Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Book 8 of my 2016 Reading Challenge
read from January 13 - 17

Muse by Jonathan Galassi

Summary (via Goodreads)
From the publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux: a first novel, at once hilarious and tender, about the decades-long rivalry between two publishing lions, and the iconic, alluring writer who has obsessed them both.
Paul Dukach is heir apparent at Purcell & Stern, one of the last independent publishing houses in New York, whose shabby offices on Union Square belie the treasures on its list. Working with his boss, the flamboyant Homer Stern, Paul learns the ins and outs of the book trade — how to work an agent over lunch; how to swim with the literary sharks at the Frankfurt Book Fair; and, most important, how to nurse the fragile egos of the dazzling, volatile authors he adores.
But Paul's deepest admiration has always been reserved for one writer: poet Ida Perkins, whose audacious verse and notorious private life have shaped America's contemporary literary landscape, and whose longtime publisher — also her cousin and erstwhile lover — happens to be Homer’s biggest rival. And when Paul at last has the chance to meet Ida at her Venetian palazzo, she entrusts him with her greatest secret — one that will change all of their lives forever.
Studded with juicy details only a quintessential insider could know, written with both satiric verve and openhearted nostalgia, Muse is a brilliant, haunting book about the beguiling interplay between life and art, and the eternal romance of literature.

My Opinion
I'm reading words and nothing is sinking in but I don't feel a need to reread because I don't think I've missed anything.  I feel like I've read a lot but when I pick it up there's still a ton left.

It's a book about life with nothing too happy or sad during the majority of it.  It reads like non-fiction but since the people aren't real, there's nothing to learn so I don't see the point.  Maybe it's a little too "insider" for me to enjoy. 

There were too many people, even if it's from Paul's perspective. If it's first person, I should know more about Paul.  I don't really know any of the characters so the reveal didn't matter, I didn't feel the shock or sympathy I would have if I'd been more invested.

I know people don't print things out and mail them in any more but I love Homer's rubber stamps ("Horseshit Pie" and "Fuck You Very Much") and would've loved to have them at some of my previous jobs.  And this phrase made me laugh - "It was as if he'd farted at the table or mentioned the Holocaust". Apparently there's no in-between and both are equally egregious in the company he kept.

Overall, I like his writing and his descriptions of characters but the topic is not for me.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"We make so much of love. We live for it, we ache for it, we convince ourselves that we'll die without it and make the search for it the focus of our lives. Yet love, my friends, is a terrible pain. It distracts us; it sucks up time and energy, makes us listless and miserable when we're without it and turns us into bovine creatures when we find it. Being in love is arguably the least productive of human states."

"After a while, his laptop's battery died, so he flipped through the papers in the accordion file, inhaling the smoky residue of Arnold's and Ida's lives. The charred smell came, he assumed, from the pages themselves, burning away invisibly as they had for years in the Impetus vault. Eventually they would crumble and be lost to the world, if they weren't thrown away first. For today, though, they were his to inhale and get lost in."

The Hired Girl

Book 7 of my 2016 Reading Challenge
read from January 11 - 13

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

Summary (via Goodreads)
Today Miss Chandler gave me this beautiful book. I vow that I will never forget her kindness to me, and I will use this book as she told me to—that I will write in it with truth and refinement…But who could be refined living at Steeple Farm?
Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future. 
Inspired by her grandmother’s journal, Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz brings her sharp wit and keen eye to early twentieth-century America in a comedic tour de force destined to become a modern classic. Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!) takes its reader on an exploration of feminism and housework, religion and literature, love and loyalty, cats, hats, bunions, and burns.

My Opinion
I have mixed feelings about this book.  I loved the author's writing and would definitely read her again but this particular story left me wanting.

The pages pass quickly.  Joan is an excellent narrator.  She made my heart hurt but was also funny in a slightly naughty way; I could see my girls giggling at some of the things she said.

It might be too hard for YA readers to guess the word first said on 94 and finally explained on 156. After speaking about Jews in the context of a book she was reading, "She exchanged glances with her son. "At any rate, she doesn't seem to have learned much in the way of - " Then she used a word I hadn't heard before. It began with "aunty" and ended with "ism", and from her tone of voice, I didn't know whether I was supposed to have learned it or not."  Not knowing that the word was antisemitism might take a little away from the story but not enough to make the reader lost if they didn't figure it out right away.  And I know it fits with the talk of the times but do current YA readers understand "queer" meant strange back then?  I should ask my girls.

I'm happy things are working out for her even if it's a bit fairytaleish.  It makes me nervous to read situations where everything is going well because my tendency is to wait for the other shoe to drop.  In that way it reads more like a J Fic book because there doesn't appear to be any conflict that can't be quickly resolved.  Even when bad things happen it works out to be even better.

Quotes from the Book
"I'll be stuck here my whole life long. Now I can see that's the worst of what happened with Father today. He crushed my last hope. That sounds like something someone in a novel might say, but it's true: I have no future. He won't allow me an education; I haven't any friends; I'm not even allowed to borrow books. My life stretches ahead of me, empty save for drudgery, farm work and housework, day after day, season after season."

"The truth is, most of the time, I don't think of myself as the hired girl. I think of myself as somebody disguised as the hired girl. After all, I'm not going to be a servant all my life. It's temporary. At some point I'm going to get an education and become a schoolteacher, just as Ma planned."

"I wish I had fine clothes and a slender waist and never lost my dignity. I wish a had some dignity to lose."

The Danish Girl

Book 6 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from January 8-11

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

Summary (via the book jacket)
Inspired by the true story of Danish painter Einar Wegener and his California-born wife, this tender portrait of a marriage asks: What do you do when someone you love wants to change?
It starts with a question, a simple favor asked of a husband by a wife on an afternoon chilled by the Baltic wind while both are painting in their studio. Her portrait model had canceled; would he slip into a pair of women's shoes and stockings for a few moments so she can finish the painting on time? "Of course," he answers. "Anything at all."
With that, one of the most passionate and unusual love stories of the twentieth century begins.

My Opinion
5 star read.

This book handles everything with sensitivity. The things I found troublesome didn't have to do with the clothing or makeup at all. It was difficult because while I would think Einar was acting very selfishly by wanting to go out with someone else, at the same time I also wanted him to be free to be himself.  I hope Greta can find her happy ending too because she made so many sacrifices to make the one she loved happy.

I know it's complex but if I was reading this without knowing the backstory, I would've thought Einar had a multiple personality disorder because of the memory lapses. It really was like there were two completely different people struggling to be dominant in the same body.  They did mention and dismiss schizophrenia as a possibility which addressed some of the thoughts I had.

Having nobody either find out by accident or getting mad when Einar revealed himself didn't seem realistic but I'm not going to quibble over that because as a story, this was great. I was disappointed when the book was over because I want the rest of the story; I want to know how Lili and Greta ended up. Thanks to the author for bringing this person to my attention and writing it so well, I look forward to more research.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Greta didn't say anything. She felt as if someone were explaining the rules of a new parlor game: she was listening and nodding but actually thinking to herself, I hope I understand this better once the game begins."

"All of this Greta did with a sense of devotion, for she always believed she could defy anyone in the world except her husband. It had been the same with Teddy. She could cross her mother and debate her father and snub all of Pasadena and Copenhagen alike, but in her chest was a bottomless well of tolerance for the man she loved. She never questioned it, why she allowed Lili to come into their lives. Anything to make Einar happy, she would tell herself. Anything at all."

" "Do you think I'm going insane?" [Einar] said.
  [Greta] sat up. "Insane? Who told you that?"
  "No one. But do you?"
  "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Who's been telling you that? Did Carlisle say something to you?"
   "No. It's just that I sometimes don't know what's going on with me."
   "But that's not true," she said. "We know exactly what's going on with you. Inside of you lives Lili. In your soul is a pretty young lady named Lili. It's as simple as that. It has nothing to do with being crazy."
   "I was just wondering what you thought of me."
   "I think you're the bravest man I know," she said."