Review: The High Tide Club by Mary Kay Andrews

36336690It’s been a bit of a busy (ahem….chaotic) summer in the Married Book Nerds house. It’s all good stuff, but there has been little time to read (boo!) or to blog (boo-er!)

I decided it was high time to get back in the saddle on that.

I was reading a non-fiction book that was good, but with all the busy-ness my brain wasn’t having it. So I decided to pick up some light and fun beach reads. Now, I’m used to big city life where there is a bookstore on every corner. Not so much here. I raided the local Target stores bookshelves – which honestly – didn’t too bad of a selection. Sure I could have ordered something online, or even got an e-book. But I was in the mood for a tactile experience – looking at the books and touching the books (wow, that sounds weird and inappropriate). Anyway, you book nerds get where I am coming from.

I hadn’t read anything by Ms Andrews before, but the cover and the blurb on the back looked like it was going to fit the bill. Fluffy enough for my addled mind, but with a bit of texture to it to not be boring. And, dear reader of the blog, I was not wrong.

This started out a bit odd, I will say. I was a bit confused by the characters and it didn’t seem like it was going to gel for me. But by page 20 it was all good. So if you decide to take this one to the beach, give it a bit of time.

This is kind of a romance, mystery, sister-of-the-travelling-pants kind of story. There is an aging millionaire lady who summons the local new kid on the block lawyer to her island home. Basically she is dying – the aging millionaire lady – and wants to make amends to her group of friends from back in the day.

As I said, there is enough texture in this book to keep it interesting and intriguing. I don’t want to spill the beans on that and #spoileralert it for anyone.

This was definitely a great beach/summer read – short chapters for when you need to take a break and have a nap or a cocktail.

I rated it 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Ulysses: Hello, Leopold Bloom!

The_ButcherShop_TinSign_largeI have finished ‘chapters’ 4 and 5, and by jove I might be getting the hang of this thing. Or probably not. I have a feeling that this book is going to keep me on my toes.

Chapter 4 is ‘Calypso’ where we meet Leo and his wife Molly Bloom. They are an interesting couple, let me say that. Leo has a penchant for ‘the inner organs of beasts and fowls‘. Here is the line that made me laugh and cringe at the same time:

Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

If that doesn’t conjure up some senses for you, I can’t help you. Joyce really knew how to paint a (scented) picture.

This chapter was relatively easy to follow along with. Molly is some sort of singer who likes to lounge in bed. Leo (as mentioned above) likes organ meat. They have a cat. Molly has some sort of lover who writes letters to her at her house. Turnabout is fair play, as they say. Leo has a female friend that he is writing letters to – under his fake name – Henry Flower. Wait! I just got that….Flower….Bloom. Boy am I dim.

Anyhoo….these two chapters basically are about Leo going about his morning routine, feeding the cat, going to the butcher to get a kidney for breakfast, and getting ready for a funeral at 11:00.

Here is my fear, we are only 70 or so pages into the book at it’s already 11:00 am novel time – what’s going to happen for the rest of the day that takes 600 more pages to relate! <insert scared face emoji here>

Here is what Joyce is a master of – this stream of consciousness thing. I mean, duh! I remember in high school (or university) the teacher speaking about this and learning that’s what Joyce’s style is. And I was like, yeah cool. In my advanced age, I feel like I have a better understanding of what that means. I still think it’s cool, even after all these years. Here is the thing, you get in your car and drive to the grocery store, get out of your car and go shopping. Your mind is off in about a million different places during that time. Oh apples, I need to get some, remember that apple pie that my mom made that was so delicious, and onions, I need one of those too, I need to remember to do the laundry when I get home, do I need laundry detergent…..and so on. (See, I’m no James Joyce.) But you get the drift. Our minds don’t work in a linear way, and I think he really gets to the heart of that. And to me, it’s fascinating.

As BJ mentioned in his potato post, there are tons of references, allusions, and other (I guess you could say) easter eggs in the book. And that’s great if you want to pick through them an understand it. I think, (and I am also hoping) that if you can just get in the current and ride the waves of words and let them wash over you, you can actually enjoy it.

 

Ulysses Part 1: We needed help

The Three Dancers 1925 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973I’ve read the next two “chapters” (or whatever they are called) in Ulysses, which means I  finished the first part. Whew. This is one weird book.

The second chapter was fairly straightforward – Stephen went to work where he is a teacher, the kids went out to play some sport, he helped some kid with his homework, then he had a conversation with his headmaster and got paid. Then we got to the third chapter where I was like…..WTF.

As an aside, BJ had researched the book and how to read it and came across ‘The New Bloomsday Book’ that is a companion to Ulysses. So we got it. I decided that I was going to try to read each chapter without help and then consult the Bloomsday. So I’ve been reading it after the chapters to see if I was close at understanding them, and I was, kinda sorta.  As they say, best laid plans…

About halfway through chapter 3, I tapped out and read the Bloomsday companion. The challenge with this chapter is that it’s pretty much an internal dialogue from Stephen. On the upside, it made me feel better about my own mental state and internal monologue. (That Dedalus dude has some issues!) Reading the companion for this one really helped. Like BJ’s experience re-reading chapter one after reading the companion, it went much more smoothly.

I know that I have a soft spot for Joyce, but I really do think he is a master craftsman. Much like I feel about Picasso. He had to be a master artist to be able to deconstruct his work enough to pull off cubism. And I think Joyce is the same. He is a master at words and crafting them to tell a story and that’s how he gets to write this book. He had to be able to understand language enough to deconstruct it and cobble it back together. His ability to paint a picture with words, is in my mind, extraordinary. I give you these sentences, as Dedalus is sitting on the beach watching a dog:

The dog ambled about a bank of dwindling sand, trotting, sniffing, on all sides. Looking for something lost in a past life. Suddenly he made off like a bounding hare, ears flung back, chasing the shadow of a lowskimming gull. The man’s shrieked whistle struck his limp ears. He turned, bounded back, came nearer, trotted on twinkling shanks.

I don’t know about you, but I can hear, smell and see what is happening in that scene. You don’t get to pull that off if you are not a master of words.

The ultimate question of the novel becomes, is it worth it? Does the internal monologues, references to greek mythology and the crafty language build something that has meaning and heft to it. Or is it just showy, intellectual rubbish.

Time (and about 600 more pages will tell).

 

 

Ulysses, Chapter 1: It’s not as bad as I thought

joyce towerHere is what I forget sometimes: that books are deemed classics for a reason. Although I am 20 pages in, I would say this book qualifies.

I read the chapter straight through and tried not to get tripped up by the latin quotes or the sometimes odd language. Once I finished, I looked up a summary of the chapter to see if I understood it. I wasn’t too far off. First, I wasn’t sure how many people were actually involved – it was sort of like a Russian novel where people were called by different names – so I wasn’t sure if there were three or four dudes. Second, Joyce basically drops you right in the middle of a scene with no explanation – so I didn’t know if they were on a ship (there is lots of talk of the sea) or on some sort of battlefield or castle.

It turns out there are three dudes, and they are living in a tower. The tower is actually based on one that Joyce stayed in (pictured above) for six nights in 1904. (It’s now a museum dedicated to the author.) The main character in the chapter is Stephen Dedalus (who I remember from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) and if I recall correctly, is a representation of the author. Basically, Stephen gets mad at the dudes he is sharing the space with and gives him they key and it looks like he won’t return.

The chapter is ‘titled’ Telemachus – he is the son of Odysseus and is a central character in Homer’s Odyssey. Telemachus is the one who goes out searching for his father when all of the suitors come calling on his mother. Here is what we know: Ulysses is based on the Odyssey BUT does not follow it exactly. (Also, Ulysses is the Latinized version of the name Odysseus, according to Wikipedia.) So I take from this that Dedalus is going on some sort of journey.

There are some strange words – BJ and I just had a discussion on what an ashplant is. It’s a walking stick, FYI. It’s sort of like (but not as difficult as) reading Shakespeare or Chaucer. There are strange words put together in a way that we don’t use here. However, it’s very lyrical. The sounds of the words paint a picture. I know that sounds super weird, but that’s how it seems to me. Even though I don’t exactly know what’s going on, the way the words sound give you a clue. If you haven’t read it, you will just have to trust me on this one. The other difficult thing is, I think he also makes up words. So I can’t tell the made up words from the ones that I just don’t know the definitions of.

I think what makes this so interesting is – you can just read it and get the gist of what is going on. Or you can study it and get into the meaning and symbolism. But you don’t have to do both to enjoy it. Keep in mind, I am only 20 pages in so I might change my mind.

Overall, I liked it. It’s definitely challenging but not impossible. Let’s see what happens next!

It’s Bloomsday….what else is a book nerd to do?

james joyceWell, it’s that time of year where the book nerds start their summer reading project. This year: Ulysses by James Joyce. (Previous projects include, War and Peace, Infinite Jest and Brothers Karamazov.)

I am actually pretty excited to read this. I was a bit of a James Joyce fan girl back in my university days. (I may have had a poster of Mr. Joyce on my wall. My book nerd blood runs deep.) I was trying to think back to why I was enamoured with him and his writing. I think it has something to do with the fact that it was different from anything else I had ever read. The short story “The Dead” and his novel “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” were to me, at the time super cool. They were a different style. And I felt pretty literary, to be honest. I remember reading “The Dead” in high school and my mind exploded. It was just so good and so different. I am a bit afraid that it was easier when I was younger to have an open mind about reading his stuff. At my advanced age I have expectations of how a book should be, and might not be able to go with the flow. However, I do have confidence in the fact that this book has been around for a while and people are still reading it, so it can’t be THAT bad, right?

As BJ mentioned in his post the book has been in the news lately, being referred to by political figures lately as favourite books. BJ’s right, we don’t want to be thought of as being mainstream. (But, if it’s good enough for Pete Buttigieg, it’s good enough for me!)

After we decided this was our book for the summer, I found a Facebook group: Keep Calm and Read Ulysses. I asked for some advice on how to read it, and got a wide variety of responses. (27 of them, to be exact.) They ranged from: “Read Portrait of an Artist. And Dubliners. Familiarize yourselves with Irish political history. Read the Iliad and the Odyssey” to “Just jump on in.” I am going to go with the jump on in suggestion.

BJ was spot on in his blog post when he compared this to experiencing art – just let it wash over you. I love looking at a Rothko – I have no idea what it means, but I just know it’s something I like. So I am going to be awash in Leopold Bloom….wait, that didn’t come out right.

So as the Facebook group says…let’s Keep Calm and Read Ulysses!

Brush with Infinite Jest

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So BJ and I went over to Ann Arbor for a nice lunch and to visit one of our favourite bookstores (that’s Literati if you are wondering, and I would highly suggest you seek it out if you are in the area).

Picture if you will: We are at lunch and can’t help but overhear the two young women who are at the table behind us:

“Some people say that Infinite Jest is over-wrought writing, but I just think that David Foster Wallace was using language as an analogy.”

Wait…what. We both were like…THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT INFINITE JEST!!

First, we found someone who actually read Infinite Jest (other than BJ and I). And second, someone, a real-life person, who actually liked it. It’s like I found big foot, the loch ness monster and a unicorn all in the same place.

Let me confess something right here, I am an introvert by nature and I don’t seek out conversations with people…never mind strangers. But, this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I told BJ I was going to go over to their table and ask some follow up questions….and he looked a bit like this

say what

I will admit, it was a bit unconventional, but how many chances to you get to talk to a unicorn…I mean someone who has read Infinite Jest.

Luckily, they were pretty chill and happy to talk about literature. I started by confessing that we overheard their conversation and that I pretty much hated Infinite Jest. I did get two nods of understanding on that point. So I asked, why they liked it.

Their response was interesting – basically it boiled down to a couple of things:

  1. Trying to read Infinite Jest as a novel will lead to disappointment. If you approach it in small essay type chunks that is a better approach.
  2. The “story” is an allegory for other things – so it’s not the story itself but what it represents.

I get both of those things. I also admitted that I do think DFW is a brilliant writer, but more of a sprinter writer and not a marathon guy.

I respect their view and found it helpful. But here is the thing for me – when I read I want it to be an escape from my day-to-day drudgery – I want to either be transported or informed. Infinite Jest did neither of those things for me. It was tedious and irritating. Which I don’t find an escape in, since it’s kind of like my regular life.

There is a teeny-tiny part of me that has considered re-reading it to see if I might have a better understanding of it. But here is the thing, life is too short to waste on books that irritate you. So unless I run out of reading material, or I am stranded on a desert island with a copy if Infinite Jest – I don’t see myself trying to crack the code.

 

 

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

16201This book was gifted to me. (Thanks Amber!) It was not on my radar, but I am very grateful to Amber for giving it to me.

I loved this book. It was funny, inventive and relevant.

The premise is that a fictional country/island, just off the coast of South Carolina. It is named after Nevin Nollop, the fellow who authored the sentence “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” – which contains all the letters of the alphabet. (I know I age myself here, but I spent a lot of time in typing class pecking out this sentence…yes typing on an actual typewriter.) The island council starts banning letters as they fall from the memorial statue of the founder. The book is written via letters between the characters.

(Note: following on BJ’s review of the book, my 9th grade typing teacher was Miss Gilchrist.)

This is a book with many levels. First, it’s quirky and cute – I mean, look at the cover. Second, it’s well written. The characters are well formed and you get to know them and empathize with them through their correspondence.

The other level of this book demonstrates what happens to society when your basic rights are taken away. Language is such an elemental function of our lives and our society and it’s something we take for granted. This illustrates how slowly and stealthily these changes take place. Today you can’t use the letter ‘Z’ and tomorrow you can’t use the letter ‘N’, and then all of a sudden the government is reading your letters and people are being deported because of too many infractions.

In the reviews I read, people criticize this because there are ‘better’ dystopian novels out there. I would agree 100% (I’m looking at you Handmaid’s Tale). However, this is not that. What I appreciate about the author is that he embraces what the book is and runs with it – see earlier comment re: quirky and cute. But there is this undertone of fear and evil to it. That, in my opinion, is what makes this a 5 star book.

The other extremely cool thing about the book is because the book is written in letters between the characters, they have to abide by the new laws and not use the banned letters. This could be a ‘look ma no hands’ ploy to show-off, but it doesn’t come across that way. Kudos to the author for writing the last part of the book using 10 letters (or whatever it ended up being).

What I took from this book, and what I think is 100% relevant today is that innocuous changes and rules can end up with dire consequences. It’s the old ‘frog being boiled’ scenario – if you put it in boiling water, it jumps out, but if you put it in and slowly warm the water, bam!

Overall you can read this on any level you like – it’s a quirky cautionary tale that is more relevant today than it was when it was written in 2001.