Silk

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Silk, by Alessandro Baricco, is kind of a toss-up for me. I read the book because I’m trying to read a book from every country, and the author is Italian. And the entire book was beautifully crafted.

The book is about a silkworm merchant who’s slowly falling in love—silently and very poetically—with a Japanese woman who’s never even spoken to him. And all the while, his wife stands by, seeing him fall away from her. It’s incredibly symbolic, easy to read, and simply beautiful.

The reason it’s a toss-up is because, almost all of the way through the book, there’s this random three-page episode of pornographic sex. It’s not just that there’s sexual content—it’s that it goes from 0 to 60 in about 2 paragraphs. And I’m really not comfortable with graphic sex in anything I’m reading.

So I really don’t know whether to recommend the book or not. I guess if you think I’m a prude by the end of this article, go for it. And if you don’t want to walk into someone else’s bedroom, then pass on it. ♦

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

I read Wide Sargasso Sea and wanted more crazy lady. So I picked up my high school copy of Jane Eyre and went back through it.

This book is a gothic romance, with some gothic horror thrown into the middle. It’s slow reading, and you end up with a lot of “how I survived being an orphan” at the beginning and a lot of “how I survived having my heart broken” at the end. But overall, it’s worth the time.

In high school, I didn’t like this book. I wouldn’t say I hated it – I did like the crazy lady – but I thought Jane was a doormat, Mr. Rochester was a manipulative loser, and most of the book was snivelingly romantic.

And you know, I liked it this time. I still didn’t like the characters – Jane was still a doormat, but she gained a spine toward the end of the book. Mr. Rochester was still a manipulative loser, but I think he got some comeuppance and redeemed himself a little bit, and the romance wasn’t as snively as I remembered it. Probably because I’ve actually been in love now. I mean, in high school, I was like, “Dump his sorry butt and stop whining about it!” Now, I still wanted her to dump his sorry butt, but I understood why it was still hard.

I’d give this book three and a half stars. If you’re a fan of chick flicks, four stars. I still don’t like the characters, on a personal level. But they’re fairly believable, and the story is worth sticking around for. ♦

Wide Sargasso Sea

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Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is the reason I’m re-reading Jane Eyre right now. The book is written from Bertha Rochester’s point of view (remember Mr. Rochester’s crazy wife?) and it’s fantastic!

I had the book sitting around on my shelf, not being read, until a friend mentioned how much she liked it. So I picked it up. Holy cow. It was awesome.

And also crazy. I mean, it is crazy. The book explores how the circumstances around a person can really drive them off the deep end. Antoinette (Bertha) grows up in Jamaica, after slavery has been abolished, but only just. So she grows up a white girl in a neighborhood that legitimately regards her and her race as the devil. Also, her mom goes mad while Antoinette is still a small girl. She has no friends, no parents to speak of, and everyone regards her with suspicion. Then she is run out of her home, goes to a Catholic school for a while, and ends up married off to an Englishman she’s never met. And while the marriage is a little rocky at the start, once Rochester realizes she has a family history of insanity, he turns against her and drives her completely mad.

I don’t know whether this story is meant to teach anything (except don’t make people go crazy), but it’s a wonderful spin on Brontë’s characters, and it weaves you in a spell that makes you feel like you’re gasping for air and sanity yourself. I thought it was excellent, and I would recommend it to anyone who ever wondered about the crazy woman on the third floor. ♦

Lara’s Shadow

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I won a copy of Lara’s Shadow from a GoodReads giveaway. The “First Reads” giveaways are built for authors who want to make sure people can read a review of the book when they first come out – they often give out first-edition copies to generate publicity for the book. Alan Fleishman sent me a book promptly, signed, with a note kindly asking for my feedback.

It’s hard to describe my reaction to this book. When I opened it, I read the back cover blurb and thought, “Oh, no – I thought I entered a contest for a history book, and I won a racy romance book.” I don’t even like innocent romance books, but racy romances are even worse – I have a good imagination. It would be awkward for me to sit in an author’s bedroom and eat popcorn while watching them have sex; it’s almost just as awkward to read their idea of good sex. My basic attitude toward writing sex is that it’s a bad idea. You don’t know what turns me on, writer. Don’t try.

But, you know, I know how to skim, and I know how to skip, and I did enter the contest. I also knew that the “about the book” blurb said the relationship would become much more love than sex. So I gave it a shot.  For about a hundred pages, I was still just giving it a shot. The main character was basically a mediocre, horny Jewish-American soldier with an obsession for one particular German woman and a general hatred of all Germans.

(To Fleishman’s credit, for those horny hundred pages, he kept this soldier’s comments or fantasies from getting graphic. I appreciated it.)

But then, he started to fall in love with the girl, and it got really good. Not because it was suddenly a great romance, but because it raised questions about guilt and hatred and racism and forgiveness and healing. And Fleishman handled all of those issues beautifully, with both devastating grief and fantastic optimism. He showed how a mediocre man who finds his strength from bitterness and spite can change into a wonderful man full of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and loyalty. I went from a “maybe I’ll give this 2 stars” to “good heavens, this is a fantastic book!”

And then the last section of the book crushed it. The couple broke up, stayed apart for 25 years, and the main character immediately regressed into a bitter, horny, mediocre guy again – this time, he just didn’t hate all Germans anymore. So he was a little less bitter. Then, after poisoning a marriage for 25 years, he finally pursued the German girl again, who has not-quite-but-kind-of picked up a lesbian partner, and some cussing and violent sex somehow just solves all their problems. I feel like he could have ended the book 60 pages earlier, and it would have been great.

I don’t know what to do with this. Fleishman writes his history immaculately, and his humanity beautifully. And he writes true love and forgiveness extremely well. And when he’s writing about true love and forgiveness, the sex becomes a part of that love and forgiveness. But every other time he brings sex into it, he cheapens his characters and loses my enchantment with the story. I would give the first part 2 stars, the middle part 5 stars, and the last part 1 star. Overall, I feel like I might be able to recommend Fleishman – but not Lara’s Shadow. ♦

And Many More…

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While on vacation last weekend, we were seated at a restaurant across the way from an adorable old couple. They just talked and laughed, and at some point, my dad started up a conversation. We found out it was this couple’s 70th anniversary. They were at a restaurant to celebrate.

My husband asked him, “What’s the secret?” Without hesitating, the old man said, “Marry a good woman – and then live to be 90!”

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Everybody laughed – but I really do think that’s the secret. This old man’s comment shows why he’s been married – to the same woman – for 7 decades. He doesn’t think it’s complicated. When he got married, he married a good woman. And at his 10th anniversary, he probably thought, “She’s still a good woman, so I’ll stay.” And at his 20th anniversary, he probably thought, “She’s still a good woman, so why would I leave?” And I’m sure her thoughts were much the same. “If he’s a good man, why would I leave?”

I think sometimes people make things more complex than they need to be. I’ve been married all of 6 months. We’re pretty happy. Sometimes we fight. Whatever. Life has ups and downs, and we can either face them alone, or together. So why would we leave? We’re staying.

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In all my 6 months of married wisdom (cough), I’m probably not in any position to share the secret of wedded bliss. But this old couple had been married for 70 years. They were happy, and I’m going to follow their advice. I found a good man – now all I need to do is live to be 90. ♥

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Dear Ethan: Happy Unniversary!

We’ve had a hard time these last couple of days. Gave plasma. Argued with former management about a security deposit. And then another security deposit. Still waiting for current management to send word about the new, non-exploding oven. Studied a ton. Said goodbye to a brother (and brother-in-law) going on a mission. Broke a kitchen tile. Found some termites and a mouse. Missed an exam. And, generally, got a little frustrated with the whole thing. (And by “the whole thing,” I mean most of this paragraph.) But we’ve also done some singing about Bolsheviks, cooking of pineapple-upside-down-cake, and game-playing with family. It’s been easier, because we’re together, and we’re happy about that.

So this post is dedicated to making my husband smile. Ethan, here are some things I think you’ll like:

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This sandcastle.

 

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This chocolate milk, that you bought me way back when.

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My brother, drinking with his forehead.

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Gand-Alf.

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Me, in wedding dress, et. al.

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This baby’s face.

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This man’s face.

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This dog’s face.

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The Kraken.

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This man’s pants.

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Grandpa Frank, posing like he owns the place. (And Grandma Jan, perfectly fine with it.)

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The human bubblegum machine.

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The classiest joke ever told.

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This baby’s face.

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This concept, and its incredible marketability in Provo.

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This picture of my dad and his friends.

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Teddy Roosevelt.

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Last but not least, this baby’s face. Happy Wednesday, sir!