Plotting: New News and Book Reviews

Mad Maude & The Hatters

Since my last post, I’ve been to Germany (where I drank better beer than you did for eight days straight), joined a fun new band called Mad Maude & the Hatters (Shame. Shame. Shameless self-promotion), and read a book worth writing about: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Since I’m sure you don’t want me to brag-brag-braggy-brag you to death, I’ll get to the book review and leave Germany for a later post. By the way, this is an informal review. At work, I’m all formality and starched skirts, but on this blog, I’m gonna go ahead and unbutton the top button, if you know what I mean.

Okay, let’s get down to business, starting with the stuff dreams are made of.

The Virgin Suicides: my sort of book candy. Next to an original Henry Darger, you can’t get a better glimpse of young girls battling personal demons.

Middlesex: could a book be any better? Nope. Don’t think so.

Jeffrey Eugenides: the sort of guy who actually replied wittily and sweetly to an almost stalkish, “I-love-you-this-much” email I sent to his actual work account when I was an undergraduate student.  In other words, I’m a huge fan. A giant, obsessed geek who wanted to name my latest band “Lux Lisbon” before realizing some gents in the UK beat me to it. Sigh. To top it off ,their album is called “Your Heart is a Weapon the Size of Your Fist.” :: slaps self on forehead for not thinking of things first ::

That being said, here it goes.

Source: Personal Copy (picked up at a random B&N trip)


What I liked:

1. The character development was top-notch.

I feel that Madeline’s annoying-yet-needy/independent nature really resonates with that inner emotionally crazed girl in all of us.  Crying one second, taking her top off the next, that’s the kind of girl that I know and can relate to.  She seemed real. There were times I wanted to smack her face, but that’s true of many many characters I’ve gotten into bed with. Bad joke. I know. Sorry.

2. Of all the characters, I liked Leonard the best. Eugenides portrayal of someone who suffers with manic depression and bipolar disorder seemed believable and accurate. In my own life, I’ve known quite a few “Leonards.” They may not have ever donned a cape, but they did obsess and freak out and gain weight and lose weight and become their disease. Good job, Jeff.

What I got tired of:

1. Marshall. Marshall. Marshall. He was the guy in my English class that bored the shit out of me. The guy who likes the hot girl he can’t have, the guy that is sort of pretentious in his un-pretentiousness, the guy who is too smart and travels too much. Does that make sense? Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps we weren’t supposed to like him.

2. I also missed having separate chapters. Since we change narrative perspective in each section, I understand the set up, but I’m a traditionalist in some ways. I like those little markers that tell me I can take a quick pee or hop in the shower. This is obviously a personal thing.

Overall: If you love Eugenides, give it a go and let me know what you think. For me, it was worth it. It took a while to get through the first fifty pages and get to what I think is the “meat” of the book, but that could have been caused by hunger, not necessarily a bad plot progression.

Rating: I give it a T-rex  for sure.


Here are some other great reviews that I found on the Marriage Plot that are much fancier than mine:

The Marriage Plot- Jeffrey Eugenides-Book Review

The New York Times: Sunday Book Review

The Family Fang: Review

Bought at a random trip To B&N to cure boredom, at the suggestion of Jenn aka thepickygirl.


Hell yes. This is good stuff. A book where parents eff their kids up without remorse, all in the name of capital A-R-T.  I can relate. Replace “A-R-T” with “R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N,” and you have The Family Ivy.

By Ch. 2, I was lolling all over the place. And…. I actually stayed interested as the story progressed, which is a great feat for me. At times, I swear I accidentally switch brains with my dog Annie and can only think of food and sleep, which interferes with actually FINISHING good books (I have had 100 pages left of The Historian for the past year). Sigh.

Back to the Fangs.

Kevin Wilson is really damn good at ending paragraphs. Every last line of the first few chapters made me stop, go back, and reread. Nice job, Kev.

To sum it up, I stayed interested until the very end. The end disappointed the heck out of me for reasons I can’t exactly place. The plot seemed to be working towards some cataclysmic event, and then all of the sudden, the balloon didn’t pop. It sputtered out.  It made one of those fart sounds. I can’t say I’d like it more if it had had some explosive ending, but I know I was mildly disappointed. I felt very “Hmmmfph” about the ending.

But, I’ll admit, I can’t think of a way he could have done it better or differently.

Aside from the ending, the middle was freaking delish. I loved the way he crafted his sentences. The way he weaved this twisted family of characters together really worked.

My favorite selection from the novel comes at a moment when Annie Fang thinks about a life without her parents (Damn this format for making block quotes look retarded):

And then, no one to prevent this unfounded optimism, she imagined a future where her parents had never existed in the first place. Once she allowed herself this miracle, as soon as it had taken shape, it immediately burned up in the atmosphere, turned to vapor, and Annie realized that, without her parents, there would be no way into the world for her. She could not, despite every attempt to do so, figure out a way that she could arrive ahead of her parent, to outspace them. It would have to be her parents, young and still tender, entirely unaware that their children, Annie and Buster, were moving, inexorably, toward them, waiting to be named (209).

In a sentence or two:

Annie and Buster Fang find themselves in an awkward state of adult rebellion as they come to the realization that their parents’ involvement in their live is in the name of art rather than love.  The Family Fang is witty, well written, and outlandish in an endearing way.

Rating: One T-REX*

*I don’t officially have a rating system since I’m new to blogging and reviewing, but when I do, it will be a system consisting of dinosaurs and aliens. T-REX = Powerful read. Worth it.

Note to my mother:

Mom, you should read this book and think of the times you made us visit nursing homes armed with bananas and peppermints in an attempt to socialize us, your two, homeschooled nerds. FAIL. (Didn’t you also make us attend FFA (Future Farmers of America) meetings, despite the fact that we didn’t own an animal or a farm?






Review: Letters from England

Letters from England

I was given this book to review by The Review of Texas Books.

In her memoir, Letters from England, Conita Jernigan Lyle not only shares her adventures of living abroad as a teacher for the Department of Defense in the early 1960’s, but also gives readers an intimate view of her struggle to remain both independent and free-spirited in an emotional climate that makes it difficult for her not to bend to the tug of young love that awaits her on the other side of the pacific. Though the conversations recounted at the beginning of the memoir seem a bit stiff in places, Lyle makes up for it in her letters, where she describes picturesque and lush landscapes that she encounters throughout her European travels. The book is broken down into three parts: the romance, the letters, and the choice, and for any woman who has battled a fickle heart, Jernigan’s position and her prose is easy to understand. Though young readers may be a bit baffled by the propriety and pace of such a memoir, it definitely wouldn’t hurt to offer them a glimpse of an affair based in elegant letters rather than cryptic cell phone texts. If you can’t afford England, I recommend giving this book a close read instead.

Conita Jernigan Lyle. Letters from England.  Dallas: Brown Books Publishing Group,  2010.  265 pp.  ISBN-13: 978-1-934812-72-3

Review: Born Round by Frank Bruni

When I first saw Frank Bruni’s memoir Born Round on the shelf, I took one look at the plump kid on the cover and picked it up.

First of all, I love chubby kids. Always have. When my little sister went through this phase where she ate tortilla chips until she threw up and then dug in for more, I wasn’t grossed out.  I was fascinated.  Perhaps a tad worried as well, but for the most part, watching her stuff mass amounts of food in her pint-size (though round) body was like witnessing some secret trick.

Though my father called me “tugboat” when I was a child because my bottom was much bigger than my top, I’ve always been one of those jerks that stay the same weight no matter what I eat. Sure, things wiggle here and there, but I have friends who work hard to maintain fitness that would slice one of my thighs off and throw it at me if I ever complained of being even a tad out of shape.  And I don’t blame them.

Born Round is a memoir based on journalist Frank Bruni’s lifelong roller-coaster relationship with food.  As a child, food intake was a comfort for Bruni, whose Italian family prided themselves on enormous feasts and fried “frits.”  Later in life, however, the binge eating becomes something darker, more uncontrollable. Throughout Bruni’s well-written tale, there are ups and downs and scary moments (battles with diet pills and bulimia), but the bumpy ride is handled with wit and a clever attention to detail, even though at times the paragraphs become overly stuffed with food items and brands.

What appealed to me more than Bruni’s quest to be fit, were the moments where he revealed the details surrounding his unlikely career as a New York Times food critic and exposed the intricacies of having a large and loving Italian family who longs to stay close-knit, even when food, death, and long distances, try to keep them apart.

I recommend having this book on the side of your Chinese delivery, “cold noodles in sesame paste.”

Bon Appétit!

My First (fun) Book Review

I’m going to be honest. This is my first book review that hasn’t been forced upon me, and I’m no pickygirl. After finishing up my MA in English this past May, reading for fun, well, just didn’t seem like fun. In fact, after finishing my thesis, I decided to do more productive things. I bought a variety of plants and murdered them. I tried sewing (again). Failed. I wrote a few depressing songs. In the end, the one thing that became a sort of replacement was obsessive cleaning. I’d try to read, to pick up an old favorite like Jane Eyre, but I couldn’t get past the first few chapters. I’d grab a Philip Larkin poetry book, a David Sedaris memoir, anything that didn’t require too much time.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog  is the first book that has cured my need to sweep up the dog hair in my house, every five minutes. (If you clicked on the image above, you can’t really “LOOK” inside. Sorry. I couldn’t figure out how to properly link it. Doh!) I read it in little bits over a three-week period. My mom and I had one of those dinner/date nights, followed up with a trip to the bookstore. We decided to pick a book and read it at the same time. This isn’t fascinating. I just thought I’d share how I came across the book. It’s cover won out. It had all the elements that make me pick up a book: nice color (dark blue), simple design (I hate all those busy and overly ornate covers), and an amazing title. In bright yellow, centered above a plain girl in boots who is pictured walking absentmindedly forward, the words, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, struck me. I’m all about weird titles and weird animals. My heart is forever open to all sorts of rodents: possums, rats, and even hedgehogs, all of which have found homes in my house at one point in time. I know. I know. Blame it on the “Ivy” life.

At first it took me a while to get into the book, but then I started digesting the language. The ideas are lofty. From Kant, to Marx, to Tolstoy, it took my little pea brain a while to wrap my mind around these “profound thoughts” being tossed around by the two narrators, a Parisian concierge named Madam Michel, who is secretly found out to be an “erudite princess,” and a young, overly intelligent and rich girl named Paloma, who also feels like an outsider at number 7 rue de Grenelle. Their friendship is based on their love for Jasmine tea, art, and their ability to see and understand beauty in the world, a beauty they feel is lost to the other inhabits of the building.

Here is one of my favorite passages, describing a moment where Paloma witnesses a moment of beauty (I’d indent it ten spaces like I should, but the formatting won’t allow me to):

There was a little sound, a sort of quivering in the air that went, “shhhh” very very very quietly: a tiny rosebud on a little broken stem that dropped onto the counter. The moment it touched the surface it went “puff,” a “puff” of the ultrasonic variety, for the ears of mice alone, or for human ears when everything is very very very silent. I stopped there with my spoon in the air, totally transfixed. It was magnificent.

A few lines later, she contemplates this image and the power it holds over her:

In the split second while I saw the stem and the bud drop to the counter I intuited the essence of Beauty. Yes, here I am, a little twelve-and-a half-year-old brat, and I have been incredibly lucky because this morning all the conditions were ripe: an empty mind, a calm house, lovely roses, a rosebud dropping.

After you read this book, which you most definitely should, I want to talk about the camellias, and how we’ve lost sight of them, how we’ve lost sight of that beauty found in passing moments like these.