Category Archives: American Author

52 Years of The Bell Jar

TBJ

The Bell Jar was originally published on January 14, 1963.  So, as per usual, I am late in my blog post commemorating the anniversary!  If you’ve read older posts on my blog then you already know how much I adore Sylvia Plath and her writing.  I have her signature tattooed on my body, I visited the site of her former dormitory at Smith College, yadda, yadda, yadda….

The Bell Jar wasn’t the first piece that I read by Plath, but it is the piece that I connect with the most. I actually couldn’t tell you how old I was when I first read this novel, but I can tell you that I was a teenage girl struggling with things that teenage girls struggle with, but those teenage girl struggles sat atop something much deeper that I didn’t quite know how to put into words. Luckily, Sylvia Plath did. Finding this novel was like finding a confidant or a best friend who knew exactly what I was feeling. Someone who knew how hard it could be to just wake up in the morning and do the things that you love. Or just breathe. For me, this novel was a lifeline, and, in many ways, it still acts as one today.

Plath, like no other writer that I’ve read (yet?), illustrates depression very accurately. There is nothing fluffed up in the pages of The Bell Jar, and there aren’t any apologies either. The novel fully explores the darkness, the hopelessness, the madness, the stigma, and the unpredictability of the disease. You can’t necessarily look at another person – or their life – and really be able to tell whether or not they suffer from depression. But, yes, it is a disease, and, unfortunately, it sometimes feels as though it’s one disease that the sufferer needs to be embarrassed of or apologize for.

One of the greatest gifts that literature gives to the world is its ability to connect people across time, culture, space. In the case of The Bell Jar, we have a novel written 52 years ago that is as relevant now as it was then. To be a  person stifled by a bell jar of one’s own – to be able to pick up this novel and know that someone else out there, at some point in time, felt like you do right now. That’s an amazing and beautiful thing.

In conclusion, here are some of my favorite quotes from The Bell Jar.  What are yours?

“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. And I thought,’This is what it is to be happy.'”

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Contantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above were many more figs that I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Plath

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Filed under American Author, American Poetry, Sylvia Plath

Driftless by David Rhodes

driftlessTitle:  Driftless
Author:  David Rhodes
Genre:  Fiction

The only reason that I stumbled across Driftless was because that this was a featured title on Barnes & Noble’s “Free eBook Fridays” a few weeks back.  I love me some free books and have been desperately missing the free classics that I used to download for my Kindle; it appears as though B&N does not go below $1.99 for the classics.  Anyway.  I jumped at the opportunity to check this title out when I discovered that there was a free eBook that WASN’T a Romance.

I was in the middle of forcing my way through Madame Bovary, which was slow going for me, so there was about a week between the download and the beginning of reading.  I scoped out some of the reviews that were floating around and prepared myself to be a changed woman.  By reading any number of responses to this novel, one would be silly not to prepare themselves to stare God in the face before jumping into Rhodes’ pages.

Needless to say, I was a little excited to get going with it.  I was even revving myself up to perhaps “meet” a new favorite author.

Unfortunately, however, I wasn’t as blown away as I wanted to be.  I’m not going to write that this is a bad read, by any means, but I found myself skimming a lot.  I don’t really like to skim.  I read a little on the slow side, but I enjoy savoring passages and losing myself in the characters’ conversations, the landscape, my own thoughts…  I struggled in doing so for the majority of this book.

Some positives (for me) – each chapter is told through the POV of a different character.  All 400-something pages focus on the same core set of characters, but you get to hop around from chapter to chapter, story to story.  I feel as though this was the main factor that kept me from calling it quits.  Each of the characters is interesting and unique and I honestly can’t say that there was a single one of them that I disliked.

The other positive (again, for me) is that the spiritual exploration seemed to be a melding of Christianity and Buddhism.  I am a fan of not keeping religion or spirituality completely black and white.  Mixing principles, teachings, and philosophies wins big points in my book.

The biggest negative, however, again – for me, was the ending.  No spoilers here, but it felt incomplete.  It felt as though it ended in the middle of a conversation and there still should have been 20 pages or so to wrap everything up.

 

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Filed under 2013, American Author, Fiction

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

0806_gone_425Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Mystery/Suspense

My final read of 2012 – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – is definitely a book to be added to my ever-growing list of “favorites”.  This book was a gift and, while I have seen the title show up in reading lists, bestseller lists, and all over GoodReads, I never took a moment to read the synopsis and decide for myself whether or not I should check it out.  I am incredibly thankful that someone gifted it to me, however, because this is a book that I just could not put down.

Before I read the Millennium trilogy, I never would have considered myself a Mystery/Suspense kind of girl.  My main memories of the Mystery genre from my bookstore days were ridiculous, never-ending series where cats solved crimes or titles that I considered more in the realm of  really terrible “Chick Lit” than a book of substance.  However, thanks to Stieg Larsson, I’ve thrown my old prejudice opinions out the window and am finding some novels that I really, truly love.

Gone Girl is the story of a missing woman (Amy, the wife) and the #1 suspect (Nick, her husband – of course).  Each chapter is told in either the POV of Amy or Nick, laying out both sides of the story/experience for the reader.  The characters are complicated inasmuch as it’s difficult to really love or hate either of them 100%.

Through the entries in Amy’s diary, the reader takes a short journey through the beginnings of her relationship with Nick – the meeting, the inside jokes, the early years of their marriage, but when both of them lose their careers in journalism and then move out of New York City, it appears that their marriage gets rockier and rockier.

From reading other reviews (very carefully avoiding any spoilers), I knew that there were going to be a lot of surprises and I can honestly say that I was not disappointed.  I had this nagging desire to find out what happened to Amy and whether or not Nick really did it.  Needless to say, I am very happy that I had this past week off from work; otherwise, I would have been pretty exhausted each day from staying up late, powering through as many pages as possible before finally succumbing to sleep.

In 2013, I will definitely be checking out Gillian Flynn’s other two novels, Dark Places and Sharp Objects.  If my excitement didn’t sell you on Gone Girl, a professionally written summary is included below:

Marriage can be a real killer.

   One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.

   On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

   As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

   With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

Check out Gone Girl on Amazon.

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Filed under 2012, American Author, Books, Favorites, Fiction, Gillian Flynn, Mystery, Women Writers

Quotable Monday: Wanting – Sylvia Plath style

I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people that  I want and live all the lives that I want.  I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones, and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life.  And I am horribly limited.

Sylvia Plath

I find myself feeling this way quite frequently.  I guess that this is a big part of WHY I love Sylvia Plath oh-so-very much.

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Filed under American Author, American Poetry, Quotes, Sylvia Plath, Women Writers

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Title:  No Country for Old Men
Author:  Cormac McCarthy
Length:  320 pages
HIGHLY RECOMMEND

Another library book!  I’m on a roll with utilizing my local library.  I watched No Country for Old Men about a year ago.  I loved it.  I watched it immediately after reading and watching The Road by the same author.  I had a fever for McCarthy novels.

I won’t lie to you, however – I tried reading Blood Meridian and couldn’t get past the first chapter.  I really need to amp my brain up before I dive into that novel – and the reasons for my difficulty getting into that novel are the same as my reasons for being so totally in love with The Road and No Country for Old Men.

But, first, a synopsis of No Country for Old Men:

Set in our own time along the bloody frontier between Texas and Mexico, this is Cormac McCarthy’s first novel since Cities of the Plain completed his acclaimed, best-selling Border Trilogy.

Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, instead finds men shot dead, a load of heroin, and more than $2 million in cash. Packing the money out, he knows, will change everything. But only after two more men are murdered does a victim’s burning car lead Sheriff Bell to the carnage out in the desert, and he soon realizes how desperately Moss and his young wife need protection. One party in the failed transaction hires an ex–Special Forces officer to defend his interests against a mesmerizing freelancer, while on either side are men accustomed to spectacular violence and mayhem. The pursuit stretches up and down and across the border, each participant seemingly determined to answer what one asks another: how does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?

A harrowing story of a war that society is waging on itself, and an enduring meditation on the ties of love and blood and duty that inform lives and shape destinies, No Country for Old Men is a novel of extraordinary resonance and power.

I can attest that the book is as gritty, dark, and powerful as the above description leads one to believe.  It’s probably a good policy to not pick up any of McCarthy’s novels when you’re in search of something light, love-y, or something that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy in your heart.  If you do, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

The narrative hops around between the characters – the good guys, the bad guys, and the “??” guys.  McCarthy, as always, sticks true to the vernacular of the characters, which is both refreshing and a challenge.  On more than one occasion, I had to re-read a paragraph two or three times or take a step back at the beginning of a chapter to figure out who the pronouns referred back to.  There are cuts, shifts in narrative, and please leave your love of quotation marks at the door…  this is truly a unique and challenging read.  And I love, love, love McCarthy for it.

The reader doesn’t have a front row seat to all of the action, but we’re made aware of what happens.  Even if it isn’t exactly what we expect (or want) to happen.  The chaos that plays out in the lives of the characters in the book serve as a nice parallel for the chaos that ensues in the world around us, every single day, start to finish.  I won’t lie – the character of Sheriff Bell voices some of my own thoughts, concerns, and fears about society on more than one occasion.

So, in parting:

I read in the papers here a while back some teachers came across a survey that was sent out back in the thirties to a number of schools around the country. Had this questionnaire about what was the problems with teachin in the schools. And they come across these forms, they’d been filled out and sent in from around the country answerin these questions. And the biggest problems they could name was things like talkin in class and runnin in the hallways. Chewin gum. Copyin homework. Things of that nature. So they got one of them forms that was blank and printed up a bunch of em and sent em back out to the same schools. Forty years later. Well, here come the answers back. Rape, arson, murder. Drugs. Suicide. So think about that. Because a lot of the time when I say anything about how the world is goin to hell in a handbasket people will just sort of smile and tell me I’m gettin old. That it’s one of the symptoms. But my feelin about that is that anybody that cant tell the difference between rapin and murderin people and chewin gum has got a whole lot bigger of a problem than what I’ve got. Forty years is not a long time neither. Maybe the next forty of it will bring some of em out from under the ether. If it aint too late.

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Kiyo’s Story by Kiyo Sato

Title:  Kiyo’s Story: A Japanese-American Family’s Quest for the American Dream (A memoir)
Author:  Kiyo Sato
Length: 352 pages

In this memoir, originally published as Dandelion Through the Crack, first generation Japanese-American Sato chronicles the tribulations her family endured in America through the Great Depression and WWII. Emigrating from Japan in 1911, Sato’s parents built a home and cultivated a marginal plot of land into a modest but sustaining fruit farm. One of nine children, Sato recounts days on the farm playing with her siblings and lending a hand with child-care, house cleaning and grueling farm work. Her anecdotes regarding the family’s devotion to one another despite their meager lifestyle (her father mending a little brother’s shoe with rubber sliced from a discarded tire) gain cumulative weight, especially when hard times turn tragic: in the wake of Pearl Harbor, the Satos find themselves swept up by U.S. authorities and shuffled through multiple Japanese internment camps, ending up in a desert facility while the farm falls to ruin. Sato’s memoir is a poignant, eye-opening testament to the worst impulses of a nation in fear, and the power of family to heal the most painful wounds.

Kiyo’s Story is the OTHER book that I picked up on our vacation.   Purchased at the Manzanar National Historic Site, I expected the bulk of this book to recount the time that the Sato family spent in an internment camp (not Manzanar), but my initial expectations were totally incorrect.

The memoir starts with the narrator’s father, Tochan, as a young boy in Japan, he is sent over to America with the following instructions from his mother – don’t ever come back.  This isn’t because she doesn’t love him – no, on the contrary, she loves him very much and wants a better life for him.  Tochan arrives in America, finds work, and settles into life in California, eventually learning to speak english.  In the following years, his brother also comes to America, working in the fields with him.  The only time that he does return to Japan is to find a wife – which he does, though, he chooses for himself instead of following the custom of an arranged marriage.

Once back in America, the Sato family begins to grow… and grow and grow and grow.  Nine children are brought into the world, sharing in the duties on the farm and falling in love with Tochan’s many stories – each teaching a special lesson.  Like any parent, they want the best for their children and they want them to lead even happier lives than they have.

Unfortunately, no one is prepared for what happens in this country against Japanese Americans after the bombing at Pearl Harbor.  Out of fear and discrimination, all of the Japanese living on the west coast of the United States are forced to move to “relocation centers” under guard.  Kiyo’s Story only spends a small amount of time focusing on their time at Poston, but her retelling of the events perfectly conveys the confusion and fear that everyone felt.

This memoir is about family, love, religion, and personal strength.  Each member of the Sato family overcame so much and never wavered in their faith nor in their desire to be accepted as American citizens.  This book is a must-read – especially if you’re someone who doesn’t understand what happened in our country during WWII.  Prior to this year, I only had a vague understanding of the events.  I am grateful to now be a little more informed.

Check it out on Amazon.

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Filed under American Author, Books, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Women Writers

Author Spotlight: Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates (June 16, 1938) is nothing short of amazing.  Highly prolific (she has published OVER 50 books since 1969), she has been the recipient of many awards and honors, including:

  • National Book Award winner for Them in 1970
  • PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction
  • Winner of the 2005 Prix Femina Etranger for The Falls
  • Finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Blonde
  • She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities @ Princeton University
  • Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (since 1973)
  • 2003 recipient of the Common Wealth Award for Distinguished Service in Literature
  • Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement
  • 2006 recipient of the Chicago Tribune Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2009 recipient of the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2011 Honorary Doctorate of Arts awarded by the University of Pennsylvania
  • 2012 recipient of the Stone Award for Lifetime Literary Achievement from Oregon State University
 
Her writing is often disturbing, displaying some of the horror in our modern society as well as the trials and tribulations that everyday people struggle with.  Her writing is always beautiful and unique.  Oates successfully captures the voice of her characters, seamlessly slipping into their mannerisms, dialects, and psyches.
 
In addition to her novels, Oates has also published under two pseudonyms (Rosalind Smith and Lauren Kelly), essays, poetry, drama, fiction for young adults, as well as children’s books.  I feel as though nothing that I can manage to write here will do justice to her skill and career.  As someone who admires her deeply, all that I can hope for is that by highlighting her here, perhaps someone else will try out one of her novels.
 
Check out her page on the HarperCollins website for more information on upcoming releases.  Or the JCO official page via the University of San Francisco, also an excellent reference for a full bibliography.  This website also has a blog – Crossing the Border.
 
Joyce Carol Oates reads The Knife:
 

 

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Author Spotlight: Barbara Kingsolver

When you’re a bookworm, your teenage years can be very exciting – well, outside of all the awkward bits.  Through school, you are exposed to an entire world of literature (good literature) that you never knew existed.  Thanks to my high school and college education, I found countless favorites and stories (and characters) that will forever be dear to me.  Barbara Kingsolver is one of those authors – The Bean Trees, was part of our required summer reading list.

After reading The Bean Trees (and falling in love with Turtle), I knew that Kingsolver was an author that I would have to follow. While, as of today, I’ve only read about 3 or 4 of her novels, the rest are all on my “must-read” list.  But outside of her writing, Kingsolver is just a fascinating woman.

Born in 1955, she grew up in Nicholas County, Kentucky.  At various times throughout her childhood, her family traveled to areas of the world in need of the services of a physician (her father volunteered) and, as reported in her brief autobiography on her website, the most memorable of these journeys was to a remote village in the Republic of the Congo.  They always returned home to Kentucky, however, and she grew up surrounded by nature, animals, art, books, and writing in her journal.

She received a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from DePauw University in Indiana.  Upon graduation, she traveled throughout Europe and spent most of her time in France and England working on archaeological digs.  The expiration of her visa brought her back to the US – specifically Tucson, AZ – where she acquired a Master’s Degree studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  During this time, she also started writing as a scientific writer for the University of Arizona.

She met and married Joe Hoffman and together they did a lot of work with organizations investigating human rights violations and assisting Latin American refugees seeking asylum.  It wasn’t until the 1980s that Kingsolver began writing, and publishing, fiction.  From there, she’s enjoyed a successful career of bringing these amazing stories to her readers, who have fallen in love not only with her characters, but her beautiful descriptions of the landscapes, cultures, and environments.

Reading each of her novels will truly take you to places that you possibly never dreamt that you’d ever see.  You’ll learn things that you didn’t go into the novel believing that you would pick up.  She’s far more than “just” another author, Barbara Kingsolver is truly an educator.

An overview of some of her achievements and honors, shared from her official website:

Kingsolver was named one the most important writers of the 20th Century by Writers Digest. Critical acclaim for her books includes multiple awards from the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association, among many others. The Poisonwood Bible was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the Orange Prize, and won the national book award of South Africa, before being named an Oprah Book Club selection. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle won numerous prizes including the James Beard award. In 2000 Kingsolver received the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts. In 1998 she established the Bellwether Prize for fiction.

I learned all of the biographical details from her official website (http://www.kingsolver.com), which I highly recommend visiting if you’re interested in learning more.  There is a brief autobiography featured there, which includes pictures and much more details about her fascinating life, from childhood to present.

Bibliography:

  1. The Bean Trees (1988)
  2. Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 (1989)
  3. Homeland and Other Stories  (1989)
  4. Animal Dreams  (1990)
  5. Another America/Otra America  (1992)
  6. Pigs in Heaven (1993)
  7. High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never (1995)
  8. The Poisonwood Bible (1998)
  9. Prodigal Summer (2000)
  10. Last Stand: America’s Virgin Lands (2002)
  11. Small Wonder (2002)
  12. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007)
  13. The Lacuna (2009)

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Filed under American Author, Author Spotlight, Barbara Kingsolver, Favorites, Women Writers