she hasn’t seen in years. Suddenly the bride is treating her like her best friend and claiming not to be a demanding “bridezilla,” which is exactly what she is. It all builds up to a hilarious disaster of a wedding. And then there’s the story about volunteering in a butterfly exhibit, where things get kind of crazy. So much fun. Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting.
I wanted to rant about Motherhood and got carried away. I hope these recommendations are helpful. I got so involved I burned my veggie burger while I was writing this. You’re welcome.
By the way, my novel, Up Beaver Creek is all chocolate cake, no coconut. I promise.